Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 Jan 2017 09:43:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.14 Trump, the Banks and the Bombhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/trump-the-banks-and-the-bomb/#comments Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:40 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148435 Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear weapon test at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Jan 7 2017 (IPS)

When pro-nuclear disarmament organisations last October cheered the United Nations decision to start in 2017 negotiations on a global treaty banning these weapons, they probably did not expect that shortly after the US would elect Republican businessman Donald Trump as their 45th president. Much less that he would rush to advocate for increasing the US nuclear power.

The United Nations on Oct. 27, 2016 adopted a resolution to launch negotiations in 2017 on a treaty outlawing nuclear weapons, putting an end to two decades of paralysis in world nuclear disarmament efforts.

At a meeting of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly, which deals with disarmament and international security matters, 123 nations voted in favour of the resolution, 38 against it and 16 abstaining.

The resolution will set up a UN conference beginning in March 2017, which will be open to all member states, to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”. The negotiations will continue in June and July this year.

The Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a civil society coalition active in 100 countries, hailed the adoption of the resolution as a major step forward, marking a “fundamental shift in the way that the world tackles this paramount threat.”

“For seven decades, the UN has warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and people globally have campaigned for their abolition. Today the majority of states finally resolved to outlaw these weapons,” said ICAN’s executive director, Beatrice Fihn.

Despite arm-twisting by a number of nuclear-armed states, the resolution was adopted in a landslide. A total of 57 nations were co-sponsors, with Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead in drafting the resolution.

European Parliament’s Resolution

The UN vote came just hours after the European Parliament adopted its own resolution on this subject – 415 in favour, 124 against, 74 abstentions– inviting European Union member states to “participate constructively” in the 2017 year’s negotiations, ICAN noted.

Nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts, the anti-nuke campaign chief warned.

“A treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would strengthen the global norm against the use and possession of these weapons, closing major loopholes in the existing international legal regime and spurring long-overdue action on disarmament,” said Fihn.

“Today’s [Oct. 27, 2016] vote demonstrates very clearly that a majority of the world’s nations consider the prohibition of nuclear weapons to be necessary, feasible and urgent. They view it as the most viable option for achieving real progress on disarmament.”

Biological weapons, chemical weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions are all explicitly prohibited under international law. But only partial prohibitions currently exist for nuclear weapons.

ICAN also recalls that nuclear disarmament has been high on the UN agenda since the organisation’s formation in 1945. “Efforts to advance this goal have stalled in recent years, with nuclear-armed nations investing heavily in the modernisation of their nuclear forces.”

Other pro-nuclear disarmament organisations also welcomed the UN resolution. They included PAX, a partnership between IKV (Interchurch Peace Council) and Pax Christi; Soka Gakai International (SGI), a community-based Buddhist organisation that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life; and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), just to mention a few.

US Must Greatly Strengthen, Expand Its Nuclear Capability – Trump

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.  Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. Wikipedia

The global ani-nuke movment, however, soon saw its joy being frustrated by the US president-elect Donald Trump, who in a tweet on Dec. 22, 2016, wrote:

Donald J. Trump Verified account ‏@realDonaldTrump : “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.

Trump’s announcement, if materialised, would imply one of the most insourmountable hardles facing the world anti-nuclear movement.

Is Your Bank Funding Nuclear Bombs?

Meanwhile, the international campaign to prevent private banks and financial companies from funding the production and modernisation of nuclear weapons has achieved a further step forward.

“Governments have decided to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty in 2017, and now is the time for banks, pension funds and insurance companies to get ready and end financial relations with companies involved in nuclear weapons,” says Susi Snyder from PAX and author of a the Hall of Fame report.

“Around 400 private banks, pension funds and insurance companies continue to fund –with their clients’ money– the production of nuclear weapons.”

According to this study, 18 banks, controlling over 1.7 trillion Euros, are ready not to collaborate in the funding of atomic weapons, with policies that strictly prohibit any investment of any type in any kind of nuclear weapon-producing company.

These 18 banks are profiled in the Hall of Fame of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb 2016 edition, which was issued on Dec. 7, 2016. These Hall of Fame institutions are based in Australia, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The report also shows there are another 36 financial institutions with policies that specifically name nuclear weapons as a concern, and limit investment in some ways.

“Even though these policies have loopholes, they still demonstrate there is a stigma associated with investments in nuclear weapons. PAX calls on these institutions to strengthen their policies and Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers tailored recommendations for each financial institute in the Runners-Up.”

Investments are not neutral, warns the report. “Financing and investing are active choices, based on a clear assessment of a company and its plans. Institutions imposing limitations on investing in nuclear weapons producers are responding to the growing stigma against these weapons, designed to kill indiscriminately.”

All of the nuclear-armed countries are modernising their nuclear weapon arsenals, and Don’t Bank on the Bomb details how 27 private companies are producing key components to make nuclear weapons as well as the 390 banks, insurance companies and pension funds that still invest in nuclear weapon-producing companies, the report adds.

“As a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons is to be negotiated in 2017, states should include a prohibition on financing to provide an added incentive for the financial industry to exclude nuclear weapon associated companies from their investment universe, and raise the economic cost of nuclear weapons deployment, stockpiling and modernisation.”

Some Striking Facts about Nukes

The International Campaign against Nuclear Weapons summarises the most striking facts about this weapon of mass destruction:

Which countries have nuclear weapons and how many?

