Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:58:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

High levels of both conventional and nuclear deterrence are likely to prevent the recent surge in clashes between India and Pakistan from escalating into all-out war, according to Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf predicted that low-intensity conflict would continue in disputed border areas. But he did not share the belief of many Pakistanis that hostilities could slide into full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“Any military commander knows the force levels being maintained by either side,” he said. “I don’t think war is a possibility because the lethality and accuracy of weapons has increased so much.”

Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

“Thank God, the level of conventional deterrence that we have in terms of weapons and manpower is enough to deter conventional war. So therefore I’m reasonably sure that in case of a war it is the conventional side which will be played and we will not go on to the unconventional.”

The 73-yeasr-old Musharraf made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion at his London home, in which he set out plans for a return to front-line politics in Pakistan. He said he might have reacted “more strongly” in recent clashes than the Pakistani authorities had done.Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

The two countries had previously made progress on territorial disputes including in Kashmir. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who won power in 2014, was “on a collision course” with Pakistan that precluded a peaceful resolution, he said.

Musharraf also issued a strong warning about the threat to Pakistan coming from sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, saying it would be “extremely dangerous” for Pakistan to get dragged into the war in Yemen alongside its long-standing Saudi allies.

Pakistan was initially named by Saudi Arabia as part of a 34-nation coalition but held back from participating in the Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s exiled government against Houthi Shia rebels.

Pakistan, with Iran as its neighbour, should not be taking sides, he warned. “We cannot do something which arouses internal conflict within Pakistan.”

The vexed question of terrorist “safe havens”, which Pakistan has been accused of providing near the border with Afghanistan, had to be addressed by both sides, Musharraf insisted. “Why is it Pakistan’s responsibility to control movement across the border?” he asked, arguing that terrorists were also being harboured in Afghanistan.

He had warm words, however, for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, describing him as “definitely a good person”. This was despite the fact that efforts to build closer ties by training Afghan cadets in Pakistan had fizzled out.

His relationship with Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai was more difficult. “I just didn’t like him,” Musharraf said, “because I think he was not a straight dealer.”

This is the second of three articles based on Musharraf’s interview with IPS.

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Civil Society On Aleppo: UN General Assembly Must Act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:40:07 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148060 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/feed/ 0 Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf says he intends to make a second bid for a political comeback next year, aiming to return from self-imposed exile to forge a new party that would bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf said he wanted to have “something effective on the ground” in Pakistan by June next year so that the new political entity could contest general elections scheduled for March 2018. He was prepared to go to court in Pakistan to face any charges against him as long as he was allowed to move around.

He laid out his plans in a wide-ranging interview that also dealt with responses to terrorism, the recent escalation in border hostilities between Pakistan and India, the threat from sectarian conflict in the Middle East and concerns about Donald Trump’s impending presidency in the US.

“I have to bring the people together and give them the proper leadership,” he said. Speaking in the living-room of the central London flat that became his main base after he resigned from office in 2008, he said the current leadership was incapable of meeting Pakistan’s internal and external challenges.

“At the moment politics in Pakistan is polarised and all parties are ethnically based. I think that is bad for the Federation of Pakistan,” Musharraf said.

He claimed he still had popular support, despite a disappointing reception on his previous return to Pakistan in 2013, which he blamed partly on a change of venue. Facing a treason trial and other charges that include alleged complicity in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was allowed to leave Pakistan again in March this year.

musharrafstanding_300Musharraf, who is 73, admitted that the outlook for resolving the court cases was “not all that good”, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government of conducting a vendetta against him. “The cases have to be dealt with to a certain extent so that my movement does not get restricted. Otherwise they can continue,” he said.

“I know that the military will always be in my favour to protect me,” Musharraf, a former army commander, added, although they could not dictate terms to the courts.

In May, the former president was declared an absconder by a special court hearing treason charges against him for taking emergency rule powers in 2007.

On the Benazir Bhutto assassination, Musharraf stood by the version put forward by the government at the time blaming Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who denied involvement and was later killed in a US drone attack. But the former president said he had no knowledge of any conspiracy behind the attack.

In remarks following the interview, Musharraf made clear he had no intention of seeking a seat in the national assembly, having been debarred from standing in the 2013 election. “The aim is far greater, far higher,” he said.

He said he had held discussions with other Pakistani politicians in person in Dubai and by telephone. He dismissed media reports suggesting a possible role as president of Muttahida Qaumi Movement and its splinter group the Pak Sarzameen Party, arguing that they were too narrowly based in Urdu-speaking urban areas of southeast Pakistan. However, these so-called Muhajir groups would be an important part of the new national party he was planning to form, he said

Musharraf said a harder clampdown was required on all elements of separatist and sectarian terrorism in the country. “We haven’t taken a very holistic approach towards it,” he said, saying the authorities could make more use of “second-line” auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which should be strengthened with better weaponry. “The army should be relieved of these policing jobs.”

More needed to be done to regulate madrassas and bring them into Pakistan’s mainstream education system, he said. “Most of them are not oriented towards terrorism. Some of them certainly are, and we need to close them down.”

Musharraf played down the danger of a “blowback” for Pakistan from its support for irregular militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But he accepted that “some elements” had links to terrorist attacks in Pakistan and there was a risk that some might now become proxies for ISIS.

He defended humanitarian work carried out by associates of militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India has blamed for deadly attacks including those in Mumbai in 2008 and which is widely banned as a terrorist organisation. The organisation had been “much maligned”, Musharraf said. “They have taken the religious youth away from terrorism towards welfare activity,” he argued. “And if we keep pushing them to the wall these same youths are going to turn towards terrorism and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

Musharraf maintained that up to his departure his government “achieved tremendously” in its aims or promoting welfare, development and security. But he admitted making errors in sidelining Pakistan’s chief justice – a move that provoked nationwide protests although Musharraf still says it was deserved – and in ordering a corruption amnesty for civil servants and politicians, “which made me unpopular.”

Further articles from this interview dealing with regional security and relations with the US and China will be published shortly.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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UN Security Council Seats Taken by Arms Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 05:36:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147975 The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

Nine of the world’s top ten arms exporters will sit on the UN Security Council between mid-2016 and mid-2018.

The nine include four rotating members — Spain, Ukraine, Italy and the Netherlands — from Europe, as well as the council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to 2015 data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), these nine countries make up the world’s top ten exporters of arms. Germany ranked at number 5, is the only top 10 exporter which is not a recent, current or prospective member of the 15-member council.

However, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher in the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at SIPRI told IPS that he was not “surprised at all” to see so many arms exporters on the council.

“In reality it is business as usual: the five permanent members of the Security Council are of course in many ways the strongest military powers,” said Wezeman.

Just two permanent members, the United States with 33 percent and Russia with 25 percent, accounted for 58 percent of total global arms exports in 2015, according to SIPRI data. China and France take up third and fourth place with much smaller shares of 5.9 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-8-35-05-pm

The status of several rotating Security Council members as arms exporters while “interesting”, may be mostly “coincidence,” added Wezeman.

Current conflicts in Yemen and Syria pose contrasting examples of the relative influence that Security Council members have as arms exporters.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms told IPS.

“We’ve been calling persistently for a year now for arms transfers to Saudi Arabia to be suspended in the context of the Yemen crisis, because of the severe level of the humanitarian suffering that exists there and because of the specific role that arms transfers are playing in that.”

Macdonald says that the transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen violates both humanitarian law and the Arms Trade Treaty.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald.

Domestic pressure from civil society organisations, however, have caused some European countries, including Sweden which will join the Security Council in January 2017, to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said Wezeman. Sweden, which will hold a seat on the council from January 2017 to December 2018, comes in as the world’s number 12 arms exporter.

However arms exports from Security Council members are not necessarily a significant source of weapons in conflicts under consideration by the council.

For example, council members have been hinting at the prospect of an arms embargo against South Sudan for much of 2016, however the weapons used in South Sudan are not closely related to exports from Security Council members.

“South Sudan is a country which acquires primarily cheap, simple weapons. It doesn’t need the latest model tank, it can do with a tank which is 30 or 40 years old,” said Wezeman.

