Inter Press Service » Peace News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mapping Kashmir Thu, 26 May 2016 16:10:10 +0000 Sikander Ahmed and Abid Rizvi By Sikander Ahmed Shah and Abid Rizvi
May 26 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

This month the Indian ministry of home affairs released the draft of the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016. Still in its preliminary form, it has created a furore both at home and abroad.

The bill aims to regulate `the acquisition, dissemination, publication, and distribution of geospatial information of India which is likely to affect the security, sovereignty, and integrity of India`, and proposes severe penalties for the `incorrect` depiction of the `territory` of India by persons `within` India or Indians living abroad.

The bill represents a broad undermining of international law and a violation of the bilateral arrangement vis-à-vis Kashmir.

Pakistan`s ambassador to the UN, Maliha Lodhi, has raised concerns with the secretary general and Security Council that the bill seeks to unilaterally depict the disputed territories of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) as being within Indian territory, and to punish those representingthe correctscenario.

The Line of Control (LoC) is the current demarcation of territorial control within Kashmir. First established under the 1949 Karachi Agreement, it was further reified in the 1972 Shimla Declaration under which Pakistan and India agreed that the `line of control resulting from the ceasefire of Dec 17, 1971, shall be respected by both sides without prejudice to the recognised position of either side. Neither side shall seek to alter it unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations` It further states that `[pjending the final settlement […J neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation and both shall prevent the organisation, assistance or encouragement of any acts detrimental to the maintenance of peace and harmonious relations`.

The LoC is reproduced in UN maps, along with a legend describing it as agreed upon under the Shimla accord, with J&K`s final status remaining in dispute. While official maps published by the Survey of Pakistan do not reproduce the LoC, they correctly depict J&K as disputed. By contrast, the official Survey of India`s maps incorrectly depict the entirety of J&K as well as Gilgit-Baltistan as Indian territories.

Pakistan ought to adopt the UN`s practice of marl(ing the LOC on its own official maps with a legend unequivocally declaring the status of J&K as being undecided. Rather than compromising the Kashmiri cause, this would, instead, clearly state the ground realities: that the LoC exists and shall be recognised until such time as the territorial status of J&K can be resolved. This is critical; under international law, while official maps might not conclusively resolve a boundary dispute between two states, they nonetheless have probative value, and can be relied uponby states when attempting to advance their positions.

The proposed bill is yet another attempt by India to unilaterally assimilate J&K contravening international law. That the territorial status of Kashmir is unresolved is not in dispute; however, India, by its recent actions, has sought to force a resolution of the situation to its own benefit.

The attempt to construct a fence in Indiaheld Kashmir also violating international law is an example of India`s unsettling tendency to chip away at provisions of previous agreements. This latest attempt to undermine recognition of Kashmir`s status is another instance of India violating the Shimla pact in spirit and in operative text.

The accord is intended to maintain the status quo until a permanent solution is devised.

The bill seel(s to unilaterally alter this.

From a historical perspective, the Karachi Agreement was a multilateral one, mediatedby the UN; the Shimla pact concluded as a bilateral arrangement, with India choosing to expel the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan and maintaining that the Kashmir issue existed wholly between the two countries. Now it seems India is taking steps to force a permanent resolution one entirely for its own benefit, at the expenseof the Kashmiri people, and in violation of international law.

Kashmiris` right to self-determination has been recognised under international law and sanctified by numerous UN resolutions.

However, under this bill those living in India-held Kashmir can face criminal penalties for portraying that J&K`s territorial status remains unresolved, or be forced to accept the version of `truth`imposed by India all of which runs counter to self-determination andits peacefulfurtherance.

Under the international law for boundary delimitations, the doctrine of `acquiescence can come into play: if one state party knowingly does not raise objections to the other`s illegal act, it can be seen as having acquiesced to the other party`s illegalities.

Pakistan should strongly protest the bill which goes beyond the scope of domestic lawmaking into the realm of international law to ensure that India does not subsequently claim Pakistan acquiesced to its position.

Sikander Shah is former legal adviser, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and law faculty at Lums.
Abid Rizvi is an expert on international law.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Poorest Countries Have Progressed but Fragile Countries Lag Behind Thu, 26 May 2016 15:13:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Debate Over Bangladeshi Militants’ External Connections Tue, 24 May 2016 17:59:44 +0000 Ali Riaz By Ali Riaz
May 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As targeted killings of individuals with unorthodox views and members of minority communities continue unabated in Bangladesh, so does the debate on whether international terrorists have made inroads to the country. The question has been whether the claims of the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) of their presence in Bangladesh should be taken at face value. In the past months, both these organisations have been claiming responsibility for a series of killings. Until recently, these claims have not been accompanied by justifications, but that pattern seems to be changing. The AQIS affiliate Ansar-al Islam, issued a long statement after the murder of Xulhazs Mannan, an LGBT activist and USAID staff member. The government, on the other hand, has continued to deny the existence of these organisations and insists that these are the acts of ‘homegrown’ militants. In April, the English magazine of the IS, Dabiq, published an interview with the so-called Amir of the Bangladeshi chapter of the IS to bolster its presence. Ansar-al Islam claims to represent the AQIS in Bangladesh. This is a mutated version of the organisation Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which came into being in 2007.

Both the denial of any external connections of Bangladeshis, and insistence that the IS/AQIS has recently made inroads in the country, seem to disregard the historical background of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi militants had regional and extra-regional connections since their inception in the mid-1990s. It is worth recalling that the genesis of Islamist militants can be traced back to the Afghan War (1979-1989) in the late 1980s. The fountainhead of the militant groups in Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), emerged in public on April 30, 1992 through a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka. A group of so-called volunteers, who participated in the Afghan War in the previous years, arranged a press conference in the wake of the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Although the rudimentary form of the HuJI began in Pakistan in 1980, it was formally established in 1988. It expanded in the following four years, as the HuJI leadership wanted to reach out to other parts of South Asia. This led to the establishment of the HuJI in Bangladesh. The initial goal was to use Bangladesh as the launching pad for destabilising neighbouring Myanmar.

The operation of the HuJIB expanded further after it established relationships with the local militant organisation Jamaat-ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB was founded in 1998 but was named as such three years later. The founding of the JMB was a culmination of a series of meetings between Sayekh Abdur Rahman and a number of Islamist leaders and Ulema in 1996. These meetings brought Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rahman together. On January 19, 1996, law enforcement agencies busted a training camp in a remote part of Cox’s Bazar and arrested 41 armed militants. The camp was originally thought to be a training camp of Rohingya rebels based in Bangladesh. When these militants were being tried at a local court in Cox’s Bazar, Abdur Rahman was sent as the HuJIB representative to monitor and help the accused. This turned out to be the beginning of a long relationship between JMB and the HuJI-B.

The external connections of the potential militants of Bangladesh began in earnest in 1997-98. The connection established between Indian citizen Syed Abdul Karim Tunda and Abdur Rahman is a watershed moment in the history of militancy in Bangladesh. Tunda, who has been in Indian custody since 2013 on a number of terrorism charges, is alleged to be an operative of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT). Indian intelligence sources insist that Tunda entered Bangladesh in 1994 and operated from there for quite some time. In any case, he was the bridge between Abdur Rahman of the JMB and the LeT and Hafiz Saeed. Indian intelligence agencies had claimed that Thadiyantavide Nazir of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, allegedly connected to the 2008 bomb blasts in Bangalore, had travelled to Bangladesh.

The presence of regional militants in Bangladesh became publicly known in 2008 and 2009. Abdur Rauf Merchant and Jahed Sheikh, two Indian militants, were arrested in Bangladesh. Between May and September 2009, six members of the so-called Aref Reza Commando Forces (ARCF), including Mufti Obaidullah were arrested. Some of these militants admitted that they were living in Bangladesh for some time; for example, Obaidullah claimed to be in Bangladesh since 1995 and another member of the group Habibullah claimed to be residing since 1993.

