Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 17 Apr 2014 10:43:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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Conflict Fuels Child Labour in India http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-fuels-child-labour-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/conflict-fuels-child-labour-india/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 07:35:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133665 Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer. Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s […]

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Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Sumari, a child trafficked from Maoist-affected district Narayanpur cleans the floor instead of going to school. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
KANKER, India, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

Early in the morning, 14-year-old Sumari Varda puts on her blue school uniform but heads for the village pond to fetch water. “I miss school. I wish I could go back,” she whispers, scared of being heard by her employer.

Sumari is from Dhurbeda village, but now lives in another, Bhainsasur, both located in central India’s Chhattisgarh state. She puts on her school uniform to fetch water because it is one of the few pieces of clothing she has.“Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders." -- child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer

Her native village Dhurbeda falls in Abujhmad, a forest area in Narayanpur district that is reportedly one of the largest hideouts of the outlawed Communist Party of India-Maoist, which leads a violent rebellion against the state in some parts of the country.

Nine months ago, a distant relative from state capital Raipur visited Sumari’s parents, who were worried that she might be asked to join the Maoists some day. The relative, whom Sumari calls “Budhan aunt”, took her away, promising to send her to a city school.

Instead, she sent Sumari to Bhainsasur, about 180 km from Raipur. Now the girl toils for more than 14 hours a day in the house of the aunt’s brother, cooking, washing, fetching water and sometimes also looking after cattle.

Sumari is one of thousands of children trafficked out of Chhattisgarh every year. According to a 2013 study published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), more than 3,000 children are trafficked from the state each year.

The report focuses on the northern districts that are deemed less affected by the conflict. Districts such as Dantewada, Sukma, Bijapur, Kanker and Narayanpur, which are considered the hotbed of the Maoist movement, are not included in the report.

The reason is an acute shortage of data, says a government official at the department of rural development who doesn’t wish to be named for fear of punitive action. The official tells IPS that researchers and surveyors stay away from the remote districts.

“In April 2010, Maoists killed 76 security personnel in Dantewada. Since then, the conflict has reached such a level that few actually dare to visit districts like Dantewada, Sukma or Narayanpur. If you don’t go into the field, how will you collect information and data.”

Bhan Sahu, founder of Jurmil Morcha, the state’s only all-tribal women’s organisation that fights forced displacement of forest tribal communities, believes the absence of data is actually helping the traffickers.

“Every time a massacre or an encounter takes place between the Maoists and the security forces, many families flee their villages. Traffickers target these families, pay them some money and offer to take care of their children.

“But the government doesn’t want to admit either the migration or the trafficking. So the traffickers are not under any pressure,” Sahu tells IPS. She has reported several cases of trafficking for CG-Net Swara, a community newswire.

Jyoti Dugga, 11, who plays hula-hoop with iron rings to entertain tourists on the beaches of Goa in western India, also hails from Chhattisgarh. Her elder brother had been jailed for alleged links with Maoists. Her parents were worried that she too might be arrested. Three years ago they agreed to send her away with a neighbour called Ramesh Gota, addressed by Jyoti as “uncle”.

“Uncle said he had many contacts and could give me work, so my parents sent me with him,” says Jyoti, who also massages tourists’ feet. She shares a small room with three other children, all of whom are from Chhattisgarh and look malnourished.

Earlier this month, 20 children who were being forced to work in a circus in Goa were rescued by the police. But Gota, Jyoti’s employer, seems too clever to be caught – he keeps moving the children from one beach to another.

The government denies such trafficking and exploitation of children.

Ram Niwas, assistant director-general in the Chhattisgarh police department, claims that human trafficking has “gone down considerably” since anti-human trafficking units were sanctioned. “The process of identifying such districts is under way and they would be prioritised,” he tells IPS.

The UNODC report says Chhattisgarh’s performance in implementing child protection schemes is inadequate. “The district child protection units are not in existence, and the child welfare committees are not working to their proper strength,” says the report.

According to the report, the state is not serious in taking back children who have been trafficked out.

Child rights activist Mamata Raghuveer, in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh state agrees. She heads the organisation Tharuni, which rescues trafficked children in collaboration with the state government. According to Raghuveer, 65 girls have been rescued in the past two years. Most were from Chhattisgarh’s conflict-hit districts.

“Girls as young as seven and eight are brought out of their home by men,” Raghuveer tells IPS. “Some are employed as domestic workers, others are sold to sex traders. When the men are in danger of being caught, they vanish, abandoning the girls.”

The government has a National Child Labour Policy (NCLP) for rehabilitation of children forced into labour. Rescued children in the 9-14 age group are enrolled at NCLP special training centres where they are provided food, healthcare and education, says Kodikunnil Suresh, national minister of state for labour and employment told parliament in February. “Currently there are 300,000 children covered by the scheme,” he said.

This IPS correspondent met nine-year-old Mary Suvarna at an NCLP centre in Warangal in Andhra Pradesh. She was rescued a year ago from the city railway station. Mary says she lived in a forest village called Badekeklar. It’s unlikely she will ever return home.

She has a dream. “I want to be a police officer.”

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World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:39 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133643 For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less. Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released […]

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USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

In 2012, for the first time Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2 percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia – specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan – is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands  – and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under one percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised of a 2.8 percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012 from 8.3 to 18.8 billion dollars.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports – in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter (South Asia accounts for nearly half).

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defence systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasises “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements – on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare – will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, particularly in mid-December after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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Trauma Still Fresh for Rwanda’s Survivors of Genocidal Rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/trauma-still-fresh-rwandas-survivors-genocidal-rape/#comments Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:48:37 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133588 Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is. Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate […]

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Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Claudine Umuhoza a survivor of Rwanda’s genocide believes that the country has a positive and united future. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 11 2014 (IPS)

Claudine Umuhoza’s son turned 19 this Apr. 1. And while he may be one of at least thousands of children who were conceived during the Rwandan genocide, he’s not officially classified as a survivor of it. But his mother is.

Two decades after the massacre — during which almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives — most Rwandans are still coping with the trauma of the violence. Most affected are the women who have children born of genocidal rape. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped in Rwanda during the genocide."The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu." -- Claudine Umuhoza, genocide survivor

Umuhoza, who lives in Gasabo district, near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, was only 23 when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart, Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down over Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Apr. 6, 1994.

During the conflict that ensued she was raped by seven men — one of whom stabbed her in the stomach with a machete. She was left to die, lying on the floor.

Umuhoza survived only because a Hutu neighbour helped her escape to safety and gave her a fake Hutu identity card.

“The neighbour who saved my life is no longer in Rwanda, his family went to Mozambique. I’d like to say thank you for saving me. I would have died if it was not for him,” she remembered.

She lost four brothers and other family members in the massacre.

Now 43, Umuhoza is infected with HIV and has not yet told her son the origins of his birth.

“I have not being able to disclose to my son how he was born. My son doesn’t know. I got married in September 1994, after the genocide ended.

“I was pregnant when I married and after giving birth my husband realised the child born was not his. He didn’t accept this and as a result he left home,” she told IPS.

Umuhoza never remarried. Rape is a taboo subject in Rwanda’s society.

According to Jules Shell, the executive director and co-founder from Foundation Rwanda, even though this Central African nation has made great strides in rebuilding the country, women who were infected with HIV as a consequence of rape still face severe stigmatisation.

The U.S.-based NGO was established in 2008 and began supporting an initial cohort of 150 children born of rape with their schooling in 2009.

“A disproportionate number of the women who were raped were also infected by HIV,” Shell told IPS, explaining that the exact infection rate was not known but it is estimated that 25 percent of the country’s women are living with HIV.

According to the government, women comprise the majority, 51.8 percent of this country’s population of 11.5 million. However, antiretroviral treatment only became widely available here 10 years ago and is accessible through the national healthcare system.