What are their effects on health and the environment?

Who supports a global ban on nuclear weapons?

What are the most significant events of the nuclear age?

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Threat of Famine Looms in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/threat-of-famine-looms-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:27:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148420 On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

On 6 May 2016 in Yemen, a baby is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF- supported Al-Jomhouri Hospital in Sa’ada. Credit: UNICEF/UN026928/Al-Zekri

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Millions of Yemenis could soon face widespread famine if no action is taken to improve food access through humanitarian or trade means, an early warning system has said.

Up to eight million Yemenis are severely food insecure while another 2 million are facing food insecurity at emergency levels, just one phase below famine, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) has found. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that the food-insecure population in the Middle Eastern nation could be even higher at up to 14.4 million, representing half of the population.

This has contributed to rising acute malnutrition and risk of mortality. According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), almost 4.5 million are in need of treatment for malnutrition, including over 2 million children.

The ongoing conflict between a Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis has largely driven the food crisis in Yemen, which FEWS Net describes as the “largest food security emergency in the world.” The two-year civil war has left thousands dead and 3 million displaced, limiting humanitarian access and food availability on the market.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded system highlighted the need to improve humanitarian access in order to continue and increase much needed food and nutrition assistance.

Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food.

Though current food assistance from organisations such as the World Food Program (WFP) is helping mitigate the crisis, FEWS NET noted that such operations alone have been insufficient to meet the country’s needs.

Action is also needed to ensure sustained commercial food trade. Prior to the conflict, Yemen imported approximately 90 percent of its food. The unrest has since disrupted the government and private sector’s ability to import food. Most recently, wheat imports were suspended in December, a staple grain for Yemenis.

Without such imports, humanitarian actors will also be unable to ensure local food availability.

Though food is still available on local markets, increased prices and reduced income have limited access to goods. WFP found that prices of red bean, sugar and onion were respectively 48 percent, 24 percent and 17 percent higher in November than in the pre-crisis period.

A major reduction in food import levels will only serve to worsen food security in the country.

“In a worst-case scenario, where food imports drop substantially for a sustained period of time or where conflict persistently prevents the flow of food to local markets, famine is possible,” FEWS NET reported.

In 2016, the UN requested almost $1.7 billion towards Yemen’s Humanitarian Response Plan. Approximately 40 percent remains unfunded.

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January Brings Changes for UN Security Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/january-brings-changes-for-un-security-council/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 01:55:53 +0000 Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148419 UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

UN Secretary-General Anto—nio Guterres with Olof Skoog of Sweden, President of the UN Security Council for the month of January Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Andy Hazel and Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 6 2017 (IPS)

Five of the UN Security Council’s 15 seats were filled by new members this week, but a bigger shift in the council is expected later this month under the new US administration.

Sweden, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan and Italy replaced outgoing non-permanent members Spain, Malaysia, New Zealand, Angola and Venezuela.

They will join the other five non-permanent members – Japan, Egypt, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – as well as the five permanent members of the council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The council’s five permanent members are considered to be the most powerful, since they hold the ability to veto any vote they disagree with.

This is why the change in the United States administration may signal a greater political shift in the council than the rotation of non-permanent members.

The possible change was foreshadowed by President-elect Trump in December following a controversial vote on Israeli settlements.

The United States took the surprise decision to abstain from the vote condemning Israeli settlements in the disputed territory of the West Bank, rather than using its veto power.

“As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” Trump tweeted shortly after the vote took place.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power – a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet – defended the abstention saying, “Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 undermines Israel’s security, harms the viability of a negotiated two-state outcome, and erodes prospects for peace and stability in the region.”

Power is expected to be replaced by Trump’s pick for the council, Nikki Haley, the current Governor of South Carolina, after Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

However Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN, Olof Skoog downplayed the political implications of the change in US administration for the Security Council.

“I haven’t spoken with anyone from the administration of the President-elect, but I expect that when they come to look at the work we’re doing they’ll see it is in the interests of the United States,” Skoog told journalists on Tuesday.

With January bringing a new US president, a changed Security Council and a new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Skoog said that he hoped to harness this “spirit of newness” to spur momentum into the Council’s work.

However Skoog said he was not expecting particular challenges to the Security Council’s work to come from the incoming US administration, with whom he said he looked forward to collaborating.

Skoog described Power as a strong voice with whom he shares many views. He said he also had a working relationship with Haley, but would not be drawn on possible changes regarding Israeli-Palestinian policy within the council.

Sweden has officially recognised the state of Palestine, putting it at odds with Trump’s pro-Israel stance.

Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that he hoped Italy could bring the Israel-Palestine conflict “to the forefront of the United Nations’ agenda,” during their month as president in November. Migration from the Middle East and Syria are also expected to be among the issues Italy will prioritise. Italy will be represented by Ambassador Sebastiano Card.

In a new and unusual step, Italy will share its security council seat with the Netherlands due to an impasse vote in the UN General Assembly for the final European seat. Italy will sit on the council in 2016 and the Netherlands in 2017. Gentiloni described the move as “a message of unity between European countries.”

2016 will be the first time that Kazakhstan will sit on the Security Council. The Central Asian country – which is keen to be seen as a major international power – will be represented by the ex-Ambassador to the United States Mr Kairat Umarov.

