Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Iraq’s Minorities Battling for Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 13:56:31 +0000 Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137255 Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

By Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed
LONDON, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Through all of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s campaigns of ‘Arabization’, they survived. The diverse Iraqi communities inhabiting the Nineveh plains – Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians and Shabak, as well as Kurds – held on to their unique identities and most of their historic lands.

So too they survived the decade of threats, bombings and killings that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remaining on lands that in some cases they have settled for over 4,000 years.Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

But in less than three months this summer, much of the Nineveh plain was emptied of its minority communities.

The advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was marked by a series of atrocities, some of them recorded and posted on the internet by ISIS itself, which have outraged the international community.

Now the first comprehensive report on the situation of Iraq’s minorities, released Thursday by Minority Rights Group (MRG) International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, documents the full extent of violations committed against all of Iraq’s minority communities and reveals ISIS as an organisation motivated by the logic of extermination.

Minorities have been principal targets in a systematic campaign of torture, killings, sexual violence, and enslavement carried out by ISIS.

It should be stressed that nearly all of Iraq’s communities have suffered at the hands of ISIS, including Shi’a and Sunni Arabs, but the varying religious and social status attributed by ISIS ideologues to different peoples – as well as the value of the lands they inhabit – have made some communities much more vulnerable, with the nature of abuse often being determined by the particular ethno-religious background of the victims.

Under the pretence of a religious edict, for example, ISIS confiscated Christian-owned property in Mosul and enforced an ultimatum on the community to pay jizya tax.

Yezidis have repeatedly been denied even a right of existence by ISIS, and some other extremist groups, on the erroneous grounds that they are ‘devil-worshippers’.

The report delineates a pattern of targeting of Yezidis and their property, now overshadowed by the latest wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least hundreds and the kidnapping of up to 2500 men, women and children since August.

Captured Yezidi men have been forced to choose between conversion or death, whilst Yezidi women and children have been sold to slavery and subjected to sexual abuse.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that the violations suffered by Iraqi minorities date from a few months ago – or to believe that ISIS was the only perpetrator.

Since 2003, Christians have been the target of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, with groups often targeting property and places of worship. Most of Iraq’s Christian population, up to one million people, had already fled the country by the start of the year.

Yezidis suffered the single deadliest attack of the conflict, when a multiple truck bombing in Sinjar in 2007 killed as many as 796 people, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

And one of the most sobering pictures to emerge from the report is the series of mass killings of Turkmen and Shabak carried out in recent years, the violence intensifying in the latter half of 2013.

Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Throughout these years of violence the Iraqi government has proved either unable or unwilling to protect its minority communities. Few incidents are properly investigated and the perpetrators nearly always go unpunished, in some cases with indications of official complicity.

Aside from the immediate threats of violence, communities including Yezidis, Roma and Black Iraqis continue to face chronic and institutionalised discrimination that hinders their cultural and religious rights as well as imposing restrictions on access to health care, education and employment.

The choice now confronting many of Iraq’s diverse communities is be forced to flee en masse or to endure a life of continuous fear and suffering. Some peoples, such as the Sabean-Mandaeans, have already seen their numbers reduced by emigration to the point where their very survival in Iraq as a distinct community is under threat.

Some community leaders interviewed expressed the hope and determination that they could return to their lands; others saw emigration as their only possibility.

A comprehensive plan for the restitution to minority communities of their former lands and properties in the Nineveh plains and elsewhere is thus an essential component of any positive vision for Iraq’s future.

The need to ensure that those responsible for attacks are held to account also requires Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More immediately, there is nothing to stop the ICC prosecutor from opening a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the growing number of nationals of existing ICC state parties fighting in Iraq.

But Iraq’s own response to the ISIS threat holds serious dangers, including in particular the wholesale re-mobilisation of the Shi’a militias.

With the international coalition beginning to ratchet up its air campaign against ISIS, it is imperative that the international community does not appear to condone or even encourage the growing sectarianism now gripping Iraq’s security forces.

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Public’s War Weariness, U.S. Defence Budget May Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 23:36:19 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137198 Hillary Clinton "is positioning herself to the right of the (Barack) Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” the report notes. Credit: Brett Weinstein/cc by 2.0

Hillary Clinton "is positioning herself to the right of the (Barack) Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” the report notes. Credit: Brett Weinstein/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite the public’s persistent war weariness, the U.S. defence budget – the world’s biggest by far – may be set to rise again, according to a new study released here this week by the Center for International Policy (CIP).

The 41-page study, “Something in the Air: ‘Isolationism,’ Defense Spending, and the U.S. Public Mood,” concludes that the current political moment appears similar to those between 1978 and 1982 and between 1998 to 2001 when defence spending spiked upwards after periods of substantial declines.Even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops.

Like today, the then-incumbent presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively) appeared politically weakened by domestic troubles; the foreign-policy debate was dominated by perceptions that the U.S. was failing to deal effectively with new challenges overseas; and Democratic incumbents in Congress facing re-election assumed more hawkish positions.

“Already the leading Democratic contender for the presidency is positioning herself to the right of the [Barack] Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” wrote the study’s author, Carl Conetta, in a reference to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “This will move media and expert discourse in a more hawkish direction.”

While these factors, as well as warnings by military leaders and their supporters in Congress of a “hollowing” of the country’s armed forces, are consistent with historical precedent, the public may still resist higher military budgets due to the slowness of the economic recovery, according to Conetta, a veteran defence analyst who heads CIP’s Project for Defence Alternatives.

But even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops given the persistent public disillusionment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Conetta. He noted that some 15 years elapsed between the end of the Vietnam War and the public’s rallying behind a major military operation: the first Gulf War in 1991.

The study, which includes an extensive analysis of polling data over the last few decades, as well as trends in defence spending, comes less than a month before mid-term Congressional elections. The Republicans, who have become markedly more hawkish than just a year ago when many of them opposed U.S. military retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, are expected to gain control of the Senate, as well as retain their majority in the House of Representatives.

It also comes as the Obama administration struggles to cope with a number of difficult foreign-policy challenges – most recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and, more spectacularly, the alarming gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria and its well-publicised brutality against minorities and western captives (notably, the beheadings of U.S. reporters and aid workers) — against which a reluctant president has felt compelled to react with air strikes and the dispatch of hundreds of U.S. advisers.

In addition, the growing anxiety about the Ebola pandemic in West Africa and its possible spread here have contributed to an apparent decline in public confidence in Obama’s leadership.

These events have emboldened neo-conservatives and other hawks – mostly Republicans – who have long criticised Obama for “leading from behind”, weakness, and “appeasement” in dealing with alleged adversaries, and even “isolationism” – to amplify those charges in advance of the November elections.

They have also encouraged former senior military officers, especially those employed by big military contractors, to call for restoring recent cuts in defence.

While defence spending is currently down about 21.5 percent in real terms from its 2008 high of nearly 800 billion dollars, it still accounts for almost 40 percent of global military spending and four percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), about twice the country average for the rest of the world’s nations.

Polls have suggested for decades that the public is conflicted about Washington’s global role: on the one hand, enduring majorities have long supported the notion that the U.S. should be the world’s leading military power; on the other hand, strong majorities have also strongly rejected the role of “world’s policeman”, preferring instead a co-operative, multilateral approach to foreign-policy issues in which military power and unilateral action should be used only as a “last resort”.

According to Conetta, these views are not mutually contradictory and have been relatively consistent over time. “(T)he public views military superiority as a deterrent and an insurance policy, not a blank check for military activism,” Conetta noted.

Detailed polling conducted over many years by the Pew Research Center, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Gallup, among others, have shown that the U.S. public will reliably rally in support of a forceful response to violent attacks on citizens or perceived U.S. vital interests and, at least theoretically, in cases of mass killings or genocide.

On the other hand, they have shown that the public generally opposes intervention in most third-party inter-state or civil wars. And despite initial – but fast-waning — enthusiasm for “regime change” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the public has come to oppose such efforts or “armed nation-building”, especially if they are conducted unilaterally, according to Conetta.

“Current support for bombing ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria is consistent with (those) limits,” his study noted, adding that that support is almost certain to waver “if the mission grows or fails to show real progress.”

In contrast to the public’s views, however, foreign-policy elites have consistently expressed support for U.S. military dominance, or “primacy,” and greater military activism, according to Conetta. This has created a gap between the public and the national leadership which, in the post-Cold War era, narrowed only in the years immediately following the first Gulf War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but which has since grown wider than ever in the past decade, despite the strong support for U.S. attacks on ISIL.

While the most recent polling shows a plurality in favour of continuing to reduce Pentagon spending, according to the study, “this may soon change”, especially in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, given the ease with which hawkish political actors have historically framed public debate, according to the study.

“A common stratagem is to frame discussion of budget issues in terms of averting a ‘hollow military’. Another is to use Second World War metaphors – references to Hitler, Munich, and isolationism – to frame current security challenges and higher levels of defense spending,” Conetta wrote.

Such themes, he added, “are now fully in play – casting (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin as Hitler, warning against a replay of “Munich-like appeasement, and tarring non-interventionary sentiment as ‘isolationist’.”

Still, it’s not certain they will prevail given the persistent economic worries of most U.S. voters and if the electorate perceives the foreign-policy elite as overreaching again, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The U.S. and a Crumbling Levanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:18:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137192

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the international media is mesmerised by the Islamic State’s advance on Kobani or ‘Ayn al-Arab on the Syrian-Turkish border, Arab states and the United States would need to look beyond Kobani’s fate and the Islamic State’s territorial successes and defeats.

The crumbling Levant poses a greater danger than ISIL and must be addressed—first and foremost by the states of the region.Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

The British colonial term Levant encompasses modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, with a total population of over 70 million people. The population—mostly young, unemployed or underemployed, poor, and inadequately educated—has lost trust in their leaders and the governing elites.

The Levant has become a bloody playground for other states in the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. While dislocations in the Levant could be contained, the regional states’ involvement has transformed the area into an international nightmare. The resulting instability will impact the region for years to come regardless of ISIL’s short-term fortunes.

The Levantine state has become marginalised and ineffectual in charting a hopeful future for its people, who are drifting away from nationalist ideologies toward more divisive, localised, and often violent, manifestations of identity politics. National political identity, with which citizens in the Levant have identified for decades, has devolved mostly into tribal, ethnic, geographic, and sectarian identities.

The crumbling state structure and authority gave rise to these identities, thereby fueling the current conflicts, which in turn are undermining the very existence of the Levantine state.

The three key non-state actors—ISIL, Hizbollah, and Hamas—have been the beneficiaries of the crumbling states, which were drawn up by colonial cartographer-politicians a century ago.

Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

This phenomenon is readily apparent in Baghdad, Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza, partially so in Beirut, and less so in Amman. Salafi groups, however, are lurking in the background in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine ready to challenge state authority whenever they sense a power vacuum.

Political systems in the Levant are often propped up by domestic ruling elites, regional states, and foreign powers for a variety of parochial and transnational interests. More and more, these ruling structures appear to be relics of the past. A key analytic question is how long would they survive if outside economic, military and political support dries up?

