Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Jewellery Industry Takes Steps to Eliminate “Conflict Gold”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/jewellery-industry-takes-steps-to-eliminate-conflict-gold/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:50:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137936 Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

Gold from eastern Congo. The war in Congo is fueled by a thriving gold trade today, with armed groups controlling mines and earning an estimated 50 million dollars last year from selling gold and minerals. This gold is from a day's work at Kaniola mine. Credit: ENOUGH Project/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Major U.S. jewellery companies and retailers have started to take substantive steps to eliminate the presence of “conflict gold” from their supply chains, according to the results of a year-long investigation published Monday.

Rights advocates, backed by the United Nations, have been warning for years that mining revenues are funding warlords and militia groups operating in the Great Lakes region of Africa, particularly in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2010, such concerns resulted in landmark legislation here in the United States aimed at halting this trade, and those laws have since spurred similar legislative proposals in the European Union and Canada.“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue." -- Holly Dranginis of Enough Project

Three of the most problematic of these “conflict minerals” – tin, tantalum and tungsten, collectively known as 3T – are used primarily by the electronics industry. In recent years, that sector has made notable progress in certifying and otherwise regulating its use of these materials.

Yet forward movement has been slower on the fourth conflict mineral from the Great Lakes region – gold.

“Over two-thirds of the eastern Congo’s 3T mines are conflict-free today,” a new report from the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, states.

“Gold, however, remains a major financial lifeline for armed actors. Ninety-eight percent of artisanally mined gold … is smuggled out of the country annually, and much of that gold benefits armed commanders.”

Last year, the report estimates, some eight to ten tons of gold were smuggled out of eastern DRC. That would have been worth more than 400 million dollars.

Much of this smuggling is thought to take place through Congo’s neighbours, particularly Uganda and Burundi, and onwards to Dubai. From there, most of this gold is able to anonymously enter the global marketplace.

The jewellery industry, meanwhile, is the largest user of global gold supplies, constituting slightly less than half of worldwide demand. “Conflict gold thus taints the industry as whole,” the report warns.

Pledging to stay

According to the Enough Project’s new rankings, however, the industry is starting to respond to these concerns. Researchers looked at both past and pledged actions by 14 of the largest jewellery companies and retailers in the United States – part of an industry worth some five billion dollars a year – and found a spectrum of initiatives already underway.

On the one hand, some companies appear to have undertaken no conflict minerals-related initiatives whatsoever, at least as far as the new report’s metrics were concerned. Three companies scored zero points, while others – including major retailers such as Walmart, Sears and Costco – scored very low.

On the other hand, the researchers found a few key companies that have undertaken particularly notable responses. They say there is reason to believe that these leaders could now influence the rest of the industry.

“We really wanted to focus on the leading jewellery retailers in the U.S. because of their leverage over the industry – we wanted to take lessons from our experience with the electronics industry, that leading companies can move an entire industry,” Holly Dranginis, a policy analyst with the Enough Project and the lead author on the new report, told IPS.

“Just a few years ago, jewellery companies were pretty resistant to making progress on this, but today there is clearly interest in supporting peace and finding out more about the role they can play in this issue. We found two very clear leaders among the 14.”

Those are two of the most recognizable jewellery brands and retailers in the world, Signet Jewelers and Tiffany & Co. Three others highlighted for recognition in the rankings are the commercial retailers J.C. Penney Company, Target Corp. and Cartier.

The Enough Project researchers sent a broad questionnaire to these companies, and Signet and Tiffany received the highest overall rankings. Yet Dranginis notes that what differentiates these companies is merely the fact that they have put in place policies around the sourcing of gold from the Great Lakes region.

Perhaps more importantly, these companies have also started engaging on the ground in countries such as the DRC. Over the past three years, for instance, Signet has pledged to continue sourcing certified gold from the country, rather than simply moving on to another country entirely. The company is also making its sourcing strategies open to others in the industry.

“We see our involvement in industry guidance and standards in the gold sector and the development and implementation of the Signet Responsible Sourcing Protocols as part of a broader initiative of ensuring responsible business practices through the entire jewellery supply chain, for gold and for all other materials,” David A. Bouffard, a vice president for Signet Jewelers, told IPS in a statement.

“It is important to us that our SRSPs are open public protocols which can be used by anyone in our industry, and which Signet’s suppliers can use to their benefit in their relationships with other customers.”

Tiffany, meanwhile, is making a concerted effort to assist local communities, particularly small-scale miners and their families. Both companies reportedly have individual executives that have taken a particular interest in the issue.

“One of the concerns has been that compliance with [U.S. conflict minerals laws] has pushed some companies to think they should leave the region and source elsewhere,” the Enough Project’s Dranginis says.

“Supporting community initiatives in the region is critical, because a lot of communities are affected by major market changes. We also need to ensure that gold miners and their families are supported in a comprehensive way, looking into sustainable projects, alternative livelihoods, financial inclusion and related issues.”

Certification capacity

Action by major brands is, of course, a key component in driving the global response to the impacts of conflict gold. Yet an important collection of multistakeholder and trade mechanisms has also sprung up in recent years, directly facilitating these initiatives.

Central to any attempt at tracking and regulating raw commodities, for instance, is a system of certification. And just as the electronics industry has been able to use metals smelters as an important lynchpin in this process, so too has the gold industry been able to start certifying gold refiners.

According to the new report, in 2012 just six gold refiners had been certified as “conflict free” by one such initiative, the Conflict Free Smelter Program. Two years later, that number has risen to 52 – though “there are still many refiners outside the system,” the study notes.

Advocates are also calling for stepped-up and coordinated action by governments. While the United States, European Union and Canada could all soon have legislation on the use of conflict minerals, some are increasingly pushing for action from the government of the United Arab Emirates aiming to constrict the flow of conflict gold through Dubai.

Likewise, India, Pakistan and China are among the most prominent consumers of gold worldwide, and thus constitute key sources of demand.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: A Plea for Banning Nuke Tests and Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-a-plea-for-banning-nuke-tests-and-nuclear-weapons/#comments Sun, 23 Nov 2014 22:19:43 +0000 Lassina Zerbo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137905 Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Dr. Lassina Zerbo. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lassina Zerbo
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2014 (IPS)

December 1938 was a decisive month in human history: In Germany, the scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered that when bombarded with neutrons, the atomic nucleus of uranium would split.

The discovery of nuclear fission laid the basis of nuclear technology with all its manifestations – in the short term, the most destructive weapon ever devised and used a few years later in the Second World War.A nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

But God is fair, He unleashed a force of good at the same time: Back in 1938, nearly the same day that Otto Hahn publicised his discovery, a very special boy was born on the other side of the planet in Sri Lanka. His name: Jayantha Dhanapala. In the town of Pallekelle, which later became home to one of our monitoring stations – but to that later.

Jayantha Dhanapala’s life story is linked closely to that of nuclear arms control, and in particular to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, in short CTBT, that my organisation is tasked with implementing.

Throughout his soaring career, as a diplomat and in the U.N., Jayantha has worked with persistence and eloquence to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.

In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.

A critical part of this bargain was the promise that the CTBT, which was still being fiercely negotiated at the time in Geneva, would be finalised no later than 1996, prompting the adoption of the Treaty by the General Assembly on Sep. 10, 1996. So in a way, Jayantha actually fathered the CTBT.

Shortly later, from 1998 to 2003, he served as United Nations under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs. This was a crucial time for nuclear disarmament, particularly for the CTBT as the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan flouted the still young treaty.

Jayantha is active in probably all of the world’s most important advisory boards and international bodies. Notably, he is the president of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and a member of the Governing Board of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). For these reasons and more, I invited him to join the Group of Eminent Persons (GEM), which I launched in 2013 to ensure an innovative and focused approach to advancing the CTBT’s entry into force.

Although we have not yet reached this goal, the treaty has played an important role in making our planet safer. Although technically labelled a “provisional” secretariat, there is nothing provisional about our work. To paraphrase Hans Blix, another member of the GEM, it is a treaty that has not legally entered into force, with an organisation that is more accomplished in verification than everything else we have seen.

This is in part due to the global network of stations we are building to detect signs of nuclear tests anywhere on the globe. Nearly 90 percent of this system of over 300 stations is complete, including the one in Jayantha’s home town of Pallakelle.

The system, which was recently hailed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry as “one of the great accomplishments of the modern world,” has the proven capability to detect nuclear tests at a fraction of the yield of the first nuclear weapon test in the desert near Alamogordo in July 1945.

The international community forcefully condemns any violations of this norm today, as has been the case with each of North Korea’s tests – the only ones to be conducted in this millennium.

Consistent progress has also been made in the area of on-site inspections. This is the CTBT’s ultimate verification measure and involved a team of highly specialised experts searching the ground using a wide range of state-of-the-art technologies. In fact, I am just coming from Jordan where I visited our second full-fledged on-site inspection simulation, the Integrated Field Exercise 2014, which is currently being conducted on the banks of the Dead Sea in Jordan.

Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world. One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme.

In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure – every nuclear test, every warhead represents a school, a hospital or a major road unbuilt.

In Pakistan, for example, where the anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests is officially celebrated each May, we increasingly observe voices questioning the value of a nuclear weapons programme when parts of the country lack basic necessities such as clean water and electricity.

Developing countries also have much to lose from a nuclear conflict, even one far from their borders. A recent study has shown that even a limited nuclear exchange would “disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than two billion people would be in jeopardy”. This would result in unprecedented famine and starvation far beyond the directly affected areas, especially in the developing world.

It is encouraging to see that Jayantha is actively promoting the CTBT, especially in his home region of in South Asia, where India is one of the countries that have yet to sign the CTBT. To me, Jayantha formulated the most eloquent rebuttal ever to India’s criticism of the CTBT:

“Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely.”

In conclusion, the world we live in today would be less safe and less civilised were it not for Jayantha Dhanapala. I would like to thank the Inter Press Service and Ramesh Jaura for organising the International Achievement Award and to Soka Gakkai International for supporting it.

*Excerpts from a speech made at an event marking the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations on Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Humanitarian Impact of Nukes Calls For Concerted Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:01:51 +0000 Daisaku Ikeda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137886

Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (www.sgi.org).

By Daisaku Ikeda
TOKYO, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As we approach the 70th anniversary next year of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are growing calls to place the humanitarian consequences of their use at the heart of deliberations about nuclear weapons.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

The Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October was supported by 155 governments, more than 80 percent of all member states.

