Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.S. Urged to Ramp up Aid for Agent Orange Clean-Up Efforts in Vietnamhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/u-s-urged-to-ramp-up-aid-for-agent-orange-clean-up-efforts-in-vietnam/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 17:54:42 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141347 An estimated 4.5 million Vietnamese people were potentially exposed to Agent Orange during the decade 1961-1972. Credit: naturalbornstupid/CC-BY-SA-2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Afghanistan: No Place for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-no-place-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/afghanistan-no-place-for-children/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 03:56:46 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141344 Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Aid from the UK is supporting a network of orthopaedic centres across Afghanistan to assist those affected by mobility disabilities, including hundreds of mine victims. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2015 (IPS)

No one will deny that when a child – any child – is killed, it is a tragedy. Imagine, then, the extent of the tragedy in Afghanistan where, in just four years, 2,302 children have lost their lives as a result of ongoing fighting in this country of 30 million people.

According to his latest report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that more kids were killed or maimed in 2014 than in any previous year under review.

During the reporting period from Sep. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2014, an additional 5,047 young people were badly injured, leaving many crippled for life.

Ground engagements were reportedly the number one cause of child casualties, leaving 331 children dead and 920 injured in 2014; these figures represent a doubling of the number from the previous year.

Armed groups’ use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in populated areas resulted in 664 casualties, while suicide attacks took the lives of 214 children – an increase in 80 percent compared to 2013.

The report also stated that “explosive remnants of war killed or maimed 328 children”, while international military airstrikes left 38 kids either dead or injured – including eight from drone strikes alone.

The biggest culprits appear to have been the Taliban and the Hizb-e-Islami, followed closely by the Afghan National Securities Forces, who were responsible for 126 killings and 270 injuries.

Five kids were killed and 52 injured in cross-border shelling from Pakistan. The U.N. was unable to verify the cause of death in 163 cases, and chalks up a further 505 injuries to “crossfire”, without being able to attribute responsibility to any particular group.

“These tragically high casualty numbers show that children are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and unfortunately this trend continues with the deterioration of the security environment into 2015,” Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s special representative for children and armed conflict said in a press release last week.

Various actors, primarily the Taliban and similar armed groups, forcibly recruited an estimated 68 children into their ranks. In an even more troubling trend, kids continue to carry out suicide attacks for the Taliban and perform a range of dangerous or potentially life threatening tasks like planting IEDs or acting as spies.

Detention and torture of children is also a major cause of concern for rights activists, with the ministry of justice reporting 258 boys held in juvenile detention centres on charges relating to national security, including “association with armed groups”.

Between February 2013 and December 2014, the U.N. interviewed 105 child detainees, 44 of who claimed they had experienced ill-treatment or torture.

Another aspect of the conflict that directly impacts children here is the systematic and sustained attack on schools throughout the country.

U.N. researchers verified 163 incidents, including the placement of explosive devices within school premises, attacks on schools used as polling stations, threats against protected personnel or teachers, and the targeting of girls’ education by way of intimidation, propaganda, or physical attacks.

The U.N. believes that 469 Afghan schools are closed as a result of the shaky security situation, with an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 Taliban fighters reportedly active in most provinces around the country.

Children are also at risk of sexual assault – in the review period, eight boys and six girls were victims of sexual violence, with four of the verified cases traced back to the national police and one to a “pro-government militia commander.”

Furthermore, “Twenty-four boys and two girls were abducted in 17 separate incidents, resulting in the killing of at least four boys by the Taliban, the rape of two girls by the local police, and the rape of a boy by a pro-Government militia,” according to the U.N.

As a new government attempts to gain control over the situation, U.N. experts are hopeful that the deadly tide can be reversed.

“I look forward to working with the Government of Afghanistan even more intensively in the months ahead as we move towards fully implementing the country’s Action Plan for ending recruitment and use of children,” Zerrougui said at the report’s launch this past Thursday.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Ghosts Of War Give Way to Development in Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:13:18 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/ghosts-of-war-give-way-to-development-in-sri-lanka/feed/ 17 The U.N. at 70: United Nations Disappoints on Its 70th Anniversary – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-united-nations-disappoints-on-its-70th-anniversary-part-two/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 11:59:26 +0000 James A. Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141299

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

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

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

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part One of this article can be found here.

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

Courtesy of Global Policy Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Part Two of this article can be found here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rave reviews have come from several academics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional input by Valentina Gasbarri in Vienna.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What is Global Citizenship Education?

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

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

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

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

Another important concept of GCED is inclusiveness.

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

Q: Why is Korea leading GCED?