Levant regimes comprise a monarchy in Jordan; a perennially dysfunctional parliamentary/presidential system in Lebanon; a brutal, teetering dictatorship in Syria; an autocratic presidency in Palestine; and an erratic partisan democracy in Iraq. They have subsisted on so-called rentier or “rent” economies—oil in Iraq, with the rest dependent on foreign aid. Providers of such aid have included GCC countries, Iran, Turkey, the United States, the EU, Russia, and others.

Corruption is rampant across most state institutions in the Levant, including the military and the key financial and banking systems. For example, billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq following the 2003 invasion have not been accounted for. According to the New York Times, American investigators in the past decade have traced huge sums of this money to a bunker in Lebanon.

The collapse of the Levant states in the next decade is not unthinkable. Their borders are already becoming more blurred and porous. The decaying environment is allowing violent groups to operate more freely within states and across state boundaries. ISIL is causing havoc in Iraq and Syria and potentially could destabilise Jordan and Lebanon precisely because the Levantine state is on the verge of collapse.

As these states weaken, regional powers—especially Saudi Arabia plus some of its GCC junior partners, Iran, and Egypt—will find it convenient to engage in proxy sectarian and ethnic wars through jihadist and other vigilante mercenaries.

Equally disturbing is that U.S. policy toward a post-ISIL Levant seems rudderless without a strategic compass to guide it. It’s as if U.S. policymakers have no stomach to focus on the “morning after” despite the fact that the airstrikes are proving ineffective in halting ISIL’s territorial advances.

Kobani aside, what should the Arab states and the United States do about the future of the Levant?

1. Iraq. If the Sunnis and Kurds are to be represented across all state institutions in Iraq, regional states with Washington’s help should urge Prime Minister Abadi to complete the formation of his new government on the basis of equity and fairness. Government and semi-public institutions and agencies must be made accountable and transparent and subject to scrutiny by domestic and international regulatory bodies. Otherwise, Iraq would remain a breeding ground for terrorists and jihadists.

2. Syria. If Washington remains committed to Assad’s removal, it should end its Russian roulette charade toward the Syrian dictator. Ankara’s view that Assad is more dangerous in the long run than ISIL is convincing and should be accepted and acted upon.

If removing Assad remains a serious policy objective, is the coalition contemplating imposing a no-fly zone and a security zone on Syria’s northern border any time soon to facilitate Assad’s downfall?

3. Lebanon. If Hizbollah and other political parties do not play a constructive role in re-establishing political dialogue and stability in Lebanon, it won’t be long before the ISIL wars enter the country. Are there regional and international pressures being put on Hizbollah to end its support of Assad and disengage from fighting in Syria?

The upcoming presidential election would be a useful barometer to assess the key Lebanese stakeholders’ commitment to long-term stability. If no candidate wins a majority, does Washington, in conjunction with its Arab allies, have a clear plan to get the Lebanese parliament to vote for a president?

Unless Lebanon gets its political house in order, religious sectarianism could yet again rear its ugly head in that fragile state and tear Lebanon apart.

4. Palestine. If the Obama administration urges Israel to facilitate a working environment for the Palestinian national unity government, to end its siege of Gaza, and dismantle its 47-year occupation, Palestine would no longer be an incubator of radical ideologies.

An occupied population living in poverty, unemployment, alienation, repression, daily humiliation, and hopelessness and ruled by a corrupt regime is rarely prone to moderation and peaceful dialogue. On the contrary, such a population offers fertile recruiting ground for extremism.

5. It is in the United States’ interest to engage Iran and Saudi Arabia—the two countries that seem to meddle most in the Levant—in order to stop their proxy wars in the region. These sectarian wars could easily lead to an all-out military confrontation, which would surely suck in the United States and other Western powers. Israel would not be able to escape such a conflict either.

The Saudi government claims that it opposes ISIS. Yet one would ask why hasn’t the Saudi clerical establishment denounced—forcefully and publicly—the ISIL ideology and rejected so-called Islamic State Caliphate? Why is it that thousands of ISIL jihadists are from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf countries?

6. Since Levant countries face high unemployment, it’s imperative to pursue serious job creation initiatives. Arab states, with Washington’s support, should begin massive technical and vocational education programs and entrepreneurial initiatives in the Levant countries. Young men and women should be trained in vocational institutes, much like the two-year college concept in the United States.

Vocational fields that suffer from shortages in Levant countries include plumbing, carpentry, home construction, electricity, welding, mechanics, automotive services, truck driving, computers and electronics, health services, hotels and tourism, technology management, and TV and computer repairs. Services in these fields are badly needed. Yet thousands of young men and women are ready to be trained and fill these needs.

In addition to vocational training, wealthy Arab countries should help the Levant establish funds for entrepreneurial, job-creation initiatives, and start-ups. A partnership between government and the private sector, with support from the U.S and other developed countries, could be the engine that drives a new era of job creation and economic growth in the region where the ISIL cancer is metastasizing.

Let’s be clear, the United States has significant leverage to help implement these policies should American leaders decide to do so. One could ask why should the US make such a commitment? If ISIL is primarily a threat to Levantine countries, why can’t they deal with it?

These are fair questions but, as we have discovered with Ebola, what happens in Liberia doesn’t stay in Liberia. A crumbling Levant will have ramifications not just for the region but for the United States and the rest of the world as well.

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.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Uruguay’s Decision Could Come Too Late for Gitmo Detaineeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/uruguays-decision-could-come-too-late-for-gitmo-detainees/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 22:36:12 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137150 Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding area under the watchful eyes of Military Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during in-processing to the temporary detention facility on Jan. 11, 2002. Credit: public domain

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

Uruguayan President José Mujica bought time for his plan to host six prisoners of Guantánamo, handing over the decision to the winner of the incoming elections. But time is a scarce resource for the inmates of this United States military prison on Cuban soil.

The resettlement of a Palestinian, a Tunisian and four Syrian detainees in Guantánamo is a hot potato for Mujica while his party, the centre-left Broad Front, struggles to pull ahead in the final stretch to general elections set for Oct. 26.“The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.” -- Laura Pitter of HRW

Out of 149 inmates currently in Guantánamo, a prison established by George W. Bush (2001-2009) to function beyond the law, 79 are cleared for release at least since 2010, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has gone to court on behalf of some of the detainees.

Mujica agreed in March to settle six inmates of this group – following a request by U.S. President Barack Obama — some of them suffering from very poor physical and mental health.

Mohammed Abdullah Taha Mattan, a 35-year-old Palestinian, is considered at high risk. Diagnosed with major depression, he has engaged in several hunger strikes in the last few years. Born in the West Bank, he was 23 when Pakistani security services arrested him and rendered him to the U.S. According to one of his attorneys, Lauren Carasik, there is not a single piece of evidence against him.

“The travesty of Guantanamo is that some of the men were rounded up not because of reasonable suspicions, but instead because areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan were blanketed with leaflets offering a bounty for ‘suspected terrorists’, sparking a frenzy of lucrative but wrongful accusations,” said Carasik in an op-ed published by Al Jazeera last year.

The CCR claims that 86 percent of the 789 men and teenagers once jailed in Guantánamo since January 2002 were essentially sold at times when the U.S. military offered bounties of around 5,000 dollars per capture.

Syrian Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a married father of four, has also been protesting via an intermittent hunger strike since February 2013. He suffers from extreme weakness and requires a wheelchair. With no charges against him, Washington cleared him for release in 2009.

Dhiab’s case gained notoriety this year when his attorneys challenged the force-feeding method applied by Guantanamo’s jailers against him and other hunger strikers. U.S. judge Gladys Kessler ordered the disclosure of 28 classified videotapes recording the forced cell extraction and forced feeding of Dhiab.

In a statement read by his lawyers in court, Dhiab claimed that he wanted the U.S. public “to see what is going on at the prison today, so they will understand why we are hunger-striking, and why the prison should be closed.” In August, one of his attorneys said he was “just a skeleton”.

Dhiab had lived with his family in Afghanistan, where he ran a business, but had to flee to Pakistan when the war began after 9/11, according to British human rights NGO Reprieve. A few months later, the Pakistani police arrested him and rendered him to the U.S., possibly in exchange for payment.

In a letter urging the U.S. government to proceed with the transfers to Uruguay, the lawyers of the six detainees said in June that a Uruguayan delegation had interviewed the inmates at Guantánamo and extended to them invitations to resettle, “which they gratefully accepted”.

Mujica, a former guerrilla who served 14 years in inhuman conditions, is one of the many critics of Guantánamo. In recent months, he has repeated that the detainees would move to Uruguay as “free men”.

But Washington usually requests that the receiving country monitor the transferred men and ban them from travelling abroad, measures which are beyond Uruguay’s refugee legislation.

In other words, the same fears which have prevented shutting Guantánamo for good, releasing the innocents and bringing evidence-based suspects to U.S. courts have also obstructed the transfers to Uruguay.

The U.S. “needs assistance from other countries in order to close Guantanamo because, as appears to be the case in Uruguay too, irrational fear about transferring detainees to the U.S. is being used for political gain in the U.S. elections,” said Laura Pitter, Human Rights Watch’s senior national security researcher.

“There is no reason whatsoever to fear letting these men come to Uruguay,” she told IPS by email. “The U.S. is letting them out because they pose no danger to the U.S. or Uruguay or any other country… They are accused of absolutely no wrongdoing and have never been charged with any crime.”

In an August interview with this reporter, the director of the Presidency’s Human Rights office, Javier Miranda, said Uruguayan society “harbours some fear of Muslims, and this is part of our growth. Some people have shown this assimilation of Islam and terrorism, which is an utterly false assumption.

“Those men who spent 12 years in a hole in Guantánamo, almost as disappeared persons, have the same right to a shelter as the Syrian refugees,” added Miranda, who successfully supervised the Oct. 9 arrival of a first group of 43 civilians who had fled the Syria civil war and were living in hard conditions in Lebanon.

But the Mujica administration’s failure to publicise the details of this second humanitarian operation and the legal plight and health of every one of the six inmates fuelled rather than assuaged public mistrust.

While 66 percent of one survey’s respondents supported the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the number who rejected the arrival of Guantánamo detainees rose from 50 percent in April to 58 percent in September.

Last month, The New York Times reported that Vice President Joe Biden had called Mujica, “pressing him to resettle the men”. Montevideo swiftly denied any pressure, and stated only Mujica had the authority to decide when the inmates should arrive. But the move paved the way for a heated electoral debate on this issue.

The centre-right opposition National Party, which is polling in second place, took advantage of this inconsistency and accused the government of acting “under pressure of imperialism”.

According to Pitter, Uruguay would do a great service “acknowledging that they recognise the human dignity and human rights of these men, and righting a grave injustice that the U.S. has perpetrated upon them for many years.”

The U.S. will hold elections in November. If the governing Democratic Party fails to retain a majority in the Senate, Republican opposition could add further obstacles to closing Guantánamo.

In the face of this political dysfunction, the best hopes to end the humanitarian crisis will continue to rest on the good will of third countries.