The view powerfully expressed in the Joint Statement, that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” expresses the deepening consensus of humankind.

The Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna on Dec. 8-9. This conference and its deliberations should provide further impetus to efforts to end the era of nuclear weapons, an era in which these apocalyptic weapons have been seen as the linchpin of national security for a number of states.

This can only happen when the goal of a nuclear-free world is taken up as the shared global enterprise of humanity with the full engagement of civil society.

Within the agenda of the Vienna Conference, there are two items in particular that require us to adopt the perspective of a shared global enterprise.Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target.

The first is the examination of risk drivers for the inadvertent or unpredicted use of nuclear weapons due to human error, technical fault or cyber security.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, people were transfixed in horror as the world teetered on the edge of full-scale nuclear war. It took the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union 13 days of desperate effort to defuse the crisis.

Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target. Escape or evacuation would be impossible, and the targeted city and its inhabitants would be devastated.

Further, if such an inadvertent use of a nuclear weapon were met with retaliation of even the most limited form, the impact on the global climate and ecology would result in a “nuclear famine” that could affect as many as two billion people.

The use of a single nuclear weapon can obliterate and render meaningless generations of patient effort by human beings to create lives of happiness, to create societies rich with culture. It is in this unspeakable outrage, rather than in the numerical calculation of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, that their inhuman nature is most starkly demonstrated.

The second agenda item that will bring into sharp focus the uniquely horrific nature of nuclear weapons—the aspect that makes them fundamentally different from other weapons—is the impact of nuclear weapons testing.

The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only people to have directly experienced the horrendous effects of nuclear weapons. As the shared use of the term “hibakusha” indicates, large numbers of people continue to suffer from the consequences of the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons tests that have been carried out to date.

Further, communities near nuclear weapons development facilities in the nuclear-weapon states have experienced severe radiation contamination, and there are ongoing concerns about the health impacts on those who have worked in or lived near these facilities.

As these examples demonstrate, the decision to maintain nuclear weapons—even if they are not actually used—presents severe threats to people’s lives and dignity.

Annual global expenditures on nuclear weapons are said to total more than 100 billion dollars. If this enormous sum were to be directed not only at improving the lives of the citizens of the nuclear states, but at supporting countries where people continue to struggle against poverty and inadequate healthcare services, the benefit to humankind would be immeasurable.

To continue allocating vast sums of money for the maintenance of a state’s nuclear posture runs clearly counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, which calls for the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources—a call echoed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Further, we must face squarely the inhumanity of perpetuating a distorted global order in which people whose lives could easily be improved are forced to continue living in dangerous and degrading conditions.

By taking up these two crucial themes, the Vienna Conference will place in sharp relief the underlying essence of the threat humankind imposes on itself by maintaining current nuclear postures—through the continuation of this “nuclear age.” At the same time, it will be an important opportunity to interrogate security arrangements that rely on nuclear weapons—and to do so from the perspective of the world’s citizens, each of whom is compelled to live in the shadow of this threat.

In 1957, in the midst of an accelerating nuclear arms race, second Soka Gakkai president and my personal mentor Josei Toda (1900–58) denounced nuclear weapons as a threat to people’s fundamental right to existence. He declared their use inadmissible—under any circumstance, without any exception.

The SGI’s efforts, in collaboration with various NGO partners, find their deepest roots in this declaration. By empowering people to understand and face the realities of nuclear weapons, we have sought to build a solidarity of global citizens dedicated to eliminating needless suffering from the face of the Earth.

The impassioned wish of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and of all the world’s hibakusha—is that no one else will have to suffer what they have endured. This determination finds resonant voice throughout civil society in support for the Joint Statement adopted by 155 of the world’s governments.

Even with governments whose understanding of their security needs prevents open support for the Joint Statement, there are real concerns about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

I trust the Vienna Conference will serve to create an enlarged sphere of shared concern. This should then lead to the kind of shared action that will break the current stalemate surrounding nuclear weapons in the months leading up to the 70th anniversary of the world’s only uses of nuclear weapons in war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-undead-rise-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137856 Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Israel’s Arabs – Marginalised, Angry and Defianthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:37:54 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137844 Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kufr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.

Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.

As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.

In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.

The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.

The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.

The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.

In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.

Israeli Arab Spring?

Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”

Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.

For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.

Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.

Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.

In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.

Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.

Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.

Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.

In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.

The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”

Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.

Way forward

Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.

A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.

In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.

A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.

If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.

Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:03:47 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137841 Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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IPS Honours Crusader for Nuclear Abolitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:02:58 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137830 From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS

From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

Jayantha Dhanapala was awarded the IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament Monday at the United Nations in New York.

Dhanapala, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs until 2003, has remained committed to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world since leaving his post, presiding since 2007 over the Nobel Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. 

“A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime,” Dhanapala told attendees at an official ceremony sponsored by the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International.

“Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale. We the people have a ‘responsibility to protect’ the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed ‘R2P’ applications.”

The event was attended by U.N. ambassadors including the president of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, who said that “the work of organisations such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World  Affairs – which Mr. Dhanapala presides over – Inter Press Service, our host this evening, or Soka Gakkai International, the sponsor of this award, contributes to raising awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to advocating for their total elimination.”

Message from IPS co-founder Roberto Savio:

"The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the UN at global level, and actors who would embody that action. It was not in the UN system in any way to recognize individuals, so we set up the IPS UN Award, as a way to help to bridge ideals and practice. IPS set up a very high level selection committee, who received candidates fromm all the IPS network, then spanning all over the world. The awardee was invited to New York, with his or her companion, and was greeted by the Secretary General, with whom he was able to explain his activities, and how those were part of the agenda of the UN. Then there was the ceremony, opened by the Undersecretary General for DPI, with the consign of the award, a crystal globe of the world.

The ceremony was followed by a large reception, which become part of the UN life, and a yearly recurrent event. The award went from a protagonist of Perestroika to a leader in environment, to a woman engaged in breaking the glass ceiling, to an activist in human rights, to a leader of the black movement in the United States, to leaders of global civil society. It was a way to bring to the UN living embodiment of the plans of action which were drafted in the offices of the UN, and bring ideas and goals, in touch with reality.

It is important to recall that until the Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development of 1992, relations with the civil society were minimal. Only the few organizations recognized by ECOSOC were allowed into the building. With the award, we organized a place for sharing between the civil servants and the activists engaged on the field. This relation did gradually expand, and today the best ally of the UN agenda are the hundred of thousand of NGOs and other organizations that engage in the world over global issues. IPS was their favorite source of information, because it was the only press agency that covered organically and analytically global themes, and therefore was their window to the UN.

At a time in which we sorely miss a mechanism of governance of globalization, the function of IPS as a bridge between global civil society and the UN is even more important. The IPS award can be the symbol of that function, in recognizing the contribution to peace of Sokka Gakai, and its significantly large network all over the world."

Kutesa spoke of the importance of upcoming opportunities to make further inroads into global non-proliferation and disarmament. “The 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will present an opportunity to further strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

CTBTO support

Kutesa’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers including Dr Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Zerbo noted that Dhanapala was born in the same month (December 1938) that German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission.

“In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.”

The result of this work was that the CTBT, which was being contested in Geneva, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1996. Dhanapala continues to support the CTBTO, as part of a group of experts who work to advance the CTBT’s entry into force.

Zerbo recalled Dhanapala’s criticism of India’s position in opposing the CTBT. India’s criticism of the CTBT has been that it will not move disarmament sufficiently forward. In response to this, Dhanapala has said, “Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely,” Dhanapala has pointed out.

Collectively known as the “Annex 2” states, India forms part of a group of eight countries that are required to ratify before the treaty before it can enter into force. India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to sign the treaty, while 5 other states have signed but failed to ratify.

Zerbo also noted the relevance of Dhanapala’s nationality in his advocacy for disarmament and non-proliferation, saying, “Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world.

“One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme. In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure.”

IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, who read a statement from IPS founder Roberto Savio, spoke of the origins and importance of the award.

“The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the U.N. at global level, and actors who would embody that action,” he said.

“The U.N. way is not to recognise individuals, so the award is a recognition of the bridge between ideals and practice. The award has been resurrected after a six-year hiatus, and will be in place next year, focused on the Sustainable Development Goals.”

There are several opportunities in the coming months for inroads to be made in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Notably, early next month’s Vienna Conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, Dhanapala called on groups to support the ICAN and PAX “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” divestment campaign, saying, “I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Clock Is Ticking for Nuclear Disarmamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:29:24 +0000 Jayantha Dhanapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137827

Jayantha Dhanapala is the recipient of the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament, and is a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime. This may seem a bold and wildly Pollyannaish statement for me to make after a lifetime of work in peace and disarmament.

But consider some of the key global threats facing us today, 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, symbolising the end of the Cold War and on the cusp of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations – this centre for harmonising the actions of 193 nations mandated by the Charter to maintain international peace and security.

Credit: cc by 2.0

Credit: cc by 2.0

There is the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), conveying the unambiguous message that climate change is caused by human action and that unchecked it will lead to catastrophe;

There is inequality of income as a feature throughout the world, where the poorest 1.2 billion consume just one percent while the richest billion consume 72 percent, causing increasing frustration and tension, especially among the youth who are 26 percent of the global population;

There is religious extremism, racism and the bestial violence of ISIS, Boko Haram and other anarchic groups which challenge our shared values and civilised societal norms;

There is the state terrorism of Israel waging unequal war against the Palestinians while occupying their territory and depriving them of their statehood in violation of international law;

There are more than 50 million who are currently displaced by war and violence – some 33.3 million in their own countries and approximately 16.7 million as refugees – the highest number since World War II;

And there are the problems of hunger, disease, poverty and violations of human rights that continue to disfigure the human condition.The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

Is the nuclear weapon ever going to be a deterrent to combat these threats, let alone be used to solve these problems? Or is it not more likely that in a skewed world of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” we are going to have increasing proliferation, including by terrorist non-state actors?

Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale.

We the people have a “responsibility to protect” the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed “R 2 P” applications.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the world has 16,300 nuclear warheads among nine nuclear weapon-armed countries, with the United States and the Russian Federation accounting for 93 percent of the weapons. Of this, about 4,000 warheads are on a deployed operational footing.

The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

At a time of declining resources for development, a huge amount – 1.7 trillion dollars – continues to be spent on arms in general and nuclear weapons modernisation. In the U.S. alone, in a glaring contradiction of President Obama’s promises, nuclear weapon modernisation will cost 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

A far-sighted military general twice-elected president of the U.S., Dwight Eisenhower, warned over 50 years ago about the insidious influence of the “military industrial complex” in his country. That influence, driven by an insatiable desire for profit, has spread globally, stoking the flames of war even as the United Nations and other peacemakers try to find peaceful solutions in terms of the Charter.

