Inter Press Service » IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 06 Oct 2015 08:12:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Global South Will Make Its Contribution to Fighting Climate Change Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:14:26 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz Deforestation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions by the Global South, such as in this area of Rio Branco in the northern Brazilian state of Acre. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

Deforestation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions by the Global South, such as in this area of Rio Branco in the northern Brazilian state of Acre. Credit: Kate Evans/Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 5 2015 (IPS)

Seen for years as passive actors in the fight against global warming, more than 100 countries of the Global South have submitted their national contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonising their economies.

With differing levels of ambition and some targets conditional on international financing, the commitments assumed by developing economies put pressure on the big global emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) and reinforce the ethical stance that the phenomenon of climate change requires contributions by all countries, said experts consulted by IPS.

“We’ve seen a number of strong commitments from Global South countries in spite of their small role in creating this challenge,” said Ellie Johnston, the World Climate Project manager at Climate Interactive, a U.S.-based organisation that helps people see what works to address climate change and related issues.

In their national contributions, developing countries have focused on clean energies, the fight against deforestation, the need for new forms of financing, and the design of climate change adaptation strategies.

A total of 146 governments met the Oct. 1 deadline to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for cutting GHG emissions, while 49 failed to do so.

The INDCs that were presented are not enough to keep the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius with respect to pre-industrial levels – the limit set by experts to avoid climate catastrophe.

The country climate pledges are to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

An analysis by Climate Interactive found that the national contributions to date would result in expected warming of 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100

Another estimate, by the Climate Action Tracker, predicted that the combination of government climate action plans, if implemented, would bring global warming down to 2.7 degrees Celsius.

The differences in the estimates arise from the different methodologies used, mainly with regard to emissions from China and India after 2030 – the two emerging powers that in the last two decades have become the world’s first and third largest emitters of GHG. The second is the United States, the fourth Russia, and the fifth Japan.

“Our analysis shows that more ambitious contributions are needed across the Global South and Global North to ensure we reach the internationally agreed upon goal of two degrees C, and we hope that the Paris climate talks will create a framework that ensures this can happen,” Climate Interactive’s Johnston told IPS.

Some of the governments presented ambitious targets. And one thing that stood out was clear objectives for adaptation, one of the most important elements for the Global South, a term that refers to the diverse range of developing countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia.

An increase in clean energies and a reduction in fossil fuel use are part of the commitments assumed by the countries of the Global South to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The photo shows a wind farm in the La Paz y Casamata mountains near the capital of Costa Rica. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

An increase in clean energies and a reduction in fossil fuel use are part of the commitments assumed by the countries of the Global South to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The photo shows a wind farm in the La Paz y Casamata mountains near the capital of Costa Rica. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Johnston celebrated the presentation of commitments by the emerging economies, and said that given the disparity between historic responsibility and action-taking capacity, industrialised countries should step up their contributions.

The division between industrialised and developing countries is a basic part of the UNFCCC, because of their different levels of responsibility in generating the phenomenon of climate change.

But after COP20, held in Lima in December 2014, all countries committed to contributing to curbing global warming, by means of the INDCs.

In the crucial Paris conference, negotiators will have to combine the INDCs presented by each country in the new binding climate treaty, which will enter into force in 2020, with the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius by 2100.

“When viewed from an equity and fairness perspective there are quite a few that have gone beyond what we could consider as their fair share, especially among the smaller LDCs (Least Developed Countries) and SIDS (Small Island Developing States), who are least responsible for the causes of climate change,” Tasneem Essop, the head of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) delegation to the UNFCCC climate talks, told IPS.

The South African activist said the problem with the INDCs is that in Lima, clear standards were not set for their design.

Costa Rica pledged to limit its per capita emissions to 1.19 tons by 2050, and the hope is that the global average will be no more than two tons per capita. Cameroon is to cut its emissions by 32 percent, with respect to the level it would have in 2035 at the current rate of growth, but like many other countries, it clarified that to reach that goal, it would need international financing.

Papua New Guinea, where the logging industry is powerful, will focus on combating deforestation and on land-use change, its main problem.

Brazil, meanwhile, proposed to reduce emissions by 37 percent by 2025, with respect to 2005 levels, and it is one of the few countries of the South to present “absolute targets”.

“The problem we have, and this applies to all the INDCs and not just Global South countries, is that these INDCs have not been developed on a common framework or with common standards. So it makes it very difficult to compare,” said Essop.

The countries that failed to meet the deadline for the submission of INDCs included some with more limited technical capacity to draw them up, and others that the experts considered the least motivated to take action. The list of countries that did not present INDCs includes Bolivia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Venezuela.

Essop stressed that the commitments assumed by the Global South should keep in mind the balance between the three principal elements of climate action and the new treaty – mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation – where internal and external financing play an essential role.

“An important and interesting feature in some Global South countries’ INDCs has been the clarity in terms of what the country can fund domestically and what actions can be enhanced with support,” said Essop.

In 2009, industrialised nations pledged 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to finance the struggle against global warming. But the funds have been slow in coming. “Finance will not be an issue that is resolved until the final night in Paris,” said Kat Watts, Global Climate Policy Advisor for Carbon Market Watch.

Watts told IPS that the old divisions in the climate negotiations – Annex 1 and Annex 2 industrialised countries, and the rest of the countries in a separate group – are crumbling under the weight of the INDCs and other actions.

The British analyst said it was important that the submission of the national climate pledges and the approval of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), at a Sep. 25-27 U.N. summit in New York, had happened at the same time.

“The INDC and SDG processes both happening this year means that there is a real opportunity for each country to consider how to make any planned development both low carbon and resistant to predicted climate impacts,” said Watts.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Brazil’s Expanded Climate Targets Frustrate Environmentalists Fri, 02 Oct 2015 21:05:26 +0000 Mario Osava Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Grasslands replaced the Amazon rainforest in Brasil Novo, a municipality in the Xingú River basin, where the giant Belo Monte hydroelectric dam is being built. Low-productivity stock-raising, with just one or two animals per hectare, is the big factor in deforestation and soil degradation in the region, and the government’s goal is to recover just one-fourth of the area degraded by this activity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction programme, hailed as bold, has nevertheless left environmentalists frustrated at its lack of ambition in key aspects.

“The decision to present absolute reduction targets is praiseworthy, but they could be better and more ambitious, to the benefit of the country itself and of the global climate change talks,” said André Ferretti, general coordinator of the Climate Observatory, a Brazilian network of 37 environmental groups.

On Sep. 27, President Dilma Rousseff announced at the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York that Brazil’s goal is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 37 percent by 2025 and 43 percent by 2030, with a base year of 2005.“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question. It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.” -- André Ferretti

This is Brazil’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius this century, the ceiling set by experts to ward off a climate catastrophe.

Each country had until Oct. 1 to submit its INDC, to be incorporated into the new universal binding treaty to be approved at the 21st yearly session of the Conference of the Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be held Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris.

In order for Brazil to meet these goals, at least 45 percent of its total energy mix is to be made up of renewable sources, including hydropower, by 2030. The global average is just 13 percent, the Brazilian president pointed out.

Alternative sources like wind, solar, biomass and ethanol will account for 23 percent of the country’s electricity output, up from nine percent today.

In addition, the country will attempt to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and pledged to offset emissions from regulated deforestation.

Reforesting 12 million hectares and recovering 15 million hectares of degraded grasslands are other goals announced by Rousseff, who noted that Brazil is one of the first countries of the developing South to assume absolute reduction targets for cutting GHG emissions, with goals even higher than those set by many industrialised countries.

Other countries offer reductions with respect to projected future emissions, based on current rates of production, consumption and economic growth. At the COP15, held in 2009 in Copenhagen, Brazil promised to reduce its GHG emissions by 36 to 39 percent below its projected emissions for 2020.

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

President Dilma Rousseff announced Brazil’s national greenhouse gas emissions reduction contribution during the Sep. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit in New York. Credit: UN/Mark Garten

But the country’s INDC goals “are still lower than what the country could achieve, and add very little to what has already been done,” Ferreti told IPS.

In 2012, GHG emissions had already been cut 41 percent with respect to 2005, basically due to a lower rate of deforestation in the Amazon, although they rose later because of greater use of fossil fuels.

Currently Brazil, Latin America’s biggest GHG emitter, releases nearly 1.48 billion tons a year of emissions into the atmosphere.

The target for net emissions for 2030 does not differ much from the 1.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide released in 2012, according to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“The weakest point in Brazil’s commitment is with respect to the forest question,” said Ferretti, who is also manager of conservation strategies in the Boticario Group Foundation for Nature Protection. “It is demeaning to promise to end illegal deforestation by 2030, admitting that illegal practices will be tolerated for a decade and a half.”

“In legal terms, it is contradictory to set such a lengthy timeframe to combat an illegal activity,” former lawmaker Liszt Vieira, who directed Rio de Janeiro’s botanical garden for 10 years, told IPS.

Furthermore, the targets only refer to the Amazon, leaving out other ecosystems, such as the Cerrado, the savannah that covers 203.6 million hectares, or 24 percent of the national territory, and is suffering heavy and growing deforestation, said Ferretti.

“All of this reflects the Brazilian government’s weak commitment on this issue,” said Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment. “Brazil could assume a zero deforestation goal for 2030, which would be feasible because this country has learned a lot about the issue, has the necessary technology, and has land that has already been deforested, for the expansion of agriculture.

“Besides, it would be in the best interests of the country, which depends heavily on rainfall for agriculture and energy,” he said in an interview with IPS. “Its vulnerability to drought has been revealed by the current water and energy crisis, especially in the state of São Paulo, after scarce rainfall for the last two years.”

“That’s why a good climate accord in Paris would be good for Brazil,” to prevent extreme events like drought, he said.

An ambitious goal, like zero deforestation nationwide, would give Brazil a certain leadership role in the climate conference, to encourage contributions from other countries and the reaching of agreements that would make it possible to limit climate change to less disastrous levels, said both Barreto and Vieira.

Furthermore, the role that forests play in regulating rainfall, especially the Amazon jungle in South America, is understood better today.

Brazil could also present more ambitious goals with respect to energy from alternative sources, expanding investment in wind and solar energy, said Vieira. In energy, the country is going against the current, he said, increasing generation of thermal power with fossil fuels and putting a priority on producing oil from the pre-salt deposits discovered beneath a two-kilometre-thick salt layer under rock, sand and deep water in the Atlantic.

Vieira believes Brazil has lost the leadership role it had in environment and the climate for nearly two decades, since it hosted the 1992 U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, or Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. In his view, it is the big players in the issue – China, the United States and Europe – that will decide the future of the global climate.

But despite the limitations of the government’s national climate programme, the environmentalists consulted by IPS admitted that Rousseff’s announcement was a happy surprise.