In Uruguay, the Broad Front is confronting its most competitive elections since it first came to power in 2004. After repeating that he alone would decide about Guantánamo, Mujica backtracked last week and announced he would hand over the decision to the incoming elected president.

If the Broad Front wins the election, a few inmates can still dream of travelling to South America before the end of the year. But if the winner is the National Party, Washington might have to re-open the agreement with the new government, no earlier than March 2015.

And for some of the prisoners, it could be too late.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Cycle of Death, Destruction and Rebuilding Continues in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cycle-of-death-destruction-and-rebuilding-continues-in-gaza/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:28:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137147 Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Displaced Palestinians gather at a United Nations school in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 26, 2014. Families found refuge after fleeing their homes in an area under heavy aerial bombardment in the besieged Palestinian territory. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

When the international pledging conference to rebuild a devastated Gaza ended in Cairo over the weekend – the third such conference in less than six years – the lingering question among donors was: is this the last of it or are there more assaults to come?

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly warned of the futility of the continuing exercise when he said: “We cannot continue to build and destroy – and build and destroy – like this. This should be the last reconstruction conference”."Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians." -- Sarah Leah Whitson

But will it?

The total amount pledged at the Cairo conference was around 5.4 billion dollars.

The funds came mostly from the European Union (568 million dollars) and oil-blessed Gulf nations, including Qatar (1.0 billion dollars), Saudi Arabia (500 million dollars, pledged before the conference), United Arab Emirates and Kuwait (200 million dollars each) and the United States (212 million dollars).

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Middle East & North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS many of the participants in the Gaza reconstruction have proclaimed their understanding that money is not enough to Israel’s never-ending cycle of death and destruction in Gaza.

“What’s still missing is the international community’s commitment to opening the borders of Gaza so that people there can have a basis of normal life, develop their economy, and take one step away from poverty and handouts,” she added.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS Ban Ki-moon is right that reconstruction followed by destruction is an exercise in futility, but he appears to feel no responsibility in making sure the destruction doesn’t happen.

“The United Nations was set up to avoid the gross violation of rights that Israel has repeatedly visited upon Gaza – and upon the Palestinian people over nearly seven decades.”

Ban, in particular, is well-placed to hold Israel accountable under many legal instruments, she pointed out.

“But for decades the U.N. secretary-general has never acted until world powers asked him to do so. And world powers only act in their own interests,” she said.

Hijab also said the reconstruction conference on Gaza is an attempt by these same world powers to be seen to be dealing with the aftermath of an Israeli assault that provoked worldwide outrage. But if the “international community” really cared about the Palestinians of Gaza, they would order Israel to lift its blockade without delay, she declared.

“And follow that by cutting back on their trade and military ties with Israel until it quits the occupied Palestinian territory,” said Hijab.

When the 54-day conflict between Hamas and Israel ended last August, there were over 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 Israelis killed.

The hostilities in July-August significantly worsened a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to HRW. They left 108,000 people homeless, completely destroyed 26 schools and four primary health centres, and destroyed or damaged 350 businesses and 17,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to a U.N. assessment.

Unemployment in Gaza, already at 45 percent, climbed even higher since the fighting, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who participated in the pledging conference, was constrained to remark, “This is the third time in less than six years that together with the people of Gaza, we have been forced to confront a reconstruction effort.

“[And] this is the third time in less than six years that we’ve seen war break out and Gaza left in rubble. This is the third time in less than six years that we’ve had to rely on a ceasefire, a temporary measure, to halt the violence,” he said.

“Now, I don’t think there’s any person here who wants to come yet again to rebuild Gaza only to think that two years from now or less were going to be back at the same table talking about rebuilding Gaza again because the fundamental issues have not been dealt with,” Kerry declared, taking a passing shot at Israel.

Ban said “whatever we may reconstruct this may not be sustainable if it is not supported by political dialogue. That is why peace talks are the most important. There is no alternative to dialogue and resolving all these underlying issues through political negotiations,” he noted.

He said this must be the last Gaza reconstruction conference.

“The cycle of building and destroying must end. Donors may be fatigued but the people of Gaza are bruised and bloody. Enough is enough,” he added.

In a statement released here, HRW said blanket Israeli restrictions unconnected or disproportionate to security considerations unnecessarily harm people’s access to food, water, education, and other fundamental rights in Gaza.

Israel’s unwillingness to lift such restrictions will seriously hinder a sustainable recovery after a seven-year blockade and the July-August fighting that damaged much of Gaza.

“The U.N. Security Council should reinforce previous resolutions ignored by Israel calling for the removal of unjustified restrictions,” HRW said.

Meanwhile, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, reinforced by Egypt, has largely prevented the export and import of commercial and agricultural goods, crippling Gaza’s economy, as well as travel for personal, educational, and health reasons, according to HRW.

“Donors who keep footing the bill to rebuild Gaza should insist that Israel lift unjustified restrictions that are worsening a grim humanitarian situation and needlessly punishing civilians,” HRW’s Whitson said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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OPINION: The Disturbing Expansion of the Military-Industrial Complexhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-disturbing-expansion-of-the-military-industrial-complex/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-disturbing-expansion-of-the-military-industrial-complex http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-disturbing-expansion-of-the-military-industrial-complex/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 15:14:14 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137142

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that the whole of civilisation is facing a challenge with the continuing growth of the military-industrial complex that President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) warned against. Today, she says, a small group made up of the military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite now holds power worldwide and has a stronghold on elected governments.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

How can we explain that in the 2lst century we are still training millions of men and women in our armed forces and sending them to war? 

There are more choices than war or peace, there are multi-optional choices and a civilian-based non-military diplomatic-political policy has more chance of succeeding in solving a violent conflict.

In war, the cost in civilian lives is incalculable, not to mention the many military personnel whose lives are destroyed.  Then there is the cost to the environment and the cost to human potential as our scientists waste their lives planning and researching even more horrific weapons which increasingly, in modern war, kill more civilians than combatants.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

For example, the United States and the United Kingdom committed genocide against the Iraqi people when, between 1990 and 2012, they killed 3.3 million people – including 750,000 children – through sanctions and wars.

We all also watched our television screens in horror in July and August this year as the Israeli military bombarded civilians in Gaza for 50 days.

But, why are we surprised at this cruelty of military when they are doing what they are trained to do – kill, at the behest of their politicians and some people?

It is shocking to listen to politicians and military boast of their military prowess when in lay persons’ terms what it means is killing of human beings.

Every day through our television and local culture, we are subjected to the glorification of militarism and bombarded with war propaganda by governments telling us we need nuclear weapons, arms manufacturers, and war to kill the killers who might kill us.

However, too many people do not have peace or the basics to help them achieve peace. “Every day through our television and local culture, we are subjected to the glorification of militarism and bombarded with war propaganda by governments telling us we need nuclear weapons, arms manufacturers, and war to kill the killers who might kill us”

They live their lives struggling with the roots of violence, some of which are poverty, war, militarism, occupation, racism and fascism. They have seen that they release uncontrollable forces of tribalism and nationalism. These are dangerous and murderous forms of identity which we need to transcend.

To do this, we need to acknowledge that our common humanity and human dignity are more important than our different traditions; to recognise that our lives and the lives of others are sacred and we can solve our problems without killing each other; to accept and celebrate diversity and otherness; to work to heal the ‘old’ divisions and misunderstandings; to give and accept forgiveness, and to choose listening, dialogue and diplomacy; to disarm and demilitarise as the pathway to peace.

In my own country, in Northern Ireland, when faced with a violent and prolonged ethnic/political conflict, the civil community organised to take a stand, rejected all violence and committed itself to working for peace, justice and reconciliation.

Through unconditional, all-inclusive dialogue, we reached peace and continue to work to build up trust and friendship and change in the post-conflict era. The civil community took a leading role in this journey from violence to peace.

I hope this will give an example to other countries such as Ukraine, where it is necessary for an end to the war, and a solution of the problem on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Accords.

We are also challenged to continue to build structures through which we can cooperate and which reflect our relations of interconnection and interdependence.  The vision of the founders of the European Union to link countries together economically in order to lessen the likelihood of war among nations is a worthy endeavour.

Unfortunately instead of putting more energy into providing help for E.U. citizens and others, we are witnessing the growing militarisation of Europe, its role as a driving force for armament and its dangerous path, under the leadership of the United States/NATO, towards a new ‘cold’ war and military aggression.

The European Union and many of its countries, which used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflict, are now one of the most important war assets of the U.S./NATO front.  Many countries have also been drawn into complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on.

It is for this reason that I believe NATO should be abolished and that steps be taken towards disarmament through non-violent action and civil resistance.

The means of resistance are very important. Our message that armed groups, militarism and war do not solve our problems but aggravate them challenges us to use new ways and that is why we need to teach the science of peace at every level of society.

The whole of civilisation is now facing a challenge with the growth of what President Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961) warned the U.S. people against – the military/industrial complex – saying that it would destroy U.S. democracy.

We know now that a small group made up of the military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite, whose agenda is profit, arms, war and valuable resources, now holds power worldwide and has a stronghold on elected governments.  We see this in the gun and Israeli lobbies, among others, which wield great power over U.S. politics.

We have witnessed this in ongoing wars, invasions, occupations and proxy wars, all allegedly in the name of “humanitarian intervention and democracy”. However, in reality, they are causing great suffering, especially to the poor, through their policies of arms, war, domination and control of other countries and their resources.

Unmaking this agenda of war and demanding the implementation of justice, human rights and international law is the work of the peace movement.

We can turn our current path of destruction around by spelling out a clear vision of what kind of a world we want to live in, demanding an end to the military-industrial complex, and insisting that our governments adopt policies of peace, just economics and cooperation with each other in this multi-polar world. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Curbing the Illegal Wildlife Trade Crucial to Preserving Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-the-illegal-wildlife-trade-crucial-to-preserving-biodiversity/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 12:00:18 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137138 South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

South Africa’s white rhinoceros recovered from near-extinction thanks to intense conservation efforts. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

For over five years, 33-year-old Maheshwar Basumatary, a member of the indigenous Bodo community, made a living by killing wild animals in the protected forests of the Manas National Park, a tiger reserve, elephant sanctuary and UNESCO World Heritage Site that lies on the India-Bhutan border.

Then one morning in 2005, Basumatary walked into a police check-post and surrendered his gun. Since then, the young man has been spending his time taking care of abandoned and orphaned rhino and leopard cubs.

Employed by a local conservation organisation called the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), part of the Wildlife Trust of India, Basumatary is today a symbol of wildlife conservation.

Engaging locals like Basumatary into wildlife protection and conservation is an effective way to curb wildlife crimes such as poaching, smuggling and the illegal sale of animal parts, according to Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation.

“[Law enforcement personnel] must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence." -- Maheshwar Dhakal, an ecologist with Nepal’s ministry of environment and soil conservation
On the sidelines of the ongoing 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Dhakal told IPS that poverty and the prospect of higher earnings often drive locals to commit or abet wildlife crime.

