Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 28 Jan 2015 10:05:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Marginalised Groups Struggle to Access Healthcare in Conflict-Torn East Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:25:19 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138875 Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

With international organisations warning that East Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as its health system collapses, marginalised groups are among those facing the greatest struggle to access even basic health care in the war-torn region.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has affected more than five million people, with 1.4 million classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and human rights bodies as “highly vulnerable” because of displacement, lack of income and a breakdown of essential services, including health care.

Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

A complete lack of vaccines is threatening outbreaks of diseases such as polio and measles, while there are concerns for HIV/AIDS and TB sufferers as supplies of vital medicines dry up and disease monitoring becomes almost impossible.Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

Massive internal displacement because of the conflict – latest U.N. estimates are of 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) with the figure rising by as much as 100,000 per week – has also left hundreds of thousands living in sometimes desperate and unhygienic conditions, creating a further health risk and the chance that infectious diseases, such as TB, will spread.

But while there is a threat to healthcare provision from collapsing resources, some in the region are facing extra barriers to accessing health care.

Ukraine has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world and the spread of the disease has been fuelled mainly by injection drug use. But, unlike in many Eastern European states, the country has been running for more than a decade an internationally lauded range of harm reduction programmes which have been credited with checking the disease’s spread.

These have included opioid substitution therapy (OST) programmes available to drug users across the country. These are particularly important in East Ukraine because the majority of Ukraine’s injection drug users come from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

But local and international organisations working with drug users say that addicts’ access to life-saving treatment in those areas has come under increasing pressure since the start of the conflict and that it could be cut off entirely within weeks as supplies of methadone and buprenorphine used in the treatment run out and cannot be replaced.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine which runs many OST centres as well as other harm reduction programmes, has said that stocks of antiretroviral drugs, OST and other life-saving treatments will have run out by  February.  More than 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began, while a further 550 patients on methadone will run out of drugs soon if emergency supplies cannot be delivered.

U.N. officials in close contact with international organisations helping drug users as well as doctors in Donetsk have confirmed to IPS that clinics have only a few weeks’ worth of stocks of methadone left.

One doctor in Donetsk working on an OST programme, who asked not to be named, told IPS:  “There are serious problems with medicine supplies. The last shipments came in September last year and some patients have already had to finish their treatments. Many had been on it for a decade and in that time had forged new lives, put their, sometimes criminal, past behind them and had families. It was absolutely tragic for them when they stopped.”

It is unclear what will happen to all those no longer able to access OST treatment. Doctors say some have gone into detoxification, while others have moved to other cities in safer areas of Ukraine in the hope of continuing OST.

But with 60 percent of those receiving OST also being HIV positive, according to the Donetsk doctor, and reports that many are now turning to illicit drugs and needle-sharing again as access to OST is cut off, there are concerns that the disease, along with Hepatitis C which is rife among injection drug users, and tuberculosis, could be spread, and that the lives of many drug users will again be at risk.

OST patient Andriy Klinemko, who was forced to flee Donetsk with his wife when their house was destroyed in bombing last summer and who is now in Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, told IPS: “OST patients in East Ukraine are being forced to move, but not all of them can and even those that make it to other regions may not be able to continue OST because there is no money left to run such programmes. It’s a bad situation and at the moment I really can’t see any way it’s going to get better.”

But drug users are not the only marginalised community struggling to access health care.

Historically, the estimated 400,000-strong Roma community in Ukraine has, like Roma in many other Eastern European states, faced widespread discrimination in society, including in employment and education.

They have also always had limited access to healthcare because many Roma lack official ID documentation which makes it difficult for many to obtain official health care, while widespread poverty also means services and medicines which require any payment are also inaccessible to most. Meanwhile, many Roma settlements are in remote locations, far away from the nearest health centres.

Dr Dorit Nitzan, head of the WHO’s Ukraine Office, told IPS: “Even before the conflict, Roma in Ukraine had limited access to curative and preventive health service. As a result, Roma children have extremely low vaccination coverage. Moreover, rates of tuberculosis and other communicable and non-communicable diseases are higher among Roma than in the general population.”

Discrimination is also a problem. Zola Kondur of the Chiricli Roma rights group in Ukraine, told IPS: “In terms of healthcare, Roma are among the most vulnerable in the country. They are treated badly because of their ethnicity.”

However, the problems for Roma have dramatically worsened since the conflict began. Some human rights groups have said that since the separatist regimes took power in the region, Roma have faced systematic violent and sometimes fatal repression.

According to a report this month of an international mission to monitor human rights

by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Roma living in separatist-controlled areas have been “subjected to open aggression from militants ….[who] have carried out real ethnic cleansing” against them. Many have fled and become IDPs, subsequently facing health struggles.

Dr Nitzan said: “As in every crisis, if not given special attention, marginalised and vulnerable groups are at higher risk. In Ukraine, many Roma lack civil documentation, and thus cannot be registered as internally displaced persons and are not included in the provision of any health services.

“Moreover, their inability to pay ‘out-of-pocket’ limits their ability to procure medication and/or services. Compounding this is that many Roma IDPs are residing at the margins of society, in remote geographical locations, where no services are available. All of these factors make health services inaccessible to Roma.”

Local rights groups say that Roma who have managed to flee to safe areas have often ended up homeless and starving after facing problems accessing aid because of a dismissive attitude from volunteers and staff at social institutions, while their lack of identification documents also prevented them from accessing any official help.

However, even those who have managed to find treatment have sometimes faced further problems.

Kondur told IPS: “In one case a Roma family moved from Kramatorsk to Kharkiv. A little boy had a heart problem brought on by the stress of the fighting and he was taken to hospital. One night, a group of young people broke the window of the boy’s hospital room, shouting ‘Gypsies get out’. The boy had a heart attack.”

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/feed/ 0
U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/feed/ 0
Three Minutes Away from Doomsdayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=three-minutes-away-from-doomsday http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 00:29:53 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138784 Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

Images from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. Credit: public domain

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

Unchecked climate change and the nuclear arms race have propelled the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock forward two minutes closer to midnight, from its 2012 placement of five minutes to midnight.

The decision was announced in Washington DC by members of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS), the body behind the calculations and creation of the 1947 Clock of Doom.“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation." -- Alyn Ware

The last time the clock was at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, when U.S.-Soviet relations were described by BAS as having “reached their iciest point in decades”.

Today’s polemic takes into account the immutable laws of science in relation to the “climate catastrophe” as well as the activities of modernisation of massive nuclear arsenals, which come with inadvertent risks.

“The question gets much more complicated than someone with their finger on the button,” said Kennette Benedict, executive director of BAS.

Another major problem is the world’s addiction to fossil fuels, said BAS.

Climate change and nuclear tensions were placed on equal footing in this year’s warning.

“And while fossil-fuel burning technologies may seem like a less kind of abrupt way to ruin the world, they’re doing it in slow motion,” said Benedict.

Citizen’s potential

“Negotiators on the international treaty of climate change or any international treaty are working within the fairly narrow latitude afforded them by their governments. And the governments themselves are working within the latitudes afforded them by their constituencies,” said BAS member of the Science and Security Board Sivan Kartha, senior scientist with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Real cooperation on the international front, he said, “will rely on there being a demand for that, a mandate for that, from constituencies within countries,” also noting “today’s extremely daunting political opposition to climate action”.

President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff described a series of global existential challenges that could accelerate the arrival of doomsday, including the stability of the climate, the acidity of the oceans, and biodiversity, as well as widespread goals of strategic stability and the pursuit of dominance.

“Remember we are extinguishing species at up to one thousand times faster than what would be the normal evolutionary base rate,” he told IPS. “The backdrop of these challenges arising from science, technology, and social organisation is the immature relationship between states in their pursuit of security through the application of the threat or use of force. The most dangerous tool of the pursuit of security through force are the world’s nuclear arsenals.

“…On the other hand, a growing consensus within informed members of global governance and civil society is rapidly coming to understand that no nation can be secure in an insecure world. And the business community has rapidly integrated in such a fashion that they have demonstrated the capacity of cooperation, if driven by recognised self-interests,” he said.

“I am reminded that in the 17th Century, the world moved from the predominance of the city-state into the modern world of the nation state. Such a phenomena required national identity. National identity occurred largely because of national grammar and language, which rested on the technological innovations of the printing press.

“Today, the technology that will allow us to have global cultural grammar and identity is being provided by the Internet. And thus, the tools, to move from the dis-functionality of posing national interest against the global common good has the potential to be overcome.”

In light of his analysis, the clock’s minute hand can be influenced for the better or for the worse, and 2015 will present opportunities for progress to be made.

The simple truth

Alyn Ware is a member of the World Future Council and the coordinator of Global Wave 2015, an initiative on “Global Action to Wave Goodbye to Nukes”.

Ware spoke to IPS ahead of the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

“The hundreds of billions of dollars that’s wasted on nuclear weapons is needed in order to shift our economy from a carbon-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy,” he told IPS, also explaining that “the competition and the confrontation and conflicts that are perpetuated by nuclear weapons prevent the type of cooperation that’s required for addressing climate change.

“The simple truth on nuclear weapons is that they are inconsistent with civilisation. Threatening to annihilate cities, innocent people, future generations, is not consistent with humanity,” Ware told IPS.

“And then there’s also a simple truth with climate change,” he added. “The simple truth is we have to move from a carbon-based economy to one that’s focused more on renewable energies.”

He also acknowledged the nuances surrounding the implementation of these simple truths.

“At the moment, we don’t have sufficient political commitment to either of them,” he said, addressing vested interests preventing that kind of action, including corporations making nuclear weapons or selling oil, coal or gas.

“What we’re looking at is empowering people,” he said.

For that reason, he thinks the Doomsday Clock is very good. “Because it’s simple, it’s really understandable, and it gives the idea that, hey, we can all be involved in this.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/three-minutes-away-from-doomsday/feed/ 0
Fighting Extremism with Schools, Not Gunshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/#comments Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:23:15 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138760 The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistan Taliban has destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Jan 21 2015 (IPS)

As a wave of outrage, crossing Pakistan’s national borders, continues a month after the Dec. 16 attack on a school in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, some citizens are turning away from collective expressions of anger, and beginning the hard work of building grassroots alternatives to terrorism and militancy.

While many millions of people are lashing out at the Taliban for going on a bloody rampage in a school in the province’s capital, Peshawar, killing 141 people including 132 uniformed children in what is being billed as the group’s single deadliest attack to date, The Citizens Foundation (TFC), a local non-profit, has reacted quite differently.

"With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani." -- Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of The Citizens Foundation (TCF)
Rather than join the chorus calling for stiff penalties for the attackers, it busied itself with a pledge to build 141 Schools for Peace, one in the name of each person who lost their life on that terrible day.

“We dedicate this effort to the children of Pakistan, their right to education and their dreams of a peaceful future,” Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmad, CEO of TCF, said in an email launching the campaign.

“With the formidable challenges facing the nation, we passionately believe that only education has the power to enlighten minds, instil citizenship and unleash the potential of every Pakistani,” he added.

In their war against western, secular education, which the group has denounced as “un-Islamic”, the Pakistan Taliban have destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012, claimed responsibility for the near-fatal shooting of teenaged education advocate Malala Yousafzai and issued numerous edicts against the right of women and girls to receive proper schooling.

In their latest assault on education, nine militants went on an eight-hour-long killing spree, throwing hand grenades into the teeming school premises and firing indiscriminately at any moving target. They claim the attack was a response to the military operation aimed at rooting out the Taliban currently underway in North Waziristan, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

While armed groups and government forces answer violence with more of the same, the active citizens who comprise TCF want to shift focus away from bloodshed and onto longer-term solutions for the future of this deeply troubled country.

The charity, which began in 1995, has completed 1,000 school ‘units’, typically a primary or secondary institution capable of accommodating up to 180 pupils, all built from scratch in the most impoverished areas of some 100 towns and cities across Pakistan.

