Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 28 Aug 2015 16:50:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Disarmament Conference Ends with Ambitious Goal – But How to Get There?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:00:18 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142177 Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

By Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

A three-day landmark U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues has ended here – one day ahead of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests – stressing the need for ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons, but without a consensus on how to move towards that goal.

The Aug. 26-28 conference, organised by the Bangkok-based United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan and the city and Prefecture of Hiroshima, was attended by more than 80 government officials and experts, also from beyond the region.

It was the twenty-fifth annual meeting of its kind held in Japan, which acquired a particular importance against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the United Nations.“In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons” – Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Summing up the deliberations, UNRCPD Director Yuriy Kryvonos said the discussions on “the opportunities and challenges in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” had been “candid and dynamic”.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from Apr. 27 to May 22 at the U.N. headquarters drew the focus in presentations and panel discussions.

Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, who presided over the NPT Review Conference, explained at length why the gathering had failed to agree on a universally acceptable draft final text, despite a far-reaching consensus on a wide range of crucial issues: refusal of the United States, Britain and Canada to accept the proposal for convening a conference by Mar. 1, 2016, for a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

Addressing the issue, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida joined several government officials and experts in expressing his regrets that the draft final document was not adopted due to the issue of WMDs.

Kishida noted that the failure to establish a new Action Plan at the Review Conference had led to a debate over the viability of the NPT. “However,” he added, “I would like to make one thing crystal clear. The NPT regime has played an extremely important role for peace and stability in the international community; a role that remains unchanged even today.”

The Hiroshima conference not only discussed divergent views on measures to preserve the effective implementation of the NPT, but also the role of the yet-to-be finalised Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in achieving the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic weapons, and the significance of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament.

Speakers attached particular attention to the increasing role of local municipalities, civil society and nuclear disarmament education, including testimonies from ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings mostly in their 80s and above) in consolidating common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear weapons for people from all countries around the world regardless whether or not their governments possess nuclear weapons.

UNRCPD Director Kryvonos said the Hiroshima conference had given “a good start for searching new fresh ideas on how we should move towards our goal – protecting our planet from a risk of using nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, the city’s Mayor Karzumi Matsui – son of a ‘hibakusha’ father and president of the Mayors for Peace organisation comprising 6,779 cities in 161 countries and regions – as well as his counterpart from Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, pleaded for strengthening a concerted campaign for a nuclear free world. Taue is also the president of the National Council of Japan’s Nuclear-Free Local Authorities.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki city leaders welcomed suggestions for a nuclear disarmament summit next year in Hiroshima, which they said would lend added thrust to awareness raising for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Though foreign ministry officials refused to identify themselves publicly with the proposal, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, emphasised the need for nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states to “work together in steadily advancing practical and concrete measures in order to make real progress in nuclear disarmament.”

Kishida said that Japan will submit a “new draft resolution on the total elimination of nuclear weapons” to the forthcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Such a resolution, he said, was “appropriate to the 70th year since the atomic bombings and could serve as guidelines for the international community for the next five years, on the basis of the Review Conference”.

The next NPT Review Conference is expected to be held in 2020.

Mayors for Peace has launched a 2020 Vision Campaign as the main vehicle for advancing their agenda – a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020.

The campaign was initiated on a provisional basis by the Executive Cities of Mayors for Peace at their meeting in Manchester, Britain, in October 2003. It was launched under the name ‘Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons’ in November of that year at the 2nd Citizens Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki, Japan.

In August 2005, the World Conference endorsed continuation of the campaign under the title of the ‘2020 Vision Campaign’.

Foreign Minister Kishida expressed the views of the inhabitants of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he pointed out in a message to the UNRCPD conference: “… the reality of atomic bombings is far from being sufficiently understood worldwide.”

He added: “In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.S.-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142174 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

New research released today by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an Aug. 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or ‘bomblets’, over a wide area.

“Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured,” Ole Solvang, a senior research at HRW, said in a video statement released Thursday.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent ‘failure rate’ as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks’ proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were “most likely” launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of Jul. 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to a graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash’s brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a Jun. 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body.”

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

“I didn’t even take [his body] back home,” the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. “Residents of the village all fled. You can’t find anyone there now.”

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

“Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing “ZP-39” DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions,” the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: A Farewell to Arms that Fuel Atrocities is Within Our Grasphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-a-farewell-to-arms-that-fuel-atrocities-is-within-our-grasp/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 19:09:41 +0000 Marek Marczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142170 The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

The recent destruction of this 2,000-year-old temple – the temple of Baal-Shamin in Palmyra, Syria – is yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda – but what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? Photo credit: Bernard Gagnon/CC BY-SA 3.0

By Marek Marczynski
CANCUN, Mexico, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

The recent explosions that apparently destroyed a 2,000-year-old temple in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria were yet another grim example of how the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS) uses conventional weapons to further its agenda.

But what has fuelled the growing IS firepower? The answer lies in recent history – arms flows to the Middle East dating back as far as the 1970s have played a role.

Marek Marczynski

Marek Marczynski

After taking control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June 2014, IS fighters paraded a windfall of mainly U.S.-manufactured weapons and military vehicles which had been sold or given to the Iraqi armed forces.

At the end of last year, Conflict Armament Research published an analysis of ammunition used by IS in northern Iraq and Syria. The 1,730 cartridges surveyed had been manufactured in 21 different countries, with more than 80 percent from China, the former Soviet Union, the United States, Russia and Serbia.

