Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Jul 2015 20:10:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141754 Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141731 In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141722 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Ex-Leader of Chad Faces African-Led Court After Years on the Runhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ex-leader-of-chad-faces-african-led-court-after-years-on-the-run/#comments Tue, 21 Jul 2015 14:46:27 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141681 A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

A scene from the mission of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) to Chad to inquire into crimes committed by the regime of Hissène Habré in 2001. Credit: FIDH/cc by 2.0

By a Global Information Network correspondent
DAKAR, Jul 21 2015 (IPS)

After years awaiting justice by a court of law, Chadian citizens packed the Palais de Justice in Dakar, Senegal, to catch a glimpse of Hissene Habre, president of the central African nation from 1982-1990 during which time his iron fist rule took between 1,200 and 40,000 lives, according to evidence compiled by Chadian and international rights groups.

Members of victims’ groups, whose efforts to bring Habre to court spanned over two decades, now strained to view this now slight figure dressed in white robes and a traditional white turban to cover most of his face.

The 72-year-old former strongman appeared unrepentant. As the proceedings began, he shouted “Down with imperialism! [The trial] is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians. African traitors. Valet of America,” setting off a struggle between his supporters and alleged victims. At least half a dozen guards rushed to remove him. A small group of supporters was also removed.

When Mr. Habre refused to return to the courtroom, presiding judge Gberdao Gustave Kam warned he would be forced to attend on Tuesday. Over 100 victims are due to testify at the trial.

“We want to show the Chadian people, and why not all Africans, that no, you cannot govern in terror and criminality,” Souleyman Guengueng, 66, a former accountant who spent more than two years in Habre’s prison, said to Diadie Ba, a Reuters journalist.

“After 25 years, to see him again – it was a very emotional experience,” said Clément Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré, who claims he was forced to dig graves for many of his fellow inmates. “But now I see that I am in the sun and he is in the shade. For us, the victims, this has been an important occasion.“

The tribunal is supported by the African Union but is part of Senegal’s justice system, making it the first time in modern history that one country’s domestic courts have prosecuted the former leader of another country on rights charges.

A successful trial would also make the case that African countries could try their own, rather than have the Western-led International Criminal Court (ICC) be the venue for trials of Africans.

The case against Habre turns on whether he personally ordered the killing and torture of political opponents and ethnic rivals. In 1992, the Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré’s government of up to 40,000 political murders, mostly by his intelligence police, the Documentation and Security Directorate. (DDS)

Human Rights Watch in 2001 unearthed thousands of documents in the abandoned DDS headquarters updating Habre on the status of detainees. A court handwriting expert concluded that margin notes on one document were Habre’s.

“Rarely do we find so much evidence of crimes,” said Reed Brody of HRW. “And these match the testimonies of the victims, day for day, word for word.”

“This is the end of a nightmare,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, the lead lawyer for the victims. “The fact that he is here and listens to victims speak of all the atrocities they suffered is already a great victory.”

Habré denies being responsible for hundreds of deaths.

The trial is expected to last several months.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Security Council Defies U.S. Lawmakers by Voting on Iran Nuke Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:06:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141659 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

When all 15 members of the Security Council raised their collective hands to unanimously vote in favour of the recently-concluded nuclear agreement with Iran, they were also defying a cabal of right-wing conservative U.S. politicians who wanted the United Nations to defer its vote until the U.S. Congress makes its own decision on the pact.

By U.N. standards, in a relatively early morning nine a.m. vote on Monday, the Security Council gave its blessings to the international agreement crafted by its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) – which was finalised in Vienna last week after months of protracted negotiations.“Some people just can't accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like." -- Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the United States is the only one of the seven signatory countries (P5+1 and Iran) where there is serious opposition to the agreement, which a broad cross-section of strategic analysts worldwide recognise as the best realistically possible.

“Some people just can’t accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like,” he added.

Successful negotiations require compromises from both sides rather than simply capitulation by one side, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the prime negotiators of the agreement, responded over the weekend to demands by some U.S. Congressmen that the United States should take political and diplomatic precedence over the United Nations – even on an agreement that was international, not bilateral.

“It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain ought to do what the (U.S.) Congress tells them to do,” he said during a TV interview.

“They have the right to have a vote,” he said, “but we prevailed on them to delay the implementation of that vote out of respect for our Congress, so we wouldn’t be jamming them,” Kerry added.

According to the New York Times, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the panel, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the Security Council vote until the U.S. Congress has taken its own decision.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS “it’s often a difficult concept to get across to many members of Congress, but the U.S. government can’t run the world — and sometimes official Washington can’t even run the U.N. Security Council.”

This comes as a shock, or at least an affront, to Republicans and quite a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who may never use the word hegemony but fervently believe that the U.S. is a light onto all nations and should not hide that light under such a dubious bushel as international law, he pointed out.

“In this case, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or scream at the dangerous U.S. congressional arrogance that is seeking to upend the Iran deal,” said Solomon, who is also founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, an online action group with some 600,000 active supporters.

Historically, U.S. government policies have been responsible for a great deal of nuclear proliferation in the world, he said.

“Washington still won’t officially acknowledge that Israel now possesses nuclear weapons, and U.S. leaders have turned aside from any and all proposals to seek a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East,” said Solomon.

On Monday, the 28-member European Union (EU) also approved the Iran nuclear deal paving the way for the lifting of Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is a major political deal.”

The permanent representative of Britain to the United Nations, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, expressed similar sentiments Monday when he said “the world is now a safer place in the knowledge that Iran cannot now build a nuclear bomb.”

Solomon told IPS the United States is among the leading countries that have promulgated commercial nuclear power in dozens of nations, steadfastly denying the reality that nuclear energy for electricity generation is a major pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

“We have seen no acknowledgement of this fact in Washington’s high places, let alone steps to move the world away from such dangerous nuclear-power extravaganzas,” he said.

The Iran nuclear agreement now on the table is one of the few big diplomatic achievements that the Obama administration can legitimately claim some credit for, he argued.

But many of the most chauvinistic forces in Washington, he noted, are now doing their best to undermine it.

“In the context of the United Nations, as well as in political arenas of the United States, this dynamic should be fully recognised for what it is — a brazen attempt by, frankly, warmongers in the U.S. Congress to rescue their hopes for war with Iran from the jaws of a peaceful solution.”

After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted Monday, will ensure the enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear agreement.

He said it establishes procedures that will facilitate the JCPOA’s implementation, enabling all States to carry out their obligations contained in the Agreement.

“The resolution provides for the eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. It guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue to verify Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

The United Nations, he assured, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required in giving effect to the resolution.

Zunes told IPS as nuclear treaties between the United States and the Soviets demonstrated, you can be geopolitical rivals and strongly oppose the other’s system of government and still recognise there is such a thing as a win/win solution on arms control.

Most agreements regarding nuclear weapons have required reciprocity, but none of Iran’s nuclear-armed neighbours — Israel, Pakistan, or India — will be required to eliminate or reduce their weapons or become open to inspections despite the fact that they continue to be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programmes, he added.

And none of the other nuclear powers, including five of the six nations that led the negotiations, will be required to reduce their arsenals either.

“Any notion that Iran could somehow be gaining an unfair advantage through this agreement is utterly absurd,” declared Zunes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Iran Deal Has Far-Reaching Potential to Remake International Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:14:41 +0000 Arul Louis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141650

Arul Louis, a New York-based journalist and international affairs analyst, is a senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at arullouis@spsindia.in.

By Arul Louis
NEW YORK, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

The Vienna agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council acting in concert with Germany has the potential to remake international relations beyond the immediate goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Its impact could be felt at various levels, from United States engagement in the Middle East to the interaction of the competitive global powers, and from the economics of natural resources to the dynamics of Iranian society and politics.

President Barack Obama has invested an inordinate amount of political capital on the deal, challenging many in the United States political arena and Washington’s key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia in hopes that a breakthrough on Iran would be his presidency’s international legacy along with his Cuba opening.

Obama is gambling on the nation’s war-weariness after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that took a total toll of 6,855 casualties and, according to a Harvard researcher, is costing the nation at least $4 trillion. He presented the nation with a stark choice: War or Peace.

“There really are only two alternatives here,” he said, “either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.”Even if Washington and Tehran don't recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL.

Though the deal has been denounced by Republicans and some Democrats, and, earlier, the opponents had taken the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make their case before Congress, Obama expects to carry the day. Even if Congress votes against the agreement, Obama reckons the opposition will not be able to able to get the two-thirds majority to override his threatened veto.

Obama’s Iran legacy, if it works according to plan, will not have the impact of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, but it still could mark the end of 36 years of virulent hostilities. Even if Washington and Tehran don’t recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL. Right now Washington is hamstrung by unsure Sunni allies in the region.

Already in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran have been working with different elements on parallel tracks against ISIL. Obama has been blamed for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq, although it was largely in keeping with his predecessor George W. Bush’s timetable, and for failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad on stationing some troops beyond the pullout deadline. These have been mentioned as factors leading to the rise of ISIL.

Now, there is a chance for Obama to redeem himself through the cooperation of Iran, even if they will not go to the extent of a formal agreement.

In the other ISIL flashpoint to the west of Iraq, there seems to be implacable differences on Syria. Tehran stands firmly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington considers the irreconcilable foe of peace in that civil war ravaged country. Bridging this gap even if by face-saving measures would be the true test of a diplomatic shift.

The Iran nuclear issue takes the inevitable colour of a Shia-Sunni conflict. In the first place, the unspoken impetus for Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the threat from its Sunni fundamentalists against Shias.

Now Pakistan’s stock will rise in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations as hedge, a Sunni-dominated nuclear power ranged against Iran, which they mistrust.

Add to this mix Israel, which has developed an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia. For Israel, the threat comes from fears of the millenarian trends among some Shia Muslims that could cancel out the insurance that Jerusalem, sacred to the Muslims, provides and Teheran’s venomous, ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But a more immediate issue for Israel is Tehran’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. The sanctions against Iran limited its potential financial and material backing for these organisations and the flow of funds after sanctions are lifted could boost Tehran’s adventurism, directly and through proxies, Israel fears.

On the global diplomatic front, the Iran deal is a break from the incessant U.N. Security Council squabbles that have hobbled it as issues like Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea and assorted hotspots in Africa burn. Russia and China showed they could work intensively with the West. Moscow even earned plaudits from Obama for its role in facilitating the deal.