The 7,700 teachers employed by the NGO go through a rigorous training programme before placement, and the organisation maintains a strict 50:50 male-female ratio for the 145,000 students who are now benefitting from a free education, according to TCF Vice President Zia Akhter Abbas.

In a country where 25.02 million school-aged children – of which 13.7 million (55 percent) are girls – do not receive any form of education, experts say TCF’s initiative may well act as a game changer in the years to come, especially given that the government spends just 2.1 percent of its GDP on education.

“Our job is to ensure that wherever we have our schools, there are no out-of-school children, especially girls,” Abbas told IPS. “We believe the change in society will come automatically once these educated and enlightened children grow up into responsible adults.”

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Of the 25.02 million school-aged children who are not receiving a proper education, 13.7 million, or 55 percent, are girls. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

He added that the schools are designed to “serve as a beacon of light restricting the advance of extremism in our society.”

The project has received widespread support from a broad spectrum of Pakistani society. Twenty-four-year-old Usman Riaz, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston who recently donated the proceeds of his jam-packed concerts in Karachi to TCF’s efforts, says the Schools for Peace are a “wonderful way to honor the innocent victims”.

But it will take more than one-off charitable donations to make the scheme a reality. It costs about 15 million rupees (148,000 dollars) to build and equip each new school, so the total bill for all 141 institutions stands at some 21 million dollars.

With a track record of building 40-50 schools a year, however, the NGO is confident that it will honor its pledge within three years.

Combating extremism

Besides immortalizing the victims of the Taliban’s attack, experts here say that shifting the focus away from terrorism and onto education will help combat a growing pulse of religious extremism.

The prominent Pakistani educationist and rights activist A.H. Nayyar told IPS that it is crucial for the country to begin educating children who would otherwise be turned into “fodder for extremists”.

In fact, part of the government’s 20-point National Action Plan – agreed upon by all political parties dedicated to completely eradicating terrorism – includes plans to register and regulate all seminaries, known here as madrassas, in a bid to combat extremism at its root.

With thousands of such religious institutions springing up across the country to fill a void in the school systems, policy-makers are concerned about the indoctrination of children at a young age, with distorted interpretations of religious texts and the teaching of intolerance playing a major role in these schools.

Some sources say that between two and three million students are enrolled at the nearly 20,000 madrassas spread across Pakistan; others say this is a conservative estimate.

While there is some talk about bringing these institutions under the umbrella of the public school system, experts like Nayyar believe this will do little to combat the “forcible teaching of […] false and distorted history, excessive emphasis on Islamic teachings to the extent of including them in textbooks of all the subjects, explicit teaching of jihad and militancy, hate material against other nations, peoples of other faiths, etc, [and] excessive glorification of the military and wars.”

Nayyar and other independent scholars have been at the forefront of calling for an overhaul of the public school curriculum, which they believe is at odds with the goals of a modern, progressive nation.

But until policy-makers and politicians jump on the bandwagon, independent efforts like the work of TCF will lead the way.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/fighting-extremism-with-schools-not-guns/feed/ 0
From Bullets to Ballots: The Face of Sri Lanka’s Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 19:17:06 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138736 Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
VAVUNIYA, Sri Lanka , Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

In four months’ time, Sri Lanka will mark the sixth anniversary of the end of its bloody civil conflict. Ever since government armed forces declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19, 2009, the country has savored peace after a generation of war.

Suffocating security measures have given way to a sense of normalcy in most parts of the country, while steady growth has replaced patchy economic progress – averaging above six percent since 2009.

But these changes have largely eluded the area where the war was at its worst: the Vanni, a vast swath of land in the Northern Province that the LTTE ruled as a de facto state, together with the Jaffna Peninsular, for over a quarter of a century.

Home to over a million people, one-fourth of whom are war returnees, the Vanni has been in the doldrums since ballots replaced bullets.

“Peace should mean prosperity, but that is what we don’t have. What we have is a struggle to survive from one day to another,” Kajitha Shanmugadasan, an 18-year-old girl from the northern town of Pooneryn, told IPS.

She said youth her age were frustrated that multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects have failed to deliver decent jobs. “Look around, we have new highways, new railway lines, but no jobs, for five years people have been suffering, and it should not be [so] when there is peace,” she asserted.

Youth from the Northern Province have historically performed well at national exams, even during conflict times. That trend has held true: at the 2013 university entrance exam, 63.8 percent of those who sat their papers gained the scores required to enter the country’s top universities, a national high.

But with unemployment also at record levels here, and hardly any jobs for university graduates, those like Shanmugadasan are either staying out of universities or leaving the province in search of better prospects.

A new government, the result of presidential elections just a week into the New Year, and the Papal visit to the heart of the former battle zone on Jan. 14, have given rise to new hopes in the Vanni that life will improve for the ordinary people, who suffered during the war and have had little respite since the guns fell silent.

The 72-percent voter turnout in the Northern Province at the Jan. 8 presidential poll – an all-time high for the region – is a reminder to the new regime how desperate the people here are for real change.

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

During Sri Lanka’s civil conflict, life in the war zone was dominated by the fighting. Thousands of youth either joined the Tigers or were conscripted into their units. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A small child and a woman sit next to LTTE cadres training in a public playground in Kilinochchi, a district in the Northern Province, in this picture taken in June 2004. The Tigers held sway over all aspects of life in areas they controlled until their defeat in 2009. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now, young people have more freedom than they did under the Tigers, but many are frustrated by the lack of proper employment opportunities six years after being promised a peace dividend by the government in Colombo. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A youth who lost his leg during the conflict stands by his vegetable stall in the town of Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka. He has a small family to look after and says he finds it extremely hard to provide for them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A quarter of a million people who were displaced during the last phase of the war, along with tens of thousands of others who fled at other stages of the conflict, have moved back to the Vanni. Many families with small children continue to live in slum-like conditions, as a funding shortfall has left many without proper houses. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females - either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women have been forced to take up the role of breadwinner, with aid agencies suggesting that single females – either widows or women whose partners went missing during the war – now head over 40,000 households in the province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman stands in front of this small business she operates in Mullaitivu. The single mother was able to open the shop with the help of a grant she received from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The war left tens of thousands disabled, but six years on there are hardly any programmes or facilities that cater to this community. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

This man, a former member of the LTTE who was blinded in one eye during the war, bicycles over 20 km each day in search of work. A father of one, he has found it hard to adjust to post-war life. Credit: Amantha Perer/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Other former Tigers, like this rehabilitated cadre-turned-barber, were fortunate to benefit from government-sponsored aid programmes. Here, the one-time militant attends to a client at his barber’s shop in the village of Mallavi in Sri Lanka’s north. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Many in the Vanni struggle due to a combination of poverty, war-related injuries and untreated trauma. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The immediate aftermath of the war saw thousands of tourists flocking to the region, gawking at the remnants of a bloody past. Their numbers have since dwindled and a war tourist trail now remains mostly deserted. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The election of a new president and the visit of Pope Francis to the former war zone – two monumental events coming within five days of each other in early January – have raised hopes in the north that real, lasting change is close at hand. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/from-bullets-to-ballots-the-face-of-sri-lankas-former-war-zone/feed/ 4
OPINION: After the Terrorist Attacks in Parishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:43:24 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138734

Johan Galtung is Professor of Peace Studies and Rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University, and the author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including '50 Years – 100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives' published by TRANSCEND University Press. In this column, he looks behind the Western concept of “freedom of expression” and argues that “there is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence”.

By Johan Galtung
KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 2015 (IPS)

What happened in Paris on Jan. 7 – known all over the world – is totally unacceptable and inexcusable.

As inexcusable as 9/11, the coming Western attack and the Islamist retaliation, wherever. As inexcusable as the Western coups and mega-violence on Muslim lands since Iran 1953, massacring people as endowed with personality and identity as the French cartoonists.

But to the West they are not even statistics, they are “military secrets”.

However, the unacceptable is not unexplainable.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

In this tragic saga of West-Islam violence, the way out is to identify the conflict and search for solutions. I wonder how many now pontificating on Paris – a city so deep in our hearts – have taken the trouble to sit down with someone identified with Al Qaeda, and simply ask: “What does the world look like where you would like to live?”

I always get the same answer: “A world where Islam is not trampled upon but respected.”

“Trampled upon” sounds physically violent – but there are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons.

The naiveté in blaming the secret police for not having uncovered the brothers on time is crying to the heavens. What happened to Charlie Hebdo was as predictable as the reaction to the 2005 cartoon in Jyllands-Posten, whose cultural editor thought he should save Danish media from the self-censorship he had found in Soviet journalists.

But one thing is political criticism of and in the former USSR, quite another is existential stabbing right in the heart of the basis of existence.“There are two types of direct violence intended to harm, to hurt: physical violence with arm-arms-armies; and verbal violence with words, with symbols, with, for example, cartoons”

Undermine the spiritual existence of others – as Charlie Hebdo did all over the spiritual world – but there may be reactions to that verbal violence. Some of the others deeply hurt by Charlie Hebdo and its cultural autism, sitting in some office and sending poisoned arrows anywhere, may celebrate the atrocity – but inside themselves, not publicly.

The West has one presumably killing argument in favour of verbal violence for spiritual killing: freedom of expression – a wonderful freedom, deeply appreciated by those who have something to express.

And very easily undermined, not by censorship by self or some Other, but by freedom of non-impression, the freedom not to be impressed: let expression happen, let them talk and write, but do not listen and read, make them non-persons. Nevertheless, a major achievement of, by and for the West more than elsewhere.

How simple life would be if that freedom were the only norm governing expression! Say or write anything about others as if they were stones, inanimate objects, unimpressed by oral and written expression. But human beings are not.

Of course, the targets of verbal violence can opt for the freedom of non-impression, shutting themselves off from the perpetrators, neither reading nor listening. Do we really want that, a
society now polarised by cartoons – into those who laugh and enjoy, and those who are hurt, suffering deeply?

We do not, and that is why there are others value, other norms, in the land of expression: consideration, decency, respect for life. We have libel laws asking not only “is it true?” but “is it relevant?” to cut out nastiness in, for example, political “debate”.

We rule out hate speech, propaganda for torture, genocide, war, child pornography. Some people unable to argue about issues insult persons instead; that is why they are often – perhaps not often enough – called to order: stick to the issue!

Many, unable to understand or argue with converts to Islam in France, overstep norms of decency instead.

Islam retaliated, and in Paris overstepped its own rule about doing so mercifully. No Muslim can retaliate with spiritual killing of Judaism-Christianity because both are believed to be the “incomplete message”. Bodies were killed in return for spiritual killing instead.

Incidentally, there is somebody else doing the same: the United States, very attentive to critical words as indicative not only of somebody being anti-American, but even a threat to America, to be eliminated. Could “freedom of expression” also be a tool to lure, smoke them out into the open, make them available for killing by snipers?

How should the Islamic side have handled the issue? The way they tried, and to some extent managed, in Denmark: through dialogue. They should have invited the Charlies to private and public dialogue, explaining their side of the cartoon issue, appealing to a common core of humanity in us all.

There is no argument against humour and satire as such, but there is against verbal violence hitting, hurting, harming others.

The Islamic side should also control better its own recourse to self-defence by violence: only legitimate if declared by appropriate Muslim authority. That the West fails to do so – just look at the enormities of violence unleashed upon Islam since 1953 – is no excuse for Islam to sink down to Western governmental levels, using democracy as a blanket cheque for war.

The two sides have millions, maybe billions, of common people who can easily agree that the key problem is violence by extremist governments and others. The task is to let such voices come forward with concrete ideas. Like the next Charlie online, hiring a Muslim consultant to draw a border between freedom and inconsideration?

