Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Feb 2015 19:37:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 June Election Offers Asia-Pacific a Chance for Greater Influence in ICC Sat, 28 Feb 2015 02:25:22 +0000 Valentina Ieri By Valentina Ieri

The health-related resignation of an International Criminal Court (ICC) judge has paved the way for Asia-Pacific governments to improve their legal representation in the international legal system, said the group Coalition for the ICC on Thursday.

ICC rules on geographical representation offer the Asia-Pacific region the opportunity to put forward candidates for the Hague-based Court, in an election to be held in June. The newly elected judge will hold his role for the remaining nine-year term which began in 2012.

“With this election, Asia-Pacific governments have the opportunity to strengthen peace, justice and the rule of law in international affairs by nominating highly qualified candidates for election to the world’s highest criminal court” said William R. Pace, convenor of the Coalition for the ICC, a global network of civil society organisations, that strengthens cooperation with the Court and ensures its effectiveness and independence.

According to the ICC Rome Statute, there is a framework for judicial elections, which fosters fair competitive elections and transparent gender representation. It includes minimum qualifications for judges, and ensures the representation of all major legal systems.

The Court is the world’s first permanent international court established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is composed of 18 judges, representing all regions and principal legal systems of the world.

The current Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, is responsible for receiving any referrals and information about war crimes, within the jurisdiction of the Court.

“With only ICC member states able to nominate candidates, this election is also a compelling incentive for Asia-Pacific states close to joining the Court to take the final step,” said Amielle Del Rosario, the Coalition’s Asia-Pacific regional coordinator.

“By participating in this election, states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam could play a meaningful role in shaping the future of the Court,” she said.

Every candidate must have an excellent knowledge of and be fluent in at least English or French- the working languages of the Court.

In the interest of encouraging transparency in the nomination process, the Coalition will help publicise and raise awareness of the candidates put forward by governments, says William Pace. This includes consultations with civil society, professional and national legal associations.

Pace said in a statement, “Since 2003, the Coalition has been promoting informed, merit-based elections by governments by ensuring that the qualifications and expertise of candidates for elections are as well-known as possible.”

Usually, nominated candidates are requested to fill in questionnaires to provide additional information about their qualifications, to hold interviews and to assist to public seminars and debates with the other contestants and experts.

Nominees must be submitted by ICC member states by 31 March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: The Middle East and Perpetual War Fri, 27 Feb 2015 15:27:23 +0000 Leon Anderson Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Palestinians demonstrating outside the UN office in Gaza calling for freedom for political prisoners. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Leon Anderson

There is a currently popular idea in Washington, D.C. that the United States ought to be doing more to quash the recently born Islamic States of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), because if we don’t, they will send terrorists to plague our lives.

Incredibly, most of the decision makers and policy influencers in Washington also agree that America has no standing in the Middle East; that is, the U.S. has no natural influence based on territorial proximity, ethnicity, religion, culture, politics or shared history. In short, the only apparent reason for our presence in the Middle East is to support Israel.Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

To say that the United States is universally resented by everyone in the region is a massive understatement. That we are hated, despised, and the sworn enemies of many, is not difficult to understand. There is no moral ground under our feet in any religion. Stealing is universally condemned.

Abetting in the pillaging of Palestinians and their land is hard to justify. Yet we keep sending Israel military and financial aid, we support them in the United Nations, and we ignore the pleas of Israel’s neighbours to stop the spread of settlers on more stolen land.

There was once an old canard that we had to intervene in the Middle East to protect the flow of oil to Western Europe and America. But since the defeat of Nazi Germany in North Africa, that threat has never again existed. The fact is that the source of most of the wealth in the Middle East is oil, which is a commodity; there’s a lot of it all over the world.

If it’s not sold, the producer countries’ economies collapse, because that’s all they have on which to survive. They are, few of them in the Middle East, industrial economies, or mercantile economies. They are almost completely dependent on oil exports to Europe and Asia for their economic survival.

The oil crunch in 1973 that saw prices rise in the West and shortages grow was a temporary phenomenon produced by the Persian Gulf countries that was impossible to sustain. It was like a protest movement, a strike. It ended by costing OPEC a lot of money and by spurring a world-wide surge in exploration and drilling for more oil supplies.

Oil is not a weapon as some would have us believe. As the Middle East, and now Russia, knows all too well, it is a crutch.

Therefore, we get down to the real reasons why the United States is involved militarily in the Middle East. One, we clearly don’t need their oil. A possible reason for being there is conquest: we covet Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan for ourselves. I think we can dismiss that notion as absurd and move on.

Then the question screams: Why are we there? Why are we continuing to give ISIS and other extremist, nationalistic groups a reason to hate us and want to destroy us?

The only answer is Israel. We have made Israel the artificial hegemonic power in the region against the will of everyone who is native to the area. We have lost all credibility among Arabs, all moral standing and nearly all hope of ever restoring either.

The United States has become a pariah in the Middle East, and the result is that we will be faced with endless war and terrorist attacks for ages to come unless we make a dramatic change of course in our foreign policy—namely, stop supporting an Israeli regime that will not make peace with its neighbours.

An organisation called the Jewish Voice for Peace has endorsed a call from Palestinians for a boycott of Israel, divestment of economic ties, and sanctions (on the order of those imposed on Iran and Russia) to encourage Israel to end its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied since 1967.

The JVP urges Israel to dismantle the grotesque wall they have built to keep the Palestinians out of territory that was once theirs; to recognise Palestinians as citizens of Israel with equal rights; and to recognise the right of refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel as stipulated in U.N . Resolution 194.

The argument that we are fighting ISIS because they threaten our democracy is absurdly infantile. That’s another of those political throwaways we hear because our leaders think we’re all simpletons who can’t figure things out for ourselves.

How on earth could 40,000 or 100,000 disaffected Arabs destroy American democracy? They are fighting us because we are there fighting them. Let us go home, and they would have no reason to fight us.

I suggest this avenue knowing full well that some may say that we must instill the spirit of democracy among these people or there will never be peace in the world. Excuse me, but there will never be peace in the world. We all thought that when Gorbachev gave up the Soviet Empire a new era of Russian democracy would ensue.

Instead, Russia got drunken and loutish leadership until a strongman, in the Russian historical context, Vladimir Putin, took over. Democracy cannot be exported. It has to be wanted and won in the light of local historical, religious, social and economic needs. If they want what we have, Arab women will find a way to get it.

In spite of all this more or less common knowledge, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, warns us that if we don’t crush Iran, if we don’t continue to support Israel and back their hegemony, the world will collapse in anarchy, and democracy will be lost to all of us. I ask you: how much of this nonsense are you willing to take? Someone has to begin a discussion on what the hell we’re doing in the Middle East—and do it soon.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Europe Under Merkel’s (Informal) Leadership Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:32:32 +0000 Emma Bonino

In this column, Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister and former European Commissioner, argues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the de facto representative of Europe in the world today, putting other European heads of states and institutions in the shade. Moreover, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries since 2008 have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, and the author fears that a definitive crisis of the European federalist project is on the horizon.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

When I am asked whether Europe is still a relevant “protagonist” in the modern world, I always answer that there is no doubt about it. For a long time now, the continent has been shaken by financial crises, internal security strategy crises – including wars – and instability within its borders, which definitely make it a protagonist in world affairs. 

If the question asked were about what the leading role of the European Union actually is, it is enough to take a look at a few days’ entries in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s diary.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

On Thursday Feb. 5 she was in Moscow with French President François Hollande for negotiations on the Ukraine crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the following day she met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for talks in Kiev. At the weekend she was back in Munich, where she argued publicly for resistance against increasing pressure from the United States to arm the Ukrainian forces.

On Monday Feb. 9 Merkel was in Washington, where she obtained – at least temporarily – U.S. President Barack Obama’s agreement to her stand against providing arms to Ukraine, in order to maintain a favourable climate for the negotiations that were about to be held in Minsk.

Next she went to Minsk to participate in three exhausting days of talks including a 17-hour debate with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, which led to a proposal of truce in Ukraine, presented on Thursday Feb. 12 to an informal meeting of E.U. heads of state in Brussels.

This brief overview, and the reports and images disseminated in the media, clearly show that Angela Merkel personifies the global role of Europe and puts other European heads of state and institutions in the shade.

Other protagonists on the international stage, like Obama and Putin, show a similar perception when they make important agreements with the German Chancellor.

In my federalist vision of Europe, it would be just perfect if Merkel were the president of the United States of Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case.“I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower”

I do not want to dwell on the oversimplified dilemma that has been exercising think tanks for years: Are we moving towards a Europeanised Germany, or towards a Germanised Europe?

But I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower. This view is reinforced by the certainty that the proposal to reform the United Nations Security Council by granting Berlin a permanent seat is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

And if, at some date far in the future, such a reform of the Security Council is approved, the Council’s powers may by then have been reduced.

I believe this because in the last few months, while the events that are public knowledge were happening in Syria, in Iraq, with respect to the Islamic State, in Ukraine, in Sudan, Libya and Nigeria, the Security Council was conspicuous by its absence.

Furthermore, it is a disappointing surprise to witness the almost non-existent resilience of the institutions created by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which reformed the European Union. At the time they were praised as a new departure in the framework of international law and as the consolidation of a united European foreign policy.

While we watched the serious conflict in Ukraine on our continent, many of us asked ourselves what the top E.U. authorities, who had been elected transnationally for the first time, were doing: E.U. President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

What credibility can possibly remain for structures that are systematically side-lined when conflicts become red-hot?

The problem does not lie in the persons who perform these functions. Such an analysis would be too superficial.

It is rather a question of ascertaining whether European institutions are sufficiently robust to resist what many call a return to the Westphalian system, that is, to the treaties of 1648 that demarcated a new order in Europe founded on the nation-state as the basis of international relations.

Outside Europe, this tendency has been developing for some time. The role of global power is increasingly taken over by “mega states”: the United States, Russia, China, India, and soon to include Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

The European Union has difficulty matching up to these as a valid counterpart.