According to Wezeman, it is more likely that political rather than economic considerations impact Security Council members’ decisions regarding arms embargoes, since profits from arms sales are “limited compared to their total economy.”

“Most of the states that are under a UN arms embargo are generally poor countries where the markets for anything, including arms, are not particularly big,” he added.

Overall, however Macdonald says that Security Council members have special responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security, and this extends also to their particular responsibilities as arms exporters.

“We would obviously cite the UN Article 5: promote maintenance of peace with the least diversion for armament,” she said.

“We would argue that the 1.3 trillion that’s currently allocated to military expenditure is not in keeping with the spirit or letter of the UN charter,” she added, noting that this is significantly more than it would cost to eradicate extreme poverty.

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Students Under Siege as Schools Burn in India’s Troubled Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:15:55 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147897 Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand in the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KULGAM, Kashmir, India, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

In the fading light of a November afternoon, 12-year-old Mariya Sareer bends over a textbook, trying to read as much as she can before it gets dark. It’s been nearly five months since the seventh grader from Shurat, a village 70 kms south of Srinagar city, last went to school, thanks to a raging political conflict.

“Studying like this is hard. I don’t know where to focus. My scores won’t be as good as before,” says the young student, who has always been top of her class. Her siblings Arjumand, 9, and Fazl, 6, both students at the same school, nod in agreement.Unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility.

Mariya is still luckier than many of her friends. Although her school – the Taleem-Ul-Islam Ahmadiyya Institute – has been closed for the past four and half months, the building is still standing. But for thousands of others, there will be no classrooms to return to when the shutdown ends because their schools have been destroyed in fires.

Burning down a generation’s future

Schools across Kashmir were closed for Eid ul Fitr, which was celebrated on July 6. They were expected to reopen soon after the festival. But violence erupted across the valley after Burhan Wani, a young militant, was gunned down by security forces on July 8. Amidst mass rallies, stone-throwing and renewed demands for “freedom” from India, the pro-separatist parties called for a total shutdown of the valley.

The shutdown effectively kept the valley’s 1.4 million students from returning to their classrooms.

A few weeks later, on Sep. 6, the first news of a school fire was reported in Mirhama village of Kulgam district. Soon, similar reports began to pour in from all over the valley. So far, nearly three dozen schools – both government-run and privately-owned – have been burnt down. A majority of these schools are in South Kashmir where Burhan Wani was killed.

One of them is the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam. The building was set on fire on the evening of Oct. 16 and although locals and police tried to douse the flames, the library, gymnasium, computers, laboratory and desks were destroyed. Locals allege that the arsonists wanted to prevent the school from reopening – a reason why they burnt the upper floor, instead of the ground floors that had little equipment.

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher at the school, says it was among the best in the district. “They are burning down the children’s future,” a visibly shaken Barkat told IPS.

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Surprisingly, unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility. Separatists and the government have both blamed each other, while some locals say they are the work of “fringe elements” in society who just want to cause disruptions. The police have made some arrests, but in each case, the accused has been identified as a “pro-separatist” without any clear link with any terror group.

With the increased cases of arson, the government has asked teachers to protect their schools during the nighttime hours. Accordingly, schools have created charts of teachers on “night duty”. Female teachers have been asked to send a male relative to patrol on their behalf.

Unease in a minority community

Basharat Ahmed Dar is the head of Asnoor, a village of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kulgam. In a state of long political turmoil, violence, murders and torture, this is a community campaigning for love, peace and harmony. Their unique principles have earned them global respect, as well as scorn from many, especially the radicals.

The community strongly advocates for education as a healthy path to progress and also runs five schools in South Kashmir. The schools – which admit both Ahmadiyya and non-Ahmadiyya students – are known for a high standard of education and superior infrastructure.

Since the shutdown began, the Ahmadiyya youths, including some of the teachers, have been guarding their schools to repel possible attacks and arson. The patrolling will continue until the snow begins to fall, says Dar.

“It has not rained here for several months, so everything is very dry and prone to catching fire. But once snowfall begins, setting fire will not be as easy,” he explained.

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

In Kashmir, a study year begins in April and ends in November- just before the three-month long winter vacation begins. The annual examinations are held in late October. However, this year, none of the schools could conduct the final examinations. With no signs of an end to the shutdown, government this week declared a mass promotion for students from first to ninth grade across the valley.

Private schools have decided to conduct examinations, even though they had completed only about 40 percent of the syllabus.

Farooq Ahmed Nengroo, a private school teacher, calls the mass promotions a “dangerous mistake.”

“In 2014 also, after a flood hit the valley, the students had a mass promotion although only two to three percent of all schools were affected. In future, we will definitely see a vacuum of knowledge and skills in the state’s labour force,” he warned.

High school students are also not pleased with the government decision. Ishfaq Ahmed, an eleventh grade student in Kulgam, says, “I had joined a coaching institute to prepare for the engineering college entrance test next year. But because of the shutdown, all the coaching institutes are closed. Unless those are allowed to function, nothing else is going to help.”

Meanwhile, Mariya Sareer is praying for an end to the shutdown and the burning of schools so she can get her life back. “I just want to return to school, study and play cricket,” she says.

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Children of the ‘Others’, Sons of Minor Godshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/children-of-the-others-sons-of-minor-gods/#comments Tue, 22 Nov 2016 14:23:49 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147885 UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

In December 1946, “faced with the reality of millions of children suffering daily deprivation in Europe after World War II,” the General Assembly of the United Nations created the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), to mount urgent relief programmes.

In keeping with the ethos of the United Nations, UNICEF’s mandate was—and still is, to provide aid “without discrimination due to race, creed, nationality, status or political belief.”

It is so that the sole condition made by Maurice Pate upon his appointment as the organisation’s first Executive Director was “that it include all children” from both Allied and “ex-enemy countries.”

Seventy years later, as Europe copes with a refugee crisis not seen since it was founded, the organisation remains an ever-present advocate for children’s rights, UNICEF reminds.

“It is uniquely positioned among humanitarian and development agencies to respond not only to the needs of children displaced by disaster and armed conflict, but also to work for a better future for all children.”

And in spite of the growing shortages of funds to the United Nations system at large, this New York-based organisation strives to alleviate the huge suffering of hundreds of millions of children trapped in wars, violence, abuse, exploitation, smuggling, sexual violations, trade of vital organs and death.

UNICEF believes that there is hope for every child. “The conviction that every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy, safe childhood is a constant threat through the history of the organisation. Its continued viability depends on applying past lessons learned to the challenges ahead, and harnessing the power of innovation to solve tomorrow’s problems. “

As envisioned by current executive director Anthony Lake, this will require a “willingness to adapt and find new ways to realise the rights and brighten the futures of the most disadvantaged children around the world.” “UNICEF understands that the spiral of poverty, disease and hunger stifles global development and leads to violations of children’s human rights.”

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

Children and adults fleeing from ISIL-controlled areas in rural Raqqa. More than 5,000 people have fled their homes over the past week to escape the fighting. © UNICEF/UN039551/Soulaiman

So far, so good. But not enough. Recent facts show the increasingly dramatic situation children face worldwide. UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring report mentioned in July this year, some key findings:

16,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes.

• The births of nearly 230 million children under age 5 worldwide (about one in three) have never been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality.

2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation, including 946 million who are forced to resort to open defecation for lack of other options.

• Out of an estimated 35 million people living with HIV, over 2 million are 10 to 19 years old, and 56 per cent of them are girls.

• Globally, about one third of women aged 20 to 24 were child brides.

• Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.

Nearly half of all deaths in children under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year.

Marking this year’s UN Universal Children’s Day on 20 November, UNICEF Executive Director said “When we protect their rights, we are not only preventing their suffering. We are not only safeguarding their lives. We are protecting our common future.”

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Iraq 2016: A girl looks out through a hole in a wall at a damaged school in Ramadi, in Anbar Governorate – which has been especially hard hit by conflict, violence and internal displacement. Some 3.3 million people in the country are currently displaced and over 10 million are in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of the country’s ongoing crisis. About 1 million school-aged Iraqi children are internally displaced; 70 per cent of them have missed an entire year of education. © UNICEF/UN/Khouzali

Established on 20 November 1954, UN Universal Children’s Day promotes international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare.