“We expected something worse from a development-oriented government that has treated environmentalism as an obstacle to development and economic growth,” said Vieira, who formed part of the current administration until 2013, as president of the botanical garden, a position of trust in the Environment Ministry.

“The presentation of the targets was both a relief and a frustration,” said Ferretti. “It was bad because it could have been better, both in the forest question and in energy, with more attention to biomass and solar energy.”

“And it was good because, besides some good measures, such as the recovery of degraded land, goals were set for 2025 and 2030, indicating that they would be revised every five years and could be expanded, opening a door to negotiation with and emulation by other countries,” he added.

It was also positive, he said, because Brazil abandoned its stance of inflexibly defending “common but differentiated responsibilities” exempting developing countries from meeting the same kinds of targets, as they are not equally responsible for the problem of global warming.

That separation between the two blocs boosted the “Third World” leadership by some countries like Brazil, but hindered negotiations, Ferretti argued.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Continues Condemnation of Civilian Casualties in Yemen Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:37:40 +0000 Thalif Deen yemen_

By Thalif Deen

The Saudi coalition, which continues its air strikes against rebels in strife-torn Yemen, is fast gaining notoriety as “the gang that couldn’t shoot straight” – largely because of its misses than its hits.

Last month, the coalition is reported to have targeted a bomb-making factory – and ended up killing some 36 civilians working at a water-bottling plant in northern Yemen.

And this week, the Saudi coalition unleashed an air attack on a wedding party in Yemen triggering outrage from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A statement released here said the Secretary-General condemned the air strikes that reportedly struck a wedding party in Wahijah village, outside of the Red Sea port city of Mokha in Yemen, killing as many as 135 people.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of the victims and a swift recovery to those injured,” he said.

Ted Lieu, Democratic Congressman from California, has urged the United States to “cease aiding coalition air strikes in Yemen until the coalition demonstrates they will institute proper safeguards to prevent civilian deaths.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Lieu said it was unclear whether the coalition “was grossly negligent or intentionally targeting civilians.”

“There is clearly no military value in a wedding party,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

Relenting to Saudi objections Wednesday, the Western group of countries, have withdrawn a proposal for an international inquiry into civilian casualties in Yemen – by both the Saudi coalition and the Houthi rebels – during the current session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The proposal for such an inquiry was being strongly supported by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who submitted a report to the HRC last month detailing the heavy civilian casualties in the conflict in Yemen.

A new resolution may opt for a national commission of inquiry, instead of an international commission.

After the airstrike in the bottling factory, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, the military spokesman for the coalition, reportedly told Reuters the plant had been used by the Houthi rebels to make explosive devices and was not, in fact, a bottling factory.

But all of the individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the plant was being used to bottle water and was not being used for any military purposes.

In its statement, HRW also said a group of international journalists travelled to the site of the blast two days after it was hit and could not find evidence of any military targets in the area.

“They carefully examined the site and could not find any evidence that the factory was being used for military purposes, and took photo and video evidence of piles of scorched plastic bottles melted together from the heat of the explosion,” HRW said.

U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday: “Our humanitarian colleagues (in Yemen) inform us that the number of deaths and injuries caused by explosive weapons in Yemen is the world’s highest.”

He said some 4,500 civilians were killed or wounded by explosive weapons in Yemen during the first seven months of 2015.

This is more than in any other country, according to a recently-released report done by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the NGO Action on Armed Violence.

Ninety-five per cent of people killed or injured by explosive weapons in populated areas were civilians. More than half of the reported civilian toll was recorded in Sana’a and surrounding districts.

The United Nations, meanwhile, has repeatedly called on all parties to the conflict to uphold their responsibility to protect civilians.

Asked if the attacks were deliberate or due to shoddy human and military intelligence, Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at the London-based Amnesty International (AI) told IPS these recent attacks are unfortunately not isolated incidents but very much part of an increasingly entrenched pattern in the conduct of Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces over the past six months.

She said AI had addressed this issue its last report and in the document titled ‘Nowhere safe for civilians’

Rovera said coalition strikes, which killed and injured civilians and destroyed civilian property and infrastructure – and investigated by Amnesty International – have been found to be “frequently disproportionate or indiscriminate.”

In some instances, Amnesty International found that strikes appeared to have apparently directly targeted civilians or civilian objects.

She pointed out that international humanitarian law prohibits deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and attacks which do not discriminate between civilians/civilian objects and combatants/military objectives, or which cause disproportionate harm to civilians/civilian objects in relation to the anticipated military advantage which may be gained by such attack.

“Such attacks constitute war crimes,” she noted.

The pattern of attacks, which since the beginning of the coalition air bombardment campaign on March 25, 2015 have continued to cause civilian casualties, and the lack of investigations to date into such incidents raise serious concerns about an apparent disregard for civilian life and for fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, not only by those planning and executing the strikes but also by the exiled Yemeni government, at whose behest Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces are acting, Rovera declared.

The Washington-based Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) said the United States, which is providing intelligence and logistical support to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, should condition its support on adherence to international humanitarian law (IHL) and adoption of policies to minimize civilian harm by its allies.

Federico Borello, executive director of CIVIC, said: “The US has developed policies and tactics for preventing civilian harm from its own combat operations. These should be shared as a key element of any ongoing support to the coalition.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Palestine President Abbas Warns of ‘Grave Dangers’ in Jerusalem Thu, 01 Oct 2015 21:14:33 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s seventieth session.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“I come before you today…compelled to sound the alarm about the grave dangers of what is happening in Jerusalem,” said Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas in his remarks to the United Nations General Assembly on Sep. 30.

In his speech, Abbas pointed to the renewed wave of violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, accusing Israel of “repeated, systematic incursions aimed at imposing a new reality.”

Al-Aqsa, also known as Temple Mount to Jews, is one of the holiest sites for Islam and Judaism.

Located in East Jerusalem, the site has long been the source of religious and political tension since the establishment of the State of Israel.

New clashes have erupted in September.

On Sep. 27, on the eve of Jewish festival of Sukkot, Palestinians reportedly barricaded themselves inside the East Jerusalem mosque to prevent Jews from entering. They threw rocks and fireworks at police while Israeli forces retaliated with rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades.

Confrontations continued into the early hours of Monday morning.

Violence has been fuelled by restrictions on Palestinians from entering the site and suspicion that the Israeli government plans to take over or divide the compound.

Abbas described it as an “illegal scheme” where Israeli forces and Parliament members were allowing Jews to enter while preventing Muslim worshippers from entering and “exercising their religious rights”, violating the status quo.

According to a 50-year old agreement, Jews and people of other religions are allowed to enter the mosque between 7 and 11AM, but may not pray there.

However, Palestinians have reported that far-right Jews have been entering the compound to pray.

Tensions came to an all-time high when Israel’s defence minister outlawed two Muslim groups from the mosque. The groups, Mourabitat and Mourabitoun, are known to protect and defend the compound.

The ruling on Sep. 9 incited clashes, which have now spread across the West Bank.

In response to the violence, United Nations Middle East Peace Envoy Nickolay Mladenov stated: “I urge all to do their part in ensuring that visitors and worshippers demonstrate restraint and respect for the sanctity of the area.”

During his speech, President Abbas called on the Israeli government to cease force to prevent the political conflict from turning into a religious one.

He continued to describe the current situation with Israel as “unsustainable” and with Palestinian patience “at an end.” He declared that Palestine can no longer be “bound by” the Oslo Agreement for as long as Israel does not commit to agreements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to President Abbas during his statement to the General Assembly on Oct. 1, accusing him of “spreading lies about Israel’s alleged intentions on the Temple Mount.”

Netanyahu stated that Israel is dedicated to maintaining the status quo at the holy site.

The Israeli Prime Minister also reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a two-state solution, stating: “I am prepared to immediately resume direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without any pre-conditions whatsoever.”

The Palestinian President gave his speech on the day that Palestine’s flag was raised at the U.N. for the first time.

While marking the historic moment, Abbas said: “The day is not far when we will raise the flag of Palestine in East Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Palestine.”

“Our people need genuine hope and need to see credible efforts for ending this conflict, ending their misery and achieving their rights,” Abbas continued.

As many as 200 Palestinians have been arrested since the latest series of confrontations over Al-Aqsa Mosque began, including the director of the holy site. (END)

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U.S. 100th Member State to Join Nuke Terrorism Treaty Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:14:29 +0000 Thalif Deen The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Thalif Deen

A 1997 movie titled “The Peacemaker” –partly shot outside the United Nations – dramatised the story of a Yugoslav terrorist who acquires a backpack-sized nuclear weapon, gone missing after a train wreck in rural Russia, and brings it to New York to detonate it outside U.N. headquarters.

Was it another Hollywood fantasy? Or a disaster waiting to happen?

Conscious of the remote possibility of a terrorist group arming itself with stolen nuclear weapons, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in April 2005 and entered into force in July 2007.

Currently, there are 99 states parties who have ratified the treaty, including the nuclear powers China, France, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday, the United States became the 100th state party when it handed over the instruments of ratification to the U.N. Treaty Section.

“This is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.

He said it is useful to recall that it was Russia that initiated this Convention in 2005 and to date there are 115 signatories and 99 states parties.

“Nuclear terrorism has been widely feared especially after 9/11 and it is well know that non-state actors like Al Qaeda and now ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) are engaged in a quest for nuclear materials to make a nuclear weapon, however rudimentary,” said Dhanapala, who has been President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, since 2007.

“And yet we must not delude ourselves into over estimating the significance of this action when more urgent treaties like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) await ratification by the United States and seven other states in order to ensure its entry into force rendering permanent the norm against nuclear weapon testing – an important brake on the development of nuclear weapons,” he added.

As long as 15,850 nuclear warheads are held by nine countries – 93 percent with the United States and Russia – their use in a war, caused by deliberate political intent or by accident and by nation states or non state actors – remain a frightening reality with appalling humanitarian consequences and irreversible ecological and genetic effects, said Dhanapala, who also serves as a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and a governing board member of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

The Nuclear Terrorism Convention is described as part of global efforts to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

It details offences relating to unlawful and intentional possession and use of radioactive material or radioactive devices, and use or damage of nuclear facilities.

The convention is also designed to promote cooperation among countries through the sharing of information and the provision of assistance for investigations and extraditions.

Dr. M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS: “I would like to take the conversation in a different direction and ask what is nuclear terrorism?”

He said Webster’s dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

Nuclear weapons can cause massive death and destruction; any population faced with this possibility would be terrorized, he argued.

“Think of the people in any number of countries in the Middle East who are told by the U.S. President or some senior official that ‘all options are on the table’, implying, of course, the use of nuclear weapons.”

Under any fair and just definition of terrorism, anyone who uses a nuclear weapon to threaten another population would be a terrorist. This includes those who use nuclear weapons “just for deterrence,” he declared.

Remember that the ability to credibly project terror is ultimately at the heart of the strategy of deterrence and the safety that it is supposed to derive from deterrence is, as Winston Churchill proclaimed, “the sturdy child of terror.”