Kazakhstan – a part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone – may also bring a different perspective to Security Council discussions on nuclear non-proliferation. President-elect Trump’s comments on nuclear weapons have signalled that this may be an area high on the UN’s agenda in 2017.

Succeeding Venezuela as the Latin American representative, and holding a seat on the Council for the first time since 1979, is Bolivia. The plurinational state is represented by the Sacha Llorenti, a published author who spent two years at the President of Bolivia’s Permanent Assembly for Human Rights and was a minister in the government of Evo Morales.

Llorenti resigned from the ministry in 2011 following a violent police response to protesters marching against the building of a road through the Amazon rainforest. This was not the first time Llorenti was involved in clashes between indigenous populations and infrastructure.

Ethiopia replaces Angola and joins Senegal as an African representative on the Council. Ethiopia has become a major contributor of over 8,000 troops to UN peacekeeping operations. However in 2016, Ethiopia faced political instability within its own borders amid crackdowns on protestors.

In its first month on the council, Sweden has also taken up the rotating position of President. Skoog told press on Tuesday that the council’s priorities for January would include Syria, South Sudan and the Congo.

Skoog also highlighted massive population displacement, diminishing resources and rise of Boko Haram in Lake Chad region as detailed by Oxfam in a report entitled Lake Chad’s Unseen Crisis, which draws parallels between climate change, terrorism and national security.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Arms Trade Treaty Falling Down in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/arms-trade-treaty-falling-down-in-yemen/#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2016 21:06:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148319 A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

A campaign in support of the Arms Trade Treaty argued that weapons were subject to fewer regulations than bananas. Credit: Coralie Tripier / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 27 2016 (IPS)

Two years after the UN Arms Trade Treaty entered into force many of the governments which championed the treaty are failing to uphold it, especially when it comes to the conflict in Yemen.

“In terms of implementation, the big disappointment is Yemen,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms, a civil society organisation dedicated to the treaty, told IPS.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty – and indeed who still champion it as a great achievement in international disarmament and security – are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” she added.

The Saudi-led international coalition has been responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is known to have violated humanitarian law by bombing civilian targets, including hospitals.

The conflict in Yemen – the poorest country in the Middle East – has displaced over 3 million people since it began in March 2015 according to the UN.

However many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and France, that have signed up to the Arms Trade Treaty continue to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite this violating their commitments under the treaty.

“The big disappointment is the countries that were in the forefront of calling for the treaty ... are now prepared to violate it by persisting in their arms sales to Saudi Arabia,” Anna Macdonald, Control Arms.

Currently 90 UN member states are parties to the treaty, which Macdonald says is a relatively high number for such a new and complex treaty, but the goal remains universalisation, she adds. The treaty entered into force on 24 December 2014. However while the U.K. and France have ratified the treaty, the U.S. has only signed the treaty.

Parties to the treaty are obligated to ensure that weapons they sell will not be used to violate international humanitarian law, commit genocide or commit crimes against humanity.

The U.K.’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia has been the subject of intense debate in British parliament.

Saudi authorities recently confirmed that they have used UK-made cluster munitions in Yemen.

“Evidence of cluster munition use has been available for almost a year, but the U.K. has ignored and disputed it, trusting instead in the Saudi-led coalition’s denials,” said Macdonald.

“The UK is continuing to ignore the vast amount of information of violations of human rights and the laws of war in Yemen, (recent developments) make even plainer how unfeasible such a position is.”

The UK which sold the weapons to Saudi Arabia in 1989 has since signed up to the Cluster Munitions Convention, which prohibits the sale of cluster munitions because of their indiscriminate nature, Macdonald added.

Meanwhile recent reports suggest the United States is curtailing at least some of its arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

“The U.S. has said it will halt the sale of precision-guided aerial bombs to Saudi Arabia because they have seen “systemic, endemic problems with Saudi Arabia’s targeting” that the U.S. says has led to high numbers of civilian casualties in Yemen,” said Macdonald.

However she noted that it is hard to know what effect this will have on policies under the incoming Trump Republican administration.

According to research published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) the world’s top three arms exporters are the United States, Russia and China.

India, Saudi Arabia and China are the world’s top three arms importers.

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Historic UN Security Council Vote Condemns Israeli Settlementshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/#comments Fri, 23 Dec 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148295 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/historic-un-security-council-vote-condemns-israeli-settlements/feed/ 0 Security Council Vote on Israeli Settlements Postponed Indefinitelyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/#comments Thu, 22 Dec 2016 21:53:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148285 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-vote-on-israeli-settlements-postponed-indefinitely/feed/ 0 Time to Get Serious about Civilian Protection for Darfurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/time-to-get-serious-about-civilian-protection-for-darfur/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 22:20:38 +0000 Jonathan Loeb http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148260 UN Peacekeepers patrolling the South Sudanese village of Yuai in 2012. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS.

UN Peacekeepers patrolling the South Sudanese village of Yuai in 2012. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS.

By Jonathan Loeb
NEW YORK, Dec 20 2016 (IPS)

With the future of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur now in jeopardy, the safety and security of the Sudanese region’s most vulnerable communities hangs in the balance.

Although the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council unanimously renewed the mandate of the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) last June, the renewal masks deep divisions within both Councils. Some member states support strengthening the mission, while others accept the Government of Sudan’s position that the war in Darfur is over and that the mission should draw down and ultimately withdraw.

