Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 Jan 2017 15:37:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Trump to Pull Out of the UN, Expel It from the US?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-to-pull-out-of-the-un-expel-it-from-the-us/#comments Tue, 24 Jan 2017 14:38:27 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148646 By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 24 2017 (IPS)

So far, Donald Trump’s first decisions as president of the United States have left no doubt that he intends to implement his electoral threats, while most likely not fulfilling the promises he made as a candidate.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America |  Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. | Author: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America | Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.

Barely 48 hours after his inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, a shocking report was circulated saying that “A bill was introduced early January that calls for the removal of the United States from the United Nations.

According to the Congress website, H.R. 193 — known as the American Sovereignty Restoration Act — was introduced to the House on January 3 and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

While its official title says it seeks to end membership in the U.N., there are several other key components of the bill which include: ending the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters will be housed in the U.S., ending peacekeeping operations, removing diplomatic immunity, and ending participation in the World Health Organization.

Should the bill pass, the Act and its amendments will go into effect two years after it has been signed.”

It Is Real

During a UN briefing on Jan. 23, a correspondent noted, “There is a call from the US Congress by five… resolution drafted by five or six congressmen calling on the United States to withdraw its membership from the United Nations.”

The UN Spokesman answered: “We’re not going to comment on draft legislation that is floating around a legislative body.”

So such draft legislation is there.

More explicitly, a US academic, a professor of politics who closely monitors US-UN relations, told IPS the proposed legislation is “real.”

“But it only has six sponsors at this point (a handful of far right and libertarian Republicans), so I doubt it will get very far.”

Regardless of the number of sponsors and if and when it would pass or not, the fact is that the Trump administration’s intention to withdraw from the world’s multilateral body could easily be implemented.

In fact, it would be enough that Washington refrains from paying its share in the UN budget – or even just delaying it — to make the whole structure collapse.

The UN, Bankrupted

This would happen at one of the worst moments for the United Nations’ finances. The world body is, in fact, now bankrupted. Day after day, its agencies – from the children’s fund to the refugees agency — launch desperate appeals for funds to meet the ongoing unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

Moreover, an eventual US withdrawal would leave the UN in the hands of big private corporations. Actually, several transnational private businesses have over the last few years been among the major UN humanitarian operations’ funders.

Such a scenario would lead this unique multilateral system to be run by big business pundits. This risk should not be discarded, as the UN would in this case provide a needed “legal” coverage to their actions, whatever these would be.

In other words, the UN de facto is already being transformed into a private corporation, funded and guided by big private business that needs to keep its formal, legal umbrella wide open to handle everything… legally.

The UN? Just a Club!

President Trump’s thoughts regarding the UN were summarised in one of his tweets, in which he wrote: “The UN has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”

But that “… get together, talk and have a good time” is certainly not the case for the millions of women and girls who make up 71 per cent of all victims of human trafficking, as reported just a month ago by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Let alone the fact that children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide.

Neither is it the case for the one third of women aged 20 to 24 who were child brides, nor that every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence, as stated in UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report released in July last year.

Not to mention the 2.4 billion people who lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options, and that 16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

All these victims of human rights violations, which have been often perpetrated by US-led military coalitions and/or other members of the UN Security Council, and have been suffering the direct of indirectly consequences of massive war interventions, have so far depended on the UN assistance.

Maybe it would be right to remind here that many key United Nations bodies were created seven decades ago mostly to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of victims of the European conflict that became World War II.

UNICEF, for instance, aided up to five million European children.

Who Would Host the World Body?

Then comes a second point: which country would eventually host the United Nations, should the proposed bill end the 1947 agreement that the U.N. headquarters be housed in the US? And who would afford replacing the US contribution to its budget?

The US shoulders 22 per cent of the world body’s budget in exchange for a non-written pact that an equivalent percentage of key, decision-making staff would be appointed by the US administration.

The total regular UN budget for the year 2016-17 amounts to 5.6 billion dollars, of which the US contributes 610.836.578 dollars, according to the UN report “Contributions by Member States to the United Nations regular budget for the year 2017.”

Japan contributes the second highest share with 9.68 per cent, followed by China (7.921 per cent), Germany (6.389 per cent), France (4.859 per cent) and UK (4.463 per cent) in the top five. Brazil contributes about 3.823 per cent and is 6th in this list.

None of the current major contributors to the UN budget would clearly be able to replace the US share, plus its own.

Moreover, European powers are still facing the consequences of the financial crisis that was created in 2007 by giant private financial corporations based in the US and Europe.

Add to this the fact that they are all now witnessing a growing scenario of the rise of right-wing, ultra-conservative, xenophic, nationalist, and populist parties who clamorously cheer Donald Trump’s ascension to power.

In short, Trump seems to be seriously determined to carry out his electoral threats, while failing his populist promises.

To start with, his decision to trash the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), or the so-called Obamacare, a health care system which was enacted by President Barack Obama on March 2010.

Under this Act, hospitals and primary physicians would transform their practices financially, technologically, and clinically to drive better health outcomes, lower costs, and improve their methods of distribution and accessibility.

That Act was abolished on Trump’s first business day, threatening the health benefits of millions of US citizens, who he promised to place at the top of his priorities.

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Were UN Plans to Ban Nukes Pre-empted by Trump?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/were-un-plans-to-ban-nukes-pre-empted-by-trump/#comments Thu, 19 Jan 2017 23:16:16 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148579 A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

A UN meeting on the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 19 2017 (IPS)

UN member states wanting to ban nuclear weapons may make little headway in 2017, after US President-elect Donald Trump pre-empted their agreement by proposing to expand the United States nuclear arsenal.

In one of their final decisions of 2016, the UN General Assembly agreed to hold a conference in March 2017 to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

123 the UN’s 193 member states supported the General Assembly resolution which initiated the conference. Notable votes against the resolution included: France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Russia, The United Kingdom and the United States. Aside from China, which abstained, the no votes included all of the countries permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the current UN non-proliferation treaty which was adopted in 1968.

"This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don't see Trump having a significant impact," -- Beatrice Fihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

The 1968 treaty bans all UN member states except China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States from owning nuclear weapons and commits those states to eventually eliminating their atomic arsenals, pledges that have been ignored. Iraq, North Korea, Iran (and, unofficially, Israel) have all violated the treaty by developing nuclear weapons, and it is widely seen as requiring renegotiation to be effective. Should Donald Trump pursue his ambitions, it could put the treaty in jeopardy.

However the resolution – which was adopted on 23 December – was foreshadowed by a tweet by President-elect Donald Trump on 22 December where he stated: “United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”. Trump also mentioned that dismantling Obama’s long-negotiated Iran nuclear agreement was his “number one priority”.

Some have seen these comments as an act of assertion aimed at strengthening his negotiating position upon arriving in the Oval Office, as Trump has already reversed his position on issues to which he pledged support.

Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons has described these statements as ‘nuclear-sabre rattling’ and the challenge to implementing the treaty as imperative.

“The Obama administration was very hostile to the idea of a ban treaty,” Fihn told IPS, despite Obama’s comments to the contrary, “and there’s no expectation that Trump will be more friendly. This treaty will be negotiated with or without US support, so I don’t see Trump having a significant impact. However, his rhetoric should definitely serve as a motivation for all of us. It’s a signal that the nuclear-armed states are not interested in real progress.”