Thus efforts should be made to combine conservation with income generation, so locals can be gainfully employed in efforts to protect and preserve biodiversity.

“Conservation efforts must also create livelihood opportunities within the local community,” he added.

“Everyone wants to earn more and live well. If you just tell people, ‘Go save the animals’, it’s not going to work. But if you find a way to incentivize protecting [of] wildlife, they will certainly join the force,” said Dhakal, adding that his own country is moving rapidly towards a ‘zero poaching’ status.

Poaching – a global problem

Poaching and the illegal wildlife trade are a universal menace that has been causing severe threats including possible extinction of species, economic losses, as well as loss of livelihood across the world.

According to the recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (GBO-4), the latest progress report of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the current annual illegal wildlife trade stands at some 200 billion dollars annually.

The illicit enterprise is also thriving in Asia, touching some 19 billion dollars per year according to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s Wildlife Enforcement Network.

Law enforcements agencies regularly confiscate smuggled products and consignments of skins and other body parts of animals including crocodiles, snakes, tigers, elephants and rhinos. The killing of tigers and rhinos is a specific concern in the region, with both creatures facing the impending risk of extinction.

One of the biggest killing fields for poachers is the Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in India’s northeastern Assam state, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to two-thirds of the world’s remaining Great One-horned Rhinoceroses. In addition, the park boasts the highest density of tigers globally, and was officially designated as a tiger reserve in 2006.

The 185-square-mile park had 2,553 rhinos in 2013. However, 126 rhinos have been killed here in the past 13 years, with 21 slaughtered in 2013 alone, according to the state’s Environment and Forest Minister Rakibul Hussain.

Illegal trade spawns conflict, disease

There is also a direct link between the illegal wildlife trade and political conflicts across the world, says a joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL, which puts the exact volume of the illegal trade at 213 billion dollars annually.

Much of this money “is helping finance criminal, militia and terrorist groups and threatening the security and sustainable development of many nations,” the report states.

According to the report, several militia groups in central and western Africa are involved in the illegal trade of animals and timber. These groups profit hugely from the trade, including through the sale of ivory, making between four and 12.2 million dollars each year.

Another report published this past February by Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in UK, also pointed to the example of the extremist Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has been reported to harvest tusks from elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and barter with Sudanese soldiers or poachers for guns and ammunition.

But the trouble does not end there.

Maadjou Bah is part of a COP-12 delegation from the West African country of Guinea, where an Ebola outbreak in December 2013 has since spread to the neighbouring countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone, killing at least 4,300 people to date.

Bah told IPS that illegal hunting and trade in wildlife species increases the possibility of the Ebola virus spreading to other countries. Though the government of Guinea has designated 30 percent of its forests as ‘protected’, the borders are porous, with trafficking and trade posing a continuous threat.

Besides primates, fruit bats are known to be natural carriers of the Ebola virus, and since trade in bats forms part of the illegal global chain of wildlife trade, it is possible that Ebola could travel outside the borders where it is current wreaking havoc, according to Anne-Helene Prieur Richard, executive director of the Paris-based biodiversity research institute ‘Diversitas’.

“We don’t know this for sure since there is a knowledge gap. But certainly the risk is there,” she told IPS.

Using the law

Continued poaching is largely the result of slow law enforcement, according to Braullio Ferreira de Souza Dias, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.

“Enforcement has to be a priority for government[s],” he told IPS.

This can be accomplished by, among other methods, providing law enforcement personnel with the skills and equipment they need to crack down on illegal activity. Forest guards, for instance, should be properly equipped – technically and financially – to prevent crime.”

“There is a need for capacity building in the law enforcement units,” Dhakal explained. “But that doesn’t just mean attending workshops and trainings. It means weapons, tools and technologies.

“They must have proper arms. They must also have tools to collect evidence, and records. They need transportation and mobile communication to act quickly and aptly. Without this, despite arrests, there will be no convictions because of a lack of evidence,” he said.

This is especially crucial in trans-boundary forests, where a lack of proper fencing allows poachers to move freely between countries.

Sometimes, the solutions are simpler.

“For example,” Dias stated, “Nepal has forged partnerships between the government and local communities. But what motivated the [people] to go out [of their way] to find time to prevent poaching? It’s that 50 percent of all earnings in Nepal’s national parks are directed towards local communities. [Officials] convinced them that if the poaching doesn’t stop then it would mean fewer visitors and lesser earnings,” he asserted.

A look at the country’s recent increase in the number of tigers and rhinos are proof of its successful conservation efforts: in the 1970s, Nepal had only a hundred tigers left in the wild. Today there are 200 and the country is aiming to double the number by 2020.

Similarly, the number of rhinos, which was a paltry 100 in the 1960s, is now 535. “We have recruited local youths as intelligence units who collect information on the movement of poachers. It works,” reveals Dhakal.

Experts say that ending demand globally is crucial to halting poaching and illegal trade. For this, collective action at the international level must be given top priority.

Dhakal, who is also the main spokesperson for the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN), told IPS that the network has roped in several governments in the region, along with organisations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and INTERPOL.

Gaurav Gogoi, a member of the Indian parliament, says that governments can also cooperate at a bilateral level. “In the markets of Vietnam a single gram of rhino horn powder fetches up to [approximately 3,000 dollars],” he explained, adding that he is involved in lobbying events to push Vietnam to ban all products made of rhino horns in order to curb poaching elsewhere, including the Indian state of Assam.

“If you have poaching, it’s because there is someone out there who wants to buy those products. We have to address that,” Dias said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Pakistan’s Tribal Areas, a Nobel Prize Is a ‘Ray of Hope’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/in-pakistans-tribal-areas-a-nobel-prize-is-a-ray-of-hope/#comments Sun, 12 Oct 2014 14:03:19 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137125 The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Taliban have damaged over a thousand schools in northern Pakistan since crossing over from Afghanistan in 2001, preventing scores of children, especially young girls, from receiving an education. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 12 2014 (IPS)

For girls living in northern Pakistan’s sprawling tribal regions, the struggle for education began long before that fateful day when members of the Taliban shot a 15-year-old schoolgirl in the head, and will undoubtedly continue for many years to come.

Still, the news that Malala Yousafzai – a former resident of the Swat Valley in the northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province – had received the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 10, brought renewed vigor to those battling the Taliban’s hard-line attitude towards girls’ education.

Residents here told IPS that when she survived an attempt on her life on Oct. 9, 2012, Yousafzai became an icon, a representative of the state of terror that has become a part of everyday existence here.

“We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA." -- Yasmeen Bibi, a 13-year-old refugee who is not attending school.
By awarding her the world’s most prestigious peace prize, experts say, the Nobel Committee is sending a strong message to all who remain trapped in zones where the sanctity of education has been subordinated to the perils of conflict.

Muhammad Shafique, a professor at the University of Peshawar, the KP province’s capital, told IPS that Yousafzai’s prize has turned a “spotlight onto the importance of education.”

“It will be a motivational force for parents to send their daughters back to school,” he added.

Since militants began crossing the Afghan-Pakistan border in 2001, following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, residents of these mountainous areas have endured the full force of extremist campaigns to impose strict Islamic rule over the population.

At the height of the Taliban’s rule over the Swat Valley, between 2007 and 2009, approximately 224 schools were destroyed, stripping over 100,000 children of a decent education.

It was during this period that Yousafzai, just 12 years old at the time, began recording the hardships she faced as a young girl in search of an education, writing regular reports for the Urdu service of the BBC from her hometown of Swat.

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schoolgirls in Peshawar pray for Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Her struggle found echo all around northern Pakistan, where hundreds of thousands of young people like herself were living in constant fear of reprisals for daring to pursue their studies.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), for instance, Taliban edicts banning secular schools as a “ploy” by the West to undermine Islam have kept 50 percent of school aged children out of the classroom.

Since the decade beginning in 2004, the Taliban have damaged some 750 schools, 422 of them dedicated exclusively to girls, according to a source within the FATA directorate for education.

FATA has one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country, with just 33 percent of school-aged children receiving an education. In total, about 518,000 children in FATA are sitting idle, as per government records.

The dropout rate touched 73 percent between 2007 and 2013, as families fled from one district to another to escape the Taliban. The latest wave of displacement has seen close to one million people from North Waziristan Agency evacuating their homes since Jun. 15 and taking refuge in Bannu, an ancient city in KP.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Schoolgirls at a demonstration in Peshawar in support of Malala Yousafzai. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

A rapid assessment report released by the United Nations in August found that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys were not receiving any kind of education in the camps.

Already nursing a miserable primary school enrollment rate of 37 percent, Bannu is on the verge of a full-blown educational crisis, with 80 percent of its school buildings now occupied by refugees.

Thus the honour bestowed upon Yousafzai has touched many thousands of people, and breathed new life into the campaign for the right to education. Since October 2012, enrollment in the Swat Valley has increased by two percent, according to Swat Education Officer Maskeen Khan.

“Now, we are expecting a huge boost after the award,” the official told IPS.

Naila Ahmed, a 10th-grader originally hailing from North Waziristan Agency who now lives in a refugee camp in Bannu, feels her generation has been “unlucky”, forced to grow up without an education.

The situation is so dire that she views her displacement as a “blessing in disguise”, since the move to Bannu has enabled her to enroll in a private school for the first time in many years.

She is one of the fortunate ones; few parents in this militancy-infested region can afford the cost of private schooling, she says.

Thirteen-year-old Yasmeen Bibi is one of those whose parents cannot shoulder the bill for an education. “We hope that the government will make arrangements for our education,” she told IPS from her makeshift home in a refugee camp in Bannu, adding, “We appeal to Malala to spend funds to promote education in FATA.”

Her words hearken back to the time immediately following Yousafzai’s decision to flee the country, when many from the Swat Valley and its surrounding provinces felt let down by the rising star, left behind to face the Taliban’s wrath stemming from the teenager’s newfound fame.

Some agreed with the Taliban’s claim that she had “abandoned Islam for secularism” by accepting an offer to live and study in the UK.

In the last few days, however, any ill feeling towards Yousafzai, now the world’s youngest Nobel laureate, appears to have dissipated, replaced by a kind of collective euphoria at the global acknowledgement of her courage.

All throughout Swat, girls’ schools distributed free sweets on Oct. 10 and celebrated in the streets.

Yousafzai’s former classmate, Mushatari Bibi, explained that the news has been like “a ray of hope” to other girls, who take a big risk each time they leave their homes to head to school.

Some even say that the Nobel Prize, and the hope it has instilled in the population, represents a challenge to the very foundations of the Taliban’s power, since more people now feel compelled to stand up to the militants that have plagued the lives of millions for well over a decade.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Karabakh Question Clouds Armenia’s Eurasian Union Accessionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/karabakh-question-clouds-armenias-eurasian-union-accession/#comments Sat, 11 Oct 2014 10:55:18 +0000 Marianna Grigoryan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137114 By Marianna Grigoryan
YEREVAN, Oct 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Armenia has finalised its accession to the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, an intended regional counterweight to the European Union. But while Armenian and Russian officials focus on future prosperity, some Armenian observers believe membership in the bloc could exacerbate Armenia’s security challenges.