20 November also marked the day in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a human rights treaty that changed the way children are viewed and treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity.

Lake called on the world to confront the “uncomfortable truth” that around the planet, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day.

“[Children’s rights are] being violated around the world, in every country, wherever children are the victims of violence, abuse and exploitation, violated wherever they are deprived of an education.”

“[Their rights are violated] wherever they are denied the chance to make the most of their potential simply because of their race, their religion, their gender, their ethnic group, or because they are living with a disability,” he added.

Lake cautioned on the long-term impact of these violations in how children may view the world when they grow up and how they will perceive others’ rights when their own rights are violated.

“These children are the future leaders of their societies […] the future parents and protectors of the next generation.”

UNICEF’s total resources for the period 2014–2017 amount to 26,700.7 million dollars. Please consider that the world spends 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons.

In either case, these amounts come out of citizens’ pockets. Should they not choose whether their money should be spent to saving children or producing death machines that kill children, women and men?

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This is No Way to Honour Kenya’s Contribution to Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/this-is-no-way-to-honour-kenyas-contribution-to-peace-in-south-sudan-2/#comments Mon, 21 Nov 2016 10:54:30 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147863 Ambassador Amina Mohamed is Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kenya. ]]> U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya (R) stands next to Ellen Loj (C), Special Representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Photo Credit: AP

U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) force commander Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki of Kenya (R) stands next to Ellen Loj (C), Special Representative of the U.N. secretary-general. Photo Credit: AP

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 21 2016 (IPS)

The dismissal of Lt-Gen Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki as commander of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) comes off as a knee-jerk reaction that fails to address structural limitations of the UN peacekeeping operations.

Even more worrying for Kenya is that the action practically eviscerates the country’s unrivaled contribution to peace and stability in Sudan.

The reason given for the action was that the commander had failed to protect civilians during the violence in Juba last July. He arrived in Juba on 10 June 2016 and officially took over on 17 June 2016. The violence in Juba took place from 08 July to 12 July 2016. The tragic attack on the Terrain Hotel happened on 11 July 2016. The ex parte decision was arrived at against an individual who had arrived at the workplace just three weeks earlier, raising reasonable doubts about his culpability. This was clearly a scapegoating verdict rather than an honest intent to troubleshoot.

Kenya has taken part in peace keeping operations in more than 40 countries, sending out over 30,000 soldiers in the process. However, its military involvement was not the first contribution to peace in Sudan.

Kenya provided a huge logistics and operations hub for Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), way back in 1989, following a devastating famine and the civil war between the then Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army. Kenya supported the first humanitarian programme that sought to assist internally displaced and war-affected civilians during an ongoing conflict which helped save millions of lives. It was by far the largest humanitarian assistance programme.

Kenya also took the lead in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005, by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government to end the civil war. It also set a timetable for a Southern Sudanese independence referendum. A top Kenyan soldier, General Lazaro Sumbeiywo, led in mediating the negotiations.

The two processes were quite long-drawn and laden with disappointments as would be expected of any belligerent setting, and Kenya bore the brunt squarely. This is why the latest decision to, as it were, blame the country’s military leadership on peacekeeping’s structural weakness did not go down well in Nairobi.

The government of Kenya has already protested the lack of formal consultation prior to the dismissal of Lt-Gen Ondieki, terming it a demonstration of disregard of Kenya’s key role in South Sudan.

What’s more, one discerns a whiff of jury inconsistency; in August last year following allegations of multiple sex abuse allegations against peacekeeping troops in Central African Republic, it was the UN peacekeeping envoy Babacar Gaye who was fired. Inexplicably, in South Sudan case the axe fell on the newly-arrived military commander.

Kenya’s ire is quite expected, given that the international community was already getting exasperated with the situation in South Sudan. Just a few months before the incident in Juba, the United Nations Security Council had authorised an increase in troops and the use of lethal force to protect civilians.

At the time, we in the region were acutely aware that something was amiss and the ability of UNMISS to operate was so crippled that it required urgent attention if its mandate was to be achieved. That was also precisely why most of South Sudan’s neighbours offered to contribute to the protection force and started working on making it operational.

It was also critical that the peace process in South Sudan be continuously encouraged along and any challenges that arise be quickly addressed, if justice was to become the cornerstone of the governance architecture in South Sudan. It had become abundantly apparent to many of us that in fact the situation in South Sudan required more sustained political negotiation and support than military presence.

A report by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services released recently acknowledged that operational and political constraints within missions were at odds with their legal authority and mandate to act and that some missions felt outnumbered and stretched “making the use of force only a paper option”.

As was the case in many conflict areas, military action without commensurate effort in political negotiations sets any mission up for only limited impact. Tough questions must then be asked not only regarding the success rate of UN peacekeeping missions, but also how to deal with the center when it is reluctant or too slow to respond to the needs of the field. Perhaps we have not learnt from Srebrenica, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Security Council should much more actively support regional efforts by ensuring that the forces on the ground have the enablers and multipliers needed to ensure successful missions. History shows that missions with adequate resources and attention are more often than not successful.

Unless the international community goes back to the drawing board, well-intentioned efforts by countries who contribute troops such as Kenya will appear unappreciated, and the civilians in South Sudan will continue to shed blood needlessly. Member states will not want to participate in missions set for failure ab initio and where the speed to condemn is disproportionate to the urgency in supporting the mission.

Firing one of our generals for the systemic weaknesses of UN peacekeeping and without prior consultation is not only disrespectful, but dishonors Kenya’s contribution to peace in South Sudan.

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Rape as an Act of Genocide: From Rwanda to Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rape-as-an-act-of-genocide-from-rwanda-to-iraq/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 16:37:19 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147804 Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

Zainab Bangura, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe.

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

The governments of Rwanda and Iraq have agreed to work together to fight rape as a weapon of genocide, noting disturbing similarities between sexual violence in Iraq today to the Rwandan genocide twenty years ago.

Just as targeted rape was as much a tool of the Rwandan genocide as the machete, an estimated 3000 Iraqi Yazidis under ISIL’s captivity are currently facing acts of genocide and targeted sexual violence, including sexual slavery.

Given Rwanda’s experience with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, Iraq’s permanent mission to the UN has signed a joint communique, an official statement establishing a relationship, with Rwanda’s permanent mission to the UN.

The joint effort will be aimed at sharing action plans to rehabilitate women victims and reintegrate them into their communities.

Rwanda was the first country where rape was recognised as a weapon of genocide by an international court. This court case was the subject of a documentary, The Uncondemned, which recently premiered at the UN.

The documentary is centred around the case of Jean Paul Akayesu, the mayor of Taba in Rwanda between April 1993 and June 1994, who was brought before the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR).

Akayesu was found guilty of nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including the landmark conviction of rape as an act of genocide, in 1998.

“I decided to shame the act, I decided to put it out there, I wanted the truth to be known, but most importantly I wanted justice." Rwandan Witness "JJ".

Prior to the film screening, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Bangura, described the importance of recognising rape as an act of genocide.

Bangura paid tribute to the Rwandan women who testified in the Akayesu trial as well as two Iraqi Yazidi women, one of whom is an ISIL rape survivor, present at the screening, and praised them for “giving other women the confidence to emerge from the shadows.”

A report to the UN human rights council has found that ISIL – also known as ISIS – has committed the crime of genocide against the Yazidis, an ethnically Kurdish religious group.

“The film demonstrates that only when survivors and civil society come together and join forces with investigators, prosecutors and policy makers, that justice can be delivered in its fullest sense,” said Bangura.

“The silver lining in these encounters is the exceptional courage and resilience of the rape victims to overcome their traumatic experience…they defied traditions and taboos by standing and speaking up, despite the fear of stigma and rejection or retribution from perpetrators,” said Jeanne D’arc Byaje, the Charge d’Affaires to the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the UN.

Thousands of people were targeted with sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide, said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng.

According to Byaje, in a span of 22 years since the genocide, Rwanda has “been able to reverse the deplorable situation by eliminating gender-based abuse and violence to increase the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves.”

Byaje called for “an international community that is a partner and not a bystander…and that is willing to work towards long-term efforts to promote unity and reconciliation.”