I am afraid that this tendency may lead to the definitive crisis of the European federalist project. However, we federalists must resist the trend and reflect on the best way to face the situation.

Since 2008, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, with the exception of actions implemented by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank.

Consequently, Europe has abandoned the pursuit of a common foreign policy and has reverted to inter-governmental practices that prioritise national interests.

The dilemma is clear: either the European Union is a global power and is recognised as such, or Europe will be represented by others in crucial debates.

In this context, what is emerging is that Germany is increasingly taking on a new role.

This process began with the bizarre designation in 2006 of a group of countries to negotiate with Iran, known as 3+3, or more commonly, outside Europe, as 5+1: the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France) plus Germany.

Since then Berlin has taken on a leading role, not only in the European context but also in many international affairs, often on behalf of the European Union.

To sum up: the European Union works jointly to the extent that this is possible. After that there is a level at which decisions – and responsibilities – are taken by those with the power to do so. That is the scheme practised in today’s Europe. It is time for other Europeans to sit up and take notice. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/ Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Gazan Fishermen Dying to Survive Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:03:34 +0000 Mel Frykberg Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Fathi Said and Mustafa Jarboua, Gazan fishermen who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by Israel’s blockade. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

The beautiful Mediterranean Sea laps gently onto the white sandy beach near Gaza City’s port. Fishing boats dot the beach as fishermen tend to their boats and fix their nets.

However, this scenic and peaceful setting belies a depressing reality. Gaza’s once thriving fishing industry has been decimated by Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory since 2007.

Approximately 3,600 Gazan fishermen, and their dependents, estimated at over 30,000 people, used to rely on fishing for a living.

Fish also provided a basic source of food for Gaza’s poverty-stricken population of over 1.5 million people.“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families” – U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Following the blockade of the Gaza Strip, more than 90 percent of Gaza’s fishermen have had to depend on aid to survive.

Mustafa Jarboua, 55, the father of 10 children from Shati refugee camp, sits on the beach near his boat mending his nets. He has been a fisherman for 17 years and has witnessed the fishing industry’s decline since Israel first started placing restrictions on the fishermen in the early 2000s, culminating in the 2007 blockade.

“Before the blockade I used to earn about NIS 2000-3000 per month (500-750 dollars),” he told IPS.

“Now I’m lucky if I can earn NIS 500-600 (126 -152 dollars) a month because we can only fish a few days each week depending on when there are sufficient fish.

“The shoals closer to shore have been depleted with most of the better quality fish at least nine miles out to sea. I have to rely on money from the Ministry of Social Affairs to survive.

“I can’t afford meat and have to buy second-hand clothes for my children. Buying treats on holidays is no longer possible,” said Jarboua.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “in the late 1990s, annual catches from the Gaza Strip’s four fishing wharves located in Rafah, Khan Younis, Deir Al Balah and Gaza City averaged more than 3,500 tonnes and generated an annual income of over 10 million dollars.”

The already dire situation was exacerbated during last year’s July-August war with Israel, reducing the area in which the fishermen can fish to six nautical miles. After the Oslo agreement in 1993, the distance had been 20 nautical miles.

However, fishermen are still being shot at and killed and injured even within that 6-mile nautical zone.

Jarboua pointed to his boat and showed IPS the bullet holes where the Israeli navy had fired on him while out to sea.

Others fishermen have had their boats destroyed and been arrested, Jarboua’s friend Fathi Said, also from Shati camp, told IPS that his brother had been arrested by the Israelis several weeks ago while only five nautical miles out to sea.

Sami Al Quka, 35, from Shati had his hand blown off when the Israeli navy shot at him while he was within the approved fishing zone.

Brother Ibrahim Al Quka, 55, said he used to earn about 50-100 dollars a day before Israel’s blockade.

“Now on a good day I only earn about 30 dollars and then I can buy food for my family for a few days. After that I have to rely on the United Nations to survive,” Al Quka told IPS.

Oxfam GB confirms the fishermen’s claims: “Even when fishing within the six mile restriction, fishermen face being shot or arrested by the Israeli navy. In the first half of 2014, there were at least 177 incidents of naval fire against fishermen – nearly as many as in all of 2013.”

OCHA reported in its weekly Humanitarian Report in mid-February that “incidents involving Israeli forces opening fire into the Access Restricted Areas (ARAs) on land and at sea continued on a daily basis, with at least 17 such incidents reported during the week.”

“In at least two incidents,” said the report, “Israeli naval forces opened fire at Palestinian fishing boats reportedly sailing within the Israeli-declared six nautical mile fishing limit, forcing them ashore.

“Access restrictions imposed by Israel at land and sea continue to undermine the security of Palestinians and the agricultural sector in Gaza, which is the primary source of income for thousands of farmers and fishermen and their families.”

Gaza’s farmers are also unable to access their land near the borders with Israel which is imposing “security zones” of up to 1.5 km in some of Gaza’s most fertile land. Dozens of farmers have been shot and killed or injured after trying to reach their farms.

The Gaza Strip’s dense population is crammed into an area 6-12 km wide by 41 km in length.

Gaza’s struggling economy has been further battered by Israel’s almost complete ban on exports, including manufactured goods and agricultural products which formed a major part of its economy, and imports.

“Severe trade restrictions on both imports and exports have stifled the private sector, forcing several thousands of businesses to close in the past few years,” according to the ‘GAZA Detailed Needs Assessment (DNA) and Recovery Framework: Social Protection Sub-Sector‘ report produced by the Palestinian Government, European Union, World Bank and the United Nations.

“Since the economic blockade (which Egypt has now joined) was put in place in 2007, exports from Gaza have dropped by 97 per cent,” added the report. “Even companies that are still operating can only produce at high risk and with limited profit, due to elevated production costs, widespread power cuts and the almost complete ban on exports.”

“The basic needs of Gazans are not being met,” Arwa Mhanna from Oxfam told IPS. “Poverty is deepening, vital services have been affected and livelihoods crippled. The situation is moving towards more violence and further humanitarian tragedy.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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All-Out War in Libya Predicted without Further Peace Talks Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:28:46 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Libya is teetering on the edge of all-out war, with a brutal stalemate and misery for civilians predicted unless a recent minor diplomatic breakthrough can be built upon.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a non-governmental organisation working to prevent and resolve conflict, warned Thursday of a “dramatic turning point” in the “deteriorating internal conflict,” with a descent into social radicalism predicted.

“The most likely medium-term prospect is not one side’s triumph, but that rival local warlords and radical groups will proliferate, what remains of state institutions will collapse… and hardship for ordinary Libyans will increase exponentially,” the ICG said in a report, ‘Libya: Getting Gevena Right.’

“Radical groups… will find fertile ground, while regional involvement – evidenced by retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes – will increase.”

The ICG called on parties to the conflict to continue negotiations commenced in Geneva in January, which ended with no resolution but a commitment to extend talks.

Claudia Gazzini, ICG’s Libya Senior Analyst, said any full-scale war would likely descend into stalemate.

“Libya is split between two sides claiming increasingly threadbare legitimacy, flirting with jihadi radicals and pursuing politics through militia war backed by foreign powers,” she said.

“[The] Tobruk and Tripoli authorities are equally matched, and cannot defeat each other. To save the country they must negotiate a national unity government.”

On Feb. 20, a spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon said “a political solution to the current crisis must be found quickly to restore peace and stability in the country and confront terrorism.”

The conflict in Libya – between the elected government of Libya, based in Tobruk, and forces aligned to its opposition party, based in Tripoli – has been ongoing since May 2014. ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant) forces entered the conflict in October, taking control of areas in eastern Libya.

Reliable numbers of casualties have not been released. A U.N. Support Mission In Libya (UNSMIL) report in December 2014 stated only that “hundreds” had been killed in preceding months, including 450 people in Benghazi and 100 people in western Libya.

The website, which claims to assemble death tolls from media reports, states 2,825 people were killed in Libya in 2014, and 380 have been killed in 2015.

UNSMIL said in December at least 215,000 people have been displaced due to the conflict.

In January, representatives of the fighting factions met in Geneva for two rounds of talks. ICG said it was the first time since September 2014 such negotiations had taken place, with talks focusing on what form a Libyan unity government would take.

The ICG urged the U.N. to push for further talks, as well as to ask “regional actors who contribute to the conflict by providing arms or other military or political support – notably Chad, Egypt, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates… to press their Libyan allies to negotiate in good faith in pursuit of a political settlement.”

Jean Marie Guehenno, president of ICG, said organising further negotiations was essential in staving off deterioration in the conflict.

“January’s UN achievement in bringing the Libyan sides together for national unity talks in Geneva offers a glimmer of hope. This breakthrough should encourage the UN Security Council to unite,” he said.

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Despite U.N. Treaties, War Against Drugs a Losing Battle Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:10:23 +0000 Thalif Deen Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Less than eight per cent of drug users worldwide have access to a clean syringe programme. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Thalif Deen

As the call for the decriminalisation of drugs steadily picks up steam worldwide, a new study by a British charity concludes there has been no significant reduction in the global use of illicit drugs since the creation of three key U.N. anti-drug conventions, the first of which came into force over half a century ago.

“Illicit drugs are now purer, cheaper, and more widely used than ever,” says the report, titled Casualties of War: How the War on Drugs is Harming the World’s Poorest, released Thursday by the London-based Health Poverty Action."This approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful." -- Catherine Martin of Health Poverty Action

The study also cites an opinion poll that shows more than eight in 10 Britons believe the war on drugs cannot be won. And over half favour legalising or decriminalising at least some illicit drugs.

The international treaties to curb drug trafficking include the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

But over the last few decades, several countries have either decriminalised drugs, either fully or partially, or adopted liberal drug laws, including the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

These countries include the Netherlands, Portugal, Czech Republic, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras and Mexico, among others.

According to the report, the governments of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala seek open, evidence-based discussion on U.N. drugs policy reform.

And “both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS not only share this view, but have called for the decriminalisation of drugs use.”