Withdrawal is not a morally legitimate option. The large-scale violence against civilians in Darfur in 2016 demonstrates the urgent need for a robust peacekeeping force.

A more immediate – and addressable – explanation for some of the inaction is the fact that member states are ill-informed about the severity of the abuses that are still taking place in Darfur.

Despite UNAMID’s mandate to use force to protect civilians, it has consistently failed to protect the population during attacks. The mission has, however, provided protection for civilians who are displaced by violence and manage to get themselves to bases or camps secured by peacekeepers. This protection – while inadequate – is indispensable for many of the two-and-a-half million people who remain displaced at the end of 2016 and, in and of itself, justifies the mission’s continued existence.

Whether there is a plausible scenario under which the UN Security Council and the AU Peace and Security Council can strengthen the mission to deliver better protection for the people of Darfur is debatable; the history of the international response to the conflict provides little evidence for optimism. The intractable nature of the conflict and the entrenched views of the most powerful members of both Councils present tremendous obstacles to action.

A more immediate – and addressable – explanation for some of the inaction is the fact that member states are ill-informed about the severity of the abuses that are still taking place in Darfur.

During the past three years, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Darfur have been forcibly and unlawfully displaced by government troops using the same scorched-earth tactics that have characterised the war from its outset nearly 14 years ago. The Government of Sudan has gone to great lengths to prevent reporting on this violence. Independent journalists and foreign diplomats are forbidden to travel in Darfur unless they are part of government-chaperoned trips to government-approved locations.

The lack of access has created an information black hole, leaving UNAMID as the only actor on the ground in Darfur with a mandate and responsibility to report about the conflict.

This duty primarily takes the form of the quarterly reports of the UN Secretary General to the Security Council on the situation in Darfur, which include updates on, among other things, conflict dynamics, political developments, the humanitarian situation, human rights and civilian protection.

Unfortunately, the mission’s reporting capabilities are severely hindered by the Government of Sudan. And it stands to reason that the government, which has been accused repeatedly of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, will continue to resist all efforts to document its military activities.

The Secretary General’s reports identify how the government hampers the mission’s reporting, including repeated denials of access to the most conflict-affected parts of Darfur and the refusal to grant visas for the mission’s staff, especially civilian staff working on issues related to human rights and protection. There are other, arguably even more crippling, tactics. These tactics – which are more difficult to prove and are not disclosed in the SG’s reports – include, most notably, the government’s continued monitoring of the mission’s activities. Civilians who speak with UNAMID about sensitive issues, and UNAMID national staff who report on sensitive issues, face a constant risk of arrest and detention.

These significant obstacles notwithstanding, the SG’s reports convey a general impression that the mission is providing the Council with an accurate and reasonably comprehensive assessment of the nature of the conflict and its impact on the civilian population. This impression is false. Reports by the SG and UNAMID frequently mischaracterise the impact of violence on the population and often fail completely to report on gross violations of human rights.

The large-scale violence that occurred in Jebel Marra between January and September 2016 is the most recent example of the UNAMID’s egregious failure to report. Jebel Marra is a 5,000-square kilometre volcanic massif in the centre of Darfur, consisting of approximately 1,500 villages and hamlets. The area has been a stronghold for armed opposition groups throughout the conflict; in 2016, portions of Jebel Marra were the only significant territory in Darfur still held by an armed opposition movement. Access to Jebel Marra has been largely cut-off since 2009, when the Government of Sudan responded to the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir by expelling nearly all the aid agencies operating in the area. No journalist, human rights investigator, humanitarian actor or peacekeeper has been granted any meaningful access to the most conflict-affected parts of Jebel Marra for years.

In January 2016, UNAMID reported a massive build-up of government forces in the plains surrounding Jebel Marra. In mid-January, large-scale violence erupted on four different fronts, with government forces attacking positions held by members of the armed opposition.

UNAMID had no access to the attacked areas in Jebel Marra; the SG’s reports relied on observations made by local sources and staff members on distant bases to describe the military offensive. The result was an incomplete picture of fighting between the government and members of the armed opposition. Absent from the reports was any of the overwhelming evidence that strongly suggests the commission of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, as well as other serious violations of international human rights law. The reports are almost entirely silent on sexual violence, unlawful killings, indiscriminate bombings, destruction of civilian infrastructure, looting of civilian property and other violations of international law, including credible allegations of chemical weapons use – all of which were carried out by Sudanese government forces during the offensive.

While UNAMID’s lack of access, shortage of personnel and the real risks facing its local staff and its civilian interlocutors are valid reasons for being unable to comprehensively document the recent violence, they in no way justify the irresponsible misrepresentation of the nature and magnitude of the violence.

Based solely on the content of the SG’s reports and other public UNAMID reports about the violence in Jebel Marra it would be reasonable to conclude that many if not all the tens of thousands of civilians who fled from Jebel Marra to UNAMID-protected spaces were displaced lawfully under international humanitarian law. Any good-faith effort by UNAMID to investigate, by interviewing survivors, analyzing publicly available satellite imagery, or setting up its own network of trusted intermediaries inside Jebel Marra, would reveal that this is simply not the case. Most were displaced from (now destroyed) villages, which had no formal armed opposition presence at the time of the attacks, by attackers whose purpose was to target the entire civilian population in the village.