Iraq’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mohamed Ali Ahakim, similarly appealed to the international community for help with the dire situation faced by Yazidi, as well as other minorities, women and children currently under ISIL”s captivity.

“Young women and children have been specifically targeted by ISIL and are being systematically sold in slave markets sometimes for a dollar or a pack of cigarettes…this is a tragedy that has not been experienced before in any of Iraq’s diverse communities,” said Ahakim.

However, Ahakim said that the problem is not confined to the current situation – “it would be easy to work with a coalition of 65 countries to defeat ISIL militarily.”

“The main problem is what we are going to do next once we liberate Iraq and free the young women and children…I don’t have the ability to comprehend the difficulties that will be faced trying to infuse normality into these communities,” said Ahakim

From the testimonies given at the UN, after the film screening, by the Rwandan witnesses at the Akayesu trial and the Yazidi rape survivor, it is evident that justice is the most crucial component of any next-step action plans for survivors.

“I decided to shame the act, I decided to put it out there, I wanted the truth to be known, but most importantly I wanted justice…what happened to us was horrible but we are still here…and that is because of justice” said one Rwandan witness, known as “Witness JJ”.

Yazidi rape survivor of ISIL, 18 year old Lea Le, who escaped her captors by tying scarves together and using them to climb out of a window along with some friends, said that “we should not hide what happened, it is very important for justice to be carried out…it is unfair that survivors have to wait so long for justice.”

Asked about the impact of the Akayesu case on other war crimes trials, Ambassador Pierre R. Prosper, the lead prosecutor during the Akayesu trial, admitted that there have been some subsequent prosecutions as result of the international precedent set by Akayesu’s case.

However, “we have lost the momentum, the political will to deal with the issue of not just rape but other genocide atrocities in general…we are waving the flag of saying this is wrong but we are not acting,” said Prosper.

Prosper called for governments to direct resources to relevant entities to pursue accountability and ensure justice.

“We need to re-energise ourselves,” said Prosper.

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Release of Chibok Girls Rekindles Pressure to Free Last 196http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 12:50:36 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147721 Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

The Nigerian military announced the rescue of a missing Chibok schoolgirl Saturday, bringing to 23 the number freed since Boko Haram seized 219 girls from a secondary school in the country’s northeast in April 2014.

The latest rescue came about a month after the Islamist group released 21 girls in a deal with the government. Earlier in May, Amina Ali became the first amongst the missing girls to be rescued.Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The releases riveted people around the world, and the government has flaunted them as political coups. But they have also rekindled demands from activists campaigning for greater government action for the release of nearly 200 girls still in captivity.

“It’s day 933 of abduction; 197 girls (are) still in captivity under your watch Mr. President @MBuhari. Time to bring them home,” Maureen Kabrik, a member of the BringBackOurGirls group, tweeted to President Muhammadu Buhari days after 21 of the girls were released early October.

The BringBackOurGirls group, set up to publicise the plight of the girls amidst international outrage in 2014, announced it would release on November 14 a report of a six-week monitoring of the government’s effort to rescue the girls.

The group accuses President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing enough to rescue the girls despite his electoral promise a year ago. Alongside other campaigners, the group has held protest marches in the capital Abuja for months.

Between August and September, it staged 78-hourly marches on the presidential villa and threatened to increase the pace to 48-hours in November. Now, it is promising to do even more to press for the girls’ release.

“Our obligation to demand (the) rescue of the rest 197 of our Chibok Girls is ever stronger,” said former Education Minister and World Bank executive Oby Ezekwesili, who co-founded the group.

Boko Haram, which has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at carving out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast, seized more than 276 girls from their school in April 2014. The group opposes Western education and has killed over 20,000 people, among them teachers.

In September, U.S.-based 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and the Stefanus Foundation said in a report that 611 teachers died as a result of the crisis since 2009. The report said 19,000 teachers had been displaced, 1,500 schools closed down, and 950,000 children denied the opportunity of accessing education.

Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

President Buhari campaigned on the promise of fighting corruption, defeating Boko Haram and rescuing the Chibok girls. But rights campaigners have long criticised the administration’s pace at getting the girls home.

In September, under pressure from activists, the government released details of its attempt to swap the girls with Boko Haram fighters. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said talks began barely two months after President Buhari took office in May 2015.

He said the swap deal failed to go through at the last hour even after Buhari assented to the “difficult decision” of freeing the militants. The president believed that “the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct,” Mohammed said.

An attempt to restart the process in December 2015 also failed, in part due to a leadership crisis in Boko Haram’s ranks.

Cold comfort

After 21 girls were released in October in a deal brokered by the Red Cross and the Swiss government, the Nigerian government assured that some 83 more would be freed “soon”. Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said talks had reached an advanced stage.

But as weeks passed by with the girls still in captivity, the demands have intensified, and the initial euphoria has gradually given way to disenchantment.

“It is cold comfort that 197 of the girls are still in the den of their abductors more than 900 days after,” the country’s Guardian newspaper said in an editorial on Nov. 1. “No one can be fully relieved of the terrible bruises inflicted on the girls, their parents, this nation and its foreign friends, until all the girls return.”

The BringBackOurGirls group said while there has been some improvement, the government still must do more to rescue all the girls.

Daily, the group circulates on social media figures reminding the government how long the girls have been in captivity, and how long they have been held under the Buhari presidency.

“Day 939 of #ChibokGirls‘ abduction. 196 still in captivity. Day 529 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch,” it posted on Twitter on Nov. 7.

The government says it is not relenting. “Whatever it takes to get the Boko Haram situation under control, we will do it because there are still more girls in captivity,” Information Minister Mohammed said last week.

The government has also undertaken full responsibility for the girls rescued so far. “Aside from rescuing them, we are assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and ambitions in life,” President Buhari said while receiving the 21 girls. “These dear daughters of ours have seen the worst that the world has to offer.”

Experts warn that the girls face stigmatisation following their ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram.

“Frequently, returning to their families and communities is the beginning of a new ordeal for the girls, as the sexual violence they have suffered often results in stigmatization,” said a statement by the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

But the presidency denied the girls had been abused or raped during their during two-and-a-half years’ captivity.

On Wednesday, Thompson Reuters Foundation quoted a confidential report prepared based on interviews with the girls as saying that while they were all encouraged to marry the militants, they were neither forced into doing so or converting to Islam.

Reuters Foundation reported that 61 had married Boko Haram militants, while those of them who did not agree to marry were used as servants.

Security analysts have also warned about the possibility of the girls being indoctrinated.

“We are concerned by reports that dozens of the girls may have been indoctrinated and do not wish to return to Chibok,” said Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, which provides analysis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic situation. “We are optimistic the second batch of the release would provide more intelligence about the condition of the remaining girls.”

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Peace Fails to Bring Prosperity in Eastern Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:07:34 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147667 Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATANKUDDI, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a Tuesday afternoon and only a handful of devotees have flocked to the Meera Grand Mosque in Katankuddi, about 300 kms east of the capital Colombo.

As they prostrate in prayer, the wall in front of them is anything but pious. It is pock-marked with hundreds of holes bored into it when attackers opened fire using automatic weapons on Aug. 3, 1990. Suspected Tamil Tiger separatists attacked the Meera Mosque and another smaller prayer center Husainiya Mosque close by. By the time the attackers fled, 103 people were dead.“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.” -- villager Wickrama Rajapaksa

The mosque committee and villagers have kept the bullet-riddled wall as a reminder of the regions bloody past. For over 30 years, Katankuddi was in throes of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil strife. A Muslim enclave surrounded by Tamil villages, Katankuddi suffered terribly. Its population felt besieged and was waiting for the first opportunity to flee. As in most of Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the war left over 100,000 dead, millions were displaced and the region suffered billions of dollars in damages and losses.

But the nightmare ended seven years back, when government won its war with the Tamil Tigers. Since then, towns like Katankuddi have adjusted to peace — and with it, to a whole new set of problems.

For starters, not many people want to leave Katankuddi, but hundreds want to somehow find a home there. It was never a village with much open space to spare. Because of its ethnic composition, Katankuddi was always jam-packed. Now it is bursting at the seams.

