Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 11:41:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Nuclear Threat Escalating Beyond Political Rhetorichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/nuclear-threat-escalating-beyond-political-rhetoric/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139917 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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Joan Baez, Ai Weiwei Awarded Amnesty International’s Top Honourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/joan-baez-ai-weiwei-awarded-amnesty-internationals-top-honour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=joan-baez-ai-weiwei-awarded-amnesty-internationals-top-honour http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/joan-baez-ai-weiwei-awarded-amnesty-internationals-top-honour/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 17:45:33 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139865 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

Folk singer Joan Baez and Chinese artist Ai Weiwei were announced Tuesday as the winners of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award.

Baez was recognised for her lifetime of “non-violence, and civil and human rights activism,” according to Amnesty, which includes civil rights marches with Dr Martin Luther King Jr, advocacy against the death penalty, support of LGBTI campaigns, and peace campaigns in Vietnam, as well as contributing her musical talents to countless charity events.

“With her mesmerizing voice and unwavering commitment to peaceful protest and human rights for all, Joan Baez has been a formidable force for good over more than five decades,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

Weiwei is a well-known and outspoken critic of the Chinese government, with his work exploring human rights and prison.

Weiwei was incarcerated and beaten by officials before he was due to testify during the trial of an environmental activist in 2008, then held without charge for over 80 days in 2011.

“Through his work Ai Weiwei reminds us that the right of every individual to express their self must be protected—not just for the sake of society, but also for art and humanity,” Shetty said.

The Ambassador of Conscience Award is Amnesty International’s top honour. It recognises “those who have shown exceptional leadership in the fight for human rights, through their life and work,” according to the organisation.

Both Weiwei and Baez expressed thanks at the announcement.

“I am very privileged to receive this special honour, and shall not fail the encouragement and profound expectation of me with this Award,” Weiwei said.

“Amnesty International attracted me because of its founding principle that all human rights abuses and the suffering they create are unacceptable,” Baez said.

“The process of eliminating those abuses, even one step at a time, has created a compassionate, non-partisan, powerfully effective movement. I’m lucky to be part of it and proud to be honored with this Award.”

The awards will be officially presented in Berlin on May 21.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

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Global Citizenship Essential for Gender Equality: Ambassador Chowdhuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/global-citizenship-essential-for-gender-equality-ambassador-chowdhury/#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:34:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139860 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 25 2015 (IPS)

At a recent panel discussion on women’s leadership during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury was the lone male voice.

"Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world," Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

“Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world,” Chowdhury says. Credit: UN Photo/Sophia Paris

In front of an audience of every creed, colour and culture, the decorated diplomat and former president of the United Nations Security Council tied the advancement of women’s causes to one of his pet causes: the idea of ‘global citizenship,’ of humans growing and learning and acting and working with consideration of their place in the global community.

“Being globally connected, emerging as global citizens, will help women achieve equality and help them show leadership,” Chowdhury told the packed room on Mar. 17.

“Each one of us needs to be globally connected. The days of staying in our national boundaries are gone. It is necessary to see women’s rights and equality as human issues, not women’s issues,” he said. “Men and women together, we have the power to empower.”

Through decades in diplomacy, the Bangladesh-born Chowdhury has served in some of the U.N’s highest posts, including under-secretary-general and High Representative for Least Developed Countries, president of the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vice-president of the Economic and Social Council, as well as serving two terms as Security Council president.

This idea of global citizenship is one he has proudly championed, pushing for greater education for young people to know and appreciate their place in the world, and how they can understand global challenges.

Chowdhury said the concept had existed for some time, but gained international prominence when it was enshrined – alongside increasing school enrolment and improving quality of education – as one of three priorities on the Secretary-General’s ‘Global Education First Initiative’ (GEFI) in 2012.

“Global citizenship is your ability and capacity to think as part one broad humanity. It is believing in ‘oneness’ of humanity, that we are all connected and interconnected, all interdependent,” Chowdhury told IPS.

“Humanity cannot make progress without all of us feeling that way. Whatever I do in my community, it has an impact – positive or negative – on the rest of the world. Nothing and no one can feel independent of connection with the world.”

Placing global citizenship alongside such foundational educational aspirations as increasing numbers of children attending school, and raising the quality of those schools, illustrates the extent to which the U.N. supports the concept.

In contrast to the concrete, empirical first and second goal, a brochure produced in conjunction with the launch of the GEFI outlined global citizenship as a more esoteric, ethereal concept; concerned not so much with achieving a certain statistic or milestone, but with bringing about a more fundamental shift in how education itself is delivered.

“Interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life,” the brochure stated.

“It must cultivate an active care for the world… education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day… it must give people the understanding, skills and values they need to cooperate in resolving the interconnected challenges of the 21st century.”The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world.

Chowdhury cited economic development, climate change and peace as the three major challenges that require advanced global citizenship to find a solution.

“Nobody can just get a normal degree from a university and think that knowledge will carry them through. They have to know what’s happening in the rest of the world. We have a better world if we feel for others in need who are impoverished and going through challenges,” he said.

“The value of education is in learning to be part of a bigger world. Being born a human has some responsibility, and that entails being aware of the challenges and how best you can contribute to resolving them.”

In his presentation to the CSW panel, Chowdhury invoked women in Africa – who he said “faced the heaviest odds in the world on many fronts” – as a source of inspiration for women worldwide fighting for gender equality.

“I am personally encouraged to see the leadership of African women. They face heavy odds, but come up with enormous amounts of energy, creativity and leadership to make their presence felt,” he said.

In speaking with IPS, he invoked global citizenship as a basic cornerstone for effective leadership moving toward a sustainable international future – but said that some foundational aspects of current education would need to be remoulded to achieve the ideal learning system to craft successful global citizens.

“Sometimes people in industrialised countries think they know everything, that their education is the best, but in many cases those students have the least knowledge of the challenges in other parts of the world. The majority of the world’s population are going through concerns not even known to people in other parts of the world,” Chowdhury said.

“People are told they learn to get a degree, to get a job, to get money. That is the central focus in many countries. Really, the most important thing is to learn about the world, its diversity, that there are many languages and cultures and ethnicities.”

Both Chowdhury and the GEFI cited numerous barriers to implementing better systems to teach global citizenship, including outdated teaching methods and equipment, insufficient teacher capacity to teach such concepts, and the costs of updating or reforming such systems.

“Reviews from around the world find that today’s curricula and textbooks often reinforce stereotypes, exacerbate social divisions, and foster fear and resentment of other groups or nationalities. Rarely are curricula developed through a participatory process that embraces excluded and marginalized groups,” the GEFI brochure stated.

Chowdhury, however, stressed that the costs of inaction far outweighed the costs and difficulty of reforming educational systems.

“We have ignored global citizenship and interconnectedness, valued independence of our countries, and conflict is happening. Economic development, trade regimes, all these things are are seriously affected if we don’t [change],” he said.

“This is why we are stepping up our concern and interest in promoting global citizenship as a value to be added to humanity’s opportunities.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Sharing the Vision of a Changed Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-sharing-the-vision-of-a-changed-world/#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 10:05:59 +0000 Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139849 Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

Young Bangladeshi women raise their fists at a protest in Shahbagh. Credit: Kajal Hazra/IPS

By Janet C. Nelson and Constance J. Peak
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 24 2015 (IPS)

This year has many initiatives taking place in the realm of women’s leadership, but one platform and movement in particular is standing out, and people are noticing. We are the founders of IMPACT Leadership 21, leadership architects for inclusive, high growth economies.