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough in the battle against drugs, Catherine Martin, policy officer at Health Poverty Action, told IPS, “The problem is that the U.N. is doing too much of the wrong things, and not enough of the right things.”

She pointed out that an estimated 100 billion dollars worldwide is poured into drug law enforcement every year, driven by U.N. conventions on drug control.

“However, this approach hasn’t reduced drug use or managed to control the illicit drug trade. Instead, it keeps drugs profitable and cartels powerful (fuelling corruption); spurs violent conflict and human rights violations; and disproportionately punishes small-scale drug producers and people who use drugs,” she added.

The report says UK development organisations have largely remained silent, while calls for drugs reform come from Southern counterparts, British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, current and former presidents, Nobel prizewinning economists and ex-U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan.

The charity urges the UK development sector to demand pro-poor moves as nations prepare for the U.N. general assembly’s special session on drugs next year.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs), including British groups, have no lead contact or set process for participating in the session, says the report.

The report claims many small-scale farmers grow and trade drugs in developing countries as their only income source.

And punitive drug policies penalise farmers who do not have access to the land, sufficient resources and infrastructure that they would need to make a sustainable living from other crops.

Alternative crops or development programmes often fail farmers, because they are led by security concerns and ignore poor communities’ needs, the report notes.

The charity argues the militarisation of the war on drugs has triggered and been used to justify murder, mass imprisonment and systematic human rights violations.

The report stresses that criminalising drugs does not reduce use, but spreads disease, deters people from seeking medical treatment and leads to policies that exclude millions of people from vital pain relief.

Less than eight per cent of drug users have access to a clean needle programme, or opioid substitution therapy, and under four per cent of those living with HIV have access to HIV treatment.

In West Africa, people with conditions linked to cancer and AIDS face severe restrictions in access to pain relief drugs, amid feared diversion to illicit markets, according to the study.

Low and middle-income countries have 90 per cent of AIDS patients around the globe and half of the world’s people with cancer, but use only six per cent of morphine given for pain management.

Health Poverty Action states the war on drugs criminalises the poor, and women are worst hit, through disproportionate imprisonment and the loss of livelihoods.

Drug crop eradication devastates the environment and forces producers underground, often to areas with fragile ecosystems.

Asked what the U.N.’s focus should be, Martin told IPS the world body should focus on evidence-based, pro-poor policies that treat illicit drugs as a health issue, not a security matter.

These policies must protect human rights and end the harm that current policies do to the poor and marginalised, she said.

“Drug policy reform should support and fund harm reduction measures, and ensure access to essential medicines for the five billion people worldwide who live in countries where overly strict drug laws limit access to crucial pain medications,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the report says that drug policy, like climate change or gender, is a cross-cutting issue that affects most aspects of development work: poverty, human rights, health, democracy, the environment.

And current drug policies undermine economic growth and make development work less effective, the report adds.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty International Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Syria’s “Barrel Bombs” Cause Human Devastation, Says Rights Group Tue, 24 Feb 2015 22:18:26 +0000 Thalif Deen A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

A girl cries near a damaged car at a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by government forces in Aleppo's Dahret Awwad neighbourhood Jan. 29, 2014. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

The warring parties in the brutal four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 civilians and triggered “the greatest refugee crisis in modern times,” continue to break every single pledge held out to the United Nations.

Despite Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s plea for a political rather than military solution to the country’s ongoing civil war, both the Syrian government and the multiple rebel forces continue to escalate the conflict with aerial attacks and artillery shelling, hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs.” -- Nadim Houry

But the worst of it, says Human Rights Watch (HRW) in report released Tuesday, is the use of locally improvised deadly “barrel bombs.”

By examining satellite imagery, HRW said, it has identified at least 450 distinct major damage sites in 10 towns and villages held by rebel groups in Daraa and over 1,000 in Aleppo between February last year and January this year.

“These impact sites have damage signatures strongly consistent with the detonation of large, air-dropped munitions, including improvised barrel and conventional bombs dropped by helicopters. Damages that possibly result from the use of rockets, missiles, or fuel-air bombs are also likely in a number of instances,” the group said.

According to HRW, barrel bombs are unguided high explosive weapons that are cheaply made, locally produced, and typically constructed from large oil drums, gas cylinders, and water tanks, filled with high explosives and scrap metal to enhance fragmentation, and then dropped from helicopters usually flying at high altitude.

Asked if the explosives in the barrel bombs originate either from Russia or China, two strong political and military allies of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations Director of HRW Philippe Bolopion told IPS: “We are not in a position to say where the high explosive is coming from but barrel bombs are pretty primitive and made from commonly found materials.”

With the 15-member Security Council deadlocked over Syria, there is little or no hope that Russia and China, two members with veto powers, will ever relent or penalise the Assad regime despite several resolutions.

“We certainly hope they will stand by their own resolution and impose consequences on the regime for thumbing its nose at the Security Council,” Bolopion said.

Asked if protests by HRW and other human rights organisations will be an exercise in futility, he said: “Sadly, when thousands of civilians are being slaughtered, we have to continue to place the Security Council, and Russia and China in particular, in front of their responsibilities, no matter how futile it may sound.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said: “For a year, the Security Council has done nothing to stop Bashar al-Assad’s murderous air bombing campaign on rebel-held areas, which has terrorized, killed, and displaced civilians.

“Amid talk of a possible temporary cessation of strikes on Aleppo, the question is whether Russia and China will finally allow the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions to stop barrel bombs,” Houry said.

The Security Council is expected to meet Thursday for its next round of reporting on resolution 2139 of Feb. 22, 2014, which demanded that all parties to the conflict in Syria end the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs and other weapons in populated areas.

In a statement released Tuesday, HRW said non-state armed groups have also conducted indiscriminate attacks, including with car bombs and explosive weapons in government held areas.

The Security Council should impose an arms embargo on the government as well as rebel groups implicated in widespread or systematic indiscriminate attacks, HRW said.

The government attacks have led to the death and injury of thousands of civilians in rebel-held territory, according to HRW researchers.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC), a local monitoring group, has documented 609 civilian deaths, including 203 children and 117 women, in Daraa from aerial attacks between Feb. 22, 2014, and Feb. 19, 2015.

During the same period they have documented 2,576 civilian deaths in Aleppo governorate from aerial attacks, including 636 children and 317 women.

While deaths from aerial attacks are not exclusively from barrel bombs, residents from rebel-held territory in Daraa and Aleppo told HRW that barrel bombs account for a majority of air strikes.

Last week, Ban appealed to all parties to de-escalate the conflict in order to provide a reprieve for the long-suffering civilians of Syria. An immediate de-escalation is a much needed step towards a political solution to the conflict, he added

U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council last week that the Syrian government has committed to suspend all aerial attacks and artillery shelling over the entire city of Aleppo for a period of six weeks.

This is in order to allow the United Nations to implement a pilot project of unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid starting with one district in Aleppo and building incrementally to others.

Ban said Security Council resolution 2139 called for an end to the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas in Syria, including shelling and aerial bombardment, and expects the Syrian government to follow through on its commitment.

The secretary-general also appealed to all armed opposition groups in Aleppo to suspend their shelling of the city.

He pointed out that the last four years of war have led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, the greatest refugee crisis of modern times and created an environment in which extremist groups and terrorist organisations such as ISIL/Daesh flourish.

The secretary-general recalled Security Council resolutions 2170 and 2178 and stressed that there is no military solution to this conflict.

“This is a political conflict. Ending the killing, reversing the increasing fragmentation of Syria requires a political process, based on the full implementation of the Geneva Communique of 2012, that addresses the deep roots of the conflict and meets the aspirations of all Syrians,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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At the Margins of a Hot War, Somalis Are ‘Hanging on by a Thread’ Tue, 24 Feb 2015 11:14:14 +0000 Lisa Vives Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

Credit: Oxfam/Petterik Weggers

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

After twin suicide bombings at a popular Mogadishu hotel last week that killed 25 and wounded 40, news reporters were seen swarming through the city, spotlighting the victims, the assassins, the motives and the official response.

This left actor Barkhad Abdi, who played opposite Tom Hanks in the movie Captain Phillip and was making his first visit to Somalia since age seven, unlikely to have the usual paparazzi following his every move.Ordinary Somalis have been facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

Yet Abdi, a Goodwill Ambassador for Adeso, a Kenya-based development charity, was there to bring attention to the plight of ordinary Somalis, facing life without a lifeline since the shutdown of money transfers that have been key in rebuilding Somali lives.

The money – over a quarter of a billion dollars from the U.S. alone – comes from families in the diaspora, the charity Oxfam America reports.

“The small amounts of money that members of the Somali diaspora send their loved ones comprise Somalia’s most important source of revenue,” wrote OxfamAmerica on its website. “Remittances to Somalia represent between 25 and 45 percent of its economy and are greater than humanitarian aid, development aid, and foreign direct investment combined.

“Remittances empower women and help give young men alternatives to fighting in armed groups. The money is the country’s lifeline.”

Because Somalia lacks a formal banking system, small companies were established, run by money transfer operators who could safely and legally deliver money to relatives and friends in Somalia. These companies used bank accounts to wire the money but most of those banks have shut down including the California-based Merchants Bank just last month.

According to the banks, around one percent of money transfer firms could not be properly investigated and pass due diligence checks by the federal currency control office. Yet this decision ignored the 99 percent of money transfer businesses which have been operating in this sector for decades.

Most money wired to Somalia originates in the U.S.

The move by Merchants Bank to pull the plug on the money transfer network could force law-abiding U.S.-based Somalis to choose between three options, according to Professor Laura Hammond of the UK School of Oriental and African Studies.

“They can stop sending money to their relatives living in the Horn of Africa. They can try to find alternative legal channels, but as a result are likely to be charged much higher transfer rates, reducing the amount of money their relatives receive. Or they can use unregulated and illegal ways to send money.”

Opinion writer George Monbiot put it more strongly. The U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which triggered the bank closings, is, he charged: “The world’s most powerful terrorist recruiting sergeant… Its decision to cause a humanitarian catastrophe in one of the poorest, most troubled places on Earth could resonate around the world for decades.