In a land area of 3.89 sq km, there are 53,000 residents and a population density of 13,664 per sq km, over 20 times the national average of between 300 to 400. According to M.M. Shafi, the secretary of the Katankuddi Urban Council, in the last five years alone, at least 500 families have returned or relocated to Katankuddi.

“People now don’t want to leave,” he said.

Peace has brought with it a huge, stinking garbage problem. Shafi and other public officials have to find ways to dispose of a daily garbage collection as high as 30,000 metric tonnes. They do have a small compost plant, but it is no match for the daily collection.

During wartime, the Urban Council began dumping the garbage in the lagoon. Nowadays, that dump is a massive man-made island extending 75 metres into the lagoon. The landfill has also provided a playground to a nearby school and with its exceptional growth rate, it can easily provide for more.

“The Muslim nature of this town can not be changed, it something that is very important. But we do have a land problem — a big problem,” said Mohamed Zubair, vice president of the Katankuddi Mosque Federation.

It such a massive problem that land value here is equal to some outlying areas near the capital Colombo. “When the war was on, the demand for land was manageable. Now it is going through the roof,” public official Shafi said.

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Even in poorer areas of the region, land and resources like water have become scarce. In Welikanda, about 70 kms west of Katankuddi, the villages are much more spread out and the green cover is more conspicuous — but so is the poverty.

Public official Harsha Bandara says that even the Welikanda division is facing a serious shortage of water and agricultural land. In the last six months, it has suffered a major dry spell. By end of October, over 35,000 people were reliant on transported water in the division.

“The problem is that since the war’s end, people are not leaving. They will plant crops throughout the year and look for new land as well. On top of that, the rain patterns have changed, so we have a situation here,” said Bandara, who is the divisional secretary for Welikanda.

For villagers like Wickrama Rajapaksa, the drought means double trouble. “Elephants, they keep coming into villages, because dry earth makes the electric fence faulty and they know that. They also know that there are no firearms in the villages since the end of the war, but that where there are humans, there is food and water.”

He said that thousands of cattle from other parts of the country have been relocated to Welikanda and adjoining areas since the end of the war by large dairy companies.

“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.”

The government is drafting a new constitution that it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the draft will protect the special place accorded to Buddhism in the existing charter, leading to fears that the Tamil minority will continue to be second-class citizens.

“The political history of modern Sri Lanka is one of missed opportunities by the Tamils and broken promises by the Sinhalese,” Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-Existence and Official Languages, told the Indian Express this month.

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Beyond Calais: A Perspective on Migration, Agriculture and Rural Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/beyond-calais-a-perspective-on-migration-agriculture-and-rural-development/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 06:15:10 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147657 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]> José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

Migration is part of the process of development. It is not a problem in itself, and could, in fact, offer a solution to a number of matters. Migrants can make a positive and profound contribution to the economic and social development of their countries of origin, transit and destination alike. To quote the New York Declaration, adopted at the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on 19 September, “migrants can help to respond to demographic trends, labour shortages and other challenges in host societies, and add fresh skills and dynamism to the latter’s economies”.

So far this year, already more than 320,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean in search of a better future. Thousands have lost their lives doing so. Those that have survived face uncertain prospects at their destinations. Many are confronted with hostility and inhumane new realities. Migrants and refugees are often perceived negatively in their host communities, deemed to “steal’’ jobs and drain financial and social services. At personal and collective levels, this creates a certain sense of disquiet.

Tighter border controls are not the solution. They have instead resulted in more deaths at sea and more human rights violations. Without adequate policies that respond to migrants’ need to leave and that offer accessible, regular, safe and affordable avenues for migration, countries risk being left alone to deal with very complex challenges, possibly falling into chaos and disorganization.

In many cases, this translates into the adoption of less than desirable informal solutions, where the risk of abuses of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers is high. What has been happening in the Jungle camp near Calais in France shows that the most vulnerable, such as unaccompanied children, are those most at risk.

The challenge is huge. If we do not act in a timely manner, tensions will only rise further.

We need to address the root causes behind large movements of migrants and refugees, bringing together humanitarian and development responses. We also need channels for regular migration, facilitating migrants’ integration and contributions to development.

FAO argues that investing in sustainable rural development, climate change adaptation and resilient livelihoods is an important part of the solution, including in conflict-affected and protracted crisis situations.

Forty percent of international remittances are sent to rural areas, indicating that a large share of migrants originate from rural locations. Globally, three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture. And by 2050, over half of the population in least developed countries will still be living in rural areas, despite increased urbanisation.

Agriculture and rural development can help address the root causes of migration, including rural poverty, food insecurity, inequality, unemployment, and lack of social protection, as well as natural resource depletion due to environmental degradation and climate change.

Agriculture and rural development can create sustainable livelihood options in rural areas. This kind of support can also help prevent the outbreak of conflicts over natural resources, and help host communities and displaced people cope with and recover from shocks by building their resilience.

Youth deserve particular attention. One-third of international migrants from developing countries are aged 15-34, moving mainly in search of better employment opportunities. By making agriculture a sustainable and attractive employment option and developing food value chains, millions of new and better jobs could be created.

Together with its partners, FAO supports global and country efforts on migration, bringing its specialized expertise on food security, resilience-building and sustainable agriculture and rural development. It does so by generating data on migration and rural development, supporting capacity development at country and regional level, facilitating policy dialogue and scaling-up innovative solutions to enhance agriculture-based livelihoods, social protection coverage and job opportunities in rural areas, as well as to build resilience in protracted crisis situations.

Since 2014, FAO has been a member of the Global Migration Group (GMG). The GMG has played an important role in coordinating inputs from different UN agencies for the process of intergovernmental negotiations that led to the adoption of the New York Declaration during the UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants.

GMG will assume the same role in preparation of the adoption of the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration by 2018. FAO stands ready to lend its technical expertise and share best practices, to ensure that the need to address the root causes of migration, including from rural areas, is taken into account in major global fora.

FAO will also enhance the collaboration with key partners in the area of migration and development, at global, regional and country level. In this regard, FAO is discussing ways to foster country-level collaboration with the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Note on the terminology: FAO uses the term migration to refer to the movement of people, either within a country or across international borders. It includes all kinds of movements, irrespective of the drivers, duration and voluntary/involuntary nature. It encompasses economic migrants, distress migrants, internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees and asylum seekers, returnees and people moving for other purposes, including for education and family reunification.

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Gorbachev Appeals for Sanity, Dialoguehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 12:20:34 +0000 John Scales Avery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147546 The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]> President Barack Obama drops by VP Joe Biden's meeting with former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Vice President's Office, West Wing | 20 March 2009 | The Official White House Photostream / Pete Souza | public domain | Flickr

President Barack Obama drops by VP Joe Biden's meeting with former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Vice President's Office, West Wing | 20 March 2009 | The Official White House Photostream / Pete Souza | public domain | Flickr

By John Scales Avery
OSLO, Oct 28 2016 (IPS)

President Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union and recipient of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, has appealed to world leaders to reduce the dangerous tensions, which today threaten to plunge human civilization and the biosphere into an all-destroying nuclear war.

In an October 10 interview with RIA Novosti, Gorbachev said: “I think the world has reached a dangerous point, I don’t want to give any concrete prescriptions, but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake.”

“It is necessary to return to the main priorities. These are nuclear disarmament, the fight against terrorism, the prevention of an environmental disaster,” he continued. “Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.”

Later the same day, in Iceland, President Gorbachev said: “The worst thing that has happened in recent years is the collapse of trust in relations between major powers, The window to a nuclear weapon-free world…is being shut and sealed right before our eyes.”

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used as a result either of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man, an insane person or terrorist,” Gorbachev said.

Alyn Ware Agrees

Alyn Ware, the International Co-ordinater of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, commented:

“I would concur with the assessment of Gorbachev.”

“I have been at the UN General Assembly October sessions (Disarmament and International Security) every year since 1988. This year was the most acrimonious I have ever seen. The tensions between Russia and NATO/Ukraine/US spilled over into the deliberations with accusations and counter accusations flying in many of the sessions. And these were not the only tensions. Syria/Yemen/Middle East, India/Pakistan and North Korea v South Korea/Japan/USA were also vitriolic towards each other.”