“I think the challenge for those seeking peace is to shift the discourse away from “nuclear terrorism by non-state actors” and turn the attention onto nuclear weapon states, which base their policies on the threat of nuclear death and destruction, and the urgency of disarming them,” said Dr Ramana who is author of several publications, including “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.”

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said last week that when it comes to nuclear terrorism, “we are safer now than we were five years ago, but more remains to be done.”

The United States, she said, will continue to work with international partners to ensure that dangerous nuclear materials are accounted for and secured worldwide.

“Unending vigilance is required if we are to ensure that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire these materials are never able to do so.”

She said the United States is the largest national contributor to the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency) Nuclear Security Fund, providing more than 70 million dollars since 2010.

These funds support cost-free experts, mission and technical visits to Member States, the development of nuclear security guidance and best practices, and the Incident and Trafficking Database.

She said the State Department’s Counter Nuclear Smuggling Program (CNSP) is also working with key international partners to strengthen capacity to investigate nuclear smuggling networks, secure materials in illegal circulation, and prosecute the criminals who are involved.

Countries such as Georgia and Moldova are to be commended for their recent arrests of criminals attempting to traffic highly enriched uranium (HEU); significant progress has been made in this area. Unfortunately, continued seizures of weapon-usable nuclear materials indicate that these materials are still available on the black market, she pointed out.

According to the United Nations, some of the key provisions of the Convention include: the criminalization of planning, threatening, or carrying out acts of nuclear terrorism; the requirement for States to criminalize these offenses through national legislation and to establish penalties in line with the gravity of such crimes; conditions under which States may establish jurisdiction for offenses; and guidelines for extradition and other measures of punishment.

Additionally, there is the requirement for States to make every effort to adopt appropriate measures to ensure the protection of radioactive material; and the distinction that the Convention does not cover the activities of armed forces during an armed conflict or military exercise and cannot be interpreted as addressing the “legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by States.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Men Start to Make Women’s Struggles Their Own in Argentina Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:07:57 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A group of men signing the “commitment to equality” during a meeting in Buenos Aires organised by the Men for Equality network, created a year ago in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The meeting was about gender equality, but for once there were more men than women. It marked a watershed in the struggle in Argentina to make the commitment to equality more than just “a women’s thing.”

The Buenos Aires meeting was organised by the Men for Equality (HxI) network, which emerged a year ago to “generate a space to incorporate all men who promote gender equality and the prevention of violence against women, and achieve the commitment to carry out actions to that end in their areas of influence and/or workplaces.”

Behind the initiative are the United Nations in Argentina and the government’s National Women’s Council, along with two private organisations: the Avon Foundation and the local branch of the French multinational retailer Carrefour.

The president of the National Women’s Council, Mariana Gras, was surprised that women were in the minority at the meeting.“There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.” -- René Mauricio Valdés

“The meetings are always made up of women,” she said in an interview with IPS. “When we talk to different authorities or leaders and say we’re planning a meeting on gender equality, they say: ‘I’ll send the girls’. Men feel uncomfortable, they make jokes, and prefer not to go to these meetings.”

The U.N. resident coordinator in Argentina, René Mauricio Valdés, told IPS: “This has been gaining momentum among a group of us men who often ran into each other at events of this kind, where we shared specific concerns. Almost all the events that we organised on women’s rights were attended virtually by women only.”

Representatives of the government, the judicial system, the business community, academia and social movements took part in the Sep. 22 meeting.

Several participants signed the “commitment to equality” – one of the HxI network’s initiatives.[

The document, whose signatories include Labour Minister Carlos Tomada, states: “I commit to making a daily personal evaluation of my behavior and attitudes, to avoid reproducing the prejudices and stereotypes that sustain systematic discrimination towards women and keep them from enjoying their rights in equal conditions with men.”

Gras said sexist and ‘machista’ stereotypes also affect men in this South American country of 43 million people.

“’Machismo’ is something we all experience in this society, because it forms part of our cultural norms, and marks us all. And it also works the other way: if a man goes to the police station to report that a woman beat him, they tell him ‘don’t be a fag, go and take care of it yourself’,” she told the audience at the meeting.

Valdés said, “There are no ‘pure’ men, there are no men who haven’t discriminated at some point; it’s something that we men have become aware of little by little, on the public and personal levels, as fathers, as sons, as husbands – of the need to do something ourselves.”

The challenge is for this commitment to come from a group of influential leaders and intellectuals, and to be reflected in all provinces, in urban and rural areas, in every neighbourhood.

“We aren’t inviting ‘pure’ men to join in; we want everyone to join and to assume a personal commitment so that in the very first place in our own lives we won’t tolerate or permit these things in the places where we live, study, go to church, have fun,” Valdés explained.

This is the aim of organisations like the White Ribbon Campaign in Argentina, which has been organising mixed workshops for young men and women in football clubs in the central province of Córdoba.

Hugo Huberman, the national coordinator of the Campaign, told IPS, “We are working with football club youth teams about how the process of male socialisation and sports, especially football, generates masculine stereotypes normally linked to violence, not respecting others, and other things.”

The White Ribbon Campaign is a global movement of men working to end male violence against women. It emerged in Canada in 1991.

But machismo also manifests itself in simple day-to-day things like visiting the doctor.

“We’re working on men’s health, to carry out small campaigns to get men to go to the doctor more often,” said the activist. “We don’t go to the doctor because of an identity thing: guys who visit the doctor are weak and vulnerable; we don’t follow treatment plans, we don’t watch our diet.”

Carrefour, the French corporation, is also making an effort in its chain of supermarkets in Argentina. For example, it allows men as well as women to take time off for their child’s birthday or to attend important meetings at school.

The company also tries to schedule work meetings in the mornings, or by 4:00 PM at the latest, so employees won’t get home late.

The company’s director of corporate affairs, Leonardo Scarone, told IPS, “It’s true that society today still sees men as breadwinners and that women assume – in quotes – the role of taking care of the family, running the home, etc. If you don’t give men the opportunity to do these things, at the same time you’re taking away the possibility for women to work and develop their career.”

To promote women’s professional development, the company also established the rule that there must be at least one woman on each list of candidates for managerial positions, and the company’s career committees have been instructed to make an effort to promote women.

“At a managerial level we have 20 percent women; the hard thing was breaking through that famous glass ceiling, so women could reach the position of senior managers,” Scarone said.

Today, three years after its diversity programme began to be implemented, the company has six women senior managers – around 15 percent of the total, up from zero.

Gras said, “To combat gender violence, everyone is needed, because if one part of society is affected and we think the solution only lies in those who suffer the problem, first of all what we have is a society absolutely lacking in solidarity, and second, we´re not understanding the effects that ‘the other’ has in our society. We are all actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Human Rights Activists Condemn Houthi Militia’s Atrocities Against Women in Yemen Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:04:16 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
Geneva, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — Arab and Yemeni human rights activist monitoring the civil war in Yemen say that women have been subjected to grave human right violations at the hands of the rebel Houthi militia and an allied insurgent group under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The human rights defenders were speaking at a landmark event organised by the Arab Federation for Human Rights (AFHR) on the sidelines of the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Dr. Mona Hejres, a member of the AFHR and head of “Together for Human Rights,” noted in her presentation at the event that that women were active participants in the revolution that drove Saleh out of power and that many had faced human rights crimes including killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and use of excessive force during that struggle. She said that today, in rebel-held areas, women suffer greatly at the hands of the Houthi militia and Saleh group, with widespread murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, deprivation of basic educational and health services, bombardment of residential districts, and other atrocities targeting them in the capital Sana’a, Aden and other cities.

She called upon the international community to live up to its responsibilities in protecting the Yemeni people, especially women, and to back the Arab Coalition’s operations seeking to protect the Yemeni people. She also appealed to the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions on Yemen and ensure protection, safety and security for its people, and particularly women.

During the event, a number of heads of Yemeni human rights associations and organisations pointed to a recent report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) as further evidence of the suffering caused by the Houthi militia and Saleh group in Yemen, particularly with regard to women.

Representatives of the AFHR and the YCMHRV also reiterated their rejection of the western countries’ request to establish a fact finding committee, which they said would dilute and ignore what they termed a human tragedy fomented by the rebel militias. Instead, they said, the international community should focus on prosecuting war criminals in the conflict, and to uphold its responsibilities to protect women during armed and military conflicts and disputes.

Maryam bin Tawq, Coordinator at the AFHR, spoke about the importance of establishing the international coalition “Operation Restoring Hope” aimed at protecting the Yemeni people from violations and crimes against humanity being carried out by al-Houthi group and the Saleh Militia. She said that the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Human Rights had found that the rebel militias had committed more than 4,500 human rights violations within the course of just one month of their control of Sana’a. (END)

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Learning from Korea’s ‘Saemaul Undong’ to Achieve SDGs Wed, 30 Sep 2015 14:13:08 +0000 Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

UNSG Ban Ki-moon addressing the High level Conference on the New Rural Development Model, from the Experience of Saemaul Undong. Sitting next to him is Korea President Park Geun-hye. Source: UN Photo/ Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt and Valentina Ieri

More than 3.3 billion people live in rural areas around the world. Rural development is therefore of vital significance if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity” – is to become reality.

A day after world leaders unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Sep. 25 at the UN headquarters in New York, the Development Centre of the 34-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) co-hosted a landmark event to discuss ways for reaching SDGs across developing countries.

The focus was on the New Rural Development Paradigm and the Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities Model, which is inspired by the successful Saemaul Undong in Korea.

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon.  Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Ambassador Hahn, Deputy Permanent Representative of the South Korea Mission to the U.N., with UNSG Ban Ki-moon. Source UN photo/ Mark Garten

Addressing the gathering, Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, who was the foreign minister of South Korea from January 2004 to November 2006, said: “Leaders have pledged to create a life of dignity for all people. We have promised to leave no one behind, including families in rural areas. There will be no progress on global movement without local development.”

Ban welcomed the Korean model to the U.N. and hoped that its principles could inspire other developing countries. “The Korean countryside went from poverty to prosperity,” said Ban, adding that the Saemaul Undong shares the ultimate targets of the SDGs. Based on the key principles of education, diligence, self-help and mutual cooperation, Saemaul Undong can be the new rural development paradigm for the sustainable prosperity of the world, said the U.N. Secretary-General.

Taking part in the event was also Park Geun-hye, President of the Republic of Korea, who explained how Korea is now cooperating with the UNDP and OECD to tailor the New Village Movement model in accordance with the specific conditions in other countries.

“Saemaul Undong,” said President Park, “uplifted Korea and has transformed our society. We were among the poorest countries in the world […] Now we are among the top 15 economies globally, and we are in the top ranks of major international aid donors.”

