Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:25:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Searching for Evidence of a Nuclear Testhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/searching-for-evidence-of-a-nuclear-test/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 21:25:13 +0000 CTBTO http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138374 CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

CTBTO Head Lassina Zerbo overseeing the equipment in use during IFE14. Photo Courtesy of CTBTO

By CTBTO
VIENNA, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

The most sophisticated on-site inspection exercise conducted to date by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) formally concluded this month.

The Integrated Field Exercise IFE14 in Jordan from Nov. 3 to Dec. 9 involved four years of preparation, 150 tonnes of specialised equipment and over 200 international experts.“IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.” -- IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod

According to CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo, “Through this exercise, we have shown the world that it is absolutely hopeless to try to hide a nuclear explosion from us. We have now mastered all components of the verification regime, and brought our on-site inspection capabilities to the same high level as the other two components, the 90 percent complete network of monitoring stations and the International Data Centre.”

During the five-week long simulation exercise, the inspection team searched an area of nearly 1,000 square kilometres using 15 of the 17 techniques permissible under the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Some of these state-of-the-art techniques were used for the first time in an on-site inspection context, including equipment to detect traces of relevant radioactive noble gases on and beneath the ground as well as from the air. Other techniques scanned the ground in frequencies invisible to the human eye.

Key pieces of equipment were provided by CTBTO member states as voluntary and in-kind contributions.

Throughout the inspection, the team narrowed down the regions of interest to one limited area where relevant features including traces of relevant radionuclides were successfully found.

Inspection team leader Gregor Malich said, “We started off with the 1,000 square kilometres specified in the inspection request, using all available information provided. We also used satellite imagery and archive information for planning the initial inspection activities.

“Once in the field, the team conducted overflights, put out a seismic network and undertook wide area ground-based visual observation as well as radiation measurements. This helped us narrow down the areas of interest to more than 20 polygons which we then inspected in more detail.

“In the end, we detected radionuclides relevant for the on-site inspection and indicative of a nuclear explosion. At this location, the team also applied geophysical methods to find signatures (tell-tale signs) consistent with a recent underground nuclear explosion.”

The exercise also tested the CTBTO’s elaborate logistics system, which features specially developed airfreight-compatible containers that allow for field equipment, sensors or generators to be used straight from the containers. Thanks to a strict safety and security regime, not a single health or security incident occurred throughout the exercise.

IFE14 Exercise Manager Gordon MacLeod explained the need to test the on-site inspection regime in a comprehensive way: “Think of a car: all of the parts can be designed and built separately (engine, wheels, brakes, gearbox etc.) but if they are not put together and tested in an integrated manner, there is no guarantee that the car will function correctly and safely.

“For an On-Site Inspection, an additional layer of complexity derives from the human interaction and interpretations of the Treaty, Protocol, and Operations Manual as well as the perceptions, interpretations and actions of the individual inspectors.”

Praise for the host country

CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo thanked host country Jordan for its outstanding hospitality and support.

He said: “Jordan was chosen by CTBTO member states for its generosity in supporting the exercise and because of the special geological features of the Dead Sea region. By hosting IFE14, Jordan is reconfirming its role as an anchor of peace and stability in the region.

“I am inspired by the fact that His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan has generously placed the exercise under his royal patronage and grateful for the outstanding cooperation and hospitality from all branches of the Jordanian government.”

Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “a threat of nightmarish proportions for regional and global security” and stressed Jordan’s active support for the CTBT and its organisation by hosting IFE14.

“It fills me with pride that the other 182 CTBTO member states chose Jordan to host IFE14 in a competitive process. The Dead Sea provided the perfect topography and geology for a realistic and challenging on-site inspection simulation.”

Over the coming year, the CTBTO and its member states will analyse the lessons learnt from IFE14 and identify possible gaps.

In a preliminary assessment, the head of the evaluation team, John Walker said: “It is very clear that on its own terms, the exercise has been successful, and has also clearly shown improvements on IFE08 [the previous Integrated Field Exercise held in Kazakhstan in 2008] as well as the three build up exercises that we’ve run over the two preceding years before we ran this one.”

MacLeod added: “IFE08 was only a test drive around the block – now we’ve been on the Autobahn.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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School Dropout Rate Soars for Afghan Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/school-dropout-rate-soars-for-afghan-refugees/#comments Mon, 22 Dec 2014 14:10:54 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138370 Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Thousands of children attend free schools in Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade - after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can't afford to pay for private school. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec 22 2014 (IPS)

“Our children quitting school is the greatest pain we have suffered during our troublesome lives here,” says Multan Shah, a vegetable-seller in a shantytown of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

Once a resident of the capital Kabul, war drove Shah to relocate to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 1985, where he settled in the Jallozai refugee camp. He lived hand-to-mouth but was able to send his two sons and daughter to a free school run by a foreign-funded NGO."My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning." -- Noorullah Ahmedzai

Thousands of children have benefitted from such schools in some Afghan refugee camps, but only up to sixth grade – after that, the vast majority of students quit their studies because their families can’t afford to pay for private school.

“My two sons graduated from sixth grade this March but we couldn’t enroll them in the next grade because we don’t have money to pay the fee,” Shah says.

Gaffer Ahmed, principal of the Mirwais Public School in Peshawar, says they used to get assistance from local NGOs and individuals for free education of students up to tenth grade, but that ended in 2010.

“Many students aren’t able to continue their education as they can’t bear the cost now,” he confirms.

Ahmed says his school had provided free education to a few gifted students, but that most Afghan refugees in Pakistan faced harsh economic conditions and a majority of parents couldn’t pay the expenses. He himself is unable to afford it.

“Private schools charge about 10 dollars per month. I earn 60, which is too little to pay for my children’s tuition,” he laments.

Mastoora Stanikzai, director of the Abu Ali Senna Afghan Teachers’ Training Institute in Peshawar, is worried about the growing number of dropouts.

“Only 7,000 students reached grade 12, out of 230,000 students admitted every year to Afghan schools in Pakistan,” she says, fearing what the future holds for these children.

Private schools number about 270, while the free primary-level schools run by NGOs number about 100, she says.

Stanikzai says some schools also offer two-year diploma courses in midwifery and business administration to refugee students in collaboration with the Afghanistan government.

Her institute has trained 1,350 teachers, half of them women. About 125 teach at the Afghan schools.

Pakistan has 1.9 million legally registered Afghan refugees and an equal number who are unregistered, according to U.N. figures. The free schools require refugees to show a Proof of Registration card to enroll their children.

“Non-availability of funding has affected the female students the most,” says Stanikzai, who also heads the Refugee Women’s Organisation. “People wanting to admit their daughters to school are finding it hard in view of the cost.

“As a result, we see young girls and boys wandering the streets, collecting garbage,” she says.

Farkhanda Maiwandi, 11, tells IPS that she used to go to a school in the Khazana refugee camp in Peshawar, where she passed grade six.

“After that I sat home because my father, a daily labourer, cannot spare the money to enroll me at a private school. It is painful to be out of school but we don’t have a choice,” she says.

Maiwandi says that she knows at least 10 girls who quit school. “Only a few girls managed to get admitted to grade seven because their parents could afford it,” she says.

Noorullah Ahmedzai, an Afghan refugee in the Haripure district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is extremely upset over the lack of education for his two children.

“My one son and one daughter studied at a refugees’ school in a camp. Last year, they completed grade six and were told that they wouldn’t be given further education because they have to get admitted to a private school,” he says.

“We have enrolled my son at school but my daughter is staying home because I don’t have money to pay the fees for both,” he says.

“My daughter weeps when her brother goes to school every morning. She now takes lessons at home from her brother. I have a dream to see my children educated,” he says.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Reinstatement of Pakistan’s Death Penalty a Cynical Reaction, Says Amnestyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/reinstatement-of-pakistans-death-penalty-a-cynical-reaction-says-amnesty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reinstatement-of-pakistans-death-penalty-a-cynical-reaction-says-amnesty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/reinstatement-of-pakistans-death-penalty-a-cynical-reaction-says-amnesty/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:34:24 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138364 Funeral ceremony being held for victims of the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral ceremony being held for victims of the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Dec 21 2014 (IPS)

As Pakistan lifts its moratorium on executions in response to this week’s attack on a school in  Peshawar, human rights groups say that resuming the death penalty will not combat terrorism in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced that Pakistan had reinstated the death penalty the day after an attack on the Army Public School and College here that killed 150 people – mostly children – on Dec. 16.

A resolution unanimously adopted by an All Parties Conference in Peshawar on Dec. 17 said that with Pakistan facing increasing terrorism, it cannot afford to show any mercy to those involved in acts of militancy and killing of innocent people.“This [reinstatement of the death penalty] is a cynical reaction from the government. It masks a failure to deal with the core issue highlighted by the Peshawar attack, namely the lack of effective protection for civilians in north-west Pakistan“ – David Griffiths, Amnesty International

“I announce the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty today … The nation is fully behind us,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told the conference categorically.

Since then, four people have been hanged in Punjab province for their involvement in attacks on former President General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 and the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in October 2009, but Amnesty International says that the resumption of executions after they were stopped in 2008 will not break the vicious cycle of terrorism.

“This is a cynical reaction from the government. It masks a failure to deal with the core issue highlighted by the Peshawar attack, namely the lack of effective protection for civilians in north-west Pakistan,“ Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Asia-Pacific David Griffiths said in a statement.

The death penalty violates the right to life and we are deeply concerned at the multiple violations of international law the authorities are about to commit by going ahead with their execution plan, he added.

Amnesty International also says that many death sentences are handed down in Pakistan after trials that do not meet international fair trial standards.

The government, which is under tremendous pressure to deal with terrorism, claims that it had no choice but to reinstate executions, and religious groups and political parties have welcomed the hanging of terrorists, saying that it is fulfilment of the country’s law.

Activists of the Pakistan People’s Party light candles to pay homage to the victims of the Dec. 16 Taliban attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Activists of the Pakistan People’s Party light candles to pay homage to the victims of the Dec. 16 Taliban attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Former president Gen. Pervez Musharraf said that the hanging of two terrorists on Dec. 19 was a victory for the law. “The government has finally done justice with the terrorists,” he told IPS, adding that all Taliban militants should be given same punishment because they deserve to be brought to justice. “The hanging of terrorists has fulfilled the requirement of the law of the land,” said Musharraf.

Sunni Chief Tehreek Sarwat Ijaz Qadri welcomed the hanging of terrorists and said that ultimately law had taken its course and this would go a long way towards establishing peace in the country. “It is a first step towards peace and the people have taken a sigh of relief,” he told IPS.

Jamaat-i-Islami Secretary-General Liaquat Baloch said murderers, terrorists and enemies of humanity do not deserve any concession and the law of the land calls for the execution of their death sentence after completion of trial and other legal formalities. Implementation of the death sentence will create a sense of respect and sanctity of law in society, he added.

Mian Iftikhar Husain, leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) also welcomed the hanging of terrorists and termed it a victory of the people. “The government should hang all terrorists without a distinction of bad and good Taliban,” he said, adding that the ANP believes in non-violence and is staunchly opposed to terrorism.

Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) leader Farooq Sattar said that terrorists deserve no mercy because they are killers of humanity. “The people welcome their hanging as these terrorists are responsible for creating lawlessness,” he said, pointing out that the MQM has always been at the forefront in condemning terrorists and will support any move aimed at eliminating terrorism.

Pakistan has 8000 condemned prisoners who have been awaiting the death penalty since 2008. Seventeen of them, mostly terrorists, will be executed in the next seven days.