The other source for the connections between the Bangladeshi militants and outside groups was the presence of the Rohingya rebel groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts. HUJI’s primary goal was to establish contact with these rebel groups. Interestingly, Rohingya rebel groups, Bangladeshi militants and northeast Indian rebel groups, such as the ULFA, had reportedly worked together to procure weapons from black markets in Southeast Asia and used Cox’s Bazar’s remote shoreline as the drop-off point before being distributed. This shows that cooperation among militant groups across the border does not have to be based on ideological affinity; instead other factors can and do bring these groups together.

In the age of globalisation, exportation of terrorism does not require physical presence of operatives of international terrorist groups in a country. There are many ways of indoctrination and recruitment. Ideas of extremism to identification of targets can well be coordinated from distant lands. A number of attacks in various parts of the world have already demonstrated that the internet as a vehicle is quite effective. The phenomenon called ‘lone wolf’ is pertinent here. As such, the characterisation of ongoing militancy as a combination of global and local – a ‘glocal’ phenomenon, as Habibul Haque Khondoker writes in a local English daily – is apt.

There is no denying that there are Bangladeshi citizens willing to join the ‘Global Jihad’ and bring it home. A survey of newspaper reports published between July 2014 and June 2015, shows that law enforcing agencies arrested 112 alleged ‘militants’. Of these, 22 individuals were identified as either connected to or aspiring to be connected to ISIS, 12 reportedly tried to travel to Syria. Two rounds of arrests of Bangladeshis in Singapore, in December last year and in March this year, also show that expatriates can become vehicles for radicalisation. There have been instances of British-Bangladeshis joining the Syrian war from the United Kingdom. Indian investigators have claimed that Bangladeshi militants, particularly the JMB, have been known to operate from India, particularly in West Bengal.

As such Bangladeshi militants’ external connections should not be viewed as an entirely new phenomenon. This is not to underestimate the significance of connections with the IS or AQIS, instead to underscore that given the history such links would require few efforts. If individual acquaintances of the past metamorphose into an organisational tie, the situation will take a turn for the worse, perhaps slide down to an unmanageable level. The IS/AQIS is capable of providing additional resources and a global stage for these menacing groups. It is a matter of time and opportunity before such a tie can flourish. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge that denial cannot be a strategy, and that it is necessary to act in earnest.

The writer is professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA. He is the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Bangladesh (2016).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Humanitarian Summit Must Address Weapons Shipments Too Sun, 22 May 2016 17:04:43 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 3 When Emergencies Last for Decades Fri, 20 May 2016 21:34:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Indigenous Peoples Inclusion at United Nations Incomplete Fri, 20 May 2016 17:44:57 +0000 Aruna Dutt Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

By Aruna Dutt

The United Nations Indigenous Forum is one of the UN’s most culturally diverse bodies yet its inclusion within the overall UN system remains limited.

“Thousands of people who come to the forum throughout the years do not have the opportunity to express their concerns,” said Alvaro Esteban Pop Ac, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, here Thursday.

Over 1,000 Indigenous people from all over the world came here for the 15th session of the  Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held from May 9-20.

“The demand by indigenous peoples is to have a new category as observer,” said Joan Carling, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Carling said that while indigenous people are not states or NGOs, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they “have the right to self-determination.”

“The main aim of the resolution is to really ensure that effective participation of indigenous peoples is afforded in the UN system.”

“We need to be able to participate in decision-making processes in the UN  to be able to express our specific conditions and our aspirations as peoples. That deserves the space at the highest level,” she said.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected," -- Joan Carling

The contributions that Indigenous peoples are making, to areas such as peace and environmental protection, are not reflected in their level of participation at the UN.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected,” said Carling.

“The issue of conflicts and the issue of injustice will continue because decisions are being undertaken at global level where we don’t have any participation, that is the thing that we want to rectify,” she added.

Indigenous peoples still cannot make recommendations directly to Security Council, only through the Economic and Social Council.

Carling, an indigenous activist from Cordillera in the Philippines, said that the situation of Indigenous women in particular should be addressed by the 15-member UN Security Council, arguably the most powerful organ within the UN system.

Violence against Indigenous women was a major theme of the 2016 forum.

Throughout history, Pop Ac said, “Indigenous women have lead indigenous dialogue. Women play a key role in keeping the community together. We promote our issues through women,” said Pop Ac.

He pointed to Northeast India, where there is a heavy presence of more than 70 armed groups and 500, 000 military troops, which have been related to the rampant sexual abuse and trafficking of indigenous women.

Jacob Bryan Aki from Peace Child International-Hawaii and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was one of the young Indigenous people who participated in the forum.

“We come here, we learn, and the work doesn’t stop,” said Aki.  “The two weeks we have here sets us up for the rest of the year, to go back home, to work with our family and our communities, to take the opportunities we have had here to those who do not. These messages need to be heard from youth.”

“We are the next generation of leaders and scholars,” said Aki. “It is very important for us to engage in this international level because in 10-20 years we are going to be thrust into these leadership roles and this is preparation to lead and learn how to make this world a better place for our people.”

With over 5000 different cultures and an estimated 7000 different languages, Indigenous peoples represent much of the world’s cultural diversity.

Yet despite their cultural differences Indigenous peoples – who make up five percent of the world’s overall population – have many shared experiences.

“The first criteria which defines an indigenous peoples, is a peoples that have survived colonization,” said Pop Ac.

“Humanity needs a different logic and ethic in defining wealth” Pop Ac added.

“It is human greed which is destroying the environment.”

Indigenous peoples are the “guardians of life” and are working to protect their environments, he said.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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Refugees Bring Economic Benefits to Cities Fri, 20 May 2016 16:41:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Will Canada Recognise Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Developing Countries Too? Thu, 19 May 2016 15:09:32 +0000 Aruna Dutt 1 Humanitarian Situation in Yemen Seriously Deteriorating Wed, 18 May 2016 21:35:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

John Ging, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs briefs journalists on his recent trip to Yemen. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is very seriously deteriorating, said Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Operations Director John Ging.

Following a trip to the Middle Eastern country, Ging revealed the severe impacts of the conflict and the international community’s inaction on Yemeni civilians.

“Yemen was an impoverished country before this latest conflict…so therefore the effect of the conflict, the effect of the restrictions on access have been very devastating for the population,” he said during a briefing here Tuesday.

According to OCHA, more than 21 million people in Yemen, equivalent to 82 percent of the population, need some form of humanitarian assistance. This includes 7.6 million who are severely food insecure.

Ging stated that the level of food insecurity in the country is just a step below famine according to the international food security index.

“It’s a very fragile situation,” he noted.

In addition to hindering access to populations in need, the one year-long conflict has also damaged key infrastructure including health facilities, further limiting access to much needed resources.

Over the span of just three months, three different hospitals supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came under attack, resulting in the deaths and injuries of numerous health personnel and patients.

“We strongly condemn this incident that confirms a worrying pattern of attacks to essential medical services and express our strongest outrage as this will leave a very fragile population without health care for weeks,” said MSF’s Director of Operations Raquel Ayora following a hospital attack in January 2016.

Such attacks are not isolated to hospitals. Human Rights Watch reported one case where two Saudi Arabia-led coalition airstrikes hit a crowded market in northwestern Yemen, killing at least 97 individuals including 25 children. HRW said that the attacks constitute “war crimes.”

In total, over 3000 civilians have been killed over the course of the war.

The ceaseless violence has in turn exacerbated displacement, causing over 2 million people to flee. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), this accounts for 25 percent of conflict-related displacement globally.

Many Yemenis are therefore dependent on the international community for basic needs including food, health services, and shelter, Ging stated.

However, despite the scale of humanitarian needs in the country, Ging noted that Yemen is not receiving sufficient focus.

“Although [the crisis] is growing in severity and its impact on the population…the humanitarian component is not getting the international attention that it deserves,” he stated.

This is reflected in “shockingly” low donor funding, he added.

Of a $1.8 billion UN appeal for Yemen, only 16 percent has so far been funded.

Ging stated that the core issue is not simply a deficit of funding, but rather a “deficit of humanity” which is leading to a horrific loss of life and suffering around the world.