Chief among the issues that would comprise a treaty is the Iranian nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a long-negotiated tool many on the Security Council are seeking to protect.

Fihn and representatives from other non-proliferation organisations are awaiting clearer statements from Trump’s administration before establishing their strategies, an approach that may have worked when dealing with previous administrations but may face unprecedented difficulty today. Trump has spoken before about the value of being unpredictable when it comes to nuclear weapons as a means to keep other leaders, both friends and enemies, keen to appease.

Unpredictability is also the hallmark of North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un. In his New Year’s address, Kim warned that North Korean engineers were in the “final stage” of preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile. Provoking a disbelieving response from Trump and more cautious tones from China and South Korea.

The most recent attempt at a nonproliferation review treaty in 2015 was unsuccessful, largely because of the failure of efforts to engage Iran and Israel. Both countries still absorb a disproportionate amount of the efforts to implement a treaty.

In an address to the IAEA Conference Commit to Further Strengthening Nuclear Security, Director General Yukiya Amano reinforced the socioeconomic value of nuclear technology as not remaining the preserve of wealthy countries. “Terrorists and criminals will try to exploit any vulnerability in the global nuclear security system, and any country could become the target of an attack. That is why effective international cooperation is vital.”

According to the findings of a congressional study into international arms sales that found that the sale of global arms dropped in 2015 to $80bn from 2014’s $89bn with the US responsible for around half of all sales.

Over the next decade, the United States is expected to spend around half a trillion dollars on maintenance and upkeep of delivery systems of its nuclear weapons armoury, considerably larger than the Department of Defence claims is required to deter a nuclear attack.

“The treaty needs a strong and clear prohibition on use and possession of nuclear weapons but it will be a challenge to make sure the prohibition will cover other relevant activities too,” says Fihn, “such as assistance to other states not party to the treaty.”

“It will also be a lot of work to get as many states as possible to engage in the negotiations and sign it. And of course a real challenge will be the implementation of the treaty, once it’s in place – we need to make sure the treaty has a real impact.”

The conference is scheduled to run from March 27-31.

Correction: an earlier version of the this article referred to Beatrice Kihn, International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. It should have read Beatrice Fihn.

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Trump’s UN Pick: “UN Could Benefit from a Fresh Set of Eyes”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trumps-un-pick-un-could-benefit-from-a-fresh-set-of-eyes/#comments Wed, 18 Jan 2017 21:46:01 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148558 Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Samantha Power, outgoing Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the UN, addressing the council after a controversial vote on Israeli Settlements in December 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 18 2017 (IPS)

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, nominated to be the next U.S. Ambassador to the UN, outlined her vision of a strong U.S. role in the human rights institution at a confirmation hearing today.

Noting her potential role as a “fresh set of eyes” and an “outsider,” Haley highlighted the need for a strong U.S. leadership position at the UN.

“When America fails to lead, the world becomes a dangerous place. And when the world becomes more dangerous, the American people become more vulnerable,” she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, adding that she will bring back the U.S.’ “indispensable voice of freedom.”

When asked about Russia, Haley expressed caution in trusting them but suggested that their government could be an asset.

“Russia is trying to show their muscle right now…and we have to continue to be very strong back. We need to let them know that we are not okay with what happened in Ukraine and Crimea and what is happening in Syria, but we are also going to tell them that we do need their help with ISIS,” she said.

In her last major speech, current U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power similarly noted U.S. interest in solving problems and cooperating with Russia, but expressed dire concerns over Russia’s “aggressive and destabilizing actions” in Crimea, Syria and its interferences in numerous governments.

“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order. They are tearing down the one that exists. This is what we are fighting against—having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism,” she said.

During her hearing, Haley acknowledged that Russia violated the international order when it invaded Crimea and its actions in Syria constitute war crimes, and that she supports preserving sanctions against the government. She also noted the need to stand up to any and all countries that attempts to interfere with the U.S.

This represents what could be perceived as a break with President-elect Trump who has previously denied intelligence pointing to Russian involvement in the recent U.S. elections.

In recent comments, President-elect Trump also suggested easing sanctions against Russia in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. He additionally criticised the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), calling it “obsolete.”

When asked about these comments, Haley again differentiated her position from Trump’s:

“It is important that we have alliances…I think as we continue to talk to him about these alliances and how they can be helpful and strategic, I do anticipate he will listen to all of us and hopefully we can get him to see it the way we see it,” she said.

“I’m going to control the part that I can,” she continued.

Haley also blasted the UN for what she described as its “biased” position on Israel during the hearing, stating: “Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than its bias against our close ally Israel.”

Like President-elect Trump, Haley particularly criticised the recent passage of a Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, calling it a “terrible mistake” that makes a peace agreement even harder to achieve.

During the vote in December, the U.S. broke with long-standing foreign policy towards Israel by abstaining, rather than vetoing. The other 14 members of the 15 member council all voted for the resolution.

Haley vowed to never abstain when the UN takes action that comes in direct conflict with U.S. interests, including actions against Israel.

She highlighted the need for UN reforms, stating that the goal is to “create an international body that better serves the American people.” To bring about changes, Haley suggested using U.S. funding as leverage.

“We are a generous nation but we must ask ourselves what good is being accomplished by this disproportionate contribution. Are we getting what we paid for?” she asked. She pointed to the Human Rights Council as an example, questioning their role in supporting and promoting human rights while countries such as Cuba and China are members.

The U.S. currently contributes 22 percent of the UN’s budget.

Recent legislation proposed by two U.S. Republican Senators would see the United States withdraw its funding not only to the UN Secretariat but also to the entire UN-system, including UNICEF, the UN Development Program and UN Women.

Though initially stating that she would not “shy away” from withdrawing U.S. funds to achieve reforms, Haley later backtracked and said that she does not support a “slash and burn” approach in terms of pulling funding from the UN when there are undesirable outcomes, but rather use funds as leverage to help make agencies more effective.

Haley is a South Carolina-born daughter of Indian immigrants and is the first female and first minority governor of her state. She gained national attention after calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. Haley will replace Ambassador Power as the only woman on the 15-member council.

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Mário Soares, a Rebel with a Cause – Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/mario-soares-a-rebel-with-a-cause-freedom/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 08:07:08 +0000 an IPS Correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148456 Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Photo: Mario Soares attending a rally to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, 25 April 2014 in Lisbon. Photo: FraLiss. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

By an IPS Correspondent
LISBON, Jan 10 2017 (IPS)

Hardly a leader could reap so much respect, even from most relentless political rivals, both throughout his life and after his death on Jan 7 at the age of 92, like Portuguese Mário Soares.

Characterised as “an indefatigable political animal,” by the New York Times, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres hailed the commitment to freedom and democracy that made Soares “one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature.”

The UN chief, who is himself Portuguese, said Soares has left an “indelible mark” on political life in Portugal, the result of his “steadfast and courageous political commitment and the principles and values that he consistently pursued throughout his life. Liberty was always his foundational value.”

Soares Legacy Goes Far Beyond Portugal – UN Chief

To a great extent, Guterres said, we are indebted to him for the democracy, the freedom and the respect for fundamental rights that all Portuguese have been able to enjoy in recent decades, and that are today established values in our country.”