Three convicted terrorists from the extremist group Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) were handed down death sentences in 2004 and the executions were scheduled for Aug. 20, 21 and 22, 2013, but were deferred at the last moment.

Attaullah Khan was given the death sentence in six cases by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi on Jul. 6, 2004, while Mohammad Azam received the death sentence in four cases from the same court on Aug. 21. Another militant, Jalal Shah, was given the death sentence for related offences.

However, the executions were not carried out due to fear of the Taliban who had warned the government that there would be severe repercussions if it went ahead with execution of its men.

Meanwhile, Griffiths of Amnesty International warned that “the sheer number of people whose lives are at risk and the current atmosphere in Pakistan makes the situation even more alarming. The government must immediately halt any plans to carry out further executions and reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Seeking Closure, Bougainville Confronts Ghosts of Civil Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/seeking-closure-bougainville-confronts-ghosts-of-civil-war/#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2014 18:10:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138361 Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Scene in north Bougainville. Searching for the missing following a civil war has been identified as a priority for reconciliation and development in the region. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Australia, Dec 21 2014 (IPS)

Thirteen years after the peace agreement which ended a decade-long civil war in Bougainville, an autonomous island region of 300,000 people located east of the Papua New Guinean (PNG) mainland in the southwest Pacific Islands, trauma and grief continue to affect families and communities where the fate of the many missing remains unresolved.

The Autonomous Bougainville Government, identifying this as a barrier to progressing post-conflict reconciliation and development, introduced a policy in September to begin helping families answer questions and find closure.“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified." -- Nick Peniai

“This is very important for reconciliation,” Nick Peniai, head of the Autonomous Bougainville Government’s Department of Peace and Reconciliation, told IPS.

“Most perpetrators will not admit to being responsible [for the fate of the missing] unless assured there is reconciliation after remains have been recovered and identified” and “reconstruction will become meaningful to families after they have reunited with their loved ones.”

Patricia Tapakau, a community leader in the vicinity of the Panguna mine, agreed, saying that the new policy received her full support.

There is no accurate data about the human loss which occurred during hostilities between the PNG military and indigenous militia groups involved in a local uprising in 1989 that succeeded in shutting down the Panguna copper mine, formerly operated by the Australian company, Bougainville Copper Ltd.  But some estimates of the death toll run as high as 20,000.

The mine, a major revenue earner at the time for the PNG government, was at the centre of local grievances about loss of customary land, environmental devastation and increasing inequality. The conflict continued following a government blockade of the islands in 1990 until a permanent ceasefire in 1998.

Today many families on the islands continue to search for their missing loved ones, reports the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The endless uncertainty about their fate is keeping the memory and suffering of the war alive in communities and inhibiting people’s confidence in a better future.

“We need reconciliation from one end of the island to the other….we need to restore the relationship with the bodies that have rotted in the jungle by bringing them back to their villages and giving them dignity by doing a proper burial,” a community leader from Guava village near the mine was quoted in a report by Jubilee Australia.

But, according to Peniai, it has only recently become feasible to publicly address this sensitive issue.

“It could not have been possible to get information on missing persons soon after the brokering of peace 13 years ago due to fear for the lives of those with the information, and the same on the part of those who were responsible for the killings in the event of being exposed.  The families of missing people were also not attempting to investigate for the same reason of fear,” he explained.

Conditions are more conducive to this occurring now, Peniai believes, with people willing to freely discuss the issue and some improvements to the law enforcement sector, which is supporting public confidence.

The United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance supports international human rights laws that place an obligation on warring parties, including governments, military forces and armed groups, to take all possible measures to search for and return missing persons, or their remains, to next of kin.

In Bougainville, the new policy will address the humanitarian needs of affected communities, but exclude bringing perpetrators to justice and claims for compensation.  Implementation will include seeking information about victims’ whereabouts, identifying burial sites, exhumation and forensic identification of remains before their return to relatives for burial.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will be on hand to assist the Bougainville Government and its partners with advice and expert support as the policy is rolled out.

Families of those who have disappeared “may have psycho-social needs which require medical attention, even years later, this is an important need in Bougainville,” Gauthier Lefèvre, Head of Mission for the ICRC in Papua New Guinea, told IPS.

“Many may also have difficulties making ends meet economically or be in a vulnerable position within society due to absence of their usual support networks.”

The humanitarian organisation supports similar efforts to reconcile families in other post-conflict zones, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Iran and Iraq.  It emphasises these measures are vital to helping people overcome anger and mistrust. If unaddressed, this burden can be passed on to a younger generation who are at risk of inheriting a sense of humiliation and injustice.

The Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency, a local non-governmental organisation, claims that unaddressed trauma has been a direct factor in high levels of alcohol and domestic abuse and violence against women, including rape, on the islands since the end of the ‘Bougainville crisis.’

During the three months of April, July and August 2010 alone, local police received reports of 84 sexual offences, 261 cases of domestic violence and 16 of child abuse.

Returning the remains of loved ones “is unfinished business on the road to healing, forgiveness, rehabilitation and reconstruction of whole communities” in the autonomous region, claims the OHCHR.

It “will bring closure and even psychological healing to families of missing persons and in some cases resolve legal issues linked to landownership and inheritance,” Lefèvre said.  He added that such efforts “certainly have an impact on human and social development in post-conflict zones.”

Peniai believes there will be benefits for human development “in the sense of establishing national unity, as a truly reconciled society is likely to be more stable.”

The peace process in Bougainville since 2001 has been assisted by the United Nations and international aid donors, but the autonomous region still faces immense development challenges. Life expectancy is 59 years and the under-five mortality rate is 74 per 1,000 live births, compared to the global average of 46, reports the National Research Institute.

In Central Bougainville, where the conflict originated, 56 percent of people do not have access to safe drinking water and 95 percent lack access to sanitation, according to World Vision.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe Dream Swept Away in Tripolihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=138323 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/138323/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 09:54:42 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138323 Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Sub-Saharan migrant garbage collectors push their carts through the streets of Tripoli´s old town. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
TRIPOLI, Libya, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

It’s easy to spot Saani Bubakar in Tripoli´s old town: always dressed in the distinctive orange jumpsuit of the waste collectors, he pushes his cart through the narrow streets on a routine that has been his for the last three years of his life.

“I come from a very poor village in Niger where there is not even running water,” explains the 23-year-old during a break. “Our neighbours told us that one of their sons was working in Tripoli, so I decided to take the trip too.”

Of the 250 Libyan dinars [about 125 euro or 154 dollars] Bubakar is paid each month, he manages to send more than half to his family back home. Accommodation, he adds, is free.

“We are 50 in an apartment nearby,” says the migrant worker, who assures that he will be back in Niger “soon”. It is not the poor working conditions but the increasing instability in the country that makes him want to go back home.

Thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks” – Human Rights Watch
Three years after Libya´s former ruler Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments – one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital. The latter, set up after elections in June when only 10 percent of the census population took part, has international recognition.

Accordingly, several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

The population and, very especially, the foreign workers are seemingly caught in the crossfire. “I´m always afraid of working at night because the fighting in the city usually starts as soon as the sun hides,” explains Odar Yahub, one of Bubakar´s roommates.

At 22, Yahub says that will not go back to Niger until he has earned enough to get married – but that will probably take longer than expected:

“We haven´t been paid for the last four months, and no one has given us any explanation,” the young worker complains, as he empties his bucket in the garbage truck.

While most of the sweepers are of sub-Saharan origin, there are also many who arrived from Bangladesh. Aaqib, who prefers not to disclose his full name, has already spent four years cleaning the streets of Souk al Juma neighbourhood, east of the capital. He says he supports his family in Dhaka – the Bangladeshi capital – by sending home almost all the 450 Libyan dinars (225 euros) from his salary, which he has not received for the last four months either.

“Of course I’ve dreamed of going to Europe but I know many have died at sea,” explains Aaqib, 28. “I´d only travel by plane, and with a visa stamped on my passport,” he adds. For the time being, his passport is in the hands of his contractor. All the waste collectors interviewed by IPS said their documents had been confiscated.

Defenceless

From his office in east Tripoli, Mohamed Bilkhaire, who became Minister of Employment in the Tripoli Executive two months ago, claims that he is not surprised by the apparent contradiction between the country´s 35 percent unemployment rate – according to his sources – and the fact that all the garbage collectors are foreigners.

“Arabs do not sweep due to sociocultural factors, neither here nor in Egypt, Jordan, Iraq … We need foreigners to do the job,” says Bilkhaire, Asked about the garbage collectors´ salaries, he told IPS that they are paid Libya´s minimum income of 450 Libyan dinars, and that any smaller amount is due to “illegal subcontracting which should be prosecuted.”

Bilkhaire also admitted that passports were confiscated “temporarily” because most of the foreign workers “want to cross to Europe.”

According to data gathered and released by FRONTEX, the European Union´s border agency, among the more than 42,000 immigrants who arrived in Italy during the first four months of 2014, 27,000 came from Libya.

In a report released by Human Rights Watch in June, the NGO claimed that thousands of migrants remain detained in Libyan detention centres, where they face torture that includes “severe whippings, beatings, and electric shocks.”

“Detainees have described to us how male guards strip-searched women and girls and brutally attacked men and boys,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher in the same report.

In the case of foreign workers under contract, Hanan Salah, HRW researcher for Libya, told IPS that “with the breakdown of the judicial system in many regions, abusive employers and those who do not comply with whatever contract was agreed upon, can hardly be held accountable in front of the law.”

Shokri Agmar, a lawyer from Tripoli, talks about “complete and utter helplessness”:

“The main problem for foreign workers in Libya is not merely the judicial neglect but rather that they lack a militia of their own to protect themselves,” Agmar told IPS from his office in Gargaresh, west of Tripoli.

That is precisely one of the districts where large numbers of migrants gather until somebody picks them up for a day of work, generally as construction workers.

Aghedo arrived from Nigeria three weeks ago. For this 25-year-old holding a shovel with his right hand, Tripoli is just a stopover between an endless odyssey across the Sahara Desert and a dangerous sea journey to Italy.

“There are days when they do not even pay us, but also others when we can make up to 100 dinars,” Aghedo tells IPS.

The young migrant hardly lowers his guard as he is forced to distinguish between two types of pick-up trucks: the ones which offer a job that is not always paid and those driven by the local militia – a false step and he will end up in one of the most feared detention centres.

“I know I could find a job as a sweeper but I cannot wait that long to raise the money for a passage in one of the boats bound for Europe,” explains the young migrant, without taking his eyes off the road.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Non-Violence and the Lost Message of Jesushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-non-violence-and-the-lost-message-of-jesus/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:12 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138311

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Dec 18 2014 (IPS)

I recently visited Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits whose lives have inspired us and millions of people around the world.

St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of love, compassion, care  for humans, animals and  the environment comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

Today, in the 2lst century, as we the human family face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit that we are on the wrong path, and that we need to find new ways of thinking and doing things from a global perspective.

Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease and poverty.  I believe that Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people.

Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion – or none – that they choose to follow, will bring about real change and set in motion proper relationships.  With such relationships built on equality and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.“For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill”

Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and has declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge, we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.

Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build fraternity amongst the nations. This is important because building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our interdependent, inter-connected world.

Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and non-violence, is up to each one of us.  However, if we do not teach non-violence in our education systems and in our religious institutions, how can we make that choice?

I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of non-violence as a way of living, also as a political science and means for bringing about social and political change wherever we live.

A grave responsibility lies with the different religious traditions to give spiritual guidance and a clear message, particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance‘, arms, militarism and war.