This could have saved many lives, in Paris and where the West retaliates. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-after-the-terrorist-attacks-in-paris/feed/ 0
Press Looks at Future After “Charlie”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-looks-at-future-after-charlie http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138664 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

In the wake of last week’s attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead, a heated battle of opinion is being waged in France and several other countries on the issue of freedom of expression and the rights of both media and the public.

On one side are those who say that freedom of expression is an inherent human right and a pillar of democracy, and on the other are representatives of a range of views, including the belief that liberty comes with responsibility for all sectors of society.

“I’m worried when one talks about our being in a state of war,” said John Ralston Saul, the president of the writers group PEN International, who participated in a conference here Jan. 14 on “Journalism after Charlie”, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The war against fundamentalists isn’t going to work,” he said, arguing that education about freedom of expression has to start at a young age so that people know that “you have to have a thick skin” to live in a democracy.“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer” – Nasser David Khalili, Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist

PEN International, which promotes literature, freedom of expression and speaks out for “writers silenced in their own countries”, has strongly condemned the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, but the organisation is also worried about how politicians are reacting in the aftermath.

It called on governments to “implement their commitments to free expression and to desist from further curtailing free expression through the expansion of surveillance.”

In the Jan. 7 assault, two hooded gunmen gained access to the offices of Charlie Hebdo during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing cartoonists, other media workers, a visitor and two policemen. The attackers were in turn killed by police two days later, after a huge manhunt in the French capital, where related attacks took place Jan. 8 and 9.

In the other acts, a gunman killed a young female police officer and later held hostages at a kosher supermarket, where police said he murdered four people before he was killed by the security forces.

Charlie Hebdo had been under threat since 2006 when it republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad originally published in 2005, and in 2011 its offices were firebombed after an edition that some groups considered offensive and inflammatory.

Several critics accused the magazine of Islamophobia and racism, while the cartoonists defended their right to lampoon subjects that included religious leaders and politicians.

Before the attacks, the magazine’s circulation had been in decline, with readers apparently turned off by the crudeness of the drawings, but the publication is now being given wide moral and financial backing.

More than three million people of different ethnicities and faiths marched in Paris and other cities last Sunday in support of freedom of expression, including some 40 world leaders who joined French government representatives.

Among those marching, however, were officials from many countries active in “restricting freedom of expression”, according to PEN International and other groups. “This includes murders, violence and imprisoned writers on PEN’s Case List. These leaders, when at home, are part of administrations which are serious offenders,” said the organisation.

Saul told IPS that in the last 14 years, PEN International has noted a “shrinking in freedom of expression” in Western countries, “not only of writers and journalists but of citizens”. He said that the main problem for the organisation was impunity.

While everyone condemned the Charlie Hebdo attacks, some participants at the UNESCO conference argued that the media need to act more responsibly, especially as regards the portrayal of minority or marginalised communities.

As the debates took place, the latest edition of the magazine was being distributed, with another cover portraying Muhammad, this time holding a placard saying “Je Suis Charlie” and with the caption “All is forgiven”.

“The media must mediate and refrain from the promoting of stereotypes,” said French senator Bariza Khiari, in a segment of the conference debate titled “Intercultural Dialogue and Fragmented Societies”.

She said that most adherents of Islam were “quietly Muslim”, keeping their religion to themselves while respecting the secular values of the countries where they live. “But we have to recognise the existence and importance of religion as long as religion does not dictate the law,” she argued.

Khiari told IPS that the radicalisation of some French youth was taking place because of their hardships in France and the humiliation they faced on a daily basis. These include Islamophobia, joblessness and stops by the police.

The senator said she hoped that young people as well as the media would reflect on what had happened and draw some lessons that would result in positive advances in the future.

Annick Girardin, the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie, said that democracy meant that all newspapers of whatever belief or political learning could publish in France and that people have access to legal avenues. But she acknowledged that there was a failure of integration of everyone into society.

Regarding the protection of journalists, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told IPS that “now was the time” for the United Nations and particularly UNESCO “not just to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of expression” but to consider other initiatives.

“Something that is probably not so well known to the general public is that we are constantly in contact with governments where these cases (attacks on journalists) have happened in order to remind them of their responsibilities and asking for information on the follow-up measures, and I would say that even if they are not spectacular, we’ve still seen more and more governments who are taking this seriously.”

Alongside journalists and cartoonists, the UNESCO conference included Jewish, Muslim and Christian representatives who called on the state to do more to educate young people about the co-existence of secular and religious values and ways to live together in increasingly diverse societies.

“Ignorance is the biggest weapon of mass destruction, and if ignorance is the problem, then education is the answer,” said Nasser David Khalili, an Iranian-born scholar and philanthropist who lives in London.

One topic overlooked however was the less discernible attacks on journalists, in the form of press conglomeration, cuts in income and a general lack of commitment to quality journalism.

“Freedom of expression has no meaning when you can’t find a job and when media is controlled by big groups,” said a former journalist who left the conference early.

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/press-looks-at-future-after-charlie/feed/ 0
Papal Visit Rekindles Hopes in Former War Zonehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:01:57 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138660 Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Over 500,000 people gathered at the Madhu Shrine in Sri Lanka’s former conflict zone to hear Pope Francis talk of national reconciliation and healing after two-and-a-half decades of sectarian bloodshed. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MADHU, Sri Lanka, Jan 15 2015 (IPS)

Jessi Jogeswaran, a 20-year-old woman from Sri Lanka’s northern Jaffna district, waited over six hours with 18 friends in the sweltering heat just to get a glimpse of Pope Francis on Jan. 14.

The much-anticipated Papal visit brought well over a million people out into the streets to hear the pontiff’s sermons, first in the capital Colombo and later on in Madhu, a village in Sri Lanka’s northwestern Mannar District.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed." -- Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD)
Young and old alike congregated at designated sites, including those like Jogeswaran who traveled miles to be present for the historic occasion.

The young woman with a disarming smile hides a terrible tale: as an 11-year-old, she endured three years of death and mayhem in her native village of Addankulam in Mannar, caught between advancing government forces and military units of the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who at the time controlled a vast swath of land in the north of Sri Lanka.

The six-member family’s flight began in 2007, at the tail-end of the country’s civil conflict, and would last almost two years before, in tattered clothes, they escaped the final bouts of fighting in April 2009.

“The nightmare has not ended, it has become less intense,” Jogeswaran told IPS, sitting in the compound of the Madhu Shrine, a church nestled in the jungle that is home to a statue of the Virgin Mary, which millions around the country believe to be miraculous.

Jogeswaran said that despite the war’s end, thousands of people in the north were still fighting to escape the crutches of abject poverty, recover from the traumatic events of the last days of the war and reunite with relatives lost in the chaos of prolonged battles over a period of 26 years.

“We need peace, both within and without,” she added.

Delivering a short sermon at the shrine, Pope Francis echoed her sentiments.

“No Sri Lankan can forget the tragic events associated with this very place,” he said, referring to the attacks on the church and its use by local residents as a place of refuge during extreme bouts of fighting.

He also acknowledged that the healing process would be hard, and that sustained effort would be required “to forgive, and find peace.”

For scores of people here, however, the wounds are too many to forget. The over 225,000 who were displaced during the war have now returned to a region where some parts boast poverty rates over four times the national average of six percent.

There is an urgent need for some 138,000 houses, amidst a funding shortfall of 300 million dollars. Nearly six years after the war’s end there could be as many as 40,000 missing people, although the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has records of little above 16,000 dating back over two decades.

While the completion of several large infrastructure projects suggested rapid development of the former war zone – including reconstruction of the 252-km-long rail-line connecting the north and south at a cost of 800 million dollars – few can enjoy the perks, with 5.2 percent unemployment in the Northern Province.

A lack of job opportunities is particularly hard on war widows and female-headed households – estimated at between 40,000 and 55,000 – and the nearly 12,000 rehabilitated LTTE combatants, among whom unemployment is a soaring 11 percent.

Untreated trauma, coupled with a lifting of the LTTE’s long-standing ban on the sale and production of liquor, has pushed alcohol dependency to new heights.

With scores of people seeking solace in the bottle, the northern Mullaitivu District recently recorded the second-highest rate of alcohol consumption in the island: some 34.4 percent of the population identify as ‘habitual users of alcohol’.

Finally, despite the war’s end, there has been no progress on power devolution to the Tamil-majority Northern Province, a root cause of the war.

A new political era: A bright future for the North?

The week before the Papal visit, Sri Lanka underwent a seismic change in its political landscape, when long-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated by Maithripala Sirisena, who campaigned with the support of a wide array of political parties including those representing Sinhala extremists and others representing the minority Tamil and Muslim populations.

Jogeswaran, who voted to elect a national leader for the first time at the Jan. 8 poll, told IPS that she felt nervously optimistic that things would change.

“We have a new president, who has promised change, now it is up to him to not deceive the voters,” she said.

Ramsiyah Pachchanlam, community empowerment officer with the Vanni Rehabilitation Organisation for the Differently Abled (VAROD), told IPS the northern population was desperate for things to improve.

“There are new roads, new electricity stations and a new train line, but no new jobs,” Pachchanlam said, commenting on the over three billion dollars worth of infrastructure investments made under the former Rajapaksa administration that has not trickled down to the people.

The Sirisena government has shown some signs that it was much more amenable to the needs of minority Tamils than its predecessor.

In his first week in office, Sirisena replaced the long-standing governor of the Northern Province, G. A. Chandrasiri – a former military officer – with G. S. Pallihakara, a career diplomat.

The appointment of a civilian officer to the post was a key demand of the Northern Provincial Council controlled by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had previously accused the former governor of stifling the council’s independence by carrying out instructions received directly from Colombo.

Many hope that greater political autonomy will pave the way to resolution of the most burning issues plaguing the people.

“If we know what happened to all those who went missing, or what will happen to all those still in prison after the war, we will know that things have changed,” social worker Pachchanlam said.

It remains to be seen if change will happen on the ground, but for a brief moment, in that jungle shrine, thousands came together in hope and expectation of a brighter future.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/papal-visit-rekindles-hopes-in-former-war-zone/feed/ 1
Boko Haram Insurgents Threaten Cameroon’s Educational Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 18:41:04 +0000 Ngala Killian Chimtom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138644 A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

A group of Nigerian refugees rests in the Cameroon town of Mora, in the Far North Region, after fleeing armed attacks by Boko Haram insurgents on Sep. 13, 2014. Credit: UNHCR / D. Mbaoirem

By Ngala Killian Chimtom
MAROUA, Far North Region, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

“I’d quit my job before going to work in a place like that.” That is how a primary school teacher responded when IPS asked him why he had not accepted a job in Cameroon’s Far North region.

James Ngoran is not the only teacher who has refused to move to the embattled area bordering Nigeria where Boko Haram has been massing and launching lightning strike attacks on the isolated region.“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. " -- Mahamat Abba

“Many teachers posted or transferred to the Far North Region simply don’t take up their posts. They are all afraid for their lives,” Wilson Ngam, an official of the Far North Regional Delegation for Basic Education, tells IPS. He said over 200 trained teachers refused to take up their posts in the region in 2014.

Raids by the Boko Haram insurgents in the Far North Region have created a cycle of fear and uncertainty, making teachers posted here balk at their responsibility, and forcing those on the ground to bribe their way out of “the zone of death.”

Last week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened Cameroon in a video message on YouTube, warning that the same fate would befall the country as neighbouring Nigeria. He addressed his message directly to Cameroonian President Paul Biya after repeated fighting between militants and troops in the Far North.

Shekau was reported killed in September by Cameroonian troops – a report that later turned out to be untrue.

As the Nigerian sect intensifies attacks on Cameroonian territory, government has been forced to close numerous schools. According to Mounouna Fotso, a senior official in the Cameroon Ministry of Secondary Education, over 130 schools have already been shut down.

Most of the schools are found in the Mayo-Tsanaga, Mayo-Sava and Logone and Chari Divisions-all areas which share a long border with Nigeria, and where the terrorists have continued to launch attacks.