Paying tribute to Soares, “who will, I am certain, remain in our memory and in the history of our country as a man of freedom, who wanted all to live in liberty, and fought for his entire life to realize that hope,” the UN Secretary-General added that the late leader’s legacy goes far beyond Portugal.

Indeed, this is not only because Soares was responsible for Portugal’s full integration into the international community, “but also because his commitment to freedom and democracy make him one of those rare political leaders of true European and global stature,” concluded Guterres.

Mário Soares was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1976 to 1978 in the aftermath of the Carnation Revolution that ended decades of right-wing dictatorship. He returned as PM in the early 1980s, and served as Portugal’s president between 1986 and 1996.

After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal’s democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.

The Carnation Revolution

Soares played a key role after the 1974 Carnation Revolution –a military-led coup that soon turned in a massive popular movement of civil protest characterised by carnations that were handed out and placed in the barrels of soldiers’ rifles and tanks—that put an end to 48 years of Salazar rule.

A fierce critic of the military Junta that ruled Portugal for the next two years, Soares in 1976 became the first post-war democratically elected prime minister.

Soares spearheaded the country’s entry into the European Union. But, in recent years, he became a vocal critic of the austerity policies associated with the massive euro-zone bailout Portugal sought in 2011.

He left the presidency in 1996 after the maximum tenure in the office permitted under the constitution, with his popularity at a peak. For years, he remained one of the country’s most influential politicians.

He ran again for president in 2006 at the age of 82, but finished in third.

“President Mário Soares was born and graduated to be a fighter, to have a cause to fight – freedom,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said. “Soares never gave up on a free Portugal, a free Europe, a free world and what was decisive… he was always victorious.”

IPS President and Member of International Board of Trustees

As part of his unflagging commitment to freedom –in this case freedom of expression—lawyer, historian and politician Mário Soares, chaired the International Board of Trustees of Inter Press Service (IPS).

He graduated in Historical-Philosophical Sciences in 1951 and in Law in 1957 at Lisbon University. He taught at a private secondary school and was director of the Colégio Moderno, in Lisbon.

Soares practised law for some years and during his exile in France he was “Chargé de Cours” at Vincennes University and at the Sorbonne. He was associate professor at the Faculty of Arts of Haute Bretagne (Rennes).

More recently, he was guest professor in International Relations at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra.

Mário Soares was the fourth president of IPS International Board of Trustees, succeeding the agency’s founder, Roberto Savio; former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari, and former Prime Minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu. UNESCO’s former director general, Federico Mayor Zaragoza, succeeded Mario Soares as president of IPS International Board of Trustees.

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Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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January Brings Changes for UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:55:53 +0000 Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148419 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Five of the UN Security Council’s 15 seats were filled by new members this week, but a bigger shift in the council is expected later this month under the new US administration.

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Italy replaced outgoing non-permanent members Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Angola and Venezuela.

They will join the other five non-permanent members – Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – as well as the five permanent members of the council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The council’s five permanent members are considered to be the most powerful, since they hold the ability to veto any vote they disagree with.

This is why the change in the United States administration may signal a greater political shift in the council than the rotation of non-permanent members.

The possible change was foreshadowed by President-elect Trump in December following a controversial vote on Israeli settlements.

The United States took the surprise decision to abstain from the vote condemning Israeli settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank, rather than using its veto power.

“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote took place.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – defended the abstention saying, “Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Power is expected to be replaced by Trump’s pick for the council, Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina, after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

However Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog downplayed the political implications of the change in US administration for the Security Council.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone from the administration of the President-elect, but I expect that when they come to look at the work we’re doing they’ll see it is in the interests of the United States,” Skoog told journalists on Tuesday.

With January bringing a new US president, a changed Security Council and a new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Skoog said that he hoped to harness this “spirit of newness” to spur momentum into the Council’s work.

However Skoog said he was not expecting particular challenges to the Security Council’s work to come from the incoming US administration, with whom he said he looked forward to collaborating.

Skoog described Power as a strong voice with whom he shares many views. He said he also had a working relationship with Haley, but would not be drawn on possible changes regarding Israeli-Palestinian policy within the council.

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, putting it at odds with Trump’s pro-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he hoped Italy could bring the Israel-Palestine conflict “to the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda,” during their month as president in November. Migration from the Middle East and Syria are also expected to be among the issues Italy will prioritise. Italy will be represented by Ambassador Sebastiano Card.

In a new and unusual step, Italy will share its security council seat with the Netherlands due to an impasse vote in the UN General Assembly for the final European seat. Italy will sit on the council in 2016 and the Netherlands in 2017. Gentiloni described the move as “a message of unity between European countries.”

2016 will be the first time that Kazakhstan will sit on the Security Council. The Central Asian country – which is keen to be seen as a major international power – will be represented by the ex-Ambassador to the United States Mr Kairat Umarov.

Kazakhstan – a part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone – may also bring a different perspective to Security Council discussions on nuclear non-proliferation. President-elect Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons have signalled that this may be an area high on the UN’s agenda in 2017.

Succeeding Venezuela as the Latin American representative, and holding a seat on the Council for the first time since 1979, is Bolivia. The plurinational state is represented by the Sacha Llorenti, a published author who spent two years at the President of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and was a minister in the government of Evo Morales.

Llorenti resigned from the ministry in 2011 following a violent police response to protesters marching against the building of a road through the Amazon rainforest. This was not the first time Llorenti was involved in clashes between indigenous populations and infrastructure.

Ethiopia replaces Angola and joins Senegal as an African representative on the Council. Ethiopia has become a major contributor of over 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping operations. However in 2016, Ethiopia faced political instability within its own borders amid crackdowns on protestors.

In its first month on the council, Sweden has also taken up the rotating position of President. Skoog told press on Tuesday that the council’s priorities for January would include Syria, South Sudan and the Congo.

Skoog also highlighted massive population displacement, diminishing resources and rise of Boko Haram in Lake Chad region as detailed by Oxfam in a report entitled Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis, which draws parallels between climate change, terrorism and national security.

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New UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Takes Officehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/new-un-secretary-general-antonio-guterres-takes-office/#comments Tue, 03 Jan 2017 20:38:52 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148392 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres (centre) arrives at UN headquarters. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 3 2017 (IPS)

Antonio Guterres of Portugal officially took up his position as ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations Tuesday morning, beginning his duties by addressing UN staff in New York.

Guterres emphasised the urgency of addressing the plight of refugees and displaced populations, calling out richer nations for their negligence in addressing their global responsibilities, an issue many expect him to target upon taking office.

“We live in a world in which conflicts multiply and are interlinked with this new phenomenon of global terrorism,” said Guterres. “Conflicts in which international humanitarian law is not respected, situations in which we see massive human rights violations, even refugee law is no longer as respected as it was few years ago. I remember the times when mostly borders would be open and now we see borders closed, now people do not even have the right to be a refugee in many parts of the world.”

“We live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis" -- Antonio Guterres

In his speech Guterres also emphasised the importance of multilateralism to address global problems.

“When one looks at the global mega-trends of population growth, climate change, and other aspects that are interlinked, we see that we live in a world where problems became global and there is no way they can be solved on a country by country basis.”

Prior to becoming Secretary-General – a role he will initially hold for five years – Guterres was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from 2005 to 2015.