Russia and Iran share some common interests in places like Syria, Central Asia and the caucuses. An unbridled Tehran could more effectively cooperate with Moscow in these areas.

Economically, Russia, like other oil producers, may be hit by falling oil prices, but the diplomatic congruence and future arms sales could compensate.

For the European Union and China, the deal opens up business opportunities in a nation with tremendous economic potential along with lower oil prices.

Iran has the fourth largest known reserves of oil and its current production of 1.1 million barrels could soar to four million within a year. For most of the developing world, further reduction in oil prices will be a great help, even as it increases political and social pressures in some oil-producers.

The picture for India is mixed . It has been paying for Iranian oil imports in rupees while it has been exporting limited amounts of machinery and chemicals. The bilateral trade is in Iran’s favor and is estimated at about 14 billion dollars, with Indian imports at about 10 billion and exports at about 4 billion.

Now India may be able to buy more oil, but it will have to pay in rupees and its exports will have to compete with the rest of the world. With the prospects sanctions going away, India is already facing Tehran’s truculence in oil and gas and railway projects they had agreed on.

The Chabahar port project remains the strategic cornerstone of India’s ambitious engagement with Iran The port on the Gulf of Oman would give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar is also a counterweight to Beijing’s Gawadhar project in Pakistan that would provide another sea outlet for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

On the nuclear nonproliferation front, the Iranian agreement chalks up a small victory after North Korean blatantly developed nuclear weapons. The world has been unable to confront Pyongyang diplomatically or militarily because of its mercurial nature leadership that borders on the insane.

For the Iranians themselves, the deal could ease up their lives and bringing back some normalcy. The bigger question is how it would play in the dynamics of Iranian politics. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the deal, but he has since expressed mistrust of the West in keeping its end of the bargain. That may be rein euphoria and send a message to the moderates.

Would the deal lead to a lessening of the paranoia among the religious and nationalist elements in Iran and in turn strengthen the moderates and push the present day heirs of the ancient Persian civilisation towards a relatively liberal modernity? If that were to happen Iran would have truly emerged from the shadows of international isolation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Myths About the Nuclear Deal With Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 22:05:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141644 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

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

The single biggest misunderstanding about the nuclear agreement with Iran is that it is a bilateral deal with the United States.

Not true.“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one. Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned." --
Dr Rebecca Johnson

The agreement involved the U.N.’s five big powers, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1).

But still, right-wing conservatives and U.S. legislators want to dissect and delegitimise an international agreement, whose clauses include the phased removal of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council, where the P5 have veto powers, will meet next week to adopt a resolution and thereby give its blessings to the agreement.

But pro-Israeli groups and some members of the U.S. Congress want it delayed, arguing the United States should take political precedence over the United Nations.

At a press conference early this week, Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a member of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters: “Well, the way that the U.N. Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

And it would have been a little difficult, she said, “when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

“The proof of the Iran nuclear deal will be in its results,” Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and member of Princeton University’s International Panel on Fissile Materials, told IPS.

“I’ve spent time talking with American and Iranian scientists, diplomats and also human rights defenders. None of us is naive about the hurdles still to be overcome, and yet we are convinced this agreement is a positive step forward – and much better than more years of stalemate and hostility,” she added.

“But we also have to be honest that preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting human rights doesn’t stop with that. We welcome that Iran was one of 112 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties to sign the humanitarian pledge initiated by Vienna this year, to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’.”

Dr Johnson said “multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons as well as efforts to rid the
Middle East of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have to keep going forward if we want to avoid further proliferation and nuclear threats in the future.”

Responding to the strong negative reactions from Israel, Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor, Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think the deal between the global powers and Iran is “the end of the world.”

His house organ, the Yisrael Hayom freebie, financed by the right-wing Las Vegas-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is active on both the Israeli and American political playing fields, greeted the deal with the headline “An Eternally Disgraceful Deal”.

The leaders of the opposition, on the other hand, have declared that the agreement is a “bad deal”, only criticising Netanyahu for ruining Israel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. government.

“What we are actually witnessing however is the failure of Netanyahu’s policy of fear, and the triumph of President Obama’s policy of hope,” Schenker added.

He also said, “Netanyahu was nurtured in a home dominated by his father, the late Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, whose analysis of the Spanish Inquisition led him to conclude that no matter what we, the Jews and the Israelis, do, the whole world will continue to be against us, and we can only rely on ourselves.”

This approach, he argued, is totally contrary to the approach of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, all of whom understood the importance of creating alliances with global powers.

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS the confrontation with Iran has been built up with very little evidence open to the public, allowing for all kinds of claims to be made.

“I hope that this deal will put an end to such Iran-bashing. In any case, I think the deal is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

The next step is for all the countries in the region to accept the same nuclear limitations as Iran – in particular, Israel, he added.

“It is high time the international community turned its attention to Israel and demand that the country eliminate its nuclear arsenal and the nuclear facilities that allow it to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana, author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Dr Johnson told IPS that negotiations, like baking, involve craft as well as science – getting the timing as well as the ingredients right is crucial.

She said diplomatic persistence made the time right for this deal to be brokered, but Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and the rest of the world have to commit to going forward or it won’t succeed.

“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one,” she warned.

“Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned.”

She said such erroneous claims just feed into the hard-line minority in Iran – rump factions close to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that would also benefit if this deal is rejected.

“I don’t think those commentators are so naive that they actually believe their criticisms of the deal. They don’t want Iran to come in from the cold because – for whatever political or financial reasons of their own – they have a vested interest in stoking outdated rivalries and continuing to demonise and isolate Iran.”

She also said sanctions are a blunt instrument of coercion, usually causing most harm to the most vulnerable – women and children – and playing into authoritarian cliques who want to suppress human rights and democracy.

“It will be a tragic lost opportunity if these U.S. and Iranian hard-liners succeed in derailing this constructive nuclear agreement,” she declared.

Schenker told IPS said Netanyahu’s entire political career has been based on fear-mongering, and the need for “a strong leader” to confront the dangers.

In the recent election, this was typified by his last minute declaration that “the (Israeli) Arabs are going to the polling stations in droves, being bused-in by left-wingers.”

But during his past three terms, the ultimate source of fear was the threat of the Iranian bomb, which was picturesquely presented at the U.N. General Assembly session two years ago, and with his speech before U.S. Congress last year.

The headline in today’s Ma’ariv daily (Friday, June 17), is that “47 percent of the Israeli public favour a military attack on Iran following the signing of the agreement”, despite the fact that virtually the entire leadership of the Israeli military and security establishment is opposed to such an attack.

The survey results are clearly the product of the fears generated by Netanyahu and his allies, and much of the mainstream media commentators. However, alternative, calmer voices are also being heard, Schenker noted.

Many Israeli observers wonder why Netanyahu thinks he can still go against the entire international community, with the aid of his Republican allies in the U.S., given that they have no chance to overturn a presidential veto of any obstructionist resolution that they may pass.

As President Clinton once said after his first meeting with Netanyahu back in 1996, “Who does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Civilian Killings? West Literally Gets Away With Murderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 22:03:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141616 Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations continues to come under heavy fire for singling out mostly non-Western states for human rights violations while ignoring the misdeeds of Western nations or big powers.

As part of its annual ritual, the U.N. Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues, has religiously adopted country-specific resolutions every year, mostly critical of nations like Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea for their infractions.“Given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.” -- Dr Gerald Horne

But none of these resolutions have been adopted unanimously – rather, with an increasing number of abstentions.

Last November, the resolution criticising Syria for human rights violations was adopted by a vote of 125 in favour with 13 against and 47 abstentions; the vote on North Korea was 111 in favour with 19 against and 55 abstentions; and the vote on Iran was 78 to 35 with 69 abstentions.

Still, both the United Nations and its Human Rights Council (HRC) have rarely, if ever, launched an investigation into civilian killings, including of women and children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen by drone attacks or aerial bombings by the United States and its Western allies.

“They literally get away with murder,” says one Asian diplomat, complaining about the double standards on human rights violations and war crimes.

Currently, the Geneva-based HRC has Commissions of Inquiry or Fact-Finding Missions related to four countries: Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza (on the civilian killings by Israel in the conflict back in July last year).

But most of these human rights violations, including political repression, torture or war crimes, are within the territorial borders of these countries.

Dr Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston, told IPS even the recent spate of police shootings in the United States, of mostly unarmed African-Americans, merits a thorough investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“It is true that U.S. allies will object. However, the U.S. itself has established a precedent by its frequent call for investigations of the internal affairs of U.N. member states,” he said.

Yet, he pointed out, “given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.”

In recent years, according to published reports, there has been a spate of racially motivated killings by the police or by law enforcement officials, including in Staten Island, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York and in Chicago in the U.S. state of Illinois.

Dr Horne said “given that the U.S. is a nuclear power on hair-trigger alert, it is quite disturbing to see an urban insurrection just miles from the White House in Baltimore – after yet another killing of an unarmed African-American man.”

Arguably, it would not be unfair to suggest that this dire situation too represents a grave threat to international peace and security that the U.N. should ignore at its peril.

“I should add parenthetically that historically the U.S. has required external intervention to resolve nagging internal issues; for example, it is now well recognised that British abolitionists played a major role in forcing the collapse of slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century.”

Today’s outrages in the U.S. demand no less, declared Dr Horne, who has authored more than 30 books, including the premier study of civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1960s, along with several publications on the slave trade.

The issue of political double standards has been vociferously highlighted by Sri Lanka: a country accused of civilian killings at the end of its decades long battle against separatists in its northern province in May 2009.

Addressing the U.N.’s Third Committee last year, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona said current developments in the Human Rights Council suggest that its credibility was gradually eroding as a result of its increasing politicisation.

“A handful of countries had been selected for adverse attention by the Council, while others in similar circumstances were ignored,” he added.

Turning to the Council’s resolution related to his country, he said the text had infringed on the fundamental principles of international law, which required that national mechanisms needed to be exhausted before resorting to international measures, and had challenged its sovereignty and independence.

Asked about the rising civilians killings attributed to U.S. drone attacks, Dr Horne told IPS the legally questionable drone warfare of the U.S. authorities is an unfortunate complement to the repetitive slayings of unarmed African-American men and boys (Tamir Rice in Cleveland had yet to reach his teen years before he was slain on videotape).

