Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 03 Aug 2015 23:46:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.6 Churches Seek to Amplify Echo of Hiroshima and Nagasakihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/churches-seek-to-amplify-echo-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:56:27 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141855 The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

The Atomic Bomb Dome serves as a memorial to the people who died in the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, Japan. The building was the only structure left standing near the bomb’s hypocentre. Credit: Courtesy of Barbara Dunlap-Berg, UMNS

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

The accounts of survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki will serve as inspiration for leaders of Christian churches grouped in the World Council of Churches (WCC), which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons.

A delegation of members of churches from Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, South Korea and the United States are making a pilgrimage to the two Japanese cities annihilated by atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.

“The generation of survivors of the atomic bombings are in their eighties, those that survived. And this generation is passing,” said Peter Prove, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the Geneva-based WCC, the largest and most international ecumenical body.

“But these are the real witnesses, those who could give testimony about the human impact of atomic weapons. And I think that we need to capture that moment and to amplify it,” he told IPS.

Bishop Mary-Ann Swenson of the United Methodist Church of the United States said “We will be in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to remember the horror of the atomic bomb.”

“As we gather in places devastated by the deadliest of weapons 70 years ago, we are aware that 40 governments still rely on nuclear weapons,” said Swenson, who is heading the pilgrimage.

“Nine states possess nuclear arsenals and 31 other states are willing to have the United States use nuclear weapons on their behalf,” she added.

Prove explained that the members of the delegation were carefully selected.

“The members of this delegation for this programmed visit are very strategically chosen. They come from countries that are nuclear powers, either historic ones from the War World Two period (1939-1945), like the USA, or more recent ones, like Pakistan, from outside the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) framework,” he said.

The rest of the delegations come from the group of 31 countries mentioned by Swenson: “…so-called ‘nuclear umbrella states’. States that are not nuclear armed themselves but who rely upon protection, if I can use that term, from other nuclear powers, in this case the U.S. especially,” Prove added.

The aim of the pilgrimage is for senior leaders of churches from the seven countries to experience the 70th anniversary of the bombings and to meet the Hibakushas, as the survivors are known.

On their return, “they will convey that message of human impact back to their own governments, back to their own communities, in the interest of trying to make the case for a legal ban on nuclear weapons,” Prove said.

The delegates will have to “point out that there is a legal gap, that all other major categories of weapons of mass destruction have a legal ban….which isn’t the case for nuclear weapons.”

“Churches are good networks for doing that, in their own communities and vis-à-vis their own governments in many countries,” said Prove.

The WCC delegation will meet with Hibakushas and with religious and social figures from Japan during the activities and ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary, whose central events will be held Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and Aug. 9 in Nagasaki.

The U.S. atomic attack left around 66,000 dead and 69,000 injured in Hiroshima – a total of 135,000 victims. In Nagasaki there were 64,000 victims: 39,000 killed and 25,000 injured.

With respect to the second phase of the church mission to Japan – advocating a ban on nuclear weapons in the rest of the world – Prove said the WCC’s strength is primarily its network of member churches around the world, much more than the Secretariat in Geneva.

“We do represent one quarter of global Christianity, 500 million people in 120 countries. So the real activity will be the extent to which those church leaders and their churches follow up with their own governments,” he said.

“And that would vary from country to country. Obviously a Norwegian church leader potentially has much greater access to influence their government than let’s say, a Pakistani church leader might do relative to their government.

“The World Council of Churches is itself a product of the post War World II period. It’s precisely because of the shock of the atrocities of the destruction of War World II that the WCC really ultimately came into existence,” Prove said.

“So, it’s a reaction to the genocide, to the Holocaust, it’s a reaction to the atomic bombings, it’s a reaction to global war and conflict in general.”

“The WCC has had a long-term commitment to working with civil society partners for nuclear disarmament, for the elimination of nuclear weapons,” he said.

“The lack of success in that project is really a function of the dysfunctionality of the international architecture for those processes,” he maintained.

As an example, he pointed to the collapse of the NPT review conference – the main nuclear disarmament negotiations – held Apr. 27-May 22 at United Nations headquarters in New York.

“The mechanisms for controlling and eliminating nuclear weapons do not function because they are in the hands of those states with an interest in maintaining nuclear weapons,” said Prove.

The WCC supports the global majority of states – 113 – that have signed the humanitarian pledge calling for a legal ban on nuclear weapons.

“So we have achieved a majority of states in support of this ban and we want to encourage a negotiation process for a legal ban on nuclear weapons. And we are hoping that this majority of states will exert their majority in that process,” he added.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Partnerships Critical to the SDGs, Reducing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:26:19 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141851 South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September.

In his inaugural address, Oh laid out his agenda, saying, “The Council will lead the efforts to build an inclusive and engaging global partnership – one that welcomes the significant contribution that all stakeholders can provide.”"We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.” -- Hahn Choong-hee

He has made the problem of inequality among and within nations his priority and announced that he is convening a special meeting of ECOSOC on this subject early next year.

In an interview with IPS, Oh’s Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee said, “Inequality has in the past been a separate discussion, however, it is now being discussed much more in the context of development.”

Explaining its importance of dealing with both development and inequality in a troubled world, Hahn said, “We cannot achieve a really peaceful and inclusive society without addressing violent extremism. At the same time, without achieving economic growth there are always isolated and marginalised groups which are more prone to violence, which makes it really difficult to counter violent extremism.”

Hahn, a career diplomat who has held senior positions in South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and served in Africa, Europe and America, stressed the importance of global partnership in pursuing the SDGs.

This requires three steps which must be accomplished.

The first is communicating the SDGs, so everybody understands what they stand for and hope to accomplish. However, there should also be conceptual understanding of the underlying issues such as social justice, inequality, and the economic, social, and environmental aspects.

Second, he said, all stakeholders, including civil society, NGOs, youth, media and academia, should participate in the process.

Third, everybody has something to contribute to the SDGs. “Whether it is financing from the private sector or technology and knowledge from academia and universities, everybody can contribute,” Hahn said.

Hahn touched on a range of issues of importance for the post-2015 agenda.

“Throughout the next 12 months we have many different processes to invite global partnerships, in which youth particularly will be extremely engaged. Society is very vocal about youth being a major player in the outcomes of development, especially in the next 15 years, but this is not just an issue to be talked about, but an issue to be acted on,” said Hahn.

He said motivating people for development was key, especially in rural areas. “This is an important engine. We have resources and technology, however, we cannot overcome this poverty without people understanding that we have to work together diligently. We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.”

Hahn also stressed the importance of democracy for development, citing the experience of his own country.

“Democracy means developing democratic institutions and rule of law to ensure that money which individuals earn through hard work will be protected… In (the Republic of) Korea’s development narrative, economic growth was advancing while the democratic process was lagging behind. However, when people have a good revenue and increased salary, they begin to want better protection systems for this income. What democracy means is protection and transparency.”

On how to deal with extremism, he said that education, media, migration and youth are four key areas in tackling the problem.

“Although we are talking about ‘Nobody Left Behind’ in the post-2015 agenda, in reality we need to leave behind the groups perpetuating violent extremism, in order to indicate that their argument is not acceptable to the international society,” Hahn said. “We have to isolate these groups.”

He added: “We have to teach young students about global citizenship. Critical thinking is very important when it comes to handling issues of violent extremism, to teach the youth that violent extremism is not workable with a peaceful and inclusive society.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Security Council Resolution on Airlines Disaster Debases U.N. Charterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-security-council-resolution-on-airlines-disaster-debases-u-n-charter/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-security-council-resolution-on-airlines-disaster-debases-u-n-charter http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-security-council-resolution-on-airlines-disaster-debases-u-n-charter/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 12:51:11 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141849 U.N. Security Council members observe a minute of silence at the start of the meeting to establish tribunal on downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The draft resolution failed to be adopted due to the veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

U.N. Security Council members observe a minute of silence at the start of the meeting to establish tribunal on downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. The draft resolution failed to be adopted due to the veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Somar Wijayadasa
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

On July 29 Russia vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution on the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine last year – killing all 298 people on board.

Of the 15 UNSC members, 11 voted in support of the Malaysia-proposed draft resolution, with Angola, Venezuela and China abstaining.The toxic game of political football has, unfortunately, dragged this on for over a year without any honest attempt to find out what happened.

Vetoing the draft UNSC resolution, the representative of Russia to the U.N., Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, noted that Russia had repeatedly said that it wouldn’t support the tribunal “due to the fact the UNSC resolution 2166 [of 2014] didn’t qualify the Boeing tragedy as a threat to international peace and security.”

While all sponsors of the draft resolution and the United States had harsh words condemning Russia’s veto, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said: “There can be no reason to oppose this [draft resolution] unless you are a perpetrator yourself.”

That is a preemptive judgement to blame Russia, ignoring the basic legal tenet that one is innocent until proven guilty.

The Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was shot down on July 17 as it was flying over a war zone, where Ukrainian armed forces and rebels were fighting using military aircraft.

The Ukrainian authorities and Western allies accuse the rebels in eastern Ukraine of downing the plane with a surface-to-air missile allegedly provided by Russia. But Moscow has rejected accusations it supplied the rebels with missile systems. The rebels too deny these accusations.