“Government had to temporarily close the schools and relocate the students and teachers. The lives of thousands of students and pupils have been on the line as Boko Haram continues to attack. We can’t put the lives of children at risk,” Fotso said.

“We are losing students each time there is an attack on a village even if it is several kilometres from here,” Christophe Barbah, a schoolmaster in the Far North Region’s Kolofata area, said in a press interview.

The closure of schools and the psychological trauma experienced by teachers and students raises concerns that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on education will be missed in Cameroon’s Far North Region.

Although both government and civil society agree that universal primary education could attained by the end of this year in the country’s south, the 49 percent school enrolment rate in the Far North Region, compared to the national average of 83 percent, according to UNICEF, means a lot of work still needs to be done here.

Mahamat Abba, a resident of Fotocol whose four children used to attend one of the three government schools there, has fled with his entire family to Kouseri on the border with Chad.

“I looked at my kids and lovely wife and knew a bullet or bomb could get them at any time. We had to run away to safer environments. But starting life afresh here is a nightmare, having abandoned everything,” he told IPS.

Alhadji Abakoura, a resident of Amchidé, adds that the area has virtually become a ghost town. “The town had six primary schools and a nursery school. They have all been closed down.”

Overcrowded schools

As students, teachers and parents relocate to safer grounds, pressure is mounting on schools, which have to absorb the additional students with no additional funds.

According to UNICEF figures for Cameroon, school participation for boys topped 90 percent in 2013, while girls lagged behind at 85 percent or less. However, participation has been much lower in the extreme northern region.

According to the Institut National de la Statistique du Cameroon, literacy is below 40 percent in the Far North, 40 to 50 percent in the North, and 60-70 percent in the central north state of Adamawa. The Millennium Development Goal is full primary schooling for both sexes by 2015.

“Many of us are forced to follow lectures from classroom windows since there is practically very limited sitting space inside,” Ahmadou Saidou, a student of Government Secondary School Maroua, tells IPS. He had escaped from Amchidé where a September attack killed two students and a teacher.

Ahmadou said the benches on which three students once sat are now used by double that number.

“It’s an issue of great concern,” Mahamat Ahamat, the regional delegate for basic education, tells IPS.

“In normal circumstances, each classroom should contain a maximum of 60 students. But we are now in a situation where a single classroom hosts over one hundred and thirty students,” he said. “We are redeploying teachers who flee risk zones…we are getting them over to schools where students are fleeing to.

“These attacks are really slowing things down,’ Mahamat said.

Government response to the crisis

The Nigerian-based sect Boko Haram has intensified attacks on Cameroon in recent years, killing both civilians and military personnel and kidnapping nationals and expatriates in exchange for ransoms.

To respond to the crisis, Cameroon has come up with military and legal reforms. A new military region was set up in the country’s Far North Region. According to Defence Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o, “The creation of the 4th Military Region is meant to bring the military closer to the theatre of threats, and to boost the operational means in both human and material resources.”

Military equipment has been supplied by the U.S., Germany and Israel, according to press reports.

Mebe Ngo’oo said Cameroon will recruit 20,000 soldiers over the next two years to step up the fight against the terrorists. Besides the military option, Cameroon has also come up with a legal framework to streamline the fight against terrorism. An anti-terrorism law was passed by Parliament in December, punishing all those guilty of terrorist acts by death.

But opposition political leaders, civil society activists and church leaders have criticised it as anti-democratic and fear it is actually intended to curtail civil liberties.

Edited by Lisa Vives

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/boko-haram-insurgents-threaten-cameroons-educational-goals/feed/ 0
U.N. Field Operations Deadlier Every Yearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/#comments Wed, 14 Jan 2015 03:56:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138631 United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) peacekeepers provide security at a trial. U.N. staffers have been killed in the country in recent years. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2015 (IPS)

The widespread field operations of the United Nations – primarily in conflict zones in Africa, Asia and the Middle East – continue to be some of the world’s deadliest.

The hazards are so predictable that the United Nations – and its agencies – subtly encourage staffers to write their last will before leaving home.

And working for the United Nations proved especially deadly in 2014 as its personnel “continued to be subject to deliberate attacks and exposed to hazardous environments”, according to the Staff Union’s Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service.“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” - Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union

Asked if the United Nations was doing enough to protect its staff in these overseas operations, Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union, told IPS:  “This is a tricky question, because in principle the responsibility for the protection belongs primarily to the host country, i.e., the country where the staff member is working/living”.

“I think the most appropriate question is: should the U.N. send staff members to places where their security and safety cannot be guaranteed?” she asked.

At least, 61 United Nations and associated personnel were killed in 2014, including 33 peacekeepers, 16 civilians, nine contractors and three consultants, compared to 58 in 2013, including 33 peacekeepers and 25 civilians and associated personnel.

In 2012, 37 U.N. personnel, including 20 civilians and 17 peacekeepers, two of them police officers, were killed in the line of duty.

According to the Staff Union Standing Committee, the incident with the most casualties took place in Northern Mali, where nine peacekeepers were killed last October when their convoy was
ambushed.

Northern Mali was the most deadly place for U.N. personnel: 28 peacekeepers were killed there between June and October. And Gaza was the most deadly place for civilian personnel, with 11 killed in
July and August.

The killings, some of them described as “deliberate”, took place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Cambodia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, North Darfur, Central African Republic and Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed serious concern over the continued killings of U.N. staffers in field operations.

“I am appalled by the number of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers who have been deliberately targeted in the past year, while they were trying to help people in crisis,” he said, at a memorial ceremony last week to honour fallen staff members.

In the past year, he said, U.N. staff members were killed while relaxing over dinner in a restaurant in Kabul while two colleagues were targeted after getting off a plane in Somalia.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions, said: “We are asked to work in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places.”

He said the work is fulfilling and “we do it willingly.”  “But all we ask in return is that the Organisation do its best to protect us, look after our families, and hold those who attack us, including governments, responsible for their actions.”

In a statement released Tuesday, the Staff Union Standing Committee said South Sudan was the country with the highest number of national staff members detained or abducted.

In May, there were allegations that members of South Sudan’s security forces assaulted and illegally detained two staff members in separate incidents in Juba.

In August, South Sudan’s National Security Service detained two national staff.  And in October, eight armed men wearing plain clothes seized a World Food Programme staff member who was waiting in line for a flight from Malakal airport and drove him to an unknown location.

Scores of United Nations staff and associated personnel were also subject
to hostage-taking, kidnapping and abductions, the statement said.

The worst incidents took place in the Golan Heights, where 44 Fijian peacekeepers were detained by armed opposition elements between 28 August and 11 September last year.

Meanwhile, U.N. personnel were abducted in Yemen, the Sudan’s Darfur region, Pakistan and in South Sudan.

An international contractor from India working for the U.N Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) was released on 12 June after 94 days of captivity.

Asked about “hazard pay” for staffers in overseas operations, Tavora-Jainchill told IPS staff members do get hazard/danger pay depending on conditions of the individual duty station.

She said, “Each duty station is a unique duty station and receives unique consideration for hazard/danger pay, so your question cannot be answered in a general manner.”

United Nations staff members participate in a Pension Fund and there are provisions in that pension related to their death and the payment of pension/indemnities to their survivors, she added.

Asked about the will, she said: “That question is very interesting because I also heard that and some time ago asked someone from the U.N. Administration if it was really the case.”

The response was that those staff members are asked to consider “putting their business and paperwork in order”.

“My understanding from the answer is that the paperwork might include a will, she added.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-n-field-operations-deadlier-every-year/feed/ 1
OPINION: The Paris Killings – A Fatal Trap for Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 18:35:46 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138602

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the wave of indignation aroused by last week’s terrorist attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo runs the risk of playing into the hands of radical Muslims and unleashing a deadly worldwide confrontation.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

It is sad to see how a continent that was one cradle of civilisation is running blindly into a trap, the trap of a holy war with Islam – and that six Muslim terrorists were sufficient to bring that about.

It is time to get out of the comprehensible “We are All Charlie Hebdo” wave, to look into facts, and to understand that we are playing into the hands of a few extremists, and equating ourselves with them. The radicalisation of the conflict between the West and Islam is going to carry with it terrible consequences

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The first fact is that Islam is the second largest religion in the world, with 1.6 billion practitioners, that Muslims are the majority in 49 countries of the world and that they account for 23 percent of humankind. Of these 1.6 billion, only 317 million are Arabs. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) live in the Asia-Pacific region; in fact, more Muslims live in India and Pakistan (344 million combined). Indonesia alone has 209 million.

A Pew Research Center report on the Muslim world also inform us that it is in South Asia that Muslims are more radical in terms of observance and views. In that region, those in favour of severe corporal punishment for criminals are 81 percent, compared with 57 percent in the Middle East and North Africa, while those in favour of executing those who leave Islam are 76 percent in South Asia, compared with 56 percent in the Middle East.

Therefore, it is obvious that it is the history of the Middle East which brings the specificity of the Arabs to the conflict with the West. And here are the main four reasons.“We are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms … instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation”

First, all the Arab countries are artificial creations. In May 1916, Monsieur François Georges-Picot for France and Sir Mark Sykes for Britain met and agreed on a secret treaty, with the support of the Russian Empire and the Italian Kingdom, on how to carve up the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

Thus the Arab countries of today were born as the result of a division by France and Britain with no consideration for ethnic and religious realities or for history. A few of those countries, like Egypt, had an historical identity, but countries like Iraq, Arabia Saudi, Jordan, or even the Arab Emirates, lacked even that. It is worth remembering that the Kurdish issue of 30 million people divided among four countries was created by European powers.

As a consequence, the second reason. The colonial powers installed kings and sheiks in the countries that they created. To run these artificial countries, strong hands were required. So, from the very beginning, there was a total lack of participation of the people, with a political system which was totally out of sync with the process of democracy which was happening in Europe. With European blessing, these countries were frozen in feudal times.

As for the third reason, the European powers never made any investment in industrial development, or real development. The exploitation of petrol was in the hands of foreign companies and only after the end of the Second World War, and the ensuing process of decolonisation, did oil revenues really come into local hands.

When the colonial powers left, the Arab countries had no modern political system, no modern infrastructure, no local management.

Finally, the fourth reason, which is closer to our days. In states which did not provide education and health for their citizens, Muslim piety took on the task of providing what the state was not providing. So large networks of religious schools and hospital were created and, when elections were finally permitted, these became the basis for legitimacy and the vote for Muslim parties.

This is why, just taking the example of two important countries, Islamist parties won in Egypt and Algeria, and how with the acquiescence of the West, military coups were the only resort to stopping them.

This compression of so many decades into a few lines is of course superficial and leaves out many other issues. But this brutally abridged historical process is useful for understanding how anger and frustration is now all over the Middle East, and how this leads to the attraction to the Islamic State (IS) in poor sectors.

We should not forget that this historical background, even if remote for young people, is kept alive by Israel’s domination of the Palestinian people. The blind support of the West, especially of the United States, for Israel is seen by Arabs as a permanent humiliation, and Israel’s continuous expansion of settlements clearly eliminates the possibility of a viable Palestinian State.

The July-August bombing of Gaza, with just some noises of protest from the West but no real action, is for the Arab world clear proof that the intention is to keep Arabs down and seek alliances only with corrupt and delegitimised rulers who should be swept away. And the continuous Western intervention in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the drones bombing everywhere, are widely perceived among the 1.6 billion that the West is historically engaged in keeping Islam down, as the Pew report noted.

We should also remember that Islam has several internal divisions, of which the Sunni-Shiite divide is just the largest. But while in the Arab region at least 40 percent of Sunni do not recognise a Shiite as a fellow Muslim, outside the region this tends to disappear, In Indonesia only 26 percent identify themselves as Sunni, with 56 percent identifying themselves as “just Muslim”.