More recent research commissioned by Amnesty International also found that while IS has some ammunition produced as recently as 2014, a large percentage of the arms they are using are Soviet/Warsaw Pact-era small arms and light weapons, armoured vehicles and artillery dating back to the 1970s and 80s.

Scenarios like these give military strategists and foreign policy buffs sleepless nights. But for many civilians in war-ravaged Iraq and Syria, they are part of a real-life nightmare. These arms, now captured by or illicitly traded to IS and other armed groups, have facilitated summary killings, enforced disappearances, rape and torture, and other serious human rights abuses amid a conflict that has forced millions to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.“It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers … But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson”

It is a damning indictment of the poorly regulated global arms trade that weapons and munitions licensed by governments for export can so easily fall into the hands of human rights abusers.

What is even worse is that this is a case of history repeating itself. But world leaders have yet to learn their lesson.

For many, the 1991 Gulf War in Iraq drove home the dangers of an international arms trade lacking in adequate checks and balances.

When the dust settled after the conflict that ensued when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s powerful armed forces invaded neighbouring Kuwait, it was revealed that his country was awash with arms supplied by all five Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council.

Perversely, several of them had also armed Iran in the previous decade, fuelling an eight-year war with Iraq that resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Now, the same states are once more pouring weapons into the region, often with wholly inadequate protections against diversion and illicit traffic.

This week, those states are among more than 100 countries represented in Cancún, Mexico, for the first Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which entered into force last December. This Aug. 24-27 meeting is crucial because it is due to lay down firm rules and procedures for the treaty’s implementation.

The participation of civil society in this and future ATT conferences is important to prevent potentially life-threatening decisions to take place out of the public sight. Transparency of the ATT reporting process, among other measures, will need to be front and centre, as it will certainly mean the difference between having meaningful checks and balances that can end up saving lives or a weakened treaty that gathers dust as states carry on business as usual in the massive conventional arms trade.

A trade shrouded in secrecy and worth tens of billions of dollars, it claims upwards of half a million lives and countless injuries every year, while putting millions more at risk of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations.

The ATT includes a number of robust rules to stop the flow of arms to countries when it is known they would be used for further atrocities. 

The treaty has swiftly won widespread support from the international community, including five of the top 10 arms exporters – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The United States, by far the largest arms producer and exporter, is among 58 additional countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty. However, other major arms producers like China, Canada and Russia have so far resisted signing or ratifying.

One of the ATT’s objectives is “to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion”, so governments have a responsibility to take measures to prevent situations where their arms deals lead to human rights abuses.

Having rigorous controls in place will help ensure that states can no longer simply open the floodgates of arms into a country in conflict or whose government routinely uses arms to repress peoples’ human rights.

The more states get on board the treaty, and the more robust and transparent the checks and balances are, the more it will bring about change in the murky waters of the international arms trade. It will force governments to be more discerning about who they do business with.

The international community has so far failed the people of Syria and Iraq, but the ATT provides governments with a historic opportunity to take a critical step towards protecting civilians from such horrors in the future. They should grab this opportunity with both hands.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Deliberate Targeting of Water Sources Worsens Misery for Millions of Syrianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/deliberate-targeting-of-water-sources-worsens-misery-for-millions-of-syrians/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 22:34:41 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142149 The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

The conflict in Syria has destroyed much of the country’s water infrastructure, leaving five million people suffering from a critical water shortage. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

Imagine having to venture out into a conflict zone in search of water because rebel groups and government forces have targeted the pipelines. Imagine walking miles in the blazing summer heat, then waiting hours at a public tap to fill up your containers. Now imagine realizing the jugs are too heavy to carry back home.

This scene, witnessed by an engineer with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is becoming all too common in embattled Syria. In this case, the child sent to fetch water was a little girl who simply sat down and cried when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to get the precious resource back to her family.

Compounded by a blistering heat wave, with temperatures touching a searing 40 degrees Celsius in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s water shortage is reaching critical levels, the United Nations said Wednesday.

In an Aug. 26 press relief, UNICEF blasted parties to the conflict for deliberately targeting the water supply, adding that it has recorded 18 intentional water cuts in Aleppo in 2015 alone.

Such a move – banned under international law – is worsening the misery of millions of war-weary civilians, with an estimated five million people enduring the impacts of long interruptions to their water supply in the past few months.

“Clean water is both a basic need and a fundamental right, in Syria as it is anywhere else,” Peter Salama, UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement today. “Denying civilians access to water is a flagrant violation of the laws of war and must end.”

In some communities taps have remained dry for up to 17 consecutive days; in others, the dry spell has lasted over a month.

Often times the task of fetching water from collection points or public taps falls to children. It is not only exhausting work, but exceedingly dangerous in the conflict-ridden country. UNICEF says that three children have died in Aleppo in recent weeks while they were out in search of water.

In cities like Aleppo and Damascus, as well as the southwestern city of Dera’a, families are forced to consume water from unprotected and unregulated groundwater sources. Most likely contaminated, these sources put children at risk of water-borne diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea.

With supply running so low and demand for water increasing by the day, water prices have shot up – by 3,000 percent in places like Aleppo – making it even harder for families to secure this life-sustaining resource.

Ground fighting and air raids have laid waste much of the country’s water infrastructure, destroying pumping stations and severing pipelines at a time when municipal workers cannot get in to make necessary repairs.

