Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts News and Views from the Global South Fri, 05 Feb 2016 23:42:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Turkey descends into civil war as conflict in southeast escalates Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:57:17 +0000 Joris Leverink The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

The latest footage to come out of Sur, the historical district in Diyarbakir that has been under total lock down by Turkish armed forces for the past sixty days, shows a level of devastation one would sooner expect in Syria. In more ways than one – empty streets lined with debris, bombed-out buildings, tanks and soldiers shooting at invisible assailants – the situation in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions resembles a war zone.

The Turkish government maintains that it is engaged in a fight against terror. However, the security operations are characterized by a disproportionate use of violence, whereby entire towns and neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world with civilians trapped inside their homes for weeks on end. This has led to calls by international human rights organizations to end the collective punishment of an entire population for the acts of a small minority.

At its second general congress in late January, the key political representative of the Kurdish population in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, stressed its determination to seek a peaceful solution to the violent conflict. “If politics can play a role, weapons are not necessary. Where there’s no politics, there will be
weapons,” Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the party summarized the situation.

From autonomy to conflict

In the spring of 2013 hopes were high for a political solution to the decades-old violent conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority, represented on the battlefield by the leftist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. After years of fighting and tens of thousands deaths, both parties appeared determined to bring the war to an end and engage in peace talks. For almost 2.5 years the fighting ceased. The precarious peace came to an end in the summer of 2015.

As a spillover from the war in Syria, tensions between the Kurds in Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached a boiling point. In Syria, local Kurds had been fighting off a number of Turkey-backed jihadist and Syrian opposition groups – most prominently the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. When Kurdish groups in Turkey became the target of two ISIS-linked suicide attacks – in Diyarbakir in June, and Suruç in July – it was the AKP that was held responsible for the onslaught.

The ceasefire broke down and violence escalated quickly. Turkey launched air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq, in response to which security forces inside Turkey were attacked by Kurdish militants. Having lost their trust in the Turkish state to properly address Kurdish grievances concerning the right to speak and be educated in their mother tongue, to practice their own religion, to be represented politically and to protect the natural environment of their historical homelands, many Kurds instead turned to the ideology of “democratic confederalism”.

Developed by the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, democratic confederalism promotes the autonomy of local communities and a decentralization of the state.

When towns and neighborhoods across the Kurdish regions of Turkey started declaring their autonomy in the wake of the re-escalated conflict, the Turkish state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sending in the army and declaring dozens of so-called curfews that in practice amount to military sieges. Besides hundreds of casualties among the army and Kurdish militants, around two hundred civilians are believed to have been killed in the past six months.

Bleak prospects for peace

After the HDP became the first party with roots in the Kurdish freedom movement to pass the exceedingly high electoral threshold of 10 per cent at the parliamentary elections in June – and again at the snap elections in November – it has come under severe pressure from the political establishment. President Erdogan personally suggested that the HDP representatives ought to be stripped from their immunity so that they could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism.

Nonetheless, the party refuses to succumb to the intimidation and has consistently called for a peaceful and democratic solution to the conflict. “Despite all the oppression, a new democratic model is emerging,” HDP co-chair Figen Yüksedağ said in her speech at the congress. “This model continues to gain support, even while under attack. The HDP has a historical responsibility to bring this project to a successful end.”

Her co-chair Demirtaş added the warning that “If we fail to produce a solution for the end of the violence, it is the end of politics in Turkey.” Unfortunately, prospects for a political solution are bleak. Mayors and political representatives of the towns and districts where the population has called for autonomy are prosecuted and jailed. At the same time President Erdogan warned that, “It should be known that we will bring the whole world down on those who seek to establish a state within a state under the name of autonomy and self-governance.”

Prime Minister Davutoğlu recently vowed to continue the military operations until “our mountains, plains and towns are cleansed of these killers.” This type of uncompromising discourse from the country’s two most powerful political leaders instills little hope that the government is prepared to return to the negotiation table any time soon. The Kurds, both at home and across the border in Syria, are seen as the biggest threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey, and to stop this perceived threat no price is too high.

In the same way that Turkey has refused to allow the Syrian Kurds a seat at the negotiation table in Geneva, it is refusing to enter into dialogue with the Kurds at home.

The multiple references to Syria in this article are no coincidence; if the Turkish government continues to ignore all but a military solution to the current unrest, there is a very real threat that part of the country will soon resemble its southern neighbor.

The HDP’s invitation is there. In the words of co-chair Demirtaş: “Dialogue and negotiation should be the method when the public is under threat. Strengthening democracy is the only way to save Turkey from disaster.”


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A Peaceful Decade but Pacific Islanders Warn Against Complacency Fri, 29 Jan 2016 07:03:03 +0000 Catherine Wilson 0 UN Fighting Losing Battle Over Global Humanitarian Crises Wed, 27 Jan 2016 15:35:17 +0000 Thalif Deen Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria.  Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Syrian mother and child near Ma'arat Al-Numan, rebel-held Syria. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Thalif Deen

As the global refugee crises continues to worsen by the hour, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is quick to point out that when he took office in January 2007, the international appeal for funds for humanitarian emergencies was only about 4.0 billion dollars annually.

“Now, we need more than 20 billion dollars,” he said last week, underlining the tragic turn of events worldwide: over 60 million people either displaced internally or who have fled their home countries becoming refugees virtually overnight.

And there are about 40 countries – out of the 193 UN member states – which are engulfed in “high-level, medium-level and low-level crises and violence,” he added.

A new study by Oxfam International, titled “Righting the Wrong,” says tens of millions of people receive vital humanitarian aid every year, but millions more suffer without adequate help and protection, and their number is relentlessly rising.

“Far too often their suffering is because their governments cannot, or intentionally will not, ensure their citizens’ access to aid and protection.”

In addition, says the study released January 26, international aid has not kept pace with the rising tide of climate-related disasters and seemingly intractable conflicts, and promises to help affected people reduce their vulnerability to future disasters and lead their own humanitarian response have not yet been kept.

As a result of the growing crises, the United Nations and several of its agencies continue to put out appeals for funds with monotonous regularity, but the responses are few and far between.

Ban said some donors are cutting 30 to 40 percent of their funding. “This is an understandable situation. But it is not a zero-sum game”.

“Development aid and humanitarian aid, there must be an additional budget and money for those people. This is what I have been urging.”

The largest single funding appeal is for Syria – amounting to over $3.2 billion for 2016 – as it struggles with a five year old conflict where more than 220,000 have been killed, 7.6 million displaced and nearly 4.0 million described as refugees.

The UN children’s fund UNICEF has appealed for $2.8 billion to provide assistance to about 43 million refugee children worldwide; the World Health Organisation (WHO) is seeking $76 million to meet the health emergencies arising from El Nino which has triggered disease outbreaks and water shortages affecting about 60 million people in seven high-risk countries: Ethiopia, Lesotho, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda.

At the same time, the World Food Programme (WFP) is appealing for $41 million to feed nearly 2.5 million people facing hunger in the Central African Republic.

Last week the UN launched an $885 million plan to meet the needs of 30,000 Yemenis fleeing their war-ravaged country into Somalia—with more expected in 2016.

And the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, along with 65 other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), last week appealed for $550 million for food, water, shelter and medical care for refugees making their way to Europe.

In Syria, both government and rebel forces have blocked humanitarian access to parts of the country depriving food and water to nearly 181,000 residents in besieged towns and villages, while 4.5 million Syrians live in”hard-to-reach” areas.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said using starvation as a tool of war is a clear violation of international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes.

The Oxfam study says the international humanitarian system—the vast UN-led network in which Oxfam and other international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs), the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, and others play key roles—is not saving as many lives as it could because of deep design flaws that perpetuate an unsustainable reliance by aid recipients on international donors.

Despite these flaws, much has been accomplished in the past 70 years.

“Courageous aid workers have saved thousands of lives and provided vital services such as health care, water, and protection to millions. “

“But today’s system is overstretched, and humanitarian assistance is often insufficient, late, and inappropriate for the local context,” warns Oxfam.

Addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in order to create a stronger and more sustainable funding base for UN humanitarian appeals, “we are seeking commitments to regular contributions from at least 10 new nations.”

“In tandem with that effort, we will seek at least a 30 percent increase in financing for global humanitarian appeals, from $10 billion in 2015 to $13 billion this year,” he added.

Asked for a response, Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser told IPS Kerry’s comments about the United States renewed focus on strengthening the international response to the global refugee crisis show critical leadership and Oxfam welcomes them.

The refugee crisis is being brought on by the seemingly intractable conflicts raging as well as increasing natural disasters and climate change, which is being further exacerbated by this year’s Super El Nino.

We must also work together to address the root causes of the refugee crisis and invest more in making sure communities are better able to respond when disaster strikes.

Oxfam has been calling for the international community to meet appeals, resettle refugees, and allow refugees to work and do more to support countries hosting refugees.

We need to look beyond the issue of resettlement, which is vitally important, to holistically address what we can do to improve the situation for refugees and their host communities.

In terms of employment, the international community needs to do more to work with countries to develop policies that allow refugees to support themselves financially and contribute to the economy of their host community. It is in everyone’s best interest for refugees to be able to find stable and legal employment – not only is it their right to work, it will lead to more successful and stable communities.

In its study, Oxfam asks: “How do we right this wrong?”

By shifting more power, resources, and responsibility from the international actors—UN agencies, wealthy donor countries, large INGOs, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement—to local actors, including Red Cross/Red Crescent local chapters, national governments, national NGOs, local NGOs, community-based groups, and other civil society organizations.

It’s a huge task, admits Oxfam. But today, only a small fraction of funding is given directly to local actors.
More often, local humanitarian aid workers take direction from the international humanitarian community, which tends to relegate them to the role of subcontractors, rather than equal partners.

This role leaves the local actors in no better position to prevent or respond to the next crisis.

In addition, donors and national governments are investing too little in prevention and risk reduction efforts that could diminish the need for humanitarian response, Oxfam said.