Meanwhile, Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ukraine are conducting a criminal inquiry into the cause of the crash but they have not yet established responsibility for the tragedy.

Separately, the Dutch Safety Board is due to release their official report on the cause of the crash by the end of this year.

It is regrettable that Russia was never allowed to participate in these investigations. Moscow has repeatedly warned against putting blame on anyone before these investigations into the crash have been completed.

Despite the veto, Churkin said, “Russia stands ready to cooperate in the conduct of a full independent and objective investigation of the reasons and circumstances of the crash”.

From the outset, the draft resolution was doomed to fail for three reasons: First, since these reports are still pending, Russians maintain the position that it was premature to set up an international tribunal.

Secondly, the U.N. Security Council last year unanimously adopted a resolution on this issue. And thirdly, the new draft resolution craftily claimed that the tragic downing of the Malaysian plane is a threat to international peace and security.

On July 21, 2014, the Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution 2166 that demanded that those responsible “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability”.

Therefore, it is surprising that a new draft resolution on the same subject surfaced this year with the contentious terminology “a threat to international peace and security”.

As Churkin clearly pointed out, “It is difficult to explain how the event, which wasn’t considered a threat to international peace and security a year ago, now suddenly becomes one.”

Churkin said that “This, in our view, indicates the fact that political purposes were more important for them than practical objectives. This of course is regrettable.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that “the idea to create such a tribunal is aimed at punishing those whom Washington considers to be guilty.”

Furthermore, Chapter VII, Articles 39 to 51 of the U.N. Charter do not provide for the establishment of international tribunals to investigate civil aviation catastrophes of this nature – whether deliberate or accidental.

In the past, there have been similar incidents with civilian aircraft, such as the explosion of the Pan American flight 103 by the Libyans in 1983; downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the U.S. in 1988; and the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007 by Soviet Union in 1983.

These were investigated according to internationally accepted rules, and the Security Council was not involved in investigations. Therefore, the call for an international tribunal on any pretext is nothing but confrontational.

According to the established rules and regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), it is the responsibility of the airline (Malaysian Airlines) as well as the country (Ukraine) in which the accident occurred to investigate as to what exactly happened.

Dutch investigators admit that the plane was shot down while flying over the conflict zone near Donetsk. It is not only an ICAO requirement but a well recognised international practice to inform ICAO and civilian airlines not to use airspace over conflict zones.

Both Ukraine and Malaysian Airlines failed to adhere to elementary rules. Ukraine warned civilian airlines not to use its airspace only after this accident occurred.

With my experience in the U.N. system for over 25 years, I am confident that the U.N. and ICAO could help establish an Independent Committee of International Aviation Experts to conduct a completely independent and transparent investigation – without undue political pressure – to find out who should be held responsible for this grave tragedy.

But the toxic game of political football has, unfortunately, dragged this on for over a year without any honest attempt to find out what happened.

All countries should bury their hatred and differences, and assist in the ongoing investigations to deliver justice to the families of the 298 innocent victims of the crash.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nigeria to Balance GHG Emission Cuts with Development Peculiaritieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nigeria-to-balance-ghg-emission-cuts-with-development-peculiarities/#comments Sun, 02 Aug 2015 11:13:43 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141838 Flooding in Nigerian villages is just one of the effects of climate change that the country will have to address in drawing up its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) for the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December: Credit: Courtesy of NDWPD, 2011

Flooding in Nigerian villages is just one of the effects of climate change that the country will have to address in drawing up its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) for the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris in December: Credit: Courtesy of NDWPD, 2011

By Ini Ekott
LAGOS, Aug 2 2015 (IPS)

Nigeria seems in no haste to unveil its climate pledge with just four months to go before the U.N. Climate Conference scheduled for December in Paris.

However, unlike Gabon, Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya – the only African nations yet to submit their commitments – Nigeria has just commissioned a committee of experts to draw up targets and responses for its “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs).

INDCS are the post-2020 climate actions that countries say they will take under a new international agreement to be reached at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris, and to be submitted to the United Nations by September."The whole exercise [of preparing INDCs] will consider some priority sectors, look at the baseline and look at our needs for development and see what we can put on the table that we are going to strive to mitigate in terms of greenhouse gases” – Samuel Adejuwon, Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Environment

Ahead of that date, Nigeria says its goals are clear: balancing post-2020 greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cut projections with its development peculiarities, according to Samuel Adejuwon, deputy director of the Federal Ministry of Environment’s Department of Climate Change in Abuja.

Nigeria is Africa’s fourth largest emitter of CO2, and there is no doubt climate change is already a problem it faces.

From the north, encroachment of the Sahara is helping to fuel a bloody insurgency by the jihadist group Boko Haram, as well as resource conflict between farmers and pastoralists in its central region, while the rise in ocean levels and flooding are affecting the south.

In a report issued in October 2014, the Mapelcroft global analytics company said that Nigeria, along with Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India and the Philippines, were the countries facing the greatest risk of climate change-fuelled conflict today.

Nigeria’s hopes for slashing its emission levels as part of its INDCs face several tests.

One is that for an economy almost solely dependent on oil – which accounts for a major portion of its 500 billion dollar gross domestic product (GDP), Africa’s highest – the commitment it takes to Paris will reflect how jettisoning fossil fuel cannot be an urgent priority and why doing so will require significant time and resources.

“The whole exercise will consider some priority sectors, look at the baseline and look at our needs for development and see what we can put on the table that we are going to strive to mitigate in terms of greenhouse gases,” says Adejuwon.

Another test is Nigeria’s energy shortage. The country produces about 4,000 megawatts for 170 million people, leaving much of the population reliant on wood, charcoal and waste to fulfil household energy needs such as cooking, heating and lighting.

In 2014, Nigerians used at least 12 million litres of diesel and petrol every day to drive back-up generators, according to former power Minister Chinedu Nebo. The country’s daily petrol consumption (cars included) stands at about 40 million litres, according to the state oil company, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

Cutting the level of pollution that this consumption causes will require big investments in renewable and cleaner energy, says Professor Olukayode Oladipo, a climate change expert and one of three consultants drawing up the INDCs for the government.

Last year, former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said the country needed 14 billion dollars each year in energy investments and related infrastructure.

Oladipo argues that the key to the issue lies in striking a balance between a future of lower greenhouse emissions and immediate developmental realities.

“Every country is now exploring how to use less energy … in an efficient manner, how to rely on renewable energy sources.” In Nigeria, we are looking at “how to be able to drive our economy through reduced energy consumption without actually reducing the rate at which our economy is growing.”

Last year, minister of power Chinedu Nebo said that while solar panels were welcome for use in shoring up generation in distant communities, the government will deploy coal in addition to the hydro power currently in use.

“There is no doubt that the potential is there. Clean coal technology can give us good electricity and minimum pollution at the same time,” he said.

Insecurity

Oladipo also stresses that besides fuel, Nigeria’s climate plans will focus on agriculture, partly to diversify from oil and also as a response to growing resource conflict.

“We are not saying it is the only determinant of crisis,” he says of climate change stoking conflict over resources, “but at least it is adding to the degree and the frequency of the occurrence of these conflicts.

Apart from Boko Haram activities in the north which have been responsible for at least 20,000 deaths, clashes between pastoralists and farmers over land has killed thousands in Nigeria’s central region in recent years.

In the latest attack in May this year, herdsmen from the Fulani tribe slaughtered at least 96 people in the central state of Benue, Nigeria’s Punch newspaper reported.

The government agrees that climate change is one of the causes of the frequent bloodletting, alongside factors like urbanisation, but not much has been done to address the problem.

Oladipo says he believes that Nigeria’s new leader, Muhammadu Buhari, will do more to address fundamental climate change issues, point out that in his inaugural address on May 29, Buhari pledged to be a more “forceful and constructive player in the global fight against climate change.”

However, Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation argues that proposals put forward by Nigeria and Africa can barely be achieved if the developed nations – the biggest polluters – fail to act more to meet their commitments and cut down on their emissions.

“Nigeria should insist that industrialised nations cut emissions at source and not place the burden on vulnerable nations,” says Bassey.

Urging action from those nations, including the United States, will form a key element of Nigerian and African INDCs, adds Oladipo.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Panel Spotlights Plight of Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:03:15 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141826 Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

“Let us remember that behind every story, every figure, every number, there is a person – a girl, a boy, a parent, a family,” Anne Christine Eriksson, Acting Director of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a panel discussion at the U.N. on Thursday.

Amidst the rising numbers of people forced to flee their homes, the event, titled on “The Plight of Refugees and Migrants: Assessing Global Trends and Humanitarian Responses,” aimed at raising awareness of the current global refugee crisis and discussing the most important challenges linked to it as well as ideas on how to tackle it.

As emphasised throughout the discussion, worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded due to new and ongoing conflicts, persecution and poverty. According to UNHCR’s recently released annual “Global Trends Report: World at War”, the number of people forcibly displaced reached a record high of 59.5 million by the end of 2014. This number was 51.2 million one year earlier and only 37.5 million a decade ago.

Apart from that, 2015 has also proven to be the deadliest year for migrants and asylum seekers. Over 900 migrants died in just a single incident in April 2015. One month later, thousands of fleeing Rohingya muslims were facing death from starvation in East Asia.