To top it off, the all-too-frequent power cuts prevent technicians and engineers from pumping water into civilian areas.

UNICEF has trucked in water for over half-a-million people, 400,000 of them in Aleppo. The agency has also rehabilitated 94 wells serving 470,000 people and distributed 300,000 litres of fuel to beef up public water distribution systems in Aleppo and Damascus, where the shortage has impacted 2.3 million and 2.5 million people respectively. In Dera’a, a quarter of a million people are also enduring the cuts.

A 40-billion-dollar funding gap is preventing UNICEF from revving up its water, hygiene and sanitation operations around Syria. To tackle the crisis in Aleppo and Damascus alone the relief agency says it urgently needs 20 million dollars – a request that is unlikely to be met given the funding shortfall gripping humanitarian operations across the U.N. system.

Overall, water availability in Syria is about half what it was before 2011, when a massive protest movement against President Bashar al-Assad quickly turned into a violent insurrection that now involves over four separate armed groups including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Well into its fifth year, the war shows no sign of abating.

As the U.N. marks World Water Week (Aug. 23-28) its eyes are on the warring parties in Syria who must be held accountable for using water to achieve their military and political goals.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142147 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142136 Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Military Sanctions on Syria May Face Veto by Arms Supplierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 20:24:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142130 A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

The staggering statistics emerging from the ongoing five-year-old military conflict in Syria – including over 220,000 killed, more than one million injured and about 7.6 million displaced – are prompting calls for a United Nations arms embargo on the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers." -- Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch
But any proposed military sanctions will continue to hit a major roadblock because of opposition by Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), and the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, badly in need of refurbishing or replacements.

As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

According to the latest report by Forecast International, a defence market research firm in the United States, Syria once hosted about 3,000 to 4,000 military advisers, mostly stationed in Damascus.

The Russians also forgave about 9.8 billion dollars in military debts (incurred during the Soviet era) paving the way for new arms agreements back in January 2005 – and ensuring Syria’s military survival against a rash of anti-Assad militant groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS Russia’s resistance to an arms embargo is a given, but Syria’s flaunting of the laws-of-war and of Security Council resolutions require a real response, not just more rhetoric.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers,” she said, adding: “Would such a step make a difference?”

Hicks pointed out that arms embargoes are not a perfect solution, but are a simple measure that doesn’t cost much to implement, and it would make it harder for the government to acquire new arms it could use to attack civilians.

“Action by the Security Council to impose an arms embargo would also send a strong message to Syria that its indiscriminate attacks on civilians must end. So why not impose one?” she asked.

Addressing the Security Council last November, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman pointed out the effectiveness of U.N.-imposed sanctions – from Afghanistan and Angola to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

“We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works,” he said.

Since the first U.N. sanctions were imposed on Southern Rhodesia in 1966, there have been 25 sanctions regimes – either in support of conflict resolution, countering terrorism or to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, there are 15 sanctions regime in place – the highest number in the history of the United Nations.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, both Russia and China have jointly vetoed four resolutions aimed at penalizing the Assad regime, the last one being in May 2014.

China, which supports the Assad regime, is not an arms supplier to Syria.

In a statement released last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an arms embargo on Syria following repeated air attacks on market places and residential neighbourhoods, which killed at least 112 civilians.

“Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks.”

On Feb. 22, 2014, the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment.”

In August, following attacks on civilians, the Security Council issued a presidential statement reiterating its demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians as well as any indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas.

HRW said Security Council members, including Russia, which has shielded the Syrian government from sanctions and accountability, should take immediate steps to enforce that demand.

In addition to an arms embargo, the Security Council should apply the same level of scrutiny it has put in place for chemical attacks to all indiscriminate attacks by monitoring these attacks, attributing responsibility for them, and sanctioning those responsible.

The Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, HRW said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Children of the World – We are Standing Watch for Youhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-children-of-the-world-we-are-standing-watch-for-you/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:48:05 +0000 Oscar Arias Sanchez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142106

Oscar Arias, former President of Costa Rica (1986-1990 and 2006-2010) and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, wrote this opinion piece to accompany the First Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty (Cancún, Mexico, 24-27 August 2015).

By Oscar Arias Sanchez
SAN JOSE, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Twenty-eight years ago this month, an indigenous woman stood in the plaza in Guatemala City, watching as the presidents of Central America walked out into the street after signing the Peace Accords that would end the civil wars in our region. When I reached her, she took both my hands in hers and said, “Thank you, Mr. President, for my child who is in the mountains fighting, and for the child I carry in my womb.”

Oscar Arias

Oscar Arias

I don’t need to tell you that I have wondered about that woman’s children ever since. I never met them, but those children of conflict are never far from my thoughts. Those children, and others like them, were the audience of the peace treaty I had drafted. They were its true authors, its reason for being. Theirs were the human lives behind every letter we put onto the page, every word we negotiated.

For the presidents who signed the treaty, achieving peace was the most important challenge of our lives. For those children, it was life or death.

But our victory for peace in 1987 did not fully safeguard those children, or millions more like them, because the weapons that had poured into our region during our conflicts did not disappear when the white flag was raised.

For years after arms suppliers channelled weapons to armies or paramilitary forces during the 1980s, those weapons were found in the hands of the gangs that roamed the countryside of Nicaragua, or of teenage boys on the streets of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa. Other weapons were shipped to guerrilla or paramilitary groups, as well as drug cartels in Colombia, ready to destroy yet more lives.“Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons”

We had walked into a new era of peace, but the weapons of the past were shackles at our feet.