He oversaw the UNHCR during a time when the number of displaced persons worldwide grew to its highest number since World War II, exceeding 65 million. He is recognised for having managed the UNHCR’s response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa while also cutting staff and administrative costs and instituting wide-ranging reform of the organisation. He has pledged to bring a similar approach to the UN.

A number of key positions appointed by Guterres embraces diverse representation in the upper echelons of the organisation, and address the lack of gender parity to which previous Secretaries General had pledged to reform.

Nigeria’s Minister for the Environment Amina J. Mohammed was appointed Deputy Secretary-General. Under-Secretary for Asia and the Pacific at the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti becomes Chef de Cabinet. Guterres created the role of Special Adviser on Policy, Kyunga-wha Kang of South Korea who has previously served as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator. The role of Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in the Executive Office will be filled by Fabrizio Hochschild, former Deputy Special Representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic.

Spokesman for the Secretary General Stéphane Dujarric told a press conference that Guterres’ biggest challenge was to work with member states on achieving peace. “Many people are suffering from war and man-made disasters. He will focus on trying to meet the expectations that people have of this organisation (the UN).”

Dujarric also hinted that Guterres would be an open Secretary General. “As you’ll have seen if you’ve observed his career for the last ten years, he does hold press conferences frequently.”

Guterres was also quick to recognise the scale of the problems and the need for unity among the UN’s 193 member states to address them.

“I think it is useful to say that there are no miracles, and I am sure I am not a miracle-maker. And the only way for us to be able to achieve our goals is to really work together as a team, and to be able to deserve to serve the noble values enshrined in the Charter, that are the values of the UN, that are the values that unite mankind.”

The outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described Guterres as a “wonderful choice” to lead the United Nations. “He is perhaps best known where it counts most: on the frontlines of armed conflict and humanitarian suffering.” Guterres inherits a complicated Syrian peace process; the highest number of migrant populations since the 1940s; increased tension between Israel and Palestinian; and a renewed push to admonish countries projected to fail to reach agreed climate change targets.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Arms Trade Treaty Falling Down in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 21:06:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148319 A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Two years after the UN Arms Trade Treaty entered into force many of the governments which championed the treaty are failing to uphold it, especially when it comes to the conflict in Yemen.

“In terms of implementation, the big disappointment is Yemen,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms, a civil society organisation dedicated to the treaty, told IPS.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty – and indeed who still champion it as a great achievement in international disarmament and security – are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” she added.

The Saudi-led international coalition has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is known to have violated humanitarian law by bombing civilian targets, including hospitals.

The conflict in Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East – has displaced over 3 million people since it began in March 2015 according to the UN.

However many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and France, that have signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite this violating their commitments under the treaty.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty ... are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Anna Macdonald, Control Arms.

Currently 90 UN member states are parties to the treaty, which Macdonald says is a relatively high number for such a new and complex treaty, but the goal remains universalisation, she adds. The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. However while the U.K. and France have ratified the treaty, the U.S. has only signed the treaty.

Parties to the treaty are obligated to ensure that weapons they sell will not be used to violate international humanitarian law, commit genocide or commit crimes against humanity.

The U.K.’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of intense debate in British parliament.

Saudi authorities recently confirmed that they have used UK-made cluster munitions in Yemen.

“Evidence of cluster munition use has been available for almost a year, but the U.K. has ignored and disputed it, trusting instead in the Saudi-led coalition’s denials,” said Macdonald.

“The UK is continuing to ignore the vast amount of information of violations of human rights and the laws of war in Yemen, (recent developments) make even plainer how unfeasible such a position is.”

The UK which sold the weapons to Saudi Arabia in 1989 has since signed up to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which prohibits the sale of cluster munitions because of their indiscriminate nature, Macdonald added.

Meanwhile recent reports suggest the United States is curtailing at least some of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“The U.S. has said it will halt the sale of precision-guided aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia because they have seen “systemic, endemic problems with Saudi Arabia’s targeting” that the U.S. says has led to high numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen,” said Macdonald.

However she noted that it is hard to know what effect this will have on policies under the incoming Trump Republican administration.

According to research published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the world’s top three arms exporters are the United States, Russia and China.

India, Saudi Arabia and China are the world’s top three arms importers.

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US Heads for Political Showdown with UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/us-heads-for-political-showdown-with-un/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 16:16:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148317 United Nations Secretariat Building

United Nations Secretariat Building

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

The United States has had a longstanding love-hate relationship with the United Nations ever since 1952 when the world body began operations in New York city on an 18-acre piece of land which housed an abattoir where cattle was being trucked daily for slaughter.

The late Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a fulltime chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a part-time UN basher, once said “providing funds to the UN was like pouring money into a rat hole.”

Former New York city Mayor Ed Koch used a five-letter word to describe the UN: a “sewer”. And one of his successors, Rudolph Giuliani, said he will not miss the UN if it decides to pack up and leave New York.

When the 193-member UN General Assembly voted some of the world’s “repressive regimes” as members of the Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council), Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican of California) hollered: “The inmates have taken over the asylum. And I don’t plan to give the lunatics any more American tax dollars to play with.”

And now, US President-elect Donald Trump, peeved over a Security Council resolution last week chastising Israel over its continued settlements in the occupied territories, has signaled an implicit warning he will review his relationship with the United Nations.

Having been rebuffed by outgoing President Barack Obama who refused to accede to Trump’s appeal to veto the resolution, the incoming President, who will take office on January 20, challenged the effectiveness of the world body and dismissed it as “a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.”

Immediately after the resolution was adopted by a vote of 14–nil, with the US abstaining, he held out a warning: “As to the UN, things will be different after January 20.”

Currently, the US is the biggest single contributor accounting for 22 percent of the UN’s regular biennium budget, followed by Japan (9.7 percent), China (7.9 percent), Germany (6.7 percent) and France (4.8 percent) – all based on a country’s “capacity to pay”.

The UN’s 2016-2017 regular biennium budget amounts to about $5.4 billion, excluding its peacekeeping budget and voluntary contributions to UN Funds and Programmes.

Following the Security Council vote on Friday, Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) said he plans to form a bipartisan coalition to either suspend or reduce US funding for the UN.

And Senator Tom Cotton (Republican-Arkansas) warned that the UN and “nations supporting the resolution (against Israel) have now imperiled all forms of US assistance.”

While the US withheld its veto and abstained on the vote, the other four veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, namely, the UK, France, China and Russia, voted for the resolution, along with the 10 non-permanent members, namely, Angola, Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela.

A defiant Israel was livid, and in retaliation, threatened to build another 5,600 settlements in occupied Jerusalem thereby isolating itself further from the international community.

Jim Paul, former Executive Director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, and who closely monitored the politics of the world body for over 19 years, told IPS the US threat of withholding its dues to the UN has been around for a long time – since the 1980s when it was first proposed by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.

“This threat is effective only if it is believed and acted on by frightened UN officials or member states, who rush to adopt the latest requirements by the bully-state,” he noted.

“It actually might be healthy if the US dues were reduced and the UN were not so dependent on US financing, he added.

Paul pointed out that Swedish Prime Minister the late Olaf Palme once suggested that the UN’s dues structure should be changed so that no single country would pay more than 10 percent of the total budget(s).

“The cost to other states would not be very burdensome and the change might produce some real policy benefits,” said Paul, a well-known speaker and writer on the UN and global policy issues.