I am proud that the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead today, has campaigned assiduously for over five decades seeking the total elimination of nuclear weapons based on the 1955 London Manifesto co-signed by Albert Einstein and Lord Bertrand Russell.

Sir Joseph Rotblat, one of Pugwash’s founding fathers who walked out of the Manhattan Project as a conscientious objector, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Pugwash in 1995.

Pugwash is but one of the many citizen movements who have since 1945 urged the abolition of nuclear weapons. It was pressure from civil society that finally led to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other significant milestones on the road to outlawing nuclear weapons.

The world has already accomplished a ban on two other categories of weapons of mass destruction – biological and chemical weapons.

I salute the Marshall Islands for taking the nine nuclear weapon states to the International Court of Justice, accusing them of violating their legal obligations, and look forward to the outcome at next year’s hearings.

Two NGOs -ICAN and PAX – have painstakingly researched the money behind nuclear weapons and have revealed in their “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report that since January 2011, 411 different banks, insurance companies and pension funds have invested 402 billion dollars in 28 companies in the nuclear weapon industry.

The nuclear-armed nations spend a combined total of more than 100 billion dollars on their nuclear forces every year. Let me quote from the report:

“The top 10 investors alone provided more than 175 billion dollars to the 28 identified nuclear weapon producers. With the exception of French BNP Paribas, all financial institutions in the top 10 are based in the U.S. The top three – State Street, Capital Group and Blackrock – have a combined 80 billion dollars invested. In Europe, the most heavily invested are BNP Paribas (France), Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays (both United Kingdom).

“In Asia, the biggest investors are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial (both Japan) and the Life Insurance Corporation of India.”

I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon-free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.

The world has scaled many heights in my lifetime.

Colonialism which enslaved my country for 450 years was dismantled in my lifetime, liberating numerous countries, including mine;

The civil rights movement in the U.S. ended segregation, racial discrimination and other indignities imposed on black Americans;

I have seen the end of the odious apartheid regime and the peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa;

And, finally, we have witnessed the end of the Cold War with its global tension and rivalry.

These are inspirational achievements of which humankind can be proud. Through all these achievements we remember gratefully the exemplary leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It was their unswerving dedication to non-violence that ensured victory over evil and injustice.

Nuclear disarmament is likewise an achievable goal and not the mirage that the nuclear weapon states would have us believe. The successful conclusion of a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and the forthcoming NPT Review Conference in 2015 are opportunities for us all to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons by eliminating the weapons themselves.

I fear that the longer we wait for nuclear weapon states to act, the greater the risk that the anger of impotence may lead to extremist groups seizing control of nuclear weapons.

We are fortunate to have in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a global leader dedicated to the cause of nuclear disarmament and his Five-point Plan remains a lodestar for the global community.

The Inter Press Service (IPS), our hosts this evening, must be congratulated on their 50th anniversary. Serving the cause of the developing world, IPS has held aloft important principles of equity and justice in international relations calling for an end to unequal exchange in all its forms.

I am deeply grateful for the award conferred on me today. I have long believed in the dictum of Jean Monnet – the European Union’s architect and visionary – that “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions.”

Thus this award honours the organisations with which I have been associated in a long struggle to rid the world of the most inhumane and destructive weapon ever invented. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to this noble cause and its early fulfillment.

*Excerpts from an address by Jayantha Dhanapala when he received the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Depression Casts Cloak of Infertility Over Kashmir Valleyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 12:02:32 +0000 Shazia Yousuf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137817 Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shazia Yousuf
SRINAGAR, India, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

It was almost midnight when Mushtaq Margoob woke up to the incessant ringing of his phone. It was his patient, a young woman whom Margoob, a renowned Kashmiri psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the only psychiatric hospital in Kashmir, had been treating for depression for many years.

“See me now. I don’t have time till tomorrow,” the patient screamed down the phone. “I might have killed myself by then.”

The woman was educated, had a PhD in Bioscience and came from a rich family. After her marriage last year, the symptoms of her depression had begun to fade away, and she had started crawling back to a normal life.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter.” -- Shahzada Akhtar, a Kashmiri woman living with PTSD
But the day she made the hasty phone call to the doctor, she had learned something that shattered her life into fragments all over again.

“I have been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure [POF],” she said to Margoob at his home. “If I cannot have any children, what should I live my life for?”

Although Margoob was able to pacify her with timely counseling and medication, the diagnosis and the constant reminder of being infertile have taken his patient back into deep depression.

“The mental stress due to ongoing conflict has taken a toll on the physical health of young women, especially their maternal health,” explains Margoob.

Downward spiral of mental and maternal health

The conflict here, which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, has claimed some 60,000 lives as Indian armed forces, Pakistani troops and ordinary Kashmir citizens struggle to assert control over the bitterly contested region.

The “pro-freedom” uprising of 1989, launched by Kashmiris who resented the presence of Indian and Pakistani troops, morphed into a long-standing resistance movement that has left deep scars on Kashmiri society.

As a result, the area known as the Kashmir Valley, tucked in between towering mountain ranges in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, is witnessing an alarming increase in childlessness and infertility among local women.

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Physical and mental health experts cite conflict-related stress as the main cause of the health crisis among women, which has robbed thousands of their fertility.

The most recent Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) indicates that 61 percent of currently married Kashmiri women report one or more reproductive health problems.

This is significantly higher in comparison to the national average of 39 percent. The percentage of POF among infertile women below 40 years of age is also abnormally high – 20 to 50 percent – when compared to the nationwide rate of one to five percent.

“Stress causes structural changes in the brain and disturbs the secretion of various neurotransmitters. These changes lead to various physical ailments including thyroid malfunction, which in turn can cause infertility among women of childbearing age,” Margoob explains to IPS.

According to statistics available with the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, 800,000 Kashmiris are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and most of them are women. PTSD, like many other mental health disorders, directly affects women’s childbearing capacity.

Stress and stigma

In Kashmir, psychiatry OPDs are run at two hospitals – the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (S.M.H.S) facility in Srinagar, and the Government Psychiatric Diseases hospital – six days a week. Of almost 100 patients seen at each OPD every day, 75 are females.

One of the many women who frequents these facilities is 20-year-old Mir Afreen, who grew up watching her mother battling mental illness. In 1996, when Afreen was only two, her mother, Shahzada Akhtar, received a message about the death of her cousin brother in cross-fire.

“I had met him only a day before. I couldn’t believe he had died. I tried to cry out his name but had lost my voice,” recalls Akhtar.

Akhtar never recovered from the sudden, devastating news, and soon developed PTSD.

In consequence, her daughter’s childhood quickly slipped into darkness. Afreen often saw her mother sedated, sleeping for days at a time, going without food, and crying for no apparent reason.

She was always taken along to psychiatric clinics, hospitals and faith healers where her mother searched for a cure for her condition. Happiness was far, far away from their home.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter,” Akhtar tells IPS tearfully.

Her statement is not too far from the truth. For the last several years, Afreen has been complaining about chest pains and breathlessness. Akhtar first thought it was due to stress, or her daughter’s recent obesity.

But when Afreen developed facial hair and her monthly cycles became irregular, Akhtar took her to a gynecologist.

“The doctor uttered a long name which I couldn’t understand, so I asked her to explain the [condition] to me,” Akhtar says. “She told me if this is not treated, Afreen will never have children.”

Afreen was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Unknown and almost non-existent before the conflict, the syndrome now affects 10 percent of Kashmiri females including teenagers.

A major endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age and one of the leading causes of infertility across the world, PCOS has emerged as another major cause of infertility among Kashmiri women in recent years.

Medical experts have identified stress as one of the main reasons for the emergence of PCOS in Kashmir. A study conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the major tertiary healthcare facility in Kashmir, on 112 women with PCOS, found that 65 to 70 percent of them had psychiatric illnesses including PTSD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Akhtar feels helpless. Unlike other ailments, Afreen’s particular health issue is not up for discussion, not even with her own siblings. If the word spreads, she thinks, it will ruin her daughter’s marriage prospects and thus destroy her life.

“Even when I take her to the doctor, I make sure that no one sees us,” reveals Akhtar. “I first check the place and then let my daughter in.”

Afreen does the same. She has not revealed anything about her condition to her friends. When the girls talk about their grooms and life after marriage, she keeps mum. When it is the time for her medication, she secretly swallows the pills without water.

Current trends predict a bleak future

Nazir Ahmad Pala, an endocrinologist at SKIMS, says that more and more young females visit the endocrinology department for various disorders. A good number of disorders, he says, are born from depression.

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

“In the past, the department received mostly older patients but now around 20 percent of our patients are school and college going girls with endocrine abnormalities. This trend is disturbing,” Pala tells IPS.

The young girls mostly complain of obesity and ovulatory disturbances that bring a temporary halt in their menstrual cycles.

The condition is called Central Hypogonadism and is common in depressed women, explains the doctor. Another equally frequent ailment is galactorrhea, a spontaneous secretion of milk from the mammary glands due to an abnormal increase of prolactin levels in the body caused by antidepressant intake.

“Unfortunately most of the [conditions], in one way or the other, lead to infertility. And the root cause of all these [conditions] is the stressful life that women have been living in the post-conflict era,” Pala asserts.

Experts here are sounding warnings about the catastrophic shape that women’s health in the Valley is taking. A study conducted at SKIMS on maternal health indicates that 15.7 percent of Kashmiri women of childbearing age will never have an offspring without clinical intervention.

Another conflict-related cause of infertility among Kashmiri women is late marriages. Over the war years, the marital age has risen from an average of 18-21 to 27-35 years. Because of economic insecurity and anxiety over the prospect of losing male breadwinners, women are choosing education and employment over marriage.

“Economic instability and insecurity is eating our society like termites,” says Margoob.

The doctor reveals that cut-throat competition in schools and colleges to earn a secure future has hugely disturbed the mental health of young girls as well.

Dissociative Disorders (DD), marked by disruptions or breakdowns in identity, memory or perception, are rapidly increasing in young school- and college-going girls, along with conditions like Panic Disorder, all of which interrupt the “smooth journey to motherhood”, Margoob says.