He pointed to global military expenditures as an example.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the international community spend approximately $1.6 trillion on the military in 2015, equivalent to 2.3 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Ging noted that if half of one percent of global military spending was allocated to humanitarian action, there would no longer be a deficit.

“We want a new approach to this which thinks about the consequences, because it’s not that the world doesn’t have the money available, it is that it’s not making the right decisions about where it sends the money that is available,” he told the press.

“We are only asking for the minimum that is required to keep people alive in these awful circumstances,” he continued.

Ging noted that the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) represents a “moment of reflection” in order to “refocus” and “reengage” in a more active way. He expressed his hope that the meeting will particularly translate to a political reflection and call for action.

“[Yemenis] have endured way too much, for far too long,” Ging stated.

“As an international community, we have to and must do much more in terms of meeting the basic needs of the population while they’re caught up in this situation,” he concluded.

The WHS kicks off in Turkey on May 23, bringing together political leaders, private sector, and civil society to discuss the world’s dire humanitarian situation. Among the key topics for discussion during WHS is humanitarian financing.

OCHA has classified Yemen as a level 3 crisis, a UN designation for the most severe, large-scale humanitarian crises.

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A Refugee Crisis with No End in Sight Wed, 18 May 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Silvia Boarini Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA, Palestine, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“We don’t want charity, we want a long-term solution.”

That’s what a group of Palestinian refugees who fled the war in Syria and found safety in Gaza told IPS last November.

Today, their sentiment continues to be echoed in Syria and in camps and urban centres hosting refugees across the region.

New challenges

As the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War gives no sign of relenting, the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit will offer a much needed space to discuss what a long-term solution for people fleeing protracted conflict might look like and how actors and stakeholders might go about achieving it.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, the Middle East has slowly overtaken Sub-Saharan Africa to become the epicentre of this crisis and of the migratory movements of millions of people in search of a safe haven."We in America spend more money buying Coca-Cola than all the money going into Syria." -- Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator at USAID

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates that today some 60 million people are displaced worldwide, that is 1 person in every 122. What experts in the field agree upon, is that traditional responses to refugees’ needs are falling far short of the mark.

At a conference on this issue that was held last June at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in Washington DC, humanitarian and political actors agreed that it is no longer enough for the UN to set up a camp at the nearest border, send in the aid professionals and assume that rich countries will foot the bill.

“That model has been shattered in recent years,” wrote scholar Greg Myre. And new patterns are emerging that demand new approaches.

Protracted conflict; the ability and willingness of refugees to reach far away places; and lack of funding for the aid industry, have been widely identified as the new elements causing a need to re-think traditional humanitarian approaches that are failing.

Protracted conflict

If in the recent past economic opportunities played a major role in people’s movements, today by far the major pushing factor is war.

In the Middle East alone, in 2015 some 15 million people had been displaced by conflict. As of May 16, 2016, the numbers have continued to rise.

Close to five million people have escaped Syria alone, while 6.6 million are IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). According to OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in Yemen, IDPs number 2.76 Million, while in Iraq it is 3.4 million.

These numbers, of course, add to the existing five million Palestinians registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) since 1948 and 1967; to the Lebanese who had fled civil war in the 1980s; and to the Iraqi refugees who had fled the 1991 and 2003 wars. Many of them were living in Syria when the war broke out, making them refugees for a second or third time.

Refugees in the region compete for limited resources, place tremendous stress on the often wavering infrastructure recovering from prolonged conflict, and are perceived as a potential security threat by countries striving to maintain a precarious peace, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Willingness to travel to faraway countries

As the region’s capacity to absorb refugees is stretched, the ability and willingness of refugees to reach faraway corners of the world is another important new element that sets this crisis apart from previous ones.

Especially in the case of Syria, the length of the conflict and the vacuum left by the lack of political solution in the foreseeable future push refugees to take the risk of settling somewhere else for the long term.

Poor living conditions in camps and limited or no educational and economic opportunities in hosting urban centres in the region are decisive factors in the move.

The people with the means to undertake a trip to Europe, the USA or Australia are often professionals whose expertise will be necessary, but unavailable, once the rebuilding kicks off. Statistics show that the further a refugee travels, the more unlikely he or she is to return. UNHCR estimates that the average length of displacement has now reached 17 years.

Lack of funding

Last, but certainly not least, this crisis is characterised by an endemic lack of funds that leaves the aid industry and UN agencies unable to provide for the basic needs of millions. As of May 2016, UNHCR is 3.5 billion dollars short on its 4.5 billion appeal for the Syria Regional Refugee Response alone.

It is often reported that it costs 10 times less to care for a refugee in the region of origin than it does in the West, and yet donor countries are slow to raise the necessary funds to improve the lives of millions escaping wars.

In 2015, Official Development Assistance (ODA) by OECD countries reached a record high, totalling 131.6 billion dollars. And yet payments still only average 0.30 percent of Gross National Income (GNI), well below the UN recommended minimum of 0.70 percent.

The funding crisis and the inability to successfully meet, let alone end, the needs of refugees has pushed the aid community to some soul searching that in the past decade has led to calls for reform, especially at the UN level, to streamline work, decrease overheads, coordinate more efficiently with local humanitarian organizations and seek alternative donors to governments.

On the subject of alternative funding sources, Thomas Staal, Acting Assistant Administrator at USAID, tellingly explained to the audience at the MEI conference last June that “we in America spend more money buying Coca-Cola than all the money going into Syria.”

Aside from highlighting that the private sector should play its part in times of crisis, the statement can be read as a comment of the need to reassess our priorities and values as a society.

The crisis is in the Middle East, not in the West

Despite clear statistics and readily available numbers on the Middle East refugee crisis, this emergency is still too often talked about in Western-centric terms and inevitably looked at as a ‘problem’, never an opportunity.

Deaths in the Mediterranean do not happen in a vacuum, they are the direct result of the shortcomings of the international community to meet the needs of refugees worldwide, to deflate conflicts and to create lasting opportunities for improvement.

The immense strain placed on the Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian hosting populations, which have taken in 2.7, 1.05 and 0.70 million Syrians respectively, further highlights the West’s inability to add a sensible perspective to the small numbers of refugees reaching its shores.

As the healthcare and education systems of countries ravaged by war head down the path of de-development, it is imperative that lasting solutions are implemented before the situation spirals further into chaos, experts say.

The humanitarian summit could be the forum where the first steps on this road are taken.

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Analysis: Why the UN Needs a “Peace Industrial Complex” Tue, 17 May 2016 01:38:37 +0000 Jonathan Rozen 3 Industrial-Level Aid Logistics in Colombia’s Decades-Long Humanitarian Disaster Mon, 16 May 2016 22:23:54 +0000 Constanza Vieira Social actors and government representatives sign a social and political pact for reparations and peace in Colombia on Apr. 11, the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Conflict. Credit: UARIV

Social actors and government representatives sign a social and political pact for reparations and peace in Colombia on Apr. 11, the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity with the Victims of the Conflict. Credit: UARIV

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, May 16 2016 (IPS)

“If you’re going to talk about Colombia and the peace process, do it somewhere else,” was heard at a regional preparatory meeting for the World Humanitarian Summit, according to Ramón Rodríguez, with the Colombian government’s Unit for Attention and Integral Reparation for Victims (UARIV).

“Cuba’s representative, for example, stated: ‘This is a World Humanitarian Summit, we’re going to talk about humanitarian questions in general, and not specific cases,” the official said with respect to the preparations for the first gathering of its kind, to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

“For the organisers of the World Humanitarian Summit, disasters are the main issue. They practically fobbed us off,” added Rodríguez, UARIV’s director of social and humanitarian questions, in an interview with IPS in his Bogotá office.

This is true even though United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, when he called the summit, declared that “We must ensure no-one in conflict, no-one in chronic poverty, and no-one living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels is left behind.”

"Truth is the true reparations”

On May 11, journalist Jineth Bedoya refused an indemnification payment of 8,250 dollars, which she had originally accepted two years ago when the government established May 25 as the National Day for Dignity for Women Victims of Sexual Violence. May 25 was the day she was kidnapped and raped by paramilitaries because of her reporting work, in 2000.