During an Oct. 10 meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council, held in Minsk, Belarus, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan confirmed that Armenia would be formally admitted to the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) when it launches on Jan. 1, 2015.“Currently, we have no expectations with regard to security. We see only threats.” -- Aghasi Yenokian, director of a Yerevan-based think-tank

The Armenian government approved the draft text of the accession agreement in early October, Armenian media reported. The EEU will be an outgrowth of the existing customs union among Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Armenian political analysts greeted the accession announcement with mixed feelings, in part because the final text of the pact has not been subjected to public scrutiny. There is particular concern about the pact’s ramifications for Armenia’s relationship with the Nagorno Karabakh territory, an enclave inhabited by ethnic Armenians who aspire to gain international recognition of their de-facto independence from Azerbaijan.

A draft released earlier this year implied that a customs post would be established between Armenia and Karabakh. Local economists say that such an economic barrier would paralyse Karabakh’s economy since the territory depends on Armenia as its primary market for its limited selection of exports.

Beyond the potential economic ramifications, many Armenians would see the establishment of a customs regime as tantamount to the cutting of cultural ties with Karabakh, an act that could leave the territory – and, consequently, Armenia itself – vulnerable to possible Azerbaijani aggression.

“Currently, we have no expectations with regard to security. We see only threats,” commented Aghasi Yenokian, director of the Armenian Center for Political and International Studies, a Yerevan-based think-tank.

Over the past year, Armenian officials have said repeatedly that Armenia’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union takes into account security guarantees for both Armenia and Karabakh, but no proof of this has been offered.

As a result, uncertainty continues to swirl around the future of the Armenia-Karabakh trade relationship. Two of the EEU’s three members, Belarus and Kazakhstan, are on record as categorically opposed to allowing Armenia to share the bloc’s trade advantages with Karabakh, which none of the members recognise as a country independent from Azerbaijan.

In Minsk, however, Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev stated that a “compromise” had been reached “on a delicate question within the borders by which Armenia will be joined to our union,” the ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Details were not immediately available.

Members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia contacted by EurasiaNet.org declined to comment on the challenges that EEU membership could pose for Armenia’s ties with Karabakh.

“There is a very complicated period awaiting us, taking into account the somewhat unfriendly attitude of the EEU to Armenia, particularly on the part of Nazarbayev and [Belarusian President Alexander ] Lukashenko,” commented Styopa Safarian, director of the Armenian Institute of International and Security Affairs.

President Sargsyan, a native of Karabakh, does not, however, appear to share such worries. Congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his Oct. 7 birthday, Sargsyan stated that Putin’s “consistent efforts” for a peaceful resolution of the 26-year Karabakh conflict with Azerbaijan, and his support for Armenia’s EEU membership “deserve the deepest appreciation.”

Opposition parties have also adopted conciliatory stances toward Russia, observers note. This fact leaves some analysts glum; to them, it means the political class is unlikely to push hard to promote Armenia’s interests within the EEU.

“The opposition and the authorities do their best not to make the Kremlin angry,” said Styopa Safarian, the analyst and former member of the opposition Heritage Party. “This situation is not encouraging at all.”

Editor’s note:  Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based in Yerevan and editor of MediaLab.am. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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2015 a Make-or-Break Year for Nuclear Disarmamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/2015-a-make-or-break-year-for-nuclear-disarmament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2015-a-make-or-break-year-for-nuclear-disarmament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/2015-a-make-or-break-year-for-nuclear-disarmament/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 20:44:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137088 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reads a statement to the media after visiting Ground Zero of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in April 2010. He urged all the leaders of the world, particularly nuclear weapon states, to work together with the United Nations to realise the aspiration and dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reads a statement to the media after visiting Ground Zero of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in April 2010. He urged all the leaders of the world, particularly nuclear weapon states, to work together with the United Nations to realise the aspiration and dream of a world free of nuclear weapons. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month singled out what he described as “one of the greatest ironies of modern science”: while humans are searching for life on other planets, the world’s nuclear powers are retaining and modernising their weapons to destroy life on planet earth.

“We must counter the militarism that breeds the pursuit of such weaponry,” he warned."What are we supposed to do? Roll over and let the crackpot realists take us all to hell? I don't think so." -- Dr. Joseph Gerson

With a slew of events lined up beginning next April, 2015 may be a make-or-break year for nuclear disarmament – either a streak of successes or an unmitigated failure.

The critically important Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, which takes place every five years, is high up on the agenda and scheduled for April-May next year.

Around the same time, there will be an international civil society conference on peace, justice and the environment (Apr. 24-25) in New York, and a major international rally and a people’s march to the United Nations (Apr. 26) by peace activists, along with non-violent protests in capitals around the world.

The year 2015 also commemorates the 70th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, stirring nuclear nightmares of a bygone era.

And it marks 45 years since the first five nuclear powers, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia (P-5), agreed in Article VI of the NPT to undertake good faith negotiations for the elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

Additionally, anti-nuclear activists are hoping the long postponed international conference on a nuclear-weapons-free-zone in the Middle East, agreed to at the Review Conference in 2010, will take place in 2015.

A network of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which will take the lead role in the events next year, will also present a petition, with millions of signatures, calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

The network calls itself ‘the International Planning Group for the 2015 NPT Review Mobilisation: For Abolition, Climate and Justice.’

The group includes Abolition 2000, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Earth Action, Mayors for Peace, Western States Legal Foundation, Japan Council against A&N Bombs, Peace Boat, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, World Council of Churches, and many more.

Should the 2015 Review Conference fail to mandate the commencement of abolition negotiations, “the treaty itself could fail, accelerating nuclear weapons proliferation and increasing the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war,” warns the network.

Asked whether any progress could be achieved in the face of intransigence by the world’s nuclear powers, Dr. Joseph Gerson, co-convenor of the international network, replied, “But what are we supposed to do? Roll over and let the crackpot realists take us all to hell?

“I don’t think so,” he said.

Certainly, prospects for the NPT Review are anything but rosy, warned Gerson, director of the peace and economic security programmes at the AFSC’s Northeast region.

“But among other things, having witnessed the debate during last year’s High Level Meeting (HLM) on Disarmament and the responses of governmental representatives during the Conference on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, I do take hope in knowing that our civil society movements are not alone in our struggle for abolition,” he added.

The international network says the last 2010 NPT Review Conference reaffirmed “the unequivocal undertaking of the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament.”

Five more years have passed and another Review Conference is in the offing. Still, nuclear stockpiles of “civilisation-destroying” size persist, and even limited progress on disarmament has stalled.

Over 16,000 nuclear weapons remain, with 10,000 in military service and 1,800 on high alert, according to the network.

“All nuclear-armed states are modernising their nuclear arsenals, manifesting the intention to sustain them for decades to come,” it notes.

The network also says nuclear-armed countries spend over 100 billion dollars per year on nuclear weapons and related costs. Those expenditures are expected to increase as nuclear weapon states modernise their warheads and delivery systems.

Spending on high-tech weapons not only deepens the reliance of some governments on their nuclear arsenals, but also furthers the growing divide between rich and poor.

In 2013, 1.75 trillion dollars was spent on militaries and armaments – more than the total annual income of the poorest third of the world’s population.

Jackie Cabasso of the Western States Legal Foundation and also a co-convener of the international network said the nuclear powers have “refused to honour their legal and moral obligation to begin negotiations to ban and completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals”.

“As we have seen at the United Nations High-Level Meeting for Disarmament and at the Oslo and Nayarit Conferences on the Human Consequences of Nuclear Weapons, the overwhelming majority of the world’s governments demand the implementation of the NPT,” she said.

“We are working with partner organisations in the U.S. and other nations to mobilise international actions to bring popular pressure to bear on the 2015 Review Conference,” Cabasso said.

She said the 2015 mobilisation will highlight the inextricable connections between preparations for nuclear war, the environmental impacts of nuclear war and the nuclear fuel cycle, and military spending at the expense of meeting essential human needs.

Gerson told IPS, “In my lifetime, despite the stacked decks and long odds, I’ve seen and been privileged to play small roles in overcoming the Jim Crow apartheid system, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of South African apartheid systems and dynamics that before they became history seemed at times almost insurmountable.

“I can still easily tap into the emotions of 1971 and 1972 during the Christmas bombings, when the world seemed so black as the bombs rained death on Vietnam despite our having done everything that we could imagine to do to end the war.”

In each of these cases, “unexpected developments and powerful human will brought the change for which we had sacrificed and struggled,” said Gerson, a member of the board of the International Peace Bureau and of the steering committee of the ‘No to NATO/No to War’ network.

He said the bleak scenario includes the reality that all of the nuclear weapons states are modernising their nuclear arsenals.

At the same time, there is collaboration among the P-5 in resisting the demands of the majority of the world’s nations to fulfill their Article VI commitments and a renewed era of confrontation spurred by NATO and European Union expansion and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s responses, including mutual nuclear threats.

Gerson said the dynamics in East Asia are reminiscent of those in Europe in the years leading to World War I – and all of these carry the threat of catastrophic war and annihilation.

“I know that the law of unintended consequences means that we can never truly know what the consequences of our actions will be,” he added. “That said I trust that our mobilisation will stiffen the moral backbones and give encouragement to a number of diplomats and governmental actors who are our potential allies.”

And hopefully, it will also provide the forums and opportunities for movement leaders and activists to think and plan together through mainstream and social media to revitalise popular understandings of the imperative of nuclear weapons abolition, he said.

At the same time, he is hoping the nuclear weapons abolition movement will expand for the longer term, including building alliances with climate change, economic and social justice movements.

“Through our work with students and young people, [we will] help generate the next generation of nuclear abolitionists, even as we race the clock against the dangers of nuclear war.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Displacement Spells Danger for Pregnant Women in Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/displacement-spells-danger-for-pregnant-women-in-pakistan/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 12:41:56 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137065 A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A doctor examines a woman in an IDP camp in Bannu, a city in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where over 40,000 pregnant women are at risk due to a lack of maternal health services. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Imagine traveling for almost an entire day in the blistering sun, carrying all your possessions with you. Imagine fleeing in the middle of the night as airstrikes reduce your village to rubble. Imagine arriving in a makeshift refugee camp where there is no running water, no bathrooms and hardly any food. Now imagine making that journey as a pregnant woman.

In northern Pakistan, a military campaign aimed at ridding the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Taliban militants has led to a humanitarian crisis for hundreds of thousands of civilians.

When the army began conducting air raids on the 11,585-square-km North Waziristan Agency on Jun. 15, residents were forced to flee – most of them on foot – to the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where they have now taken refuge in sprawling IDP camps.

“In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 women dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.” -- Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province
Officials estimate the number of displaced at just over 580,000, of which half are women.

In the ancient city of Bannu, which now houses the largest number of refugees, some 40,000 pregnant women are facing up to their ultimate fear: a lack of hospitals, doctors and basic medical supplies.