“We will never know the true number of children born of rapes committed during the genocide.

“As many women are afraid, unable, or understandably unwilling, to acknowledge the circumstance of their children’s birth … we will never know the true number,” Shell said.

The consequences of the genocide still affect the youth who were born after it.

“Many of the young people are experiencing a phenomena common to the children of Holocaust survivors, known as the ‘intergenerational inheritance of trauma’.

“This has resulted from the inability of mothers to speak openly to their children about their experiences and own trauma, which in turn affects them,” explained Shell.

Like Umuhoza, many other women still have not publicly acknowledged that their children were born of rape, though their children are aware that they have fathers who are unknown to their mothers.

This also creates problems for these children when they try to register for national identity cards, which requires the identification of both names of father and mother.

But thanks to Foundation Rwanda, Umuhoza’s son is about to finish high school — something she did not have the opportunity to do. Umuhoza is one of  600 mothers currently supported by Foundation Rwanda, which also provides fees and school material for their children.

“I am very happy that my son is in secondary school. One thing that I pray to god for is to see my son in school … and I have a hope that he will be able to go to university.

Preventing another genocide
There are over 3,000 volunteers in the country using various strategies to bring about reconciliation such as community dialogue, community works, poverty-reduction activities and counselling.

Richard Kananga, director of Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, said that another genocide could occur if national authorities do not promote inclusive and reconciliation to bring people together.

“Through community dialogues people are being able to talk to one another. Talks have helped to reduce the suspicion promoting trust and healing,” he said.
 

“It is very important for me. I know it is expensive, but I didn’t even think that he would attend secondary school. So doors may open suddenly. I have hope,” she trusted.

Her dream is that her son becomes a lawyer to advocate for poor and marginalised people. However, he has dreams of his own and wants to become a doctor.

“He always sees me going for treatment and feeling a lot of pain and he dreams about being able to treat me,” she explained.

Because of her ill health and the severe stomach pains caused by the machete wound, Umuhoza is only able to perform light housework.

As a survivor she receives medical treatment from the Government Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors (FARG) — to which the government allocates two percent of its national budget.

And on Apr. 15 she will undergo an operation to repair her wounds in the military hospital in Kigali.

Twenty years after the genocide, the country has not been able to forget its past, remarked Shell. She explained there is still stigma and discrimination against Tutsis, particularly in rural and isolated areas where they are very much a minority.

According to the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) survey, at least 40 percent of Rwandans across the country say they still fear a new wave of genocide.

“Suspicion is still there. Trauma is still an issue. We still have recently-released prisoners who are now in society but not integrated yet,” Richard Kananga, director of the Peacebuilding and Conflict Management department at the NURC, told IPS.

The NURC was created in 1999 to deal with aspects of discrimination among local communities and lead reconciliation in Rwanda.

According to Kananga, reconciliation is a continuous process.

“We can’t tell how long it will take, it’s a long-term process. We have researchers to measure how people perceive this process of human security in the country. We cannot say that in 20 more years we’re going to reach 100 percent [of people who feel secure],” he said.

The children born after the genocide may represent a dark period of Rwanda’s history, but, according to Shell, they also represent the “light and the hope for a brighter future.”

Umuhoza believes it too.

“I have hopes that the future for Rwanda will be good. Comparing how the country was 20 years ago and how it is today. I wish for unity and reconciliation.

“The future of Rwanda will be better, people will be united. That doesn’t mean that people will have forgotten they are Tutsi or Hutu. Rwandans will still know who they are,” said the mother.

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Peacekeepers Greenlighted for CAR, but Mission Will Take Months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/peacekeepers-greenlighted-car-mission-will-take-months/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:56:17 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133585 Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half. The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and […]

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Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

Rwandan Defence Forces deploy to the Central African Republic in late January. Credit: U.S. Army Africa photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Mills

By Samuel Oakford
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Amid alarming reports of ethnic cleansing in the Central African Republic, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Thursday to send an official peacekeeping mission to the conflict-torn country where the minority Muslim population has all but disappeared in much its Western half.

The French-authored resolution would rely on a force of some 10,000 troops and 2,000 police to restore order and prevent further sectarian violence that has left thousands dead and displaced roughly a quarter of the population.“The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure. In Bangui there are only two hotels." -- spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping

The Council in December mandated a joint AU-French force that thus far has proven unable to clamp down on violence against the Muslim communities, particularly outside of the capital Bangui, where peacekeepers have been light on the ground.

The Council’s morning session was preceded by reports of anti-balaka attacks in the central town of Dekoa, 300 kms north of Bangui, that left some 13 dead.

Despite Thursday’s vote, rights groups point out it will be a full six months before the mission, known as MINUSCA, is operational.

“There are tens of thousands of vulnerable Central Africans who need protection and assistance right now,” said Mark Yarnell, senior advocate at Refugees International.

“Clearly, a U.N. peacekeeping operation, once fully deployed, can contribute to peace and stability over the long term. But this mission will not address the atrocities, displacement, and dire humanitarian needs on the ground today.”

A “re-hatting” of many of the 5,000 AU troops would take place on Sep. 15, the official start date of MINUSCA’s peacekeeping operations. It is unclear, given a paucity of peacekeepers in several other countries, how long it will take the mission to reach full capacity.

“You will not even be getting to 10,000 troops by September given the global shortage,” Yarnell told IPS. “There is no guarantee they will arrive by that date.”

A spokesperson for U.N. peacekeeping told IPS the landlocked country is a particularly difficult location to build the infrastructure for a mission from scratch.

“We can send engineers to assist and we’ll ship some equipment and cargo to Cameroon, the nearest port,” he said. “The roads and bridges need to be fixed, all the transportation infrastructure.  In Bangui there are only two hotels – we will need to construct our bases, starting with sanitary facilities and offices.”

The transition will come nearly two years after the Séléka, a loose coalition of predominantly Muslim rebels from CAR’s neglected northwest and Chad, announced their alliance and took up arms against the government of former president François Bozizé.

In March of 2013, the rebels captured Bangui and for nearly a year presided over a state of anarchy, pilfering what was left of the state infrastructure and targeting Christians with impunity.

Christian anti-balaka self-defence militias with unclear ties to the former regime formed to combat the rebels. Following the arrival of French and African Union troops in December, the militias began gaining the upper hand.

In January, under international pressure, former Seleka leader Michel Djotodia resigned the presidency and ex-Seleka forces began pulling back from the capital, creating a power vacuum and leaving Muslim communities under threat from the vengeful Christian majority.

Peacekeepers were slow to recognise the anti-balaka as a new and larger threat, even as militias repeatedly carried out massacres in Muslim enclaves. The result, according to the U.N., has been the “ethnic-religious cleansing” of the West of CAR.

In a report, Amnesty International called the exodus of Muslims from CAR “a tragedy of historic proportions.”

“Not only does the current pattern of ethnic cleansing do tremendous damage to the Central African Republic itself, it sets a terrible precedent for other countries in the region, many of which are already struggling with their own sectarian and inter-ethnic conflicts,” the report said.

In response to a Central African government request, the resolution gives MINUSCA the emergency capacity to supplement the state’s meagre police force by authorising peacekeepers to make arrests and carry out basic law and order functions.

The first of an expected 1,000 EU peacekeepers arrived this week and are expected to spell French troops that have guarded a makeshift camp for displaced persons at Bangui’s aiport. Until MINUSCA is fully functional, EU advisors are meant to assist local authorities in rebuilding the criminal justice system. Several recent arrests of anti-balaka leaders have seen them flee or be released only hours later.

The Security Council had an opportunity to mandate a peacekeeping mission as far back as November, but due to logistical and financial concerns gave the AU time to demonstrate its capacity at peacekeeping on the continent.