As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and the Irish Republican Army, I was forced to confront myself with the questions, ‘do you ever kill?’ and ‘is there such a thing as a just war?’.

During my spiritual journey I reached the absolute conviction that killing is wrong and that the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, “a phony piece of morality”.

I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. When we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do. 

I also believe that Jesus was a pacifist and I agree with McKenzie when he writes: “if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes.”

For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.

During the last 1700 years, Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of non-violence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence while paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than that which we condemn in others.

There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders.

We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ non-violence.

Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and that they can use violence – that is, ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ – or can be adopted by governments to justify ongoing war.

It is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need, from our spiritual or religious leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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Russian Arms Producers Move Ahead of Western Rivalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/russian-arms-producers-move-ahead-of-western-rivals/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 18:36:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138293 The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

The Tupolev Tu-is a large, four-engine turboprop powered strategic bomber and missile platform. First flown in 1952, the Tu-95 was put into service by the former Soviet Union in 1956 and is expected to serve the Russian Air Force until at least 2040. Credit: Dmitry Terekhov/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 2014 (IPS)

The world’s top 100 arms producing companies racked up 402 billion dollars in weapons sales and military services in 2013, according to the latest figures released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

But this was a decrease of about 2.0 percent over the previous year, and the third consecutive year of decline in total arms sales by these defence contractors.

Still, Russian companies increased their sales by about 20 percent in 2013 compared with U.S. and Western arms manufacturers.

Siemon Wezeman, senior researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said “the remarkable increases” in Russian companies arms sales in both 2012 and 2013 are in large part due to uninterrupted investments in military procurement by the Russian government during the 2000s.

“These investments are explicitly intended to modernise national production capabilities and weapons in order to bring them on par with major U.S. and Western European arms producers’ capabilities and technologies,” he added.

But these gains, however, were registered long before the Russian intervention in Ukraine and Crimea last February.

With economic and military sanctions imposed by the United States and Western Europe against Moscow this year, there is a possibility that Russian arms sales, particularly exports, may suffer when new figures are released for 2014.

Asked about a potential decline, Wezeman told IPS “it is almost impossible to make predictions.”

The sanctions will not have a great effect on the short term, but the Russian industry may feel them if the sanctions stay in place for some years, he added.

According to SIPRI figures, Western Europe offered a more mixed picture, with French companies increasing their sales, while sales by British companies remained stable, and sales by Italian and Spanish arms-producing companies continuing to decline.

The share of global arms sales for companies outside North America and Western Europe has been increasing since 2005, says Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

The Russian company with the largest increase in sales in 2103 is Tactical Missiles Corporation, with a growth of 118 per cent, followed by Almaz-Antey (34 per cent) and United Aircraft Corporation (20 per cent), according to SIPRI.

Almaz-Anteys arms sales in 2013 make it the 12th-largest arms producer (excluding China) and bring it closer to the top 10, which has been exclusively populated by arms producers from the United States or Western Europe since the end of the Cold War.

The year 2013 also saw the introduction of a 10th Russian arms company, communication and electronics manufacturer Sozvezdie, to the SIPRI list of top 100.

Wezeman told IPS Russia has for some years realised it is technologically behind in many aspects of weaponry and that it will need foreign input to develop new generations of weapons.

It has been looking for Western companies to partner with in the development of new generations of weapons and key components, he noted. Russia has been negotiating with European companies on cooperation in wheeled armoured vehicles, jet engines and avionics.

“The sanctions have killed those talks and that leaves Russia in the position it was before – not having all the technology and not having the funds or the expertise to develop it all on its own,” Wezeman said.

He said sanctions have also put pressure on production and development of Russian weapons for export.

Some of the most advanced Russian export weapons (e.g. Su-30 combat aircraft) rely on Western components and the sanctions seem to also ban such components – but only if they are part of new agreements, since the European Union sanctions ban sales under agreements reached after the sanctions were agreed.

Wezeman also said Russian officials have complained for years that arms factories are outdated with worn-out production equipment. A major plan has been announced to modernise the factories, but Russia just doesn’t have the technology to do it on its own, he added.

“It needs input from more developed Western countries, but that is largely out of the question, with sanctions and the whole changed Western relations with Russia,” he noted.

Asked if Russian arms sales will be affected by sanctions, Wezeman said in the short term Russia’s exports are unlikely to take a hit.

Probably the first exports that could suffer would be helicopters and trainer aircraft using Ukrainian-produced engines, he predicted.

Ukraine seems to have stopped all arms deliveries to Russia, including components such as engines for Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters and Yak-130 trainer/combat aircraft (officially it has, but it is a bit uncertain if that embargo is 100 percent or if it excludes such components used in weapons that are meant to be exported from Russia), he said.

With India and China defying U.S. and Western sanctions, Russia now finds it even more important to look for partners in large markets in Asia, including joint technology agreements in the development of new weapons.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: Give Peace a Chance – Run with Youthhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-give-peace-a-chance-run-with-youth/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 16:21:41 +0000 Ettie Higgins http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138288 Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Children at play at the Yida settlement in Unity state, in northern South Sudan. Opened in 2011, Yida has over 70,000 refugees. Some 85 percent are children and women from the Nuban Mountains of South Kordofan, who fled bombardments and violence there. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Ettie Higgins
JUBA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng was 18 and attending his final year of school when fighting erupted in South Sudan’s capital Juba, one year ago. In the ensuing violence, as Raymond’s schoolbooks burned, thousands of South Sudanese were killed, including two of his cousins.

Many fled to U.N. bases for protection or to neighbouring countries. “I saw children killed and women killed and everybody was crying,” Raymond recalls.“Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority. Give us the tools, and we will create peace.” -- Rambang “Raymond” Tot Deng

It was never meant to be this way. The bells of celebration that rang around South Sudan just two years ago are today emergency sirens. And while South Sudan is a crisis for children and of young people, sparse global attention has been paid to them. This must change.

The well of pain runs deep in many parts of Africa, and yet it is young people who offer the best chance for true conflict resolution, and lasting peace. Conflict-affected youth are often the most ambitious, the hardest workers.

They want back what was taken from them: opportunity. They want an education and they want to earn a livable wage.

Since conflict began, an estimated 1.8 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. Many remain on the move, while tens of thousands are living in camps in South Sudan, such as the UN Protection of Civilian camp #1 on the outskirts of southern Juba.

Here Raymond lives alongside 10,000 other youth. Whilst ever grateful for the protection the camp offers, Raymond says: “Life in the camp is difficult. You can see people just lying, sitting down, there’s nowhere people can go, nothing for them to do.”

Raymond’s experience of war, violence and suffering has been shared by hundreds of thousands across the region. But during the past two to three decades, it has consistently been young people who have been most affected by the conflicts that have raged.

This early experience of conflict leaves young people in a kind of no man’s land. Education interrupted, opportunities crushed. In South Sudan 400,000 young people have lost the chance to have an education, in this year alone.

Hundreds of thousands more are jaded, frustrated and disconnected, putting them at a critical crossroads, do they fight or fight for peace?

“Some of the youth with whom I was together outside [the camp] joined the rebellion,” says Raymond. “They would say, ‘if I could be in this dire situation we are now in, why should I be here’?”

And yet Raymond offers an important caveat: “Fighting cannot take everybody everywhere. Only peace can unite people as one.”

How then to do this? UNICEF believes one answer is through providing essential services, and in particular, education. Basic education and vocational-skills training can lift people out of poverty by providing opportunity.

But an education can be so much more, teaching war-torn children things many of us take for granted. At school children learn about the environment, about sanitation, and the importance of good nutrition. In turn, they become agents of change, conveying good practices to their families.

Importantly, children who go to school are less likely to be recruited by armed groups. UNICEF, through Learning for Peace, our Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme, is helping to rebuild and improve schools in both conflict and former conflict zones in South Sudan, providing materials and psychosocial support to help children cope with the traumas they have suffered.

UNICEF believes a key strategy for governments, the African Union, IGAD and development agencies is to counter insecurity through harnessing and connecting with youth.

On this, Raymond should be a poster child. Despite the horror he experienced a year ago, the boredom of the camp and the frustrations of having his education suspended, he is a born peacemaker. Now part of a youth forum in the Juba camp, he leads discussions on the root causes of conflict and reconciliation.

Raymond deserves to have his voice heard. “Let all youth in the world facing the same thing we are, know that forgiveness is the first priority, he says. “Give us the tools, and we will create peace.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Afghan Concern Over Western Disengagementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/afghan-concern-over-western-disengagement/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 19:09:03 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138230 Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

Peddlers in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, North Afghanistan. Concern is being expressed in Afghanistan about the country’s future after Western disengagement. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS

By Giuliano Battiston
KABUL, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The U.S./NATO International Security Assistance Force Joint Command lowered its flag for the last time in Afghanistan on Dec. 8, after 13 years. The ISAF mission officially ends on Dec. 31, and will be replaced on Jan. 1, 2015 by “Resolute Support”, a new, narrow-mandate mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces.

However, despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recently pledged continuing assistance for years to come,here in Kabul many fear that donor interest in the country may now start waning and that Afghanistan will likely drop out of the spotlight because history has already shown that, when troops pull out of a country, funds tend to follow.

“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole ‘Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own,” Mir Ahmad Joyenda, a leading civil society actor and Deputy Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), told IPS.“We are very concerned about the Western financial disengagement. The country is still fragile, thus we believe that the international community should be committed over the whole 'Transformation Decade’, spanning from 2015 to 2024, until the country is able to stand on its own” – Mir Ahmad Joyenda, Deputy Director of Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit

Afghanistan’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased more than four-fold between 2003 and 2012, but economic growth was largely driven by international investments and aid.

Since the U.S.-led military intervention of 2001, Afghanistan has been the focus of large international aid and security investments, being the world’s leading recipient of development assistance since 2007, Lydia Poole notes in Afghanistan Beyond 2014. Aid and the Transformation Decade, a briefing paper prepared for the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme which provides data and analysis on humanitarian financing and related aid flows.

According to data collected by the author, “the country received 50.7 billion dollars in official development assistance (ODA) between 2002 and 2012, including 6.7 billion dollars in humanitarian assistance”, and ODA “has steadily increased from 1.1 billion dollars in 2002 to 6.2 billion in 2012.”

On Dec. 4, delegations from 59 countries and several international organisations gathered for the ‘London Conference on Afghanistan’, co-hosted by the governments of the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, to reaffirm donor humanitarian and development commitments to the war-torn country.

The London Conference served as a follow up to the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in 2012, where the international community pledged 16 billion dollars to support Afghanistan’s civilian development financing needs through 2015, based on an agreement known as the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF).

In London, the international community reaffirmed its Tokyo commitment and the vague willingness to “support, through 2017, at or near the levels of the past decade”.

However, the London Conference “produced no new pledges of increased aid, so the drop in domestic revenues to 8.7 percent of gross domestic product, down from a peak of 11.6 percent in 2011, leaves Afghanistan with a severe and growing fiscal gap”, John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, remarked in a meeting at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With the imminent withdrawal of NATO troops, the Afghan economy is already under strain, “We estimate that growth has fallen sharply to 1.5 percent in 2014 from an average of 9 percent during the previous decade”, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, stated on Dec. 4 in London.

Furthermore, many indicators from the 2015 Afghanistan Humanitarian Needs Overview Report of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that there is still a considerable humanitarian emergency: “1.2 million children are acutely malnourished; approximately 2.2 million Afghans are considered very severely food insecure; food insecurity affects nearly 8 million people with an additional 2.4 million classified as severe, and 3.1 million are moderately food insecure.”