In the Arab world, only in Iraq and Lebanon, where the two communities lived side by side, does a large majority of Sunni recognise Shiites as fellow Muslims. The fact that Shiites, who account for just 13 percent of Muslims, are the large majority in Iran, and the Sunni the large majority in Saudi Arabia explains the ongoing internal conflict in the region, which is being stirred by the two respective leaders.

Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then run by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (1966–2006), successfully deployed a policy of polarisation in Iraq, continuing attacks on Shiites and provoking an ethnic cleansing of one million Sunnis from Baghdad. Now IS, the radical caliphate which is challenging the entire Arab world besides the West, is able to attract many Sunnis from Iraq which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals, that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately provoked the Shiites.

The fact it is that every day hundreds of Arabs die because of the internal conflict, a fate that does not affect the much larger Muslim community.

Now, all terrorist attacks in the West that have happened in Ottawa, in London, and now in Paris, have the same profile: a young man from the country in question, not someone from the Arab region, who was not at all religious during his teenage years, someone who somehow drifted, did not find a job, and was a loner. In nearly all cases, someone who had already had something to do with the judicial system.

Only in the last few years had he become converted to Islam and accepted the calls from IS for killing infidels. He felt that with this he would find a justification to his life, he would become a martyr, a somebody in another world, removed from a life in which there was no real bright future.

The reaction to all this has been a campaign in the West against Islam. The latest number of the New Yorker published a strong article defining Islam not as a religion but as an ideology. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing and anti-immigrant Lega Nord has publicly condemned the Pope for engaging Islam in dialogue, and conservative Italian pundit Giuliano Ferrara declared on TV that ”we are in a Holy War”.

The overall European (and U.S.) reaction has been to denounce the Paris killings as the result of a “deadly ideology”, as President François Hollande called it.

It is certainly a sign of the anti-Muslim tide that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was obliged to take a position against the recent marches in Dresden (Muslim population 2 percent), organised by the populist movement Pegida (the German acronym for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West”). The marches were basically directed against the 200,000 asylum seekers, most of them from Iraq and Syria, whose primary intention, according to Pegida, was not to escape war.

Studies from all over Europe show that the immense majority of immigrants have successfully integrated with their host economies. United Nations studies also show that Europe, with its demographic decline, requires at least 20 million immigrants by 2050 if it wants to remain viable in welfare practices, and competitive in the world. Yet, what are we getting everywhere?

Xenophobic, right-wing parties in every country of Europe, able to make the Swedish government resign, conditioning the governments of United Kingdom, Denmark and Nederland, and looking poised to win the next elections in France.

It should be added that, while what happened in Paris was of course a heinous crime, and while expression of any opinion is essential for democracy, very few have ever seen Charlie Hebdo and its level of provocation. Especially because in 2008, as Tariq Ramadan pointed out in The Guardian of Jan. 10, Charlie Hebdo fired a cartoonist who had joke about a Jewish link to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s son.

Charlie Hebdo was a voice defending the superiority of France and its cultural supremacy in the world, and had a small readership, which it obtained by selling provocation – exactly the opposite of the view of a world based on respect and cooperation among different cultures and religions.

So now we are all Charlie, as everybody is saying. But to radicalise the clash between the two largest religions of the world is not a minor affair. We should fight terrorism, be it Muslim or not (let us not forget that a Norwegian, Anders Behring Breivik, who wanted to keep his country free of Muslim penetration, killed 91 of his co-citizens).

But we are falling into a deadly trap, and doing exactly what the radical Muslims want: engaging in a holy war against Islam, so that the immense majority of moderate Muslims will be pushed to take up arms.

The fact that European right-wing parties will reap the benefit of this radicalisation goes down very well for the radical Muslims. They dream of a world fight, in which they will make Islam – and not just any Islam, but their interpretation of Sunnism – the sole religion. Instead of a strategy of isolation, we are engaging in a policy of confrontation.

And, apart from September 11 in New York, the losses of life have been miniscule compared with what is going on in the Arab world, where just in one country – Syria – 50,000 people lost their lives last year.

How can we so blindly fall into the trap without realising that we are creating a terrible clash all over the world? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-paris-killings-a-fatal-trap-for-europe/feed/ 9
Women ‘Sewing’ a Bright Future in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:27:29 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138592 Afghan widows and orphans in Pakistan have few livelihood options, but a women’s charity is teaching them basic embroidery and sewing to help them start home-based businesses. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

Afghan widows and orphans in Pakistan have few livelihood options, but a women’s charity is teaching them basic embroidery and sewing to help them start home-based businesses. Credit: Najibullah Musafer/Killid

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 12 2015 (IPS)

At 46, Naseema Nashad is starting her life over, not out of choice but out of necessity. The Afghan woman was just 25 years old when Taliban militants stormed Kabul and her family was forced to flee to neighbouring Pakistan to escape what they knew would be a brutal regime.

“My father stayed back to run his small business there and he would send us money on a monthly basis,” she told IPS. “We used it to feed our seven-member family, and pay rent on our house in Peshawar [capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province].”

“The worst victims of the three-decade-long conflict are women, who have lost their fathers, husbands and male family members [and] are finding it hard to earn a living." -- Ahmed Rasool, professor of international relations at Kabul University
But in 1999, “for no reason” she says, the Taliban killed Nashad’s father. Since then, it has been a daily struggle for the family to survive. Aged 12, 14 and 15, her three brothers quickly found work in local hotels, though they were paid paltry salaries for their labour.

Nashad, on the other hand, could never land anything but odd jobs, which barely gave her enough to survive. What she needed was something fulltime, ideally work she could do from home, that would bring her a regular income.

It was a pipe dream at first, but thanks to the efforts of a vocational centre established by the Afghan Women Organisation, an NGO based in this border city, she is close to making it a reality.

“Now, I have learnt stitching and embroidery and will open a home-based shop very soon. Some of the women who have previously been trained at the centre are helping me,” she added.

She is one of thousands of women, all from war-affected families, who have acquired embroidery and sewing skills over the past five years.

Each woman has her own unique story. Fourteen-year-old Gul Pari, for instance, migrated to Peshawar from Afghanistan seven years ago. As a daily wage-labourer, her father could scarcely make ends meet. There was little choice but for his young daughters to go out in search of work.

Today, Gul and her younger sister Jamila are the owners of a small home-based business, where they take on clients who need garments stitched or altered. They still in a simple mud hut, but at least they now make enough money to comfortably feed the entire family.

Safoora Stanikzai, who heads the Afghan Women Organisation, says she has imparted skills to about 4,000 women since establishing the centre in 2010.

“A majority of the trained women were either widows or orphaned children who had lost their male family members in Afghanistan and were facing severe economic problems here,” Stanikzai tells IPS.

The organisation lacks space and sufficient resources but soldiers on with the little it has. After the women complete their training, they even receive a sewing machine from the centre to facilitate home-based enterprises.

Stanikzai also recruits women found begging on the streets and in marketplaces, and offers them the chance to start their lives afresh – a rare opportunity in this war-torn region, where civilians are often caught between militants and the military, and a massive number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) jostle for space with a resident population already battling a scarcity of homes, jobs and food.

Female Afghan refugees face double-dependency

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Pakistan is home to 1.6 million ‘legal’ Afghan residents, while an estimated two to three million undocumented refugees are also believed to have crossed the 2,700-km-long border since the 1979 Soviet invasion.

Passing easily through various unguarded or unchecked entry points in the mountains that form a rocky border between the two nations, Afghans fleeing the war were once welcomed by their brethren in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and what was formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province, now called KP.

But when the U.S.-invasion of Afghanistan pushed former Taliban militants into the mountains, leading to a rise in armed groups operating with impunity in the tribal belt, the hand of friendship was snatched away and many Afghans now live on the margins, blamed for the rise in militancy and soaring crime in Pakistan’s northern regions.

According to Ahmed Rasool, a professor of international relations at Kabul University, poverty-stricken Afghan refugees have no choice but to remain in Pakistan since they have little to no economic opportunity back home.

“The worst victims of the three-decade-long conflict are women, who have lost their fathers, husbands and male family members [and] are finding it hard to earn a living,” he told IPS.

Some of these widows and orphans are new arrivals, joining the wave that fled Afghanistan in 2001. Others have lived here much longer, and consider Pakistan their home.

But aid that was once was abundant has dwindled. International NGOs and aid agencies followed closely on the heels of departing foreign troops, leaving Afghan refugees in the lurch.

Barely able to meet the needs of its own impoverished population in the north, the Pakistan government has offered little assistance to visitors who are now being told they have outstayed their welcome.

So initiatives like Stanikzai’s vocational centre represent a welcome oasis in an increasingly hostile desert.

Some Afghan women earn as much as 150 dollars per month by altering or stitching women’s garments. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Some Afghan women earn as much as 150 dollars per month by altering or stitching women’s garments. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women like 49-year-old Shamin Ara, who received training at the centre five years ago, is just one of the organisation’s many success stories.

She arrived in Pakistan in 1992, and lost her father to tuberculosis six years ago. His death left the family no choice but to seek alms from their rich relatives, she tells IPS.

Now she earns about 150 dollars a month by practicing the skills she learned at the centre. It is a decent wage in a country where the average annual income is 1,250 dollars.

She says she has not yet been able to find a husband, since she still lives in abject poverty. But at least now she can feed her four siblings, and harbours dreams of expanding her business further.

Already she has helped five other Afghan women set up their own shops, and hopes to do more for those like herself, who just need a helping hand.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/women-sewing-a-bright-future-in-northern-pakistan/feed/ 0
Video Games, Poverty and Conflict in Bab Al-Tabbanehhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/#comments Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:38:01 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138583 Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Ahmad (right), a 19-year-old student of engineering and one of Bab Al-Tabbaneh’s fortunate young people, chatting with a friend. He has been able to go to university, thanks to a grant from the Ruwwad Al Tanmeya NGO. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
TRIPOLI, Lebanon, Jan 10 2015 (IPS)

“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games,” says Mohammad Darwish, a calm man with a curled beard framing his face.

Sitting behind the counter of his cybercafé, located in one of the main streets of the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood in this northern Lebanese city, Darwish says that his young customers have resigned themselves to the persistence of armed conflicts.“People get used to war. During the last battle, children were still coming to play. Can you imagine, a seven-year-old boy running through the bullets just to play video games” – Mohammad Darwish, owner of a cybercafé in the Bab Al-Tabbaneh neighbourhood of Tripoli

Despite their age, they are pretty sure that clashes – which have become routine here over the past six years – will erupt again sooner or later. Even when calm reigns, the shelled and bullet-riddled buildings in Tabbaneh stand as a reminder of previous clashes.

The last eruption of violence was in late October 2014. Clashes between the army and local Sunni gunmen paralysed Tripoli for three days and destroyed part of the historic old city, leaving at least eight civilians, 11 soldiers and 22 militants dead. The army now controls Tabbaneh, with soldiers and tanks deployed on every street corner.

Curiously, flags and posters of the Islamic State (IS) can be seen displayed in houses and shops.

“I support IS [Islamic State] and the [Al-Qaeda-affiliated] Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN)”, says 19-year-old unemployed Hassan with a smile, explaining that he thinks IS will give him rights “to have a job, to live peacefully according to Islamic precepts, to move freely.”

Tabbaneh is probably the hardest neighbourhood to grow up in the whole of Tripoli. Despite being the second largest city in Lebanon, barely 80 kilometres north of Beirut, policy neglect by various central governments has left this Sunni-majority city suffering from alarming poverty, unemployment and social exclusion, and Tabbaneh is one of its poorest and most marginalised areas.

Seventy-six percent of Tabbaneh inhabitants live below the poverty line, according to a study on ‘Urban Poverty in Tripoli’, published in 2012 by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

These circumstances, aggravated by the political exploitation of sectarianism within a very conservative society, have fuelled the frequent rounds of violence, mainly between Tabbaneh and the neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen.