Although most attribute South Korea’s history of development to the country’s booming industry, the Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of South Korea to the U.N., Ambassador Choonghee Hahn, believes that Saemaul Undong was the critical factor which led to success in the 1970’s, and it is an inspiration for future environmentally sustainable development in today’s era of rapid urbanization and industrialization.

“This movement is needed in order for every person to change their vision from hopeless to hopeful, and from poverty to prosperity,” Hahn told IPS in an interview. “Korea would like to share this development experience with every country in the world.”

Hahn told IPS that the prominent aspects setting Saemaul Undong apart from mainstream development strategies, have been or are in the process of being incorporated into development projects in 30 countries around the world, such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. They include strategies such as promoting a can-do spirit, an enlightening perception of gender equality, and human rights.

Park Chung-hee, the father of current South Korean President Park Geun-hye, initiated the Saemaul Undong movement in 1970 by giving cement and steel to each village, ranking each village according to how well the villagers put the resources to use. The state then gave the top ranking villages more resources, thus creating an incentive as well as a sense of unity to work hard together in order to compete with neighbouring villages.

Consequently, the programme encouraged a sense of unity and belief in citizens that they can be a part of making their community and their country a better place to live. Motivational tools such as flags, songs, and spiritual testimonials raised people’s enthusiasm.

“This is why music is a big part of the development process,” Hahn said. One of the two most popular songs sung by communities were composed by President Park. The song “Jal Sala Boseh” sent a message of being rich and prosperous, and “Saebyuck Jong-i Ulryutneh” said “a new day is beginning, let’s get together to build a new village”, Hahn recalled.

A strong belief in self-reliance, through local agencies, the idea of making the country less dependent on foreign aid, and eventually less dependent on government, were key growth strategies, according to Hahn. They also led to more sustainable projects, which by the early 1980’s, were funded more by community resources and financing instead of the government budget.

The Korean government policy led to the building of Saemaul training centres which linked the central government to local officials and residents implementing projects, which include leadership training for women at provincial and central training institutes. From each village, there would be 12 elected delegates and the government made it mandatory for at least one woman delegate to be included among the 12, leading to empowerment of women.

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Mario Pezzini, Director of OECD Development Centre, Source : OECD Dev. Centre

Can the Saemaul Undong experience be replicated successfully somewhere else? Yes, says Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre.

92 percent of the global rural population of 3.3 billion lives in developing countries, and it is projected to grow further till 2028. Therefore, using “rural lenses” is indispensable for the implementation and success of the SDGs, Pezzini said in an interview with IPS.

The majority of the poor are concentrated in rural areas, struggling with rising inequalities, and constraint by the inability of urban areas to absorb them.

Because these people face environmental, social and economic instability, they cannot be left behind. “We need to keep in mind that rural development is not synonymous of agriculture nor with decline,” explained Pezzini.

Agriculture represents a crucial part of rural economies. Any increase in agricultural productivity will produce further rural population redundancy, which is not necessarily employed by agriculture, added the OECD Development Centre’s director from Italy.

When discussing rural development, it is important to refer to an economy that is local, which includes agriculture, but it also goes far beyond including non-farming jobs as well, he insisted. Therefore, rural development will not necessarily coincide with agricultural development, nor will it necessarily coincide only with industrial development.

This, in turn, will bring a revolutionary approach to policy-making.

What the new rural paradigm, based on the Saemaul Undong movement, should imply is a new “type of local and regional development, a multi-sectoral, multi-agent and multi-dimensional development, which needs to take into account different activities,” said Pezzini.

New government agendas should concentrate on diverse assets of rural areas, which require different types of designed interventions. When central governments act on general schemes, putting input policies and without taking local population and local knowledge into account, very often they fail, he added.

“One actor cannot make it happen alone. But if the public sector wants to be effective it needs to involve the private sector, unions and citizens. The crucial point here is how to valorise assets that have not yet been used,” declared Pezzini.

This article is part of IPS North America’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and Devnet Tokyo.

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Opinion: Renewed Optimism or Higgledy-Piggledy Vision? Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:05:51 +0000 S Kulkami vani_raghav_ok

By S. Kulkami and Raghav Gaiha
Philadelphia and Boston, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the whopping 169 targets were adopted in the largest ever United Nations Summit, attended by Prime Ministers, Presidents and the Pope, among other luminaries, in New York. These goals encompass world peace, the environment, gender equality, elimination of poverty and hunger and much, much more.

So far, they have evoked mixed reactions ranging from complete dismissal to grudging acceptance and overwhelming euphoria. Much of the scepticism is rooted in the ambitiousness of the SDGs relative to highly varying and, in most cases, limited capacities of developing countries to accomplish them. A comment in The Economist (19 September, 2015) derides them as “higgledy-piggledy, “bloated” and “unwieldy” but acknowledges a shift in development thinking.

While we commend the vision of SDGs for their comprehensiveness, emphasis on their inter-relatedness and inclusiveness, we have drawn upon recent evidence to develop the following key strategic elements in the spirit of enriching the policy debates.

A profound and lasting contribution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was that they enhanced awareness of the multiple deprivations that afflicted large majorities of the people in many developing countries and policy challenges that confronted the governments, multilaterals and donors.

The SDGs have not just expanded their vision but also enriched it by focusing on sustainability. As Amartya Sen emphasised in the context of universal health care, it is not so much lack of affordability but a failure to recognise the capacity of poor countries (such as Rwanda), and states (such as Kerala in India) to mobilise and utilise resources effectively.

As global poverty fell, so did the gap between rural and urban poverty. Still, more than three-fourths of the extremely poor live in rural areas. It is clear, then, that global poverty remains a rural problem.

Overemphatic endorsement in recent studies of urbanisation as the main strategy for sustainable development neglects agriculture and the rural non-farm economy (RNFE) as key drivers of growth and reduction of inequality and poverty, as a vast majority of rural people still depend on them for their livelihoods.

Structural changes have occurred in both agriculture and the RNFE. Some features of changes in agriculture include its commercialisation, the emergence of high value food chains associated with demographic changes, urbanisation and growing affluence, and growth of agricultural exports.

Some have questioned the importance assigned to smallholder agriculture as a pathway out of poverty. Specifically, they contest the argument of the World Development Report 2008 that stimulating agricultural growth is “vital for stimulating growth in other parts of the economy,” and that smallholders are at the core of this strategy.

Pervasiveness of smallholder participation in high value food chains in different regions – especially in vegetables and fruits, milk and dairy products, and meat – is much higher than generally expected.

But there are barriers, too: lack of access to technology, credit markets, economies of scale in marketing, and ways of meeting stringent food quality standards. Contract farming is an option. Producers’ associations also contribute to overcoming some of these constraints. Central to this is inculcation of entrepreneurial skills among smallholders – especially young men and women – making sure that land, labour, credit and output markets function more efficiently.

While a majority of recent studies are emphatic about low labour productivity in agriculture impeding sustainable agricultural development, it is seldom acknowledged that these are manifestations of “underinvestment” in agriculture and market imperfections (e.g. dominance of local money lenders charging exorbitant interest rates, limited land rental markets, the sharp wedge between farm gate and wholesale prices for smallholders). Size neutrality of new agricultural technology implies an important role for extension services.

As part of the diversification of the rural economy, the RNFE has assumed greater importance in that it comprises a diverse set of activities ranging from pottery to trading and manufacturing with varied returns. Available evidence points to a large “overlap” between smallholders and those engaged in the RNFE using time disposition data. There is also some evidence that more than a small share of those classified as engaged in the RNFE live in rural areas but work in urban areas, raising questions about a sharp rural-urban dichotomy.

Other issues that deserve greater attention include labour tightening and higher wage rates, reduction of vulnerability of agriculture to weather shocks, volatility of prices, and forging of closer linkages with small and secondary towns. Central to expansion of the RNFE is how to make it more attractive for not just those who are engaged in both agriculture and the RNFE but also others who may move out of agriculture in pursuit of more rewarding opportunities elsewhere. Inculcation of managerial skills, more efficient credit and output markets, and improvements in rural infrastructure to enable easier access to output markets could stem the rural-urban migration tide and thereby the rapid growth of slums.

For poverty reduction, some forms of inequality matter more than others. Important ones include inequality in the distribution of assets, especially land, human capital, financial capital and access to public assets such as rural infrastructure. Broadly, a pro-poor agenda should include measures to moderate current income inequality while facilitating access to income-generating assets and the promotion of employment opportunities for the poor.

Much of the cross-country evidence relates to the benefits of financial depth rather than to broad financial inclusion. The Global Financial Development Report 2014 (World Bank, 2014) makes an emphatic case for the latter on the grounds it reflects a growing realization of its potentially transformative power to accelerate development gains through greater access to resources for investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks. Indeed, greater diversification of clientele through financial inclusion is likely to lead to a more resilient and more stable economy.

As more and more economies upgrade to middle-income and institutional quality improves, private capital inflows will become increasingly important. A stable macro-economic environment and incentives for public-private partnerships would promote growth and poverty reduction. Greater transparency of contracts and better enforcement are imperative. Not just national but local institutions matter a great deal in a sustainable rural transformation and poverty reduction.

Institutional responses to risks need to be strengthened by promoting community level institutions; widening and deepening of the reach of financial institutions; and providing social protection to the most vulnerable. When designed well and targeted effectively, these institutions and programmes help poor households build resilience against risks and severe hardships.

Local organizations (e.g water users’ associations, producers’ groups, women’s groups) not only help in equitable use of scarce natural resources in a community but also in facilitating access to credit and other markets.

Indeed, contrary to the deep pessimism, the SDGs reflect a renewed commitment to and optimism about bettering the “nasty, short and brutish lives” of the poor, disadvantaged and vulnerable in the near future.

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

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Anti-gay Sentiment Arises During the U.N. General Assembly Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:28:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights during a High-Level Core Group event on Sep. 29, noting his experiences in working with governments to eliminate LGBTI-discriminatory policies.

“Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not but I will continue to fight until all LGBT people can live freely without suffering any intimidation or discrimination,” Ban said.

The politically-sensitive issue also came up during the high-level segment of the General Assembly, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe highlighted the need to respect and uphold human rights while rejecting LGBTI rights.

Speaking during the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he pointedly said: “We…reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

“We are not gays,” Mugabe continued.

The statement was met with some laughter and little applause during the General Assembly session whose theme is the “United Nations at 70: The road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”

Mugabe’s rejection of rights for the LGBTI community remains in line with the country’s policies.

In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of performing any homosexual acts can be imprisoned or fined. For instance, in 2006, the government made it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss.

President Mugabe has been vocal about the country’s anti-LGBT stance, describing LGBTI individuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” during a rally on July 23, 2013.

The government of Saudi Arabia also rejected any references to homosexuality during the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Sep. 25 to 27.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told world leaders that “mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”

Similar reservations regarding LGBTI rights were expressed by several member States during the creation of the SDGs.