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

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

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

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

Q:What is GCED methodology?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are the main challenges to GCED?

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/israel-hamas-escape-u-n-s-list-of-shame-on-attacks-on-children/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 23:59:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141029 A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Minsk Agreements, the Only Path to Peace in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-minsk-agreements-the-only-path-to-peace-in-ukraine/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:43:19 +0000 Aslan Abashidze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141024

Prof. Aslan Abashidze is the Head of the Department of International Law at Moscow’s Friendship University and a member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

By Aslan Abashidze
GENEVA, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

The “U.N. Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine”, which was referred to in an Inter Press Service (IPS) article of Jun. 2, does not, in my view, reflect many salient points.

How the lawful Government of Ukraine was overthrown is now well known. The new Kiev regime immediately announced the prohibition of the Russian language in the eastern regions of the country, inhabited mostly by the Russian speaking population.Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

As the U.N. report confirms, those who committed numerous murders on Maidan Square and in Odessa have not been prosecuted.

Combat aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force, armed with a full complement of missiles, bombed the centre of Donetsk in broad daylight. These events forced the creation of militia groups to defend their interests and territory.

That is how the military confrontation between the new regime in Kiev and eastern regions of Ukraine was created – thus causing 6,500 deaths, and over a million Ukrainian refugees now living inside Russia.

The fulfillment of all provisions of the Minsk agreements (ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, delivery of aid to the needy, local elections, formation of local authorities, constitutional reforms, etc.) signed by President Petro Poroshenko would no doubt preserve the territorial integrity of the Donetsk People’s Republic (Donetsk) and Luhansk People’s Republic (Luhansk) regions by obtaining acceptable status within the Ukrainian State.

Instead, what are we facing in fact?

The shelling of civilian areas in the eastern regions continues unabated. The observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report violations of the Minsk agreements on the side of Kiev. They probably cannot witness the Ukrainian Military incursions into East Ukraine which undoubtedly spark retaliation.

Civilians in Donetsk, including children, are dying. Various military units wearing fascist symbols act independent of the Kiev authorities, claiming they do not have to abide by Minsk Agreements.

Against this background, Poroshenko publicly states that his goal is to reclaim all areas by military force. To achieve that objective, Poroshenko mobilises the military, equips armies and recruits Private Security Companies from the U.S. and NATO Member States as well as others such as Georgia. Also, he continuously requests aid from Western countries — not only billions of dollars, but also heavy military equipment, including lethal weapons.

What for? To make peace or wage war?

Recently, the Ukraine Parliament – on the pretext of “anti-terrorist operations” – adopted an Act on the non-respect of human rights in Donetsk and Luhansk. But no one, including the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reminded the Ukrainian authorities that it is a violation of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In doing so, the Ukrainian authorities ignored the basic human right of the right to life.

It is also required that before passing such drastic laws, the country should declare a state of emergency, and clarify the need and duration of such a regime.

To declare a state of emergency, the Kiev authorities have to first recognise that an internal armed conflict exists in their territory, and secondly, they have to adhere to Article 3 that is common to four Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War of 1949 and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977.

In such a scenario, Kiev may not have access to loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, and it would not ethical to keep draconian restrictions of a socio-economic nature at the expense of the poor segment of the population while doing nothing against the high-level of corruption in government sectors.

Furthermore, the Kiev authorities have arbitrarily cancelled the benefits of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims, as well as child allowances. The U.N. human rights laws prohibit such retrogressive measures that worsen the situation of vulnerable groups.

Blatantly ignoring its social and economic obligations, the Kiev authorities have stopped supplying most needed medications; stopped paying pensions and benefits to people in those regions; and have blocked all food and essential items supply routes to these beleaguered regions.

What is also not acknowledged is the fact that since the beginning of this disaster, the Russian Federation has voluntarily sent 29 convoys of humanitarian aid to these regions, and that Russia provided natural gas after Kiev cut gas supplies to these regions in the height of the winter.

On Jun. 4, Poroshenko told the Parliament they will withdraw the economic blockade against Donetsk and Luhansk only if these regions came under their total control.

To achieve this, the Kiev authorities declared a total mobilisation of reservists and strengthened the bombing of the territory by large-scale artillery shells.

The selective approach of human rights organisations in relation to certain events raises concerns. Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

You may ask: What else can we do “to stop armed activities in the eastern part of Ukraine”, even though it is the paramount condition spelled out in the Minsk agreements signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, and supported by the U.S.?