UNAMID’s unwillingness or inability to conduct either on-site or remote research into the nature of the attacks in Jebel Marra has left both the UN and AU security councils grossly ill-informed about the magnitude of the human suffering that has pervaded the region. As a result, the councils have less reason to doubt the government’s false assertions that fighting was limited to combatants.

Ideally, both councils would work together to apply sufficient political pressure to overcome the government’s obstruction of UNAMID’s ability to report. In the interim, the mission’s civilian staff members need to use the considerable tools still at their disposal to document and accurately characterise the impact of violence on the civilian population and, in turn, better inform the councils about the urgent need for protection. If this is not feasible, then UNAMID needs to fully and publicly acknowledge the shortcomings of its reports to ensure that they are not relied upon as evidence of an absence of gross violations of human rights. Perversely, UNAMID’s failure to report on recent attacks in Jebel Marra largely serves as false evidence of the nonexistence of abuses, which the Government of Sudan now cites in support of its narrative that the war is over and that UNAMID is no longer necessary.

The war is not over. A peace operation is still necessary. There are recent reports of a government troop build-up ahead of another military offensive in Jebel Marra expected in early 2017. This should catalyse both Councils to immediately take steps to ensure that UNAMID is prepared to protect vulnerable populations still living inside Jebel Marra. Chief among these steps is the enforcement of the status of forces military agreement between UNAMID and the government of Sudan entitling the mission to full and unrestricted movement throughout Darfur.  UNAMID must be allowed to mobilise its military and civilian resources in accordance with a current threat assessment, which would inevitably involve unfettered access throughout Darfur – especially in Jebel Marra – including the ability to reposition its operating bases.

In the absence of a political resolution to the conflict – which 13 years of peace-negotiations has failed to deliver – or a genuine cessation of hostilities by all parties, redoubling support for UNAMID remains the best option for delivering urgently needed civilian protection. Darfur’s long-suffering people deserve this, at the very least.

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Security Council Agrees to Send UN Monitors to Aleppohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/security-council-agrees-to-send-un-monitors-to-aleppo/#comments Mon, 19 Dec 2016 17:34:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148239 The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The UN Security Council has agreed to send UN monitors to Aleppo. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 19 2016 (IPS)

The UN Security Council – which has long struggled to find common ground on Syria – has unanimously approved a resolution allowing the UN to monitor the evacuation of civilians from Aleppo.

Proposed by France, the resolution calls for the immediate deployment of UN monitors and their “unimpeded access” to East Aleppo in order to ensure the safety of evacuees and those that remain in the besieged Syrian city. Monitors are needed to prevent “mass atrocities” by parties to the conflict, said France.

Russia, which has vetoed six Security Council resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011, was initially ready to block the initiative, calling it a “disaster.”

“We have no problem whatsoever with any kind of monitoring, but the idea that they should be told to go to wander around the ruins of eastern Aleppo without proper preparation and without informing everybody about what is going to happen, this has disaster written all over it,” said Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

After three hours of closed-door consultations on Sunday, a compromise was reached between the world powers to allow monitors to observe after consultations with “interested parties.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault noted that the resolution marks just the first step.

“France calls on each side, in particular the regime and its supporters, to be responsible so that this resolution is implemented without delay and a lasting ceasefire is put in place across the country,” he said.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari criticised the move, saying that the resolution was “just another part of the continued propaganda against Syria and its fight against terrorists.”

The resolution also demands unhindered humanitarian access for the UN and international organisations to deliver life-saving assistance.

In response to the vote, Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau said that such monitoring is “crucial” and that Syrian, Russian and Iranian militaries must comply with the resolution.

“Russia and Iran have abysmal records complying with their obligations to protect civilians in Syria and allow aid access,” he said.

Charbonneau also highlighted the need for the UN General Assembly to establish a mechanism to gather and preserve evidence of serious crimes and prepare cases for prosecution, noting it could “deter those contemplating further atrocities in Syria.”

Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros echoed similar sentiments, saying that UN monitors must be allowed to investigate war crimes and the Security Council must send monitors to all areas of evacuation in the country beyond Aleppo.

“The world is watching how the UN responds to the plight of Aleppo,” she said.

According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, approximately 20,000 civilians have already been evacuated from east Aleppo.

The ongoing evacuation process got off to a shaky start with the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement between rebels and government forces, forcing all evacuations to be suspended. Evacuations have since been resumed as an estimated 15,000 civilians remain in the city.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described destruction caused by the 6-year civil war in Syria as a “gaping hole in the global conscience.”

“Aleppo is now a synonym for hell…peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice, and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen,” he said.

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Refugees from Boko Haram Languish in Cameroonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/refugees-from-boko-haram-languish-in-cameroon/#comments Fri, 16 Dec 2016 15:17:54 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148227 UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi is received at the Minawao Camp in Cameroon’s Far North region on Dec. 15, 2016, where some 60,000 refugees have fled attacks by Boko Haram. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
MINAWAO CAMP, Cameroon, Dec 16 2016 (IPS)

Tears spring to Aichatou Njoya’s eyes as she recalls the day Islamic militants from Boko Haram arrived on her doorstep in Nigeria.

