Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.N. Remains Divided Over Domestic and State Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:01:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141380 Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

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

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

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

Or both?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They have to decide,” he declared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

By Ramesh Jaura
VIENNA, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: CTBTO

Photo credit: CTBTO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[With inputs from Valentina Gasbarri]

Edited by Phil Harris    

The writer can be contacted at headquarters@ips.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/security-council-action-on-gaza-war-crimes-a-non-starter/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141293 Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Smart Phones New Tool to Capture Human Rights Violationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/smart-phones-new-tool-to-capture-human-rights-violations/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 18:31:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141263 Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

Some organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger. Credit: Johan Larsson/ cc by 2.0

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

The widespread use of digital technology – including satellite imagery, body cameras and smart phones – is fast becoming a new tool in monitoring and capturing human rights violations worldwide.

Singling out the role of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions Christof Heyns says: “We have all seen how the actions of police officers and others who use excessive force are captured on cell phones and lead to action against the perpetrators.”“We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen.'" -- Christof Heyns

Billions of people around the world now carry a powerful weapon to capture such events in their pockets, he said.

“The fact that this is well-known can be a significant deterrent to abuses,” Heyns said, in a report to the 29th session of the 47-member Human Rights Council, which began its three-week session in Geneva June 15.

Heyns said the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

In his report, Heyns urged the U.N. system and other international human rights bodies to “catch up” with rapidly developing innovations in human rights fact-finding and investigations.

“The digital age presents challenges that can only be met through the smart use of digital tools,” he said.

Javier El-Hage, General Counsel at the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (HRF), told IPS that HRF can corroborate the special rapporteur’s findings that ICTs, like cellphone cameras or even satellite imagery, play a key role in documenting extrajudicial executions.

From democratic societies like Germany or the United States where ‘civilian witnesses’ documenting instances of police brutality and extrajudicial executions create an effective check on law enforcement abuse, to societies under competitive authoritarian regimes like Kazakhstan or Venezuela where witnesses themselves can face extrajudicial execution for filming police brutality, ICTs play a huge role in documenting this egregious type of human rights violation, he said.

“Even in North Korea, the world’s most repressive and tightly closed society, satellite imagery has long helped determine the exact location and population estimates of prison camps, and recently helped uncover a disturbing case of executions by firing squad, where executioners used anti-aircraft machine guns.”

In his report, Heyns told the Human Rights Council the hardware and software that produce and transmit information in the digital space can play an increasing role in the protection of all human rights, including the right to life, by reinforcing the role of ‘civilian witnesses’ in documenting rights violations.

He said various organisations are developing alert applications that journalists, human rights defenders and others can use to send an emergency message (along with GPS co-ordinates) to their friends and colleagues if they feel in immediate danger.

“New information tools can also empower human rights investigations and help to foster accountability where people have lost their lives or were seriously injured,” the Special Rapporteur said.

The use of other video technologies, ranging from CCTV cameras to body-worn “cop cams”, can further contribute to filling information gaps.

Resources such as satellite imagery to verify such videos, or sometime to show evidence of violations themselves, is also an important dimension, he noted.

But despite the many advantages offered by ICTs, Heyns said it would be short-sighted not to see the risks as well.

“Those with the power to violate human rights can easily use peoples’ emails and other communications to target them and also to violate their privacy,” he said.

The fact that people can use social media to organise spontaneous protests can lead authorities to perceive a threat – and to over-react.

Moreover, there is a danger that what is not captured on video is not taken seriously. “We must guard against a mind-set that ‘if it is not digital it did not happen,’” he stressed.

El-Hage told IPS his Foundation also agrees with the special rapporteur that ICTs are a double-edged sword because through them governments can “easily access the emails and other communications” of law-abiding citizens, especially political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders, “to target them and violate their privacy.”

HRF has recently denounced the cases of targeted surveillance and persecution against pro-democracy activists Hisham Almiraat in Morocco and Waleed Abu AlKhair in Saudi Arabia, and was among the organisations that submitted a white paper to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression to inform his own report on the way ‘encryption’ and ‘anonymity’ can protect both the rights to privacy and free speech.

In his report, Heyns also cautioned that not all communities, and not all parts of the world, are equally connected, and draws special attention to the fact that “the ones that not connected are often in special need of protection.”

“There is still a long way to go for all of us to understand fully how we can use these evolving and exciting but in some ways also scary new tools to their best effect,” Heyn said pointing out that not all parts of the international human rights community are fully aware of the power and pitfalls of digital fact-finding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Names Winners of First Nelson Mandela Prizehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-n-names-winners-of-first-nelson-mandela-prize/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:54:11 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141250 Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

By Kitty Stapp
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The winners of the first-ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize were announced Monday by General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, 25 years to the day that Mandela addressed the U.N. General Assembly to denounce apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

They are Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia, and Jorge Sampaio of Portugal.

Kutesa said that the winners were chosen from about 300 applicants for the prize from a variety of sources, including member states as well as observer states of the U.N., institutions of higher education, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs.

The Prize was established in June 2014 by the General Assembly to recognise the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.

Dr. Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist, widely renowned for her charitable work among sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. Dr. Ndume has ensured that some 30,000 blind Namibians have received eye surgery and are fitted with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She is currently the head of the ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists. Ndume has also set up eye camps in Angola, working with international organisations to bring eye surgery to the country’s poor.

Jorge Sampaio is a Portuguese lawyer and politician who was president of Portugal from 1996 to 2006. He became a leader in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in his country, and also served as deputy minister for external cooperation and as mayor of Lisbon from 1989 to 1995.

He is a strong advocate of the European integration project, actively supported its enlargement to all democratic countries in Europe as well as to Turkey, and played an active role in engaging ordinary people, in particular youth, in public debates on European affairs.

Sampaio is now a member of the Club de Madrid, a grouping of more than 80 former democratic statesmen that works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership worldwide by drawing on the experience of its members.

In May 2006, Sampaio was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as his first Special Envoy for the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis, where he raised the international visibility of this poverty disease’s scale and its impact on the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda.

In April 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon designated him as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, a position he held till September 2012.

Ban said the United Nations hoped to carry on Mandela’s “lifelong work through this meaningful prize.”

Chaired by the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations selection Committee for the Prize this year was composed of the Permanent Representatives of Algeria, Latvia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, representing the five United Nations geographical regional groups.

The Permanent Representative of South Africa was an ex-officio member of the Committee. The U.N. Department of Public Information served as the secretariat.

The award ceremony will take place on July 24 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will be part of the annual commemoration by the General Assembly of Nelson Mandela International Day.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Democracy on the Retreat in Over 96 of the 193 U.N. Member States, Says New Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/democracy-on-the-retreat-in-over-96-of-the-193-u-n-member-states-says-new-study/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:22:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141244 U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

U.S. police arrest May Day protester in Oakland, California. Credit: Judith Scherr/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

Democracy is on the retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise in more than 96 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, according to a new report released here.