“Tension reduction, confidence building and diplomacy are vital at this time”, Alyn Ware continued, “Without this, disarmament is unlikely to occur and further armed conflict is very likely.”

The New UN Secretary General

Hope that the current extremely dangerous tensions can be reduced comes from the appointment of former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the new UN Secretary General. The Security Council was united in making this appointment, thus giving us hope for better cooperation in the future.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Guterres said that ending the conflict in Syria would be one of his greatest challenges. “I believe it is the international community’s first priority is to be able to end this conflict and use this momentum created by it to try to address all the other conflicts that are interlinked,”

“I hope people will understand that it’s better to put aside different opinions, different interests and to understand that there is a common, vital interest to put an end to these conflicts, because that is absolutely central if you want to live in a world where a minimum of securities are established, where people can live a normal life,” he said.

Nuclear War Would Be a Catastrophe

The danger of a catastrophic nuclear war casts a dark shadow over the future of our species. It also casts a very black shadow over the future of the global environment.

The environmental consequences of a massive exchange of nuclear weapons have been treated in a number of studies by meteorologists and other experts from both East and West.

They predict that a large-scale use of nuclear weapons would result in fire storms with very high winds and high temperatures, which would burn a large proportion of the wild land fuels in the affected nations.

The resulting smoke and dust would block out sunlight for a period of many months, at first only in the northern hemisphere but later also in the southern hemisphere.

Temperatures in many places would fall far below freezing, and much of the earths plant life would be killed. Animals and humans would then die of starvation.

Professor Bernard Lowen of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the founders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), said in a recent speech:

“…No public health hazard ever faced by humankind equals the threat of nuclear war. Never before has man possessed the destructive resources to make this planet uninhabitable… Modern medicine has nothing to offer, not even a token benefit, in the event of nuclear war…”

“We are but transient passengers on this planet Earth. It does not belong to us. We are not free to doom generations yet unborn. We are not at liberty to erase humanity’s past or dim its future. Social systems do not endure for eternity. Only life can lay claim to uninterrupted continuity. This continuity is sacred.”

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Negligent Central American Leaders Fuel Deepening Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/#comments Fri, 14 Oct 2016 19:29:04 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147372 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/negligent-central-american-leaders-fuel-deepening-refugee-crisis/feed/ 0 Boko Haram: Recruited by Friends and Familyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/#comments Wed, 12 Oct 2016 00:32:35 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147312 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/boko-haram-recruited-by-friends-and-family/feed/ 0 Report Details UN Failings in Juba, South Sudan Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/report-details-un-failings-in-juba-south-sudan-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-details-un-failings-in-juba-south-sudan-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/report-details-un-failings-in-juba-south-sudan-violence/#comments Tue, 11 Oct 2016 23:52:31 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147308 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/report-details-un-failings-in-juba-south-sudan-violence/feed/ 0 UN Unable to Fully Investigate Chemical Weapons Allegations in Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-unable-to-fully-investigate-chemical-weapons-allegations-in-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-unable-to-fully-investigate-chemical-weapons-allegations-in-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-unable-to-fully-investigate-chemical-weapons-allegations-in-sudan/#comments Wed, 05 Oct 2016 04:42:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147220 By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2016 (IPS)

The UN has only limited access to Jebel Marra, the location in Sudan where Amnesty International alleges Sudanese government forces have used chemical weapons, UN Peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous said here Tuesday.

‘’We have not come across any evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra,’’ Ladsous told the UN Security Council, noting that UN mission’s consistently restricted access into Jebel Marra has hindered effective monitoring and reporting.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has also assessed that no conclusions regarding Amnesty’s conclusions can be made without further investigation.

In a report released on September 30, Amnesty pointed to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Sudanese government forces against civilians in Darfur, resulting in an estimated 200-250 deaths since January 2016.

Amnesty alleges that chemical weapons have been deliberately targeted towards civilians in the remote region of Jebel Marra in Darfur at least 30 times in the past eight months.

The Amnesty investigation was conducted remotely, from outside Jebel Marra, mostly due to access restrictions. It therefore relied upon satellite imagery, extensive interviews, and expert analyses of survivors’ injuries.

According to the report, interviewed survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid’’ during the attacks in their villages.

‘’It smells like someone burning plastic, mixed with the smell of rotten eggs…’’said Kobei, a senior armed opposition group commander, in an interview in the report.

Survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid.’’

Disturbing images from the investigation show injuries ranging from weeping blisters, bloody lesions and darkened skin peeling off. Other reported injuries include eye problems, severe respiratory problems, involuntary seizures, red urine, miscarriages, bloody vomiting and diarrhea.

The report mentioned that children were generally more affected than adults after the alleged exposure. Further, injured survivors have had ‘’no access to adequate medical care.”

Both chemical weapons experts who reviewed the evidence stated that the victims experienced a variety of symptoms that “strongly suggest an exposure to chemical weapon agents.”

Identifying the specific chemical agents requires collecting samples from those allegedly exposed, from the environment and from weapon remnants used during the attacks. Given the severe access restrictions into Jebel Marra, Amnesty have not been able to do this.

Sudan is currently a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention that bans the use of chemical weapons.

The Sudanese government has refuted the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and said that it will to cooperate with the OPCW investigation.

In a letter dated 27 September 2016, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, Awad Hassan Elnour, said that the evidence in the report is “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated ’’ and alleged that ‘’the survivors and witnesses in the report were either members of the opposition or influenced under fear.”

Elnour questioned whether the satellite imaging relied on in the report showed government forces wearing protective suits and helmets against chemical weapons as they stood on the very ground supposed to be targeted with such weapons. She additionally questioned the alleged death toll of 200 people, considering no such information was available in any health centers in the country.

The report however alleges that the chemicals were released primarily through air bombs and rockets and that the victims had no access to medical treatment.

Peacekeepers from the UN-African Union force in Darfur have been denied access into Jebel Marra where the alleged chemical weapon attacks occurred, according to Ladsous, in his briefing to the UN Security Council on October 4.

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The UN’s Blind Spot for Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-uns-blind-spot-for-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-uns-blind-spot-for-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/the-uns-blind-spot-for-conflict-prevention/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2016 19:53:17 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147197 A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

A graphic at UN headquarters in New York compares daily spending on arms versus peace. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 3 2016 (IPS)

As the world struggles to respond to conflicts and the people fleeing them, UN insiders are also struggling to advance a ‘shift in mindset’ to help prevent these crises from happening in the first place.

“Part of the challenge is the way we have characterised the work of the UN as one of a first responder, fire-fighter, as an organisation that comes in when things fall apart,” Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the UN, told IPS. “As a consequence all of the institutions in the UN tend to be more reactive than preventive.”

To change this, a group of diplomats and UN staff are seeking to bolster the UN Peacebuilding Fund. This fund operates with an annual budget of roughly 100 million dollars, making small yet targeted investments to avert crises over the long-term.

“Conflicts are pushing UN system to its limits,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “Without the Peacebuilding Fund, we will be forced to stand by as we witness the preventable loss of countless lives.” But the fund is dramatically under financed.

‘Bang for buck’

On September 21, the UN Peacebuilding Fund held a pledging conference for the fund’s continued operation. The contributions of 30 countries, however, only amounted to 152 million dollars – just over half of the 300 million dollar funding target.

“The rhetoric that we have on peacebuilding is way ahead of the willingness to face up to the challenges of delivering on peace,” said Kamau, who also serves as the Peacebuilding Commission chairperson. “Something fundamentally different needs to happen.”

This year’s budget for the UN’s 16 Peacekeeping missions is roughly eight billion dollars. Looking ahead, small investments by the UN Peacebuilding Fund could save money by preventing the need for expensive missions that respond to what are often already dire circumstances, argue proponents of peacebuilding.

But improved foresight and proactive investments may also have impacts beyond countries’ chequebooks.

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict.

“If we are able to stop these conflicts from emerging in the first place, much of what we see today in the refugee situation putting a lot of pressure on individuals and countries would of course not have happened in the first place,” said Olof Skoog, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the UN.