The writer can be contacted at

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Iraq’s Civilians Continue to Bear the Brunt of Instability: UAE Paper/Newswire Fri, 22 Jan 2016 19:55:28 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 22 2016 (IPS)

At least 18,802 people were killed in Iraq and another 36,245 were injured; this is the number of civilians killed in violence over the past two years and it is staggering.

The figures given are most likely an underestimate and are casualties incurred from January 1, 2014 through October 31, 2015, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Human Rights Agency (OHCHR). About half of the deaths reported took place in Baghdad alone.

Emirates News Agency carried a commentary from the Gulf Today looking at the new United Nations report on Iraq and the instability rocking the region.

“The reason is that the figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but ignores the fact that countless others have died from lack of access to basic food, water or medical care,” said ‘The Gulf Today’ this week.

“Around 3.2 million people have been internally displaced in the country since the beginning of 2014 when the dreaded Daesh group took over large parts of the country. As is known now, the Daesh terrorists engaged in numerous inhuman activities including killings in gruesome public spectacles, beheading, bulldozing, burning alive and throwing people off the top of buildings.

“Child soldiers who tried to flee were mercilessly murdered by the terrorists, while continuing to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery.

“As per the UN report, an estimated 3,500 people, mainly women and children, are believed to be held as slaves in Iraq by Daesh militants who impose a harsh rule marked by gruesome public executions.

“Such horrors were what led to Iraqi refugees attempting to escape to Europe and other regions. Ramadi has been touted as the first major success for Iraq’s US-backed army since it collapsed in the face of Daesh’s advance across the country’s north and west in mid-2014,” said the paper.

“But, as per indications, clearing the city of militants and explosives could take weeks. The discovery of more civilians than expected trapped among the ruins, after what the survivors say was a deliberate effort by fighters to use them as shields, suggests future battles against Daesh could be more complicated.

It said, “Ramadi, where nearly half a million people once lived, sadly has witnessed widespread destruction. The heartless terrorists continue to kill, maim and displace Iraqi civilians in the thousands and create endless suffering. Many of the actions by Daesh militants surely amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

“The perpetrators of such deeds should be made accountable and pay for the extreme cruelty they committed,” concluded the newspaper.

“The violence suffered by civilians in Iraq remains staggering,” said the UN report. “The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”

The report compiled by UNAMI and OHCHR is based largely on testimony given by the victims. Some of these people were survivors and witnesses of human rights violations. Among those giving the accounts were internally displaced people.

“During the reporting period, ISIL killed and abducted scores of civilians, often in a targeted manner,” the report notes. “Victims include those perceived to be opposed to ISIL ideology and rule; persons affiliated with the government, such as former Iraqi security forces (ISF), police officers, former public officials and electoral workers; professionals, such as doctors and lawyers; journalists; and tribal and religious leaders.”

The report adds that “others have been abducted or killed on the pretext of aiding or providing information to Government security forces. Many have been subjected to adjudication by ISIL self-appointed courts which, in addition to ordering the murder of countless people, have imposed grim punishments such as stoning and amputations.”

“ISIL continued to subject women and children to sexual violence, particularly in the form of sexual slavery,” the report said.

The UN indicated that concerning reports have also been received of unlawful killings and abductions perpetrated by some elements associated with pro-Government forces.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein indicated that the civilian death toll may be actually much higher, and called for urgent action for those freely committing the violence to stop it.

“Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq,” he said. “The figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but countless others have died from the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care.”

“This report lays bare the enduring suffering of civilians in Iraq and starkly illustrates what Iraqi refugees are attempting to escape when they flee to Europe and other regions. This is the horror they face in their homelands,” Said the Human Rights Commissioner.

Mr. Zeid also made an appeal to the government to undertake legislative amendments to grant Iraqi courts jurisdiction over international crimes and to become party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.


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Q&A: Ensuring Food Security for All Tue, 19 Jan 2016 15:55:41 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie

As the Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass, takes-up her role as Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS), she shares her vision for the future of food security.

By Katherine Mackenzie
Rome, Italy, Jan 19 2016 (IPS)

Coming from a developing country where, in our generation, we have experienced the devastating effects of food insecurity and the complexity of its root causes, I take to heart the objective of ensuring that during my mandate, CFS will make a ‘real’ difference to people’s lives. Achieving results is something that we owe each and every undernourished person who today, in 2016 goes to bed hungry. There is still an unacceptable 793 million people in this condition worldwide! Ensuring food security for all is also something that we owe our children.

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

H.E. Amira Daoud Hassan Gornass Ambassador of the Republic of the Sudan to Italy and Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Sudan to the UN Food and Agriculture organizations in Rome, Chair of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Credits: Courtesy of CFS

Today, in our inter-connected 21st century world, the persistence of hunger and malnutrition is both unacceptable, and complex to tackle. Root causes are many, they are interlinked, and they will only be addressed successfully if all actors involved, governments, civil society, the private sector, UN organisations and the international development community generally, including research organizations, come together and agree on the policy and actions that are necessary. This is why CFS, as the most inclusive platform for all stakeholders to work together on global food security and nutrition policies, has been called upon to play a major role in two crucial areas: implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the recommendations of the Second International Conference on Nutrition.

Both the review and follow-up to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and particularly of its second goal, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, as well as action to eradicate malnutrition in all its forms, will require platforms able to ensure inclusiveness, efficient science-policy interfaces, and an approach which breaks down silos.

Thanks to quality reports by its High Level Panel of Experts, and the participation of the different stakeholders around the table, CFS negotiates policy tools which are based on facts and evidence, and enjoy wide legitimacy and ownership. We can no longer argue that we lack the understanding or knowledge of the consequences of our actions, and today, we must all be held accountable for our actions and our choices.

Accountability is another priority that I have set myself for CFS in the coming biennium. Reality is fast changing, and CFS must be ready to evolve to stay inclusive, transparent, effective, and relevant. CFS must continue its constructive self-questioning, and examine whether its procedures are efficient, whether it is as inclusive as it should be, whether the science-based reports support policy negotiations as well as they could, and so forth. This year, we plan to carry out an independent evaluation of CFS, and we are looking forward to the results, in order to continue evolving and improving.

These new priorities represent a major turning point for CFS, and will no doubt involve challenges, as well as opportunities to prove that a participatory, inclusive model such as CFS is the future for sustainable development. I look forward to this biennium, and to achieving a lasting impact together with all CFS stakeholders!

The following is an exclusive interview with Ambassador Gornass conducted by IPS.

IPS: Please describe some of the toughest challenges we face today in trying to reach Zero Hunger.

Amb. Gornass: Our planet, however big and plentiful, has physical boundaries, and limited natural resources, which in today’s populated and globalised world, are getting scarce. This leads to competing demand for land, water, nutrients among others. Soils are depleted. This impacts upon agricultural productivity, and further affects our environment. Climate change is probably the most worrying of these changes which will affect all of us, with no exception. Political and governance factors also come into play; worldwide, protracted crises are multiplying. These conflicts affect food production from planting and harvesting to processing, distribution and the final consumer. Policy coordination and coherence is a major issue for food security and nutrition worldwide. For instance, different ministries within a government may not share the same views or may have different and sometimes competing approaches to an issue, which makes the implementation of policies such as those targeting the food insecure difficult, or may even jeopardize their impact. Countries within a region should also improve their coordination of policies. Better communication is something we need to achieve.

In general terms, there has to be an acknowledgement by all actors of their shared responsibility: each stakeholder has an interest, and responsibilities, in achieving global food security and improved nutrition.

IPS: Where have we succeeded so far and what might work better? Is SDG2 an aspirational goal or can we really reach it by 2030?

Amb. Gornass: There are examples of major advances in the fight against hunger. Globally, numbers are going down and overall, regions have made good progress, some regions having achieved both the 2015 international hunger targets. However, others have in fact gone backwards due to new factors such as political crises.

SDG2 can certainly be reached by 2030. We already know how to produce enough to feed the planet. It’s now about understanding how food systems can work better so that we no longer lose or wastefood, that it is more equally distributed, is available at a fair price that enables food producers to improve their livelihoods and encourages vocations, and that is both nutritious and adequate. As a result populations will be better off and countries will be enabled to grow. Increasing the production of smallholder farmers is key to achieving this. These are the people who will make the difference in nutrition and in the quality of food, overall.

IPS: Can you give us some specific success stories that show the way ahead for other countries as well?

Amb. Gornass: Brazil is an excellent example. Former President Lula’s Zero Hunger is a Brazilian government program introduced in 2003 by the then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, with the goal of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty by combining an array of social protection policies and safety net measures, aimed at increasing the productivity of smallholder farmers.

India also has success stories to share! For example, India launched a very successful social media campaign aimed at educating the entire population – and targeting women in particular – about the symptoms and consequences of malnutrition, as well as on the benefits of a varied diet, especially for infants and children under the age of five. The campaign was launched thanks to the support of a telephone company, which gave to people who watched the video extra telephone minutes. As a result of this campaign, malnutrition dropped from 51 percent to 37 percent!

IPS: Attaining food security could solve so many things, including for example decreasing health issues which at the national level cause a strain on a country’s economy, to say nothing of the personal suffering due to food insecurity and malnutrition. Do you think world leaders understand the importance of food security?

Amb. Gornass: They do! This is the message that they sent last September by adopting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: development issues are strongly interrelated, and we need to work on these simultaneously, in a holistic and integrated manner, bringing together: developing, and developed countries; governments, and all other stakeholders.

The challenge is that, while food security and good nutrition achieve benefits that affect many sectors, such as health, economic growth as you mentioned, but also the environment, and populations’ overall well-being, achieving this also requires simultaneously moving things across many different sectors. For instance, “nutrition sensitive policies” should be included in health plans, agricultural development programmes, water management, education, etc. This is why food security and nutrition will only be achieved if all stakeholders realise this and work together. This is also why the 2030 Agenda, and enhanced nutrition, will be placed at the centre of the CFS agenda from now on; CFS multistakeholder members will meet this year in Open-Ended Working Groups to discuss how to implement concretely the decisions taken at the Committee’s Plenary meeting in October 2015.