The two regions of “highest concern” for defenders of civic space are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, which between them account for over half of the countries counted."Legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents." -- Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

These violations are increasing not only in countries perceived to be democratic but also in countries with blatantly repressive regimes.

“The widespread systematic attack on these core civil society liberties has taken many forms, including assault, torture, kidnapping and assassination,” says the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report.

“We have known for some time that encroachments on civic space and persecution of peaceful activists were on the rise but it’s more pervasive than many may think,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide.

“Our monitoring in 2014 shows that legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents,” he added.

The report says while activists engaged in political reform, uncovering corruption and human rights violations continue to be targeted, those defending local communities from land grabs and environmental degradation, as well as those promoting minority group rights, have been subjected to various forms of persecution.

“The link between unethical business practices and closing civic space is becoming clearer as global inequality and capture of power and resources by a handful of political and economic elite rises. “

Advocacy for equitable sharing of natural resources and workers’ rights is becoming increasingly fraught with danger, says the report.

The examples cited range from the killings of environmental activists in Brazil to the intimidation of organisations challenging the economic discourse in India, to arbitrary detention of activists opposing oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

 

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Asked to identify some of the worst offenders, Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, told IPS : “We don’t provide a ranking of the countries’ violations, but we are able to categorise limitations on civil society activities into completely closed countries and active violators of civic freedoms.”

He said “closed countries” are where virtually no civic activity can take place due to an extremely repressive environment. These include Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

There is a second list of countries that are active violators of civil society rights – meaning they imprison, intimidate and attack civil society members and put in place all kinds of regulations to limit the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those working to uncover corruption and human rights violations, Tiwana said.

These include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report also points out some of the tactics deployed to close civic space include passing restrictive laws and targeting individual civil society organisations (CSOs) by raiding their offices, freezing their bank accounts or deregistering them.

A number of democracies are also engaging in illicit surveillance of civil society activists, further weakening respect for human rights.

Stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society activists by powerful political figures and right-wing elements remains an area of concern.

“When citizens’ most basic democratic rights are being violated in more than half the world’s countries, alarm bells must start ringing for the international community and leaders everywhere,” said Sriskandarajah.

Tiwana told IPS governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

“There appears to be no let-up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

And activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia, Tiwana pointed out, countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia have a history of repressive governance and in Thailand, where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

Asked what role the United Nations can play in naming and shaming these countries, Tiwana said the U.N. Human Rights Council has emerged as a key international forum for the protection of civic freedoms particularly through the Universal Periodic Review process where each country gets its human rights record reviewed every four years.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently collating best practices to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein has been an active supporter of civil society’s ability to operate freely, as was his predecessor, Navi Pillay, who was ardent advocate of civic freedoms, Tiwana said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Worldwide Displacement at the Highest Level Ever Recordedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worldwide-displacement-at-the-highest-level-ever-recorded/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:38:26 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141210 A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

A horrific year of war, humanitarian crises, human rights violations and persecution has caused a sharp rise in global forced displacement.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) released Thursday its annual report of global trends on refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and the internally displaced. The report makes for sober reading two days before World Refugee Day on June 20.

The report states that global forced displacement reached unprecedented levels in 2014, with 59.5 million people fleeing their homes worldwide. An estimated 13.9 million individuals were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres noted in a statement accompanying the report, “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria became the leading country of origin of refugees in 2014, with 95 per cent of those fleeing the country for surrounding nations. Turkey, for the first time, became the largest hosting country worldwide, with 1.59 million refugees. One million Syrians registered there in 2014.

Many Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon in 2014, where at the end of the year almost one in four inhabitants was a refugee. In April, Guterres noted that the numbers of refugees Lebanon has absorbed would be unthinkable in most Western countries.

“The equivalent of what we have in Lebanon in the United States would be more than 80 million refugees coming into the U.S.,” he said.

If the United Kingdom received the equivalent influx, it would have to accommodate more than 15 million refugees.

The report highlighted the heavy burden being shouldered by developing regions. Two decades ago, they were hosting about 70 per cent of the world’s refugees. By the end of 2014, this proportion had risen to 86 per cent – at 12.4 million persons, the highest figure in more than two decades.

The 30 countries with the largest number of refugees per one dollar GDP per capita were all members of developing regions. More than 5.9 million people, representing 42 per cent of the world’s refugees, resided in countries whose GDP per capita was below 5,000 dollars.

Rising numbers have stretched resources to the limit, with the World Food Programme suffering acute shortfalls in funding, leaving it unable to feed refugees in desperate need of support.

Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin released a statement Thursday saying, “South Sudan is on the verge of a hunger catastrophe, violence is worsening in Iraq and Syria, and there are new trouble-spots in Yemen and Nigeria. Needs increasingly outpace resources and this poses a moral and financial challenge to the international community.”

Data indicate that the number of unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum has reached levels unprecedented since at least 2006, when UNHCR started systematically collecting data of that kind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pope Could Upstage World Leaders at U.N. Summit in Septemberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:26:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141208 His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

Judging by his recent public pronouncements – including on reproductive health, biodiversity, the creation of a Palestinian state, the political legitimacy of Cuba and now climate change – Pope Francis may upstage more than 150 world leaders when he addresses the United Nations, come September.

“The Pope will most likely be the headline-grabber,” predicts one longtime U.N. watcher, “particularly if he continues to be as outspoken as he has been so far.”“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” -- Pope Francis

As his mostly socio-political statements become increasingly hard-hitting, the Argentine-born Il Papa, the first Pope from the developing world, is drawing both ardent supporters and hostile critics.

Last January, during a trip to Asia, he dropped a bombshell when he said Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and stop “breeding like rabbits.”

In the United States, the Pope has been criticised by right-wing conservatives for playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, and incurred the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby for recognising Palestine as a nation state.

In fact, most of his pronouncements are closely in line with the United Nations – and specifically its socio-economic agenda.

In his 184-page Encyclical released Thursday, the Pope says “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

The Pope also complains how weak international political responses have been.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” he said.

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected, the Pope declared.

Speaking on the global environment last year, he said: “The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently warned against the devastating effects of climate change, praised Pope Francis for his papal encyclical which highlights that “climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and that it is a moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society.”

He agreed with the encyclical’s findings that there is “a very solid scientific consensus” showing significant warming of the climate system and that most global warming in recent decades is “mainly a result of human activity”.

Ban urged governments to place the global common good above national interests and to adopt an ambitious, universal climate agreement in Paris this year.

Tim Gore, Oxfam International Climate Adviser, told IPS the Pope has set out how climate change is at its most basic a moral issue – it is a deep injustice that the pollution of the world’s richest people and countries drives harmful climate disruption in the poorest communities and countries.

“Anyone that is concerned about injustice should rightly be concerned about climate change, and in making his call, the Pope joins many other leaders of faith, civil society and trade unions. Climate change is all of our business,” he said.

Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Pope Francis is crystal clear — the current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go. In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming.”

Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies, she added.

In a statement released Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation, said as Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat.