For 30-year-old Tajdara Bibi, a mother of three, these fears became a reality in June, when she had to flee her home in North Waziristan and trudge the 55 km to KP along with her fellow villagers.

The journey wore her down, and by the time she was admitted to the maternity hospital in Bannu, the doctors were too late: she delivered a stillborn baby a few hours later.

Muhammad Sarwar, who attended to Bibi, told IPS that an extreme shortage of female doctors has put pregnant women on a knife’s edge.

“At least four women died of pregnancy-related complications on the way to Bannu, while 20 others had miscarriages at the hospital,” he said.

“We have only four female doctors in the whole district, who are required to provide treatment to all the women,” he added.

With thousands of women now clamouring for care, the province’s limited healthcare services are falling short, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Gul Rehman, a 44-year-old shopkeeper, is still reeling from a recent tragedy. He told IPS his wife went into labour prematurely during the arduous journey to Bannu.

“We could not find transport so we had to walk. When we finally reached the hospital, we were kept waiting… there were no doctors readily available.

“After 10 hours, they finally operated on my wife – but the baby was already dead,” he explained. Aside from the trauma of losing their child, the couple is also struggling to cope with the wife’s health condition, which has deteriorated rapidly after the stillbirth.

According to Fawad Khan, Health Cluster and Emergency Coordinator for the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, existing health facilities are not equipped to deal with the wave of arrivals from North Waziristan.

The WHO is currently assisting the KP health department to “prevent unnecessary deaths”, the official told IPS, adding that 73 percent of displaced women and children in Bannu are in “desperate need of care.”

Some 30 percent of pregnant women among IDPs are at risk of delivery-related complications, a situation that could easily be addressed by upgrading existing facilities. There is also an urgent need for gynaecologists to provide antenatal and postnatal care, he stated.

Twelve health centres have already been established to tackle malnutrition among women and children in the camps. Without proper nourishment, officials fear pregnant women will face additional complications during birth, and low birth-weight among newborns could create additional challenges for health workers.

“Four percent of the total displaced women are pregnant and need immediate attention,” Abdul Waheed, KP’s director-general of health, told IPS, adding that some 20 basic health units have already been strengthened to take on those most in need.

Still, the crisis has reached proportions that even seasoned officials are scarcely able to comprehend. Waheed explained that Bannu has never before had to host such a large population of homeless people, and is struggling to cope.

Prior to the recent wave of refugees from North Waziristan, the KP province had already welcomed over 1.5 million people from FATA. This latest influx brings the number of displaced since 2001 to over 2.5 million.

“We are sending doctors from teaching hospitals in Peshawar [capital of KP] on a rotational basis to meet the situation,” he asserted.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) have joined the WHO in supporting the Pakistan government’s push for improved health services. Some 65 doctors from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad have joined NGO workers in Bannu to provide urgent care.

Part of the problem, according to Ali Ahmed, KP’s focal person for IDPs, is that few medical professionals are keen to take up posts in the militancy-infested region. For years the Taliban have operated with impunity in these federal areas, hiding out along the mountainous border with Afghanistan that stretches for some 2,400 km.

The military’s counter-insurgency programme was launched in a bid to finally wipe out extremist elements that fled Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion in 2001 and took root along the porous border.

But until the region regains a sense of normalcy, it will be hard to lure professionals here, officials say. Despite being offered lucrative packages, doctors have refused to take up posts, even temporarily, in Bannu.

The government is looking to fill this gap by appointing 10 doctors, including five female doctors, to the newly renovated Women and Children Hospital, which remains understaffed and ill equipped.

The city’s other two category ‘B’ hospitals, the Khalifa Gul Nawaz Teaching Hospital (KGTH) and the District Headquarters Teaching Hospital, suffer similar setbacks, while the arrival of the IDPs has more than tripled the number of patients demanding services, Ahmed said.

Three rural health centres in close proximity to the refugee camps, as well as 34 basic health units, have received an injection of funds and resources, and 20 assistant nutritional officers have been deployed to cater to the needs of 41 percent of affected children, he told IPS.

But far greater efforts will be needed to tackle the crisis, which is compounding an already bleak picture of maternal health in Pakistan.

Fayyaz Ali, a public health expert here in KP, told IPS, “In Pakistan, 350 women die per 100,000 live births from pregnancy-related complications. In FATA, the situation is extremely bad, with 500 dying for every 100,000 live births. The situation warrants urgent attention.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Schools Open In Iraqi Kurdistan … But for Refugees Not Studentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/schools-open-in-iraqi-kurdistan-but-for-refugees-not-students/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=schools-open-in-iraqi-kurdistan-but-for-refugees-not-students http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/schools-open-in-iraqi-kurdistan-but-for-refugees-not-students/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 08:40:07 +0000 Annabell Van den Berghe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137027 Fleeing advancing IS fighters, Kamal Faris and his family found refuge in a school turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

Fleeing advancing IS fighters, Kamal Faris and his family found refuge in a school turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

By Annabell Van den Berghe
ERBIL, Iraq, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

“We had ten minutes to leave our hometown,” says 33-year-old Kamal Faris who, together with his entire family, was forced to flee the threat of Islamic State (IS) fighters approaching his village.

The IS advance in this region, the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, has swelled the number of refugees. Overall, they are now estimated at more than 1.8 million people.

A small minority has found a temporary home with relatives living in other, safer cities, but for most of the refugees, this was not an option and entire families became refugees overnight. Faris’ family is one of them.“Three weeks ago, schools had been due to open start the new school year but the at least 700 schools in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq that have been turned into refugee camps were unable to open their doors again for classes”

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

After what he says was the worst journey in his life, 33-year-old Kamal Faris arrived in Erbil with his wife, children, mother and his blind brother. “There were ten of us. We all had to fit into a tiny Opel, and drive away as fast as we could. We left everything behind, all our belongings,” he says, pointing at his feet, showing that he only brought the sandals that he was wearing.

“The children were sitting in the car with three on each other’s lap, their faces pale with fear. Inside me, everything was cracking from the pain of seeing them like that.”

Under normal circumstances, the drive from Sareshka, hometown of the Faris family, to Erbil takes three hours. But, recalls Faris, “we had to sit in a broiling car for over five hours, everybody was fleeing the city. Roads were packed and our car couldn’t reach its usual speed because we were too many.”

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

“With every rough spot in the road,” he continues, “we could hear the chassis of the car scrape on the asphalt. Nobody dared to move, out of fear that the car would break down under our weight.”

When they arrived, it was in the middle of the summer holidays and schools that had earlier been full of children were now makeshift homes for refugees like Faris.

At the Ishtar Elementary School, where Faris is taking shelter with his family, he and other refugees had hoped that this would only be a temporary solution and that they would soon be able to return to their homes. “I thought it would only be temporary,” says Wazira, Faris’ wife. “Two, three days maybe. Not more.”

Faris and his family have now been here for more than a month, together with dozens of other families, packed into the narrow classrooms of the school in the centre of Erbil.

Three weeks ago, schools had been due to open start the new school year but the at least 700 schools in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq that have been turned into refugee camps were unable to open their doors again for classes. Having believed, like many refugees, that the situation would not last, the Iraqi government has not been able to find an alternative solution.

The upshot is that there are now more than half a million children who are not going to school as planned this year.

“Despite the efforts of the Iraqi authorities, the children who are currently living in these classrooms, as well as the children who are supposed to come here to follow classes, have no access to education,” said Save the Children’s director in Iraq, Tina Yu. She is concerned that it could take weeks or even months to solve the problem.

The United Nations has released a statement requesting its humanitarian agencies to do all that they can to help the government find proper accommodation for the refugee families, hopefully before winter sets in.

But, for the refugees, staying until the winter is far too long. “We just want to go home. As soon as possible,” says Wazira.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Anti-ISIL Strategy Drawing Growing Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-anti-isil-strategy-drawing-growing-scepticism/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 02:29:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137025 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Hopes that the strategy announced by President Barack Obama a month ago against the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) might yield a relatively quick victory have disappeared amidst growing fears that the U.S.-led air campaign has at most only slowed the radical group’s advance.

While air strikes, combined with ground attacks by Iranian-backed Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi Special Forces, succeeded initially in pushing back militants of the self-described Islamic State, from positions close to Erbil and from their control of the Mosul Dam and more recently in taking back the Rabia and Daquq districts in the north, U.S. air power has failed to prevent ISIL from taking most of the Kurdish town of Kobani on the Syrian Turkish border as of Monday.More than one commentator has noted that Baghdad’s International Airport, which hosts a U.S. command centre and aircraft, including helicopter gunships, is now within range of artillery and rockets.

Even more worrisome here have been ISIL advances in the so-called Sunni Triangle on the eastern edge of Al-Anbar province in Iraq.

In a significant escalation of Washington’s direct involvement in the fighting, the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) announced Sunday that it had sent attack helicopters into battle against ISIL positions just west of Baghdad.

“It’s definitely boots in the air,” Jeffrey White, a veteran military analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), told McClatchy Newspapers.

“Using helicopter gunships in combat operations means those forces are in combat,” he noted, adding that the resort to slower-moving and low-flying aircraft posed a much greater threat of U.S. casualties and an implicit recognition that air strikes so far had failed to stop ISIL forces from launching offensive operations.

ISIL forces also appear to have taken control of Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad suburb made infamous by abuses committed at a prison there by U.S. troops against Iraqi detainees during Washington’s occupation.

More than one commentator has noted that Baghdad’s International Airport, which hosts a U.S. command centre and aircraft, including helicopter gunships, is now within range of artillery and rockets – considerable quantities of which ISIL captured from military bases abandoned by Iraqi forces earlier this summer — fired from the town.

In recent days, ISIL forces also successfully took control of two key towns – Kubaisa and Hit — west of Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, in an apparent bid to consolidate their hold on the province and gain control over key oil pipeline. Their advances have also isolated several Iraqi military bases that may now prove more difficult to supply.

Obama, who has repeatedly promised not to send ground troops to fight in either Syria or Iraq since he announced the first deployments of what now numbers approximately 1,600 U.S. trainers and advisers to Iraq in the wake of ISIL’s summer offensive, been under persistent pressure from hawks, especially Congressional Republicans, and even some of his former senior Pentagon officials, including Robert Gates, to reconsider.

“The reality is, they’re not gonna be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air, or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces, or the Peshmerga, or the Sunni tribes acting on their own,” Gates warned in mid-September.

“So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [the U.S. won't put boots on the ground], the president, in effect, traps himself.”

Even Obama’s own top military commander, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, has suggested that Washington may need Special Forces on the ground in Iraq, at least to act as spotters for U.S. and allied aircraft to hit ISIS targets more precisely, if not in a more aggressive role in hunting down key ISIS leaders, as they have done against enemy forces previously Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some neo-conservatives have called for deploying as many as 25,000 U.S. Special Forces in Iraq and Syria, although recent polls have found that the public, even including many self-identified Republicans, tend to side with Obama in opposing any combat role for U.S. ground troops even as they support stronger action against ISIS.