“During the 2011 famine in Somalia, British Somalis saved hundreds of thousands of lives by remitting money … reaching family members before aid agencies could mobilise,” he wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

“Government aid agencies then used the same informal banking system – the hawala – to send money to 1.5 million people, saving hundreds of thousands more. Today, roughly 3 million of Somalia’s 7 million people are short of food. Shut off the funds and the results are likely to be terrible.

“Money transfers from abroad also pay for schooling, housing, business start-ups and all the means by which a country can lift itself out of dependency and chaos,” he continued. “Yes, banking has its uses, as well as its abuses. Compare this pointless destruction with the US government’s continued licensing of HSBC.”

Alternative, if more expensive, means of sending money legally, for instance through Western Union, are possible for some but not for people sending money to smaller towns and rural areas in Somalia and other parts of the Horn, where Western Union and smaller companies that still send remittances do not have a presence.

Instead, according to Oxfam, a large proportion of the 200 million dollars sent from the U.S. to Somalia each year will be forced underground. People will send money the way they did before Somali money transfer companies were formed: in cash, stashed in bags and pockets, or in other ways that will be impossible to track.

Meanwhile, as Abdi made a tour of his country of birth to see the impact of the diaspora dollars, he came in for a shock.

“Based on what you hear on the news, I expected to see a shattered country,” Abdi recalled from his visit. “But what I saw instead was a place full of resilience, entrepreneurship and hope.”

Accompanied by his sponsor, the Nairobi-based Adeso service agency, he said he met with young men who were learning how to become electricians to take part of the rebuilding of their country, and with women who were using newly acquired skills to come together and open successful businesses.

“When I was in Somalia I didn’t just see conflict, drought, and hunger,” Abdi said. “I saw people building a better future for themselves. And part of the reason why they’ve been able to do so is because of the remittances they receive from overseas. Let’s not threaten that lifeline and risk reversing all the gains that are being made.”

Hawala is one of Africa’s great success stories, wrote Monbiot. “But it can’t work unless banks in donor nations are permitted to transfer funds to Somalia.”

The report, “Hanging on by a Thread,” by Oxfam, Adeso and the Global Center on Cooperative Security, can be found on the Oxfam website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Can Nepal’s TRC Finally Bring Closure to its War Survivors? Tue, 24 Feb 2015 02:36:27 +0000 Renu Kshetry Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War, says his family is still waiting for justice to be served. Credit: Renu Kshetry/IPS

By Renu Kshetry
KATHMANDU, Feb 24 2015 (IPS)

The picture of Muktinath Adhikari, principal of Pandini Sanskrit Secondary School in the Lamjung district of west Nepal who was killed during the country’s decade-long civil conflict, became an iconic portrayal of the brutality of the bloody ‘People’s War’.

The then Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which waged a 10-year-long armed struggle, killed Adhikari in 2002 after he refused to ‘donate’ 25 percent of his salary to the cause and attend functions organised by the rebels.

"The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice." -- Suman Adhikari, son of Muktinath Adhikari, a school principal who was killed by Maoist rebels during Nepal’s People’s War
“Our life changed drastically for the worse after my father was killed; the memory of him being killed with his hands tied behind his back still haunts us,” recalls Suman Adhikari, the slain teacher’s son. “We want justice to move on with our life.”

Eight years after the war ended, Nepal’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission to Investigate Enforced Disappearances (CIED) will now take up the case of the Adhikari family, and thousands of others like them who are still waiting for closure.

Originally agreed upon during the signing of the 12-point understanding between the then CPN (M) and the Seven Party Alliance – which includes the current ruling Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) – and reaffirmed during the signing of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), these commissions have been a long time coming.

According to records kept by the Informal Sector Services Centre (INSEC), a non-governmental organisation, 13,236 people were killed during the Maoist insurgency, while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recorded more than 1,350 cases of disappearances that are yet to be accounted for.

Both the TRC and CIED have been given the mandate to probe serious violations of human rights during the armed conflict, investigate the status of those missing and create an atmosphere for reconciliation in Nepali society.

Many hope that a robust reconciliation process will also give the country an economic boost, including improving the lives of the 25 percent of its 27-million strong population that lives below the poverty line.

However, rights activists have criticised the TRC Act for falling short of international standards, while several prominent groups fear that unaddressed criticisms could derail the process altogether.

Amnesty for war crimes?

International rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists have joined local activists in voicing grave concern that the TRC Act fails to uphold Nepal’s commitments under international law – namely, the possibility of granting amnesty for war crimes.

Statements released by the watchdog groups echo fears voiced by locals that flaws in the Act could leave thousands out of the reconciliation process.

Others are disgruntled about the lack of consultation prior to appointing members of the TRC.

Mohana Ansari, spokesperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is unhappy that the TRC recommendation committee did not pay heed to the names suggested by the NHRC. “The culture of impunity should not be encouraged at any cost,” she stressed.

Others fear that a flawed TRC Act could lead to “forced reconciliation”, with survivors compelled to go along with a process that does not represent their best interests.

Surya Kiran Gurung, the newly appointed Chairperson of the TRC, is also sceptical about the Commission’s mandate.

“There is a need for amendments to the TRC Act because it is not clear what will happen to those cases that have been filed and investigated in court,” Gurung told IPS. “Parallel jurisdiction can create problems later on.”

However, he was confident that the TRC would recommend amendments to its Act in order to ensure consensus and consent of victims in the reconciliation process. He was similarly aware of the need to bridge the river of mistrust between survivors of the conflict and the commission.

“We will to reach out to them even if they are not willing to come forward,” he said.

Despite Gurung’s optimism, 53-year-old Kalyan Budhathoki of the Ramechap district in central Nepal is not as hopeful.

He, along with his 35-member extended family, fled their village in 2000 when rebels threatened to kill them and seized property after he refused to pay a “donation” of one million Nepali rupees.

“Why are these culprits roaming freely and why has no action been taken against those selling our cattle and seizing our property?” asked Budhathoki, a supporter of the ruling Nepali Congress (NC) who now works as a daily wage labourer in Kathmandu. “We are yet to feel the presence of law and order in the country.”

Thousands of futures at stake

The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction formed a task force in 2006 to collect data on the dead, displaced, disabled, and those who suffered property damage during the war.

Available records indicate that of the 79,571 internally displaced persons (IDPs), only about 25,000 had received relief funds from the government and returned to their homes by October 2013.

According to the Relief and Rehabilitation Unit of the Ministry, a total of 14,201 families who lost their kin have received relief, while families of 1,528 missing people have availed themselves of government aid amounting to 100,000 rupees (about 1,000 dollars) each.

“Local leaders who are not conflict victims have been receiving compensation and relief packages by submitting fake documents and exercising political influence,” alleged Budhathoki. “In this situation, how could we believe that the TRC, with its members picked by the political parties, will not be biased?”

Rights activists too believe that political parties have reached an understanding on the controversial provision of granting blanket amnesty, even for those allegedly involved in serious rights violations.

Some politicians have offered the view that penalizing perpetrators will hinder the peace and reconciliation effort.

However, TRC Chairperson Gurung is confident that the Commission’s work will not be affected by political interference. “We will strictly abide by the TRC mandate of finding the truth and investigating the war-era issues,” he said.

He stressed that there would be public hearings that are expected to bring all manner of atrocities to light, after which the country can begin to move ahead with the reconciliation process.

Those like Suman Adhikari, however, believe the process will not go far without the active participation of those affected. “The consultation, ownership, and participation of conflict victims are a must for the successful completion of the transition to justice,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Can the Violence in Honduras Be Stopped? Sun, 22 Feb 2015 17:57:50 +0000 LisaHaugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Credit: daviditzi/Flickr

By Lisa Haugaard, Sarah Kinosian, and William Hartung
WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb 22 2015 (IPS)

Honduras is one of the most violent nations in the world. The situation in the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula, demonstrates the depth of the problem.

For the fourth year running, San Pedro Sula has been one of the most dangerous places on the planet outside of a war zone. Its murder rate in 2014 was an astonishing 171 per 100,000. The city, which is caught in the crossfire between vicious criminal gangs, has been the largest source of the 18,000 Honduran children who have fled to the United States in recent years.

The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity. For example, 97 percent of the murders in San Pedro Sula go unsolved.

Corruption within and abuses by the civilian police undermine its effectiveness. A controversial new internal security force, the Military Police of Public Order (Policia Militar del Orden Publico, or PMOP), does not carry out investigations needed to deter crime and is facing a series of allegations of abuses in the short time it has been deployed. There are currently 3,000 PMOP soldiers deployed throughout the country, but this number is expected to grow to 5,000 this year. The national police feel that the government is starving them for funds and trying to replace them with PMOP."The vast majority of killings in Honduras are carried out with impunity."

The rise of PMOP is part of a larger trend toward the militarization of government and civil society. The military is now in charge of most aspects of public security in Honduras. But the signs of militarization are everywhere. Each Saturday, for example, 25,000 kids receive military training as part of the “Guardians of the Homeland” program, which the government says is designed to keep youths age 5-23 from joining the street gangs that control entire sections of the country’s most violent cities.

But putting more guns on the street is unlikely to sustainably stem the tide of violence in Honduras. What would make a difference is an end to the climate of impunity that allows murderers to kill people with no fear of consequences.

“This country needs to strengthen its capacity and will to carry out criminal investigations. This is the key to everything,” said an expert on violence in Honduras who spent years working in justice agencies there, and who spoke on condition of anonymity for reasons of personal safety.

The Three-Fold Challenge

The Honduran government faces three key challenges: It must reform a corrupt and abusive police force, strengthen criminal investigations, and ensure an impartial and independent judiciary.

Police reform appears to be stalled. There was some hope after the surge of civilian pressure for reform that followed the 2011 killing of the son of the rector for the Autonomous National University of Honduras and a friend. The Commission for the Reform of Public Security produced a series of proposals to improve the safety of the Honduran citizenry, including recommendations for improving police training, disciplinary procedures, and the structure of pubic security institutions.