“It is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts,” Annan said.

“I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?,” he added.

In the United States, the criticisms have come mostly from right-wing conservatives, who want the Pope to confine himself to religion, not politics.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina and a strong supporter of Israel, said Pope Francis should avoid the Palestine debate altogether – the Vatican should focus on spiritual matters and stay out of politics.

Asked Tuesday, just ahead of the Pope’s statement on climate change, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency, said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: The University for Peace, Chronicle of a Death Foretoldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-university-for-peace-chronicle-of-a-death-foretold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-university-for-peace-chronicle-of-a-death-foretold http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-the-university-for-peace-chronicle-of-a-death-foretold/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:52:33 +0000 Oliver Rizzi Carlson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141205

Oliver Rizzi Carlson holds an MA in Peace Education from the UN-mandated University for Peace and is Editor of the Global Campaign for Peace Education Newsletter. He facilitates learning spaces with youth on the culture of peace and infrastructures for peace, and is Representative at the U.N. for the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

By Oliver Rizzi Carlson
EL RODEO DE MORA, Costa Rica, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

You’ve probably never heard of it. When, in 2007, I tentatively searched the web for “peace education” and Google told me that a U.N.-mandated University in Costa Rica was offering a master’s degree in precisely that, I was dumbfounded. As soon as I set foot on campus, I fell in love with UPEACE.

Now that you know about it, 35 years from its creation, the University for Peace as we know it may disappear. The U.N., which picks unfit foster parents for the University’s Council, over the years has, through neglect and negligence, denied it its life-giving source: dialogue.Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

Things have degenerated to the point that one Council member this year ended up stepping on students staging a peaceful sit-in – in order to avoid dialogue.

With the latest slash of principles, the University for Peace may well die a death by a thousand cuts.

The University was founded via the U.N. General Assembly in 1980, and 40-some States are signatories to the International Agreement establishing UPEACE. Its Mission is “to provide humanity with an institution of higher learning for peace … [to] promot[e] among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence … contribut[ing] to the great universal task of educating for peace … [for] the full development of the human person … through the interdisciplinary study of all matters relating to peace.”

The Charter further highlights its “autonomy and academic freedom” and “its profoundly humanistic purpose.”

These guiding precepts are visionary and exciting, and UPEACE is a uniquely important institution for the progress of peace. But the University’s governance structure is grossly inadequate to fulfill its grand Mission.

Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

UPEACE has always had many problems, but they have continued only because of UPEACE’s inability to leverage its rich talent pool through dialogue.

This year, instead of finally addressing these long-standing issues meaningfully, Council members used them as a pretext to impose a radical curriculum change, delivered by fiat, and without justification, deepening the lack of dialogue that is eating away at the fabric of the University. What’s more, this deeply misguided curriculum would do away with UPEACE’s competitive advantage and set the University a couple of generations back in peace scholarship.

The issues that precipitated this situation are old. The lack of institutional accreditation, very short MA programmes, haphazard academic quality, aging campus facilities, high tuition fees, financial difficulties and the absence of an endowment fund have made UPEACE hardly competitive and unable to fulfill its Mission.

However, the reason these problems have not been tackled is mismanagement, bolstered by an absolute lack of transparency or accountability, inexistent job security, and the absence of continuity, institutional memory, alumni relations or a unifying alumni network.

This structural paralysis, in turn, is due to a tyrannical concentration of power in the hands of a few, the Rector and Council members, who generally have no personal experience with, ties to or interest in the University or the field of peace studies.

Ultimately, since UPEACE is unknown globally or even in Costa Rica, its obscurity has allowed its many problems to intensify.

At this point, we need a robust, public conversation.

Over the years, there has been no lack of people within the UPEACE Community who have tried to contribute their rich expertise and promote dialogue to address all of those issues, especially this year. However, the job insecurity and lack of continuity have not allowed people to speak up or have an impact, and UPEACE’s problems have only worsened.

The real, predominant issue is structural – the lack of a standing infrastructure for dialogue.

Through such an infrastructure, the amazing potential of the University could become apparent to its biggest critics.

This would require the Council to empower those who have the knowledge, experience, expertise and interest in UPEACE necessary to make it flourish, allowing UPEACE to become the inspirational example it can be. Instead, egos battle for power and UPEACE’s budding potential withers away because of a lack of proper attention to dialogue.

The tension between those attracted to UPEACE by its Mission and those involved with it because of its U.N. origin becomes apparent.

Some of us even wrote our MA theses on the need for an infrastructure for dialogue at UPEACE, and proposed Charter amendments as early as 2009, but those efforts, too, fell on deaf ears.

What has happened in the past academic year is perhaps the last straw in a continual process of neglect of the principle of dialogue that should instead be at the core of UPEACE as an organisation.

Consistent with each graduating class, last year’s students expressed their frustrations with UPEACE through a 63-page report and delivering scathingly honest speeches at graduation.

Special Representative of the UNSG Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Council member Graciana del Castillo and Max Bond of the United Nations University (UNU) unilaterally decided the UPEACE academic programme was to blame.

Admittedly without any background in academia or personal knowledge or experience of UPEACE, Cheng-Hopkins and del Castillo secretly put together a single MA programme to replace all existing MA programmes. They tried to impose this on faculty, shunning any dialogue and threatening to close down the University by depriving it of its U.N. affiliation.

The putative new and unsubstantiated curriculum was leaked to the alumni in July 2014. Numerous letters, online petitions and meetings followed, calling for an open dialogue and decision-making process on an equal footing with other members of the UPEACE Community.

In November 2014, Cheng-Hopkins, a former Assistant U.N. Secretary-General, came to campus unannounced and avoided answering any of the important questions posed by students who went to meet her. She remained so far removed from reality that when students decided to organise a peaceful sit-in to ask for dialogue, she literally stepped on them instead, even kicking one in the head as she forced her way through.

A video documents her two-day visit, and much more has happened since, all of which has been gathered on this website.

Calls for dialogue intensified. Even as the video was sent to all Council members, they continued to ignore our letters. Those mentioned above also failed to respond to a request for comment on the present article.

In January 2015, some Council members finally came to campus. They indulged us in our little game of “dialogue” and ignored, yet again, our comprehensive plan for University-wide dialogue on institutional as well as academic reform.

Instead, they eventually decreed an unclear and largely redundant set of committees to steer a process of input-giving that they had devised before the January meeting. Although the radical academic changes looming on the horizon would now be postponed until the 2016-2017 academic year, the “dialogue” would only focus on academic matters. The outcome of what has been a haphazard and disappointing process will be pitted against the initially secret curricular reform, with one of the two chosen at the Council meeting taking place June 18 and 19.

The only Council member who seems to have an understanding of the need for institutional reforms to sustain dialogue is Mercedes Peñas. Unsurprisingly, she is the only alumna on the Council – and she is not on it because of her alumna status, but because she happens to be the First Lady of Costa Rica. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Instead of politically appointed figures, the Council should have many more alumni, who know and care about this unique institution and can understand and devise ways of facilitating dialogue thanks to which all UPEACE Community members can engage in collective decision-making for the good of the institution.