IPS: Isn’t Climate change a huge problem for attaining food security and zero hunger by 2030? If we don’t get climate change right, how can we move ahead on food security? What role is CFS playing and couldn’t it play a greater role?

Amb. Gornass: Indeed, it is, especially in developing countries. A two degree increase will have a dramatic impact on crop yields and their nutritional content in many regions of the world and it will also affect climate variability, which in turn has adverse effects on harvests and food availability.

Climate change may also lead to important flows of displaced people, “climate refugees,” which has important food security implications. Small changes in a situation of fragile balance could have huge political and humanitarian repercussions. All countries have to work together to adapt to and mitigate climate change; we need to work on providing more funding and technical help. We need to enable farmers to sustain these changes. We need to find and adopt globally more sustainable agricultural production methods, and fast. But the solutions are in reach, thanks to the huge technology and innovation potential, as well as to traditional local knowledge on how to produce good quality food using available resources to their full potential and in a sustainable manner.

On this topic, CFS has commissioned a High Level Panel of Experts’ report on “Sustainable Agricultural Development Including the Role of Livestock”, to be launched in July 2016. In 2012, the CFS published a report on “Climate Change and Food Security” which was a game changer. The report introduced the idea of “Climate-Smart Agriculture”, with climate negotiators realizing that agriculture must needs be included in any negotiations on climate – that it was not only part of the problem but also has enormous potential for solutions! The policy recommendations which were negotiated based on this report are still very topical.

In the run-up to COP 21, CFS openly and actively advocated for a common narrative to be developed for sustainable development in the next 15 years – between the Sustainable Development Goals, Financing for Development, and quick action to check climate change – ensuring that all stakeholders take their full responsibility and contribute to a better world.

CFS will continue using its model, work, and convening power to support joint action, making sure that the implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals that fall under its mandate take into account the need for climate action.

CFS is fully committed to supporting all its stakeholders in building a world where in 2030, not one individual will be left behind.


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Western Powers Protect Arms Markets Ignoring Civilian Killings Thu, 14 Jan 2016 22:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The West continues its strong political and military support to one of its longstanding allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia –- despite withering criticism of the kingdom’s battlefield excesses in the ongoing war in neighbouring Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition has been accused of using banned cluster bombs, bombing civilian targets and destroying hospitals – either by accident or by design—using weapons provided primarily by the US, UK and France.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week the armed conflict in Yemen continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, with at least 81 civilians reportedly killed and 109 injured in December.

As a result, the toll of civilian casualties, recorded between 26 March and 31 December 2015, are estimated at more than 8,000 people, including nearly 2,800 killed and more than 5,300 wounded.

But Western powers — which are quick to condemn and impose sanctions on countries accused of civilian killings– have refused to take any drastic action against Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners, including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The Saudi stranglehold is increasingly linked to a thriving multi-billion dollar arms market — with British, French and mostly American military suppliers providing sophisticated weapons, including state-of-the-art fighter planes, helicopters, missiles, battle tanks and electronic warfare systems.

The arms supplying countries, for obvious reasons, are unwilling to jeopardize their markets, specifically Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi arsenal alone includes Boeing F-15 fighter planes (US supplied), Tornado strike aircraft (UK), Aerospatiale Puma and Dauphin attack helicopters (French), Bell, Apache and Sikorsky helicopters (US), Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning Control System (US), Sidewinder, Sparrow and Stinger missiles (US) and Abrams and M60 battle tanks (US).

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Research Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that for years, the US government has documented Saudi human rights abuses in its own reports, including the State Department.

“Yet the United States continues to provide a largely open-ended weapons supply line to the Saudi government. It’s time for the US government to act in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and with its own laws and suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia,” she said.

She argued US weapons manufacturers’ profit motives for continuing massive weapons sales to Saudi Arabia should not drive US military and foreign policy.

“The US Defense Department may benefit in the short term by keeping some weapons supply lines open with foreign orders. But the risks to US military personnel and US interests should be given far greater weight in decision making,” said Goldring who also represents the Acronym Institute on conventional weapons and arms transfer issues, at the United Nations.

The current issue of Time magazine says Saudi Arabia continues to spend a bigger portion of its economy on defence than any other nation (11 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) compared with 3.5 percent by the US).

“It burns through $6 billion a month to bomb Yemen, an ill-advised war that has come to define the abrupt change brought by King Salman since he assumed the throne a year ago,” said Time.

But future military spending is likely to falter due to a sharp decline in oil prices—dropping to less than $30 per barrel this week, down from $110 in early 2014.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, from 2010-2014, the United Kingdom and the United States were Saudi Arabia’s top weapons suppliers.

The United Kingdom accounted for 36 percent of the Saudis’ weapons deliveries, just edging out the United States, which accounted for 35 percent of Saudi weapons imports. France was a distant third at 6 percent.

In an article in Counter Punch published last November, William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project the Center for International Policy and a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor, said the recent surge in US arms transfers to the Middle East is part of an unprecedented boom in major US arms sales that has been presided over by the administration of President Barack Obama.

“The majority of the Obama administration’s major arms sales have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list with over $49 billion in new agreements.”

“This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region, and given the Saudi regime’s use of U.S.-supplied weaponry in its military intervention in Yemen,” Hartung said.

He also pointed out that the Obama administration has made arms sales a central tool of its foreign policy, in part as a way of exerting military influence without having to put “boots on the ground” in large numbers, as the Bush administration did in Iraq—with disastrous consequences.

“The Obama administration’s push for more Mideast arms sales has been a bonanza for U.S. weapons contractors, who have made increased exports a primary goal as Pentagon spending levels off. Not only do foreign sales boost company profits, but they also help keep open production lines that would otherwise have to close due to declining orders from the Pentagon,” said Hartung.

For example, he pointed out, earlier this year it was reported that Boeing had concluded a deal to sell 40 F-18s to Kuwait, which will extend the life of the programme for another year or more beyond its current projected end date of early 2017.

Similarly, the General Dynamics M-1 tank has been surviving on a combination of Congressional add-ons and a deal for tanks and tank upgrades for Saudi Arabia.

“But it’s not just about money. U.S.-supplied arms are fueling conflict in the region. The most troubling recent sales is a deal in the works that would supply $1 billion or more in bombs and missiles for the Saudi Air Force, again for use in the Yemen war,” Hartung added.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the Canadian capital of Ottawa last month demanding the cancellation of a hefty 10.5 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia which included light armoured military vehicles.

The contract, signed by the previous government, was described as one of the largest arms deals between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

The protest was triggered by the execution of 47 prisoners, including a Shiite cleric, on terrorism charges.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, who dismissed the protest, was quoted as saying: “What is done is done and the contract is not something that we’ll revisit.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Syria: Minding the Minds II Tue, 12 Jan 2016 19:03:04 +0000 Johan Galtung Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives’]]>

Johan Galtung is professor of peace studies, founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives

By Johan Galtung
OSLO, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Baher Kamal, in … And All of a Sudden Syria!: “The “big five,” the United Nations veto powers, have just agreed United Nations Resolution 2254 of 18-12-2015, time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy; they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed and 4.5 million humans lost as refugees and homeless at home, hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily U.S., British, French and Russian bombing carried out.” No Chinese bombing.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

One term in the resolution, road map, already spells failure. There is another reason: missing issues. But something can be done. Roads twist, turn and may be far from straight. Traveling a road is a linear, one step or mile-stone after another, process, by the map. The West loves linearity; as causal chains, (falling dominoes,) from a root cause; as deductive chains from axioms; as ranks from high to low.

However, is that not how the world is, moving in time, causes-effects, axioms-consequences, rank, power, over others? Are roads not rather useful? They are. Is there an alternative to a road map? There is.

One step after the other in time is diachronic. An alternative would be synchronic; at the same time. Let us call it a cake map.

A cake is served, cut in slices, each party takes a slice, waits till all are served to start together. By the road map, first come first served first to eat. Or, highest rank eats first, down the line. The cake map stands for togetherness, simultaneity, shared experience. Not necessarily good: it was also used by the West to carve up Africa.

The cake is an issue; the slices are aspects. How it is defined, how it is cut, who are invited is essential. Basic to the cake map is equality among parties and slices: all get theirs at the same time.

For the Syria issue the Resolution lists the aspects on the road:
• 25 January 2016 (in two weeks) as the target date to begin talks;
• immediately all parties stop attacking civilians;
• within one month: options for a ceasefire monitoring mechanism;
• within 6 months “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance”;
• within 18 months “free and fair elections–by the new constitution”.

Kamal mentions many actors and crucial problems with this agenda. The focus here is on the linearity: ceasefire-governance-constitution-free and fair elections. Why stop attacking civilians who can become or are combatants? Why should actors agree to a ceasefire before their rights are guaranteed in a constitution? Why non-sectarian “governance” in a sectarian country? Each step presupposes the next. The “peace process” can be blocked, at any point, by any one party. Like a road.

Proposal: On 25 January, appoint four representative commissions– one for each of the four aspects–with mechanisms of dialogue for all six pairs and plenaries. Then report on all aspects on the agenda.

Back to the cake, “Syria.” Does “Syria” exist? Once much of the Middle East, the name was used for the French “mandate” carved out of the vast Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1916 when ended by Sykes-Picot. A commission on the Ottoman period, exploring millets for minorities, is indispensable. So is a commission on the Sykes-Picot trauma, also with Turkey as a member; hopefully with UK-France-Russia apologizing.

We have seen it before. The US was a major party to the conflict and the UN conference manager 2013-14. There are now more parties: Jordan has identified up to 160 terrorist groups (Kamal), probably not counting state terrorists. And today the UN is the conference manager.

This column at the time (27 Jan 2014) identified seven Syria conflicts:
1 Minority/majority, democracy/dictatorship, Assad/not Assad in Syria;
2 Sunni/Shia all over, also with “Sunni Islamic State Iraq-Syria ISIS”;
3 Syrians/minorities “like Turks and Kurds, Maronites and Christians”;
4 Syria/”those who, like USA and Israel, prefer Syria fragmented”;
5 Syria/Turkey with “neo-Ottoman expansionist policies”;
6 USA-UK-France/Russia-China “determined to avoid another Libya”;
7 Violent perpetrators of all kinds/killed-bereaved-potential victims.