The international response to such crises has been inadequate, Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, said in her opening remarks.

“The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past and the U.N. is not without blame in this regard. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame.”

Speaking about challenges in addressing the global refugee crisis, participants and panelists highlighted in particular the strains on refugee-hosting countries in terms of infrastructure and education. Fears were also expressed that the mass movements would lead to spill-over effects and threaten the security of the whole region.

In this respect, lacking international solidarity in terms of burden-sharing was declared a major concern. Further problems expressed were donor fatigue and rising hostilities towards migrants on top of their human suffering.

Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N., named three examples that might represent upcoming opportunities to resolve the crisis. First, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building peaceful and inclusive societies, which can be used “to tackle the causes of these problems and not just the symptoms”, second, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul which brings together both the humanitarian and the development community and third, new innovative concepts such as providing migrants with direct cash.

Other ideas expressed during the discussion involve cooperating with all stakeholders concerned, including host governments, authorities on regional, local and national levels, the U.N. system as well as development organisations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the donor community.

Moreover, reframing the refugee crisis as security issue might help to convince voters and parliamentarians to spend more money on solving the crisis as an investment in security and thus allow for additional funding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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‘Ambassadors of Freedom’ – Palestine’s Resistance Babieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/ambassadors-of-freedom-palestines-resistance-babies/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 16:51:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141818 Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Karam and Adam, twin Palestinian babies born after their mother underwent IFV treatment using sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prison where their father has been held for the last 11 years. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
GAZA CITY, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

Thirteen-year-old Hula Khadoura sits on a large sofa in her grandfather’s home in the neighbourhood of Tuffah, Gaza City, her one-year-old twin brothers Karam and Adam on her lap. “I am so happy they arrived,” she beams, holding the babies’ feeding bottles in her hands.

There is an aura of mystery and something of the miraculous around the  twins’ births – their father, Saleh Khadoura, has spent the past 11 years in an Israeli prison and has had no physical contact with Hula’s mother, Bushra, since then.

Hula hears people refer to her brothers as ‘special babies’ but does not fully grasp what the fuss is about. She is completely unaware of the unusual obstacles her father’s sperm had to overcome to reach her mother’s eggs.“After the suffering I am put through with each visit [to her husband in an Israeli prison], with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken” – Bushra Abu Saafi

Freedom ambassadors

Bushra Abu Saafi, is one of around 30 Palestinian women who have conceived babies since 2013 with sperm smuggled out of the Israeli prisons in which their husbands are being held. She was only the second woman in Gaza to do this. Before her, two had tried but only one succeeded.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ NGO Addameer, there are currently some 5,750 Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel. Of these, roughly 5,550 are adult males.

Women whose husbands are serving decades-long sentences do not want to see their dream of starting a family, or increasing its size, taken away by the very same authorities that took away their husbands.

Until recently, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) was highly sceptical that sperm smuggling could be happening at all. Spokesperson Sivan Weizman told the press that tight security made it very unlikely. Recently, though, they have acknowledged that it may be an issue.

The Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, on the other hand, have never shown any doubt and have financially supported women wishing to try this very unconventional method of conceiving.

In May in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners even organised a collective birthday party for the little ‘ambassadors of freedom’, as babies born this way are often called.

Families apart

“It was my husband who suggested we try ‘in vitro fertilisation’ (IVF) treatment with his smuggled sperm,” Bushra Abu Saafi told IPS from her father’s apartment, where she lives with her five children.

The majority of Palestinian households have at least one relative in an Israeli prison. For a people under occupation, political prisoners become part of the collective identity, they are adopted by Palestinians as long lost brothers, sisters, mothers or fathers and are celebrated at Prisoners’ Day marches and recurring demonstrations.

In the private sphere, the prisoners continue to be individuals and occupy prominent places in the home. Their handicrafts are displayed with pride, their photos adorn each room and the vacuum they have left is still palpable.

A flowery picture frame with a photo of her smiling husband Saleh in his twenties sits on a side table in Bushra’s living room. He was arrested at the age of 23, accused of being part of the Islamic Jihad. They had been married for five years and only two of their children have had the privilege of spending some time with him as a family.

When Saleh was imprisoned, Bushra was pregnant with Ahmed. “It hasn’t been easy these past 11 years,” she told IPS.  “We miss him terribly, my son Ahmad especially. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘father’. He tells me ‘when I grow up I want to be like grandad’.”

Smuggling new life out of jail

Entering a fourth pregnancy was something Bushra did not take lightly and her father worried about the extra pressure. “When Saleh proposed this to me from prison, I was sceptical,” she confessed. “My family and I worried about what people would say. Imagine, pregnant with a husband in jail!”

She need not have worried. The advice she was given, like other women undergoing IVF in this way, was to tell everyone in her family and village that her husband’s sperm had been brought out and would be used for insemination. Since then, local media stations have helped spread the story and both Palestinian society and local religious authorities have been highly supportive.

“In the end, my father saw that it was my desire to try for another baby and eventually supported my choice,” Bushra said. It took two months and many tests before she could be ready for the operation.

Although the women do not wish to discuss how the sperm is smuggled past Israeli security and out of prison, it is acknowledged that it may be slipped into the clothes of  unaware children.

While wives talk to imprisoned husbands through glass and over a phone, children are the only ones allowed physical contact at the end of a visit. The clinics performing the operation,  both in Gaza and in the West Bank, report that sperm has arrived in a variety of improvised containers, from sweet wrappers to eye drop bottles.

“The preparation, the waiting, it was all very tough,” said Bushra. “But when the news came that I was pregnant, the pressure was off and we finally celebrated.” The double surprise came later, when she was told that twins were expected.

She describes the steps leading to this pregnancy as being about resistance and overcoming challenges. “After the suffering I am put through with each visit, with the searches and the humiliation, with this pregnancy, with Karam and Adam, I wanted to show that rules can be broken.”

Fertility and non-violent resistance

According to Liv Hansson, a Danish public health specialist who has researched fertility in Palestine, the practice of sperm smuggling only makes associations between fertility and resistance easier to draw.

“In a context such as Palestine, where women are well educated and child mortality is low, a lower fertility rate would be expected according to classic demography,” Hansson told IPS. The fertility rate of 4.1 registered in Palestine between 2011 and 2013, then, must be seen in the light of Israel’s ongoing occupation.

Indeed, fertility has long been considered by Palestinians as part of resistance efforts against Israel’s military occupation. For its part, Israel views high fertility rates in the West Bank and Gaza, and in majority Palestinian areas inside Israel, as a very real threat. Talk of the ‘demographic time-bomb’ – the time when Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis – is very common.

“Former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat famously stated that ‘the wombs of Palestinian women are the greatest weapon of Palestine’,” Hansson told IPS. “Fertility is seen as something of interest not only to the family but to the community, society at large and to politicians too.”

The wait

Bushra and her five children will have to wait three more years to be reunited as a family with Saleh. Since 2012, following the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Shalit, Israel’s Prison Service has been slowly reinstating visiting rights for family and prisoners from Gaza.

Ahmed saw his father two years ago for the first time, Hula six months ago and for the twins, the only meeting so far has been through the photograph on the side table, portraying Saleh as a young man eager to live life.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Seeks August Deadline for End to South Sudan Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/obama-seeks-august-deadline-for-end-to-south-sudan-war/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:09:23 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141770 President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By a Global Information Network correspondent
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a meeting with regional African leaders, threatened new sanctions for the warring factions in South Sudan if a peace deal is not be reached by Aug. 17.

“The possibilities of renewed conflict … is something that requires urgent attention from all of us,” Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

Pres. Obama outlined the options at a meeting Monday in Addis Ababa with leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the chair of the African Union and the foreign minister of Sudan. “Liberating” South Sudan, with support from the U.S., Britain and Norway, was supposed to be the high point of Obama’s Africa policy. Four years after independence, the nation is a humanitarian disaster.

In fighting showing no signs of letting up, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced, since violence erupted in December 2013, according to the U.N. Human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings have been carried out by both sides – namely the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

At the session of leaders, Obama set an Aug. 17 deadline for a peace agreement signed by all combatants although no consensus was reached on Monday on what to do if the deadline comes and goes. Numerous sanctions were floated – an arms embargo and the freezing of assets and ability to travel – backed by the international community. Obama expressed his preference for sanctions over intervention, as proposed by one of the leaders.

Western diplomats have pushed countries in the region to withdraw support for the South Sudanese combatants in order to make peace. Uganda, for example, openly supports the South Sudan government. Sudan supports Machar’s rebels.

Those at the talks included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and the chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In a press briefing, a senior administration official told reporters that “venal leaders” had squandered a huge opportunity which the international community had helped them win. “So we can’t undo this for them,” he said, referring to the crisis. “They’ve got to fix this (themselves).”

Fighting has been fiercest in the Upper Nile and Unity States, where the nation’s two major oil fields are found. With the onset of the rainy season, an already dire situation has grown worse.