As I watched this happen in my region, I also learned that the international trade in arms, free from any regulations whatsoever, was feeding unnecessary violence like this all over the world.

Throughout modern history, we have, in effect, told the children of the world that while we will regulate the international trade in food and textiles and any other product under the sun, we are not interested in regulating the international trade in deadly weapons, even when those weapons are being sold to dictators or other violators of human rights, or placed directly into the hands of child soldiers.

So, in 1997, I began my call for a treaty to regulate the trade of arms. I was quickly joined by fellow Nobel Peace laureates, and then by friends and allies all over the world. On Christmas Eve 2014, the International Arms Trade Treaty finally took effect. And now, in Cancún, Mexico, between Aug. 24 and 27, the first-ever Conference of Parties to the Treaty is being held so that its implementation can move forward.

I never thought I would see this day; I am delighted that I have. I am also filled with new determination to make sure that the treaty lives up to its potential.

For the treaty is a powerful tool, but it will only protect our children if we give it teeth. It will only protect our children if we implement it fully. It will only protect our children if we ensure that consensus is not used as an excuse for inaction.

I urge the 72 nations that have ratified the treaty to define an alternative to consensus so that one party cannot paralyse implementation. The perfect is the enemy of the good – and in this case, with human lives depending on our swift resolution of pending issues, inaction would be anything but perfect. It would be a travesty.

We must also continue to raise our voices in the face of tremendous opposition from groups that continue to oppose the treaty, arguing that it infringes upon national sovereignty. Quite the opposite is true: no sane definition of national sovereignty includes the right to sell arms for the violation of human rights in other countries. A nation willing to carry out such an act is not defending itself, but rather infringing upon the sovereignty of other nations that only want to live in peace.

We must also avoid using the danger and terrorism in the world today as an excuse for lack of regulation. Cicero’s famous phrase “silent enimleges inter armas” – among arms, laws are silent – has often been used to support the mind-set that the law does not apply during times of war.

But it is at times of war that the law must speak most bravely. When weapons are circulating freely into the worst possible hands, the law must speak. When the lives of the innocent are placed in danger by an absence of regulation, the law must speak.

And we must speak, today – in favour of this crucial treaty, and its swift and effective implementation. If we do, then when today’s children of conflict look to us for guidance and leadership, we will no longer look away in shame. We will be able to tell them, at long last, that we are standing watch for them. We are on guard. Someone is finally ready to take action. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142089 Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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UK, France Agree to New Measures to Tackle Migration Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 20:22:13 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142087 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

In response to the rapidly growing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers flooding European shores, France and the UK have announced new measures to crack down on English Channel crossings.

The deal consists of a new joint command and control centre in the northern French port city of Calais that aims to “relentlessly pursue and disrupt the callous criminal gangs that facilitate and profit from the smuggling of vulnerable people, often with total disregard for their lives,” Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May stated during a press conference Thursday.

Calais has become the focal point of a growing migration crisis, largely fueled by wars, hunger and political repression driving hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians out of countries like Syria, Libya, Sudan and other states across the Middle East and Africa.

An estimated 3,000 refugees live in makeshift tents in French port city.

The agreement also includes tough security measures such as increased police numbers, fencing, and CCTV to secure the Channel’s tunnel. The UK government has also pledged to establish a fast-track asylum process and to fund return flights for migrants. Britain plans to contribute 11.2 million dollars to the effort.

“Our joint approach rests on securing the border, identifying and safeguarding the vulnerable, preserving access to asylum for those who need it and giving no quarter to those who have no right to be here or who break the law,” said May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in the 6-page agreement.

However, Calais is only one of many regions seeing increased migration.

The European Union’s border agency Frontex declared on Aug. 18 that in the month of July alone, some 107,500 migrants crossed into Europe, more than triple the figure in July 2014, representing the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008 that new arrivals surpassed the 100,000 mark in a single month.

What will the new agreement mean for Eritreans?

Many of the migrants that make the perilous crossing into Europe are from Eritrea. Each month, approximately 5,000 Eritreans leave the small country of six million people in the Horn of Africa, reported a U.N. commission of inquiry on June 2015.

In a migration pattern report, Frontex found that Eritrean refugees were the second largest group in 2014 to have migrated to Europe, after Syrians.

Eritreans flee to escape gross human rights violations committed by the Eritrean government.

In the 2015 inquiry report, the U.N. commission found cases of extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labour, enforced disappearance, as well as restrictions on speech, religious expression, and movement.

The commission also detailed the Eritrean government’s policy of military conscription, which forces men and women into national service indefinitely. This has prompted thousands of young Eritreans to flee the country.

Though the U.N. commission recognised that military conscription of citizens is a “prerogative of sovereign States,” it stated that it still involves the unlawful denial of freedoms and rights.

The commission concluded that the Eritrean government’s human rights restrictions could constitute crimes against humanity.

As a result, Eritreans migrate to Europe via neighboring countries of Sudan and Egypt. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, expressed concern over the human rights abuses in Eritrea to the General Assembly in 2013, stating, “The fact that they have crossed borders is indicative of the scale of despair these children are facing at home.”

The journey is not without its risks. Human Rights Watch has reported the brutal trafficking and torture of Eritreans for ransom money. Refugees also face the threat of treacherous boat accidents such as the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck that killed over 350 Eritreans.