When she received the indemnification, Bedoya said it could not be seen as reparations. Nevertheless, UARIV assistant director Iris Marín presented the indemnification for Bedoya as a case of effective reparations, at a public hearing in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a month ago.

“Truth is the true reparations,” Bedoya said in a press conference. El Tiempo, the newspaper where she works, wrote “The state claims its agents did not participate in what happened, even though there is proof that state agents took part in the kidnapping, torture and sexual violence against the reporter.” The Freedom of the Press Foundation hopes the IACHR will refer Bedoya’s case to the Inter-American Court on Human Rights.

In any case, “the issue (of the Colombian armed conflict) draws a lot of attention, although it is very limited,” said Rodríguez, an industrial engineer who organised and directs the world’s biggest humanitarian aid logistics system, in terms of percentage of a national budget that goes to citizens of the country itself.

Colombia is the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean where a humanitarian crisis has been declared due to internal armed conflict.

In nearly seventy years of civil war in different shapes and formats, the counting of and attention to victims has undergone major changes. Today there is basically industrial-level aid, adapted to a lengthy, calculated disaster.

“We, the government, are the main humanitarian actor in Colombia,” said Rodríguez. “We have an emergency response team. We work with humanitarian organisations through local humanitarian teams.”

Perhaps the main lesson that the Colombian government learned was that it had to count the number of victims and people affected by the conflict, in order to address the humanitarian crisis in its true magnitude. Until 2004, getting the government to admit the number of victims was a tug-of-war.

In 1962, a study on Violence in Colombia (by Guzmán, Fals and Umaña) estimated that 200,000 people were killed between 1948 and 1962.

The victims of forced displacement began to be counted in 1985 by the Catholic Church, at the time the only non-governmental institution with the capacity to carry out a national census of displaced persons.

In 1994, the government put the number of displaced persons at 600,000; however, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) counted 900,000.

But it was a 2004 Constitutional Court sentence that ordered the government to – gradually – acknowledge the real number of displaced persons, thus recognising the effects of the war.

The Court has been able to verify compliance with the ruling thanks to the support of a non-governmental alliance of academics and researchers: the Follow-up Commission on Public Policies on Forced Displacement.

Finally, in 2011, on the initiative of the government of current President Juan Manuel Santos, whose term began in 2010, the Victims and Land Restitution Law was approved. Among the many measures it involved, it created the UARIV.

At the time, the government recognised 4.5 million people affected by the war in a country of 48 million.

The UARIV opened a Single Registry of Victims, which up to Apr. 1, 2016 had counted a total of 8,040,748 victims since 1985.

Victims registered with the state 1985-2015

Forced displacement: 84.2%
Homicide: 3.5%
Death threats: 3.4%
Forced disappearance: 2.1%
Loss of belongings, housing or land: 1.3%
Terrorist act/Attack/Combat/Harassment : 1.1%
Kidnapping: 0.5%
Land mines/Unexploded ordnance/Explosive device: 0.2%
Crimes against liberty and sexual integrity: 0.2%
Torture: 0.1%
Abandonment or forced eviction from land: 0.1%
Recruiting children or adolescents: 0.1%
No information: 3.2%

Source: UARIV

Apart from the debate on whether the victims were undercounted, or the number of victims grew, or what grew was the number counted by the state, today UARIV knows that 84.2 percent of the registered victims are displaced persons, and that 45.4 percent come from the geostrategic, resource-rich and dynamic department of Antioquia in northwest Colombia.

It also reports that when the threats peak, this coincides with a peak in forced displacement of people from their land, which intensified between 1995 and 2007, while kidnappings (which account for 0.5 percent of victims) peaked in 2002 and are now becoming a thing of the past.

The UARIV also recognises that the worst years of the war were between 2000 and 2008, and that 2015 has been the most peaceful year since 1985.

In addition, the unit reports that among the victims there are slightly more women than men, while children are the single largest group. And it says one-fourth of the victims are black or indigenous people.

Rodríguez has kept up his monitoring as the peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas continue in Havana.

“I asked for a report for the Jan. 1-Apr. 30 period,” he said. “In the same period last year we had 15 mass displacements. In 2016 we had 16. In 2015 1,425 families were affected, 5,721 people. So far this year we have 1,200 more people. Which means that there was an increase in the number of people affected between 2015 and 2016.”

The increase is attributed to criminal bands made up of former far-right paramilitaries, and to the National Liberation Army (ELN), a smaller left-wing rebel group, with which the government recently announced the start of talks.

Colombia is now on the verge of a peace deal. But Rodríguez said it will take “three to five years to achieve peace. There will be an upsurge in violence,” not only because of former paramilitaries but also guerrillas who refuse to lay down their arms.

“Something that should be shown at the World Humanitarian Summit is the rise in violence that is going to occur when the peace agreement is signed. The question of control territory is of great importance to the armed actors, and converges with economic aspects,” said the official.

For Rodríguez, the “victim response, assistance and reparations model” that Colombia has come up with is another key element that would be useful to share at the Istanbul summit.

The model has two phases. The first, immediate humanitarian aid, operates within 48 hours after acts of violence, and comes in two forms: funds, through the municipalities, and in kind, through operators who are subcontracted, who were paid a combined total of more than five million dollars in 2015 for providing services.

Several months later, the victims are registered in the Single Registry of Victims, and emergency and transition aid (for housing and food) begins. The last phase is reparations, which includes indemnification of different kinds.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council: Assessment & Way Forward Sat, 14 May 2016 03:22:49 +0000 Idriss Jazairy By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, May 14 2016 (IPS)

In my personal capacity as an academic from the Global South and a retired international civil servant, I undertook a study for the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue which was published in November 2014. This was at a time when I had no idea that I would later become a member of this elite group of Special Procedures Mandate Holder. The study is entitled “In Defence of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council: An alternative narrative from the South”.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: courtesy author.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: Image provided by author.

The study makes the point that this mechanism was first initiated by the South and that the countries of different regions of the South share with those of the North the paternity of this innovative way of ensuring independent monitoring of human rights worldwide. They all consequently have an equal right to contribute to enhancing the efficiency of this mechanism.

The study indicates how one can remove the barrage of objections raised by countries or groups headquartered in the North who believe they are the self-appointed defenders of Special Procedures. They have tended to act in the past as if any suggestion for improvement of Special Procedures coming from the Global South can only be motivated by a desire to undermine the independence and integrity of the said mechanisms.

In other words, this study is an appeal to the North whether to Governments or to civil society organisations from the North that they accept to discuss with the South such suggestions on their merits. It would warrant engaging with those who hold different views and seeking to broaden areas of consensus through bridge-building as our Chairman emphasized in his opening remarks rather than through “excommunication”!

I will raise five central issues:

First, the process of selection of mandate-holders: the study reviews the process of selection of mandate-holders which has been improved as an outcome of the 2010 -2011 HRC review process. Henceforth the President of the Council has to give reasons if he decides to disregard the recommendations of the Consultative Group concerning the list of appointees. This adjustment indeed makes for greater transparency but it does not insulate the President from backroom political pressure from powerful quarters.

Why could we not, in cases where paralysis or postponement threaten, put the appointment of the mandate holders to a vote? There has been no disastrous effect resulting from the fact that their counterparts in treaty bodies are selected by ballot. Are they less objective or independent because of that? Candidates could campaign, offer plans of action indicating what they would do if elected. Many methods exist to ensure equitable gender and geographic distribution.

Second, the review, rationalisation and improvement of mandates.

The challenge here is to change the cluster of 77 Special Procedure Mandate Holders into a system. This is what the Council was mandated to do by General Assembly Resolution 60/25, o.p. 6, which directed it to “where necessary improve and rationalize all mandates (…) in order to maintain a system of Special Procedures”.

Why has this not happened? There are currently 77 mandate holders as against 44 when HRC was established and on current trends their numbers will reach 100 in ten years’ time. No provisions for a sunset clause, for mergers or absorption are in the cards.