“Tens of thousands of people are cut off from aid and medical care as fighting intensifies in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State,” Doctors Without Borders, the international medical humanitarian organization, said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, rebel spokesman James Gatdet welcomed Obama’s comments, saying “peace is possible”. But a spokesman for South Sudan rejected the plan and accused the international community of “jeopardizing the chances of the people of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-leads-youth-battling-intolerance-racism-and-extremism/#comments Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141754 Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/clean-water-another-victim-of-syrias-war/#comments Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141737 The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/mideast-arms-build-up-negative-fallout-from-iran-nuclear-deal/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141731 In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/despite-isis-ascendancy-u-s-public-wary-of-war/#comments Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141722 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Security Council Defies U.S. Lawmakers by Voting on Iran Nuke Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/security-council-defies-u-s-lawmakers-by-voting-on-iran-nuke-deal/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:06:29 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141659 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2231 (2015), following the historic agreement in Vienna last week between the E3+3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union; plus China, Russia and the United States) on one hand, and Iran, on the other, on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Credit: UN Photo

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

When all 15 members of the Security Council raised their collective hands to unanimously vote in favour of the recently-concluded nuclear agreement with Iran, they were also defying a cabal of right-wing conservative U.S. politicians who wanted the United Nations to defer its vote until the U.S. Congress makes its own decision on the pact.

By U.N. standards, in a relatively early morning nine a.m. vote on Monday, the Security Council gave its blessings to the international agreement crafted by its five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1) – which was finalised in Vienna last week after months of protracted negotiations.“Some people just can't accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like." -- Stephen Zunes

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and Coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS the United States is the only one of the seven signatory countries (P5+1 and Iran) where there is serious opposition to the agreement, which a broad cross-section of strategic analysts worldwide recognise as the best realistically possible.

“Some people just can’t accept the fact that we are in an increasingly pluralistic and complex world in which the United States simply cannot assert its will whenever and wherever it feels like,” he added.

Successful negotiations require compromises from both sides rather than simply capitulation by one side, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, one of the prime negotiators of the agreement, responded over the weekend to demands by some U.S. Congressmen that the United States should take political and diplomatic precedence over the United Nations – even on an agreement that was international, not bilateral.

“It’s presumptuous of some people to suspect that France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain ought to do what the (U.S.) Congress tells them to do,” he said during a TV interview.

“They have the right to have a vote,” he said, “but we prevailed on them to delay the implementation of that vote out of respect for our Congress, so we wouldn’t be jamming them,” Kerry added.

According to the New York Times, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, a ranking Democrat on the panel, sent a joint letter to President Barack Obama last week asking him to postpone the Security Council vote until the U.S. Congress has taken its own decision.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS “it’s often a difficult concept to get across to many members of Congress, but the U.S. government can’t run the world — and sometimes official Washington can’t even run the U.N. Security Council.”

This comes as a shock, or at least an affront, to Republicans and quite a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who may never use the word hegemony but fervently believe that the U.S. is a light onto all nations and should not hide that light under such a dubious bushel as international law, he pointed out.

“In this case, it’s hard to know whether to laugh or scream at the dangerous U.S. congressional arrogance that is seeking to upend the Iran deal,” said Solomon, who is also founder and coordinator of RootsAction.org, an online action group with some 600,000 active supporters.

Historically, U.S. government policies have been responsible for a great deal of nuclear proliferation in the world, he said.

“Washington still won’t officially acknowledge that Israel now possesses nuclear weapons, and U.S. leaders have turned aside from any and all proposals to seek a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East,” said Solomon.

On Monday, the 28-member European Union (EU) also approved the Iran nuclear deal paving the way for the lifting of Europe’s economic sanctions against Tehran.

“It is a balanced deal that means Iran won’t get an atomic bomb,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. “It is a major political deal.”

The permanent representative of Britain to the United Nations, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, expressed similar sentiments Monday when he said “the world is now a safer place in the knowledge that Iran cannot now build a nuclear bomb.”

Solomon told IPS the United States is among the leading countries that have promulgated commercial nuclear power in dozens of nations, steadfastly denying the reality that nuclear energy for electricity generation is a major pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

“We have seen no acknowledgement of this fact in Washington’s high places, let alone steps to move the world away from such dangerous nuclear-power extravaganzas,” he said.

The Iran nuclear agreement now on the table is one of the few big diplomatic achievements that the Obama administration can legitimately claim some credit for, he argued.

But many of the most chauvinistic forces in Washington, he noted, are now doing their best to undermine it.

“In the context of the United Nations, as well as in political arenas of the United States, this dynamic should be fully recognised for what it is — a brazen attempt by, frankly, warmongers in the U.S. Congress to rescue their hopes for war with Iran from the jaws of a peaceful solution.”

After the vote, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Security Council Resolution 2231, adopted Monday, will ensure the enforcement of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iran nuclear agreement.

He said it establishes procedures that will facilitate the JCPOA’s implementation, enabling all States to carry out their obligations contained in the Agreement.

“The resolution provides for the eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions against Iran. It guarantees that the International Atomic Energy Agency will continue to verify Iran’s compliance with its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

The United Nations, he assured, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is required in giving effect to the resolution.

Zunes told IPS as nuclear treaties between the United States and the Soviets demonstrated, you can be geopolitical rivals and strongly oppose the other’s system of government and still recognise there is such a thing as a win/win solution on arms control.

Most agreements regarding nuclear weapons have required reciprocity, but none of Iran’s nuclear-armed neighbours — Israel, Pakistan, or India — will be required to eliminate or reduce their weapons or become open to inspections despite the fact that they continue to be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions regarding their nuclear programmes, he added.

And none of the other nuclear powers, including five of the six nations that led the negotiations, will be required to reduce their arsenals either.

“Any notion that Iran could somehow be gaining an unfair advantage through this agreement is utterly absurd,” declared Zunes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Iran Deal Has Far-Reaching Potential to Remake International Relationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/opinion-iran-deal-has-far-reaching-potential-to-remake-international-relations/#comments Mon, 20 Jul 2015 12:14:41 +0000 Arul Louis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141650

Arul Louis, a New York-based journalist and international affairs analyst, is a senior fellow of the Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at arullouis@spsindia.in.

By Arul Louis
NEW YORK, Jul 20 2015 (IPS)

The Vienna agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council acting in concert with Germany has the potential to remake international relations beyond the immediate goal of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Courtesy of Arul Louis/ICFJ

Its impact could be felt at various levels, from United States engagement in the Middle East to the interaction of the competitive global powers, and from the economics of natural resources to the dynamics of Iranian society and politics.

President Barack Obama has invested an inordinate amount of political capital on the deal, challenging many in the United States political arena and Washington’s key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia in hopes that a breakthrough on Iran would be his presidency’s international legacy along with his Cuba opening.

Obama is gambling on the nation’s war-weariness after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that took a total toll of 6,855 casualties and, according to a Harvard researcher, is costing the nation at least $4 trillion. He presented the nation with a stark choice: War or Peace.

“There really are only two alternatives here,” he said, “either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically, through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.”Even if Washington and Tehran don't recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL.

Though the deal has been denounced by Republicans and some Democrats, and, earlier, the opponents had taken the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make their case before Congress, Obama expects to carry the day. Even if Congress votes against the agreement, Obama reckons the opposition will not be able to able to get the two-thirds majority to override his threatened veto.

Obama’s Iran legacy, if it works according to plan, will not have the impact of Richard Nixon’s opening to China, but it still could mark the end of 36 years of virulent hostilities. Even if Washington and Tehran don’t recapture the closeness of the Pahlevi era, the U.S. will increase its options in the Middle East, a region posing a growing to the world threat from the Sunni-based Islamic State or ISIL. Right now Washington is hamstrung by unsure Sunni allies in the region.

Already in Iraq, the U.S. and Iran have been working with different elements on parallel tracks against ISIL. Obama has been blamed for pulling out U.S. troops from Iraq, although it was largely in keeping with his predecessor George W. Bush’s timetable, and for failing to reach an agreement with Baghdad on stationing some troops beyond the pullout deadline. These have been mentioned as factors leading to the rise of ISIL.

Now, there is a chance for Obama to redeem himself through the cooperation of Iran, even if they will not go to the extent of a formal agreement.

In the other ISIL flashpoint to the west of Iraq, there seems to be implacable differences on Syria. Tehran stands firmly by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington considers the irreconcilable foe of peace in that civil war ravaged country. Bridging this gap even if by face-saving measures would be the true test of a diplomatic shift.

The Iran nuclear issue takes the inevitable colour of a Shia-Sunni conflict. In the first place, the unspoken impetus for Tehran’s nuclear ambitions was Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and the threat from its Sunni fundamentalists against Shias.

Now Pakistan’s stock will rise in Saudi Arabia and other Sunni nations as hedge, a Sunni-dominated nuclear power ranged against Iran, which they mistrust.

Add to this mix Israel, which has developed an unlikely alliance with Saudi Arabia. For Israel, the threat comes from fears of the millenarian trends among some Shia Muslims that could cancel out the insurance that Jerusalem, sacred to the Muslims, provides and Teheran’s venomous, ant-Semitic rhetoric.

But a more immediate issue for Israel is Tehran’s support for the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Shia Hezbollah. The sanctions against Iran limited its potential financial and material backing for these organisations and the flow of funds after sanctions are lifted could boost Tehran’s adventurism, directly and through proxies, Israel fears.