Surely, it establishes a dangerous precedent when a U.N. member state – the U.S. – is allowed to slay its own citizens and then slay others abroad, while all the while complaining about the internal affairs of sovereign states worldwide, he argued.

Asked about double standards on human rights violations, Dr Horne said assuredly, there is a double standard in international relations which is quite corrosive of international peace and security.

He said the ancestors of the U.S. authorities kidnapped Africans from the region stretching from Senegal to Angola, with a particular emphasis on the Congo River basin, then rounding the Cape to seize Africans in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zanzibar.

“This crime against humanity weakened all of these U.S. member states and then, to exacerbate the original crime, the descendants of these captive Africans are now slain like wild boar in the woods.”

Sadly, he noted, the international community has been quiet about this outrage which no doubt convinces the U.S. authorities that if they can slay their “own” citizens with impunity, then certainly they can act similarly abroad with drone warfare.

This matter cries out for “humanitarian intervention” by the international community, he declared, in a challenge to the United Nations.

Addressing the opening session of the HRC last March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Is Climate Change or ISIS the Greater Threat to Humankind?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-climate-change-or-isis-the-greater-threat-to-humankind/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 21:17:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141586 Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Severe flooding is one of many devastating effects of climate change, as the Caribbean island nation Dominica experienced in 2011. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The world at large is apparently divided over what constitutes the biggest single threat to human kind: the devastation caused by climate change or the unbridled terror unleashed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)?
According to a new Pew Research Center survey designed to measure perceptions of international threats, climate change is viewed as the “top concern” by people around the world.

“However, Americans, Europeans and Middle Easterners most frequently cite ISIS as the top threat among international issues,” says the survey.“It's those on the front lines of climate change, and its catastrophic results, who are often the first to recognise the real threat it presents." -- Patricia Lerner of Greenpeace

People in 19 of 40 nations surveyed cite climate change as their biggest worry, making it the most widespread concern of any issue in the survey.

A median of 61 percent of Latin Americans say they are very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region.

These are among some of the findings of the survey by Pew Research Center, which describes itself as a non-partisan “fact tank,” conducted in 40 countries among 45,435 respondents from March 25 to May 27, 2015

Dr. Michael Dorsey, a member of the Club of Rome and an expert on global governance and sustainability, told IPS: “If publics fear climate change more than terrorism, we might have to re-think collective and regulatory approaches for entities responsible for carbon pollution.

“If we accept the fact that carbon pollution drives both human mortality and morbidity, compromises ecosystems, and threatens society, then institutions and firms that produce carbon pollution, as well as those who opt to finance carbon polluters are akin to those who work with entities engaged in and financing terrorism,” he said.

It should come as no surprise that in some jurisdictions, elected officials are considering laws usually used to fight organised crime against those that deny the unfolding climate crisis, said Dr Dorsey, a visiting professor and lecturer at several universities in Africa and Europe and interim director of energy and environment at the Joint Centre for Political and Economic Studies.

He also said “a U.S. Senator [Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island] has suggested that we use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO Act, against the fossil fuel industry, its trade associations and the conservative policy institutes who openly deny climate change and exacerbate it.”

The survey points out that global economic instability also figures prominently as the top concern in several countries, and it is the second biggest concern in half of those surveyed.

“In contrast, concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme as well as cyberattacks on governments, banks or corporations are limited to a few nations. Tensions between Russia and its neighbours and territorial disputes in Asia largely remain regional concerns,” the survey added.

Patricia Lerner, senior political adviser at Greenpeace International, told IPS it is not surprising that nearly half of the nations surveyed cite climate change as their biggest worry.

“It’s those on the front lines of climate change, and its catastrophic results, who are often the first to recognise the real threat it presents,” she said.

For others, it can seem an invisible threat and they don’t yet recognise it as an existential one that will exacerbate all their other fears, such as over terrorism, international tensions and economic instability, as people are driven from their homes by drought, flood or rising sea levels, she pointed out.

Lerner also said “the deadly cycle of drilling in the Arctic for oil which is burned, creating CO2, which then further melts the Arctic, raising sea-levels and displacing people living on small islands is a clear illustration of the myopia of governments and businesses which are failing to recognise climate change is an issue that threatens all of us – wherever we live.”

Dr. Doreen Stabinsky, professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic, Maine, told IPS that “noteworthy to me is the heightened concern of Latin American and African countries.”

These regions are on the frontlines of climate change, and the risks there are turning into grim realities of more extreme storms, droughts and falling crop yields, she added.

“One hopes that this heightened concern of the public translates into political resolve on the part of their governments in Paris in December, where those rich countries responsible for these impacts must be convinced to seriously curtail emissions and provide necessary financial support to developing countries to do the same,” said Dr Stabinsky, who is visiting professor of climate change leadership at the Uppsala University in Sweden.

The survey also revealed that people in 14 countries expressed the greatest concern about ISIS.

In Europe, a median of 70 percent expressed serious concerns about the threat ISIS poses, while a majority of Americans (68 percent), Canadians (58 percent) and Lebanese (84 percent) were also very concerned.

Israelis were the only public surveyed to rate Iran as their top concern among the international issues tested. Americans also see Iran’s nuclear programme as a major issue.

Roughly six-in-10 Americans (62 percent) said they are very concerned, making Iran the second-highest-ranked threat of those included in the poll.

Economic instability was a top concern in five countries and the second highest concern in 20 countries. In Russia, 43 percent said they are very concerned about the economy, the highest-ranking concern of any issue tested there.

The threat of cyberattacks on governments, banks or corporations does not resonate as a top-tier worry globally, though there are pockets of anxiety, including the U.S. (59 percent) and South Korea (55 percent).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Why Women Peacemakers Marched in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-why-women-peacemakers-marched-in-korea/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 18:07:24 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141543

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, explains why thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea in May, and describes how the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other is one of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

The year 2015 marked the 62nd anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. The temporary ceasefire has never been replaced with a peace treaty and the demilitarised zone (DMZ) continues to divide the country.

The DMZ with its barbed wire, armed soldiers on both sides, and littered with thousands of explosive landmines, is the most militarised border in the world.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Seventy years ago, as the Cold War was brewing,  the United States unilaterally drew the line across the 38th parallel – with the former Soviet Union’s agreement – dividing an ancient country that had just suffered 35 years of Japanese colonial occupation.

Koreans had no desire to be divided, or decision-making power to stop their country from being divided; now, seven decades later, the conflict on the Korean peninsula threatens peace in the Asia-Pacific region and throughout our world.

One of the greatest tragedies arising out of man-made ‘Cold War’ politics and isolation is the tearing apart of Korean families and their physical separation from each other. In Korean culture, family relations are deeply important and many families have been painfully separated for 70 years.

Although there was a period of reconciliation during the Sunshine Policy years (1998-2007) between the two Korean governments, when some families had the joy of reunion, this has stopped due to a souring of relationships between North and South Korea.

Through sanctions and isolationist policies put in place by the International community, the North Korean people and their economy have also continued to suffer.

While North Korea has come a long way from the 1990s when up to one million died from famine, many people are poor, and feel isolated and marginalised from South Korea and the outside world.“I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships”

As members of the one human family, and in order to show human solidarity and empathise  with our North Korean family, to bring global attention to the ‘forgotten’ Korean war, and to call for an engagement with North Korea and a peace treaty,  a group of international women came together to visit North/South Korea and walk across the DMZ.

On May 22, 2015, International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, thirty women peacemakers from 15 countries made a historic crossing of the two-mile-wide DMZ from North to South Korea.

The delegation included feminist author/activist Gloria Steinem, two Nobel peace laureates,  Leymah Gbowee and myself, coordinator Christine Ahn (whose dream it was  to cross the DMZ) and  long-time peace activists, human rights defenders, spiritual leaders and Korean experts.

During our four-day  visit to North Korea, before crossing the DMZ on May 24, we had the privilege and joy of meeting many North Korean women.

At a peace symposium in Pyongyang, we listened as North Korean women spoke of their horrific experiences of war and division, and listened as some of our delegation shared how they had mobilised to end conflict and build peace in their communities.

We also participated in huge peace walks in Pyongyang and Kaesong, with the participation of many thousands of North Korean women in beautiful traditional Korean costumes. The women carried banners calling for the reunification of families and of Korea, a peace treaty and no war.

The walks were deeply moving, especially in Kaesong where families came out onto their balconies to wave as we passed.

I must admit that before this visit, my first to the North, I never realised how deeply passionate North Koreans are for reunification with the South and how much they want to open the borders so they can welcome their South Korea families to visit and normalise relationships.

North Koreans told us that Korean people are one people. Though they have different political ideologies, they speak the same language, have the same culture, and share a painful history of war and division.

Policies of isolation have not solved any problems and our delegates believe that a new approach of engagement and a peace treaty is necessary.  

Our walk brought renewed attention to the importance of world solidarity in ending the Korean conflict, particularly since the 1953 armistice agreement was signed by North Korea, (South Korea did not sign) China and the United States on behalf of the U.N. Command that included sixteen countries.

It helped highlight the responsibility of the international community, whose governments were complicit in the division of Korea 70 years ago, to support Korea’s peaceful reconciliation and reunification.

The challenges of overcoming Korea’s division became apparent in the complex negotiations over our DMZ crossing between North and South Korea, as well as with the U.N. Command, which has formal jurisdiction over the DMZ.

Although we had hoped to cross at Panmunjom, the ‘Truce Village’ where the armistice was signed, we decided, after both South Korea and the U.N. Command had denied our crossing, that we would take the route agreed by all parties in the spirit of compromise lest our actions further strain already tense North-South relations.

In Seoul, we met with some opposition. Although we did not meet with any heads of state or endorse any political or economic system, maintaining a neutral stance throughout, it was apparent that divisions within South Korea itself were manifested in some of the ideologically divided forms of reception and reactions that we witnessed.

We recognise that our international women’s peace walk is only a beginning and we will continue our focus on increasing civilian exchanges and women’s leadership, highlighting the obligation of all parties involved to decrease militarisation and move towards a peace treaty.