Unfortunately, the Honduran Congress dissolved the commission in January 2014, during the lame duck period before President Juan Orlando Hernandez took office. Few of its recommendations have been carried out.

“They could have purged and trained the police during this time. But instead they put 5,000 military police on the street who don’t know what a chain of custody is,” lamented the expert on violence.

The Honduran government claims that over 2,000 police officers have been purged since May 2012, but there is little public information that would allow for an independent assessment of the reasons for the dismissals. And even when police are removed, they are not prosecuted; some are even allowed to return to the force. This is no way to instill accountability.

Meanwhile, the independence of the Honduran justice system is under attack. Since November 2013, the Judiciary Council has dismissed 29 judges and suspended 28 without an appropriate process, according to a member of the Association of Judges for Democracy. “This means that judges feel intimidated. They feel if they rule against well-connected people, against politicians, they can be dismissed.”

In an attempt to improve investigations and prosecutions, special units have been created to investigate specific types of crimes. For example, the Special Victims Task Force was created in 2011 to tackle crimes against vulnerable groups such as journalists, human rights advocates, and the LGBT community. This approach has been funded by the United States. It has promise, but the results are unclear so far. So is the question of whether the success of these specialized efforts can lead to broader improvements in the judicial system.

Protecting the Protectors

Providing security for justice operators is a particularly daunting problem. From 2010 to December 2014, 86 legal professionals were killed, according to information received by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Although the state provides some protection, the funding allocated for this purpose is inadequate. “In a country with the highest levels of violence and impunity in the region,” noted the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “the State necessarily has a special obligation to protect, so that its justice sector operators can carry out their work to fight impunity without becoming victims in the very cases they are investigating.”

To try and target the problems driving the endemic violence in Honduras, the government, joined by the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador, has released its Alliance for Prosperity plan, which is designed to increase investment in infrastructure and encourage foreign investment. The Obama administration has announced that it will ask Congress for $1 billion to help fund the initiative, but details about the security strategy are scarce.

It remains to be seen exactly how this money will be spent. Looking at San Pedro Sula, it is clear that a dramatic change in political will would be needed for any initiative of this kind to be successful. International donors should not support a militarized security strategy, which would intensify abuses and fail to provide sustainable citizen security.

Funding for well-designed, community-based violence prevention programs could be helpful, but only if there is a government willing to reform the police, push for justice, and invest in the education, jobs, violence prevention, health, child protection, and community development programs needed to protect its poorest citizens.

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

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Women Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 


“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic State Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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The Two Koreas: Between Economic Success and Nuclear Threat Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:49:06 +0000 Ahn Mi Young The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Koreas on the globe. Credit: TUBS/ Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

The two Koreas are an odd match – both are talking about possible dialogue but both have different ideas of the conditions, and that difference comes from the 62-year-old division following the 1950-53 Korean War.

During this time, North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide (compared with Russia’s 8,000 and the 7,300 in the United States) according to the Ploughshares Fund’s report on world nuclear stockpiles – and South Korea has become the world’s major economic success story.

In a national broadcast on Jan. 16, South Korean president Park Geun Hye presented her vision for reunification by using the Korean word ‘daebak‘ (meaning ‘great success’ or ‘jackpot’). “If the two Koreas are united, the reunited Korea will be a daebak not only for Korea but also for the whole world,” she said.North Korea has become a nuclear threat – estimated to possess up to ten nuclear weapons out of the 16,300 worldwide – and South Korea has become the world's major economic success story

Since she became leader of the South Korea’s conservative ruling party in 2013, Park has been referring to a new world that would come from a unified Korea. Her argument has been that if the two Koreas are reunited, the world could be politically less dangerous – free from the North Korea’s nuclear threat – and a united Korea could be economically more prosperous by combining the South’s economic and cultural power and the North’s natural resources and discipline.

Denuclearisation has been set as a key condition for daebak to come about. At a Feb. 9 forum with high-ranking South Korean officials, President Park said that “North Korea should show sincerity in denuclearisation efforts if it is to successfully lead its on-going economic projects. No matter how good are the programmes we may have in order to help North Korea, we cannot do so as long as North Korea does not give up its nuclear programme.”

However, observers have said North Korea has no reason to give up its nuclear weapons as long as it depends on its nuclear capability as a bargaining chip for political survival.  “Nuclear capabilities are the North’s only military leverage to maintain its regime as it confronts the South’s economic power,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

In fact, there are few signs of changes. North Korea has conducted a series of rocket launches, as well as three nuclear tests – all in defiance of the U.S. sanctions that are partially drying up channels for North Korea’s weapons trade.

Amid recent escalating tension between Washington and Pyeongyang over additional sanctions, activities at the 5-megawatt Yongbyon reactor in North Korea which produces nuclear bomb fuel are being closely watched to monitor whether the North may restart the reactor.

In the meantime, South Korea has been denying the official supply of food and fertilisers to North Korea under the South Korean conservative regimes that started in 2008.

During the liberal regime of 2004-2007, South Korea was the biggest donor of food and fertilisers to North Korea.

Then there appeared to be a glimmer of hope when North Korea’s enigmatic young leader Kim Jong Un presented a rare gesture of reconciliation towards South Korea in his 2015 New Year’s speech broadcast on Korean Central Television on Jan. 1.

“North and South should no longer waste time and efforts in (trying to resolve) meaningless disputes and insignificant problems,” he said. “Instead, we both should write a new history of both Koreas … There should be dialogue between two Koreas so that we can re-bridge the bond that was cut off and bring about breakthrough changes.”

In his speech, the North Korean leader even went as far as suggesting a ‘highest-level meeting’ with the South Korean president. “If the South is in a position to improve inter-Korean relations through dialogue, we can resume high-level contacts. Also, depending on some circumstances and atmospheres, there is no reason we cannot have the highest-level meeting (with the South).”

In South Korea, hopes for possible inter-Korean talks have been subdued. “What North Korea wants from dialogue with the South is not to talk about nuclear or human rights, but to have the South resume economic aid,” said Lee Yun Gol, director of the state-run North Korea Strategic Information Centre (NKSIS).

The government in Seoul remains cautious about Pyongyang’s peace initiatives. “We are seeing little hope for any rosy future in inter-Korean relationships in the near future, although we are working on how to prepare for the vision of ‘daebak‘,” said Ryu Gil Jae, South Korean reunification minister, in a Feb. 4 press conference.

North Korean observers have said that economic difficulties have been pushing the North Korean government to relax its tight state control over farm private ownership. North Korean farmers can now sell some of their products in markets nationwide, in a gradual shift towards privatised markets.

Further, according to Chinese diplomatic academic publication ‘Segye Jisik’ (세계 지식), quoted by the South Korean news agency Yonhap News, the North Korean economy has improved since its new leader took office in 2012. From a 1.08 million ton deficit in stocks to feed the 20 million North Koreans in 2011, the deficit now stands at 340,000 tons.

According to observers, this report, if true, could send the signal that if North Korea is economically better off, it may be politically willing to reduce its dependence on the nuclear card in any bargaining process with South Korea.

U.S. sanctions have been used in the attempt to force North Korea to denuclearise, thus restricting North Korea’s trade, and the U.S. government levied new sanctions against North Korea on Jan. 2 this year in response to a cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The FBI accused North Korea of the attack in apparent retaliation for the film, The Interview, a comedy about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But, while sanctions may work in troubling ordinary North Koreans concerned with meeting basic food needs, they have little impact on the North Korean government. “North Korea’s trade with China has become more prosperous and most of North Korea’s deals with foreign partners are behind-the-scene deals,” said Hong Hyun Ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Research Institute.

And, in response to the threat that it may be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC), on the basis of U.N. findings on human rights, Kim Jong Un reiterated: “Our thought and regime will never be shaken.”

South Korea may now stand as the only hope for North Korea, as the United States and the United Nations gather to turn tough against the country over the human rights issue, and South Korea may find itself faced with a ‘two-track’ diplomacy between the hard-liner United States and its sympathy for the North Korean people.

In past decades, North Korea has usually played out a game with the United States and South Korea. “In recent year, the United States has been using ‘stick diplomacy’ against the North Korea, while South Korea may want to shift to ‘carrot diplomacy’,” said Moon Sung Muk of the Korea Research Institute of Strategies (KRIS).

“The Seoul government knows that the pace of getting closer to the North should be constrained by U.N. or U.S. moves,” Moon added.

Edited by Phil Harris    


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Sri Lanka Gets Temporary Reprieve Over U.N. Report on War Crimes Charges Tue, 17 Feb 2015 03:36:31 +0000 Thalif Deen The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussein (right), opening the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council September 8, 2014. Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers;

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussein (right), opening the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council September 8, 2014. Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers;

By Thalif Deen

The 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC), responding to a request by the newly-elected government in Colombo, has deferred the release of a key U.N. report on human rights violations and war crimes charges against the Sri Lankan armed forces and Tamil separatists who fought a devastating decades-long battle which ended in 2009.

The request to the Geneva-based HRC came via the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who sought the postponement of the long-awaited report, originally due in March, until September this year.

“This has been a difficult decision,” Zeid said Monday."A delay is only justifiable if more time will lead to a stronger report and to a concrete commitment by the new Sri Lankan authorities to actively pursue accountability."

“There are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”

But he pointed out that the deferral of the report was “for one time only,” and guaranteed it would be published by September.

Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director told IPS the decision to delay, until September, the release of a key report into widespread human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka must not allow the perpetrators of horrific crimes during the country’s armed conflict to escape punishment.

“Sri Lankan victims of human rights violations deserve truth and justice,” he said.

Survivors of torture, including sexual abuse, people whose family members were killed or forcibly disappeared have waited a long time for this report.

“A delay is only justifiable if more time will lead to a stronger report and to a concrete commitment by the new Sri Lankan authorities to actively pursue accountability. This includes by cooperating with the U.N. to investigate conflict-era abuses and bring perpetrators to justice,” he added.