On the global diplomatic front, the Iran deal is a break from the incessant U.N. Security Council squabbles that have hobbled it as issues like Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea and assorted hotspots in Africa burn. Russia and China showed they could work intensively with the West. Moscow even earned plaudits from Obama for its role in facilitating the deal.

Russia and Iran share some common interests in places like Syria, Central Asia and the caucuses. An unbridled Tehran could more effectively cooperate with Moscow in these areas.

Economically, Russia, like other oil producers, may be hit by falling oil prices, but the diplomatic congruence and future arms sales could compensate.

For the European Union and China, the deal opens up business opportunities in a nation with tremendous economic potential along with lower oil prices.

Iran has the fourth largest known reserves of oil and its current production of 1.1 million barrels could soar to four million within a year. For most of the developing world, further reduction in oil prices will be a great help, even as it increases political and social pressures in some oil-producers.

The picture for India is mixed . It has been paying for Iranian oil imports in rupees while it has been exporting limited amounts of machinery and chemicals. The bilateral trade is in Iran’s favor and is estimated at about 14 billion dollars, with Indian imports at about 10 billion and exports at about 4 billion.

Now India may be able to buy more oil, but it will have to pay in rupees and its exports will have to compete with the rest of the world. With the prospects sanctions going away, India is already facing Tehran’s truculence in oil and gas and railway projects they had agreed on.

The Chabahar port project remains the strategic cornerstone of India’s ambitious engagement with Iran The port on the Gulf of Oman would give India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.

Chabahar is also a counterweight to Beijing’s Gawadhar project in Pakistan that would provide another sea outlet for China, Afghanistan and Central Asian countries.

On the nuclear nonproliferation front, the Iranian agreement chalks up a small victory after North Korean blatantly developed nuclear weapons. The world has been unable to confront Pyongyang diplomatically or militarily because of its mercurial nature leadership that borders on the insane.

For the Iranians themselves, the deal could ease up their lives and bringing back some normalcy. The bigger question is how it would play in the dynamics of Iranian politics. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the deal, but he has since expressed mistrust of the West in keeping its end of the bargain. That may be rein euphoria and send a message to the moderates.

Would the deal lead to a lessening of the paranoia among the religious and nationalist elements in Iran and in turn strengthen the moderates and push the present day heirs of the ancient Persian civilisation towards a relatively liberal modernity? If that were to happen Iran would have truly emerged from the shadows of international isolation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Myths About the Nuclear Deal With Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/the-myths-about-the-nuclear-deal-with-iran/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 22:05:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141644 EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini with with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and American Secretary of State John Kerry at the Palais Coburg Hotel, the venue of the nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria on July 9, 2015. Credit: European External Action Service

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

The single biggest misunderstanding about the nuclear agreement with Iran is that it is a bilateral deal with the United States.

Not true.“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one. Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned." --
Dr Rebecca Johnson

The agreement involved the U.N.’s five big powers, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany (P5+1).

But still, right-wing conservatives and U.S. legislators want to dissect and delegitimise an international agreement, whose clauses include the phased removal of U.N. sanctions on Iran.

The Security Council, where the P5 have veto powers, will meet next week to adopt a resolution and thereby give its blessings to the agreement.

But pro-Israeli groups and some members of the U.S. Congress want it delayed, arguing the United States should take political precedence over the United Nations.

At a press conference early this week, Wendy Sherman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and a member of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters: “Well, the way that the U.N. Security Council resolution is structured, there is an interim period of 60 to 90 days that I think will accommodate the congressional review.”

And it would have been a little difficult, she said, “when all of the members of the P5+1 wanted to go to the United Nations to get an endorsement of this since it is a product of the United Nations process, for us to say, ‘Well, excuse me, the world, you should wait for the United States Congress.’”

“The proof of the Iran nuclear deal will be in its results,” Dr Rebecca Johnson, director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and member of Princeton University’s International Panel on Fissile Materials, told IPS.

“I’ve spent time talking with American and Iranian scientists, diplomats and also human rights defenders. None of us is naive about the hurdles still to be overcome, and yet we are convinced this agreement is a positive step forward – and much better than more years of stalemate and hostility,” she added.

“But we also have to be honest that preventing nuclear proliferation and promoting human rights doesn’t stop with that. We welcome that Iran was one of 112 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states parties to sign the humanitarian pledge initiated by Vienna this year, to ‘fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons’.”

Dr Johnson said “multilateral negotiations to ban nuclear weapons as well as efforts to rid the
Middle East of all nuclear and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) have to keep going forward if we want to avoid further proliferation and nuclear threats in the future.”

Responding to the strong negative reactions from Israel, Hillel Schenker, Co-Editor, Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to think the deal between the global powers and Iran is “the end of the world.”

His house organ, the Yisrael Hayom freebie, financed by the right-wing Las Vegas-based casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who is active on both the Israeli and American political playing fields, greeted the deal with the headline “An Eternally Disgraceful Deal”.

The leaders of the opposition, on the other hand, have declared that the agreement is a “bad deal”, only criticising Netanyahu for ruining Israel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. government.

“What we are actually witnessing however is the failure of Netanyahu’s policy of fear, and the triumph of President Obama’s policy of hope,” Schenker added.

He also said, “Netanyahu was nurtured in a home dominated by his father, the late Prof. Benzion Netanyahu, whose analysis of the Spanish Inquisition led him to conclude that no matter what we, the Jews and the Israelis, do, the whole world will continue to be against us, and we can only rely on ourselves.”

This approach, he argued, is totally contrary to the approach of the founding fathers of modern Zionism, all of whom understood the importance of creating alliances with global powers.

Dr M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Programme on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS the confrontation with Iran has been built up with very little evidence open to the public, allowing for all kinds of claims to be made.

“I hope that this deal will put an end to such Iran-bashing. In any case, I think the deal is an important step in the right direction,” he said.

The next step is for all the countries in the region to accept the same nuclear limitations as Iran – in particular, Israel, he added.

“It is high time the international community turned its attention to Israel and demand that the country eliminate its nuclear arsenal and the nuclear facilities that allow it to manufacture nuclear weapons,” said Dr Ramana, author of “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India” and a member of the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and the International Panel on Fissile Materials.

Dr Johnson told IPS that negotiations, like baking, involve craft as well as science – getting the timing as well as the ingredients right is crucial.

She said diplomatic persistence made the time right for this deal to be brokered, but Americans, Israelis, Iranians, Arabs, Europeans and the rest of the world have to commit to going forward or it won’t succeed.

“Beware of American and Israeli politicians and commentators who claim this agreement will enable Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or that if the U.S. Congress rejects the deal, more negotiations will deliver a better one,” she warned.

“Sticking this non-proliferation pudding back in the oven at a higher heat is more likely to get us all burned.”

She said such erroneous claims just feed into the hard-line minority in Iran – rump factions close to former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – that would also benefit if this deal is rejected.

“I don’t think those commentators are so naive that they actually believe their criticisms of the deal. They don’t want Iran to come in from the cold because – for whatever political or financial reasons of their own – they have a vested interest in stoking outdated rivalries and continuing to demonise and isolate Iran.”

She also said sanctions are a blunt instrument of coercion, usually causing most harm to the most vulnerable – women and children – and playing into authoritarian cliques who want to suppress human rights and democracy.

“It will be a tragic lost opportunity if these U.S. and Iranian hard-liners succeed in derailing this constructive nuclear agreement,” she declared.

Schenker told IPS said Netanyahu’s entire political career has been based on fear-mongering, and the need for “a strong leader” to confront the dangers.

In the recent election, this was typified by his last minute declaration that “the (Israeli) Arabs are going to the polling stations in droves, being bused-in by left-wingers.”

But during his past three terms, the ultimate source of fear was the threat of the Iranian bomb, which was picturesquely presented at the U.N. General Assembly session two years ago, and with his speech before U.S. Congress last year.

The headline in today’s Ma’ariv daily (Friday, June 17), is that “47 percent of the Israeli public favour a military attack on Iran following the signing of the agreement”, despite the fact that virtually the entire leadership of the Israeli military and security establishment is opposed to such an attack.

The survey results are clearly the product of the fears generated by Netanyahu and his allies, and much of the mainstream media commentators. However, alternative, calmer voices are also being heard, Schenker noted.

Many Israeli observers wonder why Netanyahu thinks he can still go against the entire international community, with the aid of his Republican allies in the U.S., given that they have no chance to overturn a presidential veto of any obstructionist resolution that they may pass.

As President Clinton once said after his first meeting with Netanyahu back in 1996, “Who does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Kashmiri Women Suffering a Surge in Gender-Based Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/violence-against-women-alive-and-kicking-in-kashmir/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 21:15:55 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141635 A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A billboard in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir promotes gender equality and protests violence against women. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
SRINAGAR, India, Jul 17 2015 (IPS)

Rizwana* had hoped and expected that justice would be served – that the man who raped her would be sufficiently punished for his crime. Months after she suffered at his hands, however, the perpetrator remains at large.

"We receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually." -- Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s only women’s police station
Hailing from a poor family in the northwestern part of the Indian administered state of Kashmir, Rizwana worked hard to finish her studies, knowing that if she landed a job it would help ease her family’s financial woes.