We therefore urge increased engagement at every level – civil, economic, cultural, academic and governmental – and especially citizen-to-citizen diplomacy in peacebuilding, as an alternative to full military conflict, which is not an option. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Q&A: “If We Don’t Close the Poverty Gap, the 21st Century Will End in Extreme Violence”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/qa-if-we-dont-close-the-poverty-gap-the-21st-century-will-end-in-extreme-violence/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:24:03 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141499 Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

Courtesy of Philippe Douste-Blazy

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 9 2015 (IPS)

Implementation of the ambitious post-2015 development agenda which will be adopted in September 2015 at the United Nations depends to a large extent on funding.

Amidst preparations for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development (FFD) to be held from July 13 to 16, 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, discussions centre on “innovative financing mechanisms” as stable and predictable instruments to complement traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) and fill funding gaps at a time when global growth is flagging and most donor countries are facing increasing budgetary pressure.We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Conceived in the early 21st century in the context of the adoption of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), the idea behind the concept is to “invisibly” raise important amounts of income to correct imbalances and provide funding for the most urgent development needs such as eradication of extreme poverty and the promotion of education and global health. The mechanisms involved range from government taxes to public-private partnerships.

A prominent innovative finance example is the global health initiative UNITAID. UNITAID is funded primarily through a one-dollar solidarity levy on airplane tickets. The income raised is spent on global measures to fight malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

A more recent example is the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT). It is currently seen by governments as both a tool to curb financial speculation and a mechanism to raise considerable revenue – which could be used to finance for development. Ongoing plans on an EU FTT to be implemented in 11 willing EU countries might prove as the next step in innovative finance.

In an interview with IPS, Philippe Douste-Blazy, U.N. Under-Secretary-General in charge of Innovative Financing for Development, chair and founder of UNITAID and former French foreign minister, shares his insights on the FTT and innovative finance mechanisms shortly ahead of the upcoming Conference on Financing for Development and the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) later this year.

Q: Which role does innovative finance play in the context of the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda?

A: 2015 is a historic year because three great international conferences will take place which are vital for the future of the world:  the Addis Ababa conference on Development Finance, the General Assembly of the United Nations where the international community will launch the Sustainable Development Goals and the COP21 on climate change in Paris.

In all three cases, the scenario will be the same: a magnificent political agreement but without any financial means to back it up. I want to sound the alarm! If we fail to find innovative financing now, at a time when the world has never had so much money but the gap between rich and poor is constantly widening, the 21st century will end in extreme violence.

Q: Financing for development requires considerable financial resources. Is the FTT a suitable tool to raise the necessary funding compared to other innovative finance tools?

A: Finance is currently one of the least taxed economic sectors. It is absolutely surprising when you know the terrible impact this sector had on international development because of the 2008 economic crisis. Implementing a painless percentage tax on financial transactions could generate hundreds of billions worldwide and as a result, be positively decisive on the fight against extreme poverty, pandemics and climate change.

We are now living in a completely globalised world and those threats are upon every citizen of the world. Globalised activities and exchanges should then contribute to international solidarity. That is what we had in mind with President Chirac and President Lula when we implemented the solidarity tax on plane tickets.

People are travelling more and more, so levying a small portion of the price of their tickets offered the opportunity to improve the access to life-saving treatments all around the globe. FTT follows the same logic. Financial needs are considerable and we need to take the money where it is. Innovative financing tools shouldn’t be positioned as rivals, they should instead be seen as complementary.

Q: UNITAID invests the funds raised by means of global solidarity levies to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. What are your results at UNITAID in combating these diseases?

A: First, UNITAID’s investments helped create the market for some key more effective HIV treatments in 2007, by bringing the prices down from 1,500 dollars/year to under 500.

Second, through support to the Global Fund and UNICEF, UNITAID contributed to the delivery of over 437 million of the best antimalarial treatments, helping the global community to reduce deaths by 47 percent since 2000.

Third, a 40 percent price reduction for the cartridges of an important new test for tuberculosis (GeneXpert) was negotiated for 145 countries, along with USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This has saved over 70 million dollars within two years for the global community and has enabled a significant contribution to the 30 percent annual increase in detection of drug resistant TB cases.

Q: Could you tell me about your planned new project UNITLIFE? What is it about and at what stage are the preparations for this project?

A: We must fight against the scandal of a world where 870 million human beings are malnourished, a world where nearly 30 percent of children on the African continent suffer from chronic malnutrition, leading to backwardness at school and a cruel loss of growth.

Faced with this scourge which decimates generations, destabilises societies and severely penalises nations, notably in Africa, we have the duty to imagine a response combining efficacy and solidarity: this is why we want to launch UNITLIFE.

UNITLIFE is based on a simple principle: allocating to the fight against malnutrition an infinitesimal part of the immense riches created by the use of extractive resources in Africa in such a way that the globalisation of solidarity matches the globalization of the economy. So far six African Heads of State accepted such a principle. As UNITAID is hosted by the WHO, UNITLIFE will be hosted by UNICEF.

Q: How does a future FTT implemented in the 11 European countries need to look in order to be beneficial and effective? How do you assess for instance the examples of the French or Italian FTT?

A: French and Italian FTT are really disappointing. They are not fulfilling the expectations neither in terms of regulation nor about revenues. It seems that French and Italian governments were just concerned by the defence of their financial sectors.

The exemptions that are organised are preventing the tax from touching the most speculative transactions. Derivatives, market makers, intra-day and high frequency trading are not taxable with the two models whereas they’re the most dangerous.

Furthermore, it’s in taxing these instruments that a FTT would levy the most resources. For the same reasons, a European FTT that wouldn’t be applied on foreign shares will be highly disappointing. Instead of being scared of the reaction of financial sectors, the 11 political leaders must show real ambition and design a strong FFT with a broad scope and preventing loopholes.

Q: How can you make sure that a certain percentage of the money raised by the tax will be spent on development?

A: Seventeen percent of the French FTT is already allocated to climate and pandemics. President Hollande said he will allocate a part of the European FTT to the same causes; let’s hope that the portion will be bigger!

[Spanish] Prime Minister Marianno Rajoy also committed to allocate a part of the revenue to international solidarity but so far these are the only declarations we have. It would be really interesting to see the eleven

Heads of State committing together on a joint allocation to international solidarity. Using the FTT revenue to finance multilateral funds like the Global Fund, the World Health Organization  or the Green Fund would be the best way to be sure the money raised is actually spent on development.

And today when I see those tens of thousands of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean, which is becoming the world’s biggest cemetery, I want to underline that the only solution to massive immigration from poor to rich countries is to provide what we call Global Public Goods (food, potable water, essential medicines, education and sanitation) to every human being.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Unlocking the Potential of Mali’s Young Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-unlocking-the-potential-of-malis-young-women-and-men/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 21:30:49 +0000 Jean-Luc Stalon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141462 Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Portrait of a girl in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Jean-Luc Stalon
BAMAKO, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

The recent peace agreements in Mali offer grounds for optimism. It’s now time to capitalise on the accord to accelerate recovery, reconciliation and development. An important part of that process will entail placing the country’s youth at the center of the country’s agenda for peace and prosperity.

With its youthful population and track record of civil crises, Mali is the perfect case study on the relationship between youth and stability. Mali’s fertility rate is second only to Niger’s.The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self.

Yet in a country that doesn’t provide jobs, opportunities for decision-making and a sense of purpose, this youth bulge is more likely to be a powerful demographic time bomb rather than a driver of economic growth.

The complex crisis that hit Mali in 2012 compounded the issue, as armed groups found fertile ground for recruitment in Mali’s large pool of poor, disaffected, uneducated youths, enticed both by easy money and radical ideologies. The conflict also fueled important migration flows to North Africa and Europe.

Now more than ever, the country’s youth need solutions that are specific to their daily realities and will discourage them from going astray. Achieving that objective implies helping them out of the vicious cycle of unemployment, violence and poverty. Young women and men also need to be heard and should have a role in decision-making and peace processes.

To that end, the government and its partners have put into place a vast array of youth employment policies, as well as programmes to strengthen social cohesion, reintegrate displaced people and mobilise national volunteers.

These initiatives have done a lot for those targeted, but they fall short of a comprehensive, national solution for reintegrating youths and increasing their prospects for a better life.

In fact, unemployment rates among young women and men seem to have stagnated. In 2011, unemployment rates among 15 to 39 year-olds revolved around 15 percent, yet independent assessments suggest they could be as high as 50 percent when underemployment is taken into account.

As a result, in a country struggling against terrorism, organised crime and social cleavages, more and more young peole turn to violence and radicalism.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in the way that we look at youth development. Such an approach would look holistically at how to integrate young people in the economy and create new generations of entrepreneurs, while giving them a political voice and a sense of purpose within their communities and the wider nation.

First, we need to boost education, skills training and employment opportunities while at the same time serving Mali’s economic diversification and transformation agenda. This would require investing in promising sectors such as information technology, and creating learning centers and peer-to-peer networks in close collaboration with the private sector.

In this regard, Mali could learn from other successful initiatives, such as the public-private partnership developed in Kenya to create linkages between the formal and informal sectors of the economy.

Second, young Malians need to feel their likings and aspirations are taken into account in their country’s major decisions. Youth should be encouraged to vote and have a chance at running for office in a political system that favours inclusivity, trust and peaceful change.

The upcoming local elections and peace agreement implementation present an opportunity for better youth involvement and representation in the decision making process.

Third, young Malians need a sense of purpose but far too often their desires, opinions and spiritual leanings aren’t seriously considered. These can include joining a community, increasing their exposure to global events and causes, or creating a more affluent life.

The youth of today mix identities, from the traditional to the modern and need to be accompanied and mentored as they define their sense of self. Doing so would go a long way to eliminating intolerance, conflict and even radicalization.

Young women deserve our full attention. Much more needs to be done to ensure they can exercise their basic human rights, including those that relate to the most intimate or fundamental aspects of life, such as sexual and reproductive health, and freedom from violence.

There cannot be peace, poverty eradication and the creation of a more prosperous and open society in Mali without young people. A more holistic approach would be more effective and sustainable.

It could include new mechanisms such as a trust fund for youths, new channels of inter-generational dialogue and a more global outlook in the exchange of knowledge and development experiences. If we succeed in doing so, Mali could embark on an incredibly successful development path.