All seven are still there. They have become more violent, like the second, between Saudi Arabia–also financing IS–and Iran. But the resolution focuses on the first and the last. All parties mentioned should be invited or at least consulted publicly. Last time Iran was excluded, defined as the bad one; this time IS(IS), today called Daesh.

A process excluding major process parties is doomed in advance.

However, imagine that the cake is defined as, “the conflict formation in and around Syria”; that the slices are the seven conflicts indicated with one commission for each; that around the table are the actors mentioned, some grouped together. The Resolution aspects are on their agendas; with commissions on the Ottoman Empire and Sykes-Picot.

What can we expect, what can we reasonably hope for, as visions?

“Mandate”, “colony”: there is some reality to Syria (and to Iraq). The borders are hopeless and should be respected, but not for a unitary state. For something looser, a (con)federation. Basic building-blocs would be provinces from Ottoman times, millets for smaller minorities, and cantons for the strip of Kurds along the Turkish border. The constitution could define a national assembly with two chambers: one territorial for the provinces, and one non-territorial for nations and faiths with some cultural veto in matters concerning themselves.

There is also the Swiss model with the assembly being based on territorially defined cantons, and the cabinet on nations-faiths: of 7 members 3 speak German, 1 Rheto-roman, 2 French and 1 Italian (4 Protestant and 3 Catholic?). Not impossible for Syria. With the Kurds as some kind of Liechtenstein (that is where con-federation enters).

In addition to parallel NGO fora. There is much to articulate.

Assad or not? If he is excluded as punishment for violence, there are many to be excluded. A conference only for victims, and China?

Better see it as human tragedy-stupidity, and build something new.

The violent parties will not get what they want. The victims can be accommodated peacefully in this looser Syria. Moreover, the perpetrators should fund reconstruction proportionate to the violence they wrought in the past four years. As quickly as humanly possible.

Syria offered a poor choice between a minority dictatorship with tolerance and a majority dictatorship–democracy–without. Violence flourished, attracting old suspects for proxy wars. “Bomb Syria” was the panacea, after “bomb Libya”. What a shame. Bring it to an end.

*Johan Galtung’s editorial originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 11 January 2016: TRANSCEND Media Service – TMS: Syria (Minding the Minds II)

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Once Auctioned, What to Do with Syrian Refugees? Tue, 12 Jan 2016 15:23:51 +0000 Baher Kamal A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.  Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

A young Syrian girl sits on a broken chair by her tent in Faida 3 camp, an informal tented settlement for Syria refugees in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Credit: UNICEF/Alessio Romenzi

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 12 2016 (IPS)

Few months ago, an unprecedented “humanitarian auction” was opened in Brussels at the European Commission, shortly after watching the image of the three-year old Syrian child that the sea threw up on the Turkish shores. The “auction” was about deciding upon the number of Syrian refugees to be hosted by each EU country. Germany won the largest batch.

Before taking a final decision, some less rich European countries, like Spain, rushed to argue: “We are trying to get out of the crisis; we have a much too high percentage of unemployed people; also a huge public deficit…,” Spanish authorities, for instance, would try to explain their reluctance, with a more diplomatic wording.

The EU decision was also subject to a wave of political controversies. Some conservative political leaders, like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, would strongly alert against this “tsunami” of Muslims threatening to attack “our Christian civilisation”. And some figures, like US multimillionaire Republican pre-electoral runner Donald Trump, would even call for prohibiting the entry to the US of all Muslims.

Labour Factor

Meanwhile, labour market experts would argue that the so-called “natural selection” process would solve the problem –i.e, that the market forces would hire those skilled refugees as non-expensive manpower, while the non-skilled ones would necessarily end up as undocumented, illegal migrants, therefore easy to repatriate.

But such an argument has never been enough to calm the panic that several politicians and many media outlets induced among European ordinary people.

Another factor these experts take into account is the fact that the European population is steadily ageing, without the needed demographic replacement, a problem that is translated in more pension takers and less tax payers to replenish the retirement budget.

All this, of course, comes aside of Europe’s humanitarian convictions, those that moved the EU to act in view of the massive arrival of refugees.

It was when the EU, led by Germany, decided to offer economic assistance to less rich “reception” countries (6,000 euro per refugee) that the most reluctant ones accepted the deal. This way, Spain, which agreed to host 14,000-16,000 refugees, hailed some weeks ago the arrival of the first 14!

Big Hell

Meanwhile, the mainstream media disseminated tens of dramatic footage and tragic stories about those kilometres-long barbed-wire barriers built by some East European states; the “Calais jungle” in France; the hundreds of refugees stranded at frontiers; the arrival of cold winter, or the daily death of tens of human beings on Greek shores.

Then came the brutal, inhuman, execrable killing of French civilians on 13 November 2015 by Jihadist Islamist terrorists; the immediately previous attacks against unarmed population in Lebanon, and the even previous ones in Tunisia, and, later on, the horrible New Year’s eve assaults in Cologne, Germany, not to mention the daily murdering of innocent people in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, among others.

This created serious problems at home for several European rulers, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, apart from feeding more fears among European citizens.

A Turkish Warehouse

All of a sudden, a “solution” was found: the EU asked Turkey to keep the Syrian refugees in its territory or at its borders, preventing them from passing to Europe, against the payment of 3,000 million euro and the promise to unfreeze the deadlocked process of negotiations with Ankara for its potential integration in the European club.

In other words: to transform Turkey in a “storage room” or “warehouse” of Syrian refugees, until…


Meanwhile, it would be necessary to recall some facts:

The current number of Syrian refugees exceeds 4,5 million – according to the United Nations refugee agency, (UNHCR); This figure does not include the around 7,5 million internally displaced persons, i.e. refugees at home. The total would make over 50 per cent of the Syrian population (23 million.)

The number of Syrian refugees “auctioned” in Europe would represent barely one fifth of their total.

The number of Syrian refugees to be effectively allowed to stay in Europe is expected to come down to less than 15 per cent of those 4.5 million plus.

The remaining ones. i.e, 85 per cent of the 4.7 million Syrian refugees are currently spread out in the Middle East, Arab, poor and/or troubled countries, like Lebanon (with more than one million refugees, representing one fifth of its total population); unstable Iraq, and Jordan, where the Za’atri camp now represents the fourth most populated “city”;

The largest portion of humanitarian aid and assistance comes either from a short-funded UN agencies or civil society organisations.

That the Europeans themselves were also refugees during and after World War II, with numbers that exceeded those of Syrian refugees;

UNICEF’s humanitarian work began in the aftermath of World War II — and by the mid 1950’s millions of European children were receiving aid. Seventy years later, refugees and migrants are entering Europe at levels not seen since World War II. Nearly 1 in 4 are children.

And Now What?

What to do now with the total of 4,5 million Syrian refugees?
The five biggest military powers on Earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China), on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.
The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

The “road map” talks about many things, including the organisation of “free and fair” elections in 18-months time.

No explicit mention, however, to the fate of the 13 millions of refugees and displaced at home Syrians who do not know what to do or where to go.


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Despite its History and Reputation, Finland Has to Guard Press Freedom Mon, 11 Jan 2016 13:44:38 +0000 Jan Lundius

Jan Lundius, a Swedish national, is a professor and former UNESCO associate.

By Jan Lundius
Helsinki, Jan 11 2016 (IPS)

The year 2015 was a sad one for journalists around the world, with approximately 60 journalists killed, more than 200 imprisoned and more than 400 exiled.

In many countries, people speaking up against abuse and violations have a rational fear for their lives and wellbeing. To address this issue, UNESCO and the Government of Finland will co-host a conference on journalists´ safety the week of International Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2016.

The choice of Finland to organize such an event is no mere coincidence. When Reporters Without Borders presented its World Press Freedom Index for 2015, Finland topped the list for the fifth year in a row. And Finland´s government has taken its commitment further by making transparency and information an institutional concern, for example by making broadband access a legal right and easing the way for citizens to participate in the legislative process through online means.

Often when rulers silence the media they do it in the name of security or preserving national culture or unity. So is freedom of speech determined by culture? And, if so, did cultural forces help mold the Finnish government´s liberal attitude toward press freedom?

Until 1809, Finland was part of Sweden, a country that in 1766 was the first nation in the world to abolish censorship and guarantee freedom of the press. But after subsequent conquest by the Russian Empire, growing Russian patriotism demanded a closer integration of Finland and, by the end of the 19th century, harsh censorship of the press was introduced. This and other measures, including Russian promotion of the Finnish language as a way to sever the country’s longstanding cultural ties with Sweden, fueled an already growing Finnish nationalism.

When the Russian tsar abdicated in 1917, the Finnish legislature declared independence, leading to a civil war between the country’s “Reds”, led by Social Democrats, and “Whites”, led by the conservatives in the Senate. Thirty-six thousand out of a population of 3 million died. The Reds executed 1,650 civilians, while the triumphant Whites executed approximately 9,000. The war resulted in an official ban on Communism, censorship of the socialist press and an increasing integration to the Western world economy. The new constitution established that the country would be bi-lingual, with both Finnish and Swedish taught in schools and at universities.

During World War II, harsh press censorship was introduced – this time by the Finnish government itself – as the country fought two wars against the Soviet Union and the subsequently fought to drive out its former German allies in those conflicts.

The development of the current Finnish freedom of speech probably has to be considered in relation to this arduous history, particularly the difficult aftermath of the wars with the Soviet Union and, through all of it, the Finnish people´s struggle to maintain their freedom and unique character as a nation.

Today, Finland has a lively press and a thriving culture production in both languages, even if Finnish people with Swedish as a mother tongue constitute only about 5 per cent of a population of 5.4 million. Even in the Internet Age, Finns remain avid newspaper readers, ranking first in the EU with almost 500 copies sold per day per 1, 000 inhabitants, surpassed only by Japan and Norway.