Despite the many risks associated with Western disengagement, Joyenda prefers to emphasise the opportunities, advocating a fundamental shift of attitude: “The international community should use this opportunity to have a rebalancing of priorities: ‘less money for security and weapons, more money for civilian cooperation and reconstruction’,” he told IPS.

Since 2011, the primary focus of international expenditure in Afghanistan has been overwhelmingly security. When international troop levels were at their peak at 132,000 in 2011, “spending on the two international military operations – the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) – reached 129 billion dollars, compared with 6.8 billion dollars in ODA, of which 768 million dollars was humanitarian assistance”, writes Poole.

“We also need a proper alignment of funds with the State’s economic planning,” Nargis Nehan, Executive Director and founder of Equality for Peace and Democracy, a non-governmental organisation advocating equal rights for all Afghan citizens, told IPS.

According to Nehan, “the international community made the State a less legitimate actor through the creation of parallel structures. Millions of dollars for example have been directed to development and humanitarian projects via the Provincial Reconstruction Teams”, which consisted of a mix of military, development and civilian components, conflating development/humanitarian aid with the agendas of foreign political and security actors.

“The political framework was never adequate,” Thomas Ruttig, co-director and co-founder of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network, told IPS. “Over the past few years the international community was busier – at least at the government level – with preparing the withdrawal and designing a positive narrative, rather than with the Afghans left behind.”

“Afghanistan has been a rentier-State for one hundred and fifty years, and will be dependent on external support for quite a while. In this phase we have to lighten the country’s donor dependency, we cannot just walk away. We have the political responsibility to keep to our commitments,” he noted.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Faulted for Undermining Torture Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/us-faulted-for-undermining-torture-convention/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 01:26:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138224 Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, notes that few countries will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, even when the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 11 2014 (IPS)

The timing was inadvertently impeccable as two stinging reports on harsh interrogation techniques – by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the United States and former military regimes in Brazil – were released on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Not surprisingly, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric was peppered – and metaphorically tortured – with a barrage of non-stop questions on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s response to the charges."They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable." -- Prof. Vijay Prashad

“The secretary-general believes the prohibition of torture [by the U.N. convention] was absolute and non-negotiable,” Dujarric told reporters at Wednesday’s noon briefing.

But the questions seemed never ending – even as he refused to be pinned down.

“No, I do not believe the secretary-general had direct communication with anyone in the U.S. administration [after the report was released Tuesday].”

“No, no one is taking the report as gospel. And it is not for the secretary-general to say it is a definitive report,” he shot back. “There is an open debate – and this is the start of a process,” he added.

The release of the two reports – by a U.S. Senate committee on the CIA’s interrogation tactics, and also the systematic human rights violations in Brazil as revealed in a report by the country’s National Truth Commission – also coincided with Human Rights Day, which the United Nations commemorates annually on Dec. 10.

“Strange coincidence indeed,” Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS.

He said the report by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee shows they were well aware the revelations “stink”.

“There is a very telling section [in the report] where they say that [then U.S. Secretary of State] Colin Powell must not be informed, because if he is, he would blow his stack,” said Prashad, who has written extensively on international politics and is the author of 15 books.

“They knew they were outside the lines, they concealed it from their own people, and yet no one will be held accountable,” he added.

The United States ratified the 1987 U.N. Convention Against Torture back in October 1994 and Brazil in September 1989.

Responding to the two reports, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad Al Hussein, urged the U.N.’s 193 member states to act unequivocally in their effort to stamp out torture.

He said the U.S. report shows torture is still taking place in quite a few of the 156 countries that have ratified the Convention and have domestic legislation making torture illegal.

“To have it so clearly confirmed that it was recently practised as a matter of policy by a country such as the United States is a very stark reminder that we need to do far, far more to stamp it out everywhere,” he continued.

This has been true at the best of times, he added.

It is particularly true during this period of rising international terrorism, when it has shown a tendency to slither back into practice, disguised by euphemisms, even in countries where it is clearly outlawed, said Zeid, a former permanent representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

However, he “warmly welcomed” the publication of the Senate Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Programme, as well as the report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission which documents the extensive use of torture, among other gross and systematic human rights violations, over a 42-year period, including the 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The Brazilian Commission, which was established in May 2012, investigated the serious human rights violations that occurred between 1946 and 1988 – the period between the last two democratic constitutions in Brazil.

These violations include unlawful imprisonment and torture; sexual violence; executions and subsequent concealing of corpses; and enforced disappearances.

“When practiced massively and systematically against a population, these violations become a crime against humanity,” the report said.

The report on the CIA said terrorist suspects, after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, were subjected to sleep deprivation (as long as a week), water-boarding, rectal-hydration, with some prisoners “literally hooked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The CIA defended its techniques by arguing that its brutal treatment of suspects was aimed at protecting the country from further terrorist attacks.

Zeid said: “Although there are very significant differences between these two exceptionally important reports, not least in their scope and the periods they cover, I commend the governments of Brazil and the United States for enabling their release.”

Few countries, he pointed out, will admit their state apparatus has been practising torture, and many continue shamelessly to deny it – even when it is well documented by international human rights treaty bodies, and the scars are all too visible on the victims who manage to escape.

“While it will take time to fully analyse the contents of these two landmark reports – and I do not wish to pre-empt that analysis – we can still draw some stark conclusions about the failures to eradicate this serious international crime, for which there should be no statute of limitations and no impunity,” Zeid declared.

He also said one question neither report can answer on its own is how both countries will fulfil their obligation to ensure accountability for the crimes that have been committed.

In all countries, he pointed out, if someone commits murder, they are prosecuted and jailed. If they commit rape or armed robbery, they are prosecuted and jailed.

“If they order, enable or commit torture recognized as a serious international crime they cannot simply be granted impunity because of political expediency.”

When that happens, he said, “we undermine this exceptional Convention, and as a number of U.S. political leaders clearly acknowledged yesterday, we undermine our own claims to be civilized societies rooted in the rule of law.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Faiths United Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/faiths-united-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:05:05 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138197 By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

“Never was there a greater need than now for all the religions to combine, to pull their wisdom and to give the benefit of that combined, huge repository of wisdom to international law and to the world.”

The words are those of Christopher Weeramantry, former judge at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and its vice-president from 1997 to 2000, who was addressing a session on faiths united against nuclear weapons at the civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7 in the Austrian capital.

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Former ICJ judge Christopher Weeramantry. Credit: Henning Blatt, Wikimedia

Weeramantry strongly criticised the argument of those who claim that nuclear weapons have saved the world from another world war in the last 50 years.

He pointed to the ever-present danger represented by these weapons and said that on many occasions it had been luck that had prevented catastrophic nuclear accidents or the breaking out of a devastating nuclear war.

Noting that nuclear weapons “offend every single principle of religion,” Weeramantry was joined on the panel by a number of different religious leaders, including Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and peace activist, as well as Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA.

Although there often seems to be a gap between the positions of different faith communities concerning different issues, all panellists were very clear in pushing the moral imperative and declaring the similar values that are inherent to all religions.“The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it” – Mahatma Gandhi

According to Mustafa Ceric, it “is not the question of whether you believe, it is the question of whether we are going to wait and see the destruction of our planet.”

Ceric also stressed that the goals and values of humanity are defined by common moral and ethical standards and that the role of religious communities today is greater than ever. Faced with fear and mistrust in society, he said, they also have the responsibility to care for peace and security in the world.

Akemi Bailey-Haynie continued with an emotional statement from first-hand experience – her own mother was a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945.

“When nuclear weapons are considered a deterrent or viable option in warfare, it seems from a mind-set that fundamentally denies that all people possess infinite potential. No one has the right to take away a precious life of another human being.”

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

Akemi Bailey-Haynie, national women’s leader of the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International-USA. Credit: SGI

For Bailey-Haynie, nuclear weapons serve no purpose other than mass destruction. They have devastating effects on human beings and the environment, and the possibility of nuclear accidents or potential terrorism cannot be ruled out, she said, adding that dialogue between people of different or opposing opinions is the beginning to achieve change regarding this issue.

“As a second generation survivor, I deeply feel the sorrow, as well as the outrage, born of not being able to yet live in a time when the most inhumane of weapons, nuclear weapons, have been banned,“ she concluded.

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate and former Anglican Bishop, sent a video message to participants to express his deep solidarity and support for ICAN’s civil society forum initiative.

He argued that the best way to honour the victims of the incidents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to negotiate a total ban on nuclear weapons to ensure that nothing comparable could ever happen again.

Two of the session’s speakers, Ela Gandhi and Mustafa Ceric, also attended the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

There, Ela Gandhi delivered a speech in the spirit of her grandfather who, she said, would have joined the movement to abolish nuclear weapons if still alive.

As Gandhi had dedicated his life to teaching humanity that there is a non-violent way of dealing with conflict, he even condemned nuclear weapons himself in 1946 when he said: “The atom bomb mentality is immoral, unethical, addictive and only evil can come from it.”

Pointing out that the mere existence of nuclear weapons leads to similar armament of rival countries, Ela Gandhi warned that these nuclear arsenals could destroy a chance for future generations to survive and have a prosperous life.

The Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons was the scene of intense and often emotional discussions among official representatives from over 160 countries, victims and civil society participants. Notably, both the United States and the United Kingdom were officially represented for the first time at a conference where their nuclear arsenals were subject to debate and criticism.

Religion played an important role at the conference, where many lobbying groups had religious backgrounds, and the opening ceremony was addressed by Pope Francis.

“I am convinced that the desire for peace and fraternity, planted deep in the human heart, will bear fruit in concrete ways to ensure that nuclear weapons are banned once and for all, to the benefit of our common home,” aid Pope Francis, expressing his hope that “a world without nuclear weapons is truly possibly.”

In a statement on behalf of faith communities to the final session, Kimiaki Kawai, Program Director for Peace Affairs at Soka Gakkai International (SGI), said: “The elimination of nuclear weapons is not only a moral imperative; it is the ultimate measure of our worth as a species, as human beings.”

He said that “acceptance of the continued existence of nuclear weapons stifles our capacity to think more broadly and more compassionately about who we are as human beings, and what our potential is. Humanity must find alternative ways of dealing with conflict.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Nuclear States Face Barrage of Criticism in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/nuclear-states-face-barrage-of-criticism-in-vienna/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:19:17 +0000 Jamshed Baruah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138201 Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

Delegates at the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Ippnw Deutschland/cc by 2.0

By Jamshed Baruah
VIENNA, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Sarcastic laughter erupted when a civil society representative expressed his “admiration for the delegate of the United States, who with one insensitive, ill-timed, inappropriate and diplomatically inept intervention” had “managed to dispel the considerable goodwill the U.S. had garnered by its decision to participate” in Vienna Conference on Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons.

The speaker was Richard Lennane, who prefers to call himself the “chief inflammatory officer” of Wildfire, a Geneva-based disarmament initiative. He was making a statement at the final session of the Dec. 8-9 conference in the Austrian capital – the third after the Oslo (Norway) gathering in 2013 and Nayarit (Mexico) earlier this year.“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting.” -- Akira Kawasaki of Peaceboat

Unlike the previous conferences, the United States and Britain – two of the five members of the nuclear club, along with France, Russia and China – participated in the Vienna conference.

But Washington’s diplomatic jargon was far-removed from the highly emotional impact of statements by survivors of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of nuclear testing in Australia, Kazakhstan, and the Marshall Islands. They gave powerful testimonies of the horrific effects of nuclear weapons. Their evidence complemented other presentations offering data and research.

Ambassador Adam Scheinman, special representative of the U.S. president for non-proliferation, assured that “underpinning all of our efforts, stretching back decades, has been our clear understanding of the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use”.