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

A giant poster on a balcony in Bab Al-Tabbaneh in memory of a young boy killed during clashes in the neighbourhood. Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Both neighbourhoods are separated just by one street, but while Bab Al-Tabbaneh inhabitants are mostly Sunni (like the main Syrian rebel groups), most of Jabal Mohsen’s inhabitants are Alawites (the same sect as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad).

This sectarianism has determined a rivalry that dates back to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon which began in 1976 and ended in 2005, but which has turned violent again since 2008, and especially since the beginning of Syrian civil war in 2011. During the last three years, more than 20 rounds of fights have broken out in Tripoli, most of them between Tabbaneh and Mohsen militias.

“We fight to defend our people, to achieve peace,” says 19-year-old Khaled, who usually works in a bakery but also belongs to a local militia. But Ahmad, who is of the same age, is sceptical: “People fight because they don’t have money or work.”

Ahmad is studying engineering, thanks to a grant provided by Ruwwad Al Tanmeya, a regional NGO that works in the area through youth activism, civic engagement and education. Because his father served in the army, the state paid the major part of his school fees when he was younger and he was able to study in private schools outside Tabbaneh.

Hoda Al-Rifai, a Ruwwad youth officer, agrees with Ahmad: “Many families don’t have incomes. Whenever the conflict starts, the fighters get paid. And these fighters also give money to children to fulfil specific tasks. They can have three dollars a day and this is better than going to school. Their parents also think this way.”

Stereotypes also contribute to make things hard for Tabbaneh’s youth – including finding a job outside the neighbourhood – and shape their personality, explains Hoda. “When we started, the youth had no self-confidence. The media do not produce an image of these neighbourhoods as areas where you can find brilliant young men, willing to study. They just underline the clashes and all kinds of negatives things.”

“There are no members of JN or IS here,” Darwish tells IPS, adding that many in Tabbaneh see the IS flags as a way of showing dissatisfaction over the government’s alleged abandonment of the Sunni community and specifically of Tabbaneh.

“This is not a religious conflict but political. When politicians want to send a message to each other, they pay for clashes here,” adds Darwish’s 49-year-old aunt, veiled and dressed completely in black. “In this city, you can give 20 dollars to a boy so he starts a war,” explains Darwish.

Nevertheless, various studies have found that only a small percentage of the estimated up to 80,000 Tabbaneh inhabitants take part in combats, and Sarah Al-Charif, Lebanon director of Ruwwad, stresses the immediate improvements observed in Tabbaneh and Mohsen youths who participate in the NGO’s projects.

“They become aware of their shared interests, values and pain,” she says. “They became more open-minded, especially the girls.”

For Sarah, in addition to public investment and job opportunities, any solution must include awareness and education, to which Hoda adds: “First of all, citizens need to understand why the clashes take place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/video-games-poverty-and-conflict-in-bab-al-tabbaneh/feed/ 1
OPINION: Doubling Down on Dictatorship in the Middle Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/#comments Mon, 05 Jan 2015 21:14:31 +0000 Amanda Ufheil-Somers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138510 At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Amanda Ufheil-Somers
WASHINGTON, Jan 5 2015 (IPS)

For a moment, four years ago, it seemed that dictators in the Middle East would soon be a thing of the past.

Back then, it looked like the United States would have to make good on its declared support for democracy, as millions of Tunisians, Egyptians, Bahrainis, Yemenis, and others rose up to reject their repressive leaders. Many of these autocrats enjoyed support from Washington in return for providing “stability.”

Amanda_Ufheil_Somers-113x140Yet even the collapse of multiple governments failed to upend the decades-long U.S. policy of backing friendly dictators. Washington has doubled down on maintaining a steady supply of weapons and funding to governments willing to support U.S. strategic interests, regardless of how they treat their citizens.

Four years after Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, for example, the country once again has a president with a military pedigree and an even lower tolerance for political opposition than his predecessor.With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

Mass arrests and hasty convictions of political activists — over 1,000 of whom have been sentenced to death — have reawakened the fear that Egyptians thought had vanished for good after Mubarak was ousted and democratic elections were held.

When the Egyptian military — led by now-president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi — deposed the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, the Obama administration wavered about whether it would suspend military aid to Egypt, which U.S. law requires in the case of a coup. Yet despite some partial and temporary suspensions, the U.S. government continued to send military hardware.

Now that Sisi heads a nominally civilian government — installed in a sham election by a small minority of voters — all restrictions on U.S. aid have been lifted, including for military helicopters that are used to intimidate and attack protesters. As Secretary of State John Kerry promised a month after Sisi’s election, “The Apaches will come, and they will come very, very soon.”

In the tiny kingdom of Bahrain, meanwhile, the demonstrations for constitutional reform that began in February 2011 continue, despite the government’s attempts to silence the opposition with everything at its disposal — from bird shot to life imprisonment.

Throughout it all, Washington has treated Bahrain like a respectable ally.

Back in 2011, for instance, just days after Bahraini security forces fired live ammunition at protesters in Manama — an attack that killed four and wounded many others — President Barack Obama praised King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s “commitment to reform.” Neither did the White House object when it was notified in advance that 1,200 troops from Saudi Arabia would enter Bahrain to clear the protests in March 2011.

Since then, there’s been a steady drip of troubling news. A State Department report from 2013 acknowledged that Bahrain revokes the citizenship of prominent activists, arrests people on vague charges, tortures prisoners, and engages in “arbitrary deprivation of life.” (That’s bureaucratese for killing people.)

And what have the consequences been?

Back in 2012, international pressure forced the United States to ban the sale of American-made tear gas to Bahraini security forces. And last August, some U.S. military aid was cut off after the regime expelled an American diplomat for meeting with members of an opposition party.

But that’s it.

Delaying shipments of tanks, jets, and tear gas amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist when the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy remains headquartered outside Bahrain’s capital. And Bahrain’s participation in air raids against the Islamic State has only strengthened the bond between the regime and the White House.

Indeed, the crisis in Iraq and Syria has breathed new life into the military-first approach that has long dominated Washington’s thinking about the Middle East. Any government willing to join this new front in the “War on Terror” is primed to benefit both from American largesse and a free pass on repression.

People power in the Middle East must be matched by popular demand here in the United States to shake the foundations of our foreign policy. With a new year upon us, it’s our turn to face down fear and insist that another path is possible.

This story originally appeared on Otherwords.orgThe views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-doubling-down-on-dictatorship-in-the-middle-east/feed/ 0
OPINION: Quo Vadis? Post-Benghazi Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 17:38:16 +0000 Christopher Occhicone http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138501

Christopher Occhicone is a New York-based U.S. photojournalist who recently returned from Libya.

By Christopher Occhicone
NEW YORK, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

A concerted disinformation campaign is being conducted to manufacture consent for military action against the government in Tripoli and the town of Misrata, which has been at the forefront of toppling the despotic Gaddafi dictatorship.

It is ironic that the very same people who called in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) led airstrikes on satellite phones in 2011 are now being labeled as dangerous ‘Islamist militants’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

chris o 300It looks like Western policymakers and legislators in the U.S. and Europe, and the United Nations may all be misinformed, which in turn could unleash catastrophic consequences for the people of Libya.  Undoubtedly a protracted civil war in Libya will swell the numbers of refugees fleeing to Europe manifold.

Impact of Benghazi

To understand the difference between fact and fiction, I spent several days interviewing senior members of the government of Libya and Fajr Libya known in English as Libya Dawn (LD).  My main subject on the side of the government was Mustafa Noah, director of the Intelligence Service of Libya.

What was very clear throughout the interview is that both Noah and his supporters in the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn are very much pro-U.S. and pro-NATO who they say are “the saviors of Libya”.The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.

They are genuinely upset at the murder of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi.  Ambassador Stevens is considered “an honourary Libyan who loved the country and its peoples” and who was “above all, a guest whose murder is sacrilege”.

Noah said that the “perpetrators have been paying a heavy price for their crime that is being slowly but surely being exacted upon them”.  He stated categorically for the record that “extremist Takfiri Islamists are clearly rejected by Libya Dawn and the government in Tripoli”.

In my four-hour interview, Noah made it clear that he was happy to talk about any issue, but did not want to be the focus or want it to appear as though he may be vying for power. This was something he came back to later on in the recorded conversation.

In fact, he spoke little about himself and his role despite several attempts to steer the conversation in that direction.

The major point Mustafa Noah made is that the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn (as it stands now) is/are in the process of trying to set up an inclusive government for all Libyans.  His opinion is that opponents – specifically retired Libyan General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar – were “concerned about consolidating their own personal power base”.

There is mounting evidence that Hafter’s power-grab is being carried out with support of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al Sisi and his Saudi and Emirati backers. For example: the MiG-21 bombing runs from across the border, which are tantamount to a war crime for unprovoked and undeclared bombing of a neighbouring country.

And the recent purchase of six Sukhoi Su-30 warplanes delivered to Tobruk by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military (i.e. paid for allegedly by Egypt with funds that most probably originated from the Arab Gulf).

Mustafa Noah seemed genuine insofar as he always had a humble, well-composed, and thoughtful approach to any subject discussed.

He never framed anything in terms of his own accomplishments or involvement but in terms of the people and the revolution for change, stability and prosperity for all Libyans.

Noah was genuinely upset at the thought that someone-like Haftar, who is “working for his narrow personal interests and self-aggrandizement”, could be successful in building a personal power base without regard for the people.

He said Haftar was “using the divisive methods he learned from his time as a crony in the Gaddafi dictatorship”.  Noah found the “thought of a ‘strong man’ coming to power particularly offensive and abhorrent in light of recent history in Libya”.

Mustafa Noah clearly has put a lot of trust in the ability of Libya Dawn, however he is not blindly committed to them.  When I read a list of different militias, brigades, groups that composed Libya Dawn and asked about the character of specific militias, he painted them as all equally for the revolution and composed of good people.

Noah said any group that was not focused on the spirit of the revolution (i.e. anti-corruption, against arbitrary political violence, etc.) would not be a part of the future of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Libya.

His main focus is the Libyan people, creating better institutions, employment opportunities, social services, education, health services, etc.

Mustafa Noah talked about an “inclusive future” for Libya.  He described the “old system of tribalism and manipulation by Gaddafi” and how the “mentality has to change in order for the country to progress”.  Regarding inclusivity in the future, Noah said that they are “open to people from the Gaddafi regime returning to public life once stability is created”.

In fact, Mustafa Noah’s senior advisor on Anti-Terrorism Operations, who joined the conversation halfway through, was in the Gaddafi regime for 37 years.  For Mustafa Noah, the government in Tripoli and Libya Dawn, “there is a place for people from the Gaddafi regime who could prove they were not stealing from the Libyan people or … involved in atrocities against the people”.

Quo vadis Libya 2015?

What I discerned from my recent visit to Tripoli and Misrata is that the power-grab spearheaded by Haftar has more to do with Libya’s oil and gas resources, which are coveted by their neighbours, rather than the red herring of ‘Islamist militants in Tripoli and Misrata’ that is being trumpeted in the news media.

The Libya story in 2015 is about disinformation, lies and a power-grab in motion clandestinely supported by the Egyptians and their Saudi and Emirati counterparts.  What will the U.S. and the Europeans do?

Will they play along in the new ‘Great Game’ or stop another Syria-like imbroglio unfolding where extremist Takfiri militant organisations like the Islamist State (ISIS or ISIL) can feed off and emerge to threaten peace and stability in the Mediterranean and beyond?

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-quo-vadis-post-benghazi-libya/feed/ 4
Syrian Refugees Between Containers and Tents in Turkeyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 15:31:33 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138495 The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

The Harran camp for Syrian refugees was one of the last to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
HARRAN and NIZIP, Turkey, Jan 4 2015 (IPS)

“We ran as if we were ants fleeing out of the nest. I moved to three different cities in Syria to try to be away from the conflict, but there was no safe place left in my country so we decided to move out.”