Though observers have highlighted the efforts of troops from Rwanda and Burundi, Chadian peacekeepers were implicated in atrocities of their own, including the deaths of over 30 civilians in a market on Mar. 29. The Chadians were allegedly attempting to evacuate residents from one of Bangui’s few remaining Muslim enclaves when they opened fire.

Chad has since withdrawn its battalion from the AU mission, forcing African leaders to search for a further 850 troops.

The CAR vote comes as Rwanda commemorates its own 100 days genocide that began 20 years ago this week.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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On 20th Anniversary of Genocide, Rwanda’s Women Lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/20th-anniversary-genocide-rwandas-women-stand-strong/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:25:49 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133463 When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity.  It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new […]

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Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Rwanda’s Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa says women in Rwanda have fought for political representation. In the Lower House of Parliament women occupy 64 percent or 51 out of 80 seats. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Rwandan Member of Parliament Veneranda Nyirahirwa was just a girl, she wasn’t allowed to attend secondary school because of her ethnicity. 

It was only in the wake of the country’s state-driven genocide in 1994 — where almost one million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in 100 days — and after a new government took power that she was able to attend high school.

By then she was already in her twenties. "[Women have] become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.” -- Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata

But she seized the opportunity to receive an education.

Nyirahirwa, 43, is now starting her second term as a deputy in the country’s lower house of Parliament. She belongs to the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the second-biggest of the country’s 11 political parties.

She hails from Ngoma district, Rukumberi Sector in Eastern Province, and remembers that growing up there were many barriers imposed on minority Tutsis attending school.

“We were segregated because of the regime, it was a part of the country … where people who lived there couldn’t go to school due to ethnic problems. It was very difficult to get a place in secondary school,” she explained.

It was the disappointment of her childhood that spurred her on to fight for a seat in Parliament. “I was frustrated watching the ones who were leading our country and I wanted to change things.”

Like many Rwandans, Nyirahirwa lost relatives and friends in the genocide and says, “Every Rwandan must be aware of the causes of genocide and do his or her best to fight against it. I am a Rwandan and I don’t want to leave my country.”

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Remains of some of the over one million victims of Rwanda’s 100-day genocide. Credit: Edwin Musoni/IPS

Things are certainly different now. Nyirahirwa says women here have fought for political representation.

“We are happy for this achievement and for being the majority. There was a time when women in Rwanda were not considered important for the development of the country and they did not have jobs,” she said.

In the September 2013 elections, the PSD won 30 percent of the vote, with Nyirahirwa being one of four women from the party to win seats in Parliament.

But Nyirahirwa’s success is not an anomaly here.

As Rwanda commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide this week with memorials across the country, this Central African nation has become a regional leader in promoting gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Women are leading the way in national reconstruction and are considered to be at the forefront of promoting peace and reconciliation. Women, in fact, are leading the nation.

  • In the last parliamentary elections, Rwanda once again broke its own world record of being the country with the highest level of women’s participation in Parliament.
  • According to the Rwandan government, average women’s representation worldwide in a lower house stands at 21 percent and 18 percent in a Senate or upper house.
  • This sub-Saharan country has three times the world’s average of female representation in the lower house, with women occupying 64 percent, or 51 out of 80 seats. During the previous parliamentary term, from 2008 to 2013, women held 56 percent of seats in the lower house.
  • Rwanda also has twice the world’s average of women’s representation in the Senate: some 40 percent, or 10 out of the 25 seats, are held by women.
  • There are also 10 female ministers who head up key ministries including foreign affairs, natural resources and mining, agriculture, and health.

Gender empowerment became a reality after the war and genocide when the new government, currently led by incumbent President Paul Kagame of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, took power. It was then, according to Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources Agnes Kalibata, that the government began addressing national unity and women’s political participation as part of the reconstruction process.

Rwanda’s constitution, adopted in 2003, states that both men and women should occupy at least 30 percent of all decision-making bodies.

Kalibata said that now women are able to compete with men on equal grounds.

“We created a policy environment to give them a fair chance. Rwanda is leading this since we’ve had the decision that we needed to secure a place for women in employment and in the public space. We also want to try to influence the private sector to appreciate that,” she told IPS.

In her opinion, women are at the centre of national reconciliation.

“Empowering the women is part of nation building. Women are the majority and the major part of the agriculture sector. We know how to teach our children, how to handle our communities and how to build society.”

Nowadays, women are able to influence what happens in Rwanda, she argued.

“By influencing how our husbands think, we influence how our children think. And now in politics we also influence how the general population thinks. We’ve become part of the reconciliation process, we reconcile and help to reconcile others. We are taking things forward.”

Kalibata, who has been in charge of the ministry of agriculture for six years, admitted that reconstruction is still a challenge, especially in the field of agriculture.

It is estimated that 70 percent of Rwanda’s 12 million people live in the countryside, with women comprising the majority — 65 percent.

“This nation has had the worse nightmare that any country can have. It is fulfilling to have an opportunity to put it back together through agriculture; there are still many people whose lives can improve because they use agriculture to reduce their poverty,” she said.

When asked about the possibility of a female president, Kalibata said she was confident it would happen after seeing other women on the continent hold the post.

Africa already has three women presidents: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Malawi’s Joyce Banda and the new interim president of Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

“Yes, a woman president would be great if she is competent enough. This is beginning to happen on this continent. If a woman becomes president it will be because she is extremely competent to manage this country and I would be very happy,” she concluded.

Meanwhile, Nyirahirwa will keep working to change the lives of the people living in Eastern Province. And she intends to stay in Parliament for over 10 years at least.

“There is a significant change: every Rwandan now has the right to education. Before it was difficult to get the right to go to school. Now, we have a chance to go to university and also complete an MBA,” she stressed.

“I want to ensure that every Rwandan is able to get any job anywhere.”

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Getting into CAR, When so Many Want to Get Out http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=getting-many-want-get http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/getting-many-want-get/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 15:05:02 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133429 In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers. “For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been […]

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Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

Over 601,000 people have been uprooted from their homes throughout the country, with over 177,000 of them in Bangui alone. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country suffering from what the U.N. has called “ethno-religious cleansing”, a “disappeared” state structure and “unacceptable sectarian brutality,” gaining access to the population of the Central African Republic has proven a difficult and sometimes deadly task for humanitarian workers.

“For everyone in this country, security is a challenge, because [the situation has] been very volatile and violent…Last year there were nine humanitarian workers who lost their lives,” Judith Léveillée, deputy representative for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in the CAR, told IPS from Bangui.“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts.” -- Benoit Matsha-Carpentier of IFRC

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and this is my seventh mission,” she said.

The conflict in the CAR began in 2012 when Muslim Séléka rebels launched attacks against the government. During the following two years, the conflict has grown along sectarian lines, with Christian anti-balaka (anti-machete) militias taking up arms against Séléka groups. While Muslim civilians represent a majority of the targeted population, Christians have also been threatened.

“There are situations where we physically cannot access the people we need to reach because the forces that are fighting are making it hard for us to get to them,” Steve Taravella, spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), told IPS.

“Roads are blocked, convoys are redirected, food supplies are looted and people are being otherwise attacked,” he said.

In recent months, due to both the increase of international forces and the mass flight of the Muslim population, the U.N. has reported a calming of hostilities in the capital.

Nevertheless, the extreme and often random violence in the CAR poses a complex network of security challenges for aid workers trying to reach the approximately 2.2 million people in need to humanitarian assistance.

“At one point, the only road that goes from Cameroon to Bangui, the one we use as a corridor for food, was completely closed because the drivers from Cameroon, who were mainly Muslim, didn’t want to cross the border. [For weeks] they were too scared,” Fabienne Pompey, the regional communications officer for the WFP based in the CAR, told IPS.

“Now the road is open to transport the food from the border, but we use a military escort from [the African Union peacekeeping mission] MISCA.”