First, of course, is to ensure that the Ukrainian authorities unreservedly honour the ceasefire. Secondly, if Kiev does not control certain military groups in territories under its control, then they should be disarmed by the OSCE peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, the structures of international organisations, including U.N. human rights structures, are subject to political influence from the United States and its NATO allies, which has led to a sharp decline in credibility of these establishments.

As we know, the U.S. continues its attempts to control world affairs – including world football. If this trend continues, the principles and norms of international law enshrined in the U.N. Charter will cease to operate – paving the way for military commanders to solve world problems. Any child understands that it would lead to the death of our civilisation.

The U.N. Charter states that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

There is no dispute in the world that cannot be resolved by peaceful negotiations. Figuratively speaking, we live in an “armed peace”, and in conditions of increasing threats and challenges.

What we need is the political will of world leaders to decide what kind of a world we want to live in – and for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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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Fishing and Farming in Gaza is a Deadly Businesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/fishing-and-farming-in-gaza-is-a-deadly-business/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 12:50:57 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141020 Gazan fishermen Ibrahim Al Quka and his brother Sami Al Quka, who had his hand shot off by the Israeli navy even though he was within Israel's restricted fishing zone. Credit: Mel Frykberg

Gazan fishermen Ibrahim Al Quka and his brother Sami Al Quka, who had his hand shot off by the Israeli navy even though he was within Israel's restricted fishing zone. Credit: Mel Frykberg

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

Three Palestinian fishermen were injured last week after Israeli naval forces opened fire on fishing boats off the coast of al-Sudaniyya in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing to 15 the number of farmers and fishermen shot and injured by Israeli security forces recently as they attempted to earn a living.

The Israeli navy limits Gaza’s fishermen to a three nautical-mile zone off Gaza’s coast. However even fishermen within that zone have come under fire and been shot, injured and killed or had their boats destroyed or confiscated.“Gaza fishermen have come under fire and been shot, injured and killed or had their boats destroyed or confiscated … Gazan farmers trying to access their agricultural fields … are also regularly shot and injured, and sometimes killed”

As most of the shoals are further out to sea, Gaza’s fishing industry has been decimated and thousands of Gazans deprived of a living and unable to support their families.

Gazan farmers trying to access their agricultural fields within Israel’s 500 metre to 1 km buffer zone next to Israel’s border are also regularly shot and injured, and sometimes killed.

Gaza’s decimated economy has been further damaged by Israeli limits on Gazan exports to two of its biggest markets, the occupied West Bank and Israel.

Agricultural produce and manufactured goods used to underpin the coastal territory’s economy before Israel and Egypt enforced the Gaza blockade.

After last year’s war between Hamas and Israel, one of the conditions for a ceasefire was the easing of the blockade.

While Israel has allowed some goods to be exported from Gaza, this is insufficient to rejuvenate its economy.

Analysts and political commentators have repeatedly warned that Israel’s continued siege and restrictions on Gaza could destabilise the region further, leading to more violence and possibly a new war.

Destruction in Gaza following last year's war between Hamas and Israel. Credit: Mel Frykberg

Destruction in Gaza following last year’s war between Hamas and Israel. Credit: Mel Frykberg

A report on the situation by the Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee of the Office of the Quartet Representative was released after a meeting in Brussels on May 27.

“Over a year on from the breakdown in talks between Israel and the Palestinians, there is still no tangible political horizon in sight,” stated the report.

“The last year has repeatedly presented us with reminders not just of where the flashpoints and difficulties persist, but also that in the absence of a political horizon, the vacuum quickly fills with animosity and violence.”

The report outlined how the removal or reduction of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement, trade and access remained essential to securing economic growth.

“Movement and access restrictions, both physical and regulatory, hinder economic development in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and affect nearly all aspects of Palestinian life.”

Employment in Gaza and its economy would be boosted by Israel easing the blockade while the private sector would be strengthened. These in turn would reduce tensions and contribute to Israel’s security needs.

The failure of Hamas and Israel to reach any agreement is further aggravated by the stalemate within the Palestinian unity government due to the inability of Hamas and Fatah to reach consensus on jointly governing Gaza and the West Bank.

The rivalry between the two groups has delayed international aid, without which no reconstruction, redevelopment and economic growth in Gaza can take place.

The Office of the Quartet Representative pointed out five development areas that need to be focused on to improve the situation in the ground – an effective Palestinian government, movement and trade, reliable infrastructure, investment and sustainable land usage.

Meanwhile, Israel is continuing with new plans to relocate thousands of Bedouins in the West Bank and Israel after the move received the green light from Israel’s Supreme Court.