During the Cold War years, Finland’s efforts to cope with is proximity to Soviet Russia had grave repercussions on freedom of speech in the country. Due to Soviet pressure, some books were withdrawn from public libraries and Finnish publishers avoided literature that could cause Soviet displeasure. For example, the Finnish translation of Solzhenitsyn´s The Gulag Archipelago was published in Sweden. On several occasions, Moscow restricted Finnish politics and vetoed its participation in the Marshall Plan.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to Finland’s expanded participation in Western political and economic structures. Finland joined the EU in 1994 and the euro was introduced in 1999. Restrictions on the media were relaxed and today, probably in reaction to its previous experiences with censorship, Finland is widely recognized having the most extensive press freedom of any country.

However, the rise of anti-immigrant political sentiment, as evidenced by the rise of the Finns´ Party, has cast a pall over popular media. Now the country’s second largest party after success in this year’s elections, the Finns´ Party combines left-wing economic policies with conservative social values, as well as a heavy dose of xenophobia, euro scepticism and Islamophobia, leading it to attract nationalistic fringe groups that are vociferous in public media.

One example is the group Suomen Sisu, which has an openly crude racial approach, disguised as “ethnopluralism,” an ideology stating that ethnic groups have to be kept separated and that Swedish speaking Finns’ influence on politics and culture has to be limited and that immigration has to be radically restricted, or even halted completely.

Finland´s most popular web site Homma is spreading this message, which also accuses Finnish media of being left-leaning and eroding Finnish national pride. The Finns’ Party´s leader, Timo Soini, is currently the country´s foreign minister and vice prime minister. While the party occasionally reacts harshly to criticism in media it states that it honors freedom of the press. Even when Soini was recently was attacked by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, he stated that it was quite OK since it was an expression of the press freedom.

Nevertheless, with Finland now scheduled to host an international conference on press freedom, we should be watchful of the dangers to free expression that lurk in uninhibited nationalism and xenophobia. Nordic people often take their excellent record in human rights for granted and, in so doing, dismiss these dangers. Let’s hope that the May conference will serve as a reminder to us all that freedom of the press and of expression is something that has to be jealously guarded and vigorously protected through thick and thin.


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Loneliness and Memories, Syrian Refugees Struggle in Safe Spaces Mon, 11 Jan 2016 07:41:10 +0000 Silvia Boarini 0 Syrian Government to Allow Aid, Loosening the Stranglehold on Madaya Fri, 08 Jan 2016 22:25:56 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

Photo: OpenStreetMap and MapQuest

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 8 2016 (IPS)

The Syrian government says it will allow humanitarian aid into the besieged rebel-held town of Madaya, according to the United Nations, following reports and horrific pictures of residents starving to death. Aid is expected to reach the area by Monday, but for some it is too little and too late.

The plight of Madaya’s citizens only came to the world’s attention when residents somehow managed to get video out to Britain’s independent television network, ITV. The images of skeletal children and babies rocked the world’s conscience. The report said many were reduced to eating dirt and grass. Some, it said, had eaten cats and dogs.

“The people of Syria are on their knees. The economy has collapsed, essential infrastructure like water and power networks are hanging by a thread, and on top of that a very cold winter is bearing down,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “12 million people inside Syria are in dire need for help.”

The United Nations and ICRC was granted access yesterday but the operation isn’t expected to happen before Sunday or Monday. The ICRC in Syria said details are still being sorted out. The United Nations World Food Programme, WFP, said it expected food convoys to make it to the area by Monday.

The ICRC said its priority, with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, is to bring assistance to 500,000 people living in besieged or difficult to reach areas, such as Madaya, Zabadani, Foua and Kefraya.

“Almost 42,000 people remaining in Madaya are at risk of further hunger and starvation. The UN has received credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave. On 5 January 2016, a 53- year old man reportedly died of starvation while his family of five continues to suffer from severe malnutrition,” a UN statement said on Thursday.

The UN said it had government permission to access Kefraya and Foah in the north of the country besieged by rebel forces while Madaya and Zabadani are besieged by government forces.

Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need.

Medicins Sans Frontieres, (MSF), called the noose around Madaya, “a total stranglehold siege.” It said, “Around 20,000 residents of the town are facing life-threatening deprivation of the basics for survival, and 23 patients in the health centre supported by MSF have died of starvation since December 1. MSF welcomes reports that the Syrian government will allow food supplies into the area, but urges that an immediate life-saving delivery of medicine across the siege line should also be a priority, and calls for sick patients to be allowed urgent medical evacuation to safe places of treatment.”

Of the 23 people who died, said MSF, six were under one-year old, five were over 60, and the other 12 were between five and 60. It said this shows the situation is affecting all age-groups.

The last aid trucks took in medical and humanitarian supplies to the village in October, and then some people were evacuated in December but there has been no new humanitarian access since despite repeated requests.

“Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need,” said the U.N. statement. “The ongoing conflict continues to hamper the humanitarian response and freedom of movement is restricted by the presence of armed actors and landmines.”

The new head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, said on Thursday that with record numbers of refugees and displaced people worldwide there needs to be greater diplomatic effort to find solutions to conflicts and abuses driving people from their homes.

“UNHCR is navigating extraordinarily difficult waters,” said Filippo Grandi at his debut press conference after taking office on January 1. “We owe it first and foremost to the forcibly displaced themselves, but we also owe it to States…States are desperately looking for solutions to situations involving refugees,” he declared, and stressed: “Even under more desperate circumstances we have to think of solving displacement.”

Grandi stressed that countries which host especially large numbers of refugees, such as Lebanon, now home to over one million Syrians, need better help. He also highlighted resettlement, humanitarian visas and family reunification as tools which can allow refugees to find safety in other countries, “not through trafficking but by what we call legal pathways.”

Aid agencies are stretched with no respite in the streams of people leaving conflict areas and seeking assistance. WFP said on Wednesday that it has sufficient funding to provide food assistance to 526,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in Jordan for the first five months of the current year.

“This is the first time since December 2013 when we managed to receive enough funding to secure assistance over the next five months,” said Shaza Moghraby, WFP’s spokesperson in Jordan.


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… And All of a Sudden Syria! Tue, 05 Jan 2016 11:21:54 +0000 Baher Kamal By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jan 5 2016 (IPS)

The “big five” – i.e., the most military powerful states on earth (US, UK, France, Russia and China) have just agreed that it would be about time to end the Syrian five-year long human tragedy.

Baher Kamal

Baher Kamal

Before reaching such a conclusion, they waited until 300,000 innocent civilians were killed; tons of bullets shot; 4.5 million humans lost as refugees or homeless at home; hundreds of field testing of state-of-the-art drones made, and daily US, British, French and Russian bombing carried out.

So, with these statistics in hand, they on 18 December 2015 adopted United Nations Resolution 2254 (2015) endorsing a “road map” for peace process in Syria, and even setting a timetable for UN-facilitated talks between the Bashar al Assad regime and “opposition” groups.

They also set the outlines of a “nationwide ceasefire to begin as soon as the parties concerned had taken initial steps towards a political transition.”

“The Syrian people will decide the future of Syria,” the Resolution states.

The UN Security Council also requested that the UN Secretary-General convenes representatives of the Syrian Government and opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process “on an urgent basis”, with a target of early January for the initiation of talks.

“Free and Fair Elections”

The “big five” then expressed support for a Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance” within six months and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution.

Furthermore, the Security Council expressed support for “free and fair elections, pursuant to the new constitution, to be held within 18 months and administered under United Nations supervision,” to the “highest international standards” of transparency and accountability, with all Syrians — including members of the diaspora – eligible to participate.

And they requested that the UN Secretary-General report back on “options” for a ceasefire monitoring, verification and reporting mechanism that it could support within one month. They of course also demanded that “all parties immediately cease attacks against civilians.”

The road-map says that within six months, the process should establish a “credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance,” with UN-supervised “free and fair elections” to be held within 18 months.

The whole thing moved so rapidly that the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan di Mestura, has already set the 25 January 2016 as the target date to begin talks between the parties.

All That Is Fine, But…

… But the resolution gives no specific answer to a number of key questions:

To start with, the Syrian National Coalition (SCN) has dismissed the whole idea as “unrealistic,” Deutsch Welle reported. The Coalition objects to a fact that the Security Council’s Resolution carefully “omits”: what future President Assad has.

According to Deutsch Welle, the SNC expressed annoyance that the UN language talked of ISIS terrorism but not of the “terrorism” of the Assad government. Russia has called for the transition to leave the question of governance up to the Syrians, while France and at times the US have demanded Assad’s immediate ousting as a condition of the deal.

If so, which “opposition” should sit to talk with the Syrian regime? While the US, UK and France support what they decided to consider as “rebel” or “opposition” groups, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia would have different criteria.

In this regard, it was decided to work out a mechanism for establishing which rebel groups in Syria will be eligible to take part in the peace process. For this purpose, Jordan, which was tasked with listing terrorist organisations in Syria, has reportedly presented a document that includes up to 160 extremist groups.

Even though, would President Bashar al-Assad be able to run for office in new elections?

How will the UN monitor the requested ceasefires, and control so many different sides involved in the armed fighting, including the US, UK, France and Russia? And what if the ceasefires do not work? More Syrian civilians to die, flee, migrate? How to control DAESH and so many diverse terrorist groups operating there? What to do with those millions of Syrian refugees, scattered in the region, mainly in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, while hundreds of thousands of them are being “trafficked” by organised crime bands, reportedly including DAESH itself?

And last but not least, which Syria will exist at the end of the 18 months which has been fixed as a target to hold free, fair elections?

Will it be the current Syria or a new, refurbished one after cutting part of it to establish a brand new “Sunni-stan” that US neo-con, neo-liberal, Republican “hawk” and former George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has recently recommended to create on the territories to be “liberated” from DAESH in Syria and Iraq?

Too many key questions without and clear answers. And too may gaps for this road-map to gain credibility. Unless the idea is to implement a Libyan-style solution, that’s for another Western-led military coalition, under NATO’s umbrella, to attack Syria, let Assad be murdered, and leave the people to their own fate. Exactly what happened in Libya in 2011.