For instance, in the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, Cameroon rejected any policies or reporting for SDG 5.6, which “will include or tend to include, explicitly or implicitly, the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex couples.”

Target 5.6 states the need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and to ensure reproductive rights.

As a result, Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed publicly declared last year that gay rights were “off the table” in the SDG agenda.

The SDGs currently make no mention of sexual orientation or LGBT rights.

However, a joint statement released on Sep. 29 by 12 U.N. entities including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on States to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” the statement says.

U.N. agencies specifically urge governments to repeal discriminatory laws, strengthen efforts to prevent, monitor and report violence against LGBTI individuals, and ensure the inclusion of LGBTI individuals in development.

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them…constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society…and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals,” declared the U.N. agencies.

In Zimbabwe, anti-gay legislation had already hindered LGBTI-related efforts including the eradication of HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV rates in the world, with an estimated 15 percent of residents living with HIV.

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Opinion: The Party’s Over for U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals Wed, 30 Sep 2015 11:52:03 +0000 Adriano Campolina

Adriano Campolina, is Chief Executive of ActionAid International

By Adriano Campolina

The Pope has left the U.N. and the traffic in Manhattan is back to normal. The hoard of government delegations, NGOs and civil society representatives are packing up and the press is moving on. The party’s over for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Adriano Campolina

Adriano Campolina

Last week member states of the U.N. agreed goals, which set to end extreme poverty, fight against inequality and fix climate change. The Sustainable Development goals cover almost every aspect of poverty and are targets for every country around the world – developed and developing alike.

For such ambitious goals to be achieved, leaders will need to turn their promises on inequality into policies that will deliver real change. One day after the deal was done, I had a glimpse of how hard it will be to convince the world’s leaders. Attending a meeting on growth as part of the official SDG agenda, I was surprised the narrative of free trade and mega-investments continued to flow unbounded from governments.

Despite having a goal dedicated to ending inequality, the language of false market-based solutions continues – the same solutions which for years have locked people into low paid employment, divested money from public services and helped drive up inequality in almost all countries. The consequences of bad investments on people and the environment – causing environmental degradation, evictions and land grabbing – were blatantly ignored.

But here lies the catch. Corporations are not just stalking the corridors of the U.N. and promoting investments damaging to the poor, they also have a stranglehold on how countries raise tax, which will enable them to pay for the goals.

ActionAid research last month discovered tax incentives given to big corporations in West Africa drain the region of an estimated 9.6 billion dollars a year – money which could be spent on health and education. And globally it is estimated that developing countries lose over 200 billion dollars a year from corporate tax dodging. Yet rich countries continue to block moves for a global body on tax to make the rules fairer.

The 800 million people in poverty worldwide need change. In many ways, people are ahead of the U.N. as they’re doing it without flashy launch events or concerts. Across Africa, people have been mobilised and fought for the right to free primary school education, with massive wins.

And in my native Brazil, women without access to land have organised themselves, taken on brutal landlords and won the right to farm the land. Leaders are acknowledging the idea of inequality but poor people around the world are not just recognising it, they are wrenching it from its roots and organising themselves to build something new.

To achieve real change for poor people, the business as usual approach I saw at the U.N. over the last few days won’t be good enough. The climate conference in Paris in December will be the first test. If world leaders do not commit to emissions cuts and agree to financing to help developing countries with climate impacts, then success for the goals will be off to a very shaky start.

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

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Africa Must Depend Less on Development Aid, Says New Study Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:48:53 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targeted date by the end of December, one of the lingering questions has long remained unanswered – at least, until now.

industry_0Why did most African nations make progress in some, but failed to reach their targets in most others?

A new study, titled “Assessing Progress in Africa Toward the Millennium Development Goals” released here, points out that poor implementation mechanisms and excessive reliance on development aid undermined the economic sustainability of several of the eight MDGs, including the elimination or reduction of extreme poverty and hunger.

The report, produced jointly by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), says: “Having made encouraging progress on MDGs, African countries have the opportunity to use the newly launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to tackle remaining challenges and achieve a development breakthrough.”

The 17 SDGs, adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders last week, targets the year 2030 for the total elimination of poverty and hunger worldwide.

With official development assistance (ODA) to Africa projected to remain low over the period 2015-2018, at an average of around 47 billion dollars annually, the focus should be on boosting and diversifying economies, mobilizing domestic resources and new partners, unleashing the economic potential of women and fighting illicit financial flows, says the report.

Asked about the slow progress made by African nations in implementing the MDGs, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, told IPS lack of adequate financial resources has been one of the biggest constraints in meeting the MDGs.

And ODA seems to be reaching a plateau, he said.

“Therefore, there is a need for countries to make concerted efforts to mobilize domestic resources, build up financial infrastructure, and ensure appropriate regulatory measures and institutions are put in place.”

Still, he pointed out, mobilizing resources is not enough; this must be accompanied by appropriate policies for effective utilization of the resources for the purpose intended.

He also said: “We must design strategies for overcoming the funding challenge. ODA should serve as a catalyst.”

For instance, a substantial proportion of ODA should be used to development institutional capacity for domestic resource mobilization in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In addition, other sources of funding need to be mobilized, such as remittances, the private sector, South-South cooperation, financing from extractives and other sectors, he added.

Although overall poverty rates are still hovering around 48 percent, according to the most recent estimates, most countries have made progress on at least one goal.

The Gambia reduced poverty by 32 percent between 1990 and 2010, while Ethiopia decreased its poverty rate by one third, focusing on agriculture and rural livelihoods.

Some policies and initiatives have been groundbreaking, says the report, pointing out Niger’s School for Husbands, which has been successful in transforming men into allies in promoting women’s reproductive health, family planning and behavioral change towards gender equality.

Cabo Verde increased its forest cover by more than 6.0 percentage points, with millions of trees planted in recent years.

Still, the study says much more work lies ahead to ensure living standards improve for all African women and men.

“While economic growth has been relatively strong, it has not been rapid or inclusive enough to create jobs. Similarly, many countries have managed to achieve access to primary schooling however considerable issues of quality and equity need to be addressed. “

Projecting into the future, the study says achieving sustainable development will also be impossible unless African nations and communities are resilient, able to anticipate, shape and adapt to the many shocks and challenges they face, including climate-related disasters, health crises such as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and conflict and instability. Investments now in prevention and preparedness will minimize risk and future costs.

Africa has seen an acceleration in economic growth, established ambitious social safety nets and designed policies for boosting education and tackling HIV and other diseases.

Africa has also introduced women’s quotas in parliament, leading the way internationally on gender equality, and increased gender parity in primary schools.

The continent’s new development priorities, as embodied in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, are both comprehensive and universal, while their implementation will entail mobilizing additional resources and partners, and putting in place more robust monitoring systems.

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: We Can Overcome Poverty and Hunger by 2030 Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:24:13 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

Jomo Kwame Sundaram. Credit: FAO

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

Over three quarters of the extreme poor in the world live in the countryside. Reducing rural poverty will therefore require significantly higher rural incomes. Since most rural incomes are related to agriculture, raising agricultural productivity can help raise rural incomes all round.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many governments invested a great deal to increase agricultural, especially food production. In the second half of the 20th century, agricultural productivity rose rapidly. However, intense price competition meant that productive resource suppliers and consumers benefitted more from productivity gains.

Lower food prices thus helped reduce poverty while transnational agri-business has profited greatly from changes in agricultural production, credit, processing and marketing chains.

In the last decade, food prices went up again as production rose more slowly than before, partly due to greater land and other resource constraints, reduced public investments as well as increased demand for food crops, including for bio-fuels and more animal feed.

Supply and demand

Food price increases from a decade ago have been associated not only with significant supply and demand changes, but also with biofuel mandates and subsidies as well as greater commodity speculative investments.

But with food prices receding again more recently, food would become cheaper, reducing farmer incomes and the incentive to produce more food.

Poor countries are doubly handicapped by their limited tax capacities, due to low tax rates on low incomes. While agricultural taxation is generally proportional to land cultivated or output, much government rural or agricultural spending has benefited plantations and larger farmers more than smaller smallholders, tenants or sharecroppers. Nevertheless, the poor may have benefited in so far as greater output lifts all boats.

While there is little excessive taxation of small farmers these days, there are also modest urban-to-rural resource transfers through the fiscal system or other transfer arrangements.

However, with a few notable exceptions, most government spending on agriculture is not biased to the poor.

Government spending in rural areas and on agriculture has generally been motivated by political considerations, especially the desire to secure rural political support, not least by raising agricultural output, productivity and incomes.

Instead, such public expenditure tends to benefit the relatively better-off in agriculture. This is generally true with improved rural infrastructure or social services, including health and schooling, as well as agricultural support in the form of subsidized fertilizer or other agricultural inputs – usually distributed according to the amount of land owned.

Closing food security gaps

The Green Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s mainly involved wheat, rice and maize. Closing the productivity, output and income gaps of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) with the rest of the world will require appropriate measures addressing the many disincentives to greater food and other investments in the continent needed to improve livelihoods.

Undoubtedly, increased food production can enhance food security, reduce hunger and improve nutrition in SSA for the farmers themselves. But food security has been undermined by trade liberalization and export promotion in the last three decades.

The recent purchase or long-term lease by foreign interests of choice African agricultural land to produce food for export is especially problematic.

Experience since the mid-20th century reminds us that increasing food production alone will not be enough to eliminate poverty and hunger in the world. There has long been enough food in the world to feed everyone, but the hungry typically do not have the incomes or other means to secure access to sufficient food to adequately feed themselves.

As many hundreds of millions are so deprived, and likely to remain so for a long time to come, especially with the likelihood of a prolonged economic slowdown, with high levels of underemployment and unemployment, there is no other way to overcome poverty and hunger except with some basic social provisioning for all, by establishing what is called a basic ‘social protection floor’.

In this connection, FAO seeks to accelerate the transition ‘from protection to production’, and thus ensure sustainable means to eliminate hunger and poverty while ensuring resilience in the longer term.

With the growing consensus, momentum and commitment to eradicate world poverty and hunger by 2030 enshrined in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, it will be necessary to deploy all the necessary instruments as soon as possible.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda emerging from the third Financing for Development Conference in July is supposed to ensure adequate financial and other means of implementation for this purpose.

At Addis, the Rome-based U.N. agencies presented an affordable and feasible way to quickly eliminate hunger and poverty through social protection, while increasing the earned incomes of the poor with adequate pro-poor investments during 2016-2030 costing about 0.3 percent of current global income. Clearly, together, we can – and must – eliminate hunger and poverty by 2030.

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

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Opinion: Multilateral Treaty Framework – An Abiding Achievement of the U.N. Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:12:11 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona Mongolia depositing ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, on Sep. 28, 2015

Mongolia depositing ratification of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, on Sep. 28, 2015

By Dr. Palitha Kohona

As it celebrates its 70th birthday, a proud achievement of the United Nations over its lifetime, is the framework of multilateral treaties that it has been instrumental in putting in place.