If each mandate, of which there are now over 55 including SPs in working groups and with numbers growing year on year, interact with States on top of other Human Rights mechanisms, this can become an administrative nightmare for smaller and least developed countries.

Some claim ballooning of Special Procedures has a political explanation: each special procedure has a virtual national flag on it and to eliminate, merge it or otherwise change it may be seen as an offence to the initiating country which continues to enjoy special rights over the fate of the mandate.

Be that as it may, the numbers of Special Procedures keep increasing, never dovetailing but rather duplicating with pre-existing mandates. There is obvious overlap, for instance, between the mandates on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the one on contemporary forms of slavery including its causes and consequences and the mandate on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography.

Likewise CEDAW having defined violence as a form of discrimination against women, it’s hard to explain why one needs two mandates, one on discrimination against women and the other on violence against women.

While these mandates have Northern roots, the initiating countries from the South are not immune to such tendencies. Thus there is an obvious link between the mandate of promoting a democratic and equitable international order, the mandate dealing with foreign debt and that related to human rights and international solidarity.

I recommend a revitalisation of the RRI process in an open ended working group of the Council.

As a staying measure, the Council should start by requiring initiators of new mandates to answer such questions as:

– is there no other UN mechanism which addresses in part or in whole the issue proposed?

– is there not a Special Procedure which covers partly or wholly this issue?

– if so why not adjust the existing mandate for this purpose?

– could the new mandate not replace an existing mandate?

In parallel, the working group would review “all existing” thematic mandates to promote coherence, avoid duplication, determine protection gaps and determine whether the distribution of SPs between individual mandates and working groups is still appropriate.

Third, the enhancement of the cooperation between States and Special Procedures

General Assembly resolution 65/281 of 17 June 2011reiterating other similar positions incorporated in resolution 60/251 and in the Code of Conduct of Special Procedures stipulates that “The Special Procedures shall continue to foster a constructive dialogue with States” (emphasis added). In its para. 94, the MOSP reiterates this commitment but then illustrates it by saying “It is thus appropriate that reminders be sent to Governments in relation to unanswered correspondence”.

Mandate holders are also urged “to follow up on replies provided by the Governments in order to request further clarification…”. Surely a constructive dialogue can go beyond sending registered letters and asking for more clarification.

Real dialogue involves give and take. Why not for instance ask the CC and the 5 geographic representatives of States members of the Council to consult on how para. 94 of the MOSP could be made to reflect not only the letter but also the spirit of UNGA resolution 65/281.

Fourth is the broader issue of how the Human Rights Council can interact with Special Procedures on issues of methodology.

This interaction has to reconcile the accountability of Special Procedures to the Council which appoints them with the full independence of judgement of these mandate-holders in the pursuit of their monitoring mission.

The following kinds of issues have been raised in the recent past which have not found an optimal solution:

Can a Special Procedure Mandate Holder, in the legitimate context of his right to select studies to present to the Council, also question initiatives under discussion by the Council itself without being requested to do so?

If a Special Procedure is mandated by the Council to present a report on a particular issue at a specified session of the Council, may he replace such report by a study that he considers as taking precedence over the mandated theme without consulting the Bureau of the Council?

May a Special Procedure or a commission of enquiry mandated by the Council to present to it a report on a specific theme, report to the General Assembly thereon before reporting to the Council without specific authority to do so?

Should Special Procedures who also interact with the General Assembly of with the Security Council also report to the Human Rights Council thereon?

Many other such questions may crop up from time to time.

During the 2010-2011 review process, all groups of countries of the Global South proposed that some form of advisory body of independent jurists could be consulted on an ad hoc basis to address these procedural issues and free more time in the Council for debates on the substance of human rights promotion and protection.

This view held by a majority of developing nations deserves respect even in case of disagreement. And indeed it was objected to by the Global North, whether at the governmental or at the NGO level, who claimed this was tantamount to imposing an Ethics Committee on Special Procedures.

Pending progress towards greater understanding between North and South on this issue, it is suggested that such issues be discussed at an annual joint meeting of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures with the 5 regional representatives of the geographic regions recognized by the Council. They would consult on solutions to such procedural issues including linkages between relevant GA or HRC resolutions and paragraphs 94, 102 and 105 of MOSP.

Fifth, what future structure and funding for Special Procedures?

The dissemination of thematic and country mandates between different divisions or branches of OHCHr in the past has been a cause for concern about the preservation of the independence of Special Procedures. So has their authority to fund-raise individually as per paragraph 11 of MOSP.

The latter question has been addressed recently as Special Procedures are now asked to disclose and report on the support they obtain directly in cash or in kind from outside donors. This report should be submitted to HRC in the context of standard financial reporting.

Idriss Jazairy is author of “In Defence of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council: An Alternative Narrative from the South”, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

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Justice for Berta Caceres Incomplete Without Land Rights: UN Rapporteur Fri, 13 May 2016 21:44:24 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Lyndal Rowlands

The murder of Honduran Indigenous woman Berta Caceres is only too familiar to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All around the world, Indigenous peoples are murdered, raped and kidnapped when their lands fall in the path of deforestation, mining and construction. According to the group Global Witness, one Indigenous person was killed almost every week in 2015 because of their environmental activism, 40 percent of the total 116 people killed for environmental activism.

“We shouldn’t forget that the death of Berta is because of the protest that she had against the destruction of the territory of her people,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS in a recent interview.

Caceres, who was murdered at the beginning of March, had long known her life was in danger. She experienced violence and intimidation as a leader of the Lenca people of Rio Blanco who protested the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on their traditional lands.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Caceres activism received international recognition, including through the 2015 Goldman Prize, however this was not enough to protect her.

She knew she was going to die, she had even written her own obituary, said Tauli-Corpuz who met with Caceres during a visit to Honduras in 2015.

Four men were arrested in relation to Caceres death earlier this week.

While Tauli-Corpuz welcomed the arrests she said that justice would not be clear until after the trial, and that real justice was about more than the criminal proceedings for Caceres murder.

“We cannot rest on our laurels to say the whole thing is finished because that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is this whole issue about the dam still being there.”

Tauli-Corpuz has witnessed accounts of violence against many other Indigenous activists around the world, in her role as Special Rapporteur.

Their experiences have startling similarity, Indigenous peoples are subjected to rape, murder and kidnap, whenever they stand in the way of access to lands or natural resources.

“You cannot delink the fight of indigenous people for their lands, territories and resources from the violence that’s committed against indigenous women (and men), especially if this is a violence that is perpetrated by state authorities or by corporate security,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz also said that a look at the bigger picture reveals the increasingly international nature of the problems experienced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries,” she said.

“You see a situation where the state is meant to be the main duty bearer for protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, but at the same time you see investors having strong rights being protected and that is really where a lot of conflicts come up,” she said.

In Guatemala, Tauli-Corpuz says that 50 Indigenous women are still waiting for justice after their husbands were murdered and their lands taken in 1982.

“(Their) husbands were killed by the military because they were demanding the rights to their lands then (the military) took the women (to) the military camps and raped them and made them sexual slaves,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the women were brave enough to take their case to the courts but had to cover their faces because they were still being harassed by the military.

She said that when she recently asked the women what they would like if they won their case, they said that they would like their land back. After 33 years, their lands have never been returned.

Tauli-Corpuz also noted that for Indigenous peoples justice is incomplete if their lands are protected but they are denied access to them.

“(The land) is the source of their identities, their cultures and their livelihoods,” she said. If the forest is preserved but people are kicked off their lands, “than that’s a another problem that has to be prevented at all costs.”

In other cases, Indigenous peoples are forced off their lands when their food sources are destroyed.

For example said Tauli-Corpuz a major dam being built in the Amazon is not only destroying the forest but also means that there are no longer any fish in the rivers for the Indigenous people who rely on them.

Tauli-Corpuz said that it is important to remember that Indigenous peoples are contributing to climate change and environmental solutions by continuing their traditional ways of forest and ecosystem management.

Tauli-Corpuz has first-hand experience as an Indigenous activist and environmental defender. As a leader of the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines she helped successfully protest the construction of the Chico River Hydroelectric dam in the 1970s.