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CPJ: Two Thirds of 2015 Journalist Deaths were Acts of Reprisal Fri, 01 Jan 2016 20:24:32 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

Of the 69 journalists who died on the job in 2015, 40 per cent were killed by Islamic militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Startlingly more than two-thirds were targeted for murder, according to a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report that nine of those killings took place in France, second to Syria as the most dangerous country for the press in last year.

Globally 69 journalists were killed due to their vocation, including those slain for their reporting and those caught in crossfire or in conflict. The total for 2015 is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014.

The CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of a further 26 more journalists during the year to determine if they too were work-related.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, those killed in Syria exceeded those than anywhere else in the world. But the fewer number this year dying on the job in Syria only means it is so dangerous that there are fewer journalists working there, said the report. Many international news agencies chose to withdraw staff anf local reporters were forced to flee, said the CPJ.

The report cited difficulties in researching cases in conflict including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. CPJ went on a research mission to Iraq last year investigating reports that some 35 journalists from the Mosul area had gone missing, were killed or being held by Islamic State.

The militant group has a grip on the city so the CPJ said it could only confirm the deaths of a few journalists. The committee’s report said it had received reports of dozens of other journalists killed but could not independently confirm the deaths or if indeed, journalism was the reason. It said several of these journalists are currently on CPJ’s missing list.

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

The Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in Paris last January was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Eight journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted.

Islamic State in October murdered two Syrian journalists living in exile in Turkey, Fares Hamadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader. Abd al-Qader was given CPJ’s 1015 International Press Freedom Award as he was an early member of Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist group.

“In Bangladesh, members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate or another local extremist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, were suspected in the hacking or stabbing murders of a publisher and four bloggers, including U.S.-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was attending a book fair when he was killed,”said the report.

The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shooting of Zaman Mehsud, president and secretary-general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and reporter for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat and Daily Nai Baat newspapers.

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

In Somalia, Hindia Haji Mohamed, a journalist and the widow of another murdered journalist, was killed in December when a bomb blew up her car in an attack claimed by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.

Governments around the world were jailing at least 110 journalists on anti-state charges. This is out of 199 total jailed, according to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census.—It shows how the press is being cornered and targeted by terrorists and also squeezed by the squeezed by authorities saying there were committed to fighting terror as well, it said.

More than two thirds of the journalists killed in 2015 were targeted and murdered as a direct result of their work.

The report said about one third of journalists’ deaths worldwide were carried out by criminal groups, government officials, or local residents who were, in most cases, drug traffickers or those involved in organized crime. They included Brazilian Gleydson Carvalho, shot dead by two men while he was presenting his afternoon radio show. He was often critical of politicians and police Brazil had six killings last year, the highest since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.

But Brazilian judicial authorities have made headway in combating impunity by getting six convictions in murder cases in the last two years, said the report.

South Sudan registered for the first time on CPJ’s index of slain journalists when unidentified gunmen attacked an official convoy killing five journalists traveling with a county official. The motive is still unknown but there have been various accusations. Some say this could have been the result of the power struggle between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir which set off the civil war in 2013.

The murders of the five landed South Sudan on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and there is no one held responsible so their killers go free.

South Sudan, Poland and Ghana appeared on CPJ’s killed database for the first time. In Poland, Łukasz Masiak, was fatally assaulted in a bowling alley after telling colleagues he feared for his life. He was the founder and editor of a news website and reported on crime and drugs and pollution. In Ghana, radio reporter George Abanga, was shot dead on his way back from covering a cocoa farmers dispute.

CPJ cites these trends from its research:

• Seventeen journalists worldwide were killed in combat or crossfire. Five were killed on a dangerous assignment.
• At least 28 of the 47 murder victims received threats before they were killed.
• Broadcast reporting was the most dangerous job, with 25 killed. Twenty-nine victims worked online.
• The most common type of reporting by victims was politics, followed by war and human rights.

CPJ, in 1992, began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths. If motives in a killing are unclear, it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work and CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ said its list does not include journalists who died of illness or natural causes or were killed in car or plane accidents unless the crash considered hostile action.


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Syria ­- A Light to the World Thu, 31 Dec 2015 15:05:54 +0000 mairead-maguire

Mairead Maguire is a peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 31 2015 (IPS)

In November 2015 I visited Syria together with an International Peace delegation. This was my third visit to Syria in the last three years. As on previous occasions I was moved by the spirit of resilience and courage of the people of Syria.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

In spite of the fact that for the last five years their country has been plunged into war by outside forces the vast majority of the Syrian people continue to go about their daily lives and many have dedicated themselves to working for peace and reconciliation and the unity of their beloved Syria. They struggle to overcome their fear, that Syria will be driven by outside interference and destructive forces within, to suffer the same terrible fate of Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Yemen, and so many other countries.

Many Syrians are traumatized and in shock and ask ‘how did this happen to our country’? Proxy wars are something they thought only happened in other countries, but now Syria too has been turned into a war-ground in the geo-political landscape controlled by the western global elite and their allies in the Middle East.

Many of those we met were quick to tell us Syria is not experiencing civil war but a foreign invasion. To tell us too that this is not a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims who, in the words of the Patriarch Gregorios III Laham ‘Muslims and Christians not only dialogue with each other but their roots are inter-twined with each other as they have lived together over 1436 years without wars, despite disagreements and conflicts…over the years peace and co-existence have outweighed controversy.’ In Syria our delegation saw that Christian and Muslim relationships can be more than mutual tolerance, they can be deeply loving.

During our visit we met hundreds of people, local and national political leaders, government and opposition figures, local and national Muslim and Christian leaders, members of reconciliation committees and internally displaced refugees. We also met numerous people on the streets of town and cities, Sunni Shia, Christian, Alawite, all of whom feel that their voices are ignored and under-represented in the West.

The youth expressed the desire to see a new state which will guarantee equality of citizenship and religious freedom to all religious and ethnic groups, and protection of minorities, and said this was the work of the Syrian people, not outside forces, and could be done peacefully. We met many Syrians who reject all the violence and are working for conflict resolution through negotiation and implementation of a democratic process.

Few Syrians we met were under the illusion that their elected (7O percent) leader President Assad, was perfect yet many admired him and felt he was much preferred to the alternative of the government falling into the hands of the Jihadists fighters, fundamental extremists with ideology that would force the minorities (and moderate Sunnis) to flee Syria (or many to get killed).

This had already been experienced with the exodus of thousands of Syrians, when they fled in fear of being killed or homes destroyed by jihadist foreign fighters, and alleged moderates, trained funded and accommodated by outside forces. In Homs we witnessed the bombed out houses when thousands fled after Syrian rebels attacked Syrian forces from residential areas, and the military responded causing lethal damage to civilians and buildings (the rebel strategy of Human Shields) and they also done the same with cultural sites (cultural shields).

In the old city of Homs we had a meeting with members of the reconciliation committee, which is led by a priest and sheikh. We also visited the grave of a Jesuit priest who was murdered by IS fighters and visited the rebuilt Catholic church, the original of which was burned down. During the meeting by candlelight, because of regular power blackouts, we heard how Christians and Muslims in the town had been instrumental in the rehabilitation of fighters who choose to lay down their arms and accept the Syrian Government’s offer of Amnesty.

They appealed to us to ask the international community to end the war on Syria, and support peace, and it was for our delegation particularly sad and disappointing that that very day the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, (UK), publicity announced his support for the UK vote to bomb Syria! (And subsequently the UK Government, voted for War on Syria). (If the UK/USA/EU, etc., wish to help the Syrian people they can immediately lift the sanctions which are causing great hardship to the Syrian people).

We also visited the Christian Town of Maaloula, where Aramaic, the language of Jesus, is still spoken and it is one of the oldest Christian towns in the Middle East. We visited the church of St. George and the priest explained how after their church was burned to the ground by western backed rebels, and many Christians killed, the people of Maaloula, carried a table onto the ruins of the church and after praying started to rebuild their church and homes. Sadly also in this place some Muslim neighbours also destroyed Christian neighbours’ homes and this reminded us all of the complexities of the Syrian conflict and the need to teach nonviolence and build peace and reconciliation. It also brought us to a deeper awareness of the plight of not only moderate Sunnis from extremists, but the huge numbers of Christians now fleeing from Middle Eastern countries, and that if the situation is not stabilized in Syria and the Middle East, there will be few Christians in what is called the cradle of civilization and birth of Christianity, and where the followers of the three Abrahamic faiths have lived and worked as brothers and sisters in unity. The Middle East has already witnessed the tragic and virtual disappearance of Judaism, and this tragedy is happening at an alarming rate to the Christians of the Levant.

But there is hope and Syria is a light to the world as there are many people working for peace and reconciliation, dialogue and negotiations, and this is where the hopes lies and what we can all support by rejecting violence and war in Syria, the Middle East and our world.


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Displacement Climbs, No Respite Near in 2016 Mon, 28 Dec 2015 08:48:28 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO's struggle to  help them. Credit:  I.Pritchett/UNHCR

Thousands of refugees make the perilous journey each day for a better life in Europe and 2015 is set to be a record year for refugee numbers. Governments, Aid Organisations and NGO's struggle to help them. Credit: I.Pritchett/UNHCR

By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Dec 28 2015 (IPS)

Nearly a million people have crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far this year, and conflicts in Syria and elsewhere continue to push up levels of human suffering. This makes 2015 likely to exceed all previous years of forced displacement, according to a new United Nations High Commission for Refugees report.

UNHCR’s Mid-Year Trends 2015 Report, referring to the period from January to end June, and looking at displacement across the globe from fighting and persecution, shows markers firmly in the red in each of the three major categories of displacement – Refugees, asylum-seekers, and internally displaced persons or those who must take refuge within their own countries.

The global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold to 20.2 million for the first time since 1992, says UNHCR. Asylum applications were up 78 per cent to 993,600 over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people jumped by around 2 million to an estimated 34 million, the agency added in its report.