*Patients’ names have been changed on request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Why Israel Opposes a Final Nuclear Deal with Iran and What to Do About Ithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-why-israel-opposes-a-final-nuclear-deal-with-iran-and-what-to-do-about-it/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:03:56 +0000 Robert E. Hunter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137800

Robert E. Hunter, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, was director of Middle East Affairs on the National Security Council Staff in the Carter administration and in 2011-12 was director of Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University. Read his work on IPS’s foreign policy blog, LobeLog.

By Robert E. Hunter
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

Nov. 24 is the deadline for six world powers and Iran to reach a final deal over its nuclear programme. If there is no deal, then the talks are likely to be extended, not abandoned.

But as I learned from more than three decades’ work on Middle East issues, in and out of the U.S. government, success also depends on Israel no longer believing that it needs a regional enemy shared in common with the United States to ensure Washington’s commitment to its security.

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they walk across the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Mar. 20, 2013. Credit: White House Photo, Pete Souza

Much is at stake in the negotiations with Iran in Vienna, notably the potential removal of the risk of war over its nuclear programme and the removal of any legitimate basis for Israel’s fear that it could become the target of an Iranian bomb.

Success could also begin Iran’s reintegration into the international community, ending its lengthy quarantine. If President Barack Obama and his national security officials get their way, including the Pentagon—hardly a group of softies—a comprehensive final accord would be a good deal for U.S. national security and, in the American analysis, for Israel’s security as well.

Yet more is at issue for Israel, and for the Persian Gulf Arab states led by Saudi Arabia. They want to keep Iran in purdah.

Indeed, since the Iranian Revolution ran out of steam outside its borders, the essential questions about the challenge Iran poses have been the following: Will it be able to compete for power and position in the region, and, how can Iran’s competition be dealt with?

The first response, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is to decry whatever might be agreed to in the talks, no matter how objectively good the results would be for everyone’s security. He has the Saudis and other Arab states as silent partners.

Between them, the Israeli and oil lobbies command a lot of attention in the U.S. Congress, a large part of whose members would otherwise accept that President Obama’s standard for an agreement meets the tests of both U.S. security and the security of its partners in the Middle East.

But a large fraction of Congress is no more willing to take on these two potent lobbies than the National Rifle Association.

Netanyahu will also do all he can to prevent the relaxation of any of the sanctions imposed on Iran. But even if he and his U.S. supporters succeed on Capitol Hill, President Obama can on his own suspend some of those sanctions—though exactly how much is being debated.

The U.S. does not have the last word on sanctions, however. The moment there is a final agreement, the floodgates of economic trade and investment with Iran will open. Europeans, in particular, are lined up with their order books, like Americans in 1889 who awaited the starter’s pistol to begin the Oklahoma land rush.

In response, U.S. private industry will ride up Capitol Hill to demand the relaxation of U.S.-mandated sanctions. Meanwhile, the sighs of relief resounding throughout the world will begin changing the international political climate concerning Iran.

Yet America’s concerns will not cease. While the U.S. and Iran have similar interests in opposing the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), and in wanting to see Afghanistan free from reconquest by of the Taliban, they are still far apart on other matters, notably the Assad regime in Syria, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas.

President Obama will also have an immediate problem in reassuring Israel and Gulf Arab states that American commitments to their security are sincere. To be sure, absent an Iranian nuclear weapon, there is no real Iranian military threat and all the Western weapons pumped into the Persian Gulf are thus essentially useless.

Iran’s real challenges emanate from its dynamic domestic economy, a highly educated, entrepreneurial culture that is matched in the region only by Israelis and Palestinians, and a good deal of cultural appeal even beyond Shi’a communities.

Obama thus faces a special problem in reassuring Israel, a problem that goes back decades. When the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty was signed in 1979, the risks of a major Arab attack on Israel sank virtually to zero. So, too, did the risk of an Arab-Israeli conflict escalating to the level of a U.S.-Soviet confrontation. All at once, U.S. and Israeli strategic concerns were no longer obviously linked.

Thus as soon as Israel withdrew from the Sinai in May 1979, then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin started searching for an alternative basis for linking American and Israeli strategic interests.

For him and for many other Israelis, then and now, it is not enough that the American people are firmly committed to Israel’s security for what could be called “sentimental” reasons: bonds of history (especially memories of the Holocaust), culture, religion, and the values of Western democracy.

But such “sentiment” is the strongest motivation for all U.S. commitments, a far stronger glue than strategic calculations that can and often do change, a fact that could be testified to by the people of South Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Yet for Begin and others, there had to be at least a strong similarity of strategic interests. Thus, in a meeting with Secretary of State Cyrus Vance the day after Egypt retook possession of the Sinai, Begin complained that the US had cancelled its “strategic dialogue” with Israel. Vance tasked me, as the National Security Council staff representative on his travelling team, to find out “what the heck Begin is talking about.”

I phoned Washington and got the skinny: the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment had been conducting a low-level dialogue with some Israeli military officers. Proving to be of little value, it was stopped.

The reason for Begin’s outburst thus became clear: in the absence of the strategic tie with the United States that had been provided by the conflict with Egypt, Israel needed something else, in effect, a common enemy.

That’s why many Israeli political stakeholders were ambivalent about the George W. Bush administration’s ambitions to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein: with his overthrow, a potential though remote threat to Israel would be removed, but so would the perception of a common enemy. Since Saddam’s ousting, Iran has gained even more importance for Israel as a means of linking Jerusalem’s strategic perceptions with those of Washington.

By the same political logic, Israel has always asserted that it is a strategic asset for the United States. As part of recognising Israel’s psychological needs, no U.S. official ever publicly challenges that Israeli assertion regardless of what they think in private or however much damage the U.S. might suffer politically in the region because of Israeli activities, including the building of illegal settlements in the West Bank.

So what must Obama do in order to eliminate the risk of an Iranian nuclear weapon, while also reassuring Israel of US fealty? On one side, to be able to honour an agreement with Iran, Obama has to undercut Netanyahu’s efforts with Congress to prevent any sanctions relief.

On the other side, he could reassure Israel through the classic means of buttressing the flow of arms, including the anti-missile capabilities of the Iron Dome that were so useful to Israel during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel would want even closer strategic cooperation with the U.S., including consultations on the full range of U.S. thinking and planning on all relevant issues in the Middle East. Israel (at least Netanyahu) would also want any notion of further negotiations with the Palestinians, and the relaxation of economic pressures on Gaza, put into the deep freeze—where, in effect, they already are.

Israel has an inherent, sovereign right to defend itself and to make, for and by itself, calculations about what that means. (The country is not unified, however: a surprising number of former leaders of the Israeli military and security agencies have publicly differed with Netanyahu’s pessimistic assessments of the Iranian threat).

As Israel’s only real friend in the world, the United States continues to have an obligation, within reason, to reassure Israel about its security and safety.

For Obama, this reassurance to Israel is a price worth paying in the event of a deal, which would be at least one step in trying to build security and stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East. But that can only happen if Israel refrains from obstructing Obama’s effort to make everyone, including Israel, more secure.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Will There be Peace Between Iran and the West?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-will-there-be-peace-between-iran-and-the-west/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 18:08:37 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137766

In this column, Emma Bonino, former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and former European Commissioner, argues that the West and Iran would be well advised to take advantage of what may be their last similar opportunity to reach a definitive agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme, because the costs of failure to do so are incalculable.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Nov 17 2014 (IPS)

In just a few days, a meeting is scheduled that will be decisive for the security of the Middle East and of the whole world.

Nov. 24 is the deadline for final negotiations between high representatives of six world powers and Iran seeking to reach a comprehensive agreement on the development of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

The six powers include three European countries (Germany, United Kingdom and France) as well as China, the United States and Russia. This negotiating group is known in Europe as E3+3.

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme signed in November 2013 delivered the E3+3’s most substantial guarantees to date, instituting rigorous supervision of the Iranian nuclear programme while limiting and reducing its production of enriched uranium. Since then progress has been made at several talks and the deadline for their conclusion has been set for Nov. 24.

It is hoped that agreement will be reached on the remaining difficult issues and that the foundations for a final agreement will be laid. If this does not happen, it is feared that further postponement may provide more opportunities for those opposed to diplomatic means to derail the process.

This would be a serious reverse when so much progress has been made, creative technical solutions have been proposed, and an agreement is within reach that would peacefully and effectively address the concerns of the E3+3 about proliferation in regard to Iranian nuclear plans, as well as respect Iran’s legitimate aspirations to develop atomic energy for civilian use, and its sovereignty.“An agreement [on Iran’s nuclear programme] must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates”

The European countries have invested vast resources to attain this stage of the negotiations, enforcing unprecedented economic sanctions against Iran as well as shouldering the consequences on the regional scale of maintaining Tehran in isolation.

Europe must use the little time it has left to encourage the negotiating parties to resolve the pending issues by making reasonable concessions, while at the same time avoiding matters that are not essential to a good accord. The Europeans should also work alongside the U.S. government to allay the fears of regional allies sceptical about the long-term strategic benefits of a definitive nuclear pact.

The cost of failure, in economic and security terms, is incalculable.

Failure would probably result in an unrestricted or timidly supervised Iranian nuclear programme, without robust verification to prevent its possible diversion for military purposes.

A negative outcome would foreseeably lead to intensification of sanctions and the isolation of Iran, which could in turn be a stronger incentive for Tehran to try to develop nuclear weapons. This would further undermine Western interests and create an increasingly explosive dead-end situation in military terms.

The costs to Iran of failure, in economic and security terms, are incalculable.

Some of those opposed to an agreement, who can be found in either negotiating party, may wish for consequences of this nature. But responsible leaders should not share this attitude.

If a definitive pact is forged, the E3+3 will establish the truly historic precedent of safeguarding global security through containment of Iran’s capability to develop nuclear weapons. 

A final agreement would also strengthen trust and create the necessary political space for the European Union to engage Iran again in human rights dialogue of the kind that took place in the past, which makes so much sense and is so badly needed now.

Crucially, an agreement must also renew the West’s commitment to Iran by opening up new options in the pursuit of regional interests that partly coincide, at a time when Europeans are once more militarily engaged at Iran’s gates and when cooperation on at least partially shared interests seems possible and necessary, without ignoring the many circumstances in which Iranian and Western interests continue to diverge.

Iran and the E3+3 are closer than ever to resolving the nuclear question.

Non-proliferation, global and regional security and the pacification of conflict hotspots in the Middle East, as well as the exemplary effect of multilateral diplomacy during these convulsed times, would without exception benefit significantly from a firm and fair agreement.