“It was on May 24, 2013. My husband was sleeping in his room while I was on the other side of the house with our six children. The youngest was only one month old,” she mutters, pausing to collect herself.The funding gap for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon now stands at 62.4 million dollars.

Njoya told IPS when the armed insurgents broke into the house, they grabbed her husband and dragged him into her room. “They brought him in front of us and put a machete to his neck and asked him if he was going to convert from Christianity to Islam. They asked thrice, and thrice he refused. Then they slew him right in front of me and our children,” she said, still holding back tears.

The widowed refugee said an argument ensued among the assailants as to whether to spare her life or not. They finally agreed to let her live. The next day she escaped with her children to the hills and trekked for several days until they reached the border with Cameroon, where the UNHCR had vehicles to transport refugees to the camp. The camp had just been set up, she says.

Njoya, now 36, has been living in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North region for more than three and a half years now, with scant hope of returning anytime soon.

IPS spoke with Njoya and others during the Dec. 15 visit of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee agency UNHCR, to the camp. Grandi called for the financial empowerment of Nigerian refugees to help them cope with insufficient humanitarian aid.

The camp hosts about 60,000 Nigerians who have fled their homes since 2011 because of attacks carried out by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

Grandi spoke with refugees, representatives of national and international NGOs, and officials of the Cameroonian government who gathered to welcome him. Cameroon is the third country he is visiting as part of his tour of countries of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Grandi said his visit was intended to encourage donors to provide more aid to affected countries and governments to work together to reinstate peace in the region and facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) their homes.

“We have made efforts to improve aid, but aid is still insufficient. I have listened to complaints of these refugee women who say they do not have any income generation activities and I think the UNHCR and its partners should begin working in that direction. Help them help themselves,” he said.

He had just listened to representatives of the refugees and refugee women discussing the difficulties they face on a daily basis, including food and water shortages, scarcity of wood, insufficient medicines, and insufficient classroom and medical staff in health units in the camp.

Growing population, funding gap aggravate living conditions

According to Njoya, and every other refugee who talked to IPS, including Jallo Mohamed, Bulama Adam and Ayuba Fudama, living conditions are growing worse by the day. They all complain of joblessness. Njoya says even when they leave the camp with refugee certificates as IDs, Cameroonian security officers still stop them from going out.

“This hinders the success of the income generation activities we are yearning for,” she said.

“When we just got here, they gave each refugee 13 kg of rice monthly. It was later reduced to 10 and last month (November 2016) it dropped further. The rationing for wood has also declined.  Nowadays when you go to the health unit for headache, they give you paracetamol. If you have a fever, they give you paracetamol. If you have stomach ache or anything else, they give you the same tablets. And when you go there at night, there is no one on duty,” says Jallo Mohamed.

Reports say there are periods when as many as 50 births are recorded per week in the Minawao camp.

“You can’t blame them. They sleep early every night because they do not have TV sets or other forms of entertainment. That is why the birth rate is as it is,” said a medic at the camp who asked not to be named.

Cameroon currently hosts more than 259,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and 73,747 Nigerians. Funders led by the U.S., Japan, EU, Spain, Italy, France and Korea were able to raise only 37 per cent of a total of 98.6million dollars required in assistance for refugees and IDPs in Cameroon this year – a funding gap of 62.4 million dollars, according to the UNHCR factsheet.

The funding gap for requirements of Nigerian refugees, according to the UNHCR, stands at 29.7 million dollars. Nevertheless, High Commissioner Grandi remains positive that empowering refugees to earn incomes will improve living standards at the Minawao Camp.

Regarding the wood shortage, he said he saw fuel-efficient cooking stoves in Niger and Chad and will encourage stakeholders in Cameroon to introduce the models in the camp. He also reassured refugees that an ongoing water project will provide the camp and host communities with clean pipe-borne water.

The High Commissioner’s mission to Cameroon also includes the launching of 2017 Regional Refugee Response Plan for the Nigeria Refugee Situation.

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Heads for 50 Years of UN Failurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:03:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148220 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

Come 2017, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longstanding unresolved political problems firmly entrenched on the UN agenda: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to the Six Day War in June 1967.

When Antonio Guterres takes over as the new UN Secretary-General on January 1, he will inherit a rash of ongoing political and military conflicts, including the six-year-old civil war in Syria, the devastating bombings in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq, the widespread political chaos in Libya, renewed violence in the Central African Republic, the continued atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan and the rise of global terrorism.

But one of the most elusive problems — crying out for a solution despite half a century of negotiations and unimplemented Security Council resolutions —will be the demand for a Palestinian homeland.

As Guterres told reporters December 12: “We need a surge in diplomacy for peace when we see this multiplication of new conflicts — and old conflicts that seem never to die”.

Perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to live forever—and has never shown signs of dying in 50 long years.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Contributing Editor at Middle East Report, told IPS: “As the UN commemorates the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, we need to recognize that the world body is in many respects but a shadow of the organization it was in 1947, when the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to partition Palestine, or even 1967 when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip commenced.”

What capacity it does retain to act effectively has, when it comes to Palestine, been deliberately and completely paralyzed by the United States, acting on Israel’s behalf, he declared.

Indeed, it has in this respect been somewhat ironic to watch (US Ambassador to the UN) Samantha Power and other US diplomats incessantly whine about Russia shielding the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council these past several years, said Rabbani, who is an Associate Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network.