Bennett warned the Human Rights Council to be vigilant and “ensure that all those coming forward to give testimony are protected from any potential threats from those who do not want justice to prevail.”

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which was unseated after national elections last month, refused to cooperate with the three member U.N.Panel of Inquiry comprising Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Silvia Cartwright, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and judge of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia and Asma Jahangir, former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

But the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought the postponement of the report’s release and has offered to set up a “domestic mechanism” not only to probe war crimes charges but also stall any possibility of an international war crimes tribunal.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the High Commissioner told IPS Zeid had also spoken by telephone with Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who is expected to attend the next regular session of the Human Rights Council which begins March 2.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS he was pleased with Zeid’s statement.

“It’s very clear this approach will take away any chance the new government can say they haven’t had enough time to start a serious justice effort. By September we will all be able to judge the sufficiency of their efforts,” he added.

In a statement released Monday, Zeid said he has received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate “on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”

He also pointed out that the “three distinguished experts who were appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues.”

“Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report,” Zeid said.

“I am acutely aware that many victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including those who have bravely come forward to provide information to the inquiry team, might see this is as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see.”

“I fully understand those fears and deep anxieties, given the history of failed or obstructed domestic human rights inquiries in Sri Lanka, and the importance of this international investigation being carried out by my team at the UN Human Rights Office.”

He said there should be no misunderstanding because “I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment the report will be published by September.”

Like his predecessors, he said, he believes that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims.

“I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected,” he declared.

The U.N. inquiry was the result of a resolution adopted by the HRC back in March last year which requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka”

The HRC requested Zeid’s office “to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations, and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability,” with assistance from relevant experts.

The resolution requested the Office to present a comprehensive report at its 28th session in March 2015.

The author can be contacted at

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Analysis: Mass Rapes and the Future of U.N. Darfur Mission Mon, 16 Feb 2015 23:29:03 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands A woman from Kassab camp for Internal Displaced Persons, in Kutum (North Darfur), shows her sorrow for the increase of rapes in the area in 2012. Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

A woman from Kassab camp for Internal Displaced Persons, in Kutum (North Darfur), shows her sorrow for the increase of rapes in the area in 2012. Credit: Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

By Lyndal Rowlands

The future of the U.N. African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) could depend largely on determining what exactly happened in the town of Tabit in Northern Darfur at the end of October last year.

‘Mass Rape in Darfur’, a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) last week, documents over 200 alleged cases of rape of girls and women that occurred in Tabit over a 36-hour period from 30 October to 1 November last year.

UNAMID conducted its own investigation in Tabit last year, releasing a press statement on 10 November that stated that they “neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question.”

However, the United Nations Secretary General’s Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, stated on 17 November that, “The heavy presence of military and police in Tabit made a conclusive investigation difficult,” calling for UNAMID to be granted “unfettered” access to conduct a “full investigation.”

At the time the HRW report was released, UNAMID was still yet to be granted that access. UNAMID’s statement from 10 November remained on their website, without retraction or clarification.

IPS contacted UNAMID about the Tabit reports and was directed to the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping which did not respond to IPS’ inquiries.

Satellite Image of the town of Tabit, Sudan. Credit: Human Rights Watch.

Satellite Image of the town of Tabit, Sudan. Credit: Human Rights Watch.

The contradiction between the Secretary General’s Spokesperson’s statement about UNAMID’s investigation and UNAMID’s own press release, fits within a pattern of reporting described, and documented in April 2014 by UNAMID’s former spokesperson turned whistleblower, Aicha Elbasri.

IPS spoke with Elbasri about her allegations and the implications of incomplete or inaccurate reporting of the situation in Darfur for UNAMID.

“The Tabit story which is extremely tragic confirmed what I’ve been denouncing for the past two years,” Elbasri told IPS.

Elbasri describes the investigations into her allegations, of incomplete and inaccurate reporting by UNAMID over the period of 2013 to April 2014,  as a ‘cover-up of a cover-up’.

“When Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), requested an independent thorough and public investigation into my charges I expected that Ban Ki-moon would respect this call, which he did not.” Elbasri told IPS.

Disagreement over conflicting reports of what happened in Tabit is also evident between the permanent members of the Security Council.

The United States Permanent Representative to the U.N. Samantha Power said on Thursday: “Because the Government of Sudan denied the UN a “proper investigation”, we have to rely on organizations such as Human Rights Watch to gather witness and perpetrator testimony and to shine a light on what happened.”

However, Russia has endorsed the Sudanese government’s own finding that there was not a single case of rape, calling on the US government to end economic sanctions against Sudan, which Russia claims are contributing to ongoing violence.

In December last year Fatou Bensouda the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court told the Security Council, “Given this Council’s lack of foresight on what should happen in Darfur, I am left with no choice but to hibernate investigative activities in Darfur.”

The ICC has had an arrest warrant out on Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir since March 2009, for his role as indirect co-perpetrator in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, even this arrest warrant reveals political divide between international governments, with some in Africa claiming that the ICC is unfairly targeting Africa.

Exit Would Leave Darfur’s Villages Unprotected

With UNAMID’s authorisation set to expire on 30 June 2015, there are concerns that plans to downsize or withdraw the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, will leave civilians unprotected amid ongoing violence.

“As we speak there are talks about the exit strategy. The Sudanese government is pressuring, with the support of the Russians and Chinese to just end this mission so that they have no witnesses on the ground and the can just finish off their crimes against humanity,” Elbasri told IPS.

“The United Nations is at a crossroads. It has to decide it means what it says. Whether it is still committed to protecting the millions of people in Darfur. Or whether it will just declare its failure and abandon the people of Darfur,” Elbasri said.

The HRW report also questioned the U.N. and A.U.’s downsizing of UNAMID.

“Officials have indicated that this process has been driven by several factors including Sudan’s hostility to the mission, the mission’s high cost, its long standing ineffectiveness with respect to its core mandate, and the perception that the conflict in Darfur is subsiding and no longer requires a robust peacekeeping force.

“The withdrawal of peacekeepers could undermine what little protection the mission has afforded the people of Darfur,” HRW stated.

HRW said that the U.N. and A.U.’s evaluation of UNAMID “should focus on how to urgently improve and bolster the ability of UNAMID to protect people from the kinds of horrific abuses that occurred in Tabit, and effectively investigate human rights abuses without endangering victims and witnesses.”

Professor Eric Reeves, a Sudan researcher and analyst, is also concerned for the future of UNAMID after its authorisation expires at the end of June.

“What will happen is it will not be renewed or it will be renewed in ways that will make it meaningless,” he said. “It’s really meaningless now. But this will go to unheard-of depths with any renewal that Khartoum will permit, otherwise they will simply demand that UNAMID withdraw.”

“We are approaching a moment of truth,” said Reeves.

Reeves told IPS that one of the reasons the UNAMID mission has failed is because it is a hybrid.

“It’s the countries of Africa that continue to celebrate UNAMID as a great success that are responsible here, and none of them is taking responsibility. And short of a non-consensual deployment of a civilian protection force, we will see on July 1st an eviscerated UNAMID or no UNAMID at all,” said Reeves.

“I believe that given the escalating level of violence, we are going to see a major major increase in civilian destruction and displacement. This has been ongoing for three years now, at least.”

Reports of Violence Continue

Hamza Ibrahim, Chairperson of Foreign Committee of the Darfur People’s Association of New York told IPS that violence in North Darfur has continued, including in areas where people have signed peace agreements with the government.

The government forces are occupying or burning down all of the water sources, people who usually access underground water by pump, now have no access to water and are dying of thirst, Ibrahim told IPS.

He said that when people called for help from UNAMID, that UNAMID said that they couldn’t help because they were in a ‘no go’ area.

“UNAMID have to go there to protect the people, that’s the reason they are there. But for us it looks like the mission is failing, because they can’t even protect themselves.” Ibrahim told IPS.

Follow Lyndal Rowlands on Twitter: @lyndalrowlands

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Maimed by Conflict, Forgotten by Peace: Life Through the Eyes of the War-Disabled Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:22:08 +0000 Amantha Perera A woman on crutches walks past a row of shops in northern Sri Lanka, where over 110,000 people disabled by war struggle along with very little official assistance. Credit: Amantha Perera

A woman on crutches walks past a row of shops in northern Sri Lanka, where over 110,000 people disabled by war struggle along with very little official assistance. Credit: Amantha Perera

By Amantha Perera
MANNAR, Sri Lanka, Feb 16 2015 (IPS)

It is a hot, steamy day in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District. Mid-day temperatures are reaching 34 degrees Celsius, and the tarred road is practically melting under the sun.

Sarojini Tangarasa is finding it hard to walk on her one bare foot. Her hands constantly shake and she has to balance on a crutch. “I am just trying to get to my daughter’s house,” she says.

Her destination is just two km away, but it feels like a lifetime to Tangarasa, who cannot afford any form of transport, or even shoes.

“It has been hard and it will be the same till I die." -- Sarojini Tangarasa, a war-disabled resident of Sri Lanka's Northern Province
The last 25 years of this 58-year-old grandmother’s life have been ones of daily struggle. A resident of Sri Lanka’s war-ravaged Northern Province, Tangarasa’s left leg was amputated in 2001 after she was injured in a skirmish.

Worse was to follow in 2008 when she, her husband and her four children fled the fighting that erupted in the Mannar District between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a guerilla army fighting to carve out a separate state in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

The family would be on the run for almost a year and a half, before spending an equal length of time in a centre for the displaced after the 26-year-long civil war finally ended in May 2009.

Tangarasa was injured in a shell attack in 2008. The head injuries have left her with trembling hands and a slur when she speaks. “It has been hard and it will be the same till I die,” Tangarasa contends, as she slowly recommences her journey, the sun beating mercilessly down on her.

Thousands of miles away, the story of 33-year-old Chandra Bahadur Pun Magar, a former Maoist fighter from the Dang District in southwest Nepal, follows a similar trajectory.