All the parties have the option of distancing themselves from a nuclear agreement, but if they do so it will be in the knowledge that the alternatives are far worse, and that they ought to pay heed to their own best strategic interests. They should all know, also, that there may never be another opportunity like this one to close a definitive nuclear deal. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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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Fighting the Islamic State On the Airhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/#comments Sun, 16 Nov 2014 11:57:53 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137771 Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov 16 2014 (IPS)

There is daily news broadcasting at 9 in the evening and a live programme every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For the time being, that is what Mosul´s only TV channel has to offer from its headquarters in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We are still on the air only because we managed to bring a camera and satellite dish when we escaped from Mosul,” Akram Taufiq, today the general manager of ‘Nineveh´s Future’ – the name of the channel – tells IPS

The life of this 56 year-old journalist has been closely linked to television. He spent eleven years with the Iraqi public channel during Saddam Hussein´s rule. After the former Iraqi leader was toppled, he became the general manager of Mosul´s public channel Sama al Mosul – ‘Mosul´s heaven’. He held his position until extremists of the Islamic State took over Iraq’s second city early in June."From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap" – Atheel al Nujaifi, former governor of Nineveh province

Taufiq admits he had never thought “something like that” could ever happen. “It took them just three days to tighten their grip over the whole city,” recalls this Mosuli from his current office in a residential district in the outskirts of Erbil.

Like all other Tuesdays, the staff, all of them volunteers, struggle to go on the air with their limited resources. Taufiq invites us to watch the live programme on a flat TV screen hanging on the wall of his office.

From an adjacent room, Hani Subhi, presenter, reviews the last news dealing with Mosul, which include the newly-established training camp. According to Subhi, it will host the over 4,000 volunteers who have joined the ranks of the ‘Nineveh Police’. The presenter adds that these troops were exclusively recruited among refugees from Mosul.

“We cannot trust anyone coming from Mosul saying they want to join because they could be spies for the IS,” claims Taufiq, who calls the recently set up armed group “a major step forward”.

“In the future, they will join the Mosul Brigades, groups inside the city that are conducting sabotage operations against members and interests of the Islamic State,” Taufiq explains, without taking his eyes away from the TV screen.

According to the journalist, the most awaited moment is the one dedicated to the live phone calls from inside the city. Today there have been more than 1,700 requests. Unfortunately there is no time for all them.

The first one to go live is Abu Omar, a former policeman now in hiding because members of the previous security apparatus have become a priority target for the IS extremists.

“I´m aching to see the Nineveh Police enter the city. I´ll then be the first to join them and help them kill these bastards,” says Omar from an undisclosed location in Mosul.

Hassan follows from Tal Afar, a mainly Turkmen enclave west of Mosul, which hosts a significant Shiite community.

“We Turkmens have become the main target of these vandals because we are not Arabs, and many of us aren´t even Sunni,” says Hassan. He hopes to remain alive “to see how the occupiers are sent away” from his village.

There are also others who share first-hand information on the dire living conditions Mosulis are forced to face today.

“We have to rely on power generators because we have only two hours of electricity every four days,” Abu Younis explains over the phone.

“The water supply is also erratic, coming only every two or three days, so we have to store it in our bathtubs and drums,” he adds. The worst part, however, is the seemingly total lack of security.

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“People simply disappear mysteriously, and that´s when they are not executed in broad daylight,” denounces Younis. His city, he adds, has become “a massive open-air prison”.

A stolen revolution

It is a stark testimony which is corroborated by Bashar Abdullah, a journalist from Mosul who is currently the news editor-in-chief of Nineveh´s Future. Abdullah says he managed to take his wife and two children to Turkey late last month but that he has chosen to stay in Erbil “to keep working”.

The veteran journalist has not ruled out returning home soon but he admits he knows nothing about the state in which his house is today.

“The jihadists have warned that anyone who leaves the city will lose their home. They want to avoid a mass flight of the local population,” explains Abdullah during a tea break.

A report released this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) points that almost three million Iraqis are internally displaced. Among those, over half a million have fled Mosul.

Atheel al Nujaifi is likely the best known displaced person from Iraq´s second city. He was the governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak. Today he is also one of the main drivers of the TV channel.

From his office in the same building, he admits to IPS that many Mosul residents welcomed the Islamic State fighters in open arms.

“From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap,” recalls this son of a prominent local tribe.

In April 2013, Nujaifi received IPS at the Nineveh´s governorate building, in downtown Mosul. Just a few metres away, mass demonstrations against the government were conducted, denouncing alleged marginalisation of the Sunni population of Iraq at the hands of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Nujaifi would regularly visit the square where the protests were held, openly showing support and giving incendiary speeches against Nuri al-Maliki, the then Prime Minister.

Today from Erbil, he insists that one of the main goals of the TV channel is “to convey the people of Mosul that they still have a government”, even if it´s in exile.

“The Islamic State stole our revolution from us,” laments Nujaifi late at night, just after the last member of the crew has left. They will resume work tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Pushing the Voice of Syrian Women For a New Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pushing-the-voice-of-syrian-women-for-a-new-future/#comments Sat, 15 Nov 2014 09:55:31 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137768 Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Two young girls look on as a veiled woman passes by in Aleppo, August 2014. Syrian magazine Saiedet Souria wants to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Nov 15 2014 (IPS)

For most Syrian women, the war has been a disaster. For some, it has also been liberating.

For Yasmine Merei, managing editor of the Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria, the upset of traditional family roles and the shaking off of a culture of fear have wrought positive effects.

Many Syrian women have unfortunately been forced to become the breadwinners of their families, with their husbands missing, in jail, injured or killed, she told IPS, but while fending for themselves can be a terrifying experience, it can also free women from the traditional bonds placed on them.

Although it [Syrian women’s magazine Saiedet Souria] does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly … [it] wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard
‘’If he [the husband] isn’t the one who pays for everything and has that specific role in society, he no longer has the right to tell you what to do’’, added Mohammad Mallak, the founder and editor-in-chief of the magazine, which translates as ‘Syrian Women’, and was founded early this year.

Mallak also runs a partner magazine, Dawda (‘Noise’), from the same office in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Few of the women in the magazine’s photos have their heads covered, and Merei took off her headscarf earlier this year, after wearing it ‘’for about twenty years’’ as part of her upbringing in a poor, conservative Sunni family.

Merei said that she started taking part in the 2011 protests due to the unjustness of Syrian law, especially as concerns women. As examples, she noted a longstanding law against Syrian women giving citizenship to their children and widespread, unpunished honour killings.

A former Master’s student in linguistics, Merei – like many Syrian women – has become responsible for providing for her immediate family, sending money to her mother and her brothers, both of whom were jailed for protesting and released only after large bribes were paid.

Her elderly father died shortly after he, too, had been imprisoned and the family forced to flee their home.

Telling women’s stories does not simply mean female victims recounting the horrors and hardships of their lives, however.

Although it does not shy away from stories of women who have suffered greatly, Merei wants mainly to provide women with the information they need to have a wider view on the world and a voice in a revolution that has largely left their views unheard.

A first-hand account from a woman who was tortured in Syrian regime prisons sits alongside a review of Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ and an interview with a female police officer in opposition-held areas in the pages of the magazine and on its Facebook page.

Articles on how forced economic dependence negatively affects both women and national economies overall, others discussing potential health problems found in refugee camps such as tuberculosis, a regular column by a female lawyer still in regime areas who previously spent 13 years in prison for political reasons and two translated articles from international media give breadth to the magazine’s roughly 50 pages per issue.

Saiedet Souria publishes sections of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – the ‘’international bill of rights for women’’ adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1979 – in every issue, and will publish it in its entirety in the next, she said.

The magazine itself only has a print run of between 4,500 and 5,000 copies per issue (with roughly 3,500 distributed inside Syria through one of its four offices), bit its Facebook page where the articles are regularly posted is followed by over 40,000.

For a country where Facebook and Youtube were banned from 2007 until early February 2011, and where internet and electricity are scarce, this is a significant number. Syria has been on Reporters Without Borders’ Internet enemies list since the list was established in 2006.

In addition to offices in Daraa, Damascus, Suweida and Qamishli, another will soon be opened in Aleppo, Merei said.

‘’All of the ten women who work for us inside get a regular salary of 200 dollars,’’ she explained, ‘’and are responsible for distributing the copies as well as bringing women together for meetings and similar initiatives.’’

The copies are given out at markets and local councils, and in at least one location, noted Merei, the women have a system to recirculate the limited copies once they have finished with them.

Reporters Without Borders has held two workshops for the magazine, in April and September of this year, and offered to donate equipment to the magazine, but ‘’ we had basic equipment – regular printers, computers’’ from an initial investment made by Mallak,  she said.

‘’But what we really needed was paper and ink, to get the magazine to as many women as possible. And so RSF made an exception and offered us that, instead.’’

The goal, she said, is to ‘’help Syrian women regain confidence in themselves.’’

A confidence undermined by the war and by the use of ‘religion’ to control women in Islamist areas which, when she last went to them earlier this year, ‘’seemed like the country had gone back to the Stone Ages.”

‘’I am a Sunni Muslim but the Islam there is not like any I know.’’

‘’One of the major problems is that Syria’s intelligentsia are all either in jail, abroad or dead,’’ one Syrian, who has lived most of his life abroad but came back recently to help try to set up university classes in opposition-held Aleppo, told IPS. ‘’There is almost no one to structure anything, no one to put forward ideas.’’

This is what the magazine and it correlated activities are trying to address, as well, Merei said. ‘’We are trying to give Syrians the knowledge they are going to need in the future,’’ she said.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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25 Years After Rights Convention, Children Still Need More Protectionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/25-years-after-rights-convention-children-still-need-more-protection/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 20:21:55 +0000 Susan Bissell http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137762 Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Uwottyja children in the Amazon community of Samaria in Venezuela. Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

By Susan Bissell
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Next week marks 25 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a historic commitment to children and the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history.

The CRC outlines universal rights for all children, including the right to health care, education, protection and the time and space to play. And it changed the way children are viewed, from objects that need care and charity, to human beings, with a distinct set of rights and with their own voices that deserve to be heard.Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

My career with UNICEF began the same year the CRC was adopted, and I have seen profound progress in children’s lives. Since 1989 the number of children who die before their fifth birthday has been reduced by nearly half. Pregnant women are far more likely to receive antenatal care and a significantly higher proportion of children now go to school and have clean water to drink.