UNDP is working with young people from all walks of life so they can find a decent job, contribute to their communities and build a better future for Mali as a whole.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Analysis: Is Colombia’s Peace Process Really at Its Lowest Ebb?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/is-colombias-peace-process-really-at-its-lowest-ebb/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 15:13:15 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141458 Journalist Juan Gossaín (left) and the Colombian government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle in the latter’s apartment in Cartagena de Indias, during an interview about the peace talks with the FARC. Credit: Omar Nieto/Prensa de Presidencia de Colombia

Journalist Juan Gossaín (left) and the Colombian government’s chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle in the latter’s apartment in Cartagena de Indias, during an interview about the peace talks with the FARC. Credit: Omar Nieto/Prensa de Presidencia de Colombia

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTÁ, Jul 7 2015 (IPS)

There is a growing sensation in Colombia that the peace talks with the FARC guerrillas are “about to come to an end” – in success or failure, according to the government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle.

In his apartment overlooking the sea in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena de Indias, former vice president De la Calle (1994-1996) was interviewed by veteran Colombian journalist Juan Gossaín. The two used to work together on the morning news and talk programme of the RCN Radio station, which Gossaín headed for 26 years, until 2010.

The interview was more like a friendly conversation, without a question and answer format. It was distributed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace to be published Sunday Jul. 5.

The chief negotiator, generally reluctant to talk to the media, warned that the government might walk away from the talks: “I want to tell the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in all seriousness, this could end. It is likely that one day they won’t find us at the negotiating table in Havana’.”

“The patience of Colombians is running out. The risk is real,” said De la Calle, although he also stated that the process could end “because we reach an agreement, since in this final stretch we are dealing with important underlying issues.”

As De la Calle said, “although it seems like a paradox, the peace process has received more support from outside than here at home.”

President Juan Manuel Santos worked painstakingly and in secret to launch peace talks after taking office in August 2010.

And while in the talks themselves the government has never threatened to pull out, it has made such statements to the media in the past.

In October 2012 the talks were officially launched in Oslo, two years after Santos was sworn in, with Cuba and Norway as guarantors and Chile and Venezuela as facilitators. Since then the meetings have been held in Havana, where the 38th round of talks is now taking place.

Under the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” preliminary accords have been reached on three of the six main points on the agenda, in 32 months of talks.

These three points involve a wide range of aspects related to land reform; political participation; and the substitution of drug crops.

The pending items involve the right of victims on both sides to truth, justice and reparations; disarmament; and mechanisms for the implementation of an eventual peace deal.

The negotiations are taking place as the decades-long conflict drags on, and it looks like a clause stipulating that nothing that happens on the battlefield can affect the talks has fallen by the wayside.

The intensification of hostilities is costing lives and causing environmental disasters, and support for a continued military offensive, rather than a negotiated peace, is growing again.

But the same thing happened 15 years ago, as indicated by Gallup poll results.

To the question “what do you believe is the best way to solve the problem of the guerrillas in Colombia?” the response in June 2015 was a tie between those who selected the option “continue the talks until reaching a peace agreement” and those who chose “no talks; try to defeat them militarily.”

A similar tie was seen in July 2003, March 2004, October 2010 and June 2011, while in the rest of the polls carried out, a majority chose a negotiated solution.

Since 2001, a majority of respondents have consistently supported peace talks over a military solution, with the exception of the December 2001- July 2003 period.

But since December 2001, respondents have said they do not believe the insurgents could ever seize power by force.

Looking at Gallup polls over the past 15 years, it is clear that De la Calle’s assertion that “people are more skeptical than ever” regarding the peace talks is not true. The results indicate that, no matter what happens, the sense of “desperation” that the chief negotiator mentioned, and that his interviewer emphasised, fluctuates.

“We have to be honest enough to tell Colombians that the peace process is at its lowest ebb since the talks began,” De la Calle said.

But why is that happening? It’s the question of justice, he said. “It is the touchiest part of the negotiations. The FARC have to assume responsibility for their actions. The state does too, of course.”

De la Calle said the Colombian government would only agree to a ceasefire if the top FARC leaders spent some time in prison for crimes against humanity – although the negotiator said they would be held “in decent conditions, without bars or striped uniforms.”

He also acknowledged that the FARC “have said they are willing to accept a system of justice that would include these components.”

If that is true, it’s not clear where exactly the problem lies.

In February, the attorney general’s office revealed that it planned to investigate over 14,000 businessmen, ranchers, politicians and members of the security forces with alleged ties to the partially dismantled far-right paramilitaries.

Almost simultaneously, former president César Gaviria (1990-1994) proposed for these non-combatants “a pardon in exchange for their recognition of the crimes committed, an apology, and a willingness to provide reparations for the victims.”

Segments of the business community and some political factions welcomed or expressed an openness to discussing the proposal, others rejected it, and others were concerned or upset.

In any case, the ever vulnerable climate surrounding the peace talks became even more tense.

Not long afterwards, the negotiators in Havana announced a preliminary agreement regarding an issue that is especially thorny for those who not only enjoy impunity but have also been active behind the scenes, anonymously: a non-prosecutorial truth commission.

Above and beyond the discussion on justice and punishment, De la Calle says the main obstacle now faced in the peace talks is the question of a bilateral ceasefire – “the FARC’s top priority,” in his view. The insurgents would also have to stop raising funds through practices like extortion and involvement in the drug trade, he added.

A bilateral ceasefire when “there are other sources of violence, besides the FARC,” as De la Calle rightly points out?

The much smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) would appear to be awaiting the results of the peace talks with the FARC before launching its own negotiations, while remaining active.

Then there are the ultra-right-wing paramilitary groups that either did not take part in the 2003-2006 partial demobilisation or regrouped as what the government calls “Bacrim” – for “bandas criminales” or “criminal bands”.

“We can’t tell the security forces to stay quiet,” De la Calle said. “If they want a ceasefire, the government is willing to do that, but ‘concentration zones’ would be essential.”

In these “rural concentration zones” first demanded by Álvaro Uribe during his presidency (2002-2010), “convicted guerrillas would be held for a time, without requiring that they turn in their weapons,” De la Calle explained.

IPS postponed publication of this article in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a response by email from FARC chief negotiator Iván Márquez to several of De la Calle’s statements.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: Religion and the SDGs – The ‘New Normal’ and Calls for Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-religion-and-the-sdgs-the-new-normal-and-calls-for-action/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 19:03:27 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141440 Azza Karam, Senior Advisor on Culture at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), speaks at a special event inside the General Assembly Hall, “Common Ground for the Common Good”, held to mark the last day of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2015 (IPS)

In 2007, an op-ed in the International Herald Tribune argued that you “gotta have faith in the U.N”.

A play on words, the article posited that the shifting sands of geopolitics and concerns surrounding available developmental resources were demanding a rethink of multilateral institutions and traditional forms of developmental partnerships. The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’.

As part of this re-imagining of global relations, the article argued, religion, and diverse faith-based actors in particular, had to be reckoned with more seriously by policy makers at the United Nations in particular – given the timeliness of the ‘mid-term’ MDG review processes.

The article noted that unless religion was systematically and consistently factored into developmental outreach, policy design, programme implementation, and monitoring efforts, something would continue to be missing in the equation of sustainability of human development processes.

In line with the gist of the article, a United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Engaging with Faith-Based Organizations for Sustainable Development was officially formed under the aegis of the U.N. Development Group (UNDG), in 2009, bringing together several U.N. entities (UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP, WHO, UNAIDS, as well as U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, DESA, UNESCO, UNHabitat and UNEP) with the World Bank as an observer, and headquartered in New York.

The mandate of this body, dubbed the “UN Task Force on Religion and Development” for short, was to seek to share knowledge, and build U.N. staff and systems’ capacities on dealing with faith-based entities, and questions of religion, around the MDGs.

At first, the aspiration of some members of this Task Force was to develop common guidelines for dealing with religious actors, to which the varied U.N. developmental agencies/offices in particular, could sign on to. Very soon it became clear that common guidelines would not be possible.

Why? Because to agree to common guidelines would entail some form of common acceptance that religion mattered. Even more challenging, common guidelines would imply some sort of legitimacy around a complex and hard to define category of ‘religious actors’.

The Task Force members collaborated to serve as a hub for information and knowledge sharing between and among U.N. agencies and religious NGOs (or faith-based organisations/FBOs) accredited to ECOSOC or to DPI.

In February 2015, World Bank President Jim Kim convened a roundtable with CEOs of major international development and humanitarian FBOs, and religious leaders. In it, he stated that [the World Bank] cannot effectively seek to eradicate poverty without partnering with FBOs and religious leaders.

“We are open for business,” he said, indicating that these very actors can hold the World Bank accountable, henceforth, for more systematic engagement. The exact modalities of which, it should be noted, are yet to be worked out.

The meeting between WB President Jim Kim and the leaders of major FBOs signals a tipping point in international development, which will be underlined next week, on July 8 and 9, when the World Bank, together with bilateral co-sponsors, international FBOs and aid agencies, will convene a global conference on “Religion and Sustainable Development”.

The conference will focus on eradicating extreme poverty – one of the World Bank’s key objectives and the number one SDG. The objectives of the meeting will be to look at the evidence of faith-based engagement in poverty eradication, specifically in health, humanitarian relief and violence against women; to seek actionable recommendations for scaling up successful work modalities, and to secure more targeted and strategic investment in “faith assets”.

Building a ‘global faith-based movement for sustainable development’ has been mentioned by some of the organisers as one of the outcomes of this gathering. This conference may well mark a turning point in international development speak – from ‘whether/why to engage with faith actors’, to ‘how to engage better’.

The question is whether the conference could signal a moment in the trajectory of international development when ‘engaging with religious actors’ may well become the ‘new normal’?

Immediately following the World Bank meeting, on July 10 and 11, the U.N.’s Inter-Agency Task Force will convene a select number of donors, U.N. agencies and FBO partners, to host its second trilateral policy roundtable also on religion and the SDGs (the first took place in May of 2014).

The objective of this meeting is, put simply, to press the ‘pause’ button, so as to reflect, together, on where this potentially ‘new normal’ could lead us.

Focusing on the ‘governance’, ‘peace and security’ and ‘gender equality’ development goals, and with the relative ‘safe space’ afforded by respecting Chatham House rules, the gathered participants will speak candidly to what each organisation, and policy maker, in each of these ‘sectors’, is facing when religion comes into the mix.

Needless to say, these three developmental goals are where the challenge of religious dogma, harmful practices, and incitement to extremes of violence – to name but a few – are very much at play.