Having too heavily relied on its U.N. origin in the past, UPEACE has now been given an ultimatum by its wardens. It will either have to give its last breath to the U.N., or it may have to lose that august logo and start the slow, gradual path of real work to academic redemption.

I think it’s a false choice; but I believe UPEACE would be much better off disowned and free rather than slave to a bureaucratic logic that is incompatible with the real, hard work of dialogue essential to innovation, peace, and education. After all, that is its Mission. If nothing changes in its structure, the University for Peace as we know it will be gone.

Given the importance of education for peace, this would be a unique loss to the field of peace studies and the development of the new and innovative approaches to peacebuilding we so desperately need.

To know more or get involved, please write to upeacers@gmail.com

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: No Place to Hide in Addishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-no-place-to-hide-in-addis/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:16:38 +0000 Tamira Gunzburg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141200

Tamira Gunzburg is Brussels Director of The ONE Campaign.

By Tamira Gunzberg
BRUSSELS, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

My colleagues just got back from Munich, where we held a summit bringing together over 250 young volunteers from across Europe. These youngsters campaigned in the run-up to and at the doorstep of the G7 Summit in Schloss Elmau, as one of the key moments in a year brimming with opportunities to tackle extreme poverty.

It’s inspiring to work with these young activists – their enthusiasm and creativity are humbling. But the other thing about young people is that they don’t let anyone pull the wool over their eyes. Euphemisms don’t stick; skirting the point doesn’t get you very far. They keep us on our toes and that is not a bad thing at all.

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

Courtesy of Tamira Gunzburg

But some phenomena I am simply at a loss to explain. One such paradox is the fact that only a third of aid goes to the very poorest countries, and that aid to those countries has been declining. Yet in the so-called ‘Least Developed Countries’, 43 percent of the population still lives in extreme poverty, compared to 13 percent in other countries.

This begs so many questions it is dizzying. How are we going to eradicate extreme poverty if we don’t prioritise the countries that need aid the most? What is aid for if not helping the poorest?

Why are we cutting aid to the poorest countries when it is the middle income countries that are becoming more able to mobilise their own sources of financing for development? And why aren’t leaders doing anything to reverse this perverse trend?

Instead, EU development ministers in May recommitted to the existing promise of providing 0.7 percent of national income in aid, and up to 0.2 percent of national income in aid to the least developed countries – this time “within the timeframe” of the post-2015 agenda to be adopted in September.

But even if they achieved both targets by say, 2025, that would still mean a share of only 28.6 percent of total aid going to the poorest countries. In other words: business as usual. This is where any young person would detect the glaring no-brainer, and unapologetically probe “… but isn’t that too little, too late?”Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone.

Whereas the Millennium Development Goals – global anti-poverty goals agreed in the year 2000 – allowed us to pick the ‘low-hanging fruit’ in terms of bringing down average levels of extreme poverty and child mortality, this year’s new set of ‘Global Goals’ is all about finishing the job.

Ending extreme poverty by 2030 and leaving no one behind will become harder as we near the zero zone. We need to frontload our efforts and put the poorest and most vulnerable at the centre of our approach from the get-go.

That is why donors must commit to spending at least half of their aid on the poorest countries, and to doing this by 2020, so that those countries have time to tackle the Global Goals in time for the 2030 deadline.

This is but one of the debates that are heating up in the final weeks before the Summit in Addis Ababa in July, where world leaders will come together to decide on how to finance development. Negotiations touch upon topics that go well beyond aid, and rightly so, in an attempt to unlock new sources of financing such as domestic resource mobilisation and private sector investment.

Sadly though, many of the discussions are still being held hostage by the impasse on aid commitments. Indeed, donor countries’ laborious reaffirmation of decade-old broken promises does not inspire confidence that they are committed to doing things differently this time.

What, then, can change the game at this point? For one, let’s kick things up a level and bring in the big bosses. We fully expect heads of state to be in attendance in Addis – but even before then, the leaders of all 28 EU Member States are getting together for their own summit at the end of June.

Here they have the authority to agree on a more ambitious commitment than the development ministers managed to broker last month. Announcing an EU-wide intent to direct at least half of collective aid to the least developed countries would send a strong political message that could spark a much-needed race to the top in the final sprint towards Addis.

Another sure way to guarantee the success of this Summit is to inject more political will into the discussions that go beyond aid. For example, several countries are coming together to harness the “Data Revolution” to ensure that we collect the statistics needed to track progress and achieve the new Global Goals.

Right now, the world’s governments do not have more than 70 percent of the data they need to measure progress. Clearly, we need to aim for more with the new Global Goals.

Further, it will be crucial to agree on minimum per capita spending levels on essential services to deliver, by 2020, a basic package for all. In order to fund these efforts, governments should increase domestic revenues towards ambitious revenue-to-GDP targets and halve the gap to those targets by 2020 by implementing fair tax policies, curbing corruption and stemming illicit flows.

The list is long and time is running out, but as our youth activists would unwaveringly note, there is still ample opportunity for leaders in both North and South to rise to the occasion and throw their weight behind ending extreme poverty. Pesky questions aside, leaders really should take note of these young voices, because it is quite literally their future world that leaders are shaping this year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Indexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/south-sudan-again-tops-fragile-states-index/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141192 South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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CTBTO, the Nuclear Watchdog That Never Sleepshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ctbto-the-nuclear-watchdog-that-never-sleeps/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ctbto-the-nuclear-watchdog-that-never-sleeps http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ctbto-the-nuclear-watchdog-that-never-sleeps/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 19:36:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141181 CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during the Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9, 2014. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during the Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9, 2014. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

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

The world’s nuclear powers may succeed in thwarting sanctions by the Security Council or avoiding condemnation by the General Assembly, but they cannot escape the scrutiny of a key international watchdog body: the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Literally, its monitoring network keeps its ear to the ground tracking down surreptitious nuclear tests – while also detecting earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in near real-time or tracking large storms and drifting icebergs.”Some compare the system to a combined giant Earth stethoscope and sniffer that looks, listens, feels and sniffs for planetary irregularities.

And the network never sleeps because it has been working around the clock ever since it was installed 18 years ago – primarily to detect nuclear explosions above ground and underneath.

The network is a way to guard against test ban treaty violations because the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) prohibits nuclear explosions worldwide: in the atmosphere, underwater and underground.

“The CTBTO’s International Monitoring System has found a wider mission than its creators ever foresaw: monitoring an active and evolving Earth,” Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of CTBTO, told IPS.

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

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

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

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

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

“Even before entering into force, the CTBT is saving lives,” says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Currently, the network collects some 15 gigabytes of data daily, which it sends in real-time to the CTBTO’s data analysis centre in Vienna, Austria.

From there, a daily analysis report is sent to the CTBTO’s 183 Member States for their own use and analysis.

This universal system of looking, listening and sniffing the Earth is the work of CTBTO, which every two years hosts a scientific and technical conference.

This year’s Science and Technology Conference is scheduled to take place June 22-26 at the Hofburg Palace in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

The CTBTO’s monitoring network has had a superlative track record: on Feb. 12, 2013, 94 of the network’s seismic monitoring stations and two of its infrasound stations detected and alerted Member States to a nuclear detonation more than an hour before North Korea announced it had conducted a test.

Three days later, on Feb. 15, 2013, the CTBTO’s infrasound monitoring stations detected signals made by a meteor that had entered the atmosphere and disintegrated in the skies over Chelyabinsk, Russia.

The CTBTO network – described as the only global one of its kind to detect infrasound – recorded the shock wave caused by the exploding fireball.

That data helped scientists to locate the meteor, measure the energy release, its altitude and size.

And the system’s atmospheric sampling tracked the invisible plume of radioactivity from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster, as it spread around the globe.

It showed that radioactivity outside of Japan was below harmful levels. That knowledge helped public safety officials around the world understand what course of action to take, according to CTBTO.

The monitoring network has also helped tsunami warning centres announce rapid warnings, in real time, after severe earthquakes; improved meteorological models for more accurate weather forecasting; and provided insights into volcanic eruptions.

Additionally, it has enhanced the alerts that civil aviation authorities use, in real time, to warn pilots about damaging volcanic dust; provide more precise information about climate change; increased understanding of the structure of the Earth’s inner core; and followed the migratory habits and the effects of climate change on marine life.

To access the data, the CTBTO has created a Virtual Data Exploitation Centre which provides scientists and researchers from many different disciplines with data for research and enables them to publish new findings.

Rave reviews have come from several academics.

“The International Monitoring System is a fantastic tool for monitoring the planet’s core, atmosphere, oceans, or environment,” says Dr. Raymond Jeanloz, professor of Geophysics and Astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The CTBTO data give us a glimpse of the Earth’s deep interior -what’s happening there and how it evolved over Earth’s history,” says Professor Miaki Ishii, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

And Randy Bell, director of the CTBTO’s International Data Centre, says: “The global data are extremely valuable because they span decades, are high quality and highly calibrated. The data can be used to analyse local, regional or global events.”

Bell says that his primary job is to look for nuclear tests, but allowing the data to be used for science gets more experts looking at the data.

“What may be noise to me might be a signal to someone else,” he says.

Meanwhile, on a single day, the CTBTO’s International Data Centre analyses over 30,000 seismic signals to identify events that meet stringent criteria.

The CTBTO says that though many countries have their own seismic monitoring systems, the CTBTO monitors are “global, permanent, calibrated and the data are shared equally.”

Its seismic network has been monitoring infrasound extending all the way to sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa, Indonesia and Antarctica.

The CTBTO also has a network of underground listening posts located in some of the world’s most remote waters listening to earthquakes in the Andes Mountains and around the northern Pacific.

The data has been used to track the migratory habits of a particular species of Blue Whale in the Indian Ocean.

“The nations of the world have invested about one billion dollars to create The Global Ear,” says Dr. Zerbo.

“Every year they continue their investment, hoping it will never have to be used for its intended purpose of detecting a violation of the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Civil and scientific spinoffs show the world immediate payback and in turn increase support for the Treaty.

“As more scientists and organisations make use of the data, the value has become ever more apparent,” says Dr. Zerbo.

Additional input by Valentina Gasbarri in Vienna.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in U.N. Overseas Operations?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/could-peacekeeping-wives-deter-sexual-abuse-in-u-n-overseas-operations/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:00:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141172 A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

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

Back in November 2007, about 108 military personnel from an Asian country, serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were deported home after being accused of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors.

After their return, one of the expelled peacekeepers was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, rather defiantly, “What do you expect us to do when the U.N. is providing us with free condoms?”“I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour." -- Barbara Tavora-Jainchill

But then all those free condoms were being provided to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and not to encourage sexual abuse.

As a result of the widespread sexual abuse with peacekeeping missions, the United Nations plans to set up an independent review panel calling for recommendations specifically to prevent these crimes and also to hold those responsible accountable for their deeds and mete out punishments.

But as a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?

Pursuing this line of thinking, Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS, “Perhaps the U.N. should look into making it possible for U.N. peacekeepers to have their wives and girlfriends and children live with them during their deployment.”

He said he realised it would be an added expense for the U.N. to transport them and perhaps to find suitable housing on U.N. peacekeeping bases.

“But the potential benefits of cutting down on what is an epidemic — of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing the people they are sworn to protect — could be immense. It is difficult to understand why the U.N. has never thought of this before.”

Lauria also said there is a longstanding tradition throughout military history of soldiers allowing their wives to accompany them– even to the front.

Two examples are in ancient Rome and in the American Civil War. And U.N. peacekeepers are rarely in combat situations, so the logistics are simpler, he said.

Today U.S. troops stationed at bases abroad, such as in Germany or South Korea, are allowed to live with their families. The wives and girlfriends of U.N. peacekeepers could be expected to live from the salaries of the peacekeepers, perhaps with an additional stipend, he argued.

“It would be troubling for the U.N. not to look into this possibility given all the negative fallout for the organisation, not to mention the serious harm done to the victims of U.N. peacekeeper’s sexual abuse,” said Lauria.

When he raised this issue at a press briefing last week, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that virtually all of the peacekeeping operations, with a couple of exceptions like Cyprus, are “non‑family duty stations for the civilian staff.”

“You raise a point that’s interesting, that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe uniformed peacekeepers or police officers are able to bring their spouses along,” he said.

Pressed further by Lauria, Dujarric said: “I think I see where… where you’re going, but I think the issue of abuse of power, of sexual abuse needs to be fought, regardless of what those rules may be.”

Since the United Nations has no political or legal authority to penalise military personnel, most of them escape punishment for their criminal activities because national governments have either refused or have been slow in meting out justice within their own court systems.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS that as far as it concerns U.N. civilian staff, “I’m not sure you can draw a link between the two.”

“We have over 21,000 civilian colleagues in field and peacekeeping operations, doing a great job and almost all in what are called non-family duty stations. Yet reported sexual abuse by staff, while horrific, remains extremely low,” he said.

Three staff were reported, investigated and fired for sexual abuse last year.

“So these are very specific cases rather than a generalised trend. All U.N. staff are aware of the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and sign a declaration on this when they’re recruited.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that absent spouses is an issue in this sense. In any case, non-family duty stations are declared as such because they are in conflict zones or prone to rebel or terrorist activity. They’re not places to bring spouses or children,” Richards added.

A U.N. staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS there were some U.N. civilian staffers, based in a virtual war zone in Iraq, who housed their families in neighbouring Kuwait, but at their own expense.

But staffers serving in these missions are well remunerated with “hazard pay allowances” (HPA) and “mission subsistence allowances” (MSA).

A senior U.N. official told IPS it is very unlikely that wives and families will be permitted in overseas missions, specifically high risk missions, because it would be difficult to ensure their security (and it will double or triple the U.N.’s current burden of protecting staffers).

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS even though being away from the family brings stress, “I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour.

“Accountability should be strengthened in peacekeeping and political missions and the U.N. should adopt a serious whistleblower policy, because sometimes whistleblowers are the ones who make accountability possible,” she added.

Meanwhile a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, chaired by former President of Timor-Leste Ramos-Horta, has released a report with a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.N. peace operations and the emerging needs of the future.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ramos-Horta emphasised the United Nations had “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”

He said sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rocks and undermines the most important power the United Nations possesses: its integrity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Israel’s Deadly Game of Divide and Conquer Backfiringhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israels-deadly-game-of-divide-and-conquer-backfiring/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 06:36:03 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141150 Gazans celebrate "victory" over Israel following last year’s war. Now, desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas, which it describes as a “terror organisation”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Gazans celebrate "victory" over Israel following last year’s war. Now, desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas, which it describes as a “terror organisation”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s deadly game of divide and conquer against its enemies could be coming home to roost with a vengeance, especially as the Islamic State (ISIS) grows in strength in neighbouring countries and moves closer to Israel’s borders.

Desperate to maintain the calm in Gaza, Israel has been conducting intermittent, off-the-record indirect talks with Hamas through U.N., European and Qatar intermediaries despite vowing to never negotiate with Hamas which it describes as a “terror organisation”.

Israel helped promote the establishment of Hamas in the late 1980s in a bid to thwart the popularity of the Palestinian Authority-affiliated Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which was then also regarded as a “terrorist organisation” and the most powerful and popular Palestinian political movement.

But Israel’s indirect support of ISIS-affiliated Syrian opposition groups could be an even bigger gamble.“Despite ISIS ultimately being a threat to Israel, it currently fits in with Israel’s strategy of weakening the military capabilities of Iran and Syria, both enemies of ISIS, the same way a previously powerful Iraqi military had threatened Israel”

As the Omar Brigades calculated, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) responded by attacking Hamas military targets in the coastal territory because they hold the Gaza leadership responsible for any attacks on Israel.

“Israelis, we learn, are essentially being used as pawns in a deadly game of chicken between Hamas and these Salafist rivals,” said Alison Kaplan Sommer, a columnist with the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“The Salafists refuse to abide by the informal truce that has kept the tense quiet between Hamas and Israel since the Gaza war – and Hamas is not religious and fundamentalist enough for their taste.

“Firing rockets into Israel serves a dual purpose for them. It makes a statement that they are true jihadists, unlike the Hamas sell-outs who abide by truces – and it also happens to be an excellent way for them to indirectly strike back at their Hamas oppressors. Why, after all, go to the trouble of attacking Hamas when you can so easily get Israel to do it for you?”

Israel’s dual policy of covertly supporting ISIS-affiliated Jihadists in Syria in a bid to weaken Israel’s arch-enemy Syria has taken several forms.

U.N. observers in the Golan Heights have released reports detailing cooperation between Israel and Syrian opposition figures including regular contacts between IDF soldiers and Syrian rebels.

Israel is also regularly admitting wounded Syrian opposition fighters to Israeli hospitals and it is not based on humanitarian considerations.

Israel finally responded by saying the wounded were civilians reaching the border by their own accords but later conceded it was coordinating with armed opposition groups.

“Israel initially had maintained that it was treating only civilians. However, reports claimed that members of Israel’s Druze minority protested the hospitalisation of wounded Syrian fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Israel,” reported the Global Research Centre for Research on Globalisation.

The last report distributed to U.N. Security Council members in December described two U.N. representatives witnessing Israeli soldiers opening a border gate and letting two unwounded people exit Israel into the Golan Heights.

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations also complained of widespread cooperation between Israel and Syrian rebels, not only for treatment of the wounded but also other aid.

U.N. observers remarked in a report distributed last year that they identified IDF soldiers on the Israeli side handing over two boxes to armed Syrian opposition members on the Syrian side.

Despite ISIS ultimately being a threat to Israel, it currently fits in with Israel’s strategy of weakening the military capabilities of Iran and Syria, both enemies of ISIS, the same way a previously powerful Iraqi military had threatened Israel.

When the United States began operations against ISIS, a senior Israeli high command seemed reluctant to give any support and called the move a mistake.

It was easier to deal with terrorism in its early stages [ISIS] than to face an Iranian threat and the Hezbollah, he said. “I believe the West intervened too early and not necessarily in the right direction,” he told Haaretz anonymously.

“Israel is pursuing a policy that in the long term will ultimately be self-defeating. In a bid to divide Syria, Israel is supporting ISIS but this will backfire in that ISIS is growing in strength and destroying societies in its path and it will eventually turn its sights on Israel,” Professor Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told IPS.

It is possible that ISIS could topple future regimes that Israel is hoping for support from, including Syrian rebels who hinted at a peace with Israel once Syrian President Bashar Assad is toppled.

Jacky Hugi, the Arab affairs analyst for Israeli army radio Galie-Zahal who confirmed on the Al Monitor website that Israel was taking the Syrian rebels side in the fighting, had a warning.

“We should stop with the illusions – the day ‘after Assad’ won’t bring about a secular liberal ruling alternative. The extremist organisations are the most dominant factions in Syria nowadays,” said Hugi. “Any void left in Syria will be seized by them, not the moderate rebels.”

According to political analyst Benedetta Berti of Israel’s Institute of National Security Studies, Israel is closely monitoring its northern front, specifically the Golan Heights.

“Israel believes that there is no current threat from the rebels as they are too busy with the Syrian war,” Berti told IPS. “However, if we extend the time frame, then the situation could change when Syrian rebels may want to attack Israel from the northern borders.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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When a Kid With Low Self-Esteem Dreams of Becoming the Presidenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/when-a-kid-with-low-self-esteem-dreams-of-becoming-the-president/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 22:08:19 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141148 Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

You may have heard of Global Citizenship Education (GCED), but unless you move in international development circles, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the acronym means.

Speaking at a seminar on this very issue at the United Nations headquarters on Jun. 15, Sofia Garcia-Garcia of SOS Children’s Villages, a care organisation striving to meet the needs of over 80,000 children in 133 countries worldwide, provided an excellent summary.

Recounting a recent project undertaken by the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which Garcia’s organisation is a member, she explained what happened when 1,080 kids and adolescents from 10 Latin American countries were consulted about their own priorities for the U.N.’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education. It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity." -- Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria.
“SOS works with children without parental care, and they are usually children with very, very low self esteem,” Garcia told a packed conference room Monday.

“But within 10 minutes of us explaining the initiative and saying, ‘We want to hear your voice, you are the agent of change’, children who didn’t even consider themselves as speakers were suddenly wanting to be the president of the country.”

The exercise concluded with the publication of ‘The World We Want’, an illustrated, child-friendly version of the 17 proposed SDGs.

“This is the real power of global citizenship education,” Garcia-Garcia asserted.

Backed by several missions including the Republic of Korea and the United States, and co-sponsored by civil society groups like CONCORD – an alliance of over 2,600 NGOs across Europe – as well as the 12-million member Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the panel served as a knowledge platform to share some of the key components of GCED.

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education,” stressed Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria. “It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity: all other rights should be contingent on the right to education.”

But our current reality does not reflect his convictions. We are living in a world where 58 million children are out of school and a further 100 million children do not complete primary education, according to the latest Education for All global monitoring report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).

Add to this the fact that there are 168 million child labourers, as well as 200 million jobless adults, and the urgency of the situation becomes clear.

All told, some 781 million people globally cannot read or write, a staggering statistic in a world where not only basic literacy but also, increasingly, computer literacy, forms the fine line between a decent life or one of poverty.

However, GCED goes beyond the simple metrics of more bodies in the classroom. In short, the concept of global citizenship refers to a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity,” according to UNESCO.

It aims to transform classroom pedagogy, create bonds of cultural understanding and civic consciousness and forge a global citizenry for the 21st century based on human rights, peace and equity. While advocacy is happening on a global scale, implementation of GCED will be local in nature, undertaken in accordance with countries’ education ministries and tailored to meet the specific needs of states, or communities.

GCED recognises that basic literacy alone is not sufficient to level the playing field in a world plagued with inequalities, where the wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries has risen from 35:1 during the colonial era to 80:1 today, and where the richest 85 people own more riches between them than 50 percent of the global population.

Rather, it is the quality of education that will close wealth gaps and ensure such elusive goals as peace, security and the curbing of violent extremism.

Calling attention to the increasing number of people from the developed world heading for “theatres of war in the Middle East”, Nigerian Ambassador Sarki asked, “Can we really say these people are not educated? Many of them are. Indeed, masterminds of terrorist activity are highly educated people – the question is, what kind of education have they had? We can be educated, and remain narrow-minded,” he stated.

The concept of GCED dates back to 2012 when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Education First Initiative, and after much advocacy in which the Republic of Korea has played a major role, the initiative has been incorporated into the Zero Draft outcome document for the post-2015 agenda, to be finalized during negotiations at the end of the month.

Already, scores of international and grassroots initiatives centered on GCED are springing to life, or bearing fruit.

For instance, global citizenship education is one of the key strategic areas in UNESCO’s 2014-2017 education programme, while groups like SOS Children’s Villages have put the concept at the front and centre of their work by undertaking unique forms of education in order to include some of the most vulnerable groups.

Garcia-Garcia, SOS’s post-2015 advisor, told IPS that the organisation works very closely with families at risk of separation or with children who have lost parental care so, “for us, non-formal education is as essential as formal education”.

“There are lots of places to learn,” she told IPS on the sidelines of Monday’s event, “and the classroom is just one of them.”

This kind of thinking will be vital to extending the boons of GCED to the world’s indigenous people who number some 370 million and many of whom are locked in a struggle to preserve ancient forms of knowledge sharing, from local languages to oral histories.

With indigenous communities pushing hard for a place in the post-2015 agenda, global citizenship education could offer the out-of-the-box strategies needed to bring hitherto marginalized peoples into a more inclusive and sustainable framework.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World’s Nuke Arsenal Declines Haltingly While Modernisation Rises Rapidlyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/worlds-nuke-arsenal-declines-haltingly-while-modernisation-rises-rapidly/#comments Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:59:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141136 Every nuclear power is spending millions to upgrade their arsenals, experts say. Credit: National Nuclear Security Administration/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

The world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, held by nine states, just got a little smaller.

But modernisation continues to rise rapidly, warns the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in its annual 2015 Yearbook released Monday."An opportunity has been lost to push for a safer Middle East without weapons of mass destruction." -- Tariq Rauf of SIPRI

The study said the total number of nuclear warheads in the world is declining, primarily due to the United States and Russia continuing to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

“But this is at a slower pace compared with a decade ago,” the Yearbook said.

At the same time, both countries have “extensive and expensive” long-term modernisation programmes under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production.

Currently, there are nine states—the United States, Russia, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea – armed with approximately 15,850 nuclear weapons, of which 4,300 were deployed with operational forces.

Roughly 1,800 of these weapons are being kept in a state of high operational alert.

“Despite renewed international interest in prioritizing nuclear disarmament, the modernisation programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states suggests that none of them will give up their nuclear arsenals in the foreseeable future,” says SIPRI Senior Researcher Shannon Kile.

Asked for her response, Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and who serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS the disheartening news from SIPRI’s report is that all nine nuclear weapons states are modernising their nuclear arsenals – and particularly the five major nuclear weapons states: the United States, Russia, UK, France and China.

All five countries, she pointed out, actually pledged, in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was extended indefinitely in 1995, “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.

Nevertheless, this disregard of promises given and repeated at successive five-year NPT review conferences – with the U.S., for example, projecting expenditures of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for two new bomb factories, missiles, planes and submarines to deliver newly designed nuclear weapons – has given fresh impetus to an international campaign by non-nuclear weapons states to negotiate a treaty to ban the bomb, declaring nuclear weapons illegal and prohibited – just as the world has done for chemical and biological weapons, said Slater.

Besides the United States and Russia, SIPRI said the nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so.

In the case of China, this may involve a modest increase in the size of its nuclear arsenal, said SIPRI.

India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon production capabilities and developing new missile delivery systems.

North Korea appears to be advancing its military nuclear programme, but its technical progress is difficult to assess based on open sources, according to the Yearbook.

The latest SIPRI report follows the failure of an NPT review conference in New York last month.

Tariq Rauf, SIPRI’s director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme, expressed disappointment over the failure of the review conference in which 161 states participated “with little to show for their effort.”

He said agreement on a final document was blocked by the United States, with the support of Britain and Canada – “their reason being that they were adamantly opposed to putting pressure on Israel to attend an international conference in March 2016 to ban nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and ballistic missiles in the region of the Middle East”.

Israel is the only country in the Middle East that has never joined the NPT and is reported to have nuclear weapons, he pointed out.

Other important issues discussed at the conference included the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW), an initiative supported by 159 non-nuclear-weapon States drawing on the results of international conferences held in Oslo (2013), Nayarit (2014) and Vienna (2014) – where it was made clear that no State, no international relief organisation nor any other entity has the capacity to deal with the humanitarian, environmental, food and socio-economic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation.

These States called for a legally-binding prohibition on nuclear weapons, such as the prohibitions on biological and chemical weapons.

The five declared nuclear-weapon States – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, also the veto-wielding members of the Security Council – rejected all such demands and firmly insisted that their nuclear weapons were not at any risk of accidental or deliberate detonation.

“Thus, an opportunity has been lost to push for a safer Middle East without weapons of mass destruction, and for steps leading to the global elimination of nuclear weapons – at least until the next five-yearly NPT Review Conference in held in 2020,” Rauf added.

No one should take any comfort in this, neither the 192 parties to the NPT nor the non-parties, India, Israel and Pakistan, because the dangers of nuclear weapons affect everyone on this planet, said Rauf, a former senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency (2002-2012) dealing with nuclear verification, non-proliferation and disarmament.

Slater told IPS there has been a successful series of conferences with civil society and governments over the past two years – in Norway, Mexico and Austria – to address the catastrophic humanitarian consequence of nuclear war.

At the recent NPT, which broke up in failure without a consensus document, 107 nations signed on to a humanitarian pledge, offered by Austria, to “fill the legal gap” for nuclear disarmament.

Unwilling to be held hostage to the “security” concerns of the nuclear weapons states, the non-nuclear weapons states have pledged to press forward to outlaw nuclear weapons without them.

She said South Africa was particularly eloquent, comparing the current regime of nuclear haves and have-nots to a form of “nuclear apartheid”.

After the 70th anniversary of the tragic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is expected that negotiations will begin, she said.

While some argue that this would be ineffective without the participation of the nuclear weapons states, great pressure will be brought to bear on the “weasel” states, who mouth their fealty to nuclear disarmament, while sheltering in military alliances under the U.S. nuclear umbrella, said Slater.

Last week, the Dutch parliament, a NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) state, dependent on U.S. nuclear protection, voted to support the Humanitarian Pledge to fill the legal gap.

“One should expect more weakening of the nuclear phalanx, striding the world and holding us all hostage, as NATO states and Asian allies relying on U.S. nuclear deterrence feel the approbation of a vibrant grassroots campaign, around the world, working for a ban treaty,” said Slater.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Q&A: Better Students, Better Citizens, Better World: Education Is the Key to Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/qa-better-students-better-citizens-better-world-education-is-the-key-to-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-better-students-better-citizens-better-world-education-is-the-key-to-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/qa-better-students-better-citizens-better-world-education-is-the-key-to-peace/#comments Sun, 14 Jun 2015 14:33:32 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141126 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Amb. Choong-hee Han. Credit UN Photo/ Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Amb. Choong-hee Han. Credit UN Photo/ Mark Garten

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 14 2015 (IPS)

In a world where high levels of social and religious intolerance, conflicts, violent extremism and environmental degradation are threatening justice and peace, the United Nations is trying to find ways to maintain world order and promote sustainable development.

This year, the drafting of the post-2015 U.N. agenda, which has set up the targets for the next 15 years of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represents a turning point for achieving development worldwide.We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

Finding a solution to 21st century challenges requires the creation of a fresh, universally-based, inclusive and transformative paradigm. The key to this paradigm is Global Citizenship Education (GCED).

Great emphasis has been placed on the role of education since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the “Global Education First Initiative”, in 2012, which put GCED as one of its main principles.

Following the 2015 resolution adopted by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on the necessity to conceptualise and implement policies concerning global citizenship education, and the adoption of the Incheon Declaration on the Future of Education adopted at the World Education Forum (May 19-22), hosted in Seoul, major steps forward have been made in relation to GCED.

Advocates say the next step is to include GCED within the education targets in the SDGs that will be ratified in September in New York.

A seminar to raise awareness and spread the concept of GCED will be held on Jun. 15, organised by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the U.N., along with the collaboration of the Permanent Missions of the United States, Nigeria, Qatar, France, the UNESCO, international organisations and NGOs.

In an interview with IPS, the Permanent Deputy Representative of Korea, Choong-Hee Hahn, spoke about GCED and its relevance for building a more peaceful world.

Q: What is Global Citizenship Education?

A: Generally, education is defined in functional terms, such as access to schools and quality of education in preparation of a professional career. But the new framework of GCED should focus on orientation.

There are three main aspects that GCED should promote. Firstly, the “sense of being”, teaching students, since their early age, about what kind of citizens they should become. They should be sensitised about future challenges, such as climate change, intolerance and violent extremisms.

Secondly, the “sense of responsibility and privilege of being a global citizen.” GCED should include multicultural diversity and mutual respect, by understanding the real meaning of fundamental and human rights values, dignity and democracy.

Thirdly, “compassion and empathy”. The revolutionary aspect of GCED is its holistic approach to education, rather than advancing to next the level of education or job searching. This is the best approach to cope with our Century complexities.

Another important concept of GCED is inclusiveness.

Hatred and violence come from a sense of isolation, and a lack interconnectedness. Teaching inclusiveness, embracing different social, political and economic aspects. In this way, people will feel respected and will play an active role tin the society.

Q: Why is Korea leading GCED?

A: It is because of the rapid development Korea went through in the past decades. Thinking about the history of Korea, we experienced immense poverty. However, by investing in education, and through the promotion of democratic values we reached development.

Today, Korea is very multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious, based on the respect of human rights. Christians, Muslims Confucians and Buddhists live cohesively together. We are a positive example of education, tolerance and peace. As a role model, we would like to contribute and raise awareness on GCED without bias nor prefixed prejudices.

Q: Why bringing GCED within the U.N. agenda post-2015 development agenda?

A: This is the right time to think about how and why the U.N. is pursuing the new SDGs. The U.N. first priorities are now dignity of people and the planet, along with justice and prosperity. These are value oriented goals and objectives. The U.N. agenda is based on three main pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights. I think all those issues are intertwined with education, and GCED is the solution to peace and security – by promoting tolerance and responsibility – sustainable development –  through inclusiveness and equity – human rights – understanding the privilege of being a human being and democratic values.

Q:What is GCED methodology?

A: Global education should be based on the participation of multiple stakeholders. Not only teachers and students, but also worldwide social, economic, cultural experts, NGOs and youth groups.

GCED should be built on a methodological paradigm, not based on textbooks, but on discussions and participation of all students in the class. New audio-visual methods, and participatory discourses, through fieldwork and exchange programmes. We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

GCED is not about replicating the paradigm of “Enlightenment and Western” values. On the contrary, by focusing on inclusiveness, it aspires to find a world denominator common to developed and developing countries.

However, given that many children still have no access to education, GCED should mobilise funding and concrete means of implementations. GCED should also be participatory and content-sharing.

To do so, it is important to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) through the use of internet, computers, and mobile phones, even in the remotest areas of the planet, along with the support of the private sector. For instance, in Korea, we are leading several educational projects with private companies such as Samsung .

Q: What are the main challenges to GCED?

A: Unfortunately there are still huge financial gaps and inequalities among countries.

Recently, a proposal for a global fund for education was put forward, but it is not easy, as there are already many other funds, such as funds to finance development or the Green Climate Fund.

There is the Global Partnership for Education, the existing global fund which helps developing countries to get access to education for all.

However, we need more financial resources, improved capacity building, and more ICT equipment to deploy in developing countries.

An additional challenge is the fact that education is not yet perceived as a top priority in many government agendas. This is the real problem. As long as there are not enough investments by local authorities in national education, Global Education will be impossible to achieve. Therefore, it is fundamental the collaboration of the private sector in developing an ethical Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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