This father of three, including a two-and-a-half-year-old baby girl, lost a leg in a landmine blast in 2002 when he was just 20, four years before the end of the country’s two-decade-long civil war between government armed forces and Maoist guerillas.

Now his biggest worries are how he will replace his miserable prosthetic leg, nearly a decade old, and provide for his family.

He chose a life as a dairy farmer after the war and now struggles every day. “I need to walk a lot and it is tearing my artificial leg apart. I heard a new leg costs 40,000 [Nepali] rupees (about 400 dollars).

“I don’t have the money, but my limb hurts during summer and winter, morning and night. Both cold and hot weather are bad for my injured leg,” he tells IPS.

Nepal’s Peace and Reconstruction Ministry estimates that there are 4,305 war disabled in the country, but some experts suspect that the figure could be closer to 6,000. Even at the highest estimate, the number seems manageable compared to Sri Lanka’s post-war burden.

The Sri Lanka Foundation for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled estimates that over 110,000 were left disabled by three decades of civil conflict. The bulk of the war-disabled lives in the northern and eastern provinces, which bore the brunt of nearly 30 years of fighting.

In both countries, generations of war have piled hundreds of problems on top of one another; in both places, the war-disabled have been relegated to the bottom of the pile.

For those like Magar peace has not brought much respite.

Soon after his debilitating injury, the young man received treatment in India, funded by his party, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Afterwards, he lived in a commune where support for the Maoists was strong.

Soon after the signing of the 2006 Peace Accords, which marked the PLA’s transition to mainstream politics, Magar received a prosthetic leg from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the option of a retirement package of between 500,000 and 800,000 Nepali rupees (5,000 to 8,000 dollars).

He chose to buy a plot of land and attempt to make a living as a farmer, but this was easier said than done.

He gets an allowance of about 6,000 rupees (roughly 60 dollars) each month, and supplements it by selling dairy products, but the joint income is scarcely enough to put food on the table.

“It is not enough to support my family; everything is expensive these days and I am the only breadwinner. It would have been different if I had been an able-bodied person,” he laments.

He also accuses his former party of neglecting those like him who have been injured. Indeed, the disabled here are disproportionately represented within the 30-40 percent of Nepal’s population living in poverty.

The same refrain of neglect and misery can be heard all across northern Sri Lanka. The tale of Rasalingam Sivakumar, a 33-year-old former fighter with the separatist LTTE, is almost identical to that of Magar.

Sivakumar was injured in the eye in January 2009, as the war drew near to its bloody climax, and is partially blind now. He cycles miles everyday to sell poultry produce in his native town of Puthukkudiyiruppu in the northern Mullaithivu District.

The father of two kids aged one and seven years old, Sivakumar did receive some assistance – amounting to about 50,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (roughly 450 dollars) – through a programme run by the ICRC, which also served some 350 other disabled persons across Sri Lanka last year.

The sum is barely enough for a family of four to survive on for two months in Sri Lanka. Since then, he says, it has been a constant struggle to make ends meet.

Records maintained by local government bodies in the north indicated that unemployment among the disabled was as high as 16 percent in 2014, four times the national figure of four percent. Activists suggest that the real figure is much higher, since only those persons who went through official rehabilitation programmes were surveyed.

Vellayan Subramaniyam, president of the Organisation for Rehabilitation of the Handicapped in Sri Lanka’s northern Vavuniya District, who has also toured Nepal, says that neglect of the disabled is a combination of a lack of policies, and discriminatory social attitudes.

“We live in cultures that treat the disabled as not differently-abled, but as a burden. And post-conflict policy makers work in that conundrum. The disabled are relegated to the sidelines until someone from [that same community] reaches a decision-making position,” the activist contends.

Until government policies take into account the disabled, arguably among the most marginalised members of society, those like Sarojini Tangarasa will continue to plod along a lonely road without much hope for a better future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israel’s Obsession for Monopoly on Middle East Nuclear Power Fri, 13 Feb 2015 20:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) jointly addresses journalists with Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, in Jerusalem, on Oct. 13, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

As the Iranian nuclear talks hurtle towards a Mar. 24 deadline, there is renewed debate among activists about the blatant Western double standards underlying the politically-heated issue, and more importantly, the resurrection of a longstanding proposal for a Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Asked about the Israeli obsession to prevent neighbours – first and foremost Iran, but also Saudi Arabia and Egypt – from going nuclear, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS, “This is primarily the work of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has built his political career on fanning the flames of fear, and saying that Israel has to stand pat, with a strong leader [him] to withstand the challenges.”"If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons - except for Israel." -- Bob Rigg

And this is the primary motivation for his upcoming and very controversial partisan speech before the U.S. Congress on the eve of the Israeli elections, which has aroused a tremendous amount of opposition in Israel, in the American Jewish community and in the U.S. in general, he pointed out.

Iran, which has consistently denied any plans to acquire nuclear weapons, will continue its final round of talks involving Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (collectively known as P-5, plus one).

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani asked the United States and Israel, both armed with nuclear weapons, a rhetorical question tinged with sarcasm: “Have you managed to bring about security for yourselves with your atomic bombs?”

The New York Times quoted the Washington-based Arms Control Association as saying Israel is believed to have 100 to 200 nuclear warheads.

The Israelis, as a longstanding policy, have neither confirmed nor denied the nuclear arsenal. But both the United States and Israel have been dragging their feet over the proposal for a nuclear-free Middle East.

Bob Rigg, a former senior editor with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), told IPS the U.S. government conveniently ignores its own successive National Intelligence Estimates, which represent the consensus views of all 13 or so U.S. intelligence agencies, that there has been no evidence, in the period since 2004, of any Iranian intention to acquire nuclear weapons.

“If Israel is the only nuclear possessor in the Middle East, this combined with the U.S nuclear and conventional capability, gives the U.S. and Israel an enormously powerful strategic lever in the region,” Rigg said.

He said this is even more realistic, especially now that Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) have been destroyed. They were the only real threat to Israel in the region.

“This dimension of the destruction of Syria’s CW has gone strangely unnoticed. Syria had Russian-made missiles that could have targeted population centres right throughout Israel,” said Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand Consultative Committee on Disarmament.

A question being asked by military analysts is: why is Israel, armed with both nuclear weapons and also some of the most sophisticated conventional arms from the United States, fearful of any neighbour with WMDs?

Will a possibly nuclear-armed Iran, or for that matter Saudi Arabia or Egypt, risk using nuclear weapons against Israel since it would also exterminate the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories? ask nuclear activists.

Schenker told IPS: “I believe that if Iran were to opt for nuclear weapons, the primary motivation would be to defend the regime, not to attack Israel. Still, it is preferable that they not gain nuclear weapons.”

Of course, he said, the fundamental solution to this danger would be the creation of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East.

That will require a two-track parallel process: One track moving towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the other track moving towards the creation of a regional regime of peace and security, with the aid of the Arab Peace Initiative (API), within which a WMD Free Zone would be a major component, said Schenker, a strong advocate of nuclear disarmament.

As for the international conference on a nuclear and WMD free zone before the next NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) Review Conference, scheduled to begin at the end of April in New York, he said, the proposal is still alive.

In mid-March, the Academic Peace Orchestra Middle East initiative will convene a conference in Berlin, whose theme is “Fulfilling the Mandate of the Helsinki Conference in View of the 2015 NPT Review Conference”.

It will include a session on the topic featuring Finnish Ambassador Jaakko Laajava, the facilitator of the conference, together with governmental representatives from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Germany.

There will also be an Iranian participant at the conference, said Schenker.

Rigg told IPS Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben Gurion wanted nuclear weapons from the outset. Israel was approved by the new United Nations, which then had only 55 or so members. Most of the developing world was still recovering from World War II and many new states had yet to emerge.

He said the United States and the Western powers played the key role in setting up the U.N.

“They wanted an Israel, even though Israeli terrorists murdered Count Folke Berdadotte of Sweden, the U.N. representative who was suspected of being favourable to the Palestinians,” Rigg said.

The Palestinians were consulted, and said no, but were ignored, he said. Only two Arab states were then U.N. members. They were also ignored. Most of today’s Muslim states either did not exist or were also ignored.

“When the U.N. approved Israel, Arab states attacked, but were beaten off. They did not want an Israel to be transplanted into their midst. They still don’t. Nothing has changed. ”

Given the unrelenting hostility of the Arab states to the Western creation of Israel, he said, Israel developed nuclear weapons to give itself a greater sense of security.

“If Israel lost its regional monopoly on nuclear weapons, it would be vulnerable. So the U.S. goes all out to block nuclear weapons – except for Israel,” he added.

Not even Israel argues that Iran has nuclear weapons now.

“A NW free zone in the Middle East is simply a joke. If Israel joined the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it would have to declare and destroy its nuclear arsenal.”

The U.S. finds excuses to avoid prodding Israel into joining the NPT. The U.S. is effectively for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, but successive U.S. presidents have refused to publicly say that Israel has nuclear weapons, he added.

Because of all this, a NWF zone in the ME is not a real possibility, even if U.S. President Barack Obama and Netanyahu are at each other’s throats, said Rigg.

Schenker said Netanyahu’s comments come at a time when the 22-member League of Arab States, backed by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have, since 2002, presented Israel an Arab Peace Initiative (API).

The API offers peace and normal relations in exchange for the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem.

This doesn’t mean that the danger of nuclear proliferation isn’t a problem in the Middle East, said Schenker.

“As long as Israel has retained a monopoly on nuclear weapons, and promised to use them only as a last resort, everyone seemed to live with the situation. ”

The challenge of a potential Iranian nuclear weapons programme would break that status quo, and create the danger of a regional nuclear arms race, he noted. Unfortunately, the global community is very occupied with the challenge of other crises right now, such as Ukraine and the Islamic State.