This claim not only left a large number of participants unimpressed but also failed to give reason for hope that the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference next year would bear fruit.

All the more so, because as the U.S.-based Arms Control Association, Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, Nuclear Information Project of the Federation of American Scientists, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Union of Concerned Scientists pointed out in a joint statement, “nearly five years after the successful 2010 NPT review conference, follow-through on the consensus action plan – particularly the 22 interrelated disarmament steps – has been very disappointing.

“Since the entry into force of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2011,” the statement added, “Russia and the United States have failed to start talks to further reduce their still enormous nuclear stockpiles, which far exceed any plausible deterrence requirements.”

2015 will also mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the consequences of which are still being felt by hibakusha (survivors) and their families, as Setsuko Thurlow, Hiroshima Peace Ambassador and survivor of the atomic bombing explosion on Aug. 6, 1945, illustrated in an impassioned statement.

“The consequences of any nuclear weapon use would be devastating, long-lasting, and unacceptable. Governments simply cannot listen to this evidence and hear these human stories without acting,” said Akira Kawasaki, from the Japanese NGO Peaceboat.

“The only solution is to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons and we need to start now,” Kawasaki added.

U.S. ambassador Scheinman sought to reassure in a statement prepared for the general debate: “The United States fully understands the serious consequences of nuclear weapons use and gives the highest priority to avoiding their use. The United States stands with all those here who seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

“The United States has been and will continue to work to create the conditions for such a world with the aid of the various tools, treaties and agreements, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty regime.”

Irrespective of the veracity of the U.S. claim, Scheinman’s dry and rather formulaic remarks stood in stark contrast to passionate pleas made by representatives of 44 out of 158 participating states, that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error remains real.

States that expressed support for a ban treaty at the Vienna Conference include: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Burundi, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea Bissau, Holy See, Indonesia, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Qatar, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Senegal, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Uruguay, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Echoing worldwide sentiments, Pope Francis called in a message to the conference for nuclear weapons to be “banned once and for all”.

In a message delivered by Angela Kane, High Representative of the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna initiatives had “brought humanitarian considerations to the forefront of nuclear disarmament. It has energized civil society and governments alike. It has compelled us to keep in mind the horrific consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons.”

Questioning the rationale behind nuclear weapons, Ban – who is known to be committed to nuclear disarmament – said that keeping the horrific consequences of nukes in mind was essential in confronting those who view nuclear weapons as a rational response to growing international tensions or as a symbol of national prestige.

In his widely noted message, he criticised “the senselessness of pouring funds into modernizing the means for our mutual destruction while we are failing to meet the challenges posed by poverty, climate change, extremism and the destabilizing accumulation of conventional arms.”

In “the 70th year of the nuclear age”, Ban said “possession of nuclear weapons does not prevent international disputes from occurring, but it makes conflicts more dangerous”.

Besides, he added, maintaining forces on alert does not provide safety, but it increases the likelihood of accidents. Upholding doctrines of nuclear deterrence does not counter proliferation, but it makes the weapons more desirable.

Growing ranks of nuclear armed-states do not ensure global stability, but instead undermine it – a view with which also faith organisations gathered in Vienna agreed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Groups Push Obama to Clarify U.S. Abortion Funding for Wartime Rapehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/groups-push-obama-to-clarify-u-s-abortion-funding-for-wartime-rape/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:49:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138188 Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

Survivors at a workshop in Pader, northern Uganda. Thousands of women were raped during Uganda’s civil war but there have been few government efforts to assist them. Credit: Rosebell Kagumire/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Nearly two dozen health, advocacy and faith groups are calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action clarifying that U.S. assistance can be used to fund abortion services for women and girls raped in the context of war and conflict.

The groups gathered Tuesday outside of the White House to draw attention to what they say is an ongoing misreading by politicians as well as humanitarian groups of four-decade-old legislation. That law, known as the Helms Amendment, specifies women’s health services that can be supported by U.S. overseas funding."We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.” -- Serra Sippel

This mis-interpretation, advocates warn, results in ongoing mental suffering, social disgrace and even additional abuse for women who have been raped.

“For over 40 years, the Helms Amendment has been applied as a complete ban on abortion care in U.S.-funded global health programmes – with no exceptions,” Purnima Mane, the president of Pathfinder International, a group that works on global sexual health issues, said in comments sent to IPS.

“The result is that Pathfinder and other U.S. government-funded agencies are unable to provide critical abortion care services to those at risk even under circumstances upheld by U.S. law and clearly allowable under the Helms Amendment. With the stroke of a pen, President Obama can change the outcome for many of these women and start to reverse more than four decades of neglect of their basic human rights and harm to their health.”

Advocates say such an executive action would be in line with both the law and broader public opinion. Indeed, on the face of it, the Helms Amendment seems to be quite clear.

The amendment bans U.S. funding from being used to “pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning” or to “motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” While the law does not specifically bar U.S. assistance being used for abortion services in the case of rape, critics have long noted that this has been the impact since the start.

“No U.S. administration has ever implemented this correctly, in terms of making exemptions in certain instances,” Serra Sippel, the president of the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and a key organiser of Tuesday’s demonstration, told IPS.

“This comes down to politics and the political environment in Washington. But what we need is for the president to take leadership and direct USAID” – the federal government’s main foreign assistance agency – “and the State Department to say the U.S. government is taking a stand and supporting access to abortion in these cases.”

Misinterpretation, self-censorship

Abortion has been, and remains, one of the most divisive issues in U.S. politics. By many metrics, this polarisation has only worsened with time.

This came to the cultural and political forefront in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that a state law banning abortion (except to save the mother’s life) was unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a lasting moral outrage among broad sections of the U.S. public, though polls suggest that a majority of those in the United States support services following rape, incest or when a mother’s life is at risk.

The Helms Amendment was among the first legislative responses to the court’s ruling, passed just months later. Since then, the amendment has resulted in a discontinuation of U.S. assistance for all abortion services in other countries.

It is important to note that these procedures remain legal in the United States, as well as in many of the countries in which U.S.-funded entities, including government departments, are operating. Humanitarian groups often feel they cannot even make abortion-related information available to women, including those raped during conflict – even if the Helms Amendment doesn’t specifically proscribe doing so.

“These restrictions, collectively, have resulted in a perception that U.S. foreign policy on abortion is more onerous than the actual law … [leading to] a pervasive atmosphere of confusion, misunderstanding and inhibition around other abortion-related activities beyond direct services,” analysis published last year by the Guttmacher Institute, a sexual health-focused think tank here, reports.

“Wittingly or unwittingly, both NGOs and U.S. officials have been transgressors and victims alike in the misinterpretation and misapplication of U.S. anti-abortion law … whether through misinterpretation or self-censorship, NGOs are needlessly refraining from providing abortion counseling or referrals.”

Global statistics on conflict-time rapes and resulting pregnancies are hard to come by. Human Rights Watch points to 2004 research carried out in Liberia, where rape was used as a weapon of war, suggesting that around 15 percent of wartime rapes led to pregnancy.

“Human rights practitioners and public health officials from Bosnia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and other countries at war, have collected evidence from conflict rape survivors showing both that pregnancy happens and that it has devastating consequences for women and girls,” Liesl Gerntholtz, the executive director of a Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, wrote Tuesday.

“They are left to continue unwanted pregnancies and bear children they often cannot care for and who are daily reminders of the brutal attacks they suffered. This, in turn, makes these children more vulnerable to stigmatization, abuse, and abandonment.”

Global acknowledgment

On Tuesday, the groups participating in the White House demonstration also called on President Obama to clarify that the Helms Amendment does not apply to pregnancies resulting from incest or if the mother’s life is at risk. Yet the focus of the calls remains on rape in the context of war and conflict.

Advocates say public consciousness on this issue has risen significantly over the past year and a half. To a great extent, this has been driven by the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State, as well as the ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and the centrality of sexual violence in each of these.

“We know that rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout history. What’s new is the attention from governments and advocates over the past 18 months,” CHANGE’s Sippel says.

“The prevention of violence cannot stand alone. We want to prevent these acts but also, when that violence does occur, to make sure that organisations and government agencies are providing the necessary post-rape care, including legal and social services, as well as mental and physical health services. Abortion services need to be part of that package.”

The United States has been a strong global advocate against sexual violence in recent years, including with regard to conflict situations. President Obama has created the first U.S. action plan on women’s role in peace-building, a White House strategy on gender-based violence, among other actions.

Advocates say that clarifying the Helms Amendment would be the next logical step. Although the White House was unable to comment for this story, organisers of Tuesday’s rally say President Obama’s aides did meet with advocates working on sexual violence in Colombia, the DRC and elsewhere.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Release of Senate Torture Report Insufficient, Say Rights Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/release-of-senate-torture-report-insufficient-say-rights-groups/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:24:05 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138185 Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive interrogation techniques provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Tuesday’s release by the Senate Intelligence Committee of its long-awaited report on the torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of detainees in the so-called “war on terror” does not go far enough, according to major U.S. human rights groups.

While welcoming the report’s release, the subject of months of intensive negotiations and sometimes furious negotiations between the Senate Committee’s majority and both the CIA and the administration of President Barack Obama, the groups said additional steps were needed to ensure that U.S. officials never again engage in the kind of torture detailed in the report."Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability." -- Donna McKay of PHR

“This should be the beginning of a process, not the end,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again.”

He called, among other steps, for the appointment of a special prosecutor to hold the “architects and perpetrators” of what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) accountable and for Congress to assert its control over the CIA, “which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be.”

He was joined by London-based Amnesty International which noted that the declassified information provided in the report constituted “a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorised and used torture and other ill-treatment.

“This is a wake-up call to the USA; they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims,” said Amnesty’s Latin America director, Erika Guevara.

The Senate Committee’s report, actually a 524-page, partially-redacted summary of a still-classified 6,300-page report on the treatment of at least 119 terrorist suspects detained in secret locations overseas, accused the CIA not only of engaging in torture that was “brutal and far worse” than has previously been reported, but also of regularly misleading the White House and Congress both about what it was doing and the purported value of the intelligence it derived from those practices.

Water-boarding, for example, was used against detainees more often and in more of the CIA’s “black sites” than previously known; sleep deprivation was used for up to a week at a time against some suspects; others received “rectal feeding” or “hydration’; and still others were forced to stand on broken feet or legs.

In at least one case, a detainee was frozen to death; in the case of Abu Zubayda, an alleged “high-value” Al Qaeda detainee who was subject to dozens of water-boardings, the treatment was so brutal, several CIA officers asked to be transferred if it did not stop.

While the CIA officers and former Bush administration officials, notably former Vice President Dick Cheney, have long insisted that key information – including intelligence that eventually led to the killing of Osama bin Laden — was obtained from EITs, the report concluded that these techniques were ineffective.

Seven of 39 detainees who were subject to the most aggressive EITs provided no intelligence at all, while information obtained from the others preceded the harsh treatment, according to the report, which relied on the CIA’s own cables and reports.

In some cases, detainees subjected to EITs gave misinformation about “terrorist threats” which did not actually exist, the report found. Of the 119 known detainees subject to EITs, at least 26 should never have been held, it said.

Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, who fought hard for months to release the report over the CIA’s fierce objections, wrote in its Forward that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks, “she could understand the CIA’s impulse to consider the use of every possible tool to gather intelligence and remove terrorists from the battlefield, and CIA was encouraged by political leaders and the public to do whatever it could to prevent another attack.”