Those of us who have had to do battle inside our own organisations to bring attention to bear on the importance of learned appreciation of the roles of religion know full well how the difficulties posed by some religious ideologies, certain religious organisations, and specific ‘religious’ leaders are not just ‘out there’ in the communities we ostensibly serve, but also form part of the intergovernmental debates which define the organisational mandates we serve.

Part of the claim to success of some FBOs is their age-old capacity to provide social services directed to inequalities among the most hard to reach, and to develop innovative means of resourcing their work – including a capacity to rely on volunteer labour.

At the same time, however, some of the experience of certain U.N. entities –especially around human rights (and women’s rights in particular)- bespeaks serious challenges with certain religious leaders and faith entities.

It is not insignificant that this moment of honest reflection is being sought as the Financing for Development (FfD) conference, with all its attendant disputes among different Member State groupings, is also being enacted.

One of the many critical questions to be debated is whether FfD should have its own follow-up and review process or be merged with the post-2015 process. Also debated are issues of accountability and shared responsibility between and among governments, as well as dynamics relevant to public-private partnerships around human rights.

But where does follow-up, accountability and partnership modalities with faith-based actors fit into these debates?

The fact is, there is no blueprint for multilateral engagement with religious actors, especially as we live in times in which we confront some of the most paralysing human political, cultural and economic strife, at the hands of other ‘religious actors’. So as we undertake to normalise faith-based engagement with multilateralism, we have some serious questions to confront and find answers to together with our faith-based partners.

These include: should we be cautious of seeking to normalize partnerships with faith-based development organizations, and with religious leaders, at a time when some faith-based entities, and certain ‘religious leaders’, are also significantly undermining the very basis of multilateralism based on universal human rights, human development, and peace and security?

How realistic is it to maintain that we are working with the ‘good [faith-based] guys’ only? Or is it (finally) time to be very clear about the means of implementation and accountability of such partnerships, at a U.N.-system wide level?

Given the intergovernmental haggling over means of implementation and the U.N.’s fit for SDG purposes, what are the criteria which will be used to assess whether the U.N., in its current guise, is indeed, fit for the purposes of religious partnerships?

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Divided Over Domestic and State Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:01:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141380 Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

When nine African-American worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist inside a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, there was a sharp division of opinion in the United States whether that murderous act of killing innocent civilians constituted a “hate crime” or an “act of terrorism.”

Or both?

Just after the shooting, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department said the crime was “undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism”.“Terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

But Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was quoted as saying: “We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism.

“If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathiser and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses — he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard,” he said.

The ultimate definition of terrorism has continued to defy governments, rights groups, the media and even the United Nations.

The United States and Israel continue to label “Hamas” a terrorist organisation but much of the mainstream media calls it “a militant organisation.”

Last year, the European Court of Justice upheld an appeal by Hamas, pointing out that its designation as a “terrorist” group by the European Union (EU) was “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.”

Since 2000, a U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism has failed to adopt the last of its conventions against terrorism: the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) sponsored by India.

In an interview with Time magazine last May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “We should not look at terrorism from the name plates – which group they belong to, what their geographical location is, and who the victims are.”

These individual groups or names will keep changing, he said. “Today you are looking at Taliban or ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): tomorrow you might be looking at another name.”

Modi said the United Nations should pass the CCIT. “At least, it will clearly establish whom you view as a terrorist and whom you don’t,” he said.

But the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee remains deadlocked, mostly over definitions because “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

Ambassador Rohan Perera, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the work of his committee has resulted in the adoption of three counter terrorism conventions, namely, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

The committee, he said, has been mandated by the General Assembly “to provide comprehensive legal framework to fill possible gaps in the existing sectoral Conventions on Terrorism.”

While the negotiations had reached an advanced stage by the fall of 2001 and there was a strong possibility of the convention being adopted that year, in the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/11, the requisite political will to reach a consensus failed to materialize, he added.

The draft CCIT, like the precedent sectoral conventions contains an ‘operational’ criminal law definition of acts of terrorism.

The CCIT has taken on added importance due to the widespread death and destruction caused by groups dubbed “terrorist organisations,” including the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida and Boko Haram.

“We can no longer stand by and watch as this phenomenon spreads,” says U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

“With their message of hate, violent extremists directly assault the legitimacy of the U.N. Charter and values of peace, justice and human dignity on which that document and international relations are based,” said Feltman, who also chairs the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and is the executive director of the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre.

He said there are almost 50,000 Twitter accounts supporting ISIL, with an average of 1,000 followers each.

Ambassador Perera told IPS the key outstanding issue is how the CCIT was to address certain concerns expressed by different groups of states, namely; the question of acts committed in the course of struggle for national liberation against foreign occupation; the question of acts of military forces of States in peacetime; and the question of state terrorism

According to Arab diplomats, Israel has to be singled out for what they call “state terrorism.”

But the use of that term is strongly opposed by Israel’s supporters, including the United States and most Western nations.

Asked about state terrorism, U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters last February; “.. the definition of terrorism and what comprises a terrorist group or terrorist entity remains in the hands of member states and the treaty language they are working on.”

“They have to decide,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the approach adopted by the Bureau of the Ad Hoc Committee was to address some of the concerns by excluding applicable legal regimes from the scope of the Convention, rather than seeking to exclude specific acts.

Accordingly, a compromise proposal made by the coordinator to serve as a basis for negotiation, clarified that the activities of armed forces, which are governed by International Humanitarian Law, are not governed by the present convention and that the CCIT is without prejudice to the rules of International Law applicable in armed conflict.

This provides a ‘carve out’ for acts committed in national liberation struggles by pointing to the applicable law.

“It is further provided that in the case of activities undertaken by the military forces of States, as they are governed by other rules of International Law, such acts are not governed by the convention,” said Perera.

This approach recognises the fact that the CCIT, once adopted, will not operate in a vacuum, but alongside other legal regimes.

“And it would be a matter for the domestic courts of Member States to determine which regime applies in a given situation,” he added.

Perera also said since the CCIT is a law enforcement instrument dealing with individual criminal responsibility, issues of concern raised by certain States relating to state terrorism are sought to be addressed in an accompanying resolution to be adopted along with CCIT, which recalls the obligations of States under International Law, as set out in international legal instruments and judgments of the International Court of Justice.

This approach, he said, is in keeping with the general practice of the United Nations General Assembly in adopting Conventions.

While all proposals that have been presented remain on the table, since 2002 delegations have shown willingness to engage in the negotiations on the basis of the compromise proposal made by the Bureau, without prejudice to their respective positions.

During the Sixteenth Session of the Ad Hoc Committee in April 2013, the Committee was able to present a consolidated text of the draft convention, leaving open the outstanding scope, Article 3. The consolidated text reflects the work accomplished on the CCIT so far.

“It is very much hoped that in the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, the Member States will demonstrate the necessary political will to overcome the hurdles that have held up the reaching of a consensus on the CCIT,” Perera declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Perfecting Detection of the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/perfecting-detection-of-the-bomb/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 23:55:07 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141371 CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo introducing the panel discussion on 'Citizen Networks: The Promise of Technological Innovation' at SnT2015 in Vienna, June 2015. Photo credit: CTBTO

By Ramesh Jaura
VIENNA, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

An international conference has highlighted advances made in detecting nuclear explosions,tracking storms or clouds of volcanic ash, locating epicentres of earthquakes, monitoring the drift of huge icebergs, observing the movements of marine mammals, and detecting plane crashes.

The five-day ‘Science and Technology 2015 Conference’ (SnT2015), which ended Jun. 26, was the fifth in a series of multi-disciplinary conferences organised by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), which has been based in the Austrian capital since 1997.

The conference was attended by more than 1100 scientists and other experts, policy makers and representatives of national agencies, independent academic research institutions and civil society organisations from around the world.“With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] CTBT’s entry into force” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

SnT2015 drew attention to an important finding of CTBTO sensors: the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013 was the largest to hit Earth in at least a century.

Participants also heard that the Air Algérie flight between Burkina Faso and Algeria which crashed in Mali in July 2014 was detected by the CTBTO’s monitoring station in Cote d’Ivoire, 960 kilometres from the impact of the aircraft.

The importance of SnT2015 lies in the fact that CTBTO is tasked with campaigning for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which outlaws nuclear explosions by everyone, everywhere: on the Earth’s surface, in the atmosphere, underwater and underground. It also aims to develop reliable tools to make sure that no nuclear explosion goes undetected.

These include seismic, hydro-acoustic, infrasound (frequencies too low to be heard by the human ear), and radionuclide sensors. Scientists and other experts demonstrated and explained in presentations and posters how the four state-of-the-art technologies work in practice.

170 seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth, the vast majority of which are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the announced North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013 have also been detected.

CTBTO’s 11 hydro-acoustic stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater. Sixty infrasound stations on the Earth’s surface can detect ultra-low frequency sound waves that are emitted by large explosions.

CTBTO’s 80 radionuclide stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles; 40 of them also pick up noble gas, the “smoking gun” from an underground nuclear test. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. Sixteen laboratories support radionuclide stations.

When complete, CTBTO’s International Monitoring System (IMS) will consist of 337 facilities spanning the globe to monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Nearly 90 percent of the facilities are already up and running.

An important theme of the conference was performance optimisation which, according to W. Randy Bell, Director of CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC), “will have growing relevance as we sustain and recapitalise the IMS and IDC in the year ahead.”

In the past 20 years, the international community has invested more than one billion dollars in the global monitoring system whose data can be used by CTBTO member states – and not only for test ban verification purposes. All stations are connected through satellite links to the IDC in Vienna.

“Our stations do not necessarily have to be in the same country as the event, but in fact can detect events from far outside from where they are located. For example, the last DPRK (North Korean) nuclear test was picked up as far as Peru,” CTBTO’s Public Information Officer Thomas Mützelburg told IPS.

“Our 183 member states have access to both the raw data and the analysis results. Through their national data centres, they study both and arrive at their own conclusion as to the possible nature of events detected,” he said. Scientists from Papua New Guinea and Argentina said they found the data “extremely useful”.

Stressing the importance of data sharing, CTBTO Executive Secretary, Lassina Zerbo, said in an interview with Nature: “If you make your data available, you connect with the outside scientific community and you keep abreast of developments in science and technology. Not only does it make the CTBTO more visible, it also pushes us to think outside the box. If you see that data can serve another purpose, that helps you to step back a little bit, look at the broader picture and see how you can improve your detection.”