Over the years, successive US administrations have manipulated the UN to its own advantage as an extension of US foreign policy.

Paul pointed out that some delegates from governments who are out-of-favour in Washington are constrained to live within a specified distance from the city and some cannot travel beyond that distance in the US without special permission.

Every once in a while, he said, a head of state or other high official will be denied entry and thus an opportunity to speak at the UN.

“How important is this harassment and what does it tell us?”, he asked. It is short of horrendous and well past acceptable.

“We can conclude that Washington likes to remind the other states – and the UN as an institution – that it can do what it pleases and impose its will whether others like it or not.”

In Washington, they like to call this behavior “leadership” but “bully” might be the most appropriate term, said Paul, who frequently served as Chair or Vice Chair of the NGO Working Group on the Security Council.

Despite the 1947 Headquarters Agreement between the US and the UN, which calls on Washington to facilitate the functioning of the UN, the US has denied visas to several heads of governments planning to visit the UN to address the General Assembly or accredited as diplomats.

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS the US was a key player in the creation of the UN and the organisation has served US interests well over the years.

“One might even say that the US has manipulated the UN to serve its global interests,” he argued.

Against this background, to return to the confrontational attitudes of the early 90s, when the US withheld its dues, would be self-defeating, said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN.

He said the US is no longer the only country with overwhelming financial clout.

“To threaten the UN with financial sanctions would only result in the further waning of US influence in the UN and globally. All countries, especially countries like the US, must continue to work together to make the world a better place,” he declared.

Although complaints against the UN have been never ending – including unpaid parking tickets, and tax–free and duty-free privileges for high-ranking UN-based diplomats – US politicians have rarely admitted the political and economic advantages of the presence of the UN on American soil.

And a new report released recently by the Office of the New York city Mayor points out that the UN generates $3.69 billion in total economic output to New York city’s economy.

The 15,890 individuals directly employed by the UN Community took home household earnings of approximately $1.64 billion. These household earnings and the operating expenses of the UN Community helped create and sustain 7,940 jobs for New Yorkers.

Titled “The United Nations Impact Report 2016”, it was released by the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for International Affairs Penny Abeywardena

In 1946, New York City competed with cities from London to San Francisco to host the official headquarters of the UN.

Unlike past Mayors, the current Mayor of New York city Bill de Blasio has been a strong supporter of the UN. “New York City is not only an economic and cultural capital, but a diplomatic one. We are proud to be the host city to the United Nations headquarters and the largest diplomatic community in the world,” he said following the release of the new report.

“The impact of the United Nations stretches far beyond New York City and this study reflects the city’s enduring commitment to supporting this critical institution,” he added

Still the political benefits of the UN to the United States have not been as clearly highlighted.

Kohona told IPS the US, with its vast economic and political influence, has without reluctance, manipulated the UN to justify its actions, including military interventions.

One recalls (former US Secretary of State) Colin Powell’s efforts, with videos and photographs, to convince the Security Council of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq or the intense phone calls to diplomats whose countries were members of the Human Rights Council when a US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka was being taken up for vote at the Council.

He said evidence is also now emerging of the blatant US manipulation of the global media, including with manufactured news, with the objective of influencing diplomatic outcomes.

The current Secretary-General, whose interventions, have generally been on the side of the US, also tends to be influenced by the US and the New York media.

His home being in New York is a factor in this outcome. Perhaps the Secretary-General should rotate his residence around the capitals of the P-5, including in the UK, France, China and Russia.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Historic UN Security Council Vote Condemns Israeli Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148295 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/feed/ 0 Security Council Vote on Israeli Settlements Postponed Indefinitelyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 21:53:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148285 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/feed/ 0 Time to Get Serious about Civilian Protection for Darfurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:20:38 +0000 Jonathan Loeb http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148260 UN Peacekeepers patrolling the South Sudanese village of Yuai in 2012. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS.

UN Peacekeepers patrolling the South Sudanese village of Yuai in 2012. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS.

By Jonathan Loeb
NEW YORK, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

With the future of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur now in jeopardy, the safety and security of the Sudanese region’s most vulnerable communities hangs in the balance.

Although the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council unanimously renewed the mandate of the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) last June, the renewal masks deep divisions within both Councils. Some member states support strengthening the mission, while others accept the Government of Sudan’s position that the war in Darfur is over and that the mission should draw down and ultimately withdraw.

Withdrawal is not a morally legitimate option. The large-scale violence against civilians in Darfur in 2016 demonstrates the urgent need for a robust peacekeeping force.

A more immediate – and addressable – explanation for some of the inaction is the fact that member states are ill-informed about the severity of the abuses that are still taking place in Darfur.

Despite UNAMID’s mandate to use force to protect civilians, it has consistently failed to protect the population during attacks. The mission has, however, provided protection for civilians who are displaced by violence and manage to get themselves to bases or camps secured by peacekeepers. This protection – while inadequate – is indispensable for many of the two-and-a-half million people who remain displaced at the end of 2016 and, in and of itself, justifies the mission’s continued existence.

Whether there is a plausible scenario under which the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council can strengthen the mission to deliver better protection for the people of Darfur is debatable; the history of the international response to the conflict provides little evidence for optimism. The intractable nature of the conflict and the entrenched views of the most powerful members of both Councils present tremendous obstacles to action.

A more immediate – and addressable – explanation for some of the inaction is the fact that member states are ill-informed about the severity of the abuses that are still taking place in Darfur.

During the past three years, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur have been forcibly and unlawfully displaced by government troops using the same scorched-earth tactics that have characterised the war from its outset nearly 14 years ago. The Government of Sudan has gone to great lengths to prevent reporting on this violence. Independent journalists and foreign diplomats are forbidden to travel in Darfur unless they are part of government-chaperoned trips to government-approved locations.

The lack of access has created an information black hole, leaving UNAMID as the only actor on the ground in Darfur with a mandate and responsibility to report about the conflict.

This duty primarily takes the form of the quarterly reports of the UN Secretary General to the Security Council on the situation in Darfur, which include updates on, among other things, conflict dynamics, political developments, the humanitarian situation, human rights and civilian protection.

Unfortunately, the mission’s reporting capabilities are severely hindered by the Government of Sudan. And it stands to reason that the government, which has been accused repeatedly of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, will continue to resist all efforts to document its military activities.

The Secretary General’s reports identify how the government hampers the mission’s reporting, including repeated denials of access to the most conflict-affected parts of Darfur and the refusal to grant visas for the mission’s staff, especially civilian staff working on issues related to human rights and protection. There are other, arguably even more crippling, tactics. These tactics – which are more difficult to prove and are not disclosed in the SG’s reports – include, most notably, the government’s continued monitoring of the mission’s activities. Civilians who speak with UNAMID about sensitive issues, and UNAMID national staff who report on sensitive issues, face a constant risk of arrest and detention.

These significant obstacles notwithstanding, the SG’s reports convey a general impression that the mission is providing the Council with an accurate and reasonably comprehensive assessment of the nature of the conflict and its impact on the civilian population. This impression is false. Reports by the SG and UNAMID frequently mischaracterise the impact of violence on the population and often fail completely to report on gross violations of human rights.