“So it is to be hoped the necessary political attention will also be focused on the challenges connected to the upcoming NPT Review conference, and the need to make progress on the Middle Eastern WMD Free Zone track as well,” he declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Nepali Children in Dire Need of Mental Health Services Fri, 13 Feb 2015 11:23:46 +0000 Mallika Aryal Kids work side by side at a temporary school for those displaced by floods in eastern Nepal. Many children experience trauma, fear or other psychological impacts of natural disasters, but few receive the necessary treatment. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

Kids work side by side at a temporary school for those displaced by floods in eastern Nepal. Many children experience trauma, fear or other psychological impacts of natural disasters, but few receive the necessary treatment. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Mallika Aryal
SURKHET, Nepal, Feb 13 2015 (IPS)

On the night of Aug. 14, 2014, 10-year-old Hari Karki woke up to his grandfather’s loud yelling in the family’s home in Paagma, a small village in east Nepal.

He was warning Hari’s family to move out of the house immediately because they were getting flooded. It had been raining non-stop for a couple of days. Hari could hear the water gushing. He grabbed his sister’s and grandfather’s hands, waded through knee-deep water in his living room, and ran as fast as he could.

“Advocating for mental health itself is such a big challenge in Nepal. We are not even close to getting specialised services such as mental health programmes that focus entirely on children." -- Shristee Lamichhane, mental health advisor with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN)
On the other side of the village, on much higher ground, is a primary school. They took shelter there for the night as heavy rains devastated the village, washed away Hari’s school and his neighbours, and inundated his house.

“Life changed forever for us that night,” says Hari’s father, Dhan Bahadur Karki. The floods and landslides that took place in Surkhet district in mid August last year affected more than 24,000 people, according to the District Disaster Relief Committee, a Nepal government-led coalition of international aid organisations and local NGOs.

The disaster displaced 12,000 people and killed 24; 90 still remain missing. More than 40 percent of those affected were children. For them, experts say, the horror of surviving such a disaster does not simply fade away; often, it lingers for a lifetime.

“Children lose their homes, school, friends and family members,” says Manoj Bist, a child protection officer with Save the Children, Nepal, which has been working in the flood affected areas of mid-west Nepal. “When their support system is lost, children become vulnerable to violence, disease and abuse.”

Five months since the disaster, those displaced by floods are still living in tents. Karki’s family has pitched their tent across the river from where their home used to be. “I see what used to be my house from my tent everyday, but I can’t get myself to go back there and try to rebuild,” says Dhan Bahadur Karki.

Along with their belongings, the flood washed away the little saving they had in the house. So money is tight for the Karki family and Dhan Bahadur is planning to leave for Malaysia to work in a mobile phone factory as soon as he gets a visa.

Even as Dhan Bahadur plans his departure, he is most worried about his two children and the state of their mental health.

Hari complains about not being able to concentrate at school. A good student before the floods, his grades have slipped. “I can’t fall asleep at night and when I do, I have nightmares,” says Hari as he comes out of his temporary classroom in a bamboo trailer. Last month, Hari could not be found on his bed at night. When his relatives went looking for him, they found him near the woods, sleepwalking.

“The kind of psychological stress a child goes through after a natural disaster is profound, and has to be dealt with early on in life so it doesn’t have a long-term consequence ” Saroj Prasad Ojha, associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH) in Kathmandu, tells IPS.

In Nepal, there is a near-total absence of official data on the number of children in need of mental health care, from young victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, to children affected by natural disasters, to kids suffering from conflict-related stress and trauma.

Still, health professionals and social activists here say it is a major issue that calls for swift government action.

Stigma scuppers progress on mental health

The World Health Organisation estimates that 450 million people worldwide have a mental disorder, and mental illnesses account for 13 percent of the global disease burden.

There are no official numbers for the 28 million in Nepal, but the Christian charity United Mission to Nepal (UMN) that works on mental health issues estimates that approximately 20-25 percent of all out-patients attending primary health care services show some kind mental or behavioral disorder often presented with multiple physical complaints.

“The problem lies in the fact that mental illness is not seen as a health issue,” says Sailu Rajbhandari, clinical psychologist with Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation (TPO)-Nepal.

Nepal spends less than two percent of its 334-million-dollar health budget on mental health services. The 50-bed, Kathmandu-based Mental Hospital is the only one in the country that exclusively provides mental health and psychiatric services. There are 70 psychiatrists in Nepal, one for every 380,000 people, and only one child psychiatrist.

Other mental health-care providers such as clinical psychologists, social workers and nurses are even more scarce.

“Advocating for mental health itself is such a big challenge in Nepal. We are not even close to getting specialised services such as mental health programmes that focus entirely on children,” says Shristee Lamichhane, mental health advisor with UMN.

Arun Raj Kunwar, Nepal’s only child psychiatrist, faces this challenge every day at work.

“Our society and health system cannot even grasp the concept that children can have mental health issues,” says Kunwar. He says children’s trauma may be disguised and could manifest in the form of physical ailments because children cannot clearly express grief or fear.

Kunwar says that children need extra attention and trained specialists to deal with mental trauma.

A crucial link in the developmental chain

Experts say that mental health should be prioritised along with the other developmental goals of the country.

“It is surprising that children’s mental health is often left out from our development plans, considering children are the future, the next productive generation of the country,” explains Ojha of the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.

Ojha says there’s a need to properly train professionals so that they know how to deal with various types of mental health issues. “Counseling children who have gone through the trauma of natural disasters is different from those who have gone through the trauma of war – we need specialised focus.”

Official data on the number of children affected by Nepal’s decade-long ‘People’s War’ that ended in 2006 is missing. However, a 2008 National Human Rights Commission report states the war orphaned over 8,000 children and displaced over 40,000 children.

Few, if any, of them are receiving necessary mental health services.

There is also an urgent need to prioritise mental health at the local level. Lamichane of UMN recommends stationing trained mental health professionals at the 30 public hospitals across Nepal.

“But mental health has to be integrated at the primary health care level because that is where patients first come with their problems,” says Lamichhane.

Nepal is a party to the United Nation’s global commitment to prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. In 2014, the country formulated the Multi Sectoral Action Plan for Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases 2014-2020, which positioned mental health as one of the country’s priority areas.

Psychiatrists and mental health professionals are hopeful that this move will encourage the government to pay attention.

“It may be slow, but mental health issues are getting a little more attention than they were a few years ago,” says Lamichhane “This is the time to make a case for children, really hammer the issue home so that the issue of children’s mental health is not forgotten,” adds Lamichhane.

In Paagma village, local psychosocial counselor Santoshi Singh has begun working with Hari and his sister. “Depending on what his case is like, there are a few things I can do to help Hari as a counselor,” says Singh, “But if the case is severe, I am really unsure where I can send him so he can get the kind of help that he needs.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Drastic Decline” Seen in World Press Freedom Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:44:26 +0000 Leila Lemghalef Source: Reporters Without Borders

Source: Reporters Without Borders

By Leila Lemghalef

A leading advocacy group warns of a “worldwide deterioration in freedom of information” last year.

Out of the 180 countries being surveyed, two-thirds have slipped in standards compared to last year, according to the Reporters Without Borders’  World Press Freedom Index 2015. The best have become less near-perfect, and the worst have gotten even worse.“We live in a world where there is much more data available. But how we can trust that data, the source of that data, and how we might understand that data, is subject to all kinds of forces." -- Charlie Beckett

Finland and Eritrea remain at first and last place, respectively. Norway and Denmark are in 2nd and 3rd place, while Turkmenistan and North Korea are second runner-up and runner-up to Eritrea, respectively.

In an interview with IPS, the U.S. Director of Reporters Without Borders, Delphine Halgand, brought up several cases, including China “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”, and Azerbaijan, which has “managed to eliminate almost all traces of pluralism”.

Since 2002, Reporters Without Borders has been publishing the Index to measure the degree of press freedom. The Index is not a measure of the quality of media.

“It’s a way for anybody to be aware of how press freedom, journalists, are attacked, in many countries. Sometimes they don’t have any idea. Like, ‘we love to go to Turkey, we love to go to Vietnam, but we don’t have the idea that there’re so many news providers that are targeted in these beautiful countries.’ So it’s a way to highlight this very important issue,” said Halgand.

She said that this year, for the first time, a lot of the data has been made public in order to improve the transparency and methodology used in the Index, which uses qualitative and quantitative criteria.

The 2015 Index trends are grouped into seven causes:

Measuring up

Press freedom and how to measure it is a very complex question today, said Halgand.

“Press freedom in Sudan isn’t the same thing as press freedom in Italy. So that’s why we try to work around these seven criteria of pluralism, media independence, self-censorship, legislative frameworks, transparency, infrastructure, abuses.

“It’s a complex issue definitely and that’s why we need to use many criteria to try to be as precise as possible. But even if we try to put this complicated issue into criteria, of course the situation is always unique in each country,” she told IPS.

Charlie Beckett is professor at the London School of Economics (LSE) in the department of media and communications, and is also the director of Polis, which is the LSE’s journalism think tank.

“Whilst at some levels it’s very complicated,” he told IPS, “at some levels it’s very simple.

“If you look at journalists that have been put in jail, if you look at journalists who have been hurt physically, then it’s quite crude but that’s quite a good measure of basic journalistic freedom. And I know personally, I’ll start to worry about the more subtle things, such as disinformation, I’ll worry about them, but my life isn’t being threatened if I’m a journalist.

“So first give me my basic freedoms and you know, then we can talk about the more sophisticated problems.”

The more sophisticated problems include surges in data.

“I think it’s increasingly difficult to measure media freedom because increasingly media has become so complex,” Beckett told IPS.

“We live in a world where there is much more data available. But how we can trust that data, the source of that data, and how we might understand that data, is subject to all kinds of forces.

He explained that it is no longer straightforwardly about censorship, or laws, or even about the physical manifestation of violence against journalists.

There’s also the “chilling climate” wherein if one journalist gets killed, the other 99 are much more likely to do as they’re told, he said.

“Even where the press is publishing something, you don’t know under what circumstances. Are they being intimidated, are they being bribed, are they being pressurized?”

Another point is that “there’s no point in having free journalists if people aren’t free to share the information, for example, themselves”, as Beckett said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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