“Nevertheless, such pressure, fear and expectation of further terrorist plots do not justify, temper or excuse improper actions taken by individuals or organizations in the name of national security,” according to Feinstein.

For his part, CIA director John Brennan, a career CIA officer appointed by Obama whose role in the Bush administration’s detention programme remains cloudy, “acknowledge(d) that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes.”

“The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists.”

But he also defended the EITs, insisting that “interrogations of detainees on whom EITs were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives.” A fact sheet released by the CIA claimed, as an example, that one detainee, after undergoing EITs, identified bin Laden’s courier, which subsequently led the CIA to the Al Qaeda chief’s location.

With several notable exceptions, Republicans also defended the CIA and the Bush administration’s orders to permit EITs. Indeed, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members released a minority report that noted that the majority of staff had not interviewed any CIA officers directly involved in the programme.

“There is no reason whatsoever for this report to ever be published,” said the Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss. “This is purely a partisan tactic” which he said was designed to attack the Bush administration. Republicans also warned that the report’s release would endanger U.S. service personnel and citizens abroad by fuelling anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world.

But Sen. John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in the Vietnam war, defended the report, calling it “a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose …but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

McCain has championed efforts to pass legislation outlawing torture, particularly because Obama’s 2009 executive orders prohibiting such practices could be reversed by a future president.

Passage of such a law – whose prospects appear virtually nil in light of Republican control of both houses of Congress for the next two years – is one of the demands, along with release of the full report, of most human-rights groups here.

“The Obama administration and Congress should work together to build a durable consensus against torture by pursuing legislation that demonstrates bipartisan unity and fidelity to our ideals,” said Elisa Massimino, director of Human Rights First.

Many groups, however, want Obama to go further by prosecuting those responsible for the EIT programme, a step that his administration made clear from the outset it was loathe to do.

“We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture programme,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has represented a number of detainees at Guantanamo, including Abu Zubaydah, in U.S. courts. “They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and, if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction,” according to Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth. “Unless this important truth-telling process leads to prosecution of the officials responsible, torture will remain a ‘policy option’ for future presidents.”

Noting that health professionals, including doctors and psychologists also played a role in the EITs, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) also called for legal accountability. “For more than a decade, the U.S. government has been lying about its use of torture,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director.

“The report confirms that health professionals used their skills to break the minds and bodies of detainees. Their actions destroyed trust in clinicians, undermined the integrity of their professions, and damaged the United States’ human rights record, which can only be corrected through accountability,” she said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Ban Nuke Strikes Against Citieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/un-urged-to-ban-nuke-strikes-against-cities/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 00:02:28 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138181 U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (centre) speaks at the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), held on the margins of the General Assembly general debate in September 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 10 2014 (IPS)

Civil society groups are urging the U.N. General Assembly to pass a resolution declaring nuclear strikes on cities to be a clear-cut violation of international humanitarian law.

At the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, supporters of the proposed resolution argued that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it is undeniable that the explosion of a nuclear weapon on a populated area would engender destruction beyond acceptable human limits.“The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the 'incremental steps' towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes?" -- Jonathan Granoff

“There are over 6,000 cities already members of our campaign called Cities Are Not Targets! declaring it illegal to target cities with nuclear weapons,” said Aaron Tovish, campaign director for Mayors for Peace.

“This initiative to have the bodies of the United Nations explicitly outlaw such conduct is of great value,” he said.

Proponents argue that just raising the issue would bring a dose of reality into the debate about the threat of nuclear weapons, and that a GA resolution calling on the Security Council to affirm the illegality of using nuclear weapons on populated areas under international humanitarian law (IHL) could be a real, practical step to advance nuclear disarmament.

Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute, said that other uses also violate international law but there should be no question that destroying a city is illegal.

Granoff told IPS, “Pending obtaining a legal ban, a convention, or a framework of instruments leading to nuclear disarmament, which is required by the promises made by the nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice, this step would make us all a bit safer and downgrade the political status of these horrible devices.”

Is a resolution necessary?

In recent years, it has become apparent that failure to fulfill promised progress on nuclear disarmament has been caused by deeply entrenched security policies that do not seem likely to change.

U.S. President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have raised hopes of further nuclear disarmament, yet this has flown in the face of a reality in which nuclear weapons states continue to either modernise or expand their arsenals, or do both.

Nuclear states agree that the warheads are bad (often recognising a legal responsibility to disarm), yet critics note that in an act of impressive cognitive dissonance, these states simultaneously advance that they are good because they are necessary for deterrence purposes and strategic stability, the disturbance of which could be bad.

Thus, while they exist, so these states say, it is good to rely on them.

China, Russia, the UK, U.S. and France have agreed they have a legal responsibility to disarm, based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970.

India has called for negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on a universal, nondiscriminatory, treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons and Pakistan has said it would join such a process. Israel has said nothing.

In 2000, 13 steps were agreed upon to move towards disarmament – and then in 2010, 64 additional commitments were made by 188 states.

Yet despite the non-realisation of these incremental moves towards disarmament, the nuclear weapons states maintain that any other attempt to delegitimise, ban, and eliminate the warheads is a distraction.

Proponents of the resolution like Granoff see it as a step forward towards extrication from the situation.

Granoff told IPS, “The maximalist demand of a complete ban on weapons, and the ‘incremental steps’ towards disarmament are both jammed. Will advancing IHL help both of these processes? Will it provide impetus to get a ban on testing, fissile materials, and more cuts of arsenals?”

Criticism of the proposal

The proposal is likely to face robust criticism from nuclear weapons states and those under the “umbrella of deterrence” (those states allied to a nuclear power that claim to be protected by affiliation).

Speaking to IPS, former deputy judge advocate general, U.S. Air Force Major General Charles Dunlap Jr. expressed reservations about the advancement of such a resolution.

Dunlap remains unconvinced on the question of whether there is an authoritative prohibition on the use of nuclear weapons in IHL, saying, “It sounds as if Mr. Granoff assumes that IHL applicable to the use of conventional weapons would automatically apply to the use of nuclear weapons. This is incorrect.

“In fact, even some of the countries which are parties (as the U.S. and some other nuclear powers are not) to Additional Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions (which contains targeting rules) made an express reservation to it to the effect that it did not govern the use of nuclear weapons.”

These legal arguments are hotly contested, however. Proponents of the resolution point to the final document from the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference of 2010 which “reaffirms the need for all States at all times to comply with applicable international law, including international humanitarian law.”

Those in support of the proposal seem undeterred. Alyn Ware of the World Future Council told IPS, “I think it’s a good proposal. I don’t think it’s the only path. The idea of ‘non-first use’ also has traction.”

Ware stands in opposition to Dunlap, saying “A nuclear weapon has a much larger blast impact than conventional weapons. The blast impact can’t be contained to a specific military target.

“If it’s far away from populated areas, then maybe it will not violate IHL, but there would still be enormous problems with fall out and controlling its trajectory… but you can’t even make the argument when it’s in a populated area.”

IPS spoke to former Senior Political Affairs Officer in the Office of Ms. Angela Kane, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs at the United Nations, Randy Rydell, who said, “The nuclear powers will almost certainly try to deal with this humanitarian campaign by diverting it onto the track of “arms control” — namely, we need to improve the safety and security of nukes and “keep them out of the wrong hands”.

Both arguments divert attention from the risks inherent in such weapons, in anybody’s “hands”.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Only Half of Global Banks Have Policy to Respect Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/only-half-of-global-banks-have-policy-to-respect-human-rights/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:07:33 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138161 Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

Children from one of the communities in Ocean Division, southern Cameroon, who lost much of their forestland after the government leased it to a logging company. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Just half of major global banks have in place a public policy to respect human rights, according to new research, despite this being a foundational mandate of an international convention on multinational business practice.

Further, of the 32 global banks examined, researchers found that none has publicly put in place a process to deal with human rights abuses, if identified. None has even created grievance mechanisms by which those impacted by potential abuses can complain to the banks.“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles.” -- Aldo Caliari

The findings, published by BankTrack, an international network of watchdog groups, come three and a half years after the adoption of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. These principles, unanimously endorsed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, specify a range of actions and obligations for all businesses, including the financial sector.

Yet banks have a unique role in underwriting nearly all of the business activity around the globe, even as they are typically shielded from the impacts of those investments.

“Banks covered in this report have been found to finance companies and projects involving forced removals of communities, child labour, military backed land grabs, and abuses of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination,” the report, released last week, states.

“Policies and processes, open to public scrutiny and backed by adequate reporting, are important tools for banks to ensure that these kinds of abuses do not happen, and that where they do, those whose rights have been impacted have the right to effective remedy … If these policies and procedures are to be meaningful, the finance for such ‘dodgy deals’ must eventually dry up.”

One of the banks studied in the new report, JPMorgan Chase, is one of the leading U.S. financiers of palm oil, through loans and equity investments. While the bank does have a human rights policy, BankTrack’s researchers find this policy applies only to loans, not investments.

“When it comes to reporting on implementation, the bank falls flat, making the policy little more than window-dressing,” Jeff Conant, an international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group that is working on palm-oil financing, told IPS.

“We’ve spoken with JPMorgan Chase about the need to give impacted people an opportunity to file complaints about the human rights impacts of its financing, with the belief that this is a first step towards accountability. Frankly, from the bank’s response, I don’t see them stepping up anytime soon.”

While private finance today facilitates almost the full range of corporate activity, Conant notes, “the finance institutions themselves are wholly unaccountable.”

Sobering results

According to the new study, a few banks appear to be well on their way to conformity with the Guiding Principles. The top-ranked institution, the Dutch Rabobank, received a score of eight out of 12, with Credit Suisse and UBS close behind.

These are the exceptions, however. Against a set of 12 criteria, the average score was only a three.

Many scored at or near zero. While those ranked at the very bottom include several Chinese institutions, they also include banks in the European Union and the United States.

Indeed, Bank of America, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, scored just 0.5 out of 12, receiving a minor bump for having expressed some commitment to carrying out human rights-related due diligence. (The bank failed to respond to request for comment for this story by deadline.)

“The findings of this report are quite sobering about what can be expected from self-regulatory principles,” Aldo Caliari, the director of the Rethinking Bretton Woods Project at the Center of Concern, a Washington think tank, told IPS.

“The Guiding Principles are the bare minimum of any human rights framework in the corporate sector, a framework that has the companies’ consent. So the fact that there is so little [adherence to] such a relatively weak tool, where every effort to court corporations’ support has been made, is, indeed, very telling.”

Despite the spectrum of findings on implementation, the financial services industry as a whole has taken note of the Guiding Principles.

In 2011, four European banks met to discuss the principles’ potential implications for the sector. Three more banks eventually joined what is now called the Thun Group, and in October 2013 the grouping released an initial paper on the results of these discussions, including recommendations for compliance.

A previously existing set of voluntary guidelines for the banking sector, known as the Equator Principles, were also updated in 2013 to reflect the new existence of the Guiding Principles. So far, the Equator Principles have been signed by 80 financial institutions in 34 countries.

“To date, banks’ efforts to implement the UN Guiding Principles have mainly revolved around producing discussion papers on the best way forward,” Ryan Brightwell, the new report’s author, said in a statement.

“BankTrack has welcomed these discussions, but some three and a half years on from the launch of these Principles, it is time to move onto implementation.”

Strengthening accountability

The new findings on lagging implementation will strengthen arguments from those who want to tweak or supplant the Guiding Principles. Some suggest, for instance, that the framework be changed to treat financial institutions differently from other sectors.