‘Sustaining peace’

The UN Peacebuilding commission is a relatively new arm of the UN, established only in December 2005. Its mandate widened in April this year with the adoption of two identical resolutions by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. These moved peacebuilding responsibilities beyond post-conflict recovery to include comprehensive efforts for more proactive conflict prevention and ‘sustaining peace.’

Sustaining peace is the “idea that this process of prevention is actually something that goes on from the early warnings … over the conflict stage … and the post-conflict,” Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General, told the Peacebuilding Fund pledging conference. It involves consideration for the whole range of social, political, and economic factors that may contribute to peace.

This links conflict prevention to the achievement of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030). For example, Goal 1 and Goal 10 – “No Poverty” and “Reduced Inequalities” – will not be possible without sustained peace.

According to the World Bank, the world’s poorest people are becoming increasingly concentrated in fragile areas affected by conflict and violence, as peaceful areas reap the benefits of development. By 2030, 46 percent of people in extreme poverty will live in fragile and conflict affected areas, up from 17 percent today, says the Bank.

“We are still in early days to say what [Agenda 2030] will look like in terms of implementation,” Helder da Costa, General Secretary of the g7+ association of developing countries affected by conflict, told IPS after a meeting on Goal 16. “If you really want to build peaceful societies … we need practical implementation on the ground.”

One of the Peacebuilding Fund’s investments provided two million dollars to register births of 350,000 children in Côte d’Ivoire. Without registration, these children, many of whom were born just before or during the recent conflict, would be left in “legal limbo” without access to social services, advanced schooling or employment.

While the Peacebuilding Fund has been involved with various initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire since 2008, this registration effort aims to promote national identity for improved social cohesion, strengthening the social fabric of the country.

Investment in the SDG’s will support the social, economic, and political conditions that may prevent conflict and sustain peace. This process, however, will take time and the UN Peacebuilding Fund is looking to make the immediate and targeted investments that may curb the potential for conflicts.

“Lets not be impeded by bureaucratic challenges … lets think outside the box and then try to help things at the country level,” da Costa continued. But in a large and complex institution like the UN, new and innovative ways of thinking do not easily gain political traction or financial backing. In some cases they may even be directly opposed.

The UN Security Council initially resisted the Peacebuilding Commissions’ role in conflict prevention, said Eliasson. They believed it was an “infringement” on their primacy as the UN body for peace and security matters. Even now, with the world’s compounding crises of conflict, climate change, and refugees, countries’ investments remain focused on reacting to crises rather than preventing them.

It is important to cover the urgent humanitarian needs of today, Skoog explained to IPS. “At the same time, it’s very important to get this shift going to avoid these conflicts in the first place.”

As the international body with the mandate to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” the UN’s credibility rests largely on its ability to prevent and resolve conflict. Nevertheless, too often violence is permitted to spiral out of control and endure.

The president of the General Assembly for 2016-2017 has said he will support the shift to a more proactive mindset of ‘sustaining peace’ and encourage additional contributions to the Peacebuilding Fund. But after January 1 2017, when the next UN Secretary General takes office, it remains to be seen how the new leadership will prioritise proactive conflict prevention and the ‘sustaining peace’ mindset.

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Uncertainty Mars Potential for Peace in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/uncertainty-mars-potential-for-peace-in-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uncertainty-mars-potential-for-peace-in-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/uncertainty-mars-potential-for-peace-in-south-sudan/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2016 00:26:14 +0000 Jonathan Rozen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147127 A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

A delegation from the UN Security Council visited South Sudan at the beginning of September 2016. UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

By Jonathan Rozen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 28 2016 (IPS)

Nearly one month after UN Security Council members visited troubled South Sudan, disagreement reigns over even the limited outside measures proposed to try to bring the security situation in the world’s newest country under control.

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” Berouk Messfin, Senior Researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in Addis Ababa, told IPS.

While it is clear that neither an arms embargo nor an additional 4000 UN troops – two measures currently on the table – will be a panacea for troubled South Sudan, there is a slim hope that they may pressure the country’s leadership to act in the interests of its people.

As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told a high-level meeting on South Sudan’s humanitarian situation on September 22: “Time and again, (South Sudan’s) leaders have resorted to weapons and identity politics to resolve their differences.”

For three days in early September Security Council members traveled to South Sudan. At the end of the visit a ‘joint communiqué’ was issued that seemingly brokered an agreement with the interim Transitional Government of National Unity. It outlined the strengthening of the existing 12,000-troop UN peacekeeping mission (UNMISS) through an additional 4000-troop Regional Protection Force, and the removal of restrictions to humanitarian access. But in the days since the communiqué, South Sudanese officials have insisted that specifics of the additional force remain unresolved.

“We have agreed in principle … but the details of their deployment, the countries that will contribute … that is the work that is left now,” Hussein Mar Nyuot, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management for the South Sudan government told IPS. “I don’t see the difference that this [4000] will come and do.”

“To fix South Sudan you will need 250,000 soldiers, you will need four or five billion dollars per year. Who is going to do that? Nobody.” -- Berouk Messfin, Institute for Security Studies.

The proposed additional force would be under the command of UNMISS and was endorsed in July by the east African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) body leading the South Sudan peace talks. Building on UNMISS’ existing mandate, which already calls for the “use all necessary means” to protect UN personnel and civilians from threats, the Security Council believes the additional troops would strengthen the security situation.

The force is to be deployed as soon as possible, Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for UN Peacekeeping Operations, told reporters Friday. Though he also said they were trying to elucidate “contradictory statements” from the capital, Juba.

In this context, human rights advocacy groups, along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, have continued their calls for the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo to stop both sides’ continued militarization.

“It’s going to be more difficult for parties to the conflict to get access to ammunition and supplies,” Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, told IPS. “Combine it with the boosting of UNMISS … [and] it’s going to make a difference for civilians.”

However, the South Sudanese government, whose soldiers have been implicated in ethnically motivated killings, rape, and looting, disagrees on the value of an embargo.

“[The] issue is not actually the arms that are coming … even if you have an arms embargo there are already arms in the hands of the local people … the arms that are coming in are not actually the ones causing any problems,” Hussein Mar Nyuot told IPS.

If they say they want to have [an] arms embargo, ok, but what will you do with the arms that are in the hands of the people?” he continued. “We should encourage the government to disarm the civilian population.”

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

Peacekeepers and UN police officers (UNPOL) with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Credit: UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein

As a party to the conflict, South Sudan’s government is not impartial in their position, however they are also not entirely alone in their hesitance. “[An embargo] has to be a last course … we are not there yet,” Mahboub Maalim, Executive Secretary of IGAD, told IPS.

Despite the existing arms in the country and the potential for continued illicit inflows, targeted sanctions by the Security Council may signal deeper commitment to ending the violence and protecting civilians. Nevertheless, neither an embargo nor 4000 additional troops will cure the political divisions among South Sudan’s leadership, which lie at the heart of the conflict.

Paths forward

“The South Sudanese have a string to hang on now … and that is the implementation of the [August 2015] agreement,” Maalim said. “It has had some problems because of the July incident, but it’s going to come on track,” he added referring to violent clashes which took place in South Sudan in July, bringing the country to the brink of all-out war.

However, not everyone agrees on the viability of the previous agreement.

“You have two sides that are not negotiating in good faith … who do not understand how to implement peace agreements they have signed,” said Messfin.

So what is to be done? Beyond the intended value for the protection of civilians, additional troops and restrictions will only go so far without political commitment from the country’s leadership.

Conflict prevention in South Sudan is about strategically applied political leverage, Cedric de Conning, Senior Researcher at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes and the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, explained to IPS.

A protection force like a reinforced peacekeeping mission can only implement what is agreed to politically, and the warring parties are not committed and remain mistrustful. While immediate action is necessary to save lives, there will eventually need to be a “reset” and a new administration, he continued.

Meanwhile, civil society groups have also reported increased repression of their activities, indicating a further weakening of South Sudan’s social resilience.

“There has been a steady uptick in press freedom violations in South Sudan in recent months,” Murithi Mutiga, East Africa correspondent for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS. “We have seen a number of cases of newspaper outlets being arbitrarily closed down, the most prominent cases being the Nation Mirror and the Juba Monitor.”