“Insecurity and banditry is on the rise, and this is of course a very big problem for humanitarian organisations…Its difficult to drive on the roads, and its complicated to have vehicles in your own compound because there is a risk that they will be stolen,” Marie-Servane Desjonqueres, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross in central and south Africa, told IPS.

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

The EU has been airlifting life-saving humanitarian cargo to the Central African Republic. Credit: EU/ECHO Jean-Pierre Mustin/cc by 2.0

International presence

The creation of a secure environment for the delivery of humanitarian aid in the CAR and an increase of international troops were both key elements of U.N. Secretary-General (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon’s six-point recommendation of Feb. 20.

Nevertheless, security remains an issue and aid workers continue to be targeted and attacked by armed groups, the U.N. reported Thursday.

Currently, the only international military forces in the CAR are roughly 2,000 French troops, under the Sangaris mission, and approximately 6,000 African Union peacekeepers, under the MISCA mission.

Following the UNSG’s request, the European Union pledged nearly 1,000 to lend further support, but this force has yet to materialise.

For UNICEF and the WFP, the use of armed escorts allows for access into areas of the country with serious security concerns.

“We do regularly act with [escorts from] the Sangaris or MISCA operations…but that is in the case of a last resort,” explained Léveillée. “It’s very important that we keep our neutrality. We don’t necessarily want to be associated with armed escorts.”

On Mar. 3, the UNSG proposed a 12,000-person U.N. peacekeeping mission in the CAR. The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), which must approve all peacekeeping missions before their implementation, is expected to vote on the resolution during the second week of April, with a perspective implementation in September, current UNSC president and Nigerian ambassador, Joy Ogwu, told reporters Wednesday.

Negotiating access

While some organisations, like Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) do not use armed escorts, negotiating with the parties to the conflict is a universally used tactic to gain access to people who would be otherwise inaccessible.

“We do not have armed personnel for security, we rely on the respect of the parties to the conflict,” Sylvain Groulx, head of the MSF mission based in Bangui, told IPS. “A lot of our operation includes outreach and dialogue.”

“We don’t carry weapons and we never use armed escorts,” Benoit Matsha-Carpentier, spokesperson for the IFRC, told IPS. “This is actually one of our principles.”

“There are ongoing discussions, whether at high level with the government or at the volunteer level…with whoever is in front of them, to make sure [aid workers] have safe access to those who are in need.”

Beyond the larger international organisation, the IFRC has a network of national, country-specific societies, which help facilitate support on a more local level. This IFRC national society in the CAR has had a major impact in helping both the IFRC and other humanitarian organisations that may be experiencing restrictions get aid to the Central African population.

“If it’s too dangerous to have us on the ground, then we [distribute] using a local partner,” Desjonqueres explained. “Our main partner in CAR is the Central African Republic Red Cross. They have a very strong network all over the country, a lot of volunteers all over the place.”

Changing the perspective

Broadening respect for humanitarian access is an important factor in the ability for aid workers to support the suffering population in the CAR.

“One of our mandates is to disseminate the respect for international humanitarian law,” Desjonqueres continued. “For many years, we have been conducting sessions…to talk about those basic rules of humanity that need to be respected during times of war, and that includes safe passage for humanitarian workers.

“We are distributing food to the people in need, our criteria is people in need,” stressed Pompey. “It is very important to repeat this every time so that the parties involved in the conflict let us go.”

For the crisis in the CAR, which has killed thousands and displaced more than 600,000 people, getting aid to those in need is an immediate objective, but it is not a long-term solution.

“The best option would be a political settlement [to the conflict],” Pompey told IPS, “something inside the country to help make peace.”

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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Truman Was Less “Pro-Israel” than Commonly Known, New Book Says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/truman-less-pro-israel-commonly-known-new-book-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=truman-less-pro-israel-commonly-known-new-book-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/truman-less-pro-israel-commonly-known-new-book-says/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 17:20:19 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133402 With U.S.-mediated Israel-Palestinian peace talks once again dangling over the abyss, a new book has kicked up controversy over the roots of U.S. policy toward Israelis and Palestinians. In Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, John Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, argues that President Harry Truman was […]

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By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

With U.S.-mediated Israel-Palestinian peace talks once again dangling over the abyss, a new book has kicked up controversy over the roots of U.S. policy toward Israelis and Palestinians.

In Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, John Judis, a senior editor at The New Republic, argues that President Harry Truman was more ambivalent about the creation of the state of Israel than is commonly known.

19book "Genesis" by John B. Judis.While Truman famously told audiences after he left the presidency that he considered himself a modern-day Cyrus – after the Persian king who freed Jews from Babylonian captivity in the sixth century B.C. – Truman actually preferred a federation of Arabs and Jews to a Jewish-run state and worried about the impact of favouring Zionist claims over Arab ones, according to Judis.

“His preference was for a plan negotiated by American Henry Grady and British official Herbert Morrison that recommended a federated Palestine jointly administered by Arabs and Jews,” Judis writes. “‘Zionist pressure killed the plan,’ ” Judis quotes Truman as saying.

While the plan – as Judis acknowledges – was not very realistic given strong Zionist desire for a Jewish state, the impact of the Holocaust on US and global politics and Britain’s eagerness to shed expensive overseas commitments after World War II, Judis’s depiction of Truman’s concerns have upset some American Jews and others who prefer a less nuanced narrative about the U.S. role in Israel’s origins.

Among those criticising Judis is Leon Wieseltier, a colleague at The New Republic, who in an email to historian Ron Radish that was published by the hawkish Washington Free Beacon accused Judis of being “a tourist in this subject” with a “shallow, derivative, tendentious, imprecise and sometimes risibly inaccurate” understanding of Zionist and Jewish history.

Wieseltier also accuses Judis of insulting Jews, showing “shocking indifference” to their fate after the Holocaust and even being a disciple of communist radical Rosa Luxemburg.

Peter Beinart, a former colleague of Judis’s at The New Republic whose own recent book – “The Crisis of Zionism” – also created quite a stir, wrote in an email that much of the criticism of Judis as “anti-Israel” and anti-Jewish was patently unfair.

“I honestly don’t know what people mean when they say John is ‘anti-Israel,’ ” Beinart wrote. “It’s such an overused and ill-defined phrase. I think what he wants for Israel today is the same thing that most Israelis who care about democracy want: a two state solution, a democratic Jewish state and an end to Israeli control over millions of stateless Palestinians.”

Judis discussed the controversy at an appearance in Washington earlier this week before an audience at the Centre for the National Interest. He said that he had been interested in the subject of how Israel came to be since he edited an essay by Noam Chomsky in 1971 that advocated a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians before that was fashionable again.

The Arab side of the debate, Judis said, has been obscured by the events of World War II and the Holocaust and by the fact that the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe had nowhere to go but British Mandate Palestine after the U.S. and other Western countries shut off immigration following World War I.

“If immigration had not been closed off, Israel would have been located somewhere between Silver Spring [Maryland] and Great Neck [New York],” Judis quipped, referring to two suburbs with large numbers of descendents of Jewish immigrants.

Truman, Judis said, had tremendous sympathy for the 50,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust who were stuck in displaced persons camps in Europe after World War II. But he was “not a Christian Zionist” like former British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour of the 1917 Balfour Declaration fame or the prime minister at the time, David Lloyd George, or even President Woodrow Wilson.

“He did not have a special attachment to the Jewish people,” Judis said of Truman.

In his book, Judis writes that “Truman’s foreign policy views were grounded in personal morality. He saw the world divided between good guys and bad guys and between underdogs and bullies. He worried about fairness.”

Judis sees the world in shades of grey. Among his more incendiary comments in the book – from the point of view of traditional Zionists — is that “in historical terms, the Zionist claim to Palestine had no more validity than the claim by some radical Islamists to a new caliphate.”