She notes that dams shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a climate change solution because they destroy forests and produce methane which is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon.

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Why Peacebuilding is Part of the Sustainable Development Agenda Wed, 11 May 2016 21:26:45 +0000 Patrick Keuleers Sustainable development and peace are linked, including through education. Credit: John Robinson/IPS

Sustainable development and peace are linked, including through education. Credit: John Robinson/IPS

By Patrick Keuleers

We tend not to worry when things are going well.

If people can take care of their daily business and send their kids to school without fear of violence, resolve disputes through a functioning justice system when the need arises, express their views both in private discussions and in public processes, feel they can truly contribute to decisions that affect their lives, and know effective institutions are in place to deliver basic services to their families and communities without interruption or the need for bribes, chances are they will be broadly content with the way their society is managed.

But, if any one of these public goods is absent, or if their access to safety, health, education or livelihoods are threatened, concerns are likely to be expressed quickly – and often very loudly.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the importance of these public goods as being at the heart of sustainable development. There is a strong focus on peaceful, just and inclusive societies in the 2030 Agenda – and explicit recognition that there can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace. Where safety is routinely and casually under threat, it will be impossible to generate lasting improvements in most aspects of people’s lives.

But what does this mean in practice? How do people know that their government is committed to progress on these issues – to consolidating existing strengths, and to generating further gains over time?

That is a valid question. Unlike other elements of the 2030 Agenda – access to health, education, and sanitation, for example, which were part of the previous Millennium Development Goals – commitments to peace, justice and inclusion have not been measured systematically before as part of a global agenda agreed by UN member states.

"There can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace."

In an attempt to provide an answer to that question, a small group of member states started in the latter part of 2014 to test how best to define and measure these concepts in practice. Even before the final adoption of the 2030 Agenda – including Goal 16 on peace, justice and institutions – these countries had been identifying their priorities and experimenting with goals, targets and indicators to demonstrate progress.

The results of this “pilot” work – in Albania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Tunisia and the UK – are presented in a Final Report launched on 21 April. The Report contains interesting lessons about what it means to work with these fundamental but often elusive concepts, lessons which will be of interest to a much wider group of countries now that the 2030 Agenda is a reality, and implementation a priority for all Member States.

The pilot experiences emphasise the importance of many elements that will be central to all approaches: effective planning, sound institutional structures at the heart of government, and partnerships down to the most local level involving community based organisations and civil society, alongside government.

But one message that comes across very clearly from the pilot exercises is that there is no magic formula for demonstrating progress. Context matters and different countries will need to assess their particular needs and capacities for monitoring and implementation, using available tools and developing approaches to measurement that are considered appropriate for the majority of the stakeholders affected.

The 2030 Agenda contains the shared commitment from all UN Member States to keeping people safe, to ensuring the fair administration of justice in accordance with the rule of law, and to building genuinely inclusive institutions which provide people a voice in the decision-making processes that affect them.

Global indicators will provide a snapshot each year of how successful we are as a global community. But alongside this global framework, there is ample space for different approaches at the national and local level, allowing countries to demonstrate how they are making society more peaceful, just and inclusive for all people – especially those most at risk of violence, injustice and exclusion.

The pilot countries gave us a head start, showing that with the right level of dedication, building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is both feasible and measurable.

Patrick Keuleers is Director of Governance and Peacebuilding, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

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Nobel Laureates Join Forces for Food Security and Stability Wed, 11 May 2016 15:11:36 +0000 Maddie Felts and Robert Williamson-Noble Muhammad Yunus addresses the audience at the launch of the FAO-Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Peace and Food Security.

Muhammad Yunus addresses the audience at the launch of the FAO-Nobel Peace Laureates Alliance for Peace and Food Security.

By Maddie Felts and Robert Williamson-Noble
ROME, May 11 2016 (IPS)

“Where food security can be a force for stability, we have to look to food and agriculture as pathways to peace and security. This is a great challenge, but one that we can meet together as we embark on achieving the 2030 Development Agenda.” These were the words of FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva as he discussed the interplays between food security and peace in New York last March.

Food security and a healthy agricultural sector have important roles in the efforts to prevent conflict and maintain peace. With this challenge in mind, on 11 May, the FAO formally established a new partnership with five Nobel Peace Laureates known for their work to fight poverty, hunger, and violence worldwide. The FAO – Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance links FAO in partnership with Muhammad Yunus, Oscar Arias Sánchez, Tawakkol Karman, Betty Williams and Kofi Annan.

Muhammad Yunus was the first Laureate to speak, calling hunger an issue he and his fellow Laureates consider “dear to our hearts.” Yunus asserted that the distribution of free food is not a sustainable solution to eradicating hunger. Instead, he advocated for the microcredit model he first instituted over forty years ago in Bangladesh. Yunus said that the distribution of small loans to poor individuals promotes financial independence and thus the ability to obtain food.

By combining the objective of charity organizations and the engine of a business, Yunus has created a model of social business that he believes can improve the lives of rural populations currently excluded from the mainstream economy. He hopes to inspire young people to become entrepreneurs in agriculture and looks to challenge the idea that young people must flock to cities to find jobs. The initiative to encourage what Yunus called “entrepreneurs in agriculture” enforces his belief that “we are not job seekers; we are job creators.”

Yunus concluded his address with enthusiasm that the Alliance will bring the world closer to “three zeros”: zero hunger, malnutrition, and poverty; zero unemployment; and zero net carbon emission. His message set a tone of acknowledging the challenges of the present while pushing for a more hopeful future that would be echoed by his fellow Laureates.

Following Yunus’s message, Oscar Arias began his address by focusing on balance between various forms of violence and peace. Describing a Dante-esque scene, Arias forecasted the war between humans and nature. “The earth is complaining, and it is calling for peace” he proclaimed.

In addition to preventing catastrophic damage to the environment, Arias highlighted the necessity of ending violence in order to combat food insecurity and suffering. He discussed how “armed forces are the greatest polluters of the planet.” In times without war, however, he noted that “the absence of war does not automatically mean the consolidation of peace; we cannot say people are living in peace in a post-conflict situation until we can eradicate the many forms of violence on earth.” In addition to armed conflict, Arias explained that a lack of access to medical attention and food are both forms of violence.

Arias called for a renewed effort to protect the environment, seek conflict resolution, and consolidate peace using the reach and resources of the FAO. He appealed to the international community to put into practice the fundamental values of the 2030 agenda, reiterating that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development. Within all of us, Arias said, we harbor the potential of life, the power of reason, the strength of dialogue and the capacity to reason, correct our mistakes and make compromises. Arias urged the audience to utilize this potential to promote peace and food security.

Tawakkol Karman built upon Arias’s call to pursue the sustainable development goals, exclaiming that “we need to work hard and work with our hearts to achieve the SDGs.” She emphasized the need to promote a positive, fair globalization where all of mankind can share the benefits, warning that we now face negative effects of globalization that are disproportionately shouldered by the poor. She declared that the fight against hunger and poverty means taking the first steps towards sustainable development and towards a more equitable world. This progress is only possible, Karman argued, through shared bonds of fraternity and a moral commitment to eradicate poverty and promote peace.

Karman considered conflict to be the source of hunger, poverty, famine, and misery. She stated, “Building peace is part and parcel of eradicating hunger and achieving food security, but if we are to achieve this goal in any country, we need to keep one goal in front of us: to guarantee that everyone can have freedom, and by freedom I do not only mean freedom from want; I also mean political freedom.” Transitional justice, Karman explained, can bring peace to an area and a community overcoming a conflict and facilitating progress towards peace. Karman insisted that by 2030, “we need to have lifted the burdens of poverty and hunger,” an accomplishment only possible through the commitment, collaboration, and mobilization of all people and all governments.

Betty Williams began her address by recognizing that there remains work to be done towards eradicating hunger and fostering peace, but she was quick to assert that great work has already been done, as she acknowledged the accomplishments of her peers in the Alliance and expressed her appreciation to call them friends. Williams described her experience during the height of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s. At first, she said, she wanted to keep her door closed out of fear for her family’s safety. After she witnessed the death of three children on a Belfast street, however, her horror and anger compelled her to action. She described the peace efforts in Northern Ireland as a movement begun by “ordinary extraordinary people.”