Today a mind boggling network of treaties has proliferated affecting every imaginable area of human interaction, including trade, aviation, shipping, transport, human rights, outer space, terrorism and organised crime, disarmament, the environment, the oceans and seas, etc.

Treaties are widely recognised as the pre-eminent source of international law in the contemporary world and the reach of a treaty based international legal order, including dispute settlement mechanisms, has gradually extended and consolidated. They have become the foundation for creating a better world through the adoption of commonly negotiated and accepted standards with legal force.

Treaty making among sovereigns, inter alia, for the regulation of conduct among themselves, to facilitate economic and commercial relations, to demarcate their territorial boundaries and to avoid conflict, has a long history.

One of the oldest known treaties was between the Hittites and Ramses II of Egypt, a bronze replica of which is displayed in the U.N. building. Interestingly, many of the provisions of this treaty could sit comfortably in a modern instrument. Not much seems to have changed in the way states deal with each other in 5000 years.

Over 560 multilateral treaties are deposited with the U.N. Secretary-General. Most have been concluded under the auspices of the U.N. or with U.N. assistance. Facilitating multilateral treaty making has been a major preoccupation of the U.N. since its inception.

Treaties, which were originally concluded to regulate inter-sovereign relations, have increasingly been negotiated in response to a variety of emerging global needs with an ever increasing impact on the lives of individuals, on communities and the world in general.

A few have been inherited by the U.N. Secretary-General from the short-lived League of Nations. Multilateral treaties on human rights, climate change, the oceans, terrorism and organised crime, to name a few, attract much attention today.

For historical reasons, the Charter of the U.N. itself, which has 193 parties, is deposited with the USA. Significantly, some of the landmark standard setting instruments affecting humanity are not treaties but U.N. declarations such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 adopted through the Millennium Declaration and the Sustainable Development Goals of 2015.

Since the Millennium Summit in 2000, the U.N. has made a sustained effort to secure wider participation in the multilateral treaties deposited with the U.N. Secretary-General, organising a dedicated treaty event during each UNGA, under the theme, “AN INVITATION TO UNIVERSAL PARTICIPATION”.

The initial Treaty Event of 2000 was successful beyond all expectations attracting 274 treaty actions and the participation of 84 heads of state and government and other high dignitaries. Reflecting the importance that they attached to global treaties, world leaders such as Jacques Chirac of France, Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Tony Blair of the UK, and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of India, trooped in to place their signatures on treaties deposited with the Secretary-General (SG).

A number of the multilateral treaties deposited with the SG are close to achieving universal participation, including non-members of the U.N. For example, ground breaking treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women have secured almost universal participation.

For a country that wields unparalleled economic and political power and one that has been a proactive advocate for advancing the international legal order, the USA, sticks out as a non-party to any of the above.

It is recognised that many provisions of the Law of the Sea Convention, which commands only 167 parties as of now, have become part of customary international law. Major states such as the USA, Turkey, Venezuela and Peru are still to become party to it due to domestic and other considerations but comply with most of its provisions.

Two implementing agreements to the Convention, one on its Part XI and the other on Straddling Fish Stocks, have been concluded and have entered in to force. Negotiations on a third, on marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction, are expected to commence soon.

Some multilateral treaties, concluded with great enthusiasm and fanfare, are still a long way from entering into force. Some require just a few more ratifications or accessions to trigger their entry into force. With its complex entry into force provisions, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a key component of the disarmament framework, is still not in force.

Efforts to secure wider participation in the multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General continues. In his letter of invitation to Member States to the 2015 Treaty Event, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states that the Event “provides a distinct opportunity for States to fulfil pledges made in national and international fora to sign on to, and particularly, to ratify or accede to multilateral treaties”.

It is unusual for a state to withdraw from a multilateral treaty. Only a handful of examples exist. Canada denounced the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. North Korea sought to withdraw from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1997 but the Secretary-General, as depositary, took the view that withdrawal would only be possible with the consent of all the parties.

The Charter of the U.N. contains specific provisions on treaties. Article 102 requires that, “Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it.”
Over 60,000 treaties have been registered with the U.N. and published in the U.N. Treaty Series now available on-line. Despite the Charter requirement, it is estimated that only a fraction of the treaties concluded, is registered with the Secretariat. It is said that the U.N. Treaty Collection on the web is accessed over one million times a month.

The genesis of Article 102 lies almost 100 years ago when Leon Trotsky published the secret treaties of the Tsarist Government causing an outcry about the destructive consequences of secret treaties. The U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, identified secret treaties as a cause of wars and, at his insistence, Article 18 of the Statute of the League of Nations was adopted, requiring all treaties to be registered with the League and published by it.

This provision was later incorporated in the U.N. Charter with the added proviso that treaties, which were not registered could not be invoked before an organ of the U.N.

Treaties constitute the major source of international law. The conclusion of a treaty per se does not guarantee proper compliance. The provisions of a treaty that has entered into force must be implemented.

A multilateral treaty itself, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in its Article 26, states that a treaty in force is binding on its parties and must be implemented in good faith. By and large, states abide by their treaty obligations.

Even when doubts exist about the legality of an action, extreme efforts are made to find legal justifications. A state would not normally become party to a treaty until its domestic implementing mechanisms, including legislation, are in place.

This tendency of states to comply with their international legal obligations augurs well for a world, many parts of which are still mired in discord and conflict, sometimes with the involvement of major powers.

The fact that the language used in treaty making, in some instances, facilitates interpretations of convenience, tends to sow seeds of doubt about the efficacy of one of the U.N.’s major achievements, the global network of treaties.

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

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Iran’s nuclear deal and the regional countries Tue, 29 Sep 2015 15:50:55 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the ninth of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

Although some regional countries initially opposed the nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, France and Germany), once the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed by the two sides in July 2015, practically all regional countries welcomed it. After the initial agreement in Lausanne, U.S. President Barack Obama invited all the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders to a Camp David summit in May and all of them expressed support for the deal.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

After the nuclear agreement was announced, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait both congratulated Iran and the Secretary General of the Arab League Nabil al-Arabi hailed the deal as a historic event which constituted the first step to rid the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction. He called on the international community to put pressure on Israel to get rid of her nuclear weapons. As the head of the Arab League he speaks officially for all the Arab countries.

After the meeting between Obama and the Saudi King Salman at the White House on September 4th, the two sides issued a joint statement. In the statement King Salman expressed his support for the JCPOA “which once fully implemented will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and thereby enhance security in the region.”

For his part, Obama has indicated that the region needs a new approach toward regional security. He said the Sunni Arab states shouldn’t blame Iran for all their problems, and he called on them to engage Iran in a “practical conversation” to reduce sectarian divisions and address shared threats from terrorism.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has talked about the possibilities for cooperation with Iran’s neighbors on common challenges in a spirit of “mutual respect, good neighborliness, and Islamic brotherhood.”

Turkey, which has worked closely with Iran over many years to resolve the nuclear issue (in May 2010, Turkey and Brazil tried to broker a deal between Iran and the West), is also fully supportive of this agreement. This leaves Israel as the only regional country that still opposes the deal.

With the very sensitive nuclear issue taken off the table, it is much easier now to deal with a number of critical regional issues. If the U.S. focuses exclusively on the agreement and does not test opportunities for collaboration with Iran on other issues, it may miss a historic opportunity to reshape relations with the Islamic Republic, as well as to usher in a new political and security order in the Middle East as a whole.

Iran of course poses a number of challenges to U.S. interests in the region, and in many arenas American and Iranian interests seem to be fundamentally at odds. Chief among these disagreements are Iran’s policies towards Israel, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Dubbed the “axis of resistance,” the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hamas-Hezbollah grouping was supposed to highlight Iran’s commitment to the Palestinian cause. Iran is accused of supporting the Shi’a militias in Iraq to the detriment of the Sunni minority. Iran supports and arms the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and is also accused of supporting the Houthis in Yemen.

However, as the result of changed circumstances in the region none of these problems is insurmountable. As far as Hamas is concerned, after the civil war in Syria and the expulsion of Palestinians from that country, Hamas turned initially towards Turkey and towards the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Since the coup in Egypt, Hamas has turned more towards Qatar and has even mended relations with Saudi Arabia. Therefore, hardly any links exist at the moment between Hamas and Iran.

Hezbollah forces are fighting in Syria to support Assad’s government against ISIS, the al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups. This is a cause that the West shares. With the flood of refugees towards Europe, many European leaders have realized that no matter how much they loathe Assad, he is preferable to the terrorists that pose a deadly threat to the region and even to the West.

In a joint press conference in London, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that although Assad had to go, nevertheless, it might be necessary to talk to him as part of a deal over a transitional period. Neither Iran nor Russia has said that Assad should rule Syria forever, but they argue that first the terrorists should be defeated, and then Assad’s fate should be decided by the Syrian people in a supervised election.

As far as Yemen is concerned, U.S. officials have admitted that Iran does not play any direct role in that conflict. In an interview with The New York Times in July, Obama said that Tehran had even tried to dissuade the Houthis from capturing Sana’a back in 2014. According to a report released on September 19 by Yemen’s Civil Coalition, over 6,000 Yemenis have so far lost their lives, and a total of 14,000 people have been injured, most of them civilians. The latest deadly stampede during the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, killing at least 717 and injuring over 800 with a few hundred people still missing, has added to Saudi woes. The combination of these tragedies, as well as growing domestic discontent, might persuade the Saudi rulers to turn towards diplomacy and regional cooperation.

Turkey has recently softened her position towards Assad, and by placing its airports at the disposal of U.S. aircraft fighting ISIS, Turkey has shown that it takes the terrorist threat seriously. Recently, there have been some moves by the Russian President Vladimir Putin to form a security belt, including Russia, Iran, Egypt and Syria against ISIS. The response from the U.S. to Putin’s proposal has not been hostile. In the wake of their meetings in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the U.S. and Russian presidents might reach an agreement over how to jointly tackle the menace of terrorism.

During his recent visit to New York to take part in the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that ties with the U.S. had improved, but there was still a “long road to travel” before they could normalize their relations. Nevertheless, what we are seeing on the ground looks quite different. If the new rapprochement between Iran and the West is not to fizzle out, there is a need to broaden the scope of cooperation over regional issues.

Recent developments have shown that there is an increasing possibility for new geopolitical alignments throughout the region. The growing menace of terrorism, Iran and the U.S.’s tacit cooperation in Iraq, Saudi Arabia’s growing problems in Yemen, Turkey’s shift to greater cooperation with the U.S, and now Russia’s greater involvement in the fight against ISIS show that all these countries have some shared interests in fighting terrorism, and establishing security and stability in the region through cooperation.