Some 7,000 Bedouins from the central West Bank, most of them situated east of Jerusalem, and 450 in southern Hebron will be “relocated” by force.

The forced removals have been accompanied by coercive measures such as the demolition of buildings and infrastructure on the grounds that they were built without permits, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

However, in area C of the West Bank, which comprises 60 percent of the territory, very few permits are issued by Israel’s Civil Administration, which controls the West Bank, because most of the land has been appropriated for Israeli settlement expansion.

“The Bedouins and herders are at risk of forcible transfer, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as multiple human rights violations,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

Bedouins in Israel’s Negev settlement within the ‘Green Line’ can also be forcibly relocated after the Israeli court rejected their appeal to be allowed to stay.

“This court is not the address for creating chaos,” stated Justice Elyakim Rubinstein recently in rejecting the appeal of Bedouin residents of the unrecognised Negev settlement of Umm al-Hiran, reported the Israeli daily Haaretz.

In the ruling, Rubinstein noted that the residents – who are slated to be evicted, and whose houses are to be demolished to make way for the construction of the Jewish town of Hiran – have been living in this place for 60 years, after moving to the Nahal Yatir area in 1956 at the orders of the military governor, and that the eviction and demolition of the 50 or so structures they built will affect the lives of hundreds of people.

Despite this, the judge said he believed that the eviction was reasonable and proportional due to the fact that the land in question was owned by the state and that buildings were erected without permits.

However, the Umm al-Hiran residents argued that they were the victims of discrimination and that their property rights were being infringed.

Jews were able to obtain property rights to land on which they had settled but the Bedouins’ right to land on which they had settled was never formalised.

Edited by Phil Harris

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The U.N. at 70: A Time for Reflection and Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-a-time-for-reflection-and-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-a-time-for-reflection-and-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/the-u-n-at-70-a-time-for-reflection-and-reform/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 19:20:38 +0000 Hardeep S. Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140994

Ambassador Hardeep S. Puri is Vice President of the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York, Secretary-General of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM) appointed by it and former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.

By Hardeep S. Puri
NEW YORK, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years since its inception, the United Nations remains at the core of the multilateral system. The world body, together with the Bretton Woods institutions, was conceived in the mid-1940s by the architects of the postwar order with the central aim of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war on the one hand, and the need to reconstruct and revive the global economy on the other.

Ambassador Hardeep S. Puri. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Ambassador Hardeep S. Puri. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

This was a Westphalian model based on the principle of the sovereign equality of states and a defined concept of inter-state relations. With marginal changes, the system has survived, displaying a remarkable endurance to different geopolitical contexts and crises: from the bipolarity of the Cold War to the decolonisation process.

Despite the resilience shown – and despite its unparalleled convening power – the United Nations continues to face multiple challenges and grapple with the fast-evolving and unprecedented complexity of the current global landscape. In fairness, the speed and nature of change would be hard to handle for any decision-making process.

The fact that the decision making space is occupied both by the Secretary-General and a large bureaucracy and 193 member states does not make it any easier. Very often this creates a sprawling gap between the manifestation of a crisis and the time needed for a response.

Indeed, ever so often global governance structures are perceived to be out of step with emerging needs and the systemic challenges of globalisation. The inter-connectedness of economies and societies means that risks are more contagious and crises reverberate across issues and borders, whether they relate to health, refugees, violence or – more often – all three at the same time.

This being the case, it stands to reason that responses to crises also have to be global requiring the cooperation, consent and co-ordination of a large number of independent, sovereign member states.As agents of chaos continue to challenge the forces of order, the international system finds itself at a crossroads that calls for a serious re-evaluation of the bedrock of today’s so-called multilateral environment.

The system itself is not alone at fault. Its central constituents – member states – have rendered the system increasingly contested, unused and thus of limited capacity to deal with the emerging threats to world peace, stability and security.

Such a trend is epitomised by the breakdown of consensus and decision-making at the highest political level: the Security Council, has invited criticism when it authorised the use of force in Libya and when consensus could not be achieved resulting in inaction in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine.

As agents of chaos continue to challenge the forces of order, the international system finds itself at a crossroads that calls for a serious re-evaluation of the bedrock of today’s so-called multilateral environment.

How can faith be restored in the value of collective engagement? What innovative policy options can emerge from an increasingly complex and confusing backdrop? Can crisis be the mother of opportunity?

A number of major reviews and intergovernmental discussions are taking place this year on a broad range of topics including peace operations, peacebuilding, the Sustainable Development Goals, financing for development, climate change, humanitarian affairs, the future of the European security architecture, and the implementation of Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, among others.