“[T]he financial sector requires an exceptional treatment when it comes to the application of the Guiding Principles,” the Center of Concern’s Caliari wrote last year in comments for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Financial companies, more than other companies, have the potential, with their change of behaviour, to influence the behaviour of other actors. That means they also should be upheld to a greater level of responsibility when they fail to do so.”

Caliari and others are also part of a movement to move beyond voluntary frameworks such as the Guiding Principles (at least in their current form), and instead to see through the creation of a binding mechanism.

This decades-long effort received a significant boost in June, when the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to allow negotiations to begin toward a binding treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations. (This same session also approved a popular second resolution, aimed instead at strengthening implementation of the Guiding Principles process.)

The new data on banks’ relative lack of compliance with the Guiding Principles, Caliari says, is one of the reasons the call for a legally binding treaty “has been gaining ground.”

He continues: “It is increasingly clear that mechanisms that rely on the consent of the companies cannot be the total of available accountability mechanisms. More is needed.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Cameroon’s Anti-Terrorism Law – Reversal of Human Freedomshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cameroons-anti-terrorism-law-reversal-of-human-freedoms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameroons-anti-terrorism-law-reversal-of-human-freedoms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cameroons-anti-terrorism-law-reversal-of-human-freedoms/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 23:23:00 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138134 By Ngala Killian Chimtom
YAOUNDE, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

Legislators in Cameroon have voted in a draft law proposing the death sentence for all those guilty of carrying out, abetting or sponsoring acts of terrorism. The draft law, which is now being examined by the Cameroon Senate, call for punishment acts of terrorism committed by citizens, either individually or in complicity, with death.

The draft law also prescribes the death penalty for persons who carry out “any activity which can lead to a general revolt of the population or disturb the normal functioning of the country” and for “anyone who supplies arms, war equipment, bacteria and viruses with the intention of killing.”

The same applies for people guilty of kidnapping with terrorist intent, as well as for “anyone who directly or indirectly finances acts of terrorism” and for “anyone who recruits citizens with the aim of carrying out acts of terrorism.”“This [anti-terrorism] law is manifestly against the fundamental liberties and rights of the Cameroonian people … In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government’s real intent is to stifle political dissent” – Kah Wallah, leader of the Cameroon People’s Party

The draft law also punishes people and companies found guilty of promoting terrorism, as well as people who give false testimony to administrative and judicial authorities in matters of terrorism, with various fines and prison terms.

The anti-terrorism law has sparked a wave of criticism across the political chessboard – from opposition political leaders to civil society, church ministers and trade unions.

“This law is designed to terrorise the people and kill their freedoms,” opposition leader, John Fru Ndi told IPS.

Kah Wallah, the lone female leader of a political party in Cameroon [the Cameroon People’s Party], added that “the government is taking us back to the worst days of the most barbaric dictatorship … This law is manifestly against the fundamental liberties and rights of the Cameroonian people … In the guise of fighting terrorism, the government’s real intent is to stifle political dissent.”

For Maurice Kamto, a former cabinet minister who resigned to form the Movement for the Revival of Cameroon (MRC), President Paul Biya – now in power for 32 years – is afraid of any popular up-rising that could put his stay in power in jeopardy.

“The president has certainly learnt from the lessons coming from Burkina Faso. A similar uprising here will sweep his failed presidency under the carpet,” he said. Facing mounting pressure, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso was forced to resign on Oct. 31 after 27 years in office.

Various opposition political leaders and civil society exponents have vowed to fight the proposed law to its logical end. “Cameroonians must resist and say no to this other manoeuvre … We will fight this law by every means,” Ndi said, without elaborating.

However, Jean Mark Bikoko,  president of the Public Service Workers’ Trade Union, already has an idea on how to proceed. In a strongly-worded statement released on Dec. 3, Bikoko said that the law “is a veritable declaration of war against the people … The anti-terrorism law has provoked the ire of civil society and we will protest on December 10 – International Human Rights Day.”

But the government has said it will not falter in the fight against terrorism. Justice Minister Laurent Esso told MPs that “Cameroon will never be complicit to those whose only agenda is to cause mayhem and destabilise the normal functioning of the state.”

Counting the costs

In the north of the country, Cameroon’s military are combating cross-border raids by Nigeria’s militant Islamist group Boko Haram. On May 17, President Biya along with other regional leaders and French President François Holland said they were declaring war against Boko Haram.

Cameroon has since deployed thousands of troops in the country’s Far North Region and plans to send still more troops. Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o and Delegate General for National Security Martin Mbarga Nguele have announced that some 20,000 defence and security forces will be recruited within the next two years to reinforce the fight against Boko Haram.

However, as the security crisis in the country continues to worsen, Cameroonian authorities have been counting the costs, not only in terms of human loss, but also in terms of the impacts of the crisis on the economy.

During a special parliamentary plenary session on Nov. 27, Ngo’o said that since the crisis escalated eight months ago, Cameroon has so far lost some forty soldiers, but killed about one thousand Boko Haram fighters. “Our defence forces have simply been formidable,” he said.

But the economic costs of the war are heavy. According to the Minister of the Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi, “the most affected sectors have been the tourism, transport, trade, agriculture and livestock sectors.”

He said  that “almost all tourism enterprises have been shut down, the number of tourists visiting attraction parks like the Waza National Park and the Rhumsiki Mountains have gone down drastically, and the hotel occupation rate has dropped from 50 percent before the crisis to just 10 percent today.”

In addition, there has been a sharp drop in customs revenue. Although customs officials have not tallied the losses, they say they are astronomical.

“There was a border custom post in the Far North Region that used to give us a monthly income of CFA 700 million (1.4 million dollars).That customs post has been closed down. Can you imagine what the state is losing yearly in customs revenue? It’s enormous,” said the Director-General of Customs, Lissette Libom Li-Likeng.

Government spokesman and Communication Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary told journalists in Yaounde that in view of the human, economic and psychological losses that Cameroon has been incurring as a result of Boko Haram, a stringent law is necessary to contain the militant group.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Hiroshima, Nagasaki Cast Shadow Over Nuclear Conference in Viennahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/hiroshima-nagasaki-cast-shadow-over-nuclear-conference-in-vienna/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 20:28:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138126 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received the 2014 Humanitarian of the Year award from Harvard University’s Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was at Harvard University early this week to pick up the ‘Humanitarian of the Year’ award, his thoughts transcended the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the Austrian capital of Vienna which will be the venue of a key international conference on nuclear weapons next week.

But this time around, the focus will be on the “humanitarian impact” of the deadly use of any one of the over 16,300 nuclear weapons that still exist nearly 25 years after the end of the Cold War."We may not hear much about next April's NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that's what it's about." -- Dr. Joseph Gerson

“A single detonation of a modern nuclear weapon would cause destruction and human suffering on a scale far exceeding the devastation seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” warns Austria, the host country for the conference.

The 70th anniversary of those destructive U.S. bombings in Japan will be commemorated in Hiroshima next year.

In his acceptance speech, the secretary-general told the Harvard audience the humanitarian perspective on nuclear weapons is attracting growing attention – as he singled out the Vienna conference due to take place Dec. 8-9.

The last two conferences on the same theme took place in Oslo, Norway in March 2013, and in Nayarit, Mexico in February 2014.

Ban said people are also asking why the world’s nuclear powers are spending vast sums to modernise arsenals instead of eliminating them, which they committed to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Where are their disarmament plans? They do not exist,” he lamented.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States alone plans to spend about 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years just to modernise its nuclear arsenal.

And the total estimated cost for modernisation of weapons over the next 30 years is a staggering one trillion dollars.

Asked about the possible outcome of the Vienna conference, Dr. M.V. Ramana, associate research scholar, Programme on Science and Global Security at Princeton University, told IPS, “My hope is that people will come out of the Vienna conference with a continued resolve to eliminate these weapons, not in the distant future as the nuclear weapons states keep promising, but in the near future.”

Referring to the secretary-general’s speech, he said: “It is refreshing to hear a high official speak with such candour. I would like to especially underline what he said: ‘Ultimately, there are no right hands for wrong weapons and add that all nuclear weapons are wrong weapons.’”

His statement that the nuclear weapon states do not have disarmament plans is also sadly spot on, said Dr. Ramana, author of ‘Bombing Bombay? Effects of Nuclear Weapons and a Case Study of a Hypothetical Explosion’.

Ray Acheson, director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS, “We expect that the outcome of the Vienna conference will reflect the demand from the overwhelming majority of states that we must take concerted action now in response to the evidence about the risks and impacts of a nuclear weapon detonation.”

The logical conclusion of the evidence-based gatherings in Oslo and Nayarit – and now Vienna – is to launch a diplomatic process to prohibit nuclear weapons, she added.

“A treaty banning nuclear weapons would advance nuclear disarmament through its normative force and practical effects,” she said.

The Vienna conference may not launch such a process but it can help set the stage by presenting irrefutable evidence about the dangers of nuclear weapons, challenging the idea that nuclear weapons have any value for defence or deterrence, and providing space for governments, international organisations, and civil society to examine the legal landscape and suggest ways forward, said Acheson.

Dr. Joseph Gerson, director of the Peace and Economic Security Programme at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), told IPS, “We may not hear much about next April’s NPT Review Conference during the formal debate at the Vienna conference, but that’s what it’s about.”

With the success of the Review Conference in doubt – given the P-5′s resistance to fulfilling their Article VI obligation to begin good faith negotiations to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, and the failure of the United States to co-convene the promised 2012 Middle East Nuclear Weapons and WMD-Free Zone (Weapons of Mass Destruction) conference – the Austrian government’s goal is to build positive momentum going into the Review Conference, he added.

The P5 comprises the United States, UK, France, China and Russia, the world’s five major nuclear powers, who are also the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Dr. Gerson said recognising that nuclear weapons abolition cannot be negotiated without the active participation of the nuclear powers, Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, director for Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, placed a high premium on winning their participation, especially the U.S. and Britain, who now have bragging rights over Russia, China and France.

“The price paid was Austria’s commitment to limit the conference to educational discourse,” he said.

Dr. Gerson said those who demand action steps will be violating their invitations and will have little impact on the chair’s summary, which will lack the bite of Juan Manuel Gomez-Robledo’s summary at Nayarit conference.

“And it will be interesting to see if and how – after their boycotts of the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences – the presence of the Anglo-American nuclear powers leads some to bite their tongues,” he added.

Dr. Gerson also predicted the Vienna conference may reinforce commitments of some to work for abolition, but the men and women of power and most of humanity have known the essentials since the A-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“Most will speak diplomatically, but the hypocrisy of bemoaning the human consequences of nuclear weapons while Washington spends one trillion dollars to modernise its nuclear arsenal and to replace its delivery systems, Britain moves toward Trident replacement, and Russia relies increasingly on its nuclear arsenal in face of NATO’s expansion, will hang heavy over the conference,” he declared.

The government of Austria says nine states (the P5 plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) are believed to possess nuclear weapons, “but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”

Dr. Ramana told IPS delegates to next week’s meeting will certainly be aware that next year will be the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – the bombings “that first made us realise the utterly horrendous nature of the humanitarian consequences of the use of even one or two nuclear weapons”.

“What we do need to remember is that 2015 will also be the seventieth anniversary of the anti-nuclear peace movement,” he reminded.

“Just as nuclear weapons haven’t gone away, the movement challenging these weapons of mass destruction hasn’t gone away,” he added.

Dr. Gerson said governments will position themselves, rehearsing their arguments in the run up to the NPT Review. Meanwhile, out of earshot, serious side discussions will take place to frame and influence next April’s diplomacy.