The status quo in the Middle East cannot survive much longer. The winds of change are blowing throughout the entire region, and there is a possibility of new beginnings. This opportunity should not be missed.

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

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‘Why is it Easier to Find Money to Destroy People than Protect Them?’ Asks U.N. Chief Mon, 28 Sep 2015 22:44:55 +0000 Thalif Deen United States President Addresses General Assembly. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

United States President Addresses General Assembly. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen

Speaking at the opening session of the high-level debate of the U.N. General Assembly Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a politically troubled world is suffering from a lack of empathy.

“One hundred million people require immediate humanitarian assistance,” he told delegates, pointing out that at least 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes or their countries.

The United Nations has asked for nearly 20 billion dollars to meet this year’s needs – six times the level of a decade ago. But demands continue to dwarf funding, although member states have been generous, he said.

Still, he lamented, the global humanitarian system is not broken; “it is broke.”

“We are not receiving enough money to save enough lives. We have about half of what we need to help the people of Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen – and just a third for Syria.”

In Yemen, 21 million people — 80 per cent of the population — need humanitarian assistance.

The U.N.’s response plan for Ukraine is just 39 per cent funded while the appeal for Gambia, where one in four children suffers from stunting, has been met with silence.

Still, he pointed out, the world continues to squander trillions in wasteful military spending.

“Why is it easier to find the money to destroy people and planet than it is to protect them?” he asked delegates, who include five of the world’s major military powers: the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain.

Speaking for nearly 45 minutes, U.S. President Barack Obama covered a wide range of subjects in his address to the General Assembly.

And his appearance before the United Nations coincided with a breaking story about Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria joining a new coalition to fight the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) — even while a Western coalition has been fighting a losing battle against the terrorist group.

“I’ve said before and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them,” Obama warned.

“We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.”

But while military power is necessary, the U.S. President argued, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria.

“Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully,” he said.

Obama said the United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict.

“But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.”

Asked to react to Obama’s speech, Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America told IPS, President Obama showed renewed interest in engaging on a peace process for Syria – one that includes Iran and Russia.

“We’re hopeful that when he returns to Washington it is with the intention to remain personally engaged in a peace process. His words were welcome but they must be followed by action.”

He said a ‘fate worse than death’ is how some of the four million Syrian refugees, now registered in countries neighboring Syria, describe what it’s like to watch the towns and cities they left behind crumble under mortar attacks and barrel bombs.

“What is needed urgently is an inclusive peace process — pressure on the parties to end indiscriminate attacks and allow greater access to humanitarian assistance,” Offenheiser said.

“We welcome Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. will take more refugees, but remain concerned that the pace and scale of the U.S. response is nowhere near enough. We urge the United States to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees in the coming fiscal year.”

The U.S. can and should do much more to provide refuge and safety to the millions of Syrians displaced by the conflict, he declared.

Speaking of the U.N.‘s track record over the last 70 years, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff listed some of the world body’s successes and failures.

She said the United Nations has broadened its initiatives, incorporating the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporating issues related to the environment, poverty eradication, social development and access to quality services.

Matters such as urban challenges and gender and race issues have become a priority.

Still, she said the Organization has not had the same success, in addressing collective security, an issue which was present at the U.N.’s origins and which remains at the center of its concerns.

She said the proliferation of regional conflicts – some with high destructive potential – “as well as the expansion of terrorism, that kills men, women, and children, destroys our common heritage and displaces millions of people from their secular communities, show that the United Nations is before a great challenge.”

“One cannot be complacent with barbaric acts such as those perpetrated by the so called Islamic State and other associated groups.”

This situation explains, to a large extent, the refugee crisis that humankind is currently experiencing, Rousseff said.

A significant portion of the men, women and children who perilously venture the waters of the Mediterranean and painfully wander along the roads of Europe come from the Middle East and Northern Africa, from countries which had their state institutions de-structured by military action undertaken in contravention of international law, thereby opening space for terrorism, the Brazilian President noted.

The writer can be contacted at

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Report Condemns Atrocities of Houthi Rebels in Yemen Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:49:06 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – A new report from a human rights group operating in Yemen says that human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels, with more than 3,000 people murdered by the insurgent Houthi militia and its allies in Yemen.

The report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV), prepared from
reports by the organisation’s field monitors in Yemen, outlines a series of atrocities committed over the
past year in Sana’a, the capital, Aden, Taiz, Lahej, Hodiedah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar and Shabwa,
governorates (see full report in report.

The report tied the Houthi militia and an allied group operating under the command of former Yemeni
president Ali Abdullah Saleh with unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government that has
resulted in human rights violations that have afflicted men, women, children, property and the

The findings show that between September 2014 and August 2015, 3,074 people were murdered, about
20 percent of whom were women and children, and 7,347 civilians were wounded due to random
shelling, at least 25 percent of whom were women and children. A total of 5,894 people were arbitrarily
detained during the monitoring period – 4,640 of them were released and 1,254 people remain in

The report also focuses on arbitrary detention, forcible disappearances and hostage taking violations,
which the monitors said have been carried out regularly by the rebel militia against politicians,
journalists, and human rights and political activists. It said detainees are frequently mistreated and
deprived of basic needs such as food, water and proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitors also reported
that some detainees are used as human shields at military sites that have been targeted by the Coalition

“This is a clear violation of both national and international legislation,” said the report. “The de facto
forces, the Houthis, failed to observe their commitment towards human rights and humanitarian law,
being the power in control that practices the state’s functions. Rather, the Houthis-Saleh showed total
recklessness towards human rights and human suffering.”

The report concludes with recommendations, calling on the Houthi-Saleh militia, Yemeni government
and the international community to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It also calls on
the international community to support the newly established National Commission to investigate
alleged human rights Violations with all needed technical assistance. (END)

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U.N.’s New Development Goals Need Funds, Political Commitment for Success Mon, 28 Sep 2015 15:54:57 +0000 Thalif Deen sdgs_25_27_red

By Thalif Deen

The U.N.’s much-ballyhooed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), unanimously adopted by over 150 world leaders at a three-day summit meeting, which concluded Sep. 27, has been touted as the biggest single contribution to humanity since the invention of sliced bread.

Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Summit, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the 17 SDGs as an integral part of a post-2015 development agenda to end poverty in all its forms.

“The true test of commitment to Agenda 2030 will be implementation. We need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals are our guide. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success,” said Ban.

But what does it really take to ensure the SDGs are implemented over the next 15 years so that the world will witness a radical transformation of global society, including the elimination of poverty, hunger, gender discrimination, spreading diseases and environmental degradation — all by the year 2030.

Political will? Increased domestic resources and official development assistance (ODA)? A rise in private sector investments? Or all of it?

Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya, one of the co-facilitators of the SDGs inter-governmental consultative process, told reporters last month the implementation of the agenda could cost a staggering 3.5 trillion to 5.0 trillion dollars per year.

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: “The new Sustainable Development Goals are ambitious on paper – and they could be historic in their impact. They seek to go beyond band-aid solutions by setting out to eradicate – not just reduce – extreme poverty and hunger in every country.”

“The key is to welcome the richest people back in touch with the rest of society, rather than allowing them to exist on the margins of privilege,” she added.

Leida Rijnhout, Director of Global Policies and Sustainability at the European Environmental Bureau, (in New York) said the 17 goals have the potential to push for higher ambitions and more coherence in policymaking, although the goal of ‘sustained economic growth’ could undermine the others.

“It is clear that the Earth’s carrying capacity is not increasing and that some countries need to substantially decrease their resource use to achieve more equitable sharing of resources and to allow other countries to develop and meet basic needs.”

“We are massively over-consuming in Europe at the expense of the climate and the development of poorer countries – a trend that is causing increasing conflicts over ever scarcer resources.”

The European Commission, she said, has the perfect chance when it reviews the Europe 2020 Strategy and the EU Sustainable Development Strategy to come up soon with an action plan for the implementation of the SDGs that shows it has understood the goals and the need to change track.
Asked if SDGs are realistic and implementable over the next 15 years, Zubair Sayed, Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS the SDGs are much wider in scope than the MDGs and are also universal in scope which means they apply to both developed and developing countries.

There are two issues, however, with regard to their implementation, he pointed out.

“Do states have the means and more importantly, do they have the will to implement them,” he asked.

What will be common in all contexts is that their success will depend on the political will of governments to take them seriously, to include transformative targets in their national development plans, to put the necessary resources behind them and to include citizens and civil society in all aspects of the design, implementation and monitoring, he noted.

“It’s also important that relevant indicators are identified by the international community to underpin the targets.”

Asked what is most needed through 2030, Sayed told IPS the success of the SDG’s will depend on the extent to which decision makers take them seriously and commit to their implementation through the setting of transformative national targets and committing financial resources to achieve them, the full and meaningful involvement of citizens in setting targets, reporting, and monitoring progress, and the inclusion of civil society as an equal partner in multilateral forums and processes.

The mobilisation of public opinion to ensure meaningful implementation of the goals by leaders will also be critical, he added.

Yolanda Kakabadse, President of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International, said “most importantly in the coming months, countries need to figure out how they’re going to contribute to achieving these goals and set benchmarks and indicators so they can report on their efforts.”

“We’re in the race and can finally see the finish line – but we need some runners at the starting line if we’re going to make this happen in 15 years.”

Every country is required to develop national indicators and programmes of implementation through individual development plans, she pointed out.

In March, countries will crucially agree a set of indicators that will allow the UN to report annually on global progress in coming years.

“The indicator question will be challenging, but if countries can unite to solve the financial crisis, they can figure this out. The crucial part will be working together and being as transparent with data as possible,” said Kakabadse.

Manish Bapna, executive vice president and managing director of World Resources Institute said the SDGs are a remarkable achievement that set a bold new agenda for international development.

Reflecting profound changes in the world, the new SDGs apply to all countries and importantly put environmental sustainability at their core.

“The SDGs recognize that we cannot eradicate extreme poverty and ensure lasting economic growth without also caring for the planet,” he noted.

“Fortunately, there are a growing number of examples where poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental protection go hand-in-hand. This includes creating compact cities that focus on people, restoring degraded land, expanding access to low-carbon energy, and many more.

“Of course, it’s not enough to have good goals. Now, it’s up to governments – and others in the private sector, international organizations, and civil society – to follow through on this vision. By setting smart policies, encouraging sustainable investment, and measuring progress, countries can put us on a path to achieve these goals.

“If successful, the SDGs will usher in a radical shift in development. We can move away from today’s imbalanced approach to one that benefits all people and protects the planet at the same time.

Adriano Campolina, chief executive at ActionAid, told IPS the SDGs are a step forward as they identify the causes of poverty, “but unless we change the rules that govern the global system, the same players will keep winning.”

“We need to build a more just future for all people and the planet where it’s no longer just money that talks and the gaps in society are narrower.”