The staggering numbers from the first half of this year suggest that 2015 will see global forced displacement exceeding 60 million for the first time. Worldwide that means that one person in every 122 has been forced to flee their home.

“Forced displacement is now profoundly affecting our times. It touches the lives of millions of our fellow human beings – both those forced to flee and those who provide them with shelter and protection,” High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said in the report.

The International Organization for Migration said last week the number of migrants and refugees crossing into Europe by land and see this year illegally has hit the million mark.

This is four times the the total number from last from year.
Most crossed by sea, with more than 800,000 travelling from Turkey to Greece. Half are migrants from Syria.

Eleven more migrants drowned last week, adding to the IOM toll of 3,695 people this year dying or missing at sea.

Seven people last week were rescued by Turkish coast guards after the craft went down, apparently en route from Kusadasi in Turkey to the Greek island of Samos.

Beyond UNHCR’s startling numbers there are some indicators that show key areas are worsening. For instance, voluntary return rates…that is people who feel they can return home safely are down and at the lowest level in three decades. The agency uses this as a barometer of the global state of conflict. For example, a year ago 107,000 people wanted to voluntarily return as compared to 84,000 this year in the same period.

Some 839,000 people in just six months fled, in real terms this means an average rate of almost 4,600 being forced to flee their countries every day, said UNHCR. The war in Syria and its effect on the region continues to be generating the most numbers of displaced people.

Pressures on host countries are growing. With infrastructures being stretched there is a great danger that resentment of refugees will increase and their situation become politicized. This is not a new consequence and can be a worrying trend. But too, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity. Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory as of 30 June.

Pope Francis appealed for peace and reconciliation in conflict zones around the world in his traditional Christmas Day message from Rome. He said he prayed for the success of recent UN resolutions for peace in Syria and Libya.

The Pope also cited the acts of terrorism in France, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Mali, which he condemned. Thousands flocked to St. Peter’s Square to see the address which the Pope makes every year to the city and is broadcast across the world.

Lebanon, a host to refugees for decades, still is a temporary home to more refugees in comparison to its small population. UNHCR counts there are 209 refugees per 1000 inhabitants in Lebanon. Ethiopia is hit most in the pocketbook as it pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP. In the end those carrying the responsibility for looking after and hosting refugees are those countries bordering conflict areas, and many are in developing countries.

But the numbers of people reaching Europe by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report mainly because the surge of people escalated in the second half of this year and are still outside the months this report covers. Still, in the first six months of 2015 Germany was the host of the newest asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014. The second largest host was the Russian Federation with 100,000 asylum claims, and those were people fleeing trouble in the Ukraine.


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SYRIA: Give Peace a Chance Tue, 22 Dec 2015 12:31:17 +0000 Emirates News Agency

Att.Editors: The following item is from the Emirates News Agency (WAM)

By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Dec 22 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – The Gulf Today, a United Arab Emirates (UAE) newspaper has said that years of strife and with millions of its people scattered across the globe, peace is what Syrians yearn for. The country is in ruins and the spreading of radicalism poses major security challenges regionally and globally.

“The Syrian conflict has rattled the world so much that any initiative aimed to restore peace in that country should be welcomed without any hesitation,” said ‘The Gulf Today’ in an editorial published on Monday.

“In this context it is good that in its first resolution that focuses on ending Syria’s five-year-long war, the Security Council has now given the United Nations an enhanced role in shepherding the opposing sides to talks for a political transition, with a timetable for a ceasefire, a new constitution and elections, all under UN auspices.

“Also to give the Syrian peace prospects a strong push, foreign ministers from 17 countries gathered in New York before the council’s session. The UAE has always been a peace-loving country and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Foreign Minister, also took part in the meeting, presided over by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“As Kerry put it, the UNSC has sent a clear message to all concerned that the time is now to stop the killing in Syria and lay the groundwork for a government that the long-suffering people of that battered land can support.

“More than 250,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict erupted in March 2011. The civil war has been the main driver of mass displacement, with more than 4.2 million Syrian refugees having fled abroad and 7.6 million uprooted within their shattered homeland as of mid-year.

“An opportunity for peace has at last emerged. All parties involved in the talks should seize the chance. There is a dire need for leaders deliberating on the Syrian issue to take a flexible approach.

“The unambiguous goal is end to violence and a negotiated peace solution. The participating leaders should leave no stone unturned in achieving that,” concluded the Sharjah-based daily. (WAM) (END/2015)

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UN Discovery of Secret Detention Centre Revives Nightmares Mon, 21 Dec 2015 10:26:31 +0000 Amantha Perera 0 UN Seeks Hefty 20 Billion Dollars for Humanitarian Needs in 2016 Fri, 18 Dec 2015 20:19:42 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The world’s refugee crisis – triggered mostly by conflicts and persecutions – will continue to be one of the biggest problems facing the United Nations next year.

With almost a million people having crossed the Mediterranean as refugees and migrants so far, 2015 is likely to exceed all previous records for global forced displacement, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned in a new report released Friday.

But 2016 could be even worse — if the Syrian conflict continues unabated and new political trouble spots arise, primarily in the Middle East and Africa.

“As we enter 2016, the world needs to aim for a new global compact on human mobility. Demonizing and scapegoating these people based on their religion, ethnicity or country of origin has no place in the 21st century,” says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The United Nations is appealing for a staggering 20 billion dollars in funds to meet next year’s humanitarian needs — five times the level a decade ago.

But donors have been exceedingly generous, says Ban, “but we will likely enter 2016 with a funding gap of more than 10 billion dollars — the largest ever. “

The increased funds will be needed largely to feed, shelter and provide medical care to millions of refugees fleeing conflict zones, including Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.

But the devastating conflict in Syria, now into its fifth year, has been described as “the main driver of this sea of humanity on the move.”

According to the UN, about 60 million people are now homeless as a result of armed conflict, instability and persecution, and more than 125 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2016.

The 20 billion dollar target for 2016 seems phenomenal in comparison to the UN’s regular budget of 5.57 billion dollars for 2016-2017 and its peacekeeping budget totaling 8.2 billion dollars for 2015-2016.

Since the crisis is expected to continue into 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit meeting in May 2016 in Istanbul is expected to be “a critical moment to address systemic funding problems, and agree on concrete steps to better prepare for and respond to crises.”

The UNHCR study, titled ‘Mid-Year Trends 2015’, says the global refugee total, which a year ago was 19.5 million, had as of mid-2015 passed the 20 million threshold (20.2 million) for the first time since 1992.

Asylum applications were meanwhile up 78 per cent (993,600) over the same period in 2014. And the numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) jumped by around 2.0 million to an estimated 34 million.

A consequence of more refugees being stuck in exile is that pressures on countries hosting them are growing too – something which unmanaged can increase resentment and abet politicization of refugees, the study said.

Despite such risks, the first half of 2015 was also marked by extraordinary generosity: on an absolute basis, and counting refugees who fall under UNHCR’s mandate (Palestinians are under the mandate of the UN Works and Relief Agency or UNRWA), Turkey is the world’s biggest hosting country with 1.84 million refugees on its territory, as of 30 June.

Lebanon meanwhile hosts more refugees compared to its population size than any other country, with 209 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants.

And Ethiopia pays most in relation to the size of its economy with 469 refugees for every dollar of GDP (per capita, at PPP), according to UNHCR.

Overall, the lion’s share of the global responsibility for hosting refugees continues to be carried by countries immediately bordering zones of conflict, many of them in the developing world.

Europe’s influx of people arriving by boat via the Mediterranean is only partly reflected in the report, mainly as arrivals there have escalated in the second half of 2015 and outside the period covered by the report.

Nonetheless, in the first six months of 2015, Germany was the world’s biggest recipient of new asylum claims – 159,000, close to the entire total for all of 2014. The second largest recipient was the Russian Federation with 100,000 claims, mainly people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, according to the report.

Speaking at a high-level event marking the 10th anniversary of the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the secretary-general said the fund was a breakthrough in providing fast and predictable funding for early action at times of global crisis.

Over the past decade, the Fund has been an essential component of the UN’s humanitarian response – and it has enhanced the credibility of the United Nations, he added.

Among the CERF’s key strengths is its flexibility and speed. CERF resources are not earmarked for specific countries or crises, but can be deployed quickly wherever needs are greatest.

“Whether a crisis is sudden or protracted; whether it is in the news or not, CERF funds are allocated only on the basis of need,” Ban noted.

Within 11 hours of the earthquake in Haiti, trucks were unloading life-saving aid. And within 48 hours of Nepal’s recent earthquake, people were receiving timely life-saving assistance.

Since 2011, Ban said, the CERF has allocated more than 200 million dollars to humanitarian efforts in Syria and neighbouring countries. “And the CERF continues to deliver in the face of new challenges.”

Currently, the Fund is one of the earliest and largest supporters of early response in countries such as Ethiopia, Malawi and Honduras that are being affected by the El Niño phenomenon, which is one of the strongest in decades.

The world has changed radically over the past decade. But despite the generosity of donors, the gap between humanitarian needs and the resources available to meet them is growing every year, the secretary-general declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Alaa Arsheed: A Refugee’s Sweet Sound of Success Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:12:55 +0000 Francesco Farne and Valentina Gasbarri Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician,  during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.  Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

Alaa Arsheed, Syrian refugee and violinist, and Gian Pietro Masa, experimental electronic musician, during their live peromance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

By Francesco Farnè and Valentina Gasbarri
ROME, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

“In Beirut I was like a bird in a cage, I felt like a prisoner. Today, I have the chance to let my dreams come true, make a living with my music, realizing my dad’s project: open a new Alpha – my family’s cultural center, destroyed during the war- to share Syrian culture and help my people in Europe,” Alaa Arsheed, a Syrian refugee, told IPS.

Alaa, 29-year old and an accomplished violinist has become living proof of the positive effects migration can have on host countries, especially in countries like Italy where structural problems related both to the financial and migration crises have changed the course of present political history.

In the past century Italy has gone through mass emigration, internal migration and mass immigration. According to ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics) almost 4 million non-EU migrants live in the country in 2015. The flimsy boats filled with human cargo and often sink in in the Mediterranean leaving many adrift in the cold sea, and some perish.