Asked what was new in his account, given other revisionist histories of Israel’s creation primarily by Israeli authors such as Ari Shavit and Benny Morris, Judis said the book would not have caused such a stir if it had been published in Europe or Israel. “What’s new is it is being published in the U.S.…The idea of the two sides of Truman – that’s a different way of doing it.”

While some books attribute Truman’s decision to recognise Israel to his being a Christian Zionist and others say Truman was merely bowing to domestic politics and the power of a Jewish lobby, Truman had “a principled view but at some point got frustrated and gave up,” Judis said.

As for the book’s relevance to the current Mideast impasse, Judis said he hopes to convince more Americans of the legitimacy of the Palestinian case to help U.S. leaders mediate a fair and durable solution to the crisis. “We have to recognise the Arab side better and recognise that they have a real beef,” he said.

“I can’t solve the situation but the book might have a slight effect on changing how people feel about this issue,” Judis said.

Jewish Democrats are increasingly less supportive of the policies of right-wing Israeli governments, Judis said, but “the Republicans are going in the opposite direction.”

He cited the recent furor over comments by New Jersey governor Chris Christie, a possible candidate for president in 2016, referring to the West Bank as “occupied” territory during a speech in Las Vegas in front of wealthy Republican Jews. Christie has since apologised for not using the adjective “disputed.”

U.S. domestic politics have always played a role in Washington’s Middle East policy although some presidents – among them Dwight Eisenhower – were more willing to confront the Jewish state. Judis quotes a famous line by Truman that “I have to answer to hundreds of thousands who are anxious for the success of Zionism; I do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents.”

Even after the U.S. recognised Israel in May 1948, Judis says that Truman pressed for Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return and to adjust the borders of Israel in a manner more favourable to Arabs.

However, Arab divisions — and the willingness of many Arab states to use the Palestinian cause for their own purposes – have also jeopardised subsequent efforts at peace talks, Judis acknowledges.

“Almost every American president since Truman has tried to find a way to improve the lot of Palestinian Arabs,” Judis writes. “Yet Truman’s successors have, as a rule, suffered the same fate as he did.”

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Philippines Invokes Law to Fight Chinese Muscle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/philippines-fights-chinese-muscle-law/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 08:18:01 +0000 Richard Heydarian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133354 After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked permanent estrangement with China by pressing ahead with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague, while ironing out a new security pact with the U.S. The primary goal of the Philippines’ […]

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By Richard Heydarian
MANILA, Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

After a year of futile diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the South China Sea disputes, the Philippines has risked permanent estrangement with China by pressing ahead with an unprecedented arbitration case before a United Nations court at The Hague, while ironing out a new security pact with the U.S.

The primary goal of the Philippines’ latest manoeuvre is to put maximum pressure on China amid an intensifying territorial dispute, which has raised fears of direct military conflict. Manila has been alarmed by the increasing assertiveness of Chinese paramilitary vessels, which have reportedly harassed Filipino fishermen straddling the South China Sea as well as threatened Filipino troops stationed across varying disputed features in the area.There seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.

In the disputed Second Thomas Shoal, for instance, recent weeks saw Chinese paramilitary forces imposing a tightening siege on Filipino troops, who have struggled to receive supply materials from their military command headquarters in the Philippines.

Since 1999, the Philippines has exercised effective and continuous control over the disputed feature, which falls well within the country’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). But China is seemingly bent on seizing control of the shoal, which is very close to the hydrocarbon-rich waters off the coast of the southwestern Philippine island of Palawan.

From the perspective of the Filipino leadership, China is not only threatening the country’s territorial integrity, but also its vital economic and energy security interests in the South China Sea. In addition, the Philippines and its principal military ally, the United States, share similar concerns over China’s accelerated military spending. Beijing has focused on enhancing the country’s naval capabilities, part of China’s short-term goal of consolidating its territorial claims in the Western Pacific – and its long-term ambition of becoming the preeminent naval power in Asia.

“We will resolutely safeguard China’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at the opening session of the National People’s Congress in early March. “We will comprehensively enhance the revolutionary nature of the Chinese armed forces, further modernise them and upgrade their performance, and continue to raise their deterrence and combat capabilities in the information age.”

Recognising the apparent futility of existing diplomatic efforts, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III effectively abandoned his earlier attempts at reviving bilateral channels of communication with the top Chinese leadership when he chose to provocatively liken China to “Nazi Germany”.

“At what point do you say: ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it. Remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II,” exclaimed Aquino, during an exclusive interview with the New York Times, where he compared China’s rising territorial ambitions in the South China Sea to Nazi Germany’s annexation of the then Czechoslovakian territory in the early 20th century.

China was outraged by Aquino’s comments, dismissing him as an “amateurish” leader with little appreciation for the delicate art of diplomacy and conflict management. At this point, there seemed little goodwill left for resuscitating frayed bilateral relations.

With diplomacy taking the back seat, the Philippines has stepped up its efforts to welcome a greater American military presence on its soil. Under the proposed Enhanced Defence Cooperation, the Philippines is offering the U.S. expanded access to its military bases in Subic and Clark. In exchange, the Philippines is seeking enhanced U.S. military aid, increased joint military exercises, and, potentially, even temporary access to American military hardware to counter China’s maritime assertiveness.

“The proposed agreement will allow the sharing of defined areas within certain AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] facilities with elements of the U.S. military on a rotational basis within parameters consistent with the Philippine Constitution and laws,” explained the Philippine Department of National Defence (DND), which has strongly lobbied for deeper military relations with Washington in order to enhance the country’s “minimum deterrence capability”.

The Philippines’ direct legal challenge to China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea, however, is the greatest source of tension in bilateral relations. In early 2013, the Philippines initiated an ambitious arbitration case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) at The Hague, with the explicit aim of undermining China’s notorious ‘9-dashline’ doctrine, which accords Beijing “inherent” and “indisputable” sovereignty over the bulk of the South China Sea.

The Philippines contends that China, as a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is obliged to respect the Philippines’ rights to exercise qualified control over features that fall within its 200-nautical mile EEZ. These include, among other features, not only the Second Thomas Shoal, but also the Scarborough Shoal, which was effectively seized by China after a brief military standoff in mid-2012.

In early 2014, China reportedly offered certain “carrots” in exchange for the Philippines’ decision to postpone its submission of its formal written complaint – known as ‘memorial’ in legal parlance – at the ITLOS. Beijing reportedly offered, among other things, mutual disengagement from the contested features such as the Scarborough Shoal, trade and investment benefits, and postponement of the planned Chinese imposition of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea.

The more hardline factions within the Philippine leadership reportedly refused to entertain China’s offer, and convinced the Aquino administration to push ahead with the arbitration move.

“It is about securing our children’s future. It is about guaranteeing freedom of navigation for all nations,” said Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, who oversaw the filing (Mar. 30) of a voluminous memorial against China at ITLOS. “It is about helping to preserve regional peace, security and stability. And finally, it is about seeking not just any kind of resolution but a just and durable solution grounded [in] international law.”

The Philippines hopes that its latest legal challenge to China will rally like-minded countries such as Vietnam and Japan as well as the broader international community behind its own cause. But the Philippines’ latest decision runs the risk of irreversibly antagonising China, which could, in turn, permanently undermine diplomatic efforts at peacefully resolving the South China Sea disputes, and pave the way for a military showdown.

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Ukraine-Crimea – The Solution Is a Federation with High Autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crimea-solution-federation-high-autonomy/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 18:19:56 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133351 In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives" (www.transcend.org/tup), writes about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and possible solutions.

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In this column, Johan Galtung, rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University and author of "50 Years - 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives" (www.transcend.org/tup), writes about the situation in Ukraine and Crimea and possible solutions.

By Johan Galtung
ALFAZ, Spain , Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

History, not only law, matters: like how Crimea and Abkhazia-South Ossetia – basically Russian-Orthodox – became Ukrainian and Georgian, respectively.