But many are willing to face such dangers. While speaking to the Guardian, an Eritrean refugee discussed the decision to migrate to Europe, stating: “I have two choices – one is to die, the other is to live. If I die at sea, it won’t be a problem – at least I won’t be tortured.”

Such sentiments are heard often among refugees and asylum seekers who are increasingly risking hazardous journeys on makeshift vessels to escape brutal, degrading or even deadly conditions in their home countries.

In response to the situation in Calais, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee Programme Director Steve Symonds said that May must drop “tough” rhetoric on refugees and discuss “how the UK can save lives and protect the vulnerable.”

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 3,000 asylum seekers entering the UK in the first three months of 2015 were Eritrean, constituting the majority of applicants.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zoneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142076 Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:16:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142073 The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

Aid groups say Monday’s bombing of the Houthi rebel-controlled Red Sea port by Saudi military jets has greatly worsened the risk of continued suffering, since the port served as the main entry point for shipments of humanitarian supplies.

In a statement published shortly after the airstrikes, Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage at Hodeida but we can’t lose a day; time is running out for Yemen’s children who are already at risk of starvation, disease, and abuse.”

He said there are already 5.9 million children going hungry, 624,000 displaced and about 7.3 million sick and wounded kids who are not receiving medical attention.

Even as civilians’ needs multiply, funding for the humanitarian response remains slow.

U.N. agencies say they have only received 282 million dollars for the response plan, just 18 percent of the 1.6-billion-dollar sum requested. Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge of 274 million dollars it will only bring funding up to 33 percent of the total required to adequately meet the crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday its operations, too, are “grossly underfunded”; the agency has received just 16 percent of an urgent 182.6-million-dollar funding appeal.

The scale and rapid escalation of the conflict has much of the international community stunned. President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said after a three-day visit to Yemen earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the situation for civilians, which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Having witnessed the destruction first-hand he added in a press interview on Aug. 19, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

O’Brien described the southern port city of Aden as a “shattered” metropolis, “where unexploded ordnance litter the streets and buildings”; while the city of Sana’a is pock-marked with craters left by airstrikes.

While humanitarian groups struggle to provide life-saving supplies, human rights watchdogs say the combination of Saudi-coalition-led airstrikes from above and fighting between pro- and anti Houthi armed groups on the ground have put civilians in an impossible situation.

A new Amnesty International report documenting what the organisation calls a “gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction” suggests that unlawful attacks by all parties may amount to war crimes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Relief Agency Pledges to Open Schools ‘On Time’ for Half a Million Palestinian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142054 Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming a serious funding shortfall, and caught between numerous regional conflicts, the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees announced on Aug. 19 that it would nevertheless open schools on time for the roughly half-a-million children who rely on the international community for their education.

In a statement released today, the cash-strapped U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) promised to start the school year on schedule, allowing over 500,000 kids in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to return to their classrooms between Aug. 24 and Sept. 13.

Established in 1949 to address the needs of some five million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs 685 schools across Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday.

For months both UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have stressed the importance of uninterrupted schooling for Palestinian refugees, and warned of the risks of allowing a generation of young people to be forgotten.

Congratulating UNRWA on its tireless efforts, Ban said in a statement Wednesday, “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions”, adding: “[For Palestine refugees] education is a passport to dignity. We must stand by them and the agency that serves them.”

Ban thanked member states for their contributions to UNRWA’s coffers, which include a 19-million-dollar contribution from Saudi Arabia and 15 million dollars each from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

To date, the agency has received contributions amounting to 78.9 billion dollars, or just over 75 percent of the 101-million-dollar deficit. The money will go towards fulfilling UNRWA’s mandate of providing health care, relief and social services, camp improvement and education.

Numerous obstacles stand between Palestinian children and their classrooms. In documenting some of these challenges, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lists such issues as military incursions; demolitions of schools buildings; restrictions on movement or limited access to school premises; and damage and destruction of school property.

A 2013 UNICEF report entitled Education Under Occupation revealed that 38 schools serving approximately 3,000 children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “have been issued either verbal and/or written stop-work or demolition orders by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).”

In the 2011-2012 period, UNICEF recorded 63 instances of “denial of access” to education in the Occupied Territories, which affected over 34,000 Palestinian students.

During the seven-week-long conflict in Gaza last summer some 327 schools were partially or completely obliterated, according to a 2015 UNICEF update, stripping thousands of kids of their only protective environment.

The situation is even more precarious for Palestinian refugees, who are often closer to the frontlines of conflict and thereby face greater risks in their quest to gain a decent education.

For instance in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, home to an estimated 16,000 Palestinians, all 28 schools have been closed and the only education opportunities exist in the form of informal classes conducted by volunteer teachers in 10 “safe spaces”, according to a report by the Guardian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Writing on the Western Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:40:57 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142045 Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

The writing on the Western Wall is evident to most Israelis: “דמוגרפיה היא גורל” or “demography is destiny”. Those unwilling to acknowledge the prophetic message are either deceiving themselves or simply ignoring it in order to avoid facing the implications of demography for Israel’s future.

In order to be both a Jewish and democratic state, Israel has adhered to a clear demographic principle:  maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority. During the first few decades following its establishment in 1948, the proportions Jewish among the several million Israelis remained at record highs of nearly 90 percent (Figure 1).In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo.