Photo credit: CTBTO

Photo credit: CTBTO

In opening remarks to the conference, Zerbo said: “You will have heard me say again and again that I am passionate about this organisation. Today I am not only passionate but very happy to see all of you who share this passion: a passion for science in the service of peace. It gives me hope for the future of our children that the best and brightest scientists of our time congregate to perfect the detection of the bomb instead of working to perfect the bomb itself.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the tone in a message to the conference when he said: “With a strong verification regime and its cutting edge technology, there is no excuse for further delaying the CTBT’s entry into force.”

South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, pointed out that her country “is a committed and consistent supporter” of CTBTO. She added: “South Africa has been at the forefront of nuclear non-proliferation in Africa for over twenty years. We gave up our nuclear arsenal and signed the Pelindaba Treaty in 1996, which establishes Africa as a nuclear weapons-free zone, a zone that only came into force in July 2009.

Beside the presentations by scientists, discussion panels addressed topics of current special interest in the CTBT monitoring community. One alluded to the role of science in on-site inspections (OSIs), which are provided for under the Treaty after it enters into force.

This discussion benefited from the experience of the 2014 Integrated Field Exercise (IFE14) in Jordan. “IFE14 was the largest and most comprehensive such exercise so far conducted in the build-up of CTBTO’s OSI capabilities,” said IDC director Bell.

Participants also had an opportunity to listen to a discussion on the opportunities that new and emerging technologies can play in overcoming the challenges of nuclear security. Members of the Technology for Global Security (Tech4GS) group joined former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry in a panel discussion on ‘Citizen Networks: the Promise of Technological Innovation’.

“We are verging on another nuclear arms race,” said Perry. “I do not think that it is irreversible. This is the time to stop and reflect, debate the issue and see if there’s some third choice, some alternative, between doing nothing and having a new arms race.”

A feature of the conference was the CTBT Academic Forum focused on ‘Strengthening the CTBT through Academic Engagement’, at which Bob Frye, prestigious Emmy award-winning producer and director of documentaries and network news programme, pleaded for the need to inspire “the next generation of critical thinkers” to help usher in a world free of nuclear tests and atomic weapons of mass destruction.

The forum also provided an overview of impressive CTBT online educational resources and experiences with teaching the CTBT from the perspective of teachers and professors in Austria, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Pakistan and Russia.

With a view to bridging science and policy, the forum discussed ‘technical education for policymakers and policy education for scientists’ with the participation of eminent experts, including Rebecca Johnson, executive director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy; Nikolai Sokov of the James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies; Ference Dalnoki-Veress of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies; Edward Ifft of the Center for Security Studies, Georgetown; and Matt Yedlin of the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia.

There was general agreement on the need to integrate technical issues of CTBT into training for diplomats and other policymakers, and increasing awareness of CTBT and broader nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament policy issues within the scientific community.

Yet another panel – comprising Jean du Preez, chief of CTBTO’s external relations, protocol and international cooperation, Piece Corden of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Thomas Blake of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, and Jenifer Mackby of the Federation of American Scientists – looked ahead with a view to forging new and better links with and beyond academia, effectively engaging with the civil society, the youth and the media.

“Progress comes in increments,” said one panellist, “but not by itself.”

[With inputs from Valentina Gasbarri]

Edited by Phil Harris    

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

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U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141347 An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

A key senator and a D.C.-based think tank are calling for Washington to step up its aid in cleaning up toxic herbicides sprayed by the United States in Vietnam during the war that ended 40 years ago.

Speaking last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a major think tank here, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who has long led the efforts in the U.S. Congress to compensate Vietnamese war victims, called on Washington to do more, arguing that it will further bolster renewed ties between the two countries.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get to. We need more assistance.” -- Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh
Leahy’s remarks were echoed by Charles Bailey, former director of Aspen Institute’s Agent Orange in Vietnam Program – a multi-year initiative to deal with health and environmental impacts of the estimated 19 million gallons of herbicides that were sprayed over 4.5 million acres of land in Vietnam from 1961 to 1970.

Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Pham Quang Vinh expressed similar sentiments at the event.

Hanoi’s ambassador said his government has been spending 45 million dollars every year to deal with the many problems created by Agent Orange and other herbicides used by U.S. military forces during the war.

“We can meet the target of cleaning up the dioxin and Agent Orange between now and the year 2020, but the target is very difficult to get,” he said. “We need more assistance.”

An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange. The Vietnam Red Cross estimates that three million Vietnamese people were affected, including 150,000 children born with birth defects.

Those who bore the brunt of the chemical spraying suffered cancer, liver damage, severe skin and nervous disorders and heart disease. The children and even grandchildren of people exposed to Agent Orange have been born with deformities, defects, disabilities and diseases.

Huge expanses of forest and jungle, including the natural habitats of several species, were devastated. Many of these species are still threatened with extinction.

In some areas, rivers were poisoned and underground water sources contaminated. Erosion and desertification as a result of the herbicide sprays made barren fields out of once-fertile farmlands.

The United States currently funds aid operations in Vietnam through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). According to Bailey, 136 million dollars have been appropriated to date. But some observers of the programme say still more should be done.

Merle Ratner from the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign said that too little of the aid has gone to the people. Most of it is given to international NGOs, who are then contracted to do the work, she said.

“We are suggesting that the aid go directly to NGOs in Vietnam because who knows the people better than their own organisations?” Ratner told IPS.

“People should be involved in their own solutions to the situation.”

The renewed attention comes at a time when the U.S. and Vietnam have moved closer together, particularly in light of the two nations’ growing concerns over China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by Vietnam, as well as the Philippines, Taiwan, and Malaysia.

“I want to turn Agent Orange from being a symbol of antagonism into an area where the U.S and Vietnamese governments can work together,” Leahy said. “At a time when China is actively seeking to extend its sphere of influence and United States has begun its own re-balance towards Asia, these Vietnam legacy programs have taken on greater significance.”

The general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phy Trong, is scheduled to visit the United States this year, the first such trip by the nation’s ruling party chief.

The warming relationship has helped Leahy further his cause. Leahy met with much resistance in the early 2000s when Washington was clearly reluctant to take responsibility for the destruction wrought by its forces during the war in which an estimated two million Vietnamese and some 55,000 U.S. troops were killed.

Vietnam, on the other hand, put the issue on the backburner as it focused on gaining preferential trade status (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) for exports to the huge U.S. market.

While Washington and Hanoi established full diplomatic relations in 1995, it wasn’t until 2002 that the two governments held a joint conference on the impact of Agent Orange and other herbicides on Vietnam and its people.

In Dec. 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Act that specifically makes available funds for the remediation of dioxin contaminated areas in Vietnam.

Much of those funds have been earmarked for a clean-up project at the former giant U.S. military base at Da Nang, which is 824 km from the capital, Hanoi. The project is expected to be completed in 2016.

The U.S. military sprayed Agent Orange and other herbicides over many parts of rural Vietnam, destroying millions of hectares of forests in an attempt to deny the Viet Cong insurgents and their North Vietnamese allies cover and food.

Two-thirds of the herbicide contains dioxin. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, dioxin is a compound found to cause cancer and diabetes, as well as a host of other diseases.

A scientific report in 1969 also concluded that the herbicide can cause birth defects in laboratory animals, thus leading U.S. forces to halt the use of Agent Orange in 1970.

A 1994 Institute of Medicine study records that there was a growing number of Vietnam veterans who have fathered handicapped children. Many still dispute the link between Agent Orange and birth defects—Vietnam veterans in the United States still cannot claim benefits for birth defects in their children.

While welcoming Washington’s new aid programme, some activists who have long called for the U.S. to help Vietnam address the problems left behind by Agent Orange insist that U.S. should both do more and provide more direct assistance to Vietnamese groups on the ground who believe that the United States’ funds could be better distributed.

Susan Hammond, executive director of the War Legacies Project, said she hopes to see more of the money go to rural Vietnam.

“U.S. funding, at this point, is pretty much limited to the Da Nang area,” Hammond said. “In rural areas, families are pretty much left on their own.”

Tim Rieser, Leahy’s chief staffer with the Senate subcommittee that deals with foreign aid, recalled that it was initially very difficult to obtain any funding from the government.

“The State Department and Pentagon were very resistant to the idea of any kind of action by the U.S. that might be interpreted as reparations or compensation,” he said.

“It took over a year to reach an agreement with them that what we were talking about was not either of those things, but it was of trying to work with the Vietnamese government to address the problems that we obviously have responsibility for.”

Rieser said he is currently urging the Pentagon to help fund the cleanup of the Bien Hoa airbase, 1,702 km from the capital. He said the area could well contain even higher levels of dioxin than Da Nang. And he urged Obama to include additional money in his proposed 2016 budget.

“Ideally, if the president would include money in the budget, it would make our lives much easier,” he said. “But at the very least when there are opportunities – like when the president goes to Vietnam or the general secretary comes here – to reaffirm the commitment of both countries to continue working on this issue. [That] is almost as important as providing the funds.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 25 2015 (IPS)

While member states, weakened in the neoliberal era, have pulled back from the U.N. and cut its budgets, a charity mentality has arisen at the world body. Corporations and the mega-rich have flocked to take advantage of the opportunity. They have looked for a quietly commanding role in the organisation’s political process and hoped to shape the institution to their own priorities.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

The U.N. Global Compact, formed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 1999-2000 to promote corporate “responsibility,” was the first sign that the U.N. as an institution was beginning to work with the corporations and listen closely to them.

Critics point out that the corporations were getting branding benefits and considerable influence without any serious change in their behaviour, but the U.N. was happy to lend its prestige in exchange for proximity to the czars of the global economy.

The World Economic Forum, organisers of the Davos conferences, soon afterwards installed conferencing screens, disguised as picture frames, in the offices of top U.N. officials, so that corporate chieftains could have a spontaneous chat with their counterparts at the world body.Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

By that time, it was clear that Ted Turner’s dramatic donation of a billion dollars to the U.N. in 1997 was not a quirky, one-off gesture but an early sign that the U.N. was a target of Big Money. Today, the U.N. is riddled with “public-private partnerships” and cozy relations with the corporate world. Pepsico and BP are hailed as “partners.” Policy options have shifted accordingly.