We must celebrate these important achievements.

But this anniversary must also be used to critically examine areas of children’s lives that have seen far less progress and acknowledge that millions of children have their fundamental rights violated every day.

Fresh in my mind right now are deadly bomb attacks on schools in northern Nigeria and Syria, Central American children braving perilous journeys to flee violence, children being recruited to fight in South Sudan and gang rapes in India.

These crises and events are stunning in their scope and depravity, and in the depth of suffering our children endure. As upsetting as they are, they play out alongside acts of violence against children that happen everywhere and every day.

Twenty-five years after the adoption of the CRC, we clearly must do more to protect our children.

Our children endure a cacophony of violence too often in silence, and too often under an unspoken assumption that violence against children is to some degree tolerable.

Our children endure it in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence of the long-lasting physical, psychological, emotional, and social consequences they suffer well into adulthood because of such violence.

Our children endure it in spite of most countries’ national laws and international law and despite 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Earlier this year UNICEF released the largest-ever global compilation of data on violence against children. The figures are staggering and provide indisputable evidence that violence against children is a global phenomenon, cutting across every geographic, ethnic, cultural, social and economic divide. The data shows violence against children is tolerated, even justified, by adults and by children themselves.

As we reflect on the last 25 years, we must also look forward and commit to doing things differently. Now, more than any other point in history, we have the knowledge and ability to protect our children, and with this ability comes the obligation to do so.

First, children need protection from the crises that play out in the public eye, like conflicts in Iraq, Syria, South Sudan and others.

We also need programmes that work at preventing and responding to the everyday, hidden violence. Initiatives like a programme in Turkey that reduced physical punishment of children by more than 70 percent in two years. Or child protection centres in Kenya that respond to thousands of cases every year. Or a safe schools programme in Croatia that cut the number of children being bullied in half.

Countries must also strengthen their child protection systems – networks of organisations, services, laws, and processes – that provide families with support so they can make sure children are protected.

And finally, as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals, world leaders must prioritise child protection as we look towards 2015 and beyond.

As a long-serving UNICEF official, and more importantly as a mother, I want for children everywhere what I want for my own daughter – a world where every child is protected from violence.

The 25th Anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides an opportunity to recommit to the promise we made to children, and take the urgent action needed now to protect them from harm.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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War-ravaged South Sudan Struggles to Contain AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/war-ravaged-south-sudan-struggles-to-contain-aids/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 07:01:03 +0000 Charlton Doki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137757 Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

Displaced women flee fighting by boat to Mingkaman, Awerial County, Lakes State, South Sudan.. Only one out of 10 HIV positive mothers can get the drugs needed to avoid infecting her baby. Credit: Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin/IPS

By Charlton Doki
JUBA, Nov 14 2014 (IPS)

Dressed in a flowered African print kitenge and a blue head scarf, Sabur Samson, 27, sits pensively at the HIV centre at Maridi Civil Hospital in South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. 

Today she paid 20 South Sudanese pounds (about six dollars) for a bodaboda (motorbike taxi) ride to the centre and will have to skimp on food in the next days.

South Sudan at a quick glance

After four decades of on-off war, South Sudan gained independence from north Sudan in July 2011. But stability did not last long.

Violence rooted in political and ethnical power struggles erupted in December 2013, shattering the dreams of peace for the world’s newest country (pop 11.3m).

After independence, South Sudan improved services for its estimated 150,000 people living with HIV. The new conflict reversed these gains, disrupting not only health services but water and sanitation, roads and bridges, food security and community networks.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million people are newly displaced. Some fled to neighbouring countries, while 1.4 million huddle in 130 camps in South Sudan. Of these, 70 are so remote they are inaccessible to relief agencies, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

South Sudan has limited human resources, organisational and technical capacity to respond to HIV, says the study.

Key drivers of the HIV epidemic in South Sudan include early age at first sex, low level of knowledge about HIV and of condom use, rape and gender-based sexual violence, high rate of sexually transmitted diseases and stigma.

The highest HIV prevalence is found in the three southern Greater Equatoria states bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Western Equatoria, where Samson and Mongo live, HIV prevalence is seven percent, more than double the national rate.

She will be hungry and few will help her in the village, although she is blind and a single mother of two children.

“Many people fear to come close because they fear they will contract HIV,” she told IPS.

Seated next to her, Khamis Mongo, 32, has lived with HIV for five years now and has suffered similar rejection. “Some people don’t want to eat from the same plate with me,” he says.

Mongo and Samson are among nearly 1,000 HIV positive people receiving care at the centre, of whom 250 are in antiretroviral therapy (ART). They are lucky: in South Sudan, just one out of 10 people needing ART gets it.

The clinic sees patients coming from as far as 100 kilometres.

“So many patients are dying because they can’t afford transport to collect their medicine here,” clinical officer Suzie Luka told IPS.

A one-way, 80 km bodaboda trip from Ibba to Maridi costs 150 South Sudanese pounds (47 dollars).

The challenges in Maridi are a microcosm of those that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, faces in containing the HIV epidemic.

Newly independent from north Sudan in 2011, and emerging from Africa’s longest civil war over 21 years with one of the world’s lowest human development statistics, South Sudan plunged again into fighting in December 2013.

The national HIV prevalence rate is under three percent and rising steadily, according to the Joint United Nations Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

This translates into 150,000 people living with HIV in a country whose social fabric and physical infrastructure was destroyed by successive wars.

 “Moving corpses”

Evelyn Letio, from the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV, describes poor access, quality and continuity of health services, underpinned by denial of the disease and high stigma and discrimination, especially against women.

“Community leaders will hurriedly accept a divorce if it’s the woman who is positive and force her to leave the man’s house,” says Letio.”If it’s the man who is positive, they won’t allow the woman to leave the house so she can take care of him.”

Despite denial by government officials, discrimination is rampant within the civil service, she adds:  “People who have disclosed to be HIV positive are laid off and called ’moving corpses’.”

Inadequate financial, infrastructural and human resources limit efforts to expand HIV services.  The national HIV plan has an 80 percent funding shortfall.

Mongo and Sanson told IPS that the Maridi clinic often runs out of drugs and they have to return days later. Other times, staff has not been paid for months and stays away.

“Treatment has been tricky,” acknowledges Habib Daffalla Awongo, director general for programme coordination at South Sudan AIDS Commission.

According to UNAIDS, just 22 centres provided ART before the new outbreak of violence.

Last December, the ART centres in Bor, Malakal and Bentiu, capitals of the states worst hit by fighting, had to close. The whereabouts of 1,140 patients are unknown. Most likely they have interrupted ART, endangering their lives.

War and AIDS

Forty thousand people living with HIV have been directly affected by the recent violence, according to the United Nations. The new fighting reversed the gains made in HIV services since independence. 

Fast Facts About AIDS in South Sudan

150,000 people live with HIV
20,000 children under 15 live with HIV
12.500 AIDS-related deaths in 2013
15,400 new infections in 2013
72,000 people need ART
1 in 10 people needing ART is on ART
1 in 10 HIV positive pregnant women is on PMTCT
27 percent of people over 15 years are literate
1.9m internally displaced people in 2014

“We have lost many HIV positive people during the conflict, some died in the fighting and others migrated to peaceful areas,” said Awongo.

By U.N. counts,  the new conflict has displaced 1.9 million people.

In Juba, the capital, camps with long rows of white tents have sprung up to shelter some 31,000 displaced people.

Among them is Taban Khamis*, who escaped fighting in the key oil city of Bentiu, 1,000 kms north of Juba. He has interrupted ART and fears his health will soon worsen but he will not go to the camp’s HV clinic for fear of stigma.

“The camp is crowded and there is no privacy,” he told IPS. “Everyone will know that I have HIV.”

Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections “dramatically increases in camps”, says a study by the HIV/AIDS Alliance.

Awongo is aware of this problem. “We encourage people to come out of the camps to facility points where they can access services but this is not making a difference,” he says.

*Name changed to protect his privacy

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

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Dhanapala to Receive IPS Award for Nuclear Disarmamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/dhanapala-to-receive-ips-award-for-nuclear-disarmament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhanapala-to-receive-ips-award-for-nuclear-disarmament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/dhanapala-to-receive-ips-award-for-nuclear-disarmament/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 21:44:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137749 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs (1998-2003) and a relentless advocate for a world free of nuclear weapons, will be the recipient of the 2014 International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament sponsored by Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.

“Short of actually dismantling nuclear devices himself,” says Dr. Randy Rydell, until recently a senior political affairs officer at the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, “he has contributed enormously in constructing a solid foundation upon which the world community will one day fulfill this great ambition.”

Current president of the Nobel Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (since 2007) and a former Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Dhanapala played a crucial role in the 1995 Conference of States Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

The award – which is co-sponsored by the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a 12-million-strong, lay Buddhist non-governmental organisation (NGO) which is leading a global campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons – will be presented at an official ceremony at the United Nations Nov. 17.

The event, to be attended by senior U.N. officials, ambassadors and representatives of the media and civil society, is being hosted by the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).

Douglas Roche, a former senator, an ex-Canadian ambassador for disarmament, and visiting professor at the University of Alberta, told IPS, “When the Non-Proliferation Treaty was indefinitely extended in 1995, the person most responsible for making nuclear disarmament a permanent legal obligation was Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala.”

He said Dhanapala’s “masterful diplomacy” – threading a course between the powerful nuclear weapons states and the non-nuclear world – was responsible for delineating three specific promises.

First, the systematic and progressive efforts towards elimination of nuclear weapons; second, a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by 1996; third, an early conclusion of negotiations for a fissile material ban.

“Jayantha raised both the global norm and the conscience of the world that nuclear weapons are incompatible with the full implementation of human rights,” said Roche, founding chairman of the Middle Powers Initiative and chairman of the U.N. Disarmament Committee at the 43rd General Assembly sessions in 1988.

Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute (GSI), told IPS “it is fair to say that no one has done more to preserve and strengthen the international legal system constraining the spread of nuclear weapons and setting clearly the compass point for the universal elimination of nuclear weapons than Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala.”

“His leadership in the U.N.’s Department of Disarmament Affairs and president of the 1995 Review and Extension Conference was rooted in an insight that clearly guides his life,” he added.

As a young student during the Cuban missile crisis, he wondered “how could the two superpowers of the time place millions of innocent citizens in non-nuclear weapon and non-aligned states in danger of the blast, radiation, climatic and genetic effects of such a weapon exchange?” Granoff recounted.