As these review processes develop on related but separate tracks, it remains important to reflect upon the connections among them. More importantly, member states will need to step up their effort when it comes to implementing these reforms.

As Secretary General of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM), an independent audit of the U.N. and wider multilateral system by former and serving statesmen, Ambassadors, and other eminent persons, I see the ICM not only as one part of this continuing process of reform but also a key vehicle to consider how said reform initiatives can be best implemented.

This is not designed to produce a 21st century utopia. It is a more practical exercise than that. The ICM seeks to provide the international community with a range of options on how the U.N. best remains “fit for purpose” against the new challenges confronting the system.

It is clear that only incremental approaches to reform will work. Those couched in humility and with a clear purpose and acceptability are more likely to succeed. The suggestion that all is well with the system and that there is no need in fact to fix it has very few takers.

In other words, where and to what extent does the system need to be tweaked to make it genuinely ‘fit for purpose’? A system that has evolved over seven decades must have many qualities. The cliché that if you did not have the U.N., you would need to invent one is equally true.

Looking back 70 years, more specifically, the closing session of the United Nations Conference in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, we should keep President Truman’s words close to us when he asserted that “the Charter….will be expanded and improved as time goes on…changing world conditions will require readjustments”. In other words, the mandate for reform lies in the act of creation itself.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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8.2 Million Iraqis In Need of Emergency Humanitarian Assistancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/8-2-million-iraqis-in-need-of-emergency-humanitarian-assistance/#comments Fri, 05 Jun 2015 04:28:10 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140987 Credit: Iraqi Yazidi refugees receive help from the International Rescue Committee/Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Credit: Iraqi Yazidi refugees receive help from the International Rescue Committee/Credit: DFID-UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

As fighting drags on between Iraqi armed forces and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), millions of refugees caught between the warring groups are in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking at an appeal launch at the European Parliament in Brussels Thursday, Lise Grande, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, said the international community required at least 500 million dollars to cover the immediate needs of 5.6 million Iraqis until the end of the year.

In total, the European Commission estimates that about 8.2 million Iraqi people are in need of some form of emergency assistance, from food rations to medical supplies. That number could reach 10 million in the next six months.

Since January 2014 close to three million people have fled their homes in a conflict whose frontlines change with frightening regularity, experts say.

“All segments of Iraqi society – Yezidi, Christian, Shabak, Turkmen, Shia, Sunni and Kurd – have been affected by the violence,” Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-Wha Kang said on Jun. 4, in a statement on behalf of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien.

“Families have had to move several times to stay one step ahead of the horrific violence sweeping across whole regions of the country. Others do not know where they can find safety, caught in a sectarian divide that is not their making,” he added.

Add to this some 1.3 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from previous bouts of violence, as well as approximately 250,000 Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Iraq, and the scale of the required humanitarian operation becomes frighteningly clear.

Refugees are believed to be scattered across some 3,000 camps where basic services are either woefully inadequate or simply non-existent. Food supply chains have been interrupted, hospitals reduced to dust and schools converted into makeshift shelters for civilians on the run.

The situation for women and girls is particularly disturbing, with reports of abduction, systematic sexual abuse and enslavement becoming increasingly common. According to the U.N., the rule of law has completely broken down, and mass executions and rape are a daily reality for thousands.

However, the needs of the Iraqi people and the availability of humanitarian funding appear to have a negative correlation.

“Humanitarian partners have been doing everything they can to help, but more than 50 percent of the operation will be shut down or cut back if money is not received immediately,” Grande warned on Thursday.

Already 77 health clinics on the front lines of the fighting have been forced to close due to the funding crunch, and food supplies for over a million people have been reduced.

On Jun. 2, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that health agencies alone required over 60 million dollars to cover their operations until the end of 2015.

WHO officials said that IDPs were at risk of communicable diseases like measles, hepatitis and other water-borne diseases, and reiterated the need for early-warning systems, immunisation drives and awareness among refugee populations on how to prevent the spread of epidemics.

“With the arrival of summer and temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius in the southern and central parts of Iraq, WHO is very concerned about the risks faced by IDP populations and their extreme vulnerability to outbreaks, including cholera and hepatitis,” stressed Jaffar Hussain, head of WHO’s operations in Iraq, at a press conference in Geneva Tuesday.

Currently, health officials are working without the necessary infrastructure, personnel or supplies. Grants that have so far allowed the WHO to run mobile health clinics are expected to run out in June, adding another layer of urgency onto an already deadly situation for millions of Iraqi people.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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