“Will Palestinians be condemned to another half century of military occupation?”, he asked. “If they have to rely on the United Nations for salvation from Israel the answer would be “almost certainly”, but fortunately this is not the case.”

Asked specifically of the UN’s role, Rabbani said among recent Secretaries-Generals none have been more timid in their dealings with Israel and the US, and more solicitous of US and Israeli policy, including on the Question of Palestine, than outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“His tenure has been a disaster for Palestinian rights. Full stop. So the mere fact of his departure and replacement is welcome news”, said Rabbani.

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, told IPS it seems that the partition plan and two state solution has been destroyed by Israeli settlements.

The UN policy is out of step with this reality. The new Secretary-General will have to confront this position, viz the virtual impossibility of a two state solution.

What remains? What kind of Palestinian future is possible? These kinds of questions need to be asked, said Prashad, who has written extensively on Middle East Politics and is the author of “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution”.

Israel will refuse both one state and two state solutions. It wants to annihilate the Palestinian Question, he noted.

“The Palestinians are playing defense. What kind of positive strategy is possible for Palestine and will the new Secretary-General enable such a discussion? I hope so,” said Prashad, co-editor of the recently-released “Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World”.

Asked what his message would be, if and when he meets with US President-elect Donald Trump, Guterres, avoided a direct answer.

“Well, to restore confidence, I think the first thing that is important is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ignored in political relations around the world. And when people talk to each other, the truth is that many times there are different perceptions about each other.’

“And I believe it is with truth that I need to engage with all governments in the world and, of course, also with the next Government of the United States, showing a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges that we’ll be facing together,” Guterres declared.

Rabbani told IPS predicting about how a Trump administration will approach the Question of Palestine is a difficult task, primarily because Trump is an empty vessel with multiple – and therefore essentially no – views of his own.

“But as is generally the case with empty vessels, they tend to be filled by those with privileged access. And in this case the indications are not good.”

Regarding Guterres, Rabbani pointed out the new Secretary-General (SG) will be operating under the same constraints any other SG would encounter, but has the advantage that the UN is no longer as fully dominated by the US as it has been in recent decades.

It also seems reasonable to presume his ambitions exceed being an errand boy for Washington like his predecessor, Rabbani noted.

“I know little regarding his personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, though given the fact that he is a former European social democrat premier his views presumably fall within the European/EU mainstream. “

But the more important point is that this will be less about his personal views and more about the environment in which he operates and his willingness (or otherwise) to use his political clout.

“Will he want to expend political capital on Palestine when he may prefer to or feel he needs to spend it on other files such as Syria? This is difficult to divine.”

And it will depend not just on his priorities and preferences, but crucially upon how energetically this matter is promoted by member states and international public opinion.

“So I would see his tenure as an opportunity that I very much hope the Palestinians manage to utilise. But once again, I would advise to spend less time examining his personal views and preferences, and more on the environment in which he operates,” said Rabbani, a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said Guterres, whose appointment is arguably one of most challenging jobs on the planet, brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the role to guide the UN in the years to come.

“The new Secretary-General must face up to a world of numerous protracted conflicts, reprehensible breaches of the rules of war and a massive global displacement crisis,” she said.

But besides the ongoing political problems, he must also readily confront the extreme economic inequality crisis that is trapping people in poverty, undermining economic growth and threatening instability around the world.

Referring to the gender gap at the UN, Byanyima said: “Governments in seventy years have picked only men to lead the UN; the journey to find a woman, feminist Secretary-General goes on. We do however fully expect that the new Secretary-General will be a feminist Secretary-General who puts women’s rights and gender equality at the very core of the international agenda.

“And for the UN to be relevant, effective and accountable – in a world so different from the times when it was founded in 1945 – Mr. Guterres must spearhead essential reforms to the UN.”

She also congratulated Ban Ki-moon for his outstanding, dignified leadership.

“Among his achievements were ushering in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement: both will be remembered in history for charting a better

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Food Insecurity: An Agent for Violent Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/food-insecurity-an-agent-for-violent-conflict/#comments Sun, 11 Dec 2016 10:02:24 +0000 Dominique Von Rohr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148175 By Dominique Von Rohr
ROME, Dec 11 2016 (IPS)

Up to two billion people live in countries affected by violence, conflict and fragility. Often, such political instability goes hand in hand with food insecurity. “Conflicts have pushed over 56 million people either into crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity”, Kimberly Flowers, Director of the Global Food Security Project, said at this years’ John McGovern Lecture held at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The number continues to grow with the escalation of conflicts and violence in countries like Syria, Yemen or South Sudan.

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

Families can no longer afford regular meals because of rising food and fuel costs. Credit: IPS

However, since the food price crisis in 2007/08 pushed the total number of hungry people to over one billion – a sixth of the worlds population – political leaders have started to pay attention to food insecurity.

Under President Obama, the United States has invested 6,6 billion dollars in “Feed the Future”, a long-term development program focusing on reducing poverty and hunger. The program aims at teaching farmers in developing countries new agricultural techniques, how to increase productivity and improve nutrition.

Kimberly Flowers underlined that in the United States, opinions on food security are not divided among party lines. The U.S Congress has enacted the Global Food Security Act this summer, a law that will ensure that global hunger and poverty remain a top U.S. foreign policy. “Food security is real and evidence based. Congress understands the importance of addressing this issue”, Kimberly Flowers told IPS.