Dhanapala has tirelessly made nations, organisations, and individuals aware and empowered to act on the realisation that nuclear weapons and civilisation present a choice: one or the other, he pointed out.

“His work in the international field has exemplified the fusion of idealistic aspirations based on universal values and practical policies informed by the constraints of political realities and power,” said Granoff, who is also a senior advisor of the American Bar Association’s Committee on Arms Control and National Security.

He was also instrumental in reviving U.N. interest in the subject of “disarmament and development” at a time when military spending was once again starting to rise in the post-Cold War era, as social and economic needs went unmet in vast sectors of the world.

Dhanapala served as director of the U.N.’s Institute for Disarmament Research (1987-1992), where he successfully expanded its financial base while also broadening its areas of research to include non-military challenges to security.

Dhanapala has also been a member of two of the most influential international commissions established to advance nuclear disarmament: the Canberra Commission (1996) and the International Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission (Blix Commission, 2006).

He was later awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant, which enabled the publication of his book, ‘Multilateral Diplomacy and the NPT: An Insider’s Account.’

He has served or is continuing to serve on several advisory boards of institutions known for their work in supporting nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Stanford Institute of International Studies, the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Conflict, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, among others.

He has served as honourary president of the International Peace Bureau.

In all of his posts held over his career, said Rydell, he has inspired his colleagues to fight persistently for the interests of the world community even in the face of great obstacles.

“One day, this will be how nuclear disarmament is finally achieved,” he added.

Rydell said Dhanapala was one of the U.N.’s most prolific voices for global nuclear disarmament, which was apparent in his countless major keynote addresses, book chapters, articles, oped pieces, and frequent meetings with NGOs.

Roche told IPS: “If the nuclear weapons states had lived up to the standards set by Ambassador Dhanapala, the world would be a safer place today. Dhanapala had the vision to move forward in a way that held the international community together. We must not give up on that course.”

Reflecting on the diplomatic achievements of Dhanapala’s home country, Granoff said Sri Lanka is a small island and the world owes it a big thank you for producing several towering figures who have been instrumental in advancing global security, the rule of law, and standards of intelligence and virtue in global public service.

To state the case succinctly: “Without Ambassador Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe there would be no Law of the Sea Treaty.”

Judge Christopher Weeramantry’s work on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where he helped define global legal standards of justice and practicality in the fields of nuclear weapons and sustainable development, is matched in excellence only by the wisdom and insightful legal analysis found in his prolific writings, making him one of the most respect international legal minds of modern times, said Granoff, who is also on the advisory board of Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.

Sri Lanka, having barely emerged from four and half centuries of crippling colonialism, was threatened along with other countries by a contest for global supremacy in which it wanted no part, he added.

The past recipients of the IPS International Achievement Award for their contributions to peace and development include: Brazilian President Lula da Silva (2008), U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2006), Global Call to Action Against Poverty (2005), Group of 77 developing countries (2000), U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1995), and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (1991).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ebola and ISIS: A Learning Exchange Between U.N. and Faith-based Organisationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ebola-and-isis-a-learning-exchange-between-u-n-and-faith-based-organisations/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 14:31:05 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137746 Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

Scene from an Ebola treatment facility run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Guéckédou, Guinea. Credit: UN Photo/Ari Gaitanis

By Azza Karam
NEW YORK, Nov 13 2014 (IPS)

The simultaneity presented by the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus on one hand and militant barbarism ostensibly in the name of Islam on the other present the international development community – particularly the United Nations and international NGOs – with challenges, as well as opportunities.

At first sight, the two are unrelated phenomena. One appears to be largely focused on the collapse of health services in three countries, and to a lesser extent, on economic and political ramifications thereof.ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

The other, i.e., ISIS/ISIL/IS, appears to be a complex basket of geopolitical conflagrations involving a violently militant political Islam, weak governance dynamics, botched uprisings, transnational youth disaffection, arms proliferation — all to name but a few.

So what is the connection and why is this relevant to international development and humanitarian engagement?

In a Strategic Learning Exchange organised by several United Nations bodies, and attended by U.N. development and humanitarian staff, and their counterparts from a number of international faith-based development NGOs, which took place in Turin, Italy last week, the confluence of these challenges was tackled head-on.

The U.N. and faith-based NGO staff present work both in their headquarter organisations as well as on the ground in countries in Africa, Asia, and the Arab region.

In both sets of cases, there are realties of overstretched service providers seeking to respond, in real time, to rising death tolls, collapsing state-run services, and the actual inability to deliver basic necessities to communities struggling to stay alive because of diverse, but nevertheless man-made, barriers.

Some of these are run by those carrying arms and demarcating territories as off limits while those within them are imprisoned, tortured, killed, terrorized, and starved. Other barriers are made of communities hiding their ill and their dead, distrusting and fearing those seeking to help, and anguished over the loss not just of loved ones, but also of care-takers, sources of income, and means of protection.

But there are other barriers which the last few weeks and months have revealed as well, some of which present long-term challenges to institutional and organisational cultures, as well as to the entire ethos of international humanitarianism and development as we know it today.

The response to the Ebola virus, first and foremost, focused on the medical aspects – which was/is urgent and unquestionable.

But it took months before international aid workers realised one of many tipping points in the equation of death and disease transmission: that burial methods were key, and that even though there are manuals which seek to regulate those methods so as to ensure medical safety, there was relatively less attention paid to the combined matter of values, dignity and local cultural practices in such crisis contexts.

Burying the dead in a community touches the very belief systems which give value and meaning to life. How those infected with Ebola were buried had to be tackled in a way that bridged the very legitimate medical health concerns, but also enabled the family and community members to go on living – with some shred of meaningfulness to their already traumatised selves – while not getting infected.

When this particular dilemma was noted, faith leaders have been hastily assembled to advise on burial methods which bridge dignity with safety in these particular circumstances. But the broader and more long-term roles of ‘sensitising’ and bridging the medical-cultural gap between international aid workers, local medical personnel and over-wrought communities have yet to be worked out.

And the opportunity to address this medical-cultural gap (which is not new to development or humanitarian work) extends beyond burials of the dead and medical care for the living, to providing psycho-social support, and ensuring economic livelihoods. In these areas, too, faith-based NGOs have roles to play.

The militancy of ISIS and the repercussions of the war currently being waged both with and against them presents a similar set of cultural challenges to national and international actors.

This cultural feature was reiterated with cases from the same Arab region involving Hizbullah, Hamas, and now ISIS. How to navigate practical roadblocks controlled by parties you are not supposed to be talking to as a matter of principle, and who question the very legitimacy of your mandate, as a matter of practice – precisely because it does not ‘do religion’ and is part of a ‘Western secular agenda’?

Yes, there are manuals and protocols and procedures governing the provision of services and rules of engagement – in compliance with international human rights obligations. Yet, some hard questions are now glaring: should any form of ‘dialogue’ or outreach be possible between those who speak human rights law, and those who wish to speak only of “God’s laws”?

Are there lessons to be learned from prior engagement with (now relatively more mainstream) Hizbullah and Hamas, which may have resulted in a different trajectory for the engagement with ISIS today, perhaps?

Boko Haram’s actions in Nigeria and al-Qaeda’s presence (and elimination of Bin Laden) in Afghanistan have highlighted a link between religious dogma and critical health implications. Unlike with Ebola however, a possible role for faith leaders – and other faith-based humanitarian and development actors – has not been solicited. At least, not openly so.

And yet, could these roles shed some light on the particular ability of some religious actors to maneuver within humanitarian emergencies in these specific circumstances?

Could a clearer appreciation of the potential value-added of faith-based interventions – which have to be distinguished from those of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc. – increase understanding of and dealing with a world view that is costing lives, now and in the future?

ISIS claims religion in its very name, ethos and gruesome actions. Can the international humanitarian and development worlds afford to continue to ignore religious dynamics – precisely because of the extent to which their actions challenge human rights-based actions?

And if the international community makes a choice to deal with any religious overtones – and is not capacitated in its current frameworks to do so – whose assistance will be needed to call upon, in which fora and with what means?

There are answers to some of these questions already percolating in several policy-making corridors, inherent in the experience of many cadres working with faith-based/ faith-inspired development NGOs, and academics who have devoted decades of research.

What was clear from the discussions in Turin, and other roundtables on religion and development, is that these questions have to be posed, because the answers belie multiple opportunities.

All opinions expressed belong to the author, and are not representative or descriptive of the positions of any organisation, Member State, Board, staff member or territorial entity.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Fishing for Peace in Koreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-for-peace-in-korea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fishing-for-peace-in-korea/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 10:21:38 +0000 John Feffer and Michal Witkowski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137695 The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

The disputed Northern Limit Line (NLL) that forms the maritime border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea cuts through a number of small islands and winds through rich fishing grounds. Credit: lamoix/CC-BY-2.0

By John Feffer and Michal Witkowski
WASHINGTON, Nov 11 2014 (IPS)

Environmental problems, by their nature, don’t respect borders. Air and sea pollution often affect countries that had nothing to do with their production. Many extreme weather events, like typhoons, strike more than one country. Climate change affects everyone.

These environmental problems can aggravate existing conflicts among countries. But they can also bring countries together in joint efforts to find solutions. A case in point is the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in Korea.

The NLL is the oft-disputed border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the peninsula. Although the two countries agreed to a territorial boundary at the 38th parallel following the Korean War armistice, they have never agreed on the maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea, which threads between a number of islands and through rich fishing grounds.

Over the years, North and South Korea have exchanged artillery fire across the NLL, and naval vessels as well as fishing boats have clashed in the area on a number of occasions.

Various environmental challenges have only sharpened the conflict. But with a new imperative to address these environmental problems, the NLL can offer the two Koreas an opportunity to chart a new relationship for the 21st century.

Anatomy of a Dispute

North Korea maintains six naval squadrons on the [Northern Limit Line]. The North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels. The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority.
The NLL region has been a zone of contention between North and South Korea for more than six decades. It has been the site of several clashes between the Koreas.

Among the most notable are the naval confrontations of 1999 and 2002, the 2009 gunboat incident near Daecheong Island, the 2010 artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, and the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship.

This maritime border is heavily militarised. North Korea maintains six naval squadrons there. According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, the North’s fleet consists of approximately 430 combat vessels—around 60 percent of which are stationed around the coastal borders.

Due to the decline of the North Korean economy, the fleet mostly consists of smaller vessels used for covert operations and for escorting fishing boats around the NLL.