Since then, even with the large-scale Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Jewish proportion in Israel, while still a sizeable majority, has declined steadily. Today the proportion Jewish among the Israeli population of more than eight million is at an historic low of 75 percent.

Although the country’s Jewish majority will likely continue to decline slightly over the next 20 years, it is expected to remain over 70 percent according to official Israeli population projections. Those projections, however, assume that no significant numbers of non-Jews outside pre-1967 Israel are granted Israeli citizenship. If this assumption is relaxed, very different demographic futures emerge for Israel.

The Israeli population, for example, could be combined with the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to form a single state with universal suffrage, in other words the one-state solution. While the expanded nation would continue to be democratic in principle, it would no longer be a Jewish state because the majority of the enlarged Israeli population would no longer be Jewish.

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

A more likely possibility perhaps would be for the Palestinians in the West Bank to be granted Israeli citizenship. At least during the first couple of decades of such a scenario, Jewish Israelis would retain their majority, being slightly above half of the total population.

However, after several decades, Jewish Israelis would likely turn out to be the minority due to higher rates of demographic growth among their non-Jewish compatriots. Here again, an expanded Israel enfranchising large numbers of non-Jews would continue to be a democracy but would eventually cease to be a predominantly Jewish state.

The current Israeli government does not envisage the establishment of a Palestinian state any time in the foreseeable future. Although some Israeli politicians have called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, key Israeli government officials and their pivotal supporters believe that it would be collective suicide for Israel to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. They prefer to annex West Bank land, or Judea and Samaria using their terminology, which some contend is already the de facto case.

In addition, a majority of the Israeli public view reaching a peace agreement with a two-state solution as a pipedream and many are opposed to a two-state solution. Any support voiced by Israelis for a two-state solution invariably evaporates when the details of a possible peace agreement are spelled out, such as the sharing of Jerusalem, removing Israeli settlements or returning to some pre-1967 borders.

Also, more than 120 government-approved Israeli settlements and 100 unofficial ones have been established in the West Bank. The growing Israeli settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is estimated at approximately 750,000. In the West Bank alone, the number of settlers has more than doubled since 1995 to about 400,000.

It appears highly unlikely that Israel will be able to withdraw its Jewish settlers from the occupied land as it did in 2005 when it withdrew with some difficulty about 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Despite the government’s opposition, public resistance and the ever-expanding demographic facts on the occupied ground, the two-state solution continues to be kept on life support largely through the sponsorship, funds and hopes of the international community, in particular the United States and its Western allies.

The ostensible reason for keeping this all-but-dead diplomatic path alive is to avoid confronting the inevitable alternatives to the failed attempts to establish a separate Palestinian state.

Soon, however, the two-state solution will be given its formal funeral, especially as peace talks have collapsed and the Israeli occupation is approaching its 50th anniversary. When this happens, the options remaining for the Israelis will be limited and difficult with the one-state solution with its eventual Palestinian majority loudly knocking at Israel’s front doorstep.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo. The Israeli government will likely continue to enforce its costly and troubling occupation and control over millions of Palestinians, expand and increase Jewish settlements and consolidate its presence and authority throughout Jerusalem. However, those and related acts will in all likelihood only exacerbate an already vexing and volatile situation.

Attempts to preserve the status quo will lead to the numerous Jewish settlements becoming increasingly entrenched and entangled in the West Bank. The living conditions and disposition of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will worsen and their human rights concerns can be expected to rise to the top of the international community’s political agenda.

Israeli administrative decisions, Knesset bills and judicial pronouncements can neither dismiss nor repeal the laws of demography. No doubt some will choose to challenge the numbers and their significance, contending that under any foreseeable demographic circumstances Israel will remain a democratic and Jewish nation.

Inevitably, however, and likely sooner rather than later the Israeli government will be obliged to acknowledge the writing on the Western Wall and address demography’s decisive implications for the future of Israel.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan Falters in the Face of Intensifying Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:40:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142041 This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the number of civilians impacted by the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan rises along with the fighting, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded, hungry and displaced.

The first half of 2015 has seen “record high levels” of civilian casualties, the United Nations relief agency said Tuesday, with civilian deaths touching 1,592 and total non-combatant casualties standing at over 4,900 – a one-percent increase compared to the number of casualties in the same period in 2014.

Fresh fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab and Nangarhar are indicative of the geographic spread of the conflict, while tensions and sporadic clashes all across the central regions are forcing huge numbers of civilians from their homes.

An estimated 103,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in 2015 alone, including from locations hitherto untouched by forced population movements including Badakshan, Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar and Badgis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its mid-year review released on Aug. 18.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen.

Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering.

Funding for every single relief “cluster” identified by OCHA is failing to keep pace with civilians’ needs. So far, the U.N. has received only 3.5 million dollars of the required 40 million dollars for provision of emergency housing, while funding for food security and health are falling short by 56 million and 29 millions dollars respectively.

Far more refugees have returned to the country, primarily from Pakistan, in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, with 43,695 returnees as of July 2015 compared to 9,323 in 2014.

OCHA noted, “Overall return and deportee rates of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan stand at 319,818 people. At the same time, over 73,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan, which is on average six times higher per day than in 2014.”

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.

As is always the case, providing adequate water and sanitation facilities is one of the top priorities of the humanitarian plan in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, but though the U.N. has put forward a figure of 25 million dollars for this purpose, only 15 million dollars are currently available.