For Professor Helit – who was describing what he called the indiscriminate bombing of cities and burning of civilian houses by the Syrian regime under President Bashar al-Assad when he fled his country two years ago – this “moving out” meant taking refuge across the border in Turkey in one of the so-called “accommodation camps” provided by the Turkish government.

Helit and his 10 children – five daughters and five sons – fled on December 31, 2012, hitch-hiked a lift in a truck to the border with Turkey, and then made their way to the refugee camp in Harran, 20 kilometres from the Syrian border.The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime

The camp in Harran was one of the last camps to be built by the Turkish government in 2012 and is considered the most modern, with a capacity for lodging 14,000 people in 2,000 containers.

For more than thirty years Helit had been the headmaster of a school in Syria before the outbreak of the armed conflict in Syria in March 2011. He now runs the camp school for 4,700 Syrian children of all ages.

Harran is divided into small neighbourhood-like communities with names such as Peace, Brotherhood and Fraternity, alluding to universal values. Seen from outside, the camp seems like a prison, but the gates of the Harran camp are always open so that families can leave and visit shopping centres nearby.

The Syrians refugees living in Harran have tried to reproduce the lifestyle they had in their homeland, but every family has a sad story to tell – many have lost relatives in the conflict and others still have members in the battlefields fighting the regime.

Professor Helit showed IPS the classrooms and common areas frequented by Syrian students aged between 13 and 16, the walls decorated with paintings by the students which, he said, are an “expression of their feelings and pain.”

“We will never stop fighting for our independence,” he added. “We will resist until the end.”

Stories like that of Professor Helit can be found everywhere in refugee communities along the border, although not all have the “luxury” of container housing.

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Syrian children going to school on a cold morning in the tent refugee camp in Nizip, Turkey, near the border with Syria. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

In most camps, like the one in Nizip in the province of Gaziantep – an important industrial city in eastern Turkey – families of up to eight people live in tents.

Nizip lodges 10,700 Arabic Syrians, mostly from Aleppo and Idlib – both towns which were targeted by the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

But the Nizip camp is also the setting for an interesting initiative in which its residents are being given the chance of electing their own neighbourhood community representatives. This pioneering initiative is now in its second year.

“This was the first time I ever voted. I don’t understand much about how it works but in Syria there was only one candidate and didn’t matter if we voted or not because the result was already defined”, Mustafa Kerkuz, a 57-year-old Syrian refugee from Aleppo, told IPS.

According to Demir Celal, assistant director of the Nizip camp, this is the first time that Syrians have able to vote freely. “We aim to teach them what a free election looks like,” he said.

The number of Syrian refugees in Turkey now stands at two million, according to Veysel Dalmaz, head of the Prime Ministry’s General Coordination for Syrian Asylum Seekers, who warns that the country has nearly reached full capacity for humanitarian assistance even though Turkey has “an open door-policy in which no one coming from Syria is refused and we do not even discriminate which side they are on.”

So far, the Turkish government has allocated more than five billion dollars to humanitarian aid through the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority of Turkey (AFAD).

According to Dalmaz, there has never in history been a case of mass migration from one country to another in such a short period of time as the migration from Syria to Turkey, and “there is no country that has managed to absorb so many people in so little time.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/syrians-refugees-between-containers-and-tents-in-turkey/feed/ 0
Oil Price Plunge Could Take a Bite from Arms Budgetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 20:38:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138473 The continuing decline  in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

The continuing decline in oil prices has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world's currencies. Credit/Justin R/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 2 2015 (IPS)

In a satirical piece titled ‘An Unserious Look at the Year Ahead’ in the Wall Street Journal last week, Hugo Rifkind predicts the price of a barrel of oil will fall so low that people across the world would start buying oil for the barrel – and throw the oil out.

The journalistic spoof about the oil market may be an improbable scenario, but in reality the sharp decline in prices has generated both good and bad news – mostly bad.If Middle Eastern sales flatten out or decrease, arms companies may fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

In the United States, the fall in oil prices is being viewed as an unexpected – but welcome – stimulus to the country’s recession-struck economy.

As one U.S. newspaper headline read: ‘For (U.S. President Barack) Obama, Low Oil Prices Bring Hope’

The London Economist points out that a 40-dollar price cut would shift about 1.3 trillions dollars from oil producers to consumers.

But in the developing world, the current plunge is threatening to undermine oil-dependent economies in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East.

The continuing decline – from around 107 dollars per barrel last June to less than 70 dollars last month – has already reduced purchasing power and impacted negatively on some of the world’s currencies, including the ruble (Russia), real (Brazil), rupiah (Indonesia), bolivar (Venezuela), naira (Nigeria), peso (Chile), lira (Turkey) and ringgit (Malaysia).

But sooner or later the fall in oil prices is also likely to have a negative impact on both military spending and the thriving multi-billion-dollar arms market in the Middle East.

Perhaps for peace activists, this may be a positive sign in the global campaign for disarmament – mostly in conventional arms.

Arms buying by the six Gulf monarchies alone – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain – have been traditionally fueled by rising oil incomes: more incomes, more state-of-the art weapons.

The exceptions in the Middle East are Israel and Egypt, which depend heavily on U.S. military grants that are gratis and non-repayable.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers and Arms Production Programme, at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS lower oil revenues will undoubtedly put pressure on the military expenditure of Middle Eastern states, as in the past.

Saudi Arabia’s arms imports peaked in the 1990s, he said, but then fell rapidly, partly because of oil price-related lower government revenues.

“However, for 2013, we estimated Saudi Arabia will be the world’s fourth largest military spender [about 67 billion dollars] and the UAE the fifteenth largest [19 billion dollars],” said Wezeman, who closely tracks the Middle Eastern arms market.

The world’s three largest military spenders are the United States (640 billion dollars), China (188 billion) and Russia (88 billion), according to 2013 figures released by SIPRI.

Striking a cautionary note, Wezeman said it is, however, too early to say anything about this with certainty, as the arms procuring states in question tend to be highly secretive and undemocratic about military matters and arms procurement programmes and plans.

“They may very well decide to cut spending in other sectors instead, if lower oil prices force them to cut overall government spending,” he declared.

Unveiling its 2015 budget last week, Saudi Arabia said it was “rationalising” its expenditure, but did not specify any details.

According to estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Saudi Arabia’s total foreign exchange reserves amount to about 750 billion dollars.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst covering the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS a projected five-year defence spending (2015-2019) for the Middle East region shows the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) at approximately 3.48 percent.

This number is lower than the past five years’ CAGR (2010-2014), which was 8.45 percent.

“I do credit some of this decline to the anticipated fall in oil prices,” she said.

For Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and the UAE, this trend will only serve as a nuisance they can comfortably withstand for a few years – “so I do not expect any significant changes in their defence spending tendencies.”

These markets are huge, and they all spend lavishly on building up their defence capabilities, she said.

Saudi Arabia alone has the world’s fourth-largest military budget and will continue to dominate the Middle East arms market, with a defence budget nearly four times the size of the next closest Middle East military investor, she noted.

“I don’t see a major change in Iran and Iraq’s defence spending trends, even though they stand to be the most hurt by this.”

Auger said due to other regional and internal fractures, these two neighbours will have to maintain their defence spending levels as a cautionary measure.

Even though Iran is already suffering from international sanctions with its unresolved nuclear issue, it still feels it is being threatened, and therefore lower defence spending will only make it more vulnerable from its own perspective, she added.

“With Iraq, you may see them lean more heavily on its allies,” Auger said.

SIPRI’s Wezeman told IPS the importance of the Middle Eastern market for arms producing companies is the fact that sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia alone accounted for 20 percent of sales in 2013 for the third largest arms producer in the world, BAE systems.

And the second largest arms producer, Boeing, sees declining sales of combat aircraft to its main client the United States, and is increasingly dependent on exports, he added.

At the same time, Wezeman said, there are signs the military industry in the region is growing too, though it is still small compared to arms industries in the traditional arms producing countries.

If Middle Eastern sales will flatten out or decrease, he predicted, arms companies will have to fight harder for contracts in other parts of the world where military expenditure is still on the increase and less dependent on oil prices, such as in North, South East and South Asia.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/oil-price-plunge-could-take-a-bite-from-arms-budgets/feed/ 0
Pakistan’s Tribal Areas Demand Repatriation of Afghan Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees/#comments Thu, 01 Jan 2015 13:09:06 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138467 Afghan refugees in Pakistan number some three million. Most crossed the border in 1979 during the Soviet invasion and have lived in Pakistan for generations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Afghan refugees in Pakistan number some three million. Most crossed the border in 1979 during the Soviet invasion and have lived in Pakistan for generations. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 1 2015 (IPS)

They number between two and three million; some have lived in makeshift shelters for just a few months, while others have roots that stretch much further back into history. Most fled to escape war, others simply ran away from joblessness.

Whatever their reasons for being here, Afghan refugees in Pakistan all now face a similar plight: of being caught up in the dragnet that is sweeping through the country with the stated goal of removing ‘illegal’ residents from this South Asian nation of 180 million people.

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), some 1.6 million Afghans are legally residing in Pakistan, having been granted proof of registration (PoR) by the U.N. body. Twice that number is believed to be unlawfully dwelling here, primarily in the northern, tribal belt that borders Afghanistan.

“Forced repatriation will expose us to many problems." -- Gul Jamal, an elderly Afghan refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan
Most arrived during the Soviet invasion of 1979, the chaos of war squeezing millions of Afghans out of their embattled nation and over the mountainous border that stretches for some 2,700 km along rocky terrain.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and what was then known as the North-West Frontier Province, now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), offered an easy point of assimilation, the shared language of Pashto bridging the divide between ethnic Pashtun Afghans and the majority Punjabi population.

But what began as a warm welcome has turned progressively sour over the decades, as Afghans are increasingly blamed for rising crime, unemployment and persistent militancy in the region.

The Dec. 16 terrorist attack on a school in the KP’s capital Peshawar – which killed 132 children – has only added fuel to a fiery debate on the status of Afghan refugees, who are accused of swelling the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militant groups operating with impunity in the tribal areas.

Three days after the massacre, on Dec. 19, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak convened an emergency cabinet meeting to demand the immediate removal of all Afghan refugees, claiming that the grisly attack on the Army Public School was planned in Afghanistan.

His call for repatriation joined a chorus that has been growing steadily louder in northern Pakistan as the average citizen struggles to come to terms with an era of terrorism that has resulted in over 50,000 deaths since 2001, when the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan prompted a second wave of immigration into Pakistan.

A heated national debate eventually resulted in a decision to allow lawful Afghan residents to remain in the country until the end of 2015, at which point plans would be made for their safe return.

A previous plan, which followed on the heels of a Peshawar High Court order to repatriate Afghan refugees by the end of 2013, did not see the light of day, largely as it would have entailed over a billion dollars in international assistance.

Afghans own 10,000 of the 20,000 shops in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and also run a range of informal businesses, such as street stalls where they hawk goods. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Afghans own 10,000 of the 20,000 shops in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and also run a range of informal businesses, such as street stalls where they hawk goods. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Tired of waiting for government action, however, local authorities have taken the law into their own hands by embarking on a major crackdown on Afghan refugees.

“About 80 percent of crimes in KP are committed by Afghans,” alleged KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani.

“They are involved in murders and kidnapping for ransom, but they disappear after committing these crimes and we cannot trace them,” he told IPS.

“Therefore we demand that those having PoR be restricted to camps, and those without [their papers] sent home,” added the official, whose province is home to an estimated one million Afghans.

Police Officer Khalid Khan says his force is arresting roughly 100 people each day. “Every house is searched,” he told IPS, adding that even those who live in “posh localities” are being investigated as possible unlawful residents.