When an official in the frontier Kupwara District hired her as an assistant earlier this year, she thought she had struck gold. But she quickly discovered that the man’s support and eagerness to offer her a job was simply a front for ulterior motives.

“After working in the office for just a few days he summoned me to a room on the upper floor and bolted the door. Then he made sexual advances on me. When I objected to his behaviour, he forcibly raped me,” the young graduate told IPS.

Her entire family was traumatised by the experience; Rizwana quit her job and her mother suffered a panic attack that confined her to the hospital for weeks

Rizwana approached the State Women’s Commission (SWC) in Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, and pleaded that the official be terminated from his position and sent to jail.

“But so far nothing has happened,” she said. “While the women’s commission is supporting me, the rapist is yet to be brought to justice as he uses his influence to get away with the crime.”

Militarisation breeds impunity

Anyone who follows the daily headlines in this heavily militarised territory in northern India knows that Rizwana’s case is not unusual. Every year, thousands of women experience sexual or physical abuse, both in and outside their homes, though few come forward to report it.

Women’s rights advocates blame the conflict in Kashmir – which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and has claimed 60,000 lives in six decades – for nursing a culture of impunity that makes women extremely vulnerable to gender-based violence.

In 2007, the Indian government revealed that it had 337,000 army personnel stationed in the region. At the time, this amounted to roughly one soldier for every 18 persons, making Kashmir “the most heavily militarised zone” in the world, according to sociologist Bashir Ahmad Dabla.

In 2013, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against woman stated in her final country report on India that legislative provisions like “the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has mostly resulted in impunity for human rights violations [since] the law protects the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against civilian women among others, and it allows for the overriding of due process rights.”

Noting that impunity for armed forces was “eroding fundamental rights and freedoms […] including dignity and bodily integrity rights for women in Jammu and Kashmir”, the rapporteur called on the Indian government to repeal the Act.

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

A woman holds up a picture of her son, injured in the conflict. Here in Kashmir, women often bear the brunt of fighting and some have been subjected to rape at the hands of the armed forces. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Two years later, her recommendations are yet to be acted upon, with the result that not only armed forces but officials in any capacity feel at liberty to exploit women’s rights and freedoms, often in the form of sexual transgressions.

For instance, IPS recently gained access to a sexual harassment complaint filed by the female staff of the Kashmir Agricultural University with the State Women’s Commission.

Staff filed a joint appeal earlier this month so as to conceal each woman’s individual identity.

It stated: “Being the working ladies at the university, we want to share with you [the] bitter and hard realities we have been facing for the past many years”, adding that the male staff – and one official in particular – routinely harass the women, using their institutional authority to prevent the victims from taking action.

The complainants are demanding “strict punishment” for the culprits according to provisions on sexual harassment in India’s 2013 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.

Nayeema Ahmad Mehjoor, chairperson of the SWC, told IPS that she acted on the appeal as soon as it was filed, and has already visited the university in order to take up the issue with the necessary authorities.

“They have assured me of initiating a fair probe, and we are expecting a detailed report within a few days,” she stated.

Domestic violence on the rise

These assurances are comforting but hold little weight in a society that routinely puts women’s issues on the backburner, a reality reflected in the low rate of reporting sexual crimes.

The situation is even worse in the domestic sphere, experts say, where spousal or intimate partner violence is on the rise.

Gulshan Akhtar, head of Srinagar’s lone Women’s Police Station, has been a busy officer over the past few years as she struggles to deal with a growing domestic violence caseload.

On a typical day, she receives between seven and 10 cases of domestic disputes involving violence towards the female partner.

“When this police station was established in 1998, it used to receive far fewer complaints compared to what we have been receiving over the past five-year period,” Akhtar told IPS.

“Now we receive 1,000 to 1,500 complaints of domestic violence annually,” she said, adding that the SWC receives an additional 500 complaints on average every year.

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Kashmir’s State Women’s Commission (SWC) records roughly 500 cases of domestic violence every year. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

These figures – which are conservative estimates, considering that many women are silent about their suffering – reveal that every single day, over five Kashmiri women endure sexual or physical abuse.

Local news reports indicate that Jammu, the state’s winter capital, tops the list of districts with the highest number of domestic violence cases, recording over 1,200 separate incidents since 2009.

Earlier this year, newspapers quoting officials from the State Home Ministry stated that over 4,000 culprits have been booked in connection with these crimes, but rights groups maintain that prosecution levels are too low to act as a deterrent.

This past May, the women’s rights NGO Ehsaas organised a sit-in at Partap Park in Srinagar to draw attention to a surge in domestic violence.

Academics, journalists and activists gathered to mourn a woman whose husband had burned her to death the month before.

Addressing the crowd, Ehsaas Secretary and Women’s Project Consultant Ezabir Ali said, “It is high time to speak out against this barbaric form of human nature and a send message to the government to act strictly against such acts.”

The sit-in called attention to all the many forms of violence against women – from dowry killings and burnings, and from verbal and emotional abuse to rape. In 2013, according to statistics released by the Crime Branch, Kashmir recorded 378 cases of rape, an increase of 75 cases from the year before. Data for 2014-2015 is still pending.

Conflict leaves women vulnerable

Some experts say the increase in such heinous crimes is due to militarisation and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch noted that “a local court recently ordered the reopening of the investigation into alleged mass rapes in the villages of Kunan and Poshpora in Jammu and Kashmir’s Kupwara district in 1991. Residents of the villages allege that soldiers raped women during a cordon and search operation.”

Because of the brutality involved in these incidents, and because the victims included old women and young girls alike, scholars and advocates have claimed that it set a precedent for violence against women, since the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Others say violence has risen together with women’s shifting socio-economic role in traditional Kashmiri society. With more women leaving the home to work, men feel their financial hold weakening.

“This is causing conflict as many men […] do not feel comfortable with women acquiring a [better] economic status,” author and sociologist Dabla told IPS.

IPS recently met two women at Srinagar’s Rambagh women police station, one of whom had come to lodge a complaint that her husband was forcing her to hand over her monthly earnings, or risk a divorce.

Indeed, surveys and studies undertaken by the women’s NGO Ehsaas reveal that 75 percent of Kashmiri men “felt their masculinity was threatened” if their wives did not obey them.

Activists working to safeguard women and create a more peaceful society overall say that deep and fundamental changes in both the law and social attitudes are necessary to achieve some degree of gender equality and women’s rights.

*Name changed for her protection

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Civilian Killings? West Literally Gets Away With Murderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/civilian-killings-west-literally-gets-away-with-murder/#comments Thu, 16 Jul 2015 22:03:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141616 Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

Plumes of smoke rise into the evening Afghan sky as Allied air support brings an end to Operation Glacier 4 in February 2007. Operation Glacier 4 was a deliberate action against Taliban Forces in the district of Garmsir by Royal Marines of 42 Commando in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Credit: Sean Clee/OGL license

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 16 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations continues to come under heavy fire for singling out mostly non-Western states for human rights violations while ignoring the misdeeds of Western nations or big powers.

As part of its annual ritual, the U.N. Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues, has religiously adopted country-specific resolutions every year, mostly critical of nations like Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea for their infractions.“Given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.” -- Dr Gerald Horne

But none of these resolutions have been adopted unanimously – rather, with an increasing number of abstentions.

Last November, the resolution criticising Syria for human rights violations was adopted by a vote of 125 in favour with 13 against and 47 abstentions; the vote on North Korea was 111 in favour with 19 against and 55 abstentions; and the vote on Iran was 78 to 35 with 69 abstentions.

Still, both the United Nations and its Human Rights Council (HRC) have rarely, if ever, launched an investigation into civilian killings, including of women and children, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen by drone attacks or aerial bombings by the United States and its Western allies.

“They literally get away with murder,” says one Asian diplomat, complaining about the double standards on human rights violations and war crimes.

Currently, the Geneva-based HRC has Commissions of Inquiry or Fact-Finding Missions related to four countries: Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Sri Lanka and Gaza (on the civilian killings by Israel in the conflict back in July last year).

But most of these human rights violations, including political repression, torture or war crimes, are within the territorial borders of these countries.

Dr Gerald Horne, Moores Professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston, told IPS even the recent spate of police shootings in the United States, of mostly unarmed African-Americans, merits a thorough investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

“It is true that U.S. allies will object. However, the U.S. itself has established a precedent by its frequent call for investigations of the internal affairs of U.N. member states,” he said.

Yet, he pointed out, “given the importance of the U.S. to the global system of governance, it is important for this nation not to be exempt from that which it demands from others.”

In recent years, according to published reports, there has been a spate of racially motivated killings by the police or by law enforcement officials, including in Staten Island, New York, Ferguson, Missouri, Brooklyn, New York and in Chicago in the U.S. state of Illinois.

Dr Horne said “given that the U.S. is a nuclear power on hair-trigger alert, it is quite disturbing to see an urban insurrection just miles from the White House in Baltimore – after yet another killing of an unarmed African-American man.”

Arguably, it would not be unfair to suggest that this dire situation too represents a grave threat to international peace and security that the U.N. should ignore at its peril.

“I should add parenthetically that historically the U.S. has required external intervention to resolve nagging internal issues; for example, it is now well recognised that British abolitionists played a major role in forcing the collapse of slavery in the U.S. in the 19th century.”