Two Soviet dictators, Nikita Khrushchev and Joseph Stalin, transferred Crimea to Ukraine and Abkhazia-South Ossetia to Georgia by dictate. The local people were not asked – just as Hawaiians were not consulted when the U.S. annexed their kingdom in 1898.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

The first referendum in Crimea, held Mar. 16, resulted in an overwhelming No to Ukraine and Yes to the Russian Federation.

Khrushchev’s 1954 transfer of Crimea was within the Soviet Union, and under Red Army control. But when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Red Army became the Russian army, the conditions changed.

Former U.S. president George W. Bush wanted Ukraine and Georgia to become NATO members, moving the Russian minorities two steps away from Russia. Nothing similar applies to the other Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics. They are people living on somebody else’s land, not people living on their own land.

What happened to Crimea was a correction of what had become a basic mistake. However, Russia moving into eastern Ukraine could be – as the West says – invasion-occupation-annexation.

But that would be highly unlikely, unless civil war broke out between Ukraine West and East, and the Russian minority in the East – Donetsk – was in danger. Russia would not stand by, just as NATO would not if something similar happened close to the Polish border in Lvov.

This simply must not happen, but the possibility is growing.

President Vladimir Putin has the formula: a Ukrainian federation. Look at the maps, for instance the votes for Yulia Tymoshenko in the West and North and for Viktor Yanukovych in East and South Ukraine in the 2010 elections.

Elections decided by longitude-latitude mean two countries, and yet there is also just one.

The solution: a federation with high levels of autonomy for both parts. Educated guess: it will happen.

This is where Putin made his basic mistake: he moved too fast. He is more intelligent -better informed, more able to manage many factors mentally at the same time – than Western leaders. Others are slower; they need more time.

A referendum is the right of any people regardless of what the law says, a serious act under freedom of expression – whether in Crimea (illegal), Scotland (legal), Catalonia in Spain (illegal). What then happens is a very different matter. If people vote for a divorce, then so be it. But make it clean. Putin has made it dirty so far – but the situation can be
remedied.

Putin should have called a conference right after the referendum, before any annexation, making it clear that he would respect the call for Crimea’s entry into the Russian Federation, but would take the concerns of everyone touched directly by the outcome seriously.

The Tatars are Muslims, not Orthodox. Not unlike the Serbs in Kosovo, who are Orthodox, not Muslim like the Albanian majority. Respect them, offer them the dignity of autonomy within Crimea, try to amend the horrors perpetrated against them in the past, be open to reconciliation.

The Ukrainians in Crimea, soldiers or civilians: If firmly rooted, invite them to stay; if garrisoned soldiers, invite them to leave peacefully before any annexation makes it look like surrender.

The Russian-speaking in Ukraine (16 percent): Leave the door open for a Crimean-style process with referendum and annexation if they so wish – but make it clear that the West of Ukraine would have the same right.

Providing a neutral buffer might be better for all. How could the European Union-Russia-NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organisation cooperate to make that a reality?

Let them benefit jointly from the offers to make them lean one way or the other, towards the EU or towards Russia. Could the West do one, and the East the other?

The how, when, where and by whom to be discussed at the conference.

Kievan-Rus: Yes, there are Russian origins in the Ukrainian capital. This does not give Russia a legitimate claim to Kiev, just as origin does not give Israel legitimate claim to Palestinian land even if the West accepts it, origin does not give Serbia legitimate claim to all of Kosovo, and origin does not give Damascus-Baghdad legitimate claims in Southern Spain.

European borders have shifted a great deal; there are many origins to claim.

Sanctions against selected individuals: Make it clear that Russia has not and will not kill anybody if not attacked, and that sanctions may also one day be applied to individuals who launch aggressive, not defensive wars, such as the one in Afghanistan; admit that the Russian invasion there was also a mistake.

Kosova/o. The Albanians based on an overwhelming majority took Kosovo out of Serbia, but they did not have the right to take the Serbian minority with them – a good reason for not recognising Kosova. The solution is a federation with high autonomy for Serbs.

Now Putin has to show his willingness to do that for the Tatars and then recognise Kosovo – asking them to use Yugo-space as he will use the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
(END/IPS)

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Exploring the Path Towards a Nuclear-free World http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/exploring-path-towards-nuclear-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=exploring-path-towards-nuclear-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/exploring-path-towards-nuclear-free-world/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 23:16:11 +0000 Daisaku Ikeda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133300 Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (www.sgi.org). The full text of Ikeda’s 2014 Peace Proposal can be viewed at http://www.sgi.org/sgi-president/proposals/peace/peace-proposal-2014.html​.

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Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (www.sgi.org). The full text of Ikeda’s 2014 Peace Proposal can be viewed at http://www.sgi.org/sgi-president/proposals/peace/peace-proposal-2014.html​.

By Daisaku Ikeda
TOKYO, Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

This past February, the Second Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was held in Nayarit, Mexico, as a follow-up to the first such conference held last year in Oslo, Norway. The conclusion reached by this conference, on the basis of scientific research, was that “no State or international organisation has the capacity to address or provide the short and long term humanitarian assistance and protection needed in case of a nuclear weapon explosion.”

As this makes clear, almost 70 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humanity remains defenceless in the face of the catastrophic effects that any use of nuclear weapons would inevitably produce.

Since May 2012, a succession of four joint statements warning of the dire humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons have been issued. These statements have drawn support from a growing number of states; the Nayarit conference was attended by the representatives of 146 countries.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun.

In summing up the outcome of the conference, the Chair stressed the need for a legal framework outlawing these weapons, whose very existence is contrary to human dignity, stating that the time has come to initiate a diplomatic process to realise this goal. It is highly significant that three-quarters of the member states of the United Nations have expressed their shared desire for a world without nuclear weapons in this way.

Regrettably, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the nuclear-weapon states recognised under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), did not attend this meeting. What is needed most at this juncture is to find a common language shared by the countries signing these joint statements and the nuclear-weapon states.

The movement to focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons has emerged against the backdrop of grassroots efforts by global civil society calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Crucially, this has included the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have long raised their voices in the cry that no one must ever again experience the horror of nuclear war.

On the other hand, the experience of being in possession of the “nuclear button” that would launch a devastating strike has steadily impressed on several generations of political leaders in the nuclear-weapon states the reality that nuclear weapons are unlike other armaments and cannot be considered militarily useful weapons. This has served as a restraint against their use.

In this sense, the two sides share a sentiment that can bridge the gulf between them – the desire never to witness or experience the catastrophic humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons. This can serve as the basis for a common language with which to explore the path towards a world without nuclear weapons.

I have repeatedly called for a nuclear abolition summit to be held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki next year in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of those cities. I hope that representatives of the nuclear-weapon states, the countries that have signed the Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, as well as representatives of global civil society and, above all, youthful citizens from throughout the world, will gather in a world youth summit for nuclear abolition to adopt a declaration affirming their commitment to end dependence on nuclear weapons and bring the era of nuclear weapons to a close.

In this connection, I would like to offer some concrete proposals.

The first is for a nuclear weapons non-use agreement. One means of achieving this would be to place the catastrophic humanitarian effects of nuclear weapons use at the centre of the deliberations for the 2015 NPT Review Conference. Such an agreement would advance the implementation of Article VI of the NPT, under which the nuclear-weapon states have committed to pursuing nuclear disarmament in good faith.

Regions such as Northeast Asia and the Middle East, which are not currently covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones, could take advantage of a non-use agreement to declare themselves “nuclear weapon non-use zones,” as a preliminary step to becoming nuclear-weapon-free. It is my strong hope that Japan – which signed the most recent iteration of the joint statement on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons even while remaining under the nuclear umbrella of the United States – will reawaken to its responsibility as a country that has experienced atomic weapons attack. Japan should play a leading role in the establishment of such a non-use agreement and non-use zones.