Terror and crime are not the only problems for which Afghans are being blamed. Trade and industry experts here claim that illegal ventures established by refugee communities have destroyed local businesses.

According to Ghulam Nabi, vice president of the KP Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Afghans run 10,000 of the estimated 20,000 shops in Peshawar; but since they are not registered residents, they are not subject to the same taxes as Pakistani shop-owners.

He told IPS his department has been “urging” the federal government to repatriate Afghans so locals can continue to do their trade. He also alleged that refugees’ demand for housing has pushed rents to unaffordable prices.

Besides hosting hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, the KP is also saddled with scores of displaced Pakistanis, the most recent influx arriving in the midst of a government military campaign in North Waziristan Agency aimed at rooting out insurgents from their stronghold.

Abdullah Khan, a professor at the University of Peshawar, told IPS that two million displaced Pakistanis from adjacent provinces are now residing in KP, many of them in makeshift ‘tent cities’ erected in the Bannu district.

According to Khan, Afghanistan’s gradual return to democracy has paved the way for safe return for refugees. He, along with other experts and officials, see no further reason for Pakistan to continue to host such a massive international population within its borders – especially with so many domestic issues clamouring to be dealt with.

Former cricket legend Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) party rules the KP province, has also echoed the demand.

“The government issues 500 Pakistani visas to Afghans at the Torkham border [a major crossing point connecting Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province with FATA] everyday but an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people cross the border daily,” he said on Dec. 18.

“The illegal movement takes place because we don’t have a system to track these people and their activities here,” he added.

In a bid to rectify gaps in the system, police in KP are now blocking cell phones belonging to Afghans and taking steps to regulate the movements of refugees who may be in violation of their visa status.

But many Afghan residents claim the allegations are unfounded, while those who have lived here for generations consider Pakistan their home. Others are simply afraid of what will be waiting for them if they do go back.

Gul Jamal, an Afghan elder, told IPS that while his family was eager to return, the situation back home was “extremely precarious”.

“There are no education or health facilities, and no electricity,” he claimed, adding that job opportunities too are few and far between in Afghanistan.

He hopes the Pakistan government will “take pity” on his people. “Forced repatriation will expose us to many problems,” he explained.

In an interview with IPS on Dec. 22, Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions Abdul Qadir Baloch categorically stated that legal refugees would stay on until the end of 2015 as per the government’s agreement with UNHCR.

“The registered Afghan refugees have never been found to be involved in terrorism-related incidents in the country and they won’t be sent back against their will,” Baloch stressed.

“The government will protect legal Afghan [immigrants] against forced repatriation,” he asserted.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/pakistans-tribal-areas-demand-repatriation-of-afghan-refugees/feed/ 0
U.S. Twists Arms to Help Defeat Resolution on Palestinehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/#comments Wed, 31 Dec 2014 21:02:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138462 Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., addresses the Security Council after the vote. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 31 2014 (IPS)

The United States re-asserted its political and economic clout – and its ability to twist arms and perhaps metaphorically break kneecaps – when it successfully lobbied to help defeat a crucial Security Council resolution on the future of Palestine this week.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS, “Did [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry manage to pull the rug out from under Palestine by convincing supportive Nigeria to abstain during the 13 calls he made to world leaders to torpedo the resolution?"Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena - it just has not yet been effective at using it." -- Nadia Hijab

“Or did the U.S. pressure Palestine to go to a vote now, [in order] to ensure failure, since the Jan. 1 change in Security Council composition favours the Palestinians?”

If so, what promises of future support did it make? asked Hijab.

The resolution failed because it did not receive the required nine votes for adoption by the Security Council. Even if it had, it likely would have still failed, because the United States had threatened to cast its veto.

But this time around, Washington did not have to wield its veto power – and avoid political embarrassment.

The eight countries voting for the resolution, which called for the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories by the end of 2017, were France, China, Russia, Luxembourg, Argentina, Chad, Chile and Jordan.

The two negative votes came from the United States and Australia, while the five countries that abstained were the UK, South Korea, Rwanda, Nigeria and Lithuania.

A single positive vote, perhaps from Nigeria, would have made a difference in the adoption of the resolution.

Days before the vote, Kerry was working the phones, calling on dozens of officials, who were members of the Security Council, pressing them for a vote against the resolution or an abstention.

According to State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke, one such call was to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, which ensured an abstention from Nigeria, a country which was earlier expected to vote for the resolution.

After the vote, there were three lingering questions unanswered: Did the United States put pressure on Palestine to force the vote on the draft resolution on Tuesday since the re-composition of the Security Council would have been more favourable to the Palestinians, come Jan. 1?

And why didn’t Palestine wait for another week to garner those votes and ensure success?

Or did they misjudge the vote count?

Beginning Jan. 1, the composition of the Security Council would have changed with three new non-permanent members favourable to Palestine: Malaysia, Venezuela and Spain.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general who keeps track of Middle East politics, told IPS it is beyond a misjudgment of the vote count or miscalculation of the timing when in only a few days there would have been more likely positive votes by Malaysia, Spain and Venezuela.

“The actual intent of the Palestinian Administrative Authority from that failed move – and with whom it coordinated discreetly – remains to be politically observed,” he said.

“It is a tactical and strategic retreat at the expense of the universally supported inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in a succession of clearly assertive resolutions (including on statehood; right of return/or compensation; Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories; inalienable people’s rights).”

These rights, he said, have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority when the Palestinian cause was predominant in U.N. deliberations, and when Palestinian leadership was united in its quest and all Arab states, let alone most of the international community, were solidly behind it.

Sanbar said political logic would suggest maintaining what was gained during a positive period because any new resolution in the current weak status within a tragically fragmented Arab world will obviously entail a substantive retreat.

“It may be more helpful if efforts were mobilised to sharpen the focus on implementation of already existing resolutions and gain wider alliances to accomplish practical steps based on an enlightened knowledge of working through the United Nations rather than merely resorting to it on occasions when other options fail,” Sanbar declared.

Still, Hijab told IPS, whatever the case, many Palestinians breathed a sigh of relief that the resolution did not pass because it would have given a U.N. imprimatur to a lower bar on Palestinian rights.

The resolution implicitly accepted settlements with talk of land swaps and watered down refugee rights with reference to an agreed solution, effectively handing Israel a veto over Palestinian rights.

She said the Palestine Liberation Organization/Palestine will now be forced to take some meaningful action to maintain what little credibility it has with the Palestinian people.

“Despite U.S. threats and blandishments, the PLO/Palestine does have room for maneuver in the legal and diplomatic arena – it just has not yet been effective at using it,” she said. “It must urgently do so in 2015 – the 2335th Palestinian was killed by Israel this week as it colonises the West Bank and besieges Gaza – while Palestinian refugees suffer in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.”

Hijab said the Palestinian people need respite from this cruel reality, and they need their rights.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, told the Council: “We voted against this resolution not because we are comfortable with the status quo. We voted against it because … peace must come from hard compromises that occur at the negotiating table.”

But she warned Israel, a close U.S. ally, that continued “settlement activity” will undermine the chances of peace.

Riyad Mansour, U.N. ambassador to Palestine, told the Council, “Our effort was a serious effort, genuine effort, to open the door for peace. Unfortunately, the Security Council is not ready to listen to that message.”

On the heels of the failed resolution, Palestine took steps Wednesday to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague – specifically to bring charges of war crimes against Israel – even though the U.S. Congress, which is virulently pro-Israel, has warned that any such move would result in severe economic sanctions.

“There is aggression practiced against our land and our country, and the Security Council has let us down — where shall we go?” Abbas said Wednesday, as reported by the New York Times, as he signed onto the court’s charter, along with 17 other international treaties and conventions.

“We want to complain to this organisation,” he said, referring to the ICC. “As long as there is no peace, and the world doesn’t prioritise peace in this region, this region will live in constant conflict. The Palestinian cause is the key issue to be settled.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/u-s-twists-arms-to-help-defeat-resolution-on-palestine/feed/ 1
Pakistan’s Return to Death Penalty Contravenes International Treatieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pakistans-return-to-death-penalty-contravenes-international-treaties/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-return-to-death-penalty-contravenes-international-treaties http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pakistans-return-to-death-penalty-contravenes-international-treaties/#comments Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:06:55 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138409 By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Dec 24 2014 (IPS)

Pakistan’s announcement that it has lifted the moratorium on the death penalty in response to the Dec. 16 attack on the Army Public School and College in Peshawar continues to draw severe criticism from human rights groups, which say that this contravenes international treaties signed by Pakistan.

“We are extremely concerned over the death penalty for Shafqat Hussain, who is likely to be among those facing execution by hanging,” Clive Stafford Smith, director of the UK-based rights group Reprieve, told IPS in an email interview.

Shafqat Hussain, then 14, was working as a watchman in Karachi when seven-year-old Umair Shah went missing from the neighbourhood in April 2004. A few days later, Umair’s family received calls from Hussain’s mobile phone demanding a ransom of Rs500, 000 (7,800 dollars) for the boy’s release, according to Hussain’s lawyers.“We are extremely concerned over the death penalty for Shafqat Hussain [convicted while still only 15 ], who is likely to be among those facing execution by hanging” – Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve

Police arrested Hussain, who admitted to kidnapping and killing Umair, whose body had been recovered from a nearby stream.

Stafford Smith said that Hussain later withdrew his confession because it had been made under duress, but an anti-terrorism court sentenced him to death although Hussain was only 15 at the time. He called for suspension of Hussain’s death penalty in view of the fact that Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Child, which prohibits the death penalty for children.

Amnesty International echoed similar concerns over Pakistan’s decision to resume the death penalty in response to the attack on the Army Public School and College which killed 148 – mostly children – and said that Hussain should have been tried in a juvenile court and not been given the death penalty, which cannot be imposed on minors in Pakistan.

Chiara Sangiorgio of Amnesty International said that Hussain’s case was not isolated because there were at least seven other death row prisoners who claimed to be under 18 when they committed their offences. Two had been convicted by anti-terrorism courts.

“The majority of people in Pakistan do not have a birth certificate, so it becomes very difficult for them to prove that they are juvenile … unless they have a good lawyer,” she said.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Hussain’s family had sent an appeal to the president to commute his sentence to life imprisonment, but to no avail. It deplored the fact that Hussain is now set to be executed after the lifting of moratorium.

On Dec. 24, the European Union (EU) also criticised the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty and called for its immediate reinstatement.

“We believe that the death penalty is not an effective tool in the fight against terrorism,” said EU envoy to Pakistan Lars-Gunnar Wigemark in a statement. “The EU remains opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and expresses hope that the moratorium will be re-established at the earliest.”

The government has already executed six convicted militants in Punjab province – on Dec. 19 and 21 – including those involved in attacks on former President General Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 and the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in October 2009, as part of its announced policy to speed up execution of death row inmates.

On Dec. 21, Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar Ali Khan announced that the government plans to execute about 500 prisoners on death row in the coming weeks as revenge for the death of schoolchildren in the Peshawar attack.

“Terrorists deserve no mercy as they are killing our people, soldiers and schoolchildren,” Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told a meeting of all political parties in Islamabad on Dec. 24. Come what may, we will go ahead with our plans of hanging the condemned prisoners, Sharif told the meeting.

Reprieve, which spearheads the anti-death penalty campaign, notes that Pakistan has also signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which prohibits execution and therefore Pakistan must reinstate the moratorium in fulfilment of its international commitment.

“Killing a man who was arrested as a juvenile and tortured into a ‘confession’ will not bring justice and will merely add to the tragedy of the Peshawar school attack,” Clive said.

Meanwhile, Sarah Belal of Justice Project Pakistan quoted Hussain’s older brother Gul Zaman as telling reporters outside  Karachi prison: “The authorities applying the death penalty to terrorists, no problem for me, but they’re going down the wrong road executing ordinary criminals.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pakistans-return-to-death-penalty-contravenes-international-treaties/feed/ 0