Obama’s strategy appears to rely on steadily degrading ISIS’s military forces – especially the heavy weapons and transport vehicles it has captured from the Syrian and Iraqi armies — through a U.S.-led air war with the substantial participation of Sunni Muslim states, notably Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) members, and as many NATO allies as are willing, although none has yet agreed to take part in operations against ISIS targets in Syria.

U.S. warplanes have also struck oil refineries used by ISIS in Syria to deny the group a key source of income, part of a financial war that also includes exerting unprecedented pressure on GCC governments to crack down against their citizens and charities that have been supporting ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), al-Qaeda’s closest affiliate in Syria.

Washington is pushing the Shi’a-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to follow through on plans to share more power with the Sunni community, in major part by training some 10,000 “national guard” troops recruited from key tribes to take on ISIS in Anbar and elsewhere in a replay of the so-called “Anbar Awakening” that isolated ISIS’ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), in 2007-8.

That part of the strategy remains a work in progress, as Abadi has so far failed to gain a consensus for the key defence and interior portfolios, and, despite a few reports of Sunni tribal forces allying with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias and the Iraqi army against ISIS, most Sunni leaders continue to express scepticism about Abadi’s intentions.

Even if all goes according to plan, including rebuilding the Iraqi army, a major portion of which collapsed in the face of ISIS’s onslaught this summer, the U.S. commander chosen to co-ordinate the international coalition, Gen. John Allen, warned over the weekend that it will take at least a year for Iraqi forces to be ready to challenge ISIS’s control over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, which it conquered in June.

One year will also be needed to train some 5,000 “moderate” Syrian recruits in Saudi Arabia and Georgia for war against ISIS, JAN, and the government of President Bashar al-Assad, according to administration officials who admit that such a force by itself is unlikely to substantially tilt the battlefield in one direction or another without the aggressive use of air power to defend it.

Already, however, Washington’s air war in Syria has drawn heavy criticism from various Syrian factions from which the U.S. is expected to recruit the new force. They have opposed attacks against JAN, which has co-operated with them in their war against Assad. Strikes against ISIS in and around its stronghold at Raqqa have also reportedly killed civilians, alienating the population from the coalition.

Observers here are also concerned about Turkey, whose co-participation in the coalition in both Syria and Iraq is seen as critical to the strategy’s success.

While President Recept Tayyip Erdogan last week persuaded parliament to authorise military operations in both countries, he has still not permitted Washington the use of strategically located air bases in southern Turkey to launch operations.

Moreover, while the Turkish last week re-inforced its presence along the border with Kobani last week, it failed to intervene against ISIS’s offensive there and actively prevented Turkish Kurds from crossing the border to bolster the town’s defences.

“For Turkey, the most dangerous fallout of the Syrian civil war has been the resurgence of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)” with which the Kurdish fighters – mostly members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Kobani — are allied, according to an analysis by Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute published by CNN.

“Turkey believes that fighting the Assad regime is more important than the narrow counter-terrorism mission that President Obama has in mind. A military attack against ISIS is likely to strengthen not only Assad’s but also the PYD’s hand,” she wrote.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Azerbaijan Pursues Drones, New Security Optionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/azerbaijan-pursues-drones-new-security-options/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijan-pursues-drones-new-security-options http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/azerbaijan-pursues-drones-new-security-options/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 06:03:20 +0000 Shahin Abbasov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137004 By Shahin Abbasov
BAKU, Oct 4 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Heightened tensions with longtime foe Armenia over breakaway Nagorno Karabakh and mediator Russia’s Ukrainian adventure appear to be pushing Caspian-Sea energy power Azerbaijan ever more strongly toward a military strategy of self-reliance.

The strategy comes via two approaches: first, a build-up in Azerbaijani-made military equipment, including drones co-produced with Israel; and, second, a new defense troika with longtime strategic partners Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and neighbouring Georgia, a NATO-member-hopeful.

Nor is this a strategy just left to paper. On Sep. 11, Azerbaijani Defense Minister Yaver Jamalov announced to reporters that Azerbaijan plans to export 100 drones, co-produced at a local Azerbaijani-Israeli plant, to “one of the NATO countries.” The remarks headlined the country’s first international defense-industry show, ADEX-2014, held on Sep. 11-13 in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku.

Jamalov did not specify the country or the terms of the sale, but the prospect of the deal reinforces the fact, long clear in foreign policy, that Baku sees itself as a regional military force that need no longer pay heed to the likes or dislikes of Russia.

While Azerbaijan has spent “several billion dollars” over the last decade importing a range of Russian-made military equipment, politics now have become an issue, commented military expert Azad Isazade, a former Azerbaijani defense-ministry official.

As it looks on the plans for a trade union with Azerbaijani enemy Armenia, Baku increasingly feels that Moscow’s interests in resolving the 26-year-long Karabakh conflict are more closely aligned with those of Armenia, where Russia already has troops stationed.

By focusing its attention on its own military-production capabilities or on military partnerships with other countries, “the Azerbaijani government wanted to balance the pro-Armenian position of Moscow,” Isazade said.

Elhan Shahinoglu, head of the non-profit Atlas Research Center in Baku, agreed. “I think that after the last meeting of the Azerbaijani, Armenian and Russian presidents in Sochi [in August], [Azerbaijani President] Ilham Aliyev has lost any hope that Moscow is going to play a positive role in the Karabakh conflict’s resolution,” he commented.

The Kremlin’s support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and intervention in the conflict there does little to reassure Baku on this point.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has not specifically addressed such misgivings, but, in his opening remarks at ADEX-2014, commented that “in the current world, countries have to keep facing new security challenges, which make cooperation and the exchange of modern military technologies more important.”

Azerbaijan is due to receive 100 Russian-made T-90C tanks in early 2015, but the shipment is based on a 2010 contract, Trend news agency reported, citing an adviser to Russia’s state-owned weapons-export company, Rosobornexport. Azerbaijan has not announced any more such contracts.

Defense Minister Jamalov claims that Azerbaijan expects by the end of 2015 to be able to meet almost all of its own needs for ammunition and tank and artillery shells, formerly mostly supplied by Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Israel, which imports most of its natural gas from Azerbaijan, appears to play a leading role in Azerbaijan’s makeover into a materiel-manufacturer. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon visited Azerbaijan for the first time this month to meet President Aliyev and attend ADEX-2014.

At the exhibition, Azerbaijan presented models of two drones produced in conjunction with an unnamed Israeli company – one for reconnaissance ( “Aerostar”) and one for combat-missions ( “Orbiter 2M”).

Overall, 200 companies from 34 countries, including the United States and Russia, took part in the event, which featured products ranging from armored troop carriers to sniper guns.

Only one contract with an Azerbaijani company was signed during the show, however, an Azerbaijani defense-industry representative commented to EurasiaNet.org.

South Africa’s Paramount Group, a privately owned defense company which claims to be the largest in Africa, plans to create a joint venture with Azerbaijan’s private AirTechService to work on upgrades to military helicopters and some jets.

The defense industry representative, who asked not to be named, noted, however, that other countries expected to take an interest in Azerbaijani materiel include Arab Persian-Gulf states, and, in Central Asia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

NATO member states Estonia, Bulgaria, Lativa, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, all of which have indicated they will increase defense spending in response to the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, also feature among the sales-targets, the representative said.

But weapons manufacturing alone does not provide Azerbaijan with a sense of security.

Like other former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan, with one eye on the Karabakh flare-up and another on the Ukrainian civil war, is trying to find new ways to protect itself from Russian pressure, noted Shahinoglu.

On Aug. 19, Defense Minister Hasanov met with Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Alasania and Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz in the exclave of Nakhchivan, President Aliyev’s ancestral home, to address the “military-political situation in the region,” as the government-friendly AzerNews put it.

After the meeting, Georgian Defense Minister Alasania, the most publicly talkative of the three, said the trio plans to defend collectively regional pipelines and railroads – strategic projects in which all three already cooperate – in case of military aggression in any of the three countries.

Joint military exercises also will be held, although the 30,000-troop exercises currently underway in Azerbaijan only include Azerbaijani forces.

While one Russian security analyst has questioned the pact’s significance since Turkey and Azerbaijan already are military allies, defense expert Isazade countered that Turkey’s presence will constrain Moscow in its treatment of Georgia and Azerbaijan, and reassure the international community that energy resources will be protected.

“If there would be just an alliance of Baku and Tbilisi, Moscow would not care,” he elaborated. “But Turkey, which is a NATO member and also has wide links and cooperation with Russia, is an important factor of stability for the region.”

So far, no official response has come from Moscow.

Originally published by EurasiaNet.org

Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku.    

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Q&A: “The Battle Continues”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-the-battle-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/qa-the-battle-continues/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 05:17:35 +0000 Joan Erakit http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137000 Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

Shahida Amin, a young Pakistani woman, brings her 10-month-old son to school every day. Credit: Farooq Ahmed/IPS

By Joan Erakit
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

The Programme of Action adopted at the landmark 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) included chapters that defined concrete actions covering some 44 dimensions of population and development, including the need to provide for women and girls during times of conflict, the urgency of investments in young people’s capabilities, and the importance of women’s political participation and representation.

The diversity of issues addressed by the Programme of Action (PoA) provided the opportunity for states to develop and implement a “comprehensive and integrated agenda”.

In reality, governments and development agencies have been selective in their actions, and many have taken a sectoral approach to implementation, which has resulted in fragmented successes rather than holistic gains.

Few are better placed to reflect on progress made over the last two decades than the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: In 1994 you were advocating for reproductive health and rights at the first ICPD in Cairo. Twenty years later, you are leading UNFPA as its executive director. What has that journey looked like for you?

A: The last four years have opened me up to the challenges that the organisation and the mandate itself have faced. Twenty years ago, we were able to secure commitments from governments on various aspects of poverty reduction, but more importantly the empowerment of women and girls and young people, including their reproductive rights – but the battle is not over.

Today, we are on the cusp of a new development agenda and we, as custodians of this agenda, need to locate it within the conversation of sustainable development – a people-centred agenda based on human rights is the only feasible way of achieving sustainable development.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that the ICPD Programme of Action faced in its early years?

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Credit: UNFPA

A: I think that Cairo was very cognizant of the status of women in society. It was also cognizant of the status of girls – particularly of young adults, and of the issues of sexuality and the power struggle between men and women over who decides on the sexuality of women.

The battle is not strictly about a woman’s ability to control her fertility, but it goes beyond the issue of fertility and decision-making. Women still earn less than men for doing the same job. There is no proportional representation in politics of women, and in the most severe cases, little girls don’t go to school as much as boys.

That is a continuous struggle, and our job is to ensure that gender equality in the very strict sense is accomplished, so we achieve what I always refer to as a “gender neutral” society.

Q: The Demographic Dividend is going to be an important focus in the post-2015 development agenda. How will UNFPA work to assess and meet the needs of young people?

A: We are already doing it!

Of course, we are going to strengthen and scale up our work. We don’t pretend that UNFPA can provide all the inputs needed to reap the dividend. But raising the bar and promoting youth visibility and participation at the political level is something that we will be doing with member states and partners.