“Civil society will speak truth to power. We’ll also be drawing on our contacts to build popular force behind our demands that April’s NPT Review mandate the commencement of Article VI’s good faith negotiations to eliminate the world’s omnicidal nuclear arsenals.”

One certain outcome, he said: the Human Consequences process will have been kept alive, to be revisited following April’s NPT Review Conference.

Acheson told IPS that Ban’s remarks at Harvard highlight “why we can no longer afford to wait for leadership from the nuclear-armed states”.

She said their plans to modernise their nuclear arsenals, extending the lives of these weapons of mass destruction into the indefinite future, demonstrate they are not willing to comply with their legal obligation to disarm. “We can’t afford to keep waiting for leadership from nuclear-armed states.”

Acheson said a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons can and should be negotiated by those states ready to do so, even if the states with nuclear weapons are not ready to participate.

“The 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks has already been cited as the appropriate milestone to achieve our goal of launching a new diplomatic process,” Acheson declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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War Knocks on Door of Youth Centre in Zwarahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/war-knocks-on-the-squat-house-in-zwara/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 09:05:05 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138103 Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Bondok Hassem (left) gets help to mount a mortar inside Zwara´s squat house. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZWARA, Libya, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

“The house belonged to a former member of the secret services of [Muammar] Gaddafi so we decided to squat it for the local youth in Zwara [an Amazigh enclave 120 km west of Tripoli, on the border with Tunisia],” Fadel Farhad, an electrician who combines his work with the local militia, tells IPS.It could be a squat house anywhere: music is playing non-stop and there is also a radio station and an art exhibition. However, weapons are also on display among the instruments, and most here wear camouflage uniform.

The centre is called “Tifinagh” after the name given to the Amazigh alphabet. Also called Berbers, the Amazigh are native inhabitants of North Africa.

The arrival of the Arabs in the region in the seventh century was the beginning of a slow yet gradual process of Arabisation which was sharply boosted during the four decades in which Muammar Gaddafi (1969-2011) remained in power. Unofficial estimates put the number of Amazighs in this country at around 600,000 – about 10 percent of the total population

Like most of the youngsters at the centre, Farhad knows he can be mobilised at any time. The latest attack on Zwara took place less than a kilometre from here a little over a week ago, when an airstrike hit a warehouse killing two Libyans and six sub-Saharan migrants.

Three years after Gaddafi was toppled, Libya remains in a state of political turmoil that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war. There are two governments and two separate parliaments one based in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, 1,000 km east of the capital.

Several militias are grouped into two paramilitary alliances: Fajr (“Dawn” in Arabic), led by the Misrata brigades controlling Tripoli, and Karama (“Dignity”) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, a Tobruk-based former army general.

“Here in Zwara we rely on around 5000 men grouped into different militias,” Younis, a militia fighter who prefers not to give his full name, tells IPS. “We never wanted this to happen but the problem is that all our enemies are fighting on Tobruk´s side,” adds the 30-year-old by the pickups lining up at the entrance of the building.

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Local militiamen gather outside their squat house in the Amazigh enclave of Zwara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The polarisation of the conflict in Libya has pushed several Amazigh militias to fight sporadically alongside the coalition led by Misrata, which includes Islamist groups among its ranks.

However, the atmosphere in this squat house seems at odds with religious orthodoxy of any kind, with an unlikely fusion between Amazigh traditional music and death metal blasting from two loudspeakers. This is the work of 30-year-old Bondok Hassem, a well-known local musician who is also an Amazigh language teacher as well as one of the commanders of the Tamazgha militia.

“Both Misrata and Tobruk are striving to become the alpha male in this war. We are all fully aware that, whoever wins this war, they will attack us immediately afterwards so we are forced to defend our land by any means necessary,” laments Hassem between sips of boja, the local firewater.

But can it be international partnerships that hamper an already difficult agreement between both sides?

Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and France are backing Tobruk and Misrata relies mainly on Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile, NATO officials are seemingly torn between wanting to stay out of the war, and watching anxiously as the violence goes out of control. Today, most of the diplomatic missions have left Tripoli, except for those of Italy and Hungary.

A fragile balance

Moussa Harim is among the Amazigh who seem to feel not too uncomfortable siding with the government in Tripoli. Born in Jadu, in the Amazigh stronghold of the Nafusa mountain range – 100 km south of Tripoli – Harim was exiled in France during Gaddafi’s time but he became Deputy Minister of Culture in March 2012.

Although he admits that Islamists pose a real threat, he clarifies that in Misrata there are also people “from all walks of life and very diverse affiliations, communists included.”

It is the geographical location itself which, according to Harim, inexorably pushes the Libyan Amazigh towards Misrata.

“Except for a small enclave in the east, our people live in the west of the country, and a majority of them here, in Tripoli,” the senior official tells IPS.

But there are discordant voices, like that of Fathi Ben Khalifa. A native of Zwara and a political dissident for decades, Ben Khalifa was the president of the World Amazigh Congress between 2011 and 2013.

The Congress is an international organisation based in Paris since 1995 that aims to protect the Amazigh identity. Today Ben Khalifa remains as an executive member of this umbrella organisation for this North African people.

“This is not our war, it’s just a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists, none of which will ever recognise our rights,” Ben Khalifa tells IPS over the phone from Morocco. Although the senior political activist defends the right of his people to defend themselves from outside aggressions, he gives a deadline to take a clearer position:

“If Libya´s Constitution – to be released on December 24 – does not grant our legitimate rights, then it will be the time to take up arms,” Ben Khalifa bluntly claims.

At dusk, and after another day marked by exhausting shifts at checkpoints and patrols around the city, the local militiamen cool down after swapping their rifles for a harmonica and a guitar at the squat house. This time they play the songs of Matloub Lounes, a singer from Kabylia, Algeria´s Amazigh stronghold.

“I can´t hardly wait for the war to end. I´ll burn my uniform and get back to my work,” says Anwar Darir, an Amazigh language teacher since 2011. That was the year in which Gaddafi was killed, yet a solution to the conflict among Libyans is still nowhere near.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.N. Chief, Under Fire, Moves Closer to Gender Parityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-n-chief-under-fire-moves-closer-to-gender-parity/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 21:58:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138057 Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Some of the 43 military and police officers from 27 countries who received peacekeeping medals from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon named an international panel to review peacekeeping operations last October, the announcement was greeted with bitter criticism because it lacked even a semblance of gender balance: only three out of 14 members were women.

And perhaps adding insult to injury, the announcement was made on Oct. 31, the 14th anniversary of the historic Security Council resolution 1325 which underlined the importance of women’s equal participation and full involvement in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.

“The timing of your announcement is a slap in the face to women working for peace the world over,” complained Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, and Paula Donovan, both co-directors of AIDS-Free World.

In three strongly-worded letters to the Secretary-General, Lewis and Donovan said: “In one stroke, you have succeeded in making a mockery of Resolution 1325.”

“In one stroke,” the letter further added, “you have repudiated the importance of gender equity in the appointment of high-level panels.”

And in one stroke, “you have declared to the world your view that there are no women to be found anywhere – not in politics, academe, diplomacy, civil society, or among Nobel laureates – who are qualified enough to satisfy the requirements of a panel on peace operations.”

The fallout was almost instantaneous – and mostly positive.

Firstly, the appointment last month of a new 10-member high-level panel on a technology bank for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) reflected a 50-50 gender parity: five men and five women.

Secondly, on Monday, the secretary-general, apparently responding to criticism, also doubled the number of women in the U.N. panel on peacekeeping: from three to six.

The three additional women to the Panel are: Dr. Marie-Louise Baricako from Burundi, Dr. Rima Salah from Jordan and Radhika Coomaraswamy from Sri Lanka.

In addition, Ameerah Haq of Bangladesh, the current under-secretary-general for the Department of Field Support and an original member of the panel, will serve as vice-chair following her retirement from the United Nations on Feb. 1, 2015.

A statement released Monday said “the Secretary-General is confident the addition of three eminent women and the role Ms. Haq will play as Vice-Chair will not only bring gender balance to the panel, but also enrich its work, particularly on issues relating to women, peace and security.”

Asked for his comments, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, long considered the prime initiator and “father of the 1325 Security Council resolution”, told IPS: “It is welcome news – at least as a step forward towards our goal of 50-50 equality.”

He said listening to the voice of civil society is considered meaningful in making U.N. decision-making more broad-based and people-oriented.

When the initial criticism surfaced, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I guess this is one case where we have to just make a very sincere apology.

“We try as hard as we can to get the right gender balance and the right regional balance for these very large panels, and sometimes it’s a question of availability,” he added. “But when we make a mistake on that, you’re absolutely right, that’s a low number, and well have to do better.”

Chowdhury said: “Personally, I believe a woman should have been made the co-chair and not vice-chair of the Peace Panel.”

A key objective of Security Council’s history-making resolution 1325 is to achieve women’s equality of participation at all decision making levels, he added.

Also, it makes sense to have the two top persons of the panel representing two different geographic regions of the world, said, Chowdhury,, a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General and High Representative.

Donovan of AIDS-Free World told IPS the secretary-general’s actions came a bit closer to matching his rhetoric.

“But his claim that an 11-to-6 ratio of men to women was enough to ‘bring gender balance’ were the words of a leader who is either obdurate or uncomprehending,” she added.

Gender parity could have been achieved with a stroke of his pen; instead, he chose to keep women in the minority at 35 per cent,
she added.

“His actions raise some hope, a great deal of concern, and a clear warning about the need for constant vigilance and unrelenting pressure by proponents of women’s equal rights,” said Donovan.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times U.N. bureau chief, told IPS the persistence of AIDS-Free World in focusing wider outrage over the startling imbalance of the original panel on peacekeeping has paid off in a remarkably short time – by U.N. standards.

And the elevation to vice-chair of Ameerah Haq, one of the U.N.’s most qualified and effective officials over a nearly four-decade career, will go a long way in remedying the situation, said Crossette, currently the U.N.correspondent for The Nation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

She singled out Haq’s services in conflict and post-conflict countries which gives her a broad global vision.

To take one example from the new panel members – Radhika Coomaraswamy has been not only the U.N.’s point person on violence against women and the perils facing children in armed conflict, but also director of the International Center for Ethnic studies in Sri Lanka.

She held that position during an intense period of terrorism that cost the life of her predecessor in that position, Neelan Tiruchelvam, the country’s leading human rights lawyer, said Crossette.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, a programme partner of the International Civil society Action Network, told IPS, “Our sincere hope is these appointments will not become two isolated efforts to please the complainers.

“We want a 50-50 representation not just this one time but all throughout the decision-making structures of the United Nations, ” she said.

She said those appointed should consult and connect with civil society, and there should be a mechanism for regular consultation with civil society, as part of the terms of reference of all key panels and committees and key positions in the United Nations.

She also called for a vetting mechanism for the selection of members of key panels and committees and key positions in the U.N. with a civil society representation.

“The problem with many high-level appointments in the U.N. is that they are based on political influence of some member states. They are pet nominees of influential member states who get the appointments – and that is why we have unqualified people in some of these positions,” she declared.

“We in civil society have delivered the message like a broken record. We’ve been telling the U.N. for years to walk the talk, and lead by example on matters of gender equality. I sincerely hope this will be the real tipping point,” she noted.

Meanwhile, in a statement released Tuesday, AIDS-Free World had the last word: “An 11-man, 6-woman panel, with a man as chair and a woman as vice-chair, does not bring gender balance by anyone’s reckoning.”

The High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations will be monitored closely by civil society, the group said, and transparency will be expected in every aspect of its work.

“The Secretary-General must do better,” it declared. “The world’s women will hold him to account.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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