In her role as a Nobel Peace Laureate, Williams traveled to areas such as Africa, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Argentina, and Chile. She explained how she had never truly seen or known hunger until she witnessed some of the world’s poorest communities, some of which she saw in developed nations like the United States. The devastation made her physically sick at times, but she decided to take action, for, as she declared, “Tears without action are wasted sentiment.” After hearing about the possibility of nuclear disposal on the lands of Basilicata, Williams went to the southern Italian region and defended the land alongside the people of Basilicata. She has created a foundation in Basilicata that builds, ecologically sound, inexpensive homes for refugees.

At the heart of her humanitarian work, however, will always be the protection of children, like the children in Belfast that drove her to take action over four decades ago. She concluded her remarks with a reading of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which espouses principles Williams said she will fight for “until the day I die.”

Kofi Annan gave his remarks to the conference through a video message, first stating, “A stable and peaceful environment is the foundation for lasting food security and livelihoods.” He discussed the inextricable connections between food security, peace, and sustainable development. His remarks reflected a feeling of hope for a more peaceful future without hunger, as he said, “I know we can eradicate hunger within a generation provided we can mobilize political leadership and political will.”

In the general discussion that followed the addresses, Yunus spoke of the need for a banking system and coordinating legislation that serves the poor. The current model of non-governmental organizations providing microcredit is not sustainable, Yunus said, because it is restrained by the often limited funding of NGOs. He discussed the need for self-sustaining financial systems geared towards lifting individuals and communities out of poverty.

Though the goals before the FAO – Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance may appear lofty, Yunus was hopeful, calling himself a “compulsive optimist.” His message to young people was that “you have the power to change the entire world by yourself.”

Williams reflected Yunus’s optimism, saying we must all be optimistic as we join in the fight for sustainable development. She suggested to Yunus that they open a bank geared towards the poor in Basilicata. If this first meeting is any indicator of the ultimate success of the task force, the future certainly looks promising.


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UN Releases Plan to Increase Refugee Responsibility Sharing Tue, 10 May 2016 04:32:34 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A Syrian refugee in Cairo: fleeing Syrians have little to look forward to here. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS.

A Syrian refugee in Cairo: fleeing Syrians have little to look forward to here. Credit: Hisham Allam/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands

The UN wants to create a new Global Compact to encourage countries to share the responsibility for hosting the 19 million refugees who have fled their home countries.

The success of a UN summit on refugees and migration planned for September this year “will hinge on the strength” of the proposed compact, Sherif Elsayed-Ali, ‎Deputy Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International told IPS.

Elsayed-Ali said that a small number of states have been expected to deal with a huge number of refugees while wealthier countries that could be doing a lot more “are not doing very much.”

One of the countries that has born a disproportionate burden of hosting refugees for decades is Kenya.

Elsayed-Ali said that the Kenyan government’s recent renewed threat to close down the world’s largest refugee camp and deport thousands of Somalis is “a manifestation of the complete failure to uphold responsibility sharing as it should be.”

“The situation has come to what it is now partially because the international community has ignored situations like the Somali refugee crisis in Kenya,” he said.

“The situation has come to what it is now partially because the international community has ignored situations like the Somali refugee crisis in Kenya,” -- Sherif Elsayed-Ali, Amnesty.

Kenya is not the only developing country struggling to cope with hosting refugees. Almost nine out of ten refugees live in developing countries, Karen AbuZayd, Special Adviser to the Secretary General on the Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants told journalists here Monday.

AbuZayd was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene the September summit as a key part of the UN’s response to the ongoing global refugee crisis.

A report released here Monday “In Safety and Dignity: Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants” details Ban’s hopes for the summit, including his plans for the Global Compact.

AbuZayd said that the summit was partly needed to remind member states of the international laws they have already agreed to follow.

“We’ve come to this point that we have to have another summit about this and remind people of their previous commitments,” she said.

The summit will also propose new solutions, including a plan to increase development aid to host countries.

Countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which are hosting millions of Syrian refugees, have been calling for increased international assistance to help them bear the financial burden of shelter, education and healthcare for millions of refugees.

“There needs to be proper funding for Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, for the financial costs of hosting a large refugee population,” said Elsayed-Ali.

However, it is unclear whether the proposed Global Compact plans to address the issue of rich countries paying poorer countries to host refugees for them.

IPS asked UN Deputy Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General about this issue here Monday and he said that it was one of many reasons demonstrating the urgency and relevance of the initiative. However Eliasson did not provide details as to how the issue could be specifically addressed.

So far one of the few countries to adopt this approach has been Australia. Elsayed-Ali described Australia’s policy of settling refugees in Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Cambodia as “completely disastrous.”

“Essentially Australia is absolving itself of its core responsibility under international refugee law,” he said.

Referring to the conditions on Nauru where two refugees have recently resorted to self-immolation in protest, Elsayed-Ali said that “almost no independent observers have been able to go and see the situation or talk to the refugees.”

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Asia’s Indigenous Communities Marred by Militarisation Tue, 10 May 2016 04:08:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Opening of the Fifteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Opening of the Fifteenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Militarisation in indigenous territories in Asia is exacerbating conflict and human rights violations, said Secretary-General of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact Joan Carling at an event during the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held here Monday.

The annual two-week forum has brought together over 1000 participants from around the world to discuss issues of conflict, peace, and resolution and its implications on indigenous communities.   

On its first day, a group of delegates came together during a side event to focus and raise awareness of the theme in the context of Asia.

Approximately two-thirds of the world’s indigenous population lives in Asia, making it the most culturally diverse region in the world. Among the increasingly major challenges in the region is militarisation and the denial of indigenous self-determination and rights to land.

Home to 11 indigenous groups, Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) continues to be one of the most militarized areas in the world.

According to the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA), an estimated one-third of the Bangladesh Army is in the CHT, an area that only accounts for one percent of the country’s total population and nine percent of land mass.

The military bases were initially established due to a two-decade war between the Government of Bangladesh and Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS) over indigenous rights and the region’s autonomy.

“After their deaths, [the paramilitary] said that we had to evacuate in two days and if we didn’t, we would all be massacred." -- Josephine Pagalan.

Despite a 1997 peace accord which included commitments to withdraw military troops and self-governance, military presence and de facto control persist.

“Almost 18 years have passed and major commitments have not been fulfilled,” said Secretary-General of the Bangladesh Indigenous People’s Forum Sanjeeb Drong during the event.

Drong stressed that indigenous communities are not against the military, but they do not support military rule.

“The military can be there, but civil government will rule the area,” he stated. However, this has not been the case in CHT as indigenous institutions continue to be invalidated, he added.

An appointed Special Rapporteur Lars Anders-Baer also expressed concern in a report over the failure to implement the agreement and the continued deployment of armed forces in the region.

“The lack of substantial progress is leading to an increasing sense of frustration and disillusionment among the indigenous peoples in the region,” the report states.

“Adding fuel to the dwindling faith in the Government’s sincere intent or political ability to fully implement the accord are developments and initiatives that violate or go against the spirit of the accord,” Anders-Baer adds.

Violations include torture and arbitrary arrests committed by military personnel, suppressing dissident voices. Another major issue is land grabbing, Drong notes.

Beyond forced evictions of indigenous residents and illegal land leases to non-local individuals, Drong stated that the military’s involvement in the tourism industry has contributed to the expropriation and destruction of indigenous lands in CHT.

Sena Kalyan Sangstha (SKS), the business wing of the Bangladesh military, is a key player in real estate construction and management. With the help of government subsidies and funds earned from UN peacekeeping missions, the group operates luxury resorts including the Nilgiri resort in CHT. During its construction, the army reportedly tore down a local indigenous group’s orchard as well as shops and a nearby school.

Similarly, indigenous leader Josephine Pagalan spoke of land grabbing in the resource-rich Mindanao island of the Philippines.