Press freedom can support the pursuit of a sustained cessation of hostilities, urged CPJ, because accurate and accessible public information allows citizens to better understand how to react to crises without turning to violence. A well-informed population may also be better positioned to define a peaceful future for their country.

The importance of uninhibited civil society for conflict prevention also matches the priorities outlined in two identical resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly in April, which recognize pathways to “sustaining peace.” Notably, this includes the development and maintenance of social, political and economic conditions necessary for conflict to be prevented.

South Sudan has experienced persistent violence since 2013, when armed conflict broke out between groups loyal to president Salva Kiir and opposition leader in exile Riek Machar. Fighting escalated along ethnic lines, pitting Dinka against Nuer, until a peace agreement was signed in August 2015. But fighting continued and escalated in July 2016 with a series of clashes in Juba, which left approximately 300 dead. Over the last three years thousands have been killed, over 1.6 million people remain internally displaced, and roughly 4.8 million currently suffer from food insecurity, according to the UN.

While the implementation of September’s joint communiqué will be reviewed with next steps considered at the end of the month, South Sudan’s Humanitarian Response Plan is severely under-funded at just over 50 percent; despite there being no doubt that South Sudan needs immediate assistance.

But this will only serve as a stop-gap against man-made famine. While the Security Council may still unite for the application of an embargo, the fate of South Sudan ultimately lies with its leadership. Their ability to find a lasting agreement, with support from the UN, the African Union, and IGAD, hinges on their willingness to stop the conflict.

“The lives and future of an entire generation hang in the balance,” Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, said Thursday. “Literally the future of South Sudan.”

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Colombia Referendum – First Acid Test for Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/first-acid-test-for-peace-in-colombia-will-be-the-referendum/#comments Tue, 27 Sep 2016 20:52:15 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147126 Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signs the peace agreement, observed by FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño, Latin American presidents and other dignitaries, in an open-air ceremony in the city of Cartagena de Indias. Credit: Colombian presidency

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Sep 27 2016 (IPS)

It was like a huge party in Colombia. “Congratulations!” people said to each other, before hugging. “Only 20 minutes to go!” one office worker said, hurrying on her way to Bolívar square, in the heart of Bogotá. And everyone knew what she was talking about, and hurried along too. Complete strangers exchanged winks of complicity.

Starting at 5:00 PM on Monday Sept. 26, the people in the square watched a live broadcast of the ceremony in Cartagena de Indias, 664 km to the north, where the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels signed a peace agreement, putting an end to 52 years of armed conflict.

Fifteen presidents, 27 foreign ministers and three former presidents, as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, took part in and witnessed the historic event.

The first big test for peace will come on Sunday Oct. 2, when Colombians will vote for or against the peace deal, in a referendum.

The ceremony began with one minute of silence for the Colombians who were killed or forcibly disappeared in the last half century, while dozens of white flags were raised.

This was followed by an a capella song by traditional singers from Bojayá, a town in the northwestern department of Chocó where 79 people were killed in May 2002, including 44 children. The United Nations blamed the FARC, the far-right paramilitaries and the army for the war crime.

“We are very happy/full of joy/that the FARC guerrillas/are laying down their arms,” they sang. During the war, “in our community/they didn’t even let/us go out to fish or work. We want justice and peace/to come from the heart/for health, peace and education to reach our fields.”

At 5:30 PM, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, signed the “final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace”, agreed on Aug. 24 in Havana after five years of peace talks held with international observers.

Colombians are “bidding farewell to decades of flames and sending up a bright flare of hope that illuminates the world,” Ban Ki-moon said.

The two leaders signing the accord spoke next.

The former rebel leader apologised “to all the victims of the conflict for all of the pain that we have caused in this war,” receiving a standing ovation in Cartagena as well as Bogotá, while thousands of people chanted “Yes we could!”

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the ceremony for the signing of the peace deal in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Credit: UN

The FARC rebel organisation will now become a new political party. ““No one should doubt that we are moving into politics without arms,” Londoño said. “The war is over. We are starting to build peace.”

Santos said “I welcome you to democracy. Exchanging bullets for votes, weapons for ideas, is the bravest and most intelligent decision…you understood the call of history.”

“We will undoubtedly never see eye to eye about the political or economic model that our country should follow, but I will staunchly defend your right to express your ideas within the democratic regime,” the president said.

After 14 years, the European Union removed the FARC from its list of terrorist organisations. And U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said his government would “review” doing the same.

Ban confirmed that the signing of the agreement marked the start of the U.N. Security Council peacekeeping mission to verify and monitor the ceasefire and the laying down of arms within 180 days.

On the sunny afternoon in Bolívar square, 70-something Graciela Laverde, wearing a colourful cotton dress, told IPS her biggest wish was “peace, education and recreation for so many children, an end to all the corruption and the killing of so many innocent people….If God wills, there will be peace.”

The referendum

The first big step along the complex route to consolidating peace will be the Oct. 2 referendum in which Colombians will vote whether or not they back the final peace deal.

The campaigns urging people to vote “yes” have been diverse and have included initiatives too numerous to count. For example, grandmothers playing with their grandchildren cut out large signs reading “si” (yes) to tape in their windows.

The campaign for the “no” vote, meanwhile, was led first and foremost by the far right: former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) and former attorney general Alejandro Ordóñez, who may be Uribe’s candidate in the 2018 presidential elections.

The campaign has targeted Colombians in urban areas, who make up 70 percent of the population. “The people living in rural areas are prepared to vote ‘yes’,” analyst Jesús Aníbal Suárez told IPS, adding that it was urban residents who had the most doubts.

Suárez expects low voter turnout of around 35 percent, which would still be high enough to meet the legal requirements for the referendum. He projects a 60-40 percent result in favour of “yes”.

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen that the two will use to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

President Juan Manuel Santos (R) shows FARC chief Rodrigo Londoño the symbolic pen made from a bullet that the two used to sign the peace agreement putting an end to over half a century of conflict in Colombia. Credit: Colombian presidency

“There is a great deal of uncertainty, and that leads people to abstain from voting,” he said. “Uribe’s effort has made its mark, it has managed to confuse people,” by widely disseminating false information about the peace agreement, he added.

But there is a new segment of the population in favour of the “yes” vote: the military and police, who total nearly half a million people in this country of 48 million.

“The members of the military can’t vote, but their families, the people around them, can,” said Suárez. “I heard retired general (former police chief) Roso José Serrano say: ‘I don’t want one more police officer to die.”

“Soldiers and police officers feel like they have been cannon fodder. Their families will vote for the ceasefire, just as a matter of logic,” because the deaths in combat have been reduced to zero.

During the 2014 presidential elections voters were polarised between reelecting Santos, so he could continue the peace talks with the FARC, and voting for Uribe’s candidate Óscar Zuluaga, who wanted to suspend the negotiations and relaunch them on a different footing.

Today, the “no” camp is calling for a renegotiation of the accord.

Suárez believes that in 2014, the families and friends of the half million soldiers and police voted for Zuluaga, but will now vote “yes”.

At the same time, the “no” campaign has complained about the government’s new sex education for preteens.

Because the peace agreement has a gender perspective, an unprecedented aspect in any peace deal anywhere in the world, Ordóñez’s followers protested on the day of the signing ceremony, in a small demonstration in Cartagena, that the peace accord represented a threat to children because of its “gender ideology.”

Evangelical Christians, who number several million in Colombia, vote in a disciplined manner, and their preachers have told them to vote “no”. The local Catholic Church leaders, despite Pope Francis’ support for the peace talks, declared themselves neutral with regard to the referendum.

“The referendum will define which direction this will take,” said Carlos Lozano, director of the Communist weekly publication Voz, who was close to the Havana talks.

“If the ‘no’ vote wins, which I don’t believe will happen, things would change a great deal, even if the war didn’t break out again,” he told IPS.

“It would be very difficult to hold another process of peace talks and reach another agreement,” he said. “It’s a document that has consensus support, which is worthy of the state, worthy of the guerrillas, and was built with great care, in a very detailed manner.”

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