“We need to make sure that people living in poverty around the world benefit from these new development goals. Massive corporate investments alone will not guarantee a reduction in poverty and inequality. Governments must change the rules of the game and stop looking to the corporate sector for all the answers. We urgently need to address inequality if these new development goals are to stand a chance of succeeding in the next 15 years.”

The SDGs, proposed by an Open Working Group comprising all 193 U.N.member states, are the result of a three-year-long transparent, participatory process inclusive of all stakeholders and people’s voices.

The 17 SDGs and 169 targets of the new agenda will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators. The global indicator framework, to be developed by the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, will be agreed on by the UN Statistical Commission by March 2016.

The writer can be contacted at

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Israel’s Opposition to the Nuclear Treaty with Iran Sat, 26 Sep 2015 21:12:45 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Fellow at Harvard University. He is a tutor in the Department of Continuing Education and a member of Kellogg College, University of Oxford. This is the eighth of a series of 10 articles in which Jahanpour looks at various aspects and implications of the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that was reached in July 2015 between Iran and the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and Germany, plus the European Union.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Sep 26 2015 (IPS)

Relations between Iran and Israel go back almost to the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. Iran was the second Muslim-majority country to recognize Israel as a sovereign state, following Turkey, and the two countries had very close diplomatic and even military cooperation for many decades.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

After the 1953 coup, which restored the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to power, relations improved further, and Israel and the CIA played a significant role in establishing the dreaded SAVAK, Iran’s intelligence organization, and training its personnel. Also, after the Six-Day War in 1967, Iran supplied Israel with a significant portion of its oil needs.

However, after the 1979 revolution, Iran severed all diplomatic and commercial ties with Israel. The Islamic government does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state, but despite hostile revolutionary rhetoric against Israel, relations between the two countries have not always been too acrimonious. Indeed, during the Iran-Iraq war, in order to prevent Saddam Hussein’s victory, Israel joined the mission to Iran under U.S. President Ronald Reagan and even provided Iran with some weapons in what later on came to be known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

Iranian funding of groups like Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which Israel regards as terrorist organizations, and Israeli support for terrorist groups such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, the Jundullah, a militant terrorist organization based in Baluchestan that has carried out a number of deadly attacks against Iran, as well as Israeli covert operations in Iran, including assassinations and explosions, have intensified animosity between the two countries and have led to a number of tit-for-tat attacks on each other’s citizens.

The turning point from cold peace toward hostility occurred in the early 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in Desert Storm. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel was regarded as a U.S. bulwark against pro-Soviet Arab governments.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel could no longer continue to play that role. The removal of Saddam Hussein also removed a formidable enemy. Therefore, Israel directed all its attacks against a new enemy, namely Iran.

So, it is not a mere coincidence that Israel’s intense opposition to Iran’s nuclear program coincided with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the removal of the threat from Iraq. Although Iran’s nuclear program had developed under the late Shah with active Israeli, South African and U.S. participation, after the revolution, when Iran tried to revive her program, Israel became its most vociferous opponent. Under the Iranian reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami there were some moves for a rapprochement with the West, including the recognition of Israel, but the George W. Bush Administration rebuffed those offers.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been continuously warning that Iran is on the verge of manufacturing a nuclear weapon and posing an “existential threat” to Israel. As early as 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years. In 1993, he claimed that Iran would have a nuclear bomb by 1999.This has been his constant refrain ever since the early 1990s and right up to the present time.

The interesting point is that the current and some former heads of Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad have contradicted Netanyahu’s claims. They maintain that there has been no indication that Iran is moving towards the acquisition of nuclear weapons or poses an existential threat to Israel.

It is important to remember that Netanyahu has not only tried to incite war against Iran, he even made the same false claims prior to the Iraq war in 2003.

Therefore, the propaganda against the Iraqi and Iranian alleged nuclear weapons have had less to do with the existence of such weapons and more to do with the perception that those two countries were hostile to Israel and had to be attacked in order to bring about a regime change.

It should be stressed that Netanyahu’s views in no way represent the views of the majority of American Jews who are on the whole liberal and peace loving. Indeed, poll after poll has shown that the support for the nuclear deal with Iran is stronger among American Jews than among the population at large.

Netanyahu’s attempts to kill the deal with Iran have been futile and counterproductive. His intrusion into American domestic politics, and his cynical use of the U.S. Congress to undercut a major foreign policy achievement, have been acts of gross discourtesy to the president and to the American people, and a violation of diplomatic protocol.

The real reason for Israeli opposition to Iran’s nuclear program has been the fear of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the U.S. administration as far as the Middle East is concerned. Iran’s alleged nuclear bomb also been used as an excuse to divert attention from Israel’s own nuclear arsenal and illegal expansion into occupied Palestinian territories.

Instead of continuing with this campaign of vilification and inciting a military attack on Iran, it would be wiser for Israel to try to reach a settlement with the Palestinians and pave the way for peaceful coexistence with regional countries, including Iran. The emergence of terrorist organizations that pose a serious threat to the entire world should bring Iran and Israel closer to fight that dangerous menace. The two countries should tone down their ugly rhetoric and violent activities against each other, and realize that dialogue and compromise always produce better results than war and bloodshed.

Meanwhile, it is time to focus on Israel’s nuclear weapons and establish a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

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

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Pope’s Outspoken Views Rattle U.S. Conservatives but Not U.N. Sat, 26 Sep 2015 20:49:57 +0000 Thalif Deen Credit: Li Muzi/POOL

Credit: Li Muzi/POOL

By Thalif Deen

Pope Francis’ outspoken views on some of the politically-charged hot button issues – including refugees, migration, human rights, climate change, Iran’s nuclear deal, U.S.-Cuban relations and the global arms trade – have touched a raw nerve in the United States.

And most of these crucial and sensitive issues are currently on the agenda of the United Nations where he was given a rousing welcome last week.

But several right wing conservatives say the Pope’s “infallibility” relates only to theology – not to world politics or the degradation of the environment.

At least two of the Republican candidates seeking nomination for the U.S. presidency, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, both described as practicing Catholics, begged to differ with the Pope.

“I just think the Pope was wrong,” said Christie referring to the role played by the Pope in the resumption of U.S.-Cuban diplomatic relations.

“And so the fact is, that his infallibility is on religious matters, not on political ones.”

Rubio said, “the pope, as an individual, an important figure in the world, also has political opinions. And those, of course, we are free to disagree with.”

Still, Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of Jubilee USA, an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities, told IPS Pope Francis has never made an “infallible” statement.

And it’s questionable whether or not Pope Benedict ever made one either.

“When infallible statements are made, they are done in a very specific way from St. Peter’s throne. Very few of these statements have ever been made in the entire history of the Catholic Church,” he explained.

The more important issue to understand is that all of Pope Francis’ statements are moral teaching for Catholics. When the Holy Father speaks on inequality, poverty, the environment, war and the economy, he is providing very clear moral guidance for us, said LeCompte, who also consults the Vatican and is a United Nations expert.

“His Holiness is applying specific Catholic and biblical teachings directly to the economic policies that impact millions of people. He’s calling for a global bankruptcy process to protect the vulnerable from financial crisis.”

He’s applying core Catholic teachings on poverty, compassion and mercy to the economic policies that cause poverty,” said LeCompte, in defence of the Pope’s public pronouncements.

The Holy Father also called for responsible lending and borrowing at the United Nations to address financial crisis.

He said: “It’s amazing to see Pope Francis talk about responsibility of creditors. He even referenced what was formally a sin in the Catholic Church: usury.”

After a historic address to a joint session of the United States Congress in Washington DC – and also speaking before hundreds of parishioners and lay people in New York – Pope Francis appeared Friday before the ultimate world stage: the United Nations.

Singling out two of the issues on the U.N. agenda, namely economic inequality and the global environment, the Pope told delegates the misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion.

In effect, he said, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged – either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise or are incapable of decisive political action.

He said economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment.

“The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded, and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste”.

“The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions,” the Pope declared.

Going into political raptures over the Pope, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “You are at home not in palaces, but among the poor – not with the famous, but with the forgotten – not in official portraits, but in “selfies” with young people.”

Like the United Nations, he told the Pope, “you are driven by a passion to help others. Your views move millions. Your teachings bring action. Your example inspires us all.”

Meanwhile, most of the positive comments came from non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Ben Phillips, director of Policy, Research, Advocacy and Campaigns at ActionAid, told IPS: “ActionAid strongly welcomes the Pope’s moral leadership on economic inequality and climate change: he is speaking up for the many millions of people around the world living with the effects. What is urgent action now is action by political leaders.”

Andrew Steer, President and chief executive officer of the World Resources Institute, said Pope Francis brings a voice of unwavering moral clarity on the need to protect the Earth.

“Simply put, caring for our planet and for the neediest among us is a responsibility we all share.”

This week, said Steer, the Pope has made it clear that climate change is an urgent challenge and must be addressed without delay. The good news is that we now know that many actions that will slow climate change are consistent with those that will deliver economic benefits to society.

Barbara Frost, Chief Executive, of WaterAid, said the Pope has shone a light on the plight of the poorest and most vulnerable, who are most affected by climate change and by the tremendous inequalities that exist in our world today.

“He has done much to reaffirm access to safe, drinkable water and sanitation as basic and universal rights essential to health and dignity. And he has asked us all to care for everyone on our planet.”

In our 30-year history of working to provide water and sanitation, WaterAid has been an advocate for some of the world’s poorest people and we welcome the Pope’s calls for action.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) welcomed Pope Francis’ call and said it believes that the moral and humanitarian arguments underpinning his speech should inspire governments to start negotiations of a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear weapons are immoral, unethical and unacceptable weapons”, said Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of ICAN, “governments should respond to the call of the Pope and start negotiating a new legal instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons”.

Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, struck a critical note when she said the Pope “speaks of some alleged “great sacrifice” made by bishops because of the abuse and cover up crisis.

“What sacrifice? What bishop takes fewer vacations, drives a smaller car, does his own laundry or has been passed over for promotion because he’s shielding predators and endangering kids?,” she asked.

None, she added.

Blaine also said: “If you’re a woman, you can’t be a priest, if you’re married, you can’t be a priest, but if you’ve raped children, you can still be a priest.”

Sydney Silva, a former Catholic priest based in the United States, told IPS infallibility is not the issue here.

Papal Infallibility is only applied in very rare situations when pope specifically makes official statements ex Cathedra (from the seat = official pronouncements ) solely on matters of faith and morals pertaining to the Catholic doctrine of the church.

The Church in the last century has been quietly moving away from this type of pronouncements.

“What Francis and other recent popes have done and said is more like renowned moral and pastoral leaders to address burning world problems and issues. They do have a unique place on the world stage”.

He said none of the recent popes including Pope Paul VI even when writing about Humane Vitae (on birth control) stayed the traditional course. All recent popes have taken a very progressive stand on matters of poverty, financial inequality, exploitation and even human degradation, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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