The South’s fleet is smaller in numbers, with about 120 ships and 70 aircraft. But it has the military edge, due to the size of the vessels and their technological superiority. It’s further reinforced by the presence of the U.S. Seventh Fleet in nearby Yokosuka, Japan.

South Korean troops, along with their American counterparts, carry out annual drills in the region, which always raise tensions along the disputed maritime border.

North Korea does not recognise the present border arrangement. Furthermore, the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regime set by the U.N. – which grants states special resource exploration rights in a sea zone stretching 200 miles from their land borders – cannot be applied in a close-quarter situation such as the NLL.

The fishing zones that lie within the NLL are the source of fierce contention between both South and North Korea.

One of the major arguments that North Korea has made around the disputed NLL is that South Korea has access to the majority of fisheries within the current boundaries, while the North occupies far less territory than it potentially could.

When the NLL was being drawn up, the international standard for territorial water limits was three nautical miles; by the 1970s, however, 12 nautical miles became the norm. The North’s argument is that the current setting prevents it from accessing neighbouring sea areas, which, in Pyongyang’s view, should belong to the North.

Such a border set-up fails to acknowledge that small islands, such as Yeonpyeong Island, are not equivalent to continental masses in terms of generating maritime boundaries.

Environmental issues

Overfishing and other destructive fishing practices that have continued for decades have had perhaps the greatest impact on the NLL’s environmental situation. Such activities have caused habitat destruction and biomass change in the Yellow Sea.

For instance, due to overfishing between the 1960s and the 1980s, the number of invertebrates and fish dropped by over 40 percent. With the decrease in fish populations, more effort is required to maintain the desired catch capacity, and many commercially significant species have been severely depleted. As a result, the species composition and the relative proportions of the fish found in the region have been altered.

One country alone cannot ensure the region’s sustainability. The trans-boundary nature of these issues requires a cooperative approach.

The nature of the Yellow Sea – and in particular the seabed on which the NLL is located – limits water circulation, increasing the amount of harmful sediments and aggravating the quality of the water. This has decreased the sea’s ability to “cleanse itself,” making the area around the NLL even more vulnerable to pollution and the harmful effects of human activities on land.

Habitat depletion can greatly affect local communities as well as cause problems for the fishing industry. Development projects on the South Korean side have been a major factor in this process.

More than 30 percent of marshland fields have been lost in South Korea between 1975 and 2005 due to dam construction, embankment, and dikes. Rice paddy fields have been lost as a result of reclamation and the lowering of water tables in nearby lakes.

An ever-increasing market demand for seafood boosts the profitability of short-term-oriented fishing activities. Insufficient pollution prevention only aggravates the situation.

Possible Solutions

As a result of the tense security situation and the unresolved border – along with the lack of a peace treaty between the Koreas to formally end the Korean War – any sort of consensus on the matter of the NLL in the context of inter-Korean relations is difficult to achieve.

One proposed solution is the establishment of a joint fishing zone between the two countries. This zone would boost the North’s fishing industry and could serve as a start to a trust-building process between the neighbours.

Such a process would be based on increased economic cooperation in the NLL region that could lead to further improvements in relations and make future collaboration more likely.

The “Sunshine Policy,” a period of North-South engagement in the late 1990s and early 2000s, was an attempt at establishing such cooperation. In the negotiations regarding the NLL during that period, North Korea demanded changes in the border situation that had to be met before it could agree to participate in the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

The South reportedly agreed to this condition. However, the summit failed to bring any real closure to the matter: concrete decisions were left to be discussed in the future.

The overall framework dating back to the Sunshine Policy’s prime is still in place. For instance, the Kaesong Industrial Park – a joint North-South venture on the northern side of the DMZ – is still operational. Ties between the Koreas could be further enhanced by cooperation around the NLL region.

Some ideas have already been put forward and were initially agreed upon by both sides. In 2000, for example, the two countries came to an agreement along the maritime boundary on the east side of the peninsula where South Korean boats shared the profits from their squid fishing in Northern waters.

Also in 2000, the two sides agreed to create a special peace and cooperation zone around the west coast of the Korean Peninsula.

Another proposal was to combine a joint fishing zone with a common industrial complex in Haeju, a port city on the Northern side. Finally, the Koreas agreed to establish a “peace sea” from the island of Yeonpyeong right to the estuary of the Han River.

No military presence would be allowed in this area. With the South’s withdrawal from the Sunshine Policy framework under the right-wing President Lee Myung-Bak, however, the joint projects were put on hold.

A resuscitation of such joint projects could potentially move cooperation beyond the issue of the NLL to other areas of both business and policy-making. Two major obstacles would need to be overcome in order for such a solution to work.

First, an independent body to monitor the area would need to be appointed to prevent breaches of the agreement and to ensure that both parties follow environmental rules. This mechanism would have to recognise the specificity of the issues surrounding the NLL and formulate policies accordingly.

Second, the two sides would have to agree on a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism.

A universal solution that can resolve the NLL issue does not exist. A carefully devised policy that takes into account the political and economic tensions between the two Koreas may be the answer.

Importantly, the NLL would have to be gradually demilitarised to reduce the probability of any unwanted conflict that could destabilise the area. However, there is minimal possibility that the two countries will agree to reduce their military positions given that the two countries signed the armistice nearly six decades ago but never agreed on a peace treaty.

Thus, for such a solution to become possible, economic cooperation must come first.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Disciples of John the Baptist also flee ISIShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/disciples-of-john-the-baptist-also-flee-isis/#comments Sat, 08 Nov 2014 09:20:50 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137659 One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

One of the ancient yet vanishing Mandaean rituals in Baghdad, at the banks of the Tigris river. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KIRKUK, Iraq, Nov 8 2014 (IPS)

“Going  back home? That would be suicide. The Islamists would cut our throats straight away,” says Khalil Hafif Ismam. The fear of this Mandaean refugee sums up that of one of the oldest yet most decimated communities in Mesopotamia.

“We had our house and two jewellery shops back in Baiji – 230 km north of Baghdad – but when ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] took over the area in June we had to leave for sheer survival,” recalls Khalil Ismam from the Mandaean Council compound in Kirkuk, 100 km east of Baiji. That is where he shares a roof with the family of his brother Sami, and the mother of both.

The Ismams are Mandaeans, followers of a religion that experts have tracked back 400 years before Christ, and which consider John the Baptist as their prophet. Accordingly, their main ritual, baptism, has taken place in the same spots on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates for almost two millennia.

In the sixteenth century, Portuguese Jesuit missionaries attempted to convert them to Christianity in Basra (southern Iraq). Young Mandaeans were sent, often abducted, to evangelise far-flung Portuguese colonies such as today´s Sri Lanka. They were called the “Christians of St. John”, although Mandaeans solidly dissociate themselves from Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Ismams, a Mandaean displaced family, pose at the entrance of the Mandaean Council in Kikruk. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khalil Ismam and his brother, both jewellers in their late thirties, also come from Iraq´s far south. Talking to IPS, they explain how they moved to Baghdad in the 1980s, “looking for a better life”. After the first Gulf War in 1991, they were forced to relocate again, this time to Baiji. Today they are in Kirkuk but they have no idea what tomorrow will bring.

“The council has told us that we cannot stay over a month, but we still don´t know where to go next because ISIS is already at the gates of the city,” says Sami.

Among the little they could take with them, the silversmiths did not forget their sekondola – a medallion engraved with a bee, a lion and a scorpion, all of them surrounded by a snake. According to Mandaean tradition, it should protect them from evil."The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans” – Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile

Talismans are likely among the few things they can stick to while Mandaean ancient rituals begin to disappear as their priests are driven into exile in the best case scenario. In Kirkuk, the dry bed of the Khasa River – a tributary of the Tigris – is not an option so the increasingly rare ceremonies are held in a makeshift water well inside the complex.

“Every two or three weeks a genzibra – Mandaean priest – comes from Baghdad to conduct the ritual but the road is getting more dangerous with each passing day,” laments Khalil Ismam, standing by the pond.

According to a report released by Human Rights Watch in February 2011, 90 percent of Mandaeans have either died or left the country since the invasion by the U.S.-led forces in 2003.

From his residence in Baghdad, Sattar Hillo, spiritual leader of the Mandaeans worldwide, told IPS that his community is facing their “most critical moment” in history, adding that there are around 10,000 of them left in Iraq.

But that was his assessment a few months before the ISIS threat in the region. Today, the situation has worsened considerably, as Suhaib Nashi, General Secretary of the Mandaean Association Union in Exile, sums up:

“In the past two months, our community in Iraq is suffering a real genocide at the hands of radical Islamists, and not just by ISIS”. Nashi told IPS that the situation is equally worrying in southern areas, where the followers of this religion are easy victims of either Shiite militias or common criminals.

“The most striking thing about the killings of Mandaeans in Iraq is that it ranges from monetary gain by the extremists to the more sinister reason of ethnically cleansing the population of Iraq to get rid of the entire population of Mandaeans,” denounces Nashi.

Seeking asylum

Khalima Mashmul, aged 39, is among the Mandaean refugees staying today at the local council. She tells IPS that she is originally from the south, but that she came to Kirkuk at the early age of 15, dragged by a forced population displacement campaign through which Saddam Hussein sought to alter the demographic balance of Kirkuk, where the Kurds are the majority.

Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen dispute this city which lies on top of one of the world’s largest oil reserves. What Mashmul has called “home” for nearly 25 years is still considered as one of the most dangerous spots in Iraq. And she knows it well.

“My husband is a police officer. He lost his right leg and four fingers of one hand after a bomb attack last June. Despite his injuries, they still force him to keep working,” this mother of four tells IPS. Like the Ismams, they cannot stay indefinitely.

“We cannot go back home because my husband is threatened but we don´t have enough money to pay a rent,” laments Mashmul. Their only option, she adds, is that “Australia or any European country” grants them political asylum.

That is likely the dream of the majority in Iraq. In a report on the Iraq crisis released last month, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since January this year. The report also adds that 600,000 of them need urgent help due to the imminent arrival of winter.

While many wait impatiently to move to a Western country, some others have opted for an easier relocation in neighbouring countries.

Chabar Imad Abid, one of the policemen – all of them Mandaean – managing security at the compound, tells IPS that he does not regret being left alone by his family, saying: “My wife and my five children are in Jordan and I will join them as soon as I can.”

“We have just been told that ISIS is gathering forces in Hawija – 50 km west of Kirkuk,” says the policeman, meaning that the offensive over Kirkuk is “imminent”.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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