Despite the uncertainty a Trump administration will bring with it, with the Global Food Security Act, food-security investments will continue for at least two more years.

For the first time, the U.S. intelligence community has recognized the linkage between political instability and food insecurity and has assessed that the overall risk of food insecurity in many countries will increase during the next ten years because of production, transport and market disruptions to local food availability.

“Food insecurity is both the cause and consequence of conflict”, Kimberly Flowers told the audience, linking it with political stability and calling food insecurity a “national security imperative”.

The lack of access to food can be used as a strategic instrument of war. “Hungry populations are more likely to express frustration with troubled leadership, perpetuating a cycle of political instability and further undermining long-term economic development”, Kimberly Flowers said.

In a paper released by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the authors state that food insecurity heightens the risk of democratic breakdown, civil conflict, protest, rioting, and communal conflict.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad as well as the Islamic State have used food or the absence of food as war tactics, deliberately cutting off Syrians from humanitarian assistance or offering starving citizens food in return for them to join their ranks. The war has devastated Syria’s agriculture and has cost the country 35 years of development. Its food production is at a record low as farmers are unable to hold on to, let alone cultivate their land.

In Nigeria, food insecurity has risen as a result of instability and especially affects areas where Boko Haram operates. “Boko Haram’s actions are preventing food production; they have placed landmines in farmer’s fields, stolen cattle, and forced civilians to flee, leaving land unfarmed”, said Kimberly Flowers. The result is that certain areas are deprived of their harvest, and where food is available, prices have increased drastically.

In Venezuela, on the other hand, food insecurity is linked to economic mismanagement. “90 per cent of Venezuelans report that food has become too expensive to buy”, said Kimberly Flowers. Once a rich country with strong leadership, Venezuela’s dependence on oil revenues has brought the economy to the verge of collapse after a global drop in oil prices. As the population grows hungry, the government has resorted to increasingly authoritarian response tactics.

In South Sudan, conflicts between the government and oppositional groups have had such an impact on the economy that food prices increased dramatically. The denial of food and food aid has played a central part in countering insurgencies in the country. Up to 95 per cent of the population in South Sudan depends on agriculture to survive, “yet there is no underlying state infrastructure to support the agricultural industry”, Kimberly Flowers said. “The dangerous combination of armed conflict, weak infrastructure and soaring staple food prices could result in famine conditions.”

In 2015, the international community has adopted 17 key objectives to be achieved by 2030, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The first two goals are to eradicate poverty and hunger. But can these goals really be achieved when instability and conflict are constant threats?

“The SDGs underestimate the difficulties of helping more than a billion people to regain a sustainable path of economic growth and reconstruct a torn social fabric within a short 15 years”, said Kimberly Flowers. To believe that hunger and poverty can completely be abolished within the next 14 years is unrealistic. However, the efforts to implement the SDGs will have a sustainable impact on the countries in need of help. For example on food insecurity: “The number of food insecure people is projected to fall significantly, 59 per cent, by 2026.”

Kimberly Flowers believes that the most important factors to decrease food insecurity are a strong government and keeping agriculture high up on the development agenda.

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Trump Needs Lessons in Geopolitics : Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148080 By David White
LONDON, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has shown he has much to learn about South Asia,
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with IPS. But he counted on Trump having an open mind.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf was commenting on statements made by Trump in a radio talk show during his presidential campaign in September, when he described India as being “the check to Pakistan”.

“I think that these statements do cause worry,” Musharraf said. However, he thought that Trump had a “fresh” and “uninitiated” mind on the subject..

“He maybe lacks full understanding of international issues and regional geostrategic issues here, confronting us,” Musharraf said. “But he has an open mind, he can learn, he can be told, he can be briefed.”Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

He added a warning that pro-India US policy might force Pakistan to rely more heavily on its already extensive ties with China. “I think Donald Trump must understand you are no longer in a unipolar world, so countries will have choice to shift towards other poles. So don’t do that,” he urged, making clear that by “other poles” he was referring to China and Russia.

Failure to move towards a détente between Pakistan and India was another factor that might force Pakistan more into China’s zone of influence, Musharraf said. But he added: “It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be in the orbit of any one force.”

He emphasised Pakistan’s deep linkages with the US and other western countries and its reliance on them as export markets. “We can’t switch trade to China, and that would be a very foolish policy and strategy,” he said. However, China’s support and economic presence put Pakistan in a difficult situation of needing to balance its relations.

“Pakistan has a relationship with China. The United States should not mind it,” Musharraf said.

Commenting on other remarks made by Trump during his campaign – suggesting that it might be better if Japan, South Korea and possibly Saudi Arabia had their own nuclear weapons – Musharraf rejected the idea of Pakistan supplying the Saudis with a nuclear capability.

“We won’t do that. Once bitten, many times shy, I think. We were proliferators once. I think we’ve learnt. And this is not a mere trade of industrial goods,” Musharraf said. “I think this is too serious a matter. We can’t do that.”

Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

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Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

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

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Civil Society On Aleppo: UN General Assembly Must Act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:40:07 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148060 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/feed/ 1 Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burning down a generation’s future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unease in a minority community

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

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

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

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

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNICEF campaign on Zika response © UNICEF/UNI183007/Quintos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Nov 22 2016 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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