As corporate voices have amplified at the United Nations, citizen voices have grown considerably weaker. The great global conferences, organised with such enthusiasm in the 1990s on topics like the environment, women’s rights, and social development, attracted thousands of NGO representatives, journalists, and leaders of grassroots movements.

Broad consultation produced progressive and even inspiring policy statements from the governments. Washington in particular was unhappy about the spectacle of citizen involvement in the great matters of state and it opposed deviations from neo-liberal orthodoxies.

In the new century, the U.S. warned that it would no longer pay for what it said were useless extravaganzas. The U.N. leadership had to shut down, downsize or otherwise minimise the conference process, substituting “dialog” with carefully-chosen interlocutors.

The most powerful governments have protected their domination of the policy process by moving key discussions away from the U.N. entirely to “alternative venues” for invitation-only participation. The G-7 meetings were an early sign of this trend.

Later came the G-20, as well as private initiatives with corporate participation such as the World Economic Forum. Today, mainstream thinkers often argue that the U.N. is not really a place of legislative decisions but rather one venue among others for discussion and coordination among international “stakeholders.”

The U.N. itself, in its soul-searching, asks about its “comparative advantage,” in contrast to these other events – as if public policy institutions must respond to “free market” principles. This race to the bottom by the U.N. is exceedingly dangerous.

Unlike the other venues, the U.N. is a permanent institution, with law-making capacity, means of implementation and a “universal” membership. It can and should act somewhat like a government, and it must be far more than a debating society or a place where secret deals are made. For all the hype about “democracy” in the world, the mighty have paid little attention to this most urgent democratic deficit.

Though the U.N. landscape is generally that of weakness and lack of action, there is one organ that is quite robust and active – the Security Council. It meets almost continuously and acts on many of the world’s most contentious security issues.

Unfortunately, however, the Council is a deeply-flawed and even despotic institution, dominated by the five Permanent Members and in practice run almost exclusively by the US and the UK (the “P-2” in U.N. parlance). The ten Elected Members, chosen for two-year terms, have little influence (and usually little zest to challenge the status quo).

Many observers see the Council as a power monopoly that produces scant peace and little enduring security. When lesser Council members have tried to check the war-making plans of Washington and London, as they surprisingly did in the 2003 Iraq War debates, their decisions have been ignored and humiliated.

In terms of international law, the U.N.’s record has many setbacks, but there have been some bright spots. The nations have negotiated significant new treaties under U.N. auspices, including major human rights documents, the Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the Rights of Women and the Rights of the Disabled.

The Montreal Protocol has successfully reduced the release of CFC gasses and addressed the dangerous hole in the earth’s ozone layer. But the treaty bodies tasked with enforcement are often weak and unable to promote compliance.

Powerful states tend to flout international law regularly and with impunity, including treaty principles once considered inviolable like the ban on torture. International law, the purview of the U.N., is frequently abused as a tool of states’ propaganda, to be invoked against opponents and enemies.

Legal scholars question the usefulness of these “norms” with so little enforcement. This is a disturbing problem, producing cynicism and eating at the heart of the U.N. system.

The U.N. may not have solved the centuries-old conundrum of international law, but it has produced some good thinking about “development” and human well-being.

The famous Human Development Report is a case in point and there are a number of creative U.N. research programmes such as the U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, the U.N. University, and the World Institute for Development Economic Research. They have produced creative and influential reports and shaped policies in good directions.

Unfortunately, many excellent U.N. intellectual initiatives have been shut down for transgressing powerful interests. In 1993, the Secretary-General closed the innovative Center on Transnational Corporations, which investigated corporate behaviour and economic malfeasance at the international level.

Threats from the U.S. Congress forced the Office of Development Studies at UNDP to suddenly and ignominiously abandonment its project on global taxes. Financial and political pressures also have blunted the originality and vitality of the Human Development Report. Among the research institutions, budgets have regularly been cut and research outsourced. Creative thinkers have drifted away.

Clearly, the U.N.’s seventieth anniversary does not justify self-congratulation or even a credible argument that the “glass is half full.” Though many U.N. agencies, funds and programmes like UNICEF and the World Health Organisation carry out important and indispensable work, the trajectory of the U.N. as a whole is not encouraging and the shrinking financial base is cause for great concern.

As climate change gathers force in the immediate future, setting off mass migration, political instability, violence and even food supply failure, there will be increasing calls for action among the world’s people.

The public may even demand a stronger U.N. that can carry out emergency measures. It’s hard, though, to imagine the U.N. taking up great new responsibilities without a massive and possibly lengthy overhaul.

Rather than waiting for disaster to arrive in full force, citizens should demand now a functional, effective and strong world body, democratic and proactive, protecting the environment, advancing peace, and working in the people’s interest.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Onehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-seventieth-anniversary-part-one/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:52:45 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141296

James A. Paul served for 19 years as Executive Director of Global Policy Forum, an organization monitoring the UN. He earlier worked at the Middle East Research & Information Project. In 1995, he founded the NGO Working Group on the Security Council and he has been active in many NGO initiatives and policy projects. He was an editor of the Oxford Companion to Politics of the World and has authored more than a hundred articles on international politics.

By James A. Paul
NEW YORK, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

It is hard to imagine today the public enthusiasm that greeted the founding of the U.N. in 1945.  After massive suffering and social collapse resulting from the Second World War, the U.N. seemed almost miraculous – a means at last to build peace, democracy, and a just society on a global scale.

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Everywhere, hopes and aspirations were high.  Seven decades later, results have fallen far short.  On this anniversary, we can ask: what might have been possible and what is still possible from this institution that has inspired such passion, positive and negative, over the years?

The organisation, of course, was not set up by the United States and its allies to fulfill the wishes of utopian thinkers.  Though the Charter of 1945 invokes “We the Peoples,” the war victors structured the U.N. as a conclave of nation states that would express the will of its members – particularly themselves, the richest and most influential countries.

Despite statesmen’s pronouncements about noble intentions, the U.N.’s most mighty members have never seriously considered laying down their arms or sharing their wealth in an unequal world.  They have been busy instead with the “Great Games” of the day – like securing oil and other resources, dominating client states and bringing down unfriendly governments.Faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organisation’s overall expenditures.

Nevertheless, through the years, the U.N. has regularly attracted the hopes of reforming intellectuals, NGOs, humanitarians and occasionally even some governments – with ideas about improvement to the global system and well-being on the planet. In the run-up to the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1995, many reports, conferences and books proposed U.N. institutional reform, some of which advocated a direct citizen role in the organisation.

Among the ideas were a chamber of directly-elected representatives, a vitalised General Assembly and a more representative Security Council, shorn of vetoes.  Some thinkers wanted an institution “independent” from – or at least buffered against – the sordid arena of great power politics.  But most reforming ideas, including relatively moderate changes, have come to naught.

Governments of all stripes have had a very short-term perspective and a narrow, outmoded conception of their “national interest” in the international arena.  They have shown remarkably little creativity and far-sightedness and they have taken care not to threaten powerful status quo interests.

The U.N.’s seventieth anniversary has come at a moment of exhaustion and frustration among reformers that has sapped belief in creative change. We are at a low-point in U.N. institutional prestige and public support.  Not surprisingly, the organisation has attracted few proposals and initiatives this time around.

As we know, the planet is facing unprecedented problems that the U.N. is in business to address: poverty, gross inequality, civil wars, mass migration, economic instability, and worsening climate change.  Secretaries General have regularly appointed panels of distinguished persons to consider these “threats,” but member states have not been ready to produce effective solutions.

Most of the money and energy at the U.N. in recent years has poured into “peacekeeping,” which is typically a kind of military intervention outsourced by Washington and its allies. The organisation, dedicated in theory to ending war, is ironically now a big actor on the world’s battlefields. It has a giant logistics base in southern Italy, a military communications system, contracts with mercenaries, an intelligence operation, drones, armored vehicles and other accouterments of armed might.  Meanwhile, the Department of Disarmament Affairs has seen its funding and status decline considerably.

The richest and most powerful states like to blame the smaller and poorer countries for the U.N. reform impasse (fury at the “G-77” – the group of “developing” countries – can often be heard among well-fed Northern diplomats at posh New York restaurants).  But in fact the big powers (with Washington first among them) have been the most ardent “blockers” – strenuously opposed to a strong U.N. in nearly every respect, except military operations.

The big power blocking has been especially strong when it comes to global economic policy, including proposals to strengthen the Social and Economic Council.  The same powers have also kept the U.N. Environment Programme weak, while opposing progress in U.N.-sponsored climate negotiations.

Poor countries have complained, but they are not paragons of reform either: their  leaders are inclined to speak in empty populist rhetoric, demanding “aid” while pursuing personal enrichment. We are far from a game-changing “new Marshall Plan” or a global mobilisation for social justice that reformers rightly call for.  Well-meaning NGOs repeat regularly such ideas, with little effect, in comfortable conference venues.

The U.N. has weakened as its member states have grown weaker.  The IMF, the World Bank and global financial interests have pushed neo-liberal reforms for three decades, undermining national tax systems and downsizing the role of public institutions in economic and social affairs.  Governments have privatized banks, airlines and industries, of course, and they have also privatized schools, roads, postal services, prisons and health care.

The vast new inequalities have led to more political corruption, a plague of lobbying, and frequent electoral malfeasance, even in the oldest democracies.  As a result, nation states command less loyalty, respect and hope than they did in the past.  Traditional centrist parties are losing their voters and the public is sceptical about governing institutions at all levels, including the U.N.

When nations cut their budgets, they cut the budget of the U.N. too, small as it is.  Bold steps to improve the U.N. would require money, self-confidence and a long-term view, but member states are too weak, politically unstable, timid and financially insecure to take on such a task.  As states slouch into socially, economically and politically conservative policies, the U.N. inexorably follows, losing its public constituency in the process.

Tightening U.N. budgets have tilted the balance of power in the U.N. even more sharply towards the richest nations and the wealthiest outside players.  Increasingly, faced with urgent needs and few resources, the U.N. holds out its beggar’s bowl for what amounts to charitable contributions, now totaling nearly half of the organization’s overall expenditures.

This “extra-budgetary” funding, enables the donors to define the projects and set the priorities.  The purpose of common policymaking among all member states has been all but forgotten.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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