Inter Press Service » Armed Conflicts News and Views from the Global South Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bid Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.


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Can the UN Security Council Stop Hospitals Being Targets in War? Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:41:36 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

The Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHH) in Bajaur Agency, shortly after a Taliban suicide bomb attack in 2013. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

Hospitals, health care workers and patients in war zones are supposed to be protected under international humanitarian law yet recent attacks from Syria to Afghanistan suggest that they have become targets.

The seeming lack of respect for the sanctity of health care in war zones has prompted UN Security Council members in New York to consider a new resolution designed to find new ways to halt these attacks.

The Security Council is expected to vote on the resolution on May 3, just days after Al Quds Hospital in Aleppo, Syria was bombed. Twenty seven staff and patients were killed in the airstrike on the hospital on Wednesday night, Dr Hatem, the director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo told The Syria Campaign.

Among the victims was Dr Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who Dr Hatem described as “the city’s most qualified paediatrician.”

Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria told journalists in Geneva Wednesday that Dr Maaz was the last paediatric doctor left in Aleppo, although IPS understands there is another paediatrician in the Aleppo countryside.

Dr Hatem said that Dr Maaz used to work at the children’s hospital during the day and attend to emergencies at the Al Quds hospital at night time.

“Dr Maaz stayed in Aleppo, the most dangerous city in the world, because of his devotion to his patients,” said Dr Hatem.

Dr Hatem said that “hospitals are often targeted by government and Russian air forces.”

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them,” he said.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia will be expected to vote on the proposed new resolution reinforcing the protection of hospitals, doctors and patients in war zones.

“When the bombing intensifies, the medical staff run down to the ground floor of the hospital carrying the babies’ incubators in order to protect them.” -- Dr Hatem, director of the Children’s Hospital in Aleppo.

Another Security Council Member accused of bombing a hospital, the United States, is expected to release its report Friday of its own investigation into the attack on the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan on Oct. 3 2015.

MSF say that 42 people we killed in the sustained bombing of the hospital, including 24 patients and 18