About 3 per cent of the world’s refugees arrive in Italy says the Report on International Protection in Italy 2015, released by The National Association of Italian Municipalities (ANCI) , Caritas Italiana, Cittalia, Migrantes Fundation and the The SPRAR project (Protection System for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), in partnership with the Ministry of Interior and The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The report says by the end of 2014 there were 33 on-going wars, 13 crisis situations and 16 UN missions. The humanitarian crises in the Middle-East pushed nearly 19.5 million refugees to flee their home country, 38,2 million were internally displaced people (IDPs) from war and persecution and 1.8 million were asylum seekers. As a consequence, the number of migrants reached 59.5 milion people.

According to the last figures from the Italian Ministry of Interior, in 2015 about 120,000 migrants arrived in Italy. The vast majority of people are refugees and migrants from Syria, followed by Afghanis, Pakistanis and Iraqis. The countries of origin for people crossing from Libya include Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. 2,900 migrants have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during their dangerous journey.

Alaa Arsheed says he was drawn by the magnetism of Italy and Italian people while he was looking for a better life and a place where he could have the “right of having rights.” He describes how music, and art in general, helped him overcome many of the difficulties he faced since he left Syria and why he is convinced that Italy is such an inspiring place where he loves to live. An Italian friend of his, Marta, a painter, put him in contact with Barnaba Fornasetti. Barnaba is the son of the internationally renowned Italian designer Piero Fornasetti, and CEO of the Fornasetti Design company. Barnaba, like his father, is an artist and also a skilled DJ.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti's Calendarium exhibition.

Audience attending the live music perfomance at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

When Barnaba met Alaa, he immediately recognized talent and saw the potential for an artistic collaboration. He invited Alaa to play his violin during the inauguration of his exhibit in Milan. It was an artistic collaboration as the experimental electronic musician Gian Pietro Masa and Alaa, played together in a long session, coordinated by musician and composer Roberto Coppolecchia.

“Art can be a powerful tool for integration, and music, in particular, it is a language that speaks directly to your inner soul, no matter what your religion, nationality, political affiliation, sex or age is,” said Alaa.

“I was born in As-Suwayda, in the Daraa province in southern Syria, where the so called ‘Arab spring’ started in February 2011,” said Alaa. His family owned an art café called Alpha which was the only free cultural space where artists could gather in the city. Alpha’s motto was “Art for All,” he said and then quoted Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Since its foundation, more than 140 art exhibitions, music, and literary events took place in Alpha, bypassing government censorship. “That was our way to protest, peaceful, based on art and free from religious and political influences. Once, we revisited Voltaire’s quotations in a visual art exhibit,” he said.

Late in 2011, Alaa, like many other Syrians, was forced to leave his country in the face of the civil war. He was able to bring just his violin and a few things with him. He moved to Beirut, where he lived teaching and playing music. Six months ago, he had a meeting that changed his life forever. While teaching violin to Palestinian refugees in a camp, he met Italian actor and UNHCR ambassador Alessandro Gassman, while he was in Lebanon filming a documentary about “art in times of war” called “Torn – Strappati.”

Alaa was involved in the making of this documentary, which was presented at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival, and he features playing his violin. For him, this instrument has become the symbol of how music can heal the pain of a generation of young Syrians.

His talent, and the visibility that Gassman and UNHCR gave to his him, the Fabrica Communication Research Group offered Alaa a music scholarship in Treviso, a city located in the North-East of Italy. “In Italy I found an inspiring, friendly atmosphere and I was also able to realize one of my professional dreams: publish my first album, sham, which means “Damascus” in the Aramaic language,” he said.

Eventually, he asked for asylum in Europe and today he lives in Italy. “I miss my family and my hometown,” and he said he still plays music with his brothers and sister who play the violin, viola and cello, via Skype. They want to play together as a string quartet in Italy someday.

Alaa is now working on a project, in partnership with Fabrica, that he says will make his parents happy and proud of him. As Alpha was destroyed during the war, he would like to rebuild this cultural space in Europe where it would be a landmark for plenty of refugees with the aim of preserving and spreading Syrian culture, as he said, “Art is stronger than everything.”


 From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

From the left: Gian Pietro Masa, Alaa Arsheed, Barnaba Fornasetti, CEO, Fornasetti design company, and IPS Director General Farhana Haque Rahman at the inauguration of Fornasetti’s Calendarium exhibition. Credit: Fornasetti / IPS

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Human Rights in Turkey: Is Turkish Press Freedom in Danger? Fri, 18 Dec 2015 11:07:01 +0000 Lorena Di Carlo By Lorena Di Carlo
MADRID, Dec 18 2015 (IPS)

The last week of November marked another phase of an ongoing shift in the Turkish Government´s approach to human rights issues – Two important events highlighted the ongoing attack freedom of press is suffering in Turkey. First two prominent Turkish journalists were arrested after publishing a story claiming that members of the state intelligence agency had provided weapons to Syrian rebels; second, lawyer and leading human rights defender and Tahir Elçi, President of the Diyarbakir Bar Association in south eastern Turkey, was killed in crossfire while making a press statement on Saturday 28th of November.

The Government´s reaction has fueled concerns about a sweeping media crackdown, which escalated just before the country´s national elections in November 1st. Since the Justice Development Party (AKP) was re-elected, under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, conditions for media freedom have gradually deteriorated even further.

The present government has enacted laws expanding the state´s capacity to control independent media. The government has now an increased authority to block websites and the surveillance capacity of the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) has been strengthened. Journalists are currently facing unprecedented legal obstacles, while courts´ capacity to persecute corruption is circumscribed by references to “national security.” To regulate various media outlets, authorities are making use of the Penal Code, criminal defamation laws and an antiterrorism law.

As a direct result of mass protests in the summer of 2013, the Turkish government tightened its control over media and the internet even further. Followed by corruption allegations in December the same year, the government intensified its control over the criminal justice system and reassigned judges, prosecutors, and police in order to exercise a greater control over the country´s already politicized freedom of the press.

In 2013, during a corruption scandal revealed through leaks to social media of phone calls implicating ministers and their family members, the Turkish government reacted by shutting down Twitter and YouTube for several weeks and introducing an even more restrictive Internet Law than the one already in existence. However, the internet sites were reopened after the Constitutional Court had ruled against the Government measures.

Cumhuriyet, “The Republic”, is Turkey´s oldest up-market daily newspaper. Since AKP´s rise to power it has distinguished itself for an impartial and occasionally courageous journalism. In 2015 the newspaper was awarded the Freedom of Press Prize by the international NGO Reporters Without Borders for its stand against the Government’s mounting pressure on free speech. Shortly after that, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar, and the newspaper’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül, were arrested and may face life imprisonment for a story claiming that Turkey´s secret services through convoys of trucks across the border were sending arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Detailed footage depicted trucks allegedly delivering weapons and ammunition to rebels fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Despite its opposition to the Assad government the Turkish government has denied assisting Syrian rebels and by extension contributing to a consolidation of IS. Cumhuriyet’s accusation created a political storm in Turkey, enraging President Erdogan, who declared that the newspaper´s editor-in chief, would “pay a high price” for his “espionage.”

Dündar defended his paper´s action by stating: “We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold it accountable on behalf of the people.”
According to the Turkish Interior Ministry, the convoys were actually carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community of neighboring Syria and the Cumhuriyet articles were accordingly politically motivated defamation. Right before appearing in court Dündar declared: “We come here to defend journalism. We come here to defend the right of the public to obtain news and their right to know whether their government is feeding them lies. We come here to demonstrate and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activities and defend such acts.”

The Secretary General of Reporters without Borders, Christophe Deloire, stated that “if these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be further evidence that Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey.”

Reporters without Borders, ranks Turkey as the 149th nation out of 180 when it comes to freedom of press, denouncing that there is a “dangerous surge in censorship” in the country. Reporters without Borders has urged the judge hearing the case to dismiss the charges against the two journalists as a case of “political persecution.”

The arrest of the two journalists has caused distress within the European Union. Europe is currently struggling with social problems and political crises due the influx of Syrian refugees and needs Ankara´s help to solve the crisis. Nevertheless, Turkish journalists have urged the EU to avoid making any compromises and in the name of freedom of speech, and as part of the efforts to combat the threat of IS totalitarianism, EU has to react to the Turkish Government´s intentions to control and manage independent information and reporting.

In the case of the lawyer, Tahir Elçi, was speaking to the press, pleading for an end of the violence between nationalist Kurds and the Turkish security forces. His death, considered an assassination by many, has f escalated tensions in Turkey´s Kurd dominated regions, where curfews have been imposed in several communities.

While Elçi, and other lawyers in the south eastern province of Diyarbakır were denouncing the damage caused to the historical patrimony during combat between the YDG-H Militants—a group related to the armed Kurdish group PKK—and the police. The incident was confusing. Video footage shows Elçi, hiding behind a man holding a pistol, as the sound of gunfire rings out from both ends of the street, a moment later the lawyer is seen lying face down on the ground. Officially it was claimed that Kurdish militants opened fire, which was returned by security men. Elçi´s last words before the attack had been: “We do not want guns, clashes or operations here.”

The HDP (People´s Democratic Party), an opposition party with Kurdish origins, declared that Elçi´s death was a planned attack and blamed the ruling AKP party. “This planned assassination targeted law and justice through Tahir Elci. … Tahir Elci was targeted by the AKP rule and its media and a lynching campaign was launched against him.” The HDP did not hesitate to remind that on October 19th, a warrant was issued against Elçi charging him with “propaganda for a terror organization.” The reason was that he during a CNN television program had stated that “PKK is not a terrorist organization… Although some of its actions have the nature of terror, the PKK is an armed political movement.”

Turkey´s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, declared that it was unclear whether Elci was caught in a crossfire, or was assassinated, though he stated that: “The target is Turkey. It’s an attack on peace and harmony in Turkey.” On the same note Erdogan said the shooting was a clear indication that Turkey was right in “its determination to fight terrorism.”


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