For example, how do we ensure that we can partner with UNESCO, to continue to do the good work they are doing in terms of education – particularly with girls’ education? And how can we partner with ILO [the International Labour Organisation] to ensure that we have job creation, skills and all of the things that enable young people to come into the job market to get the opportunities they are looking for?

How do we ensure that within member states themselves, we’re creating spaces that enable young people to feel that they are part of the system?

It is impossible to get the kind of rapid development we’re looking at if member states do not accept the principles of comprehensive sexuality education, and do not accept that young people should also be exposed to information and services about contraception.

Q: How will you respond to women and girls in conflict areas, especially pregnant women or those who have faced violence and abuse?

A: That’s something we do superbly. We are also conscious of the fact that the world may see more crises. Today, we are looking at Gaza, we are looking at Syria, we are looking at Iraq, we are looking at the Central African Republic, we are looking at South Sudan, we are looking at old conflict areas in the world, which are still there. We cannot forget the IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons] who have existed for so long in northern Kenya, in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan, these are areas where we work actively.

We offer three types of response: services for girls and women to prevent GBV [gender-based violence]; services for the survivors of GBV, so that they can receive care for the physical assault; and services for their emotional and psychological support so that they are reintegrated back into the society.

We provide education, antenatal care, delivery services and postnatal care for women in camps and mothers around the world.

Our flagship programme, before we expanded to all of this, was recognising that women in conflict areas have dignity needs. Very few people think of women and their regular needs in war and conflict, so we provide them dignity kits, to enable them to preserve their health and dignity.

Something UNFPA has been trying to do more is increase attention to and prevent GBV and talk about it in such a way that we can show that it’s actually more prevalent than it is assumed, not only in conflict, but in domestic circumstances as well.

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Lack of Accountability Fuels Gender-Based Violence in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lack-of-accountability-fuels-gender-based-violence-in-india/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:32:31 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136927 Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Women in the north Indian village of Katra Shadatganj in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where two young girls were recently raped and hanged. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
CHIRANG, India, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

On a bright March morning, a 17-year old tribal girl woke as usual, and went to catch fish in the village river in the Chirang district of India’s northeastern Assam state.

Later that evening, villagers found her lifeless body on the riverbank. According to Taburam Pegu, the police officer investigating the case, her assailants had raped her before slitting her throat.

The girl was a member of the Bodo tribe, which has been at loggerheads with Muslims and Santhals – another indigenous group in the region. The tragic story reveals a terrible reality across India, where thousands of girls and women are sexually abused, tortured and murdered in a tide of gender-based violence (GBV) that shows no sign of slowing.

“We have a culture of impunity. Our legal system itself negates the possibility [...] of punishment in cases of violence against women.” -- Anjuman Ara Begum, former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission
Conflict and a lack of accountability, particularly across India’s northern, eastern and central states where armed insurgencies and tribal clashes are a part of daily life for over 40 million women, fuel the fire of sexual violence.

According to a report released earlier this year by the United Nations Secretary-General assessing progress on the programme of action adopted at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, violence against women is universal, with one in every three women (35 percent) experiencing physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Of all the issues related to the ICPD action plan, ending gender-based violence was addressed as a key concern by 88 percent of all governments surveyed. In total, 97 percent of countries worldwide have programmes, policies or strategies to address gender equality, human rights, and the empowerment of women.

Still, multiple forms of violence against women continue to be an hourly occurrence all around the world.

A recent multi-country study on men and violence in the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the United Nations, reported that nearly 50 percent of 10,000 men surveyed admitted to sexually or physically abusing a female partner.

In India, a country that has established a legal framework to address and end sexual violence, 92 women are raped every day, according to the latest records published by the government’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

This is higher than the average daily number of rapes reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which currently stands at 36.

Sexual violence is particularly on the rise in conflict areas, experts say, largely due to a lack of accountability – the very thing the United Nations describes as “key to preventing and responding to gender-based violence.”

According to Suhas Chakma, director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights in New Delhi, “There are human rights abuses committed by security forces and human rights violations by the militants. And then there is also violence against women committed by civilians. No matter who is committing the crime […] there has to be accountability – a component completely missing” from the current legal framework.

An example of this is Perry*, a 35-year-old woman from the South Garo Hills district of India’s northeastern Meghalaya state – home to 14 million women and three armed groups – who was killed by militants in June this year.

Members of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA), an insurgent group, allegedly tried to rape Perry and, when she resisted, they shot her in the head, blowing it open. The GNLA refused to be held accountable, claiming that the woman was an informant and so “deserved to die”.

Another reason for the high levels of GBV in India is the dismal conviction rate – a mere 26 percent – in cases involving sexual assault and violence.

In 3,860 of the 5,337 rape cases reported in the past 10 years, the culprits were either acquitted or discharged by the courts for lack of ‘proper’ evidence, according to the NCRB.

“We have a culture of impunity,” Anjuman Ara Begum, a Guwahati-based lawyer and former programme officer at the Asian Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding, “Our legal system itself negates the possibility or certainty of punishment in cases of violence against women.”

With a declining conviction rate, armed groups have been playing the role of the judiciary to deliver instant justice. In October 2011, a kangaroo court of the armed Maoists in the Palamu district of India’s eastern Jharkhand state cut off the hands of a man accused of rape.

In August 2013, the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) – an insurgent group operating in the northeastern state of Manipur – launched an “anti-rape task force”.

Sanakhomba Meitei, the secretary of KCP, told IPS over the phone that his group would deliver fast-track justice for rape victims. “Our intervention [will] instill fear in the [minds of the] rapists,” said Meitei, adding, “We will deliver stringent punishment.”

This is a worrying trend, but inevitable, given the failure of the legal system to deliver justice in these troubled areas, according to A L Sharada, director of Population First – a partner of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in India.

“What we need is a robust legal system, and mob justice hurts that possibility. In fact, such non-judicial justice systems are also very patriarchal in nature and ultimately against women. What we really need are quick convictions [in] every case of gender violence that has been filed,” Sharada stated.

According to the NCRB over 50,000 women were abducted across the country in 2013 alone, while over 8,000 were killed in dowry-related crimes. More than 100,000 women faced cruelty at the hands of their husbands or other male relatives, but only 16 percent of those accused were convicted.

*Not her real name

This story originally appeared in a special edition TerraViva, ‘ICPD@20: Tracking Progress, Exploring Potential for Post-2015’, published with the support of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. The contents are the independent work of reporters and authors.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

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

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Arms Trade Treaty Gains Momentum with 50th Ratificationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/arms-trade-treaty-gains-momentum-with-50th-ratification/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 10:17:50 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136910 State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

State parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

With state support moving at an unprecedented pace, the Arms Trade Treaty will enter into force on Dec. 24, 2014, only 18 months after it was opened for signature.

Eight states – Argentina, the Bahamas, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Saint Lucia, Portugal, Senegal and Uruguay – ratified the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) at a special event at the United Nations this past Thursday, Sep. 25, pushing the number of states parties up to 53.

As per article 22 of the treaty, the ATT comes into force as a part of international law 90 days after the 50th instrument of ratification is deposited.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy." -- Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations
According to a statement by the Control Arms coalition, “The ATT is one of the fastest arms agreements to move toward entry into force.”

The speed at which the treaty received 50 ratifications “shows tremendous momentum for the ATT and a lot of significant political commitment and will,” said Paul Holtom, head of the peace, reconciliation and security team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“The challenge now is to translate the political will into action, both in terms of ensuring that States Parties are able to fulfil – and are fulfilling – their obligations under the Treaty,” Holtom told IPS in an email.

So what are the requirements under the ATT?

ATT states parties are obligated under international law to assess their exports of conventional weapons to determine whether there is a danger that they will be used to fuel conflict.

Article 6(3) of the treaty forbids states from authorising transfers if they have the knowledge that the arms would be used in the commission of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. Article 7 prohibits transfers if there is an overriding risk of the weapons being used to undermine peace and security or commit a serious violation of international humanitarian or human rights law.

In addition, states parties are required to take a number of measures to prevent diversion of weapons to the illicit market and produce annual reports of their imports and exports of conventional arms.

The treaty applies to eight categories of conventional arms, ranging from battle tanks to small arms and light weapons.

The successful entry into force of the ATT will be a big win for arms control campaigners and NGOs, who have been fighting for the regulation of the arms trade for more than a decade.

When Control Arms launched a global campaign in 2003, “Mali, Costa Rica and Cambodia were the only three governments who would publically say that they supported talk of the idea of an arms trade treaty,” Anna MacDonald, director of the Control Arms secretariat, told IPS.

NGO supporters of the treaty often brought up the fact that the global trade in bananas was more regulated than the trade in weapons.

The organisations in the Control Arms coalition supported the ATT process through “a mix of campaigning, advocacy, pressure on governments” and “proving technical expertise on what actually could be done, how a treaty could look, [and] what provisions needed to be in it,” MacDonald said.

All of the legwork has paid off, as the treaty will become operational far earlier than many expected.

Today’s 53rd ratification is just the start. So far, 121 countries have signed the treaty, and 154 voted in favour of its adoption in April 2013 in the General Assembly.

“There’s no reason why we would not expect all of those who voted in favour to sign and ultimately to ratify the treaty,” said MacDonald.

Sceptics contend that the worst human rights abusers will not agree to the treaty. For example, Syria was one of three states that voted against the ATT’s adoption in the General Assembly.

However, MacDonald believes that once enough countries join the ATT, the holdouts will face an enormous amount of political pressure to comply as well.

With a sufficient number of states parties, the ATT will “establish a new global standard for arms transfers, which makes it politically very difficult for even countries that have not signed it to ignore its provisions,” she told IPS.

MacDonald cited the Ottawa Convention, which banned anti-personnel landmines, as an example.

Many of the world’s biggest landmine users and exporters have not joined the Ottawa convention, but the use of landmines has fallen anyway because of the political stigma that developed.

Much work remains to be done in the months before Dec. 24 and in the upcoming years as the ATT system evolves.

States will need to create or update transfer control systems and enforcement mechanisms for regulating exports, imports and brokering as well as minimising diversion, according to Holtom.

“There are a lot of issues to be discussed before the Conference of States Parties and it will take several years before we can really see an impact,” he told IPS. “But we need to now make sure that the ATT can be put into effect and States and other key stakeholders work together towards achieving its object and purpose.”

The first conference of states parties will take place in Mexico in 2015.

Participating countries must provide their first report on arms exports and imports by May 31, 2015 and a report on measures that they have taken to implement the treaty by late 2015, Holtom said.

No matter the challenges to come, the simple fact that arms trade control is on the agenda is quite historic.

“We are dealing with an instrument that introduces humanitarian considerations into an area that has traditionally been couched in the language of national defence and security, as well as secrecy,” said Holtom.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon claimed, “Today we can look ahead with satisfaction to the date of this historic new Treaty’s entry into force.”

“Now we must work for its efficient implementation and seek its universalisation so that the regulation of armaments – as expressed in the Charter of the United Nations – can become a reality once and for all,” he said in a statement delivered by U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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