“An increase in people requiring humanitarian assistance coupled with insufficient funding for food security agencies, particularly WFP [the World Food Programme], means that programmes for conflict IDPs, vulnerable returnees, refugees and malnourished children are all seriously under-resourced and in some cases have been terminated,” the report revealed.

Data on affected populations are believed to be incomplete owing largely to inaccessibility of the most heavily embattled regions, prompting U.N. officials to warn that the real number of people in need of critical, lifesaving services and supplies could be even higher than current estimates.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that civilian casualties in the first six months of 2015 saw an increase of 43 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

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U.N. Marks Humanitarian Day Battling Its Worst Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:42:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142034 Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is commemorating World Humanitarian Day with “inspiring” human interest stories of survival – even as the world body describes the current refugee crisis as the worst for almost a quarter of a century.

The campaign, mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is expected to flood social media feeds with stories of both resilience and hope from around the world, along with a musical concert in New York.“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it's simply not enough to meet the growing needs.” -- Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam

“It’s true we live in a moment in history where there’s never been a greater need for humanitarian aid since the United Nations was founded,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

“And every day, I talk about people and I use numbers, and the numbers are numbing, right — 10,000, 50,000,” he laments.

But as U.N. statistics go, the numbers are even more alarming than meets the eye: more than 4.0 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (not including the hundreds who are dying in mid-ocean every week as they try to reach Europe and escape the horrors of war at home).

And more troubling, at least an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria – all of them in need of humanitarian assistance—and over 220,000 have been killed in a military conflict now on its fifth year.

The U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said “with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced around the world, we face a crisis on a scale not seen in generations.”

In early August, O’Brien decided to release some 70 million dollars from a U.N. reserve fund called the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – primarily for chronically underfunded aid operations.

Besides Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, the humanitarian crisis has also impacted heavily on Sudan, South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Chad, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Bangladesh, among others.

Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam International, told IPS the international humanitarian system created decades ago has saved countless lives but today, the humanitarian system is “overwhelmed and underfunded” at a time when natural hazards are projected to increase in both frequency and severity at the same time as the world must respond to unprecedented protracted crises like the conflict in Syria.

“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it’s simply not enough to meet the growing needs,” he said.

The United Nations and the greater humanitarian system, he pointed out, needs to be reformed to be more efficient and to better respond to needs by supporting local leadership and capacity and funding programmes that help communities reduce the impact of disasters before emergencies occur.

Meanwhile, the #ShareHumanity social media campaign, currently underway, hopes to build momentum towards the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Istanbul next May.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this year’s World Humanitarian Day campaign, beginning Aug. 19, reflects a world where humanitarian needs are far outstripping the aid community’s capacity to help the millions of people affected by natural disasters, conflict, hunger and disease.

Oxfam’s Gottschalk told IPS World Humanitarian Day is an important opportunity to stop and honour the brave women and men who work tirelessly around the world every day to save lives in incredibly difficult circumstances.

He said local humanitarian workers are often the first to respond when a crisis hits and rarely get the recognition, and most importantly, the support they deserve to lead responses in their own countries.

Oxfam has been making a strong push for mandatory contributions from U.N. Member States to fund humanitarian responses, which it says, will provide a more consistent and robust funding stream.

More of that funding should flow directly to the local level, and be allocated more transparently so that donors can track impact and local communities can follow the aid and hold their leaders accountable and demand results, he noted.

Gottschalk said millions of people around the world depend on the global humanitarian system, and this is in no small part due to the committed and compassionate people who are struggling to make the system work despite declining resources and increasing need.

These reforms will make the system more effective and better equip these dedicated humanitarians to save lives and ease suffering, he declared.

The ongoing military conflicts have also claimed the lives of hundreds of health workers, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.

In 2014 alone, WHO said it received reports of 372 attacks in 32 countries on health workers, resulting in 603 deaths and 958 injuries, while similar incidents have been recorded this year.

“WHO is committed to saving lives and reducing suffering in times of crisis. Attacks against health care workers and facilities are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, in a statement released to mark World Humanitarian Day.

She said health workers have an obligation to treat the sick and injured without discrimination. “ All parties to conflict must respect that obligation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Prospects for Peace in South Sudan Fading Fasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 13:29:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142024 A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

By a Global Information Network correspondent
JUBA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Dismissing efforts, including those of U.S. President Barack Obama, to sign off on a peace agreement and end the 20-month-long civil war in the world’s newest nation, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declined to sign, saying he needed more time for consultations.

President Kiir’s team reportedly had “reservations” over the deal and wanted an additional 15 days before returning to sign, Seyoum Mesfin, mediator for IGAD, a regional group, told the media.

Rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar did sign the agreement.

Among the issues in dispute were the structure of the government, the powers of the president, and the vice president, power-sharing percentages, security issues, and the demilitarisation of Juba and other places.

Then, in a move that would add fuel to the fire, President Kiir on Monday removed four elected state governors and arrested one of them.

The actions by the South Sudanese leader threw the U.S. strategy into a tailspin. A State Department release expressed “deep regret” for the failure to sign a peace proposal by Monday’s deadline.

“The United States deeply regrets that the government of South Sudan chose not to sign … We call on the government to sign the agreement within the 15-day period it requested for consultations,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at his daily briefing.

Meanwhile, a film that shows that cost of war and colonial exploitation in South Sudan, opened in New York on Monday. The film, “We Come As Friends” is a work by Austrian-born filmmaker Hubert Sauper who previously made the film “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a film about Uganda.