Today’s outrages in the U.S. demand no less, declared Dr Horne, who has authored more than 30 books, including the premier study of civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1960s, along with several publications on the slave trade.

The issue of political double standards has been vociferously highlighted by Sri Lanka: a country accused of civilian killings at the end of its decades long battle against separatists in its northern province in May 2009.

Addressing the U.N.’s Third Committee last year, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona said current developments in the Human Rights Council suggest that its credibility was gradually eroding as a result of its increasing politicisation.

“A handful of countries had been selected for adverse attention by the Council, while others in similar circumstances were ignored,” he added.

Turning to the Council’s resolution related to his country, he said the text had infringed on the fundamental principles of international law, which required that national mechanisms needed to be exhausted before resorting to international measures, and had challenged its sovereignty and independence.

Asked about the rising civilians killings attributed to U.S. drone attacks, Dr Horne told IPS the legally questionable drone warfare of the U.S. authorities is an unfortunate complement to the repetitive slayings of unarmed African-American men and boys (Tamir Rice in Cleveland had yet to reach his teen years before he was slain on videotape).

Surely, it establishes a dangerous precedent when a U.N. member state – the U.S. – is allowed to slay its own citizens and then slay others abroad, while all the while complaining about the internal affairs of sovereign states worldwide, he argued.

Asked about double standards on human rights violations, Dr Horne said assuredly, there is a double standard in international relations which is quite corrosive of international peace and security.

He said the ancestors of the U.S. authorities kidnapped Africans from the region stretching from Senegal to Angola, with a particular emphasis on the Congo River basin, then rounding the Cape to seize Africans in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zanzibar.

“This crime against humanity weakened all of these U.S. member states and then, to exacerbate the original crime, the descendants of these captive Africans are now slain like wild boar in the woods.”

Sadly, he noted, the international community has been quiet about this outrage which no doubt convinces the U.S. authorities that if they can slay their “own” citizens with impunity, then certainly they can act similarly abroad with drone warfare.

This matter cries out for “humanitarian intervention” by the international community, he declared, in a challenge to the United Nations.

Addressing the opening session of the HRC last March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein criticised member states for ‘cherry-picking’ human rights – advocating some and openly violating others – perhaps to suit their own national or political interests.

Despite ratifying the U.N. charter reaffirming their faith in fundamental human rights, there are some member states who, “with alarming regularity”, are disregarding and violating human rights, “sometimes to a shocking degree,” he said.

“They pick and choose between rights,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Fear Stalks Students in Northern Pakistanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/fear-stalks-students-in-northern-pakistan/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 22:50:30 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141601 A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A soldier stands amidst the rubble of the December 2014 attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai and Kanya D'Almeida
PESHAWAR, Pakistan/UNITED NATIONS, Jul 15 2015 (IPS)

It has been seven months since a group of gunmen raided the Army Public School in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, killing 145 people, including 132 students.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home. Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.” -- Shahana Khan, the mother of one of the victims of the Peshawar school shootings in 2014
For the most part, the tragedy has faded off international headlines, but for the families of the victims and survivors, the memory is as fresh as the day it happened.

Speaking to IPS in her home in Peshawar, KP’s capital city and the site of last year’s attack, Shahana Khan cannot stop weeping.

Her 15-year-old son Asfand, a tenth grader at the public school, was one of too many children killed by members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Dec. 16, 2014.

“Since he died, there has been complete silence in our home,” she manages to say through her sadness. “Nobody wants to speak. Asfand used to crack jokes and spread laughter – now he has left us, there is nothing to say.”

The boy’s father, Ajun Khan, chimes in: “He kept our home happy. Without him, we will pass Eid al-Fitr [the religious holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan] in tears.”

His 11-year-old sister and seven-year-old brother share similar sentiments. Like other kids who lived through the tragedy, they have aged beyond their years.

They recount stories of their brother’s jokes and antics, as though momentarily forgetting that he is no longer with them. But then the tears start rolling again.

“I will recite the Holy Quran on his grave, and pray for his blessings,” the little bow vows solemnly.

Neither the kids nor their parents mention the school where the shootings took place, although it re-opened just a month after the incident.

For months, many families were too afraid to return to the scene. Though the students have gradually begun trickling back into their classrooms, fear is everywhere.

This lingering trauma is just one more obstacle standing between the Pakistan government and its ambitious education goals for this South Asian country of 182 million people.

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Images of their dead or wounded classmates live on in the memories of students from the Army Public School in Peshawar, Pakistan, even seven months after the massacre. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Schools under attack

Throughout the decade of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the U.N.’s landmark poverty-reduction plan launched in 2000, Pakistan has lagged behind most member states.

In March the ministry of federal education and professional training published education statistics for 2013-2014, which revealed that the government was unlikely to meet the target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015, despite many pledges and promises on paper.

Pakistan’s education sector is comprised of over 260,000 schools, both public and private, where 1.5 million teachers attend to an estimated 42.9 million students.

But according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published together with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), there are also 6.7 million out-of-school children in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

And while 21.4 million primary-school-aged children are currently enrolled in public and private institutions, research suggests that only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, and a further 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

Experts say that the dismal state of education in the restive northern provinces is largely to blame for these setbacks.

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Women hold signs at a rally following the deadly attacks on a public school in the northern Pakistani city of Peshawar, which left 132 students dead. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Umar Farooq, an education official for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told IPS that about 200,000 boys and girls in his region are out of school, largely due to the Taliban’s systematic attack on modern, secular education.

In the past 12 years, the Taliban have destroyed 850 schools, including 500 schools dedicated exclusively to girls, he said.

“FATA has the lowest primary school enrollment rate in the whole country – only 35 percent,” he added.

Prior to the December 2014 public school shooting, a report published by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack listed Pakistan as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a student or teacher, on par with states like Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.

Between the review period starting in 2009 and ending in 2012, armed groups in Pakistan attacked some 838 schools, mostly by blowing up buildings.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported that 30 students and 20 teachers were killed in those attacks, while 97 students and eight teachers were injured and 138 students and staff kidnapped.

Ishtiaqullah Khan, deputy director of the FATA directorate for education, told IPS that school enrollment and dropout rates have fluctuated according to ebbs and flows in the insurgency.

The period 2007-2013, for instance, when the Taliban was stepping up its activities in the region, saw the dropout rate touching 73 percent.

Citing government records, Khan said that some 550,000 kids in FATA have sat idle over the last decade. The numbers are no better in other provinces in the north.

Back in the summer of 2014, when a government military operation aimed at destroying armed groups drove nearly half a million people from their homes in the North Waziristan Agency, scores of children found their education interrupted as they languished in refugee camps in the city of Bannu, part of the KP province.

A rapid assessment report carried out by the United Nations in July 2014 revealed that 98.7 percent of displaced girls and 97.9 percent of the boys from North Waziristan were not receiving any kind of schooling in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that an already weak primary school enrollment rate of just 37 percent in KP (31 percent for girls and 43 percent for boys) would worsen as a result of the massive displacement, since 80 percent of some 520,000 IDPs were occupying school buildings.

Director of education for KP, Ghulam Sarwar, told IPS the Taliban had destroyed 467 schools in the province in the last decade, and reduced the schooling system to dust in the Swat District where the 2012 shooting of Malala Yousafzai shocked the entire world.

Already traumatized from years of attacks on education, the lingering ghosts of the Dec. 16 tragedy have only added to the burden of students and parents alike.

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls light candles in memory of those who lost their lives in late 2014, when armed gunmen invaded and opened fire on hundreds of students and teachers in northern Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Overcoming trauma

Khadim Hussain, head of the Peshawar-based Bacha Khan Education Trust, told IPS that the Taliban “thrive on illiteracy”, preying on ignorant sectors of the population to “toe their line”.

For this very reason, he stressed, education in Pakistan is more important now than ever before, as the most sustainable weapon with which to fight militancy.

In October 2014, the Pakistan office for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced that school supplies worth 14.4 million dollars, donated by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), had been handed over to KP’s education department.

The funds were aimed at improving facilities in over 1,000 schools across KP and FATA, serving 128,000 students.

It was a promising moment – shadowed barely two months later by the daylong siege and massacre at the Army Public School in Peshawar.

With the bloodshed still fresh in everyone’s minds, Hussain’s suggestions are easier said than done.

Fourteen-year-old Jihad Ahmed, who survived the attack, is still afraid to go back to school. A sixth grader named Raees Shah, who saw his best friends die in front of him, has similarly had a hard time concentrating on his studies.

While some want desperately to forgot and move on, others – like ninth-grader Amir Mian – keep the memories of that day burning bright. When the attack began, Mian’s older brother had managed to escape the school premises unscathed, but came back to fetch the younger boy. When he did, he took a bullet and died shortly after.

“We will never forgive his killer,” the teenager told IPS. “We hope that God Almighty will punish his killers on the Day of Judgment.”

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Funeral processions for the deceased students and teachers of a terrorist attack in northern Pakistan drew huge crowds of mourners last December. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In a bid to restore the public’s confidence in the education system, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in February signed onto the 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative launched by A World At School, a global campaign working to get all school-aged kids into a classroom.