The island is particularly known for its mineral resources including copper and gold. As a result, Mindanao host 60 percent of the Philippines’ armed forces excluding paramilitary groups, she noted.

The southern Philippines is also is home to the majority of the country’s indigenous groups, collectively called the Lumads.

The country’s military have forcefully evicted and displaced numerous Lumad residents, which many believe are aimed to protect and allow the expansion of large-scale mining industries.

The military has also been involved in the massacre of indigenous leaders.

Pagalan, who witnessed the event, recalled the incursion by a paramilitary group, stating: “Last September 1st, at 3:30 in the morning, we were forced awake and forced to leave our houses…all 150 of us.”

In front of her, the group stabbed the Executive Director of a Lumad school Emerico Samarca multiple times along with indigenous leader Dionel Campos and his cousin Aurelio Sinzo.

“After their deaths, [the paramilitary] said that we had to evacuate in two days and if we didn’t, we would all be massacred,” she told attendees.

The event reportedly sparked the evacuation of almost 3,000 Lumads.

Just a month prior to these attacks, Human Rights Watch reported that Philippine government soldiers killed five members of a Lumad family, including children ages 13 and 17, reflecting larger, systematic violations of human rights.

President Benigno Aquino III denied any wrongdoing, stating that “there is no campaign to kill Lumad people, we are serving the people.”

Pagalan urged for government accountability and justice for affected indigenous peoples, including the return of ancestral lands.

Bangladeshi politician and activist Devasish Roy especially highlighted the need for justice in CHT at a press briefing Monday, stating: “We really need to look at peace…with justice as a necessary part of it. You can have the cessation of hostilities…but [it] doesn’t mean that’s real resolution.”

Carling expressed her hope to IPS that the UNPFII will particularly raise awareness among member states to respect and enforce conflict resolution and indigenous rights.

“Unless states take this matter seriously and have the political will to address the issue of militarisation…then we cannot expect much of any improvement in the situation.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a video message during the opening of the forum, announced the launch of a system-wide action plan for coherent and coordinated action on indigenous issues.

“Lasting peace requires that indigenous peoples have access to cultural, social and economic justice…it is essential that we work as one to realize the full rights of indigenous peoples,” he stated.

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MSF Withdrawal Part of Ongoing Debate Over Humanitarian Aid Mon, 09 May 2016 05:00:48 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MŽedecins Sans Frontires, and Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speak following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on healthcare in armed conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Dr. Joanne Liu, President of MŽedecins Sans Frontires, and Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, speak following the adoption by the Security Council of a resolution on healthcare in armed conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Aid organisations have differing views about the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, after Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) pulled out last week some still hope the Summit will help bring about much needed change.

There is little doubt that the world’s humanitarian system is over-burdened as a result of the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The ongoing crisis prompted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to convene the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which will take place in Istanbul on May 23-24.

Although MSF are concerned the summit will not adequately address weaknesses in humanitarian action, other aid organisations are more hopeful that the summit’s approach could help bring about a more coordinated approach to humanitarian and development assistance. Currently humanitarian aid, which focuses on disasters, is delivered by a largely separate system to development aid, which focuses on addressing systemic poverty.

MSF, which was significantly involved in preparations for the summit, announced last week that they “no longer have any hope” that the meeting will improve emergency response and reinforce the role of impartial humanitarian aid.

“Right now what you’re seeing is people using emergency funding for decades of aid which isn’t the right way to go about it." -- Christina Bennett, ODI.

The summit’s focus on doing “aid differently” and “end(ing) need” threaten to “dissolve humanitarian assistance into wider development, peace-building and political agendas,” the organisation said in a statement.

MSF also stated that the WHS has become a “fig-leaf of good intentions” which does not make states accountable or responsible.

“By putting states on the same level as nongovernmental organisations and UN agencies, which have no such powers or obligations, the Summit will minimize the responsibility of states,” MSF said.

UN Secretary-General Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed his disappointment in the move, noting that MSF is a “strong and influential voice” in the field.

MSF’s decision to withdraw announced last Thursday has contributed to an ongoing international debate over what is required to create “better aid.”

Care International’s Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator Gareth Price-Jones told IPS the WHS needs to ensure faster and more “principled” aid that is still based on the humanitarian doctrine of impartiality and neutrality.

Where Care International differs from MSF is the importance of addressing why there are such needs in the first place, he said.

“[MSF] feels that humanitarian aid should be strictly reactive…although having that reactive response is critical, what we also need is to address the demand side,” said Price-Jones.

He noted that a nexus between humanitarian and development aid would help to implement much needed measures for prevention and mitigation especially in cases of conflict, natural disasters and climate change.

“When the fire service was set up, the logic was to charge in and protect fires,” he said. “But if you look at what modern fire services do nowadays is mostly fire prevention because everyone knows it is obviously far better to prevent a fire than to put it out after it has happened.”

However focusing on prevention does not necessarily mean that humanitarian aid will become politicized, he added.

Similarly, Senior Research Fellow of the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group  wrote in a report that the collaboration of humanitarian and development actors can contribute to making communities more resilient to future crises.

Bennett told IPS that addressing humanitarian and development aid together could more effectively address complex, long-term crises.

“Right now what you’re seeing is people using emergency funding for decades of aid which isn’t the right way to go about it,” she said.

Though Bennett acknowledges the important role of neutral and independent humanitarian assistance and stressed the need for caution, she said aid should not operate in such separate “silos” in some cases.

“Just call it need and combine forces to understand how we can address that need,” she told IPS. With a “larger pot of funding,” actors can address both short and long-term needs, she added.

She cited the refugee crisis in the Middle East as a case that requires a more long-term, comprehensive aid approach.

“The problem is not going to go away…its not that they are going to leave their home for nine months and then go back and rebuild their house and live there again, that’s not really what happens anymore,” she stated.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the average length of displacement is now 17 years. Already, refugee-hosting countries such as Jordan have found their economic resources exhausted.

Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Country Director for Jordan Petr Kostohryz told IPS that the focus on immediate needs in the refugee crisis’ early stages created a degree of “aid dependency” instead of contributing to long-term solutions. This is partly due to the nature of humanitarian assistance, he added.

According to a UN and World Bank study, 90 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon live under the national poverty line. Many families are unable to legally earn income and many children still lack access to education.

“We are at risk (of) losing a whole generation of Syrian refugee children,” he said.

Approximately 40 percent of all Syrian children in Jordan are out of school.

Though different stages of displacement calls for different needs, such protracted displacement often calls for early strategies beyond short-term immediate assistance in order to build resilience against future shocks, Kostohryz stated.

Bennett echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating that a long-term view that combines short-term and long-term assistance is necessary to help provide education resources, create jobs, and give refugee families a more permanent living situation where “they feel they can actually start a life.”

When asked if he believes that the WHS will result in such tangible outcomes, Kostohryz told IPS that “we have no choice.”

“Although we may live in a time where agreeing on a common outcome or vision is the most difficult in decades, we need changes and new strategies that all key actors gather around and support,” he continued.

Kostohryz said that the solutions are ultimately political and that he hopes the WHS will lead to a confirmed commitment to the protection of civilians including education for all and a reaffirmation of principled humanitarian action.

Price-Jones also expressed similar optimistic hopes for the WHS, underscoring the need for states to make and strengthen such commitments to minimize humanitarian consequences.

“There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems. They are an outcome of a political failure either to plan for a natural disaster or to prevent and mitigate a conflict,” he told IPS.

Humanitarian reform is therefore in the hands of the world’s governments, a view that MSF shares.

Bennett added that along with governments, institutions such as the UN and large international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) must also address systemic issues in order to improve the humanitarian system including aid delivery and its outcomes.

More skeptical about the potential success of WHS, Bennett hopes that the meeting will at least provide a roadmap to “start” this conversation.

The WHS will bring together approximately 6,000 representatives from governments, businesses, aid organisations and affected communities. This includes 80 member states of the UN’s 193 members.

With the diversity in perspectives of what “humanitarian” means and should look like, it is still unclear what outcomes or actions the summit intends to produce, observers note.

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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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