In parallel with such efforts within the existing NPT regime, I would also call upon the international community to fully utilise the process now developing around the successive joint statements to broadly enlist international public opinion and catalyse negotiations for the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.

This could take the form of a treaty expressing the commitment, made in light of the humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, to the future relinquishment of reliance on these weapons as a means of achieving security, coupled with separate protocols defining concrete prohibition and verification regimes. Such an approach would mean that even if the entry into force of the separate protocols took time, the treaty would express the clear will of the international community that nuclear weapons have no place in our world.

This coming April 11-12, the Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament Initiative will convene in Hiroshima, attended by the foreign ministers of 12 states. From April 28, the NPT Review Conference preparatory committee will meet in New York. These are opportunities for global civil society to arouse international public opinion and to accelerate progress towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.

The work of building a world without nuclear weapons signifies more than just the elimination of these horrific weapons. Rather, it is a process by which the people themselves, through their own efforts, take on the challenge of realising a new era of peace and creative coexistence. This is the necessary precondition for a sustainable global society, a world in which all people – above all, the members of future generations – can live in the full enjoyment of their inherent dignity as human beings.

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Fighting Now Brings Disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-now-brings-disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fighting-now-brings-disease/#comments Sat, 29 Mar 2014 10:21:11 +0000 Mutawalli Abou Nasser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133295 For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow. The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim […]

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The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

The celebrations over food aid at Yarmouk camp in Damascus were short-lived. Credit: Niraz Saeed/IPS.

By Mutawalli Abou Nasser
DAMASCUS, Mar 29 2014 (IPS)

For just that moment, the refugees in Yarmouk camp in Damascus made news. After months of facing starvation and death in the shadows of the Syrian civil war came packets of food and aid in January – with cameras in tow.

The refugees poured out on the streets in a river of desperation to claim the first deliveries of aid that made it into the besieged area. Grown men were reduced to tears as their terror and isolation were momentarily broken.The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate.

But the camera crews have since moved on, and hunger, violence and disease have returned to torment the people stuck in the camp.

Yarmouk camp in Damascus used to be the largest community of Palestinians living in Syria. They had to leave their homeland in the wars of 1948 and then 1967. It was a flourishing and vibrant neighbourhood in the capital, home to more than 100,000 people.

By late 2012 the camp became embroiled in the increasingly malignant civilian conflict, and it has suffered for it. Rebels have been engaged in long and bloody battles with the forces of President Bashar Assad.

Yarmouk has faced siege tactics, indiscriminate bombardment, and sniper fire, as have other neighbourhoods. The tactic seems to have been to subdue whole populations. It seems to have succeeded.

Rebels in many of the besieged areas, including Yarmouk, entered into fragile truce with government forces and their allied militias earlier in the year. A string of local agreements were brokered to put the fighting on hold, and to allow food and medicine in and civilians out.

The escape from siege and warfare in January was as brief as it was desperate. “UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency] remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement.

Until recently resourceful volunteers had been working to maintain some rudimentary education system for the children and adolescents trapped in the camp. Working without institutional support, they were doing what they could to ensure the conflict would not leave a lost generation in its wake.

Now, the teachers and volunteers have had to close the classrooms. It’s not just bombs and snipers that have put a stop to their work but disease. The collapse of the healthcare system, chronic shortages of food and clean water, and accumulation of waste are combining to give rise to a number of health epidemics.

“One of our students fell unconscious in class, we took him to hospital and they diagnosed him with hepatitis,” Dr Khalil Khalil, a founding teacher of the makeshift school project, told IPS. “We then had all of our students tested and found at least seven other cases. The spread of this and other contagious diseases means a decision has been made to stop convening the classes.”

Making all this worse, fighting has erupted again. “The recent truce failed and the amount of vaccines and medication that made it into the camp were nowhere near sufficient to treat the plethora of diseases and illnesses we see spreading through the camp, especially among children,” Wissam Al-Ghoul, community health worker at the local Palestine Hospital, told IPS.

Fighters from both sides used the insufficient quantities of aid that did make it into the camp to reward their own.

“Members of the security services at the checkpoints seized some of the aid to distribute among their people, and rebel fighters stole some of the aid for their families and people close to them,” said food aid organiser Abou Salmi. “There is no order, and we suffer for that.”

About 7,000 parcels of aid are believed to have made it through the blockade in January. UNRWA concedes this was a “drop in the ocean” for the approximately 20,000 people who remain trapped in the camp.

In the spell when the siege was lifted, government forces and the Palestinian factions allied to them kidnapped many they suspected of supporting the rebels. Those picked up included children.

At least 30 men and adolescents have been detained, and their whereabouts remain unknown.

“Members of the Syrian security services, along with their allies from the PFLP-GC [a Palestinian faction allied to the Syrian government] detained at least 10 young men in front of my own eyes…We also know of people being lured to outlying buildings, and they were then kidnapped and whisked away,” said an UNRWA staff member who was among the team that oversaw the food aid. She asked not to be named for security reasons.

Each side blames the other for the breakdown in the ceasefire. “The regime did not release any of the detainees it had promised to, or secure the safe passage of food,” said Abu Khitaab from the ideologically extreme rebel battalion Jubhet al-Nusra.

“We pulled out of the camp fully as agreed but instead of releasing prisoners the regime began kidnapping young students and activists and to occupy some buildings inside the camp. We could not tolerate this, so we moved back in and resumed the battle.”

Regardless of who carries the responsibility for breaking the deal on which the ceasefire was built, for the innocent within Yarmouk the reality has returned to the same difficulties – a steady descent back into virtual imprisonment, and the chaos of fighting. Now, with disease added on.

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Sahel Food Crisis Overshadowed by Regional Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sahel-food-crisis-overshadowed-regional-conflict/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:55:38 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133290 Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity. “The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic […]

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In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

In 2012 recurring droughts destroyed most harvests in the Sahel. This year feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created almost one million refugees. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Matthew Newsome
TUNIS, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

Still not enough is being done to improve the food emergency in Africa’s Sahel Region as conflict and instability continue to exacerbate any response towards aiding a region where one in eight people suffer from food insecurity.

“The main problem we have is that food is not reaching conflict areas such as Central African Republic (CAR) because of insecurity. Until now, there has not been enough of a response from the international community, especially given the proportion of the disaster foreseen,” Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), told IPS at the organisation’s regional conference being held in Tunisa from Mar. 24 to 28.

Last month, the U.N. appealed for more than two billion dollars to address the needs of 20 million “food insecure” people across Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid area beset by persistent drought and chronic food insecurity stretching from the Sahara desert in North Africa and Sudan’s Savannas in the south. It is described by the U.N. as “one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.”

Countries in the Sahel currently facing food shortages are Mali, Mauritania, the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic (CAR), Niger, Chad and Nigeria.

New research by international NGO Action Aid highlights how Nigeria and Senegal are alarmingly unprepared to cope with a worsening food crisis.

John Abuya, head of Action Aid’s international humanitarian action and resilience team, told IPS: “Disaster preparedness structures at regional and community levels are still weak and need to be strengthened so as to provide the necessary response and resilience in case of an emergency.”

“Based on early warning signs, it is likely that the Nigerian and Senegalese governments will be overwhelmed if their food crisis escalates. Although Nigeria has a National Emergency Management Authority, its response at state level has been weak and resources have been allocated inadequately by the central government,” Abuya said.

Food insecurity in the Sahel is set to increase in 2014 by 40 percent compared to 2013 when 11.3 million people had inadequate food and required around 1.7 billion dollars in donor assistance.

Feeding chronically hungry people in the Sahel has been compromised by regional conflict that has created approximately 724,000 refugees and 495,000 internally displaced persons.