The 15 ‘best practices’ outlined in the agreement include community-based interventions such as involving religious leaders in the promotion of education as a deterrent to terrorist attacks, and improving infrastructure and safety mechanisms like constructing and reinforcing boundary walls.

Currently, only 61 percent of government schools and 27 percent of primary schools in rural areas have boundary walls, while scores of others lack protective razor wire atop their fortifications.

The programme’s donors and supporters hope it serves as a first step towards healing, and, ideally, to a more educated and resilient Pakistan.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Children Increasingly Becoming the Spoils of Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/children-increasingly-becoming-the-spoils-of-war/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 18:23:11 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141575 Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Former child soldiers enlisted by Al Shabaab are handed over to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) after their capture by forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Beatriz Ciordia
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

Whether in Palestine, Ukraine or Somalia, wars result in millions of children threatened by the brutality of armed conflict.

The numbers speak for themselves: more than 300,000 child soldiers are currently exploited in situations of armed conflict and six million children have been severely injured or permanently disabled, according to UNICEF.The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

Likewise, an estimated 20 million children are living as refugees in neighbouring countries or are internally displaced within their own national borders as a result of conflict and human rights violations.

And the U.N. Secretary General’s most recent report, published on June 5, shows that in too many countries, the situation for children is getting worse, not better.

“There is still room at the individual agency level to strengthen safeguards towards prevention of child rights violations,” Dragica Mikavica, advocacy officer of Watchlist, a network of international non-governmental organisations, told IPS.

“For instance, more recently, Watchlist has been lobbying for the U.N.’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to develop a policy that would ban states placed on the Secretary-General’s ‘list of shame’ from contributing troops to peacekeeping forces in other countries,” she added.

Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees that the U.N. could better protect children from armed conflict in several ways.

“When governments or armed groups refuse to agree to such steps and continue abuses, the Security Council could be much more aggressive in imposing targeted sanctions, such as arms embargoes, or travel bans and asset freezes on the leaders of such groups,” she told IPS.

“The SC should also refer such cases to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution,” she added.

The past year was one of the worst ever for children affected by armed conflict due the alarming rise in abductions, especially mass abductions, of children and adults in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and South Sudan.

In addition to kidnappings, thousands of children were killed last year in different parts of the world.

In Iraq, for example, 2014 was the deadliest year for children since the U.N. first started systematically documenting violations against children in 2008, with nearly 700 children killed and almost 1,300 abducted – and these are only the recorded cases.

Likewise, in Palestine, the number of children killed by Israeli forces jumped to 557, more than the number killed in the last two military operations there combined.

In order to step up the fight against this violence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted on June 18 Resolution 2225, which strengthens the international community’s mobilisation in support of children in armed conflict and condemns their abduction.

The resolution, tabled by Malaysia and sponsored by 56 member states, added abductions as the fifth violation that can trigger a listing of a party to the conflict to the Secretary-General’s “list of shame”.

This list facilitates greater monitoring of abductions and ensures that parties which engage in this particular crime are included on it. Once listed, the U.N. is able to engage the listed parties in negotiating action plans to stop this and other violations from occurring.

The vast majority of these abductions are carried out by non-state groups, including terrorist organisations such as Boko Haram and ISIS, which see mass kidnapping as a shining symbol of success.

Raising the profile of the abduction of children at the highest level – such as in form of a Security Council resolution – also endows child protection actors with greater capacity to advocate for response surrounding this egregious violation.

However, as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt argues, abduction is often only the first in a series of grave violations, followed by sexual assault and rape, indoctrination, recruitment as child soldiers and murder.

“Each offence blights that child. It robs her of her childhood and threatens her ability to live a full and productive life,” she said in an open debate on Children and Armed Conflict at the Security Council on June 18.

Brandt also stressed the importance of providing critical support to children after their release so they can resume “normal life”.

“These children are victims and must be treated as such. They’re inevitably burdened by physical wounds and psychological scars,” she said.

Raising awareness remains a critical point in the battle against the brutality suffered by children in situations of armed conflict.

Social media has proven a valuable tool for raising the public profile of the atrocities committed against children, especially mass abductions in contexts like Nigeria, Syria and Iraq.

“Social media contributed to internal U.N. debates around abductions of children, as the world could not turn a blind eye on what was happening to children last year,” Mikavica told IPS.

“All of this resulted in concrete actions by the Council at the last Open Debate as seen through trigger expansion,” she added.

However, as Becker told IPS, it’s important to keep in mind that although social media has been exceptionally effective in raising awareness of mass abductions of children by Boko Haram and other armed groups, it’s just a tool, not a substitute for action, which remains the real challenge for the U.N. and other international organisations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pledges for Humanitarian Aid Fall Far Short of Deliverieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/pledges-for-humanitarian-aid-fall-far-short-of-deliveries/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 23:01:04 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141566 This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

This little boy was one of hundreds whose schooling was interrupted due to violence in India. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 13 2015 (IPS)

When international donors pledge millions of dollars either for post-conflict reconstruction or for humanitarian aid, deliveries are rarely on schedule: they are either late, fall far below expectations or not delivered at all.

The under-payment or non-payment of promised aid has affected mostly civilian victims, including war-ravaged women and children in military hotspots such as Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and most recently Yemen.“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries." -- Gregory Adams of Oxfam

But it also extends to earthquake-struck countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and at least three African countries devastated by the Ebola virus.

At an international Ebola recovery conference at the United Nations last week, the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea requested more than 3.2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid to meet their recovery plan budgets. And donors readily pledged to meet the request.

But how much of this will be delivered and when?

At a question and answer press stakeout, Matthew Russell Lee, the hard-driving investigative reporter for Inner City Press (ICP), asked Helen Clark, the Administrator of U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), what steps are being taken to ensure that the announced pledges are in fact paid.

According to Lee, she said UNDP will be contacting the pledgers.

“But will they go public with the non-payers?” he asked, in his blog posting.

Lee told IPS that even amid the troubling lack of follow-through on previous pledges in Haiti, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen, “it does not seem the UNDP has in place any mechanism for reporting on compliance with the Ebola pledges” announced last week.

“If the U.N. system is going to announce such pledges, they should follow up on them,” he said.

On Yemen, he pointed out, while the Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country, it seems strange to so profusely praise them for a (conditional) aid pledge, especially but not only one that has yet to be paid.

Gregory Adams, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam International, which has been closely monitoring aid pledges, told IPS that in advance of the Ebola Recovery Conference held last week, Oxfam looked at three past crises to see how well donors followed through on recovery pledges.

“We found that on average, donors deliver less than half of what they pledged (47 percent). But, even that percentage might overstate the amount that actually arrives in recovering countries,” he said.

For example, in Busan, South Korea in 2011, donors pledged they would be publishing timely, accessible and detailed data on where their aid is going by the end of 2015.

But many donors still don’t publish complete information; information is only available for slightly more than half of overall ODA (Official Development Assistance).

As a consequence, said Adams, once aid reaches a recovery country, it is difficult to know exactly how much actually gets where it is most needed.

This lack of transparency makes it hard for communities to participate in planning and recovery efforts, and to hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results, he noted.

One of the most important lessons of Ebola was that response and recovery efforts must be centered on community needs and incorporate their feedback, Adams said.

“If people do not know where aid is going, they can’t plan, they can’t provide feedback, and they can’t make sure that aid is working,” he declared.

Even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a special appeal to donors last December when he announced 10 billion dollars in pledges as initial capitalisation for the hefty 100 billion dollar Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Announcing the pledges, he called on “all countries to deliver on their pledges as soon as possible and for more governments to contribute to climate finance.”

Last April, Saudi Arabia announced a 274-million-dollar donation “for humanitarian operations in Yemen” – despite widespread accusations of civilian bombings and violations of international humanitarian law in the ongoing conflict there.

Responding to repeated questions at U.N. press briefings, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “I think it’s right now in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) phase between the Saudis and the various U.N. agencies to which the money will be allocated.  That process is ongoing.  We hope it concludes soon.  But those discussions are ongoing.”

He said a lot of the larger donors have standing MOUs with the U.N.

“Obviously, this is… I think my recollection this is probably the first time we’re doing it with Saudi Arabia, but I think it takes a little bit more time, but it makes things a lot clearer in the end.”

Asked if there was a conflict of interest given Saudi Arabia is one of the main belligerents in this conflict, Dujarric said: “I wouldn’t say conflict of interest.  We welcome the generous contributions from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that… we welcome the fact that these contributions will be helped… used by U.N. humanitarian agencies, which are then the… but it… the agencies themselves are then free to use those resources in the way they best see fit to help the Yemeni people.”

Last March, at the third international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, which was hosted by Kuwait, donors pledged 3.8 billion dollars in humanitarian aid. The three major donors were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

But, so far, there has been no full accounting of the deliveries.

Oxfam’s Adams told IPS in order to make sure that the three countries affected by Ebola can help their people and communities recover, donors need to:

  • publish timely, detailed, and comprehensive information on their aid, consistent with the priorities outlined in the recovery plans of the Governments of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone;
  • seek to direct aid through local entities wherever possible, including national and local governments and civil society organisations;
  • support strong community engagement and the independent role of civil society in Ebola recovery, so that they can hold donors, governments and service providers accountable for results.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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