That film, nominated for the Academy Award, “sifted through the wreckage of globalization by way of the fishing export industry in Lake Victoria, the impact on local Tanzanians, and a fast-and-loose subculture of Russian cargo-plane pilots.

“We Come as Friends” is firmly rooted in reality, wrote The New York Times in a review. “The ‘land grab’ confirmed in the nighttime scene with the tribal leader has occurred frequently, in Sudan and elsewhere, said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the think tank Oakland Institute, which has studied such issues.

“It’s not one of a kind — it’s not a small trend; it’s widespread,” Ms. Mittal said of the kind of “resource theft” that Sauper depicts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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World’s Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Cyber-Attackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 18:13:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142016 Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. The IAEA has reported cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear plants. Credit: Stefan Kühn/cc by 2.0

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. The IAEA has reported cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear plants. Credit: Stefan Kühn/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

As hackers continue to rampage through closely-guarded information systems and databases with monotonous regularity, there is a tempting new target for cyber-attacks: the world’s nuclear facilities.

A warning has already been sounded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has urged the world community to intensify efforts to protect nuclear facilities from possible attacks.“We need to drain the swamp and stop developing technologies that are vulnerable to catastrophic attacks." -- Randy Rydell

Pointing out the nuclear industry was not immune to such attacks, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano says there should be a serious attempt at protecting nuclear and radioactive material – since “reports of actual or attempted cyber-attacks are now virtually a daily occurrence.”

The United States, whose defence networks at the Pentagon and also its intelligence agencies have already been compromised by hackers largely from Russia and China, is increasingly concerned about possible cyber-attacks by terrorist organisations – specifically the Islamic State (IS) with its heavy and sophisticated presence on social media.

Ironically, the United States reportedly collaborated with Israel to launch a virus attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme years ago.

Tariq Rauf, director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS nuclear power plants and the nuclear industry rely intensively on computer systems and computer codes.

“Any corruption, malware or targeted attacks potentially could have catastrophic consequences for nuclear safety and security,” he warned.

In this regard, he said, it is deplorable that Israel and the United States targeted Iran’s uranium enrichment programme in past years with malware and viruses, thus initiating unprovoked cyber warfare, he added.

Stuxnet, the computer virus introduced into the Iranian nuclear programme by these two countries, has now escaped into other programmes in other countries, said Rauf, the former head of IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination unit.

“This clearly demonstrates that cyber warfare agents cannot be contained, can spread uncontrollably and can potentially create many hazards for critical infrastructure in the nuclear field,” he said.

He said cyber warfare at the state level is much more dangerous and difficult to defend against than cyber-attacks by hackers, though the hacking of nuclear safety and security systems by amateurs or criminals also pose major risks for radioactive and nuclear materials.

Randy Rydell, a former senior political officer at the U.N’s Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA), told IPS the real question here is not capabilities but motivation: “Why would someone wish to launch such an attack?”

The answer, he said, is political.

“We need to drain the swamp and stop developing technologies that are vulnerable to catastrophic attacks,” said Rydell, former senior counsellor and Report Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

IAEA’s Amano pointed out that last year alone there were cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear power plants, with such facilities being specifically targeted.

He said staff responsible for nuclear security should know how to repel cyber-attacks and to limit the damage, if systems are actually penetrated.

“The IAEA is doing what it can to help governments, organisations, and individuals adapt to evolving technology-driven threats from skilled cyber adversaries,” he added.

At the next IAEA ministerial conference, scheduled for December 2016, one of topics for discussion would be how best to elaborate a Code of Conduct for Cyber Security for the Nuclear Industry.

Asked about the cyber capability of terrorist groups and their use of social media, Admiral Cecil Haney, commander U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters last March the Islamic State (IS) and various other organisations have been able to recruit and threaten – “and so we see more and more sophistication associated with that.”

“This is something that we look at very, very closely,” he said, pointing out that U.S. Cyber Command, as well as its interagency team, is working on this.

“And, quite frankly, it is looked at on a day-to-day basis,” he added.

In one of the major breaches of security, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which maintains security clearance for millions of federal employees, was one of the targets of hackers last year.

“The threat we face is ever-evolving,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters last June. “We understand that there is persistent risk out there and we take it seriously,” he added.

But cyber-attacks are also increasingly a policy decision by governments in the United States, Western Europe, Russia and China, as a means of fighting back when attacked.

SIPRI’s Rauf said the IAEA is recognised as playing the central role in setting nuclear security standards for peaceful nuclear activities and has issued guidance documents in this regards for operators of nuclear facilities.

Addressing the IAEA International Conference on Computer Security in a Nuclear World, held in Vienna on June 1, Amano correctly drew attention to the risks and dangers of actual or attempted cyber-attacks against nuclear power plants and the nuclear industry, he noted.

Amano said that “computers play an essential role in all aspects of the management and safe and secure operation of nuclear facilities, including maintaining physical protection, and thus it is vitally important that all such systems are properly secured against malicious intrusions”.

In a statement released last month, the White House said that from the beginning of his current administration, President Barack Obama “has made it clear that cyber security is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation.”

In response, “the U.S. Government has implemented a wide range of policies, both domestic and international, to improve our cyber defences, enhance our response capabilities, and upgrade our incident management tools.”

As the cyber threat continues to increase in severity and sophistication, so does the pace of the Administration’s efforts, the White House noted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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