According to the latest data from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Chad’s open-door policy has resulted in it receiving 419, 000 refugees (86,000 from CAR, and 333,000 from Darfur, Sudan).

Out of the 103,000 refugees residing in Mauritania, a majority are from Mali and Western Sahara, while Burkina Faso has received 43,000 refugees from Mali since the crisis there began in 2012.

Following Mali’s military coup in March 2012, terrorists and criminal organisations exploited the country’s power vacuum and occupied the northern territory creating a huge displacement of the population. It resulted in a refugee outflow into Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger, and, to a lesser degree, Algeria and other countries.

Mali maintains it has the capacity to feed its people but is restricted by poor infrastructure and instability in the north.

Last year, it produced two million tonnes of cereal in addition to one million tonnes of rice.

“Mali’s problem is not agricultural, it is a logistical problem about transporting the food to people. The crisis and the instability in the north is not permitting us to use the roads safely. Therefore the food that farmers produce is restricted in its movement because of insecurity,” Issa Konda, head of Mali’s agricultural delegation attending the FAO conference, told IPS.

Despite efforts to stabilise Mali, including the deployment of a peacekeeping force and presidential elections in mid-2013, very few Malian refugees want to return due to the fragile humanitarian and security situation.

Niger’s severe food shortages due to recurrent drought have also been compounded by conflict in neighbouring countries. Half of the country’s 17 million people are without adequate food all year round, while one in 10 is unable to feed themselves for three months of the year.

Conflict in northern Mali, southern Libya, northern Nigeria and CAR has put pressure on Niger’s resources to deal with its food crisis as thousands of displaced civilians take refuge in the country due to its porous borders.

Since 2012, Malian refugees have regarded neighbouring Niger as a safe haven. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 51,000 refugees (47,000 from Mali and 4,000 from Nigeria) have entered the country as a result of regional conflict.

Last year’s rainy season in Niger, which lasted from July to October, was disappointing says the country’s Minister in the President’s office for the national strategy for food security and agriculture development, Amadou Diallo.

“The situation is dire and has not been improving for several years. We are unable to meet the food demand. The problem is that demand is growing from rising population numbers and incoming refugees, in addition to terrible drought our food supply is being compromised,” he told IPS.

Niger’s refugee crisis escalated last year after neighbouring Nigeria launched a military offensive against Islamist terror group, Boko Haram, causing 10,000 people to flee northern Nigeria into south-eastern Niger and Cameroon.

Of the 25 countries listed by the U.N. as being vulnerable to becoming failed states, 13 are in the Sahel. Breaking the cycle of recurrent food crises in the region is next to impossible while there is limited security says Gerda Verburg, chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.

“In the Sahel we have the solutions. We have the capacity. We have the willingness.  However, as long there is insecurity then food production and access to food is at risk.  There is not enough reliability and stability for us to adequately address food insecurity in the Sahel,” she told IPS.

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UN to Investigate War-Time Atrocities in Sri Lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/un-investigate-war-time-atrocities-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-investigate-war-time-atrocities-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/un-investigate-war-time-atrocities-sri-lanka/#comments Fri, 28 Mar 2014 19:45:20 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133288 The bloody events that marked the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war between government and Tamil separatist forces will be the focus of an independent international investigation, according to a United Nations Human Rights Council decision. The serious human rights violations denounced by U.N. agencies are blamed on both sides. The inquiry will cover the […]

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A U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/U.N.

A U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Credit: Jean-Marc Ferré/U.N.

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Mar 28 2014 (IPS)

The bloody events that marked the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war between government and Tamil separatist forces will be the focus of an independent international investigation, according to a United Nations Human Rights Council decision.

The serious human rights violations denounced by U.N. agencies are blamed on both sides. The inquiry will cover the abuses committed during the final period of the 1983-2009 war and after the government’s victory.

Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, told IPS that nearly five years on, the victims are still awaiting justice and for those responsible to be held to account.

“There are still no answers for the up to 40,000 civilian deaths for the last months of the fighting in Sri Lanka, nor for the 6,000 forcibly disappeared,” she said.

The Sri Lankan government rejected the Human Rights Council resolution adopted Thursday Mar. 27 on the argument that it erodes the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka and the core values of the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the basic principles of law that postulate equality among all people

The resolution was approved with a 23 to 12 vote, with 12 abstentions.

Tamil leaders following the debate in Geneva, where the Council is based, were not completely pleased with the resolution either.

One of the leaders, Visvalingam Manivannan, told IPS that “Our most pressing concern is that the High Commissioner’s (Navi Pillay) report or the resolution say nothing to halt the ongoing genocide against the Tamil nation.

“We are of the opinion that this can only be achieved through the establishment of a U.N.-sponsored transitional administration (in Sri Lanka) established through the aegis of the U.N. Security Council,” said Manivannan, who represents Vigneshvssu Vssu Vssu, an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

The case of Sri Lanka has been unusual in terms of the alignments it triggered among the Human Rights Council’s 47 member countries.

The resolution was sponsored by the United States and co-sponsored by the United Kingdom, Macedonia, Mauritius and Montenegro, with strong support from the European Union countries in the debates.

Alongside Sri Lanka, Pakistan took the lead in protesting the resolution, with outspoken support from China and Russia.

This time, Colombo lost the backing of three key Asian nations: India, Indonesia and Japan, which abstained from voting.

The North-South divide that persists in the Council, as in other multilateral bodies, was blurred in this case. Of the 13 African nations, three voted in favour of Sri Lanka, four voted for the U.S.-sponsored resolution and the remaining six abstained, including South Africa.

Among the Latin American members, there was no middle ground. Cuba and Venezuela voted against the resolution and defended the arguments set forth by the Sri Lankan ambassador.

Meanwhile, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru aligned with Washington. “We did it to end the impunity,” a diplomat from one of these countries told IPS.

Sri Lanka ambassador Ravinatha Arayasinha reached a different conclusion.

“A majority of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council -12 countries opposing and 12 other countries abstaining – has made it clear that they do not support the action taken by the United States, the UK and the co-sponsors of this resolution to impose an international inquiry mechanism concerning Sri Lanka.”

The resolution noted that in her report, the high commissioner had concluded that Sri Lanka’s national justice system and human rights mechanisms had systematically failed in their duty to discover the truth and deliver justice.

The Council thus accepted Pillay’s recommendation that an international inquiry be launched to carry out an in-depth investigation.

A leader of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF), Gajendrakumar Ponnampalan, told IPS that “The remedy for violations at the level of gravity that occurred ultimately cannot be anything short of a credible international investigation and a judicial process through the ICC (International Criminal Court) or an Ad Hoc special tribunal.”

A group of experts appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concluded that Sri Lankan government troops were involved in widespread abuses, including indiscriminate bombing of civilians, summary executions and rapes.

From 80,000 to 100,000 lives were claimed by the civil war between the Sri Lankan army and separatists demanding a Tamil state in the north of the island.

The conflict came to an end when the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Velupillai Prabhakaran, died in the fighting.

The U.N. experts accused the Tamil separatists of using civilians as human shields, recruiting child soldiers, and killing families trying to flee the fighting.

The U.N. Council resolution called on the Sri Lankan government to carry out a credible independent investigation of the allegations and to put an end to human rights abuses in the South Asian country.

Ponnampalan said “There is an ongoing genocide carried out by the Sri Lankan state, whose goal is the de-Tamilisation of Sri Lanka.

“Any reconciliation project has to include the Tamil nation – smaller in number on the island – and the Sinhala nation – a majority within the current configuration of the Sri Lankan state,” the TNPF leader said.

But “The Sinhala nation has no intention of ‘reconciling’ with the Tamil nation and wants it to assimilate into its vision of a Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka,” he maintained.

“Indeed, the only ‘remedy’ for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka is fleeing or assimilation,” he argued.

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