The large-scale violence that occurred in Jebel Marra between January and September 2016 is the most recent example of the UNAMID’s egregious failure to report. Jebel Marra is a 5,000-square kilometre volcanic massif in the centre of Darfur, consisting of approximately 1,500 villages and hamlets. The area has been a stronghold for armed opposition groups throughout the conflict; in 2016, portions of Jebel Marra were the only significant territory in Darfur still held by an armed opposition movement. Access to Jebel Marra has been largely cut-off since 2009, when the Government of Sudan responded to the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir by expelling nearly all the aid agencies operating in the area. No journalist, human rights investigator, humanitarian actor or peacekeeper has been granted any meaningful access to the most conflict-affected parts of Jebel Marra for years.

In January 2016, UNAMID reported a massive build-up of government forces in the plains surrounding Jebel Marra. In mid-January, large-scale violence erupted on four different fronts, with government forces attacking positions held by members of the armed opposition.

UNAMID had no access to the attacked areas in Jebel Marra; the SG’s reports relied on observations made by local sources and staff members on distant bases to describe the military offensive. The result was an incomplete picture of fighting between the government and members of the armed opposition. Absent from the reports was any of the overwhelming evidence that strongly suggests the commission of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, as well as other serious violations of international human rights law. The reports are almost entirely silent on sexual violence, unlawful killings, indiscriminate bombings, destruction of civilian infrastructure, looting of civilian property and other violations of international law, including credible allegations of chemical weapons use – all of which were carried out by Sudanese government forces during the offensive.

While UNAMID’s lack of access, shortage of personnel and the real risks facing its local staff and its civilian interlocutors are valid reasons for being unable to comprehensively document the recent violence, they in no way justify the irresponsible misrepresentation of the nature and magnitude of the violence.

Based solely on the content of the SG’s reports and other public UNAMID reports about the violence in Jebel Marra it would be reasonable to conclude that many if not all the tens of thousands of civilians who fled from Jebel Marra to UNAMID-protected spaces were displaced lawfully under international humanitarian law. Any good-faith effort by UNAMID to investigate, by interviewing survivors, analyzing publicly available satellite imagery, or setting up its own network of trusted intermediaries inside Jebel Marra, would reveal that this is simply not the case. Most were displaced from (now destroyed) villages, which had no formal armed opposition presence at the time of the attacks, by attackers whose purpose was to target the entire civilian population in the village.

UNAMID’s unwillingness or inability to conduct either on-site or remote research into the nature of the attacks in Jebel Marra has left both the UN and AU security councils grossly ill-informed about the magnitude of the human suffering that has pervaded the region. As a result, the councils have less reason to doubt the government’s false assertions that fighting was limited to combatants.

Ideally, both councils would work together to apply sufficient political pressure to overcome the government’s obstruction of UNAMID’s ability to report. In the interim, the mission’s civilian staff members need to use the considerable tools still at their disposal to document and accurately characterise the impact of violence on the civilian population and, in turn, better inform the councils about the urgent need for protection. If this is not feasible, then UNAMID needs to fully and publicly acknowledge the shortcomings of its reports to ensure that they are not relied upon as evidence of an absence of gross violations of human rights. Perversely, UNAMID’s failure to report on recent attacks in Jebel Marra largely serves as false evidence of the nonexistence of abuses, which the Government of Sudan now cites in support of its narrative that the war is over and that UNAMID is no longer necessary.

The war is not over. A peace operation is still necessary. There are recent reports of a government troop build-up ahead of another military offensive in Jebel Marra expected in early 2017. This should catalyse both Councils to immediately take steps to ensure that UNAMID is prepared to protect vulnerable populations still living inside Jebel Marra. Chief among these steps is the enforcement of the status of forces military agreement between UNAMID and the government of Sudan entitling the mission to full and unrestricted movement throughout Darfur.  UNAMID must be allowed to mobilise its military and civilian resources in accordance with a current threat assessment, which would inevitably involve unfettered access throughout Darfur – especially in Jebel Marra – including the ability to reposition its operating bases.

In the absence of a political resolution to the conflict – which 13 years of peace-negotiations has failed to deliver – or a genuine cessation of hostilities by all parties, redoubling support for UNAMID remains the best option for delivering urgently needed civilian protection. Darfur’s long-suffering people deserve this, at the very least.

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Security Council Agrees to Send UN Monitors to Aleppohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2016 17:34:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148239 The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2016 (IPS)

The UN Security Council – which has long struggled to find common ground on Syria – has unanimously approved a resolution allowing the UN to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo.

Proposed by France, the resolution calls for the immediate deployment of UN monitors and their “unimpeded access” to East Aleppo in order to ensure the safety of evacuees and those that remain in the besieged Syrian city. Monitors are needed to prevent “mass atrocities” by parties to the conflict, said France.

Russia, which has vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011, was initially ready to block the initiative, calling it a “disaster.”

“We have no problem whatsoever with any kind of monitoring, but the idea that they should be told to go to wander around the ruins of eastern Aleppo without proper preparation and without informing everybody about what is going to happen, this has disaster written all over it,” said Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

After three hours of closed-door consultations on Sunday, a compromise was reached between the world powers to allow monitors to observe after consultations with “interested parties.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault noted that the resolution marks just the first step.

“France calls on each side, in particular the regime and its supporters, to be responsible so that this resolution is implemented without delay and a lasting ceasefire is put in place across the country,” he said.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari criticised the move, saying that the resolution was “just another part of the continued propaganda against Syria and its fight against terrorists.”

The resolution also demands unhindered humanitarian access for the UN and international organisations to deliver life-saving assistance.

In response to the vote, Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau said that such monitoring is “crucial” and that Syrian, Russian and Iranian militaries must comply with the resolution.

“Russia and Iran have abysmal records complying with their obligations to protect civilians in Syria and allow aid access,” he said.

Charbonneau also highlighted the need for the UN General Assembly to establish a mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious crimes and prepare cases for prosecution, noting it could “deter those contemplating further atrocities in Syria.”

Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros echoed similar sentiments, saying that UN monitors must be allowed to investigate war crimes and the Security Council must send monitors to all areas of evacuation in the country beyond Aleppo.

“The world is watching how the UN responds to the plight of Aleppo,” she said.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, approximately 20,000 civilians have already been evacuated from east Aleppo.

The ongoing evacuation process got off to a shaky start with the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement between rebels and government forces, forcing all evacuations to be suspended. Evacuations have since been resumed as an estimated 15,000 civilians remain in the city.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described destruction caused by the 6-year civil war in Syria as a “gaping hole in the global conscience.”

“Aleppo is now a synonym for hell…peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice, and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen,” he said.

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Heads for 50 Years of UN Failurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:03:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148220 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

Come 2017, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longstanding unresolved political problems firmly entrenched on the UN agenda: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to the Six Day War in June 1967.

When Antonio Guterres takes over as the new UN Secretary-General on January 1, he will inherit a rash of ongoing political and military conflicts, including the six-year-old civil war in Syria, the devastating bombings in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq, the widespread political chaos in Libya, renewed violence in the Central African Republic, the continued atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan and the rise of global terrorism.

But one of the most elusive problems — crying out for a solution despite half a century of negotiations and unimplemented Security Council resolutions —will be the demand for a Palestinian homeland.

As Guterres told reporters December 12: “We need a surge in diplomacy for peace when we see this multiplication of new conflicts — and old conflicts that seem never to die”.

Perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to live forever—and has never shown signs of dying in 50 long years.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Contributing Editor at Middle East Report, told IPS: “As the UN commemorates the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, we need to recognize that the world body is in many respects but a shadow of the organization it was in 1947, when the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to partition Palestine, or even 1967 when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip commenced.”

What capacity it does retain to act effectively has, when it comes to Palestine, been deliberately and completely paralyzed by the United States, acting on Israel’s behalf, he declared.

Indeed, it has in this respect been somewhat ironic to watch (US Ambassador to the UN) Samantha Power and other US diplomats incessantly whine about Russia shielding the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council these past several years, said Rabbani, who is an Associate Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network.

“Will Palestinians be condemned to another half century of military occupation?”, he asked. “If they have to rely on the United Nations for salvation from Israel the answer would be “almost certainly”, but fortunately this is not the case.”

Asked specifically of the UN’s role, Rabbani said among recent Secretaries-Generals none have been more timid in their dealings with Israel and the US, and more solicitous of US and Israeli policy, including on the Question of Palestine, than outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“His tenure has been a disaster for Palestinian rights. Full stop. So the mere fact of his departure and replacement is welcome news”, said Rabbani.

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, told IPS it seems that the partition plan and two state solution has been destroyed by Israeli settlements.

The UN policy is out of step with this reality. The new Secretary-General will have to confront this position, viz the virtual impossibility of a two state solution.

What remains? What kind of Palestinian future is possible? These kinds of questions need to be asked, said Prashad, who has written extensively on Middle East Politics and is the author of “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution”.

Israel will refuse both one state and two state solutions. It wants to annihilate the Palestinian Question, he noted.

“The Palestinians are playing defense. What kind of positive strategy is possible for Palestine and will the new Secretary-General enable such a discussion? I hope so,” said Prashad, co-editor of the recently-released “Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World”.

Asked what his message would be, if and when he meets with US President-elect Donald Trump, Guterres, avoided a direct answer.

“Well, to restore confidence, I think the first thing that is important is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ignored in political relations around the world. And when people talk to each other, the truth is that many times there are different perceptions about each other.’

“And I believe it is with truth that I need to engage with all governments in the world and, of course, also with the next Government of the United States, showing a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges that we’ll be facing together,” Guterres declared.

Rabbani told IPS predicting about how a Trump administration will approach the Question of Palestine is a difficult task, primarily because Trump is an empty vessel with multiple – and therefore essentially no – views of his own.

“But as is generally the case with empty vessels, they tend to be filled by those with privileged access. And in this case the indications are not good.”

Regarding Guterres, Rabbani pointed out the new Secretary-General (SG) will be operating under the same constraints any other SG would encounter, but has the advantage that the UN is no longer as fully dominated by the US as it has been in recent decades.

It also seems reasonable to presume his ambitions exceed being an errand boy for Washington like his predecessor, Rabbani noted.

“I know little regarding his personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, though given the fact that he is a former European social democrat premier his views presumably fall within the European/EU mainstream. “

But the more important point is that this will be less about his personal views and more about the environment in which he operates and his willingness (or otherwise) to use his political clout.

“Will he want to expend political capital on Palestine when he may prefer to or feel he needs to spend it on other files such as Syria? This is difficult to divine.”

And it will depend not just on his priorities and preferences, but crucially upon how energetically this matter is promoted by member states and international public opinion.

“So I would see his tenure as an opportunity that I very much hope the Palestinians manage to utilise. But once again, I would advise to spend less time examining his personal views and preferences, and more on the environment in which he operates,” said Rabbani, a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said Guterres, whose appointment is arguably one of most challenging jobs on the planet, brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the role to guide the UN in the years to come.

“The new Secretary-General must face up to a world of numerous protracted conflicts, reprehensible breaches of the rules of war and a massive global displacement crisis,” she said.

But besides the ongoing political problems, he must also readily confront the extreme economic inequality crisis that is trapping people in poverty, undermining economic growth and threatening instability around the world.

Referring to the gender gap at the UN, Byanyima said: “Governments in seventy years have picked only men to lead the UN; the journey to find a woman, feminist Secretary-General goes on. We do however fully expect that the new Secretary-General will be a feminist Secretary-General who puts women’s rights and gender equality at the very core of the international agenda.

“And for the UN to be relevant, effective and accountable – in a world so different from the times when it was founded in 1945 – Mr. Guterres must spearhead essential reforms to the UN.”

She also congratulated Ban Ki-moon for his outstanding, dignified leadership.

“Among his achievements were ushering in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement: both will be remembered in history for charting a better

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War of Words in UN Security Council as Aleppo’s Civilians Sufferhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/war-of-words-in-un-security-council-as-aleppos-civilians-suffer/#comments Wed, 14 Dec 2016 06:51:15 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148203 Staffan de Mistura (left), UN Special Envoy for Syria, speaks with Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

Staffan de Mistura (left), UN Special Envoy for Syria, speaks with Vitaly Churkin, Permanent Representative of Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 14 2016 (IPS)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told UN Security Council members of credible reports of civilians in Aleppo being summarily executed during an emergency meeting held on Tuesday.

However despite Ban’s words of warning about the unfolding crisis, divisions within the Security Council were as evident as ever with Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggesting that the UN Secretariat – led by Ban – may be being used an instrument in a “cynical game.”

In his briefing Ban said that as the council met “civilian deaths and injuries continue(d) at a brutal pace”.

“The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has received reports of civilians, including women and children, in four neighbourhoods being rounded up and executed,” said Ban.

The meeting took place as Syrian government forces took the city of Aleppo. Churkin announced midway through the meeting that “the Syrian government has established control over eastern Aleppo.”

“History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment,” Ban Ki-moon.

Ban noted that while “Syrian authorities have systematically denied us the presence on the ground to directly verify reports… this does not mean that the reports that we are receiving are not credible.”

However Churkin took issue with Ban’s words as well as those of other Security Council members, accusing them of spreading “fake news.”

“Young kids are being covered with dust in order to be presented as victims of bombings,” Churkin told journalists after the meeting.

In August, video and photographs of five year-old Omran Daqneesh, covered in blood and dust after his home in Aleppo was bombed, spread around the world.

In October Syrian President Bashar al-Assad claimed that the photos were manipulated and forged. Assad’s comments seemingly contradicted his own wife Asma who had told Russian television that what had happened to Aylan Kurdi and Omran Daqneesh was “a tragedy”.

While Churkin began his statement by referring to “propaganda,” “disinformation” and “fake news” it appears that Syria’s Permanent Representative to the UN Bashar Ja’afari may also have engaged in this practice during the meeting itself.

During his address to the council Ja’afari held up images, including a photograph he claimed showed Syrian forces helping civilians, however according to Syrian journalist Hadi Alabdallah on Twitter one of the images was originally from Iraq.

Aside from Russia and Venezuela, the majority of UN member states addressing the meeting expressed support for Ban’s concerns for the civilians of Aleppo.

“I choose to believe the Secretary-General when he comes to this Council and tells us there are credible reports of atrocities being committed,” said Gerard van Bohemen, New Zealand’s permanent representative to the UN.

Van Bohemen turned claims from Ja’afari that the UN couldn’t independently verify reports back on the Syrian government which has refused access to independent UN observers.