As a global social enterprise, the organisation is committed to inclusive and sustainable leadership at the top level.  This commitment is the driving force behind our core mission:  ACCELERATE women’s leadership at the highest levels of influence in the 21st century.Someone always has to dream.

Following is a conversation about the goals and strategies of IMPACT Leadership 21.

Janet:  Constance and I have a wealth of experience in many sectors.  We have operated in corporate, governmental, non-profit, diplomatic, and entrepreneurial arenas.  We observed that there were gaps across all sectors hindering the pace of advancement.  We developed discussion forums and targeted training modules to address these gaps.

Constance:  We grew tired of the same dialogue and not seeing the needle move very much.  We grew impatient and decided to take action.

Janet:  IMPACT represents the core values and principles required for transformational leadership. I – Innovation, M – Multiculturalism, P – Passion, A – Attunement, C – Collaboration, and T – Tenacity.

Together with our partners, we:

  • Convene catalytic conversations and forums that revolutionise global leadership.
  • Provide tools, resources, opportunities and channels that equip leaders to succeed in a global, hyper-connected world.
  • Inspire emerging global leaders to be catalysts for change.
  • Engage men as powerful ambassadors for change and a gender balanced leadership at the top.

Constance:  We provide discussions forums and trainings to assist companies and individuals.  Through our framework, we help clients identify challenges, then structure actionable step to help them overcome those challenges. Our forums are designed to identify, build, and engage business/social ecosystems that are industry specific to accelerate leadership.  If you want to build strong leadership, we are your architects.

Starting in 2012, IMPACT Leadership 21 has introduced three core programmes:  the Leadership Acceleration Training Program/High IMPACT, the Emerging Global Leaders Program, and Conversations with Men.  The Emerging Global Leaders Program was taught at Columbia University (School of International Public Affairs and Teachers College) and as an academy at the United Nations.

Conversations with Men was a featured content segment at the 2014 California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, CA and the 2014 GOLD Symposium in Tokyo.

Janet:  I created these programmes to address a need seen worldwide.  Conversations with Men has a very special place.  Women’s initiatives make the mistake of not including men in the acceleration of women’s leadership.  The men hold the majority of the cards; you need dialogue to have people understand the importance of gender parity.

Constance:  If you examine any great movement in history, you’ll see that the success comes from the efforts of those immediately affected, partnering with those bystanders that are sympathetic to the cause.  I mentioned this in 2012.  We launched our first Conversations with Men in April 2013.  We held it at the United Nations in February 2014.  After that, others started developing like minded initiatives, such as He for She and Lean In Together.  Many dismissed us at first, but history leaves clues to success.  It’s hard to dispute the history. We’ve pioneered this level of forum and training for the 21st century.

A movement and platform cannot go far without support, and this couple has some remarkable people in their corner.

Janet:  We are very humbled to have such incredible pillars to our success, very high profile champions and supporters that have really rolled up their sleeves to help us.

Our foremost driving force since the beginning is Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury (Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and popularly known as the “Father of 1325”, the U.N. Security Council resolution which focused on women, peace and security).

Ambassador Chowdhury’s tireless, hands-on  commitment and advocacy on ensuring equal participation of women at all levels of leadership continues to inspire the work we do as we accelerate women’s global leadership at the top.  It is because of this relentless spirit of championing women’s equality as a man, that we honored Ambassador Chowdhury with the first IMPACT Leadership 21 Frederick Douglass Award in 2013.

Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo (Deputy Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat), Ambassador Edita Hrda (Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to U.N.) and Michaela Walsh (Founding President, Women’s World Banking) have also been in our corner from the beginning, and continue to be guide and support us. Leslie Grossman, Founder of Women’s Leadership Exchange, emphatically joined us immediately after our first event and now serves as vice chair of our Global Advisory Council.

Constance:  They are our “salmon swimming upstream”.  Unheard of for most other fish, but second nature to the salmon.  They are our mentors and guides as we challenge the status quo, as we challenge the ways it’s always been done, challenge the seemingly impossible.  We’ve caught the vision of a changed world, now we are helping others see it. Someone always has to dream.

You can meet the leadership architects of IMPACT on Mar. 25, 2015 at the United Nations, convening their pioneering programme, Power of Collaboration, now in its second year.  For more information please visit impactleadership21.com or email communications@impactleadership21.com 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Rape in Conflict: Speaking Out for What’s Righthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-rape-in-conflict-speaking-out-for-whats-right/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 12:21:59 +0000 Serra Sippel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139727

Serra Sippel is President of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE)

By Serra Sippel
WASHINGTON, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama delivered an impassioned speech marking the 50th Anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and the bloody attack on civil rights marchers by police.

President Obama issued what was tantamount to a call to action for Americans to speak out for what is right. He stated: “…Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

Courtesy of Serra Sippel

As a longtime advocate for the health and human rights of women, I take President Obama’s words to heart. They express the core tenet of policy advocacy.

Advocates should applaud and praise government when it does the right thing for women and girls. And when it doesn’t, we must speak out for what’s right, even if it is disruptive and causes discomfort.

Last week, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) hosted a panel at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) where panelists from Human Rights Watch, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), and Dandelion Kenya spoke about the brutal sexual violence and rapes that women face, and the absence of comprehensive post rape care for these women and girls, especially when it comes to abortion access.

The discussion was disturbing and emotional as we heard about the fear, stigma, and suffering that so many women face while governments stand by and refuse to provide comfort and care—including the United States.

The status quo – that no U.S. foreign aid should support safe abortion access – is causing too much suffering in this world and it must end.

Only a few months ago the U.N. secretary-general released an important report stating: “In line with Security Council resolution 2122 (2013), I call on all actors to support improved access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services in conflict-affected settings. This must include access to HIV counseling and testing, which remains limited in many settings, and the safe termination of pregnancies for survivors of conflict-related rape.”

The Obama administration has taken great strides toward women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health in U.S. foreign policy, from the USAID Strategy on Female Empowerment and Gender Equality to the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.

And at the United Nations last September, President Obama focused on the serious problem of rape in conflict, acknowledging that, “mothers, sisters, daughters have been subjected to rape as a weapon of war.”

We applaud and praise the administration for such bold action. However, when it comes to reproductive rights and access to safe abortion for women and girls globally, the Obama administration has failed to demonstrate the same bold leadership.

Twenty years ago, the U.S. joined governments from around the world in a promise to women and girls that where abortion is legal, it should be safe and available. Today, the U.S. has not lived up to that promise. And when it comes to abortion access for women and girls raped in conflict, inaction by the U.S. government is unconscionable and advocates must speak out.

The time is now for the president to stand with women and girls and take executive action to support abortion access for women and girls in the cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.

The time is now for the president to answer the call to action echoed by advocates from around the world.

We have sent letters to the president from religious leaders and CEOs of global human rights and women’s rights organisations. We have brought advocates from South Africa, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda to speak directly to the White House to implore the president to act.

We rallied in front of the White House asking the president to stand with women and girls. And, we have gathered at CSW to share first-hand accounts of what women and girls are experiencing globally.

Ending the status quo on foreign aid and abortion means to boldly embrace the notion that women and girls matter. Our U.S. foreign aid must be used to save and improve lives—and that is what safe abortion does, especially for those raped in conflict.

CHANGE and others will continue to “speak out for what’s right” and “shake up the status quo,” because the lives of women and girls matter. I hope we can count on President Obama to join us.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Contradictions Beset U.N. Response to Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/contradictions-beset-u-n-response-to-sexual-abuse-by-peacekeepers/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 23:36:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139694 The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The leaked report evaluated risks to Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse prevention efforts of U.N. Missions in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and South Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

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

An internal United Nations expert report released Monday by the non-governmental organisation AIDS-Free World reveals serious contradictions in the U.N.’s reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers.

The leaked expert team report, dated Nov. 3, 2013, begins by stating, “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse has been judged the most significant risk to U.N. peacekeeping missions, above and beyond other key risks including protection of civilians.”Victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.” -- Paula Donovan

AIDS-Free World, which released the report, is concerned it “contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress.”

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released his 2015 update on Feb. 13.

Some of the key issues highlighted by AIDS-Free World include problems with the way the U.N. collects information about sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers; delays in action taken which lead to effective impunity for U.N. peacekeeping personnel; and what the expert’s report described as “a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”

In an open letter addressed to “Ambassadors of All United Nations Member States” sent Monday, AIDS-Free World wrote, “We know that the UN has never disseminated the Expert Team’s Report. We therefore suspect that few if any governments are aware that independent experts, commissioned by the Secretary-General, made pointed criticisms about the way sexual violations in UN peacekeeping missions are handled.

“We are releasing the Report today because we believe it contains valuable material that differs profoundly from the Secretary-General’s own annual report on progress. It should be seen by all the Member States of the United Nations.”

Inadequate reporting mechanisms

IPS spoke with Paula Donovan, co-director of AIDS-Free World, who said that the expert team that compiled the 2013 report had the required expertise to address the complex problem of abuse by U.N. peacekeepers and asked pressing questions.

Donovan explained that by contrast, the secretary-general’s recent report used inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms that didn’t account for the complexities of addressing an institutional culture of impunity towards sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Each year the secretary-general is required to report to the General Assembly on how he is doing. Are these special measures for protection against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse working? Are we getting closer to zero [cases]?”

However, the expert team reported that were a number of reasons for underreporting of sexual exploitation and abuse and that “U.N. personnel in all the missions we visited could point to numerous suspected or quite visible cases of SEA that are not being counted or investigated.”

“The U.N. does not know how serious the problem of SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] is because the official numbers mask what appears to be significant amounts of underreporting of SEA,” the report said.

Donovan said that the secretary-general’s focus on reporting a decrease in the number of allegations was problematic for a number of reasons. “One thing that people who understand these issues know is that when numbers go down, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that incidents have gone down. It may be a lack of confidence in the reporting process.”

Donovan added that experts on sexual violence would advise that, “when you put a programme in place that actually begins to prevent and punish sexual exploitation and abuse, one indicator that your programme is working is that people feel safe enough to come forward.”

She said that U.N. peacekeepers were working “to protect the most vulnerable people on earth.”

For many reasons, therefore, victims of sexual assault may not feel confident to come forward, particularly if “they fear that the system doesn’t work, that justice will never be served and that they may be in a worse situation than if they hadn’t reported.

“If you make it clear to people that you can demonstrate that it is a safer decision to report than to stay silent, that’s an indication that your programme is working,” Donovan siad.

Donovan added that the U.N.’s focus on reporting “allegations” as against actual cases meant that its reporting bears no resemblance to reality.

She also added that the numbers reported by the secretary-general were incomplete as well as inaccurate, because they did not include data from UNICEF, which has its own separate reporting mechanism.

Hopes for high-level review

There are hopes that the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will help find practical solutions to issues of impunity and transparency within U.N. Peace Operations, including those raised in this report.

Noting that the review panel was not entirely independent, given one of it’s members had been simultaneously U.N. under secretary-general in charge of Field Support for the first several months of the panel’s work, Donovan said that she still had hope that the review could address these complex issues.

Donovan said that Aids-Free World has sent a copy of the expert team’s report to panel chair José Ramos-Horta and that “if he chooses to independently take this on and insist that the U.N. take this on than there is the possibility of success.

“Under the leadership of José Ramos-Horta, it is possible that it won’t just be another panel,” she added.

Ramos-Horta shared a link to an article about Sexual Abuse by U.N. Peacekeepers with his more than 30,000 Facebook followers on Mar. 6.

Lack of U.N. freedom of information policy

Donovan told IPS that when Aids-Free World originally learned that there had been an expert inquiry, they wrote to the U.N. and asked for a copy of the report.

“We were told that it was not a public document,” she said.

Most governments have quite a clear Freedom of Information policy, which includes ways of categorising classified and unclassified documents. That is not necessarily so for the U.N. so it is unclear why this particular report was not released, Donovan said.

Asked for a response, the Office of the Spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement, “The proposals and initiatives presented to the General Assembly in A/69/779 reflect an integrated approach aimed at strengthening prevention, enforcement and remedial action in connection with sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel.

“The report also revisits a number of proposals set out in the seminal 2005 Secretary-General report to the GA ‘A comprehensive strategy to eliminate future sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations peacekeeping operations’ which was prepared by a special task force chaired by Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, then Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations.

“The report included recommendations for holding courts martial in host countries and establishing a trust Fund for Victims. Prevention, combatting and remediating acts of sexual exploitation and abuse are a top priority for the organization and will continue to be focus of sustained efforts to address the issue.”

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter @LyndalRowlands

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beijing Platform for Action Section E

Women and Armed Conflict Diagnosis

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Women Bring Commitment and Experience to the Peace Table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Gender Equality in Peace Time Prevents Conflict

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Women Are Active In Civil Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Women Challenge The Causes of Conflict

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Middle East Conflicts Give Hefty Boost to Arms Merchantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:03:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139680 Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

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

The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have helped spiral arms sales upwards to the Middle East, according to a study released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The primary beneficiaries were the United States and Russia, whose overall arms exports show a marked increase through 2014, with China lagging behind, according to the latest figures.“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure." -- Natalie Goldring

Arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – increased by 71 per cent from 2005–2009 to 2010–14, accounting for 54 per cent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period.

Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010–14, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005–2009.

Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said GCC states have rapidly expanded and modernised their militaries – primarily with arms from the United States and Europe.

“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years,” he added.

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 the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union provide ready markets for arms transfers.

But those transfers, she pointed out, aren’t always reflected in the SIPRI data. SIPRI’s database focuses on major conventional weapons.

“This means that the light weapons and small arms often featured in recent conflicts are not captured in the SIPRI totals,” said Golding, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She said the drop in crude oil prices since September 2014 reduces the revenues available to oil-rich nations.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the oil price cuts have had strong effects across the oil-producing nations because of their dependence on oil exports.

For the short term, those effects can be moderated by using the financial buffers that are available to countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In the past, however, financial pressures have only slowed weapons acquisitions for as long as they have persisted, Goldring said.

“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure,” she noted.

According to the most recent SIPRI data, roughly three-quarters of all countries in the world imported major conventional weapons between 2010-2014. Just 10 countries accounted for roughly half of all imports of major conventional weapons during this period.

Of the top 10 largest importers of major weapons during the five-year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 per cent of global arms imports), China (5 per cent), Pakistan (4 per cent), South Korea (3 per cent) and Singapore (3 per cent).

These five countries accounted for 30 per cent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide.

India accounted for 34 per cent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 per cent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

The new SIPRI data make it clear that the United States and Russia continue to dominate the global arms trade in major conventional weapons.

The United States accounted for 31 percent of the market, up from 29 percent from 2005-2009. Russia’s share increased even more significantly, going from 22 percent of the world market in 2005-2009 to a 27-percent share of the international market from 2010-2014.

“The United States has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

“Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Wezeman.

He said Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.

Goldring told IPS that although SIPRI notes the significant percentage increase in Chinese exports between the two periods, China is still a minor supplier in comparison to the United States and Russia.

Even with a large increase in its exports, China still only accounts for five percent of the global trade.

The United States and Russia alone account for nearly 60 percent of the world market. U.S. and Russian dominance of the world market is simply not threatened by China, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: A Radical Approach to Global Citizenship Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 17:42:37 +0000 Wayne Hudson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139641

Wayne Hudson is a professor at the University of Queensland, Charles Stuart University and the University of Tasmania, Australia.

By Wayne Hudson
BRISBANE, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Although global citizenship education has now received the recognition it deserves, much of the literature recycles old agendas under another name –  ‘education to promote peace and justice’, ‘sustainability’, ‘care for the environment’, ‘multi-faith’ and ‘multi-cultural understanding’  – and so forth.

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Another literature proposes that children learn specific global knowledge: world history, global ethics, global law etc. In my view these approaches do not grasp the revolution that global citizenship involves.

They do not rise to the level of the times and promote an approach to education which is radical enough to bring about the changes which are needed. There is also a problem about the tendency for some advocates of global citizenship education to promote political and social activism under another name.

Finally, there is a major problem about the way global citizenship education tends to be presented in Western terms, heavily indebted to the European Enlightenment. I propose an approach to global citizenship education which is much more radical and involves a new conceptuality of pedagogical practice.

Clearly I would not argue for a global citizenship education that ignores the achievements of the West or the rich heritage of the European Enlightenment. Equally, however, global citizenship education cannot be education in the Enlightenment ideology of the West.Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites.

It cannot ignore the substantive claims of Islam. It cannot pretend that Russian Orthodoxy is some sort of private option and that the Russian Federation is a secular nation state. And it must relate to the actual diversities – political, cultural and ethical – found around the world, if it is not to be yet another example of educational utopianism with only limited impact on the ground.

Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites. Many current forms of global citizenship education do not seem to address their needs.

Global citizenship education which goes beyond both Western ideology and utopian dreaming needs in my view to make two radical leaps:

First, it needs to make a post-secular leap and reconcile moderate secularity with a recognition of non-mundane performances in both public and private life. This represents a rejection of American ideology about ‘the public square’ or ‘the public sphere’.

It reconnects with real world realities, and involves a model of global citizenship education which takes different spiritual perspectives seriously at the level of religious citizenship, at the level of human rights, and at the level of the role of the state.

Pious declarations which simply recite Western Enlightenment mantras about these matters will fail in practice in the Islamic world and Russia. They may not even recommend themselves to Islamic minorities in Western Europe. In the longer term they may not be implemented in practice in much of Asia, including India, Burma and China.

To this extent, global citizenship needs to be more global than most writers on global citizenship education currently envisage. It needs to take cultural, religious and civilisational differences much more seriously than is currently the case.

What is at issue here is not particularism, or an irrational form of cultural relativism, but an approach that addresses actual heterogeneities and real world contexts and does not rely on Kantian moral philosophy, or on Anglo-American political philosophy.

‘Global’ cannot mean Anglo-Saxon or even European. A global approach must both respect, and to a degree explain, differences, and this implies the need for more powerful concepts than individual traditions traditionally provided. This leads on to the second leap.

In my view, global citizenship education also needs to make a leap towards a new conceptuality: one that can encompass historical and historical particularities, while also creating portability across cultures and nation states.

This is a strong claim, and one with which educationists around the world are relatively unfamiliar, even though it is possible that nothing less will adequately traverse the world of electronic media, especially social media, or allow an integration of the sciences with the humanities and the fine arts.

A new global conceptuality is not on offer in educational institutions at present, and it does not inform most thinking on educational development. This is partly because the type of thinking involved is more commonly found among mathematicians, physicists and philosophers than among professors of education.

However, it may not be that difficult to produce and exemplify such a conceptuality in pedagogic practice. Indeed, I think that it will be easier to establish this conceptuality in pedagogic practice than to explicate the new concepts in philosophical or other theoretical terms.

Here my position is substantially alternativist and obviously requires considerable exemplification. The approach I commend differs from many dominant strategies in education, which often assume that curricula should implement pre-existing educational concepts and strategies.

My approach to global citizenship education implies a very different conception of pedagogy and learning, one which paradoxically has links both with strong cognitivism of a type educationists tend not to favour and with strong pragmatism of a type they favour, but do not always practice.

It has particular links with the pragmatism of the American philosopher and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce, as opposed to the weaker pragmatism of John Dewey, William James or Richard Rorty.

My claim is that such an unusual approach to philosophy and practice has benefits for global citizenship education. Pedagogy based on this approach has the advantage of being suited to delivery using new technologies.

It is also inexpensive, practical and easy to implement in local communities around the world. Of course, such an innovative approach may be controversial, at least until the foundations for the approach in contemporary philosophy, mathematics and cognitive science are better understood. However, this is the approach I am working on. It is one that I think can make a real contribution to the current debates.

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. 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Aid Under Fire Calls for New Strategieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:51:05 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139610 By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations – many of which have already reached their financial and logistic limits – are in desperate need of global coordination.

“We feel like we’ve hit the wall,” is how U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-Wha Kang has described the dramatic situation.

This situation was the subject of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress held last week in the Austrian capital under the slogan ‘Humanitarian Aid Under Fire’.Humanitarian organisations are rethinking their strategies, especially in Syria and Iraq, and trying to include all stakeholders in a dialogue to obtain access to the people in need – Kyung-Wha Kang, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

Opening the congress, Annelies Vilim, Director of Global Responsibility, the Austrian platform for development and humanitarian aid, told participants: “Humanitarian aid is not an act of charity. It is a human right.“

In a world in which trouble spots and wars are on the rise, the question of how aid operations are carried out most successfully to meet the necessities of recipients is becoming increasingly relevant and, noted Vilim, at this moment millions of people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Among others, the goal of the congress was to make humanitarian work more visible in these difficult times and to commit decision makers at all levels to value the importance of humanitarian assistance and cooperation.

Unfortunately, sufficient funding and clear structures are lacking and already inadequate contributions are under constant threats of budget cuts.

Host country Austria itself, for example, is no exception – an OECD study has shown that state spending in 2013 was only 1.3 euro per capita, 20 times less than the amount a country of similar wealth such as Sweden was paying.

“The world is facing drastic transformations and politics are not keeping up,” complained Yves Daccord, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

To address those challenges, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched an initiative, managed by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to hold the first World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.

It will bring together governments, humanitarian organisations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners, including from the private sector, to draw up solutions and set an agenda for the future of humanitarian action.

 Logo of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress. In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations are in desperate need of global coordination.


Logo of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress. In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations are in desperate need of global coordination.

One issue that is certain to be on the agenda is the safety of aid workers. With 1.5 billion people living in conflict-affected areas, “we will unfortunately have to face more stories in the media about aid workers killed in the line of duty, of atrocities committed against innocent civilians,” said Kang.

In 2013 alone, 474 humanitarian workers were attacked, injured or abducted and 155 lost their lives.

Due to the difficult circumstances, Kang explained that humanitarian organisations are rethinking their strategies, especially in Syria and Iraq, and trying to include all stakeholders in a dialogue to obtain access to the people in need.

Controversially, this also means that for the sake of civilians, parties that are considered “terroristic” should also be involved in the process. Humanitarian actors legitimate this by upholding the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and non-discrimination in regard to beneficiaries, and independence.

It is estimated that today over 30 armed conflicts are taking place worldwide, 16 of which are considered as wars with more than 1,000 victims each year. According to the United Nations, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the Central African Republic are ranked at the highest level of emergency.

The Central African Republic occupied some of the limelight at the Vienna congress in a panel discussion on humanitarian space and life and work in war. Two of the country’s religious leaders – Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and Imam Layama Oumar Kobine – spoke out about their fight for peace and disarmament.

Both argued that the civil war in their country was not a religious war. “Neither the Bible nor the Koran say that people should kill,” said Nzapalainga, explaining that five days after the beginning of the crisis in December 2012, religious leaders had come together to work collectively on an interreligious platform.

The problem, said the religious leaders, is that 75 percent of the country’s population is illiterate and therefore open to exploitation and recruitment by militant groups. This affects young people in particular and, because the state and government have ceased to exist, it is humanitarian workers who often fulfil the duties of the authorities.

Karoline Kleijer, Emergency Coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), described her experience of how life has become incredibly difficult for humanitarian workers in the country.

She described how shortly after arriving in the country in April 2014, armed forces entered a meeting of MSF staff and local community leaders that she was attending, opened fire and killed 20 people, including three MSF workers.

The incident had a huge impact on the organisation, she said, but despite all the difficulties “it did not stop us from working in the country. Since then, we have performed more than 10,000 operations and treated more than 300,000 people for malaria. We have delivered more than 15,000 babies and we have been continuing activities up to today.”

Although the principle that civilians have to be protected in armed conflicts and war and have a right to humanitarian assistance is embedded in the Geneva Convention, humanitarian workers have to take great risks to obtain access to the population in distress and, contrary to their neutrality, are becoming targets themselves.

“We hope that humanitarian workers will continue to take those risks, because we continue to take those risks in order to help the population in need,” said Nzapalainga.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Eighty-Three Percent of Lights Have Gone Out in Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/eighty-three-percent-of-lights-have-gone-out-in-syria/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:49:39 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139618 A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

A satellite view of Syria in February/March 2015. Credit Xi Li/Wuhan University

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

A single image can be more powerful, more descriptive and more potent than an entire essay – ‘ a picture says a thousand words,’ as the cliché goes.

So it is in Syria, where despite the undoubted millions of words penned about atrocity after atrocity, bombing after bombing, a newly-released set of satellite images spell out the true devastation wrought on the nation.“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it." -- Dr. Zaher Sahloul

Since the start of the conflict in 2011, more than four-fifths of lights across Syria have gone out.

With Syria, a coalition of 130 non-governmental organisations, launched the sobering statistic on Thursday. Research by Dr Xi Li, of Wuhan University in China, showed between March 2011 and February 2015, the number of lights visible over Syria has fallen almost 83 percent.

“I have analysed other countries, but Syria is the worst case I’ve ever seen of nighttime lights going out like this,” Li told IPS. “It is very similar to the figures of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda and Syria are the two most impacted and most suffering countries I’ve seen.”

Figures vary nationwide. In Damascus, only 33 percent of lights have gone out; while in war-ravaged Aleppo, Idlib and Al-Raqqah, up to 97 percent of lights have been extinguished.

Li says the astonishing lack of light in the country is due to three factors; the displacement of citizens from towns and cities, the destruction of buildings and their lights, and disruption of electricity supply, all of which have hugely damaging and potentially deadly effects.

“Electricity is one of the basic needs for people, but basic supplies have been cut off. Most people there are living in darkness,” Li said.

Destruction and disruption of power supply is not unfamiliar for Dr. Zaher Sahloul. President of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), Sahloul – a Syrian himself, with family still in the country – and his organisation provide medical care in trauma centres and clinics around the country.

SAMS also provides diesel, to fuel power generators in areas without steady electricity supply. Sahloul said a lack of basic utilities is one of the biggest issues faced by citizens and aid groups looking to assist on the ground, claiming that areas like Ghouta – near Damascus – have been without power for over 860 days.

“Some of the shortages are intentional, by fighting groups. When they circle an area, or start a siege, they cut off the power. Some government controlled areas have electricity a few hours a day, usually after midnight, because of rationing,” he told IPS. “Aleppo and Ghouta have a complete dependence on generators and diesel fuel.”

Sahloul said SAMS provides funding for facilities to purchase diesel fuel, but it is scarce and expensive – up to 12 dollars per gallon, “the highest in the world,” he claims.

“People are functioning the same way as in the Middle Ages. Modern technology, which we take for granted, cannot be used. Even the lucky ones with a generator have to ration it. Many functions have stopped in the cities under siege,” Sahloul said.

“The basic functions of any village, like garbage management, water, bakeries and schools – with no power, how can you do those? It is a formula for disaster.”

Syria has just shivered its way through a harsh winter, with temperatures plunging to -7 degrees Celsius (20 degrees Fahrenheit). Many Syrians battled the cold in tents in refugee camps, or in the shells of destroyed houses, with no way to keep warm. Sahloul’s family was one of those.

“They have been trying to get fuel for months, but have not been able to, so they can’t use the heating in their house,” he said.

“Tens of thousands of displaced people have no heat. There were children dying, freezing to death. Nowadays, nobody can live without electricity.”

Sharif Aly, Advocacy Counsel for Islamic Relief USA, said his group’s recent efforts had also focused on helping Syrians survive a brutal winter without heat, power or even secure shelter. Due to security concerns, Islamic Relief was only able to provide basic blankets and coats in some parts of the country.

“People being displaced have to brave the elements, a very cold winter with snow and ice. There were deaths from freezing,” Aly told IPS. “Our winter work has been to try and provide gas or fuel to families. Hopefully the problems are starting to alleviate with spring, but it has been a big challenge.”

Aly said a lack of electricity, as well as ongoing dangers from gunfire, bombings and other military activity had made providing medical care hugely difficult; but while emergency trauma care for wounds is the most obvious medical emergency, he said psychological and emotional injuries were all but ignored in the region.

“There are huge mental health problems, a lot of psychological impact for these innocent people caught in the conflict,” he said.

“Getting health aid is challenging. We recently started a kidney dialysis service in Lebanon, because due to the situation in Syria and a lack of health services, there is not a lot of opportunity to get good treatment for urgent things like dialysis.”

Sahloul said many members of the medical community are fleeing Syria as the conflict becomes even bloodier. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, addressing a telebriefing on the release of the ‘lights out’ figures, said 2014 was “the bloodiest year yet” of the conflict, bringing the total death toll since 2011 to over 200,000 lives.

“Every physician I know in Syria is thinking about leaving, even in so-called stable areas,” Sahloul said.

“The continuation of violence is adding strain to the medical community. There has been systematic targeting of health facilities by fighting group. There is a flight of doctors and nurses out of Syria.”

A report released Wednesday by Physicians For Human Rights claimed 610 medical staff had been killed in Syria since 2011, with 233 attacks on 183 medical facilities.

The group said the Syrian government “committed the vast majority of these attacks,” responsible for 97 percent of medical personnel killings, including 139 by torture or execution.

Sahloul said the exodus of medical staff has led to the spread of diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis, parasites including lice and scabies, malnutrition, and chronic diseases going untreated due to a lack of access to healthcare and medication.

March 2015 marks four years since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. Despite a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, 11 million people displaced, and an untold number of wounded, an end to the violence is not in sight.

“People on the ground are not hopeful. There are rumblings in the NGO community that this could be an eight or 10-year conflict,” Aly said. “There is no expectation of a resolution anytime soon.”

Li, drawing another parallel between Syria and the Rwanda, said he hoped the international community would act before the Syrian conflict became as infamous as the 1994 genocide.

“The international community ignored Rwanda, and after, they regretted it. I don’t want people to have any more regrets after this conflict ends,” he said.

Sahloul expected a similarly grim future.

“In areas like Aleppo, the situation is as bad as always, or even worse. Nobody is optimistic, and nobody is taking the crisis as seriously as they should be,” he warned.

“They are thinking Syria can be contained. It is not contained. This is the tip of the iceberg. If it continues, the situation in the whole region will explode.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Year of Progress for “Children, Not Soldiers”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-year-of-progress-for-children-not-soldiers/#comments Sat, 07 Mar 2015 13:41:27 +0000 Leila Zerrougui http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139551 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). Nov. 1, 2012. 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). Nov. 1, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Leila Zerrougui
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 7 2015 (IPS)

One year ago, representatives of the last eight governments of the world named by the U.N. secretary-general for the recruitment and use of children in their security forces gathered at the United Nations in New York to declare they were ready to take the steps necessary to make their security forces child-free.

The gathering in itself was historic. And so is the campaign “Children, Not Soldiers”, launched jointly with the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF exactly a year ago. The campaign builds on the growing international consensus that children do not belong in security forces and seeks to galvanise support to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by national security forces in conflict by the end of 2016.A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

The countries concerned by the campaign are: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen.

There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but we have come a long way. A few years ago, it was not uncommon in my travels to be greeted by military commanders, surrounded by children in uniforms and carrying weapons. That has become unacceptable now.

Governments identified by the U.N. secretary-general acknowledge that children do not belong in their security forces and most have taken concrete steps to make sure their children do not become soldiers.

In the campaign’s first year, progress has been steady. The campaign received broad support and we achieved results that are making a difference in children’s lives. Chad has completed all the reforms and measures included in its Action Plan signed with the U.N. and has been taken off the U.N. secretary-general’s list of child recruiters.

Over 400 children were released from the national army in Myanmar. In all of 2014, in DRC, there was only one case of child recruitment by the national army, and the child was quickly released. In Afghanistan, the recruitment of children is in decline and only five cases were recorded by the U.N.

Six of the seven remaining countries concerned by the campaign have now signed and recommitted to Action Plans with the United Nations. These Action Plans are agreements that indicate all the steps necessary to end and prevent the recruitment of children in government forces.

The “Children, not Soldiers” campaign has also accomplished its purpose as a rallying cry to make the issue of child soldiers a top concern of the international community. “How can we help?” was the question asked by officials from dozens of countries, NGOs, partners from the U.N. system, regional organisations and many more.

Officials from countries involved in the campaign have also met with representatives from other countries who ended the use of child soldiers in their armies. These were opportunities to share experiences, successes and challenges.

This is positive, but the campaign’s first year has also shown that goodwill and commitments with the U.N. are not enough to guarantee that children will not become soldiers.

The conflict in South Sudan is a cruel reminder that acting on provisions included in an Action Plan, such as the establishment of child protection units in a country’s armed forces, or taking steps to criminalise the recruitment of children is not enough to guarantee that boys and girls will be fully protected if conflict strikes again.

In Yemen, months of work leading to the signature of an Action Plan in May 2014 have been derailed by the current political situation. Instead of the anticipated progress, data gathered by the U.N. indicates a spike in the recruitment of child soldiers by all parties to the conflict.

Even the armed group Al-Houthi Ansar Allah, whose leaders were actively engaged in dialogue with the U.N., have reneged on their commitment to protect children.

We cannot afford to watch silently while children once again pay the price for political instability in their countries. We keep reminding parties to the conflict that they cannot recruit or use children, that it is a war crime. We ask all those involved in peace talks to make sure that releasing children is a priority.

The big lesson of this campaign’s first year is that the road to child-free government armies is promising, but also full of obstacles. The setbacks of 2014 show that even if measures to protect children are put in place, gains can be reversed under the pressure of conflict.

We also have a better understanding that many countries face similar challenges. Addressing these common challenges will be a priority in the campaign’s second year.

Accountability is central to our work. To enhance accountability, I will encourage all countries concerned by the campaign that have not yet done so to criminalise the recruitment and use of children and to spell out consequences for offenders. Investigations and prosecutions of child recruiters remain far too rare, even in countries that have criminalised the recruitment of children. Without sanctions, children will never be fully protected.

Another challenge faced by most countries is verifying the age of their soldiers. That may seem like a problem easy to solve, but it is in fact a delicate and difficult task to execute in countries that do not have well-established birth registration systems.

The U.N. will continue to work with governments to establish or refine age-verification procedures to identify underage recruits and release them from the army.

Releasing children found in the ranks of national forces is essential, but they cannot be left on their own to rebuild their lives. Adequate resources must be available for community-based programmes that provide psycho-social assistance and help children build their future through educational and vocational opportunities. Helping children and their communities is the best way to not only prevent re-recruitment, but also to build peace and stability.

Throughout the year, I will continue to reach out to member states concerned by the campaign, the international community, regional organisations and all relevant partners to mobilise political, technical and financial support to address challenges faced by countries in the implementation of their Action Plan.

This is essential to encourage and guide concerned countries who must put in place mechanisms strong enough to safeguard the progress accomplished to protect children from recruitment, now and in the future should a new crisis strike.

The campaign has already received tremendous support from many who could make a real difference. This year, I call on everyone to join us, because, together, we can make sure that they are children, not soldiers.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Legally-Binding Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-legally-binding-treaty-to-prohibit-nuclear-weapons/#comments Fri, 06 Mar 2015 17:10:29 +0000 Ray Acheson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139533 The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

The Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) holds its second session at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Ray Acheson
NEW YORK, Mar 6 2015 (IPS)

Five years after the adoption of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Action Plan in 2010, compliance with commitments related to nuclear disarmament lags far behind those related to non-proliferation or the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Yet during the same five years, new evidence and international discussions have emphasised the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and the unacceptable risks of such use, either by design or accident.It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Thus the NPT’s full implementation, particularly regarding nuclear disarmament, is as urgent as ever. One of the most effective measures for nuclear disarmament would be the negotiation of a legally-binding instrument prohibiting and establishing a framework for the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Not everyone sees it that way.

In fact, ahead of the 2015 Review Conference (scheduled to take place in New York April 27-May 22), the NPT nuclear-armed states and some of their nuclear-dependent allies have argued that any such negotiations would “undermine” the NPT and that the Action Plan is a long-term roadmap that should be “rolled over” for at least another review cycle.

This is an extremely retrogressive approach to what should be an opportunity for meaningful action. Negotiating an instrument to fulfill article VI of the NPT would hardly undermine the Treaty.

On the contrary, it would finally bring the nuclear-armed states into compliance with the legal obligations.

Those countries that possess or rely on nuclear weapons often highlight the importance of the NPT for preventing proliferation and enhancing security.

Yet these same countries, more than any other states parties, do the most to undermine the Treaty by preventing, avoiding, or delaying concrete actions necessary for disarmament.

It is past time that the NPT nuclear-armed states and their nuclear-dependent allies fulfill their responsibilities, commitments, and obligations—or risk undermining the very treaty regime they claim to want to protect.

Their failure to implement their commitments presents dim prospects for the future of the NPT. The apparent expectation that this non-compliance can continue in perpetuity, allowing not only for continued possession but also modernisation and deployment of nuclear weapon systems, is misguided.

The 2015 Review Conference will provide an opportunity for other governments to confront and challenge this behaviour and to demand concerted and immediate action. This is the end of a review cycle; it is time for conclusions to be drawn.

States parties will have to not only undertake a serious assessment of the last five years but will have to determine what actions are necessary to ensure continued survival of the NPT and to achieve all of its goals and objectives, including those on stopping the nuclear arms race, ceasing the manufacture of nuclear weapons, preventing the use of nuclear weapons, and eliminating existing arsenals.

The recent renewed investigation of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons is a good place to look for guidance. The 2010 NPT Review Conference expressed “deep concern at the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.”

Since then, especially at the series of conferences hosted by Norway, Mexico, and Austria, these consequences have increasingly become a focal point for discussion and proposed action.

Governments are also increasingly raising the issue of humanitarian impacts in traditional forums, with 155 states signing a joint statement at the 2014 session of the UN General Assembly highlighting the unacceptable harm caused by nuclear weapons and calling for action to ensure they are never used again, under any circumstances.

The humanitarian initiative has provided the basis for a new momentum on nuclear disarmament. It has involved new types of actors, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a new generation of civil society campaigners.

The discussion around the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons should be fully supported by all states parties to the NPT.

The humanitarian initiative has also resulted in the Austrian Pledge, which commits its government (and any countries that wish to associate themselves with the Pledge) to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.”

As of February 2015, 40 states have endorsed the Pledge. These states are committed to change. They believe that existing international law is inadequate for achieving nuclear disarmament and that a process of change that involves stigmatising, prohibiting, and eliminating nuclear weapons is necessary.

This process requires a legally-binding international instrument that clearly prohibits nuclear weapons based on their unacceptable consequences. Such a treaty would put nuclear weapons on the same footing as the other weapons of mass destruction, which are subject to prohibition through specific treaties.

A treaty banning nuclear weapons would build on existing norms and reinforce existing legal instruments, including the NPT, but it would also close loopholes in the current legal regime that enable states to engage in nuclear weapon activities or to otherwise claim perceived benefit from the continued existence of nuclear weapons while purporting to promote their elimination.

NPT states parties need to ask themselves how long we can wait for disarmament. Several initiatives since the 2010 Review Conference have advanced the ongoing international discussion about nuclear weapons.

States and other actors must now be willing to act to achieve disarmament, by developing a legally-binding instrument to prohibit and establish a framework for eliminating nuclear weapons. This year, the year of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a good place to start.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World Misses Its Potential by Excluding 50 Percent of Its Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/world-misses-its-potential-by-excluding-50-per-cent-of-its-people/#comments Thu, 05 Mar 2015 22:08:07 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139526 A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

A scene from the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 5 2015 (IPS)

The meeting is billed as one of the biggest single gatherings of women activists under one roof.

According to the United Nations, over 1,100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and more than 8,600 representatives have registered to participate in this year’s session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).“This is a reality check on the part of the member states." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

Described as the primary intergovernmental body mandated to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women, the 45-member CSW will hold its 59th sessions Mar. 9-20.

About 200 side events, hosted by governments and U.N. agencies, are planned alongside official meetings of the CSW, plus an additional 450 parallel events by civil society organisations (CSOs), both in and outside the United Nations.

Their primary mission: to take stock of the successes and failures of the 20-year Platform for Action adopted at the historic 1995 Women’s Conference in Beijing. The achievements are limited, say CSOs and U.N. officials, but the unfulfilled promises are countless.

The reason is simple, warns Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “We cannot fulfill 100 percent of the world’s potential by excluding 50 percent (read: women) of the world’s people.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein says the U.N.’s 193 member states have to go beyond “paying lip service” towards gender equality.

They should “genuinely challenge and dismantle the power structures and dynamics which perpetuate discrimination against women.”

But will they?

Yasmeen Hassan, global executive director of Equality Now, told IPS in the Beijing Platform for Action, 189 governments pledged to “revoke any remaining laws that discriminate on the basis of sex”.

Twenty years later, just over half of the sex discriminatory laws highlighted in three successive Equality Now reports have been revised, appealed or amended, she said.

“Although we applaud the governments that took positive action, we are concerned that so many sex discriminatory laws remain on the books around the world,” Hassan noted.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil Society Action Network, told IPS she was happy to see the latest draft of the Beijing + 20 Political Declaration, presented by the Bureau of the CSW, expressing “concern that progress has been slow and uneven and that major gaps and obstacles remain in the implementation of the 12 critical areas of concern of the Beijing Platform for Action.”

“And it [has] recognized that 20 years after the Fourth World Conference on Women [in Beijing], no country has achieved equality for women and girls; and that significant levels of inequality between women and men persist, and that some women and girls experience increased vulnerability and marginalization due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

“This is a reality check on the part of the member states, which is welcomed by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders and the rest of civil society,” she added.

Speaking specifically on reproductive health, Joseph Chamie, a former director of the U.N. Population Division, told IPS the work of the CSW is important and it has contributed to improving women’s lives.

Pointing out the important areas of health and mortality, he said, when the CSW was established seven decades ago, the average life expectancy at birth for a baby girl was about 45 years; today it is 72 years, which, by any standards, is a remarkable achievement.

With respect to reproductive health, he said, great strides have been achieved.

In addition to improved overall health and lower maternal mortality rates, most women today can decide on the number, timing and spacing of their children.

“Simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women and girls encounter, while largely ignoring those facing men and boys, will obstruct and delay efforts to attain true gender equality and the needed socio-economic development for everyone,” Chamie warned.

According to U.N. Women, only one in five parliamentarians is a woman.

Approximately 50 per cent of women worldwide are in paid employment, an increase from 40 per cent more than 20 years ago, with wage inequality persistent.

At the present rate of progress, said U.N. Women, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.

In 2000, the groundbreaking Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised the need to increase women’s role in peacebuilding in post-conflict countries. Yet, from 1992 to 2011 only 4 per cent of signatories to peace agreements and nine per cent of negotiators at peace tables were women.

Hassan told IPS there are still laws that restrict women’s rights in marriage (women not allowed to enter and exist marriages on the same basis as men; appointing men as the head of a household; requiring wife obedience; allowing polygamy; setting different ages of marriage for girls and boys).

There are also laws that give women a lower personal status and less rights as citizens (women not being able to transmit their nationality to husbands and children; women’s evidence not equal to that of a man; restriction on women traveling).

And women being treated as economically unequal to men (less rights to inheritance or property ownership; restrictions on employment); and laws that promote violence against women (giving men the right to rape their wives; exempting rapists from punishment for marrying their victims; allowing men to chastise their wives).

“The fact that these laws continue to exist shows that many governments do not consider women to be full citizens and as such it is not possible to make progress on the goals set 20 years ago,” Hassan said.

Cabrera-Balleza told IPS the CSW political declaration also states that member states reaffirm their “political will and firmly commit to tackle critical remaining gaps and challenges and pledge to take concrete further actions to transform discriminatory social norms and gender stereotypes,” among other very good promises.

This is where the crux of the matter lies, she said.

“We’ve heard these promises many times before from past CSW sessions and yet recent data, such as those from the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicate the following:

– 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime;

– on average, 30 percent of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their partner.”

Globally, she said, as many as 38 percent of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner.

She predicted that issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights will remain contentious in this CSW, as in previous years.

“It also worries me that while thousands of women have died and many more continue to suffer because of ongoing conflicts as well as violent extremism around the world, none of this is addressed in the political declaration.”

Sadly, the U.N. continues to operate in silos, she said. The Security Council remains disconnected with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) under which the CSW functions.

“Having said all of this, I want us, in civil society, to push the envelope as far as possible in this 59th CSW session,” she added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Burundi-Watchers See Erosion of Human Rights and Civic Freedomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/burundi-watchers-see-erosion-of-human-rights-and-civic-freedoms/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 20:50:18 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139506 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

The bad old days of the 1980s and 1990s when Burundi was widely considered a police state may be making a comeback.

Some 300,000 people lost their lives in the country’s civil war from the 1990s to 2003, which broke out following the death of the country’s first democratically elected president.

Human rights defenders and journalists are now routinely smeared as enemies of the state.

According to a recent report by an East African rights group: “Human rights defenders in Burundi are operating in one of the most restrictive and hostile environments in East Africa as evidenced by an alarming pattern of harassment, intimidation, threats and legislative reforms.” Public gatherings have been banned, members of the opposition are attacked. Violence is escalating in the run up to the June 2015 elections, the East and Horn of Africa defenders project observed.

Even group jogging, a popular Burundian hobby that officials now say leads to uprisings, has been banned.

A tiny dot wedged between Tanzania to the south and east, and Rwanda to the north, the DRC to the west, Burundi was once a battleground between Hutus and Tutsis, much like Rwanda. The current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, was a Hutu rebel leader.

The most contentious issue to date is whether the current president, Pierre Nkurunziza, will try for a third term – an apparent violation of the constitution.

A prominent rights activist, Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, fears that a militarized youth wing of the ruling party is responsible for extrajudicial killings including beheadings.

An international spotlight was drawn to Burundi in September with the murder of three Italian nuns at their convent in Bujumbura. A radio journalist, Bob Rugurika, broadcast the purposed confession of a man claiming to be one of the killers.

Authorities detained Rugurika and then charged him with complicity in the murders and disclosing confidential information about the case.

His release last month prompted huge rallies of support. Hundreds of people crammed into dozens of cars and motorbikes followed Mr Rugurika after being released from prison some 30 miles away, the AFP news agency reported.

“I have no words to thank the Burundian population,” Mr Rugurika said in a radio broadcast. “Thanks to your support, your commitment… I’m free at last.”

A spotlight has again been drawn to Burundi with the late night prison breakout this week of the president’s political rival, Hussein Radjabu. A former ally of the current president, he was regarded as Burundi’s most powerful man until his arrest in 2007.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Syrians “Have No Faith” in International Community to Solve Human Rights Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/syrians-have-no-faith-in-international-community-to-solve-human-rights-crisis/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 13:41:23 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139493 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Syrian citizens “have no faith” in the international community to solve the chaos and war raging across their country, according to a prominent human rights defender.

Yara Bader, Managing Director of the Syrian Center For Media and Freedom of Expression, made the claim at United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, at a panel discussion on arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance in Syria, co-sponsored by Amnesty International and the German Mission to the United Nations.

Bader, her husband Mazen Darwish, and a dozen of their colleagues at the center were detained in 2012. Bader and some colleagues were soon released, but her husband remains imprisoned.

Speaking on the panel, she called her country “an arena of fighting over sectarian issues.”

“The situation is horrible. The international community has failed to find a solution to these cases,” Bader said through a translator.

“Syrian citizens would have no faith in the international community for solutions to the crisis. We all have to work to regain the confidence of the Syrian individual.”

In February, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimated “tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands” of people have passed through Syrian detention facilities. OHCHR “called on the Syrian authorities to release all detainees held without due process by government forces and militias,” citing “quite dire conditions” including a lack of food and medical attention, ill treatment and torture, and prison overcrowding.

Syrian human rights lawyer Anwar Al-Bunni also spoke as part of Tuesday’s panel, claiming that there are at least 150,000 people who have gone missing, and detailing the treatment received by an estimated 50,000 people currently in detention.

“There are 22 methods of torture, including beatings, electric shocks, rape, starvation, total deprivation of medical care,” he said through a translator.

“Imagine that, during this meeting, two detainees would have died through torture.”

Ambassador Harald Braun, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations, told the panel a referral to the International Criminal Court was “long overdue.”

Neil Sammonds, Syria researcher for Amnesty International, called on the global community to keep monitoring the Syrian conflict and not to let the situation be pushed to the background by other international crises.

“It’s getting harder and harder. Maybe from fatigue, or the other horrible things in the world, there is less attention on Syria,” he said.

“We’re all hard-pressed to think of any human rights catastrophe which has been so well-documented. I’m not sure what more can be done [to raise awareness of the situation]. It’s for the media to do.”

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.N. Member States Accused of Cherry-Picking Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-member-states-accused-of-cherry-picking-human-rights/#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 21:38:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139454 Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

Protestors gather outside the White House to demonstrate against torture on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Charles Davis/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has 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.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status. Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views." -- United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein
Addressing the opening session of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council (HRC) Monday, Zeid faulted member states for claiming “exceptional circumstances” for their convoluted decisions.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he pointed out, without identifying any member state by name.

“One Government will thoroughly support women’s human rights and those of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but will balk at any suggestion that those rights be extended to migrants of irregular status.

“Another State may observe scrupulously the right to education, but will brutally stamp out opposing political views,” he noted.  “A third State will comprehensively violate the political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights of its people, while vigorously defending the ideals of human rights before its peers.”

Asked for her response, Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS, “Prince Zeid has hit the nail on the head.”

If every government that professed a commitment to human rights followed through consistently, she added, “we’d have a much different – and better – world.”

In an ironic twist apparently proving Zeid’s contention, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lashed out at the “appalling human rights record” of several nations, blasting Syria and North Korea while singling out human rights violations in Crimea and by separatists in Ukraine.

But he did not condemn the devastation caused by Israel’s 50-day aerial bombardments of Palestinians in Gaza last year nor the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas.

The death toll in the Gaza bombings was 1,976 Palestinians, including 1,417 civilians and 459 children, according to figures released by the United Nations, compared with the killing of 66 Israelis, including two soldiers.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of war crimes and are pushing for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague: a move strongly opposed by the United States.

Kerry told the HRC the United States believes that it can continue to make progress and help the U.N. body fulfill its mandate to make the world a better and safer place.

“But for that to happen, we have to get serious about addressing roadblocks to our own progress. And the most obvious roadblock, I have to say to you, is self-inflicted,” he said.

“I’m talking, of course, about HRC’s deeply concerning record on Israel,” Kerry added.

“No one in this room can deny that there is an unbalanced focus on one democratic country,” he said, as he openly advocated the cause of Israel, one of the closest political and military allies of the United States.

And no other nation, he said, has an entire agenda item set aside to deal with it. Year after year, there are five or six separate resolutions on Israel, he told delegates.

This year, he said, there was a resolution sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al Assad concerning the Golan (which has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war).

“How, I ask, is that a sensible priority at the very moment when refugees from Syria are flooding into the Golan to escape Assad’s murderous rule and receive treatment from Israeli physicians in Israeli hospitals?”

Kerry referred to the Council’s “obsession” with Israel, which, he argued, “actually risks undermining the credibility of the entire organisation.”

Zeid told the HRC the only real measure of a Government’s worth is not its place in the “solemn ballet of grand diplomacy” but the “extent to which it is sensitive to the needs – and protects the rights – of its nationals and other people who fall under its jurisdiction, or over whom it has physical control.”

Some policy-makers persuade themselves that their circumstances are exceptional, creating a wholly new reality unforeseen by the law, Zeid said, adding that such logic is abundant around the world today.

“I arrest arbitrarily and torture because a new type of war justifies it. I spy on my citizens because the fight against terrorism requires it. I don’t want new immigrants, or I discriminate against minorities, because our communal identity is being threatened now as never before. I kill without any form of due process, because if I do not, others will kill me,” he noted.

“And so it goes, on and on, as we spiral into aggregating crises,” Zeid declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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