“The UN is not on the ground, the UN is not able to verify, so it’s no good coming back and telling us you’ve done all these reports and investigations yourself because no one’s there to check on you,” said van Bohemen.

Looking to what happens next Ban called on pro-Assad forces “to ensure that those who have surrendered or been captured are treated humanely and in line with international law.”

Ban said that the Syrian government had chosen the path of a “total, uncompromising military victory,” a departure from UN efforts which have struggled to find a political solution to the conflict over many months of on-again, off-again talks.

“History will not easily absolve us, but this failure compels us to do even more to offer the people of Aleppo our solidarity at this moment,” said Ban.

Staffan de Mistura the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria told journalists after the meeting that the military acceleration was not likely to lead to peace, and that the conflict could “continue for many years.

“So this is actually the best moment to insist that a peace process needs to be restarted,” said de Mistura.

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The United Nations Volunteer: From Global To Localhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:04:17 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148083 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya ]]> George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where  he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for  UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

Today 05 December is International Volunteer Day, and every year we recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to peace and development.

Consider this. George Gachie has been serving as a national United Nations Volunteer (UNV) with UN-Habitat for over three years. He grew up in the Kibera Slums – a challenging environment, where young people have very few opportunities and early pregnancy, school dropout, organized gangs, crime, diseases and drug abuse are common. In order to make it out of this situation one had to be smart. But as George himself put it during a recent UNV Blue-Room Talks event in Nairobi, ‘I am happy because it is volunteerism that got me out of the situation’.

In an acknowledgement of the expected role of the youth in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, volunteerism has now been recognized as a key driver in the development space. For Kenya, this is particularly apt given the large number of youth graduating every year but who find only limited employment opportunities.

Volunteerism is offering not only a chance to contribute to social development and a sense of self-worth, it also provides them with priceless lessons that sets them up for entering the job market and setting a foundation for their career.

The United Nations Volunteer programme has for many years delivered social services across a range of sectors. Today, the UNV Kenya programme remains one of largest UNV operations in the world, with 148 national and 47 International serving UN Volunteers. Kenya also contributes the largest number of UN Volunteers serving abroad, a testimony to the country’s commitment to humanitarian action and development.

Studies show that engaging in volunteerism from a young age helps people take their first steps towards long-term involvement in development. It is thus a perfect avenue to address the oft-repeated lament by corporate employers that the education system does not prepare students for the job market.

In that sense, volunteering is not just a way to get more numbers to ‘get the job done’, but a transformative opportunity for people from all walks of life, and a two-way exchange between the volunteer and the people they work with. By creating a sense of cohesion, reciprocity and solidarity within society, volunteering builds social capital, because it converts individual action into collective response directed towards a social end.

Volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution globally. It’s generally estimated that volunteers contribute an average of $400 billion to the global economy annually.

UNDP’s Administrator Ms Helen Clark has spoken about “ the tremendous impact UN Volunteers are making within the UN system. In implementing the SDGs, UNDP will continue to see volunteers as catalysts for change who amplify citizens’ voices and facilitate participation so that development can be truly people-centred”.

The impact of a volunteerism programme must be felt at the local level by building the capacity of people, including the marginalized, and should make the governance process more participatory and inclusive.

UNV has a strong track record of getting development results. In Kenya, UNV supported a neighborhood volunteer scheme to help ensure peaceful elections in 2013.

UN volunteers, including data analysts, planners, legal assistants and communication experts are deployed in 35 out of the 47 counties in the country, bringing critical capacity to the devolution process in Kenya.

In addition, 25 national and international UN Volunteers are engaged to support the humanitarian challenges on refugees in the country and well over 50 volunteers support operations of the United Nations Environment Program at its headquarters in Nairobi.

Having seen the contribution of volunteers, we can confidently vouch for community-based volunteering structures in all counties, to not only provide gainful occupation for Kenya’s youth, but to give them greater voice and participation in decision-making.

On the occasion of this year’s International Volunteer Day, the UN is committed to working with the Kenyan Government to integrate the concepts of volunteerism into development programming.

This can be done through various modalities, including facilitating volunteer schemes that target the contributions or integration of particular groups. Another area that holds great potential in advancing the course of volunteerism includes documentation of the various dimensions of volunteer involvement including its impacts on marginalized groups.

Volunteerism can be a powerful wind in our sails as we seek to achieve the SDGs and advance human development in Kenya.

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Civil Society On Aleppo: UN General Assembly Must Act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:40:07 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148060 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/feed/ 1 UN Security Council Seats Taken by Arms Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 05:36:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147975 The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

Nine of the world’s top ten arms exporters will sit on the UN Security Council between mid-2016 and mid-2018.

The nine include four rotating members — Spain, Ukraine, Italy and the Netherlands — from Europe, as well as the council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to 2015 data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), these nine countries make up the world’s top ten exporters of arms. Germany ranked at number 5, is the only top 10 exporter which is not a recent, current or prospective member of the 15-member council.

However, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher in the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at SIPRI told IPS that he was not “surprised at all” to see so many arms exporters on the council.

“In reality it is business as usual: the five permanent members of the Security Council are of course in many ways the strongest military powers,” said Wezeman.

Just two permanent members, the United States with 33 percent and Russia with 25 percent, accounted for 58 percent of total global arms exports in 2015, according to SIPRI data. China and France take up third and fourth place with much smaller shares of 5.9 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.

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The status of several rotating Security Council members as arms exporters while “interesting”, may be mostly “coincidence,” added Wezeman.

Current conflicts in Yemen and Syria pose contrasting examples of the relative influence that Security Council members have as arms exporters.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms told IPS.

“We’ve been calling persistently for a year now for arms transfers to Saudi Arabia to be suspended in the context of the Yemen crisis, because of the severe level of the humanitarian suffering that exists there and because of the specific role that arms transfers are playing in that.”

Macdonald says that the transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen violates both humanitarian law and the Arms Trade Treaty.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald.

Domestic pressure from civil society organisations, however, have caused some European countries, including Sweden which will join the Security Council in January 2017, to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said Wezeman. Sweden, which will hold a seat on the council from January 2017 to December 2018, comes in as the world’s number 12 arms exporter.

However arms exports from Security Council members are not necessarily a significant source of weapons in conflicts under consideration by the council.

For example, council members have been hinting at the prospect of an arms embargo against South Sudan for much of 2016, however the weapons used in South Sudan are not closely related to exports from Security Council members.

“South Sudan is a country which acquires primarily cheap, simple weapons. It doesn’t need the latest model tank, it can do with a tank which is 30 or 40 years old,” said Wezeman.

According to Wezeman, it is more likely that political rather than economic considerations impact Security Council members’ decisions regarding arms embargoes, since profits from arms sales are “limited compared to their total economy.”

“Most of the states that are under a UN arms embargo are generally poor countries where the markets for anything, including arms, are not particularly big,” he added.

Overall, however Macdonald says that Security Council members have special responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security, and this extends also to their particular responsibilities as arms exporters.

“We would obviously cite the UN Article 5: promote maintenance of peace with the least diversion for armament,” she said.

“We would argue that the 1.3 trillion that’s currently allocated to military expenditure is not in keeping with the spirit or letter of the UN charter,” she added, noting that this is significantly more than it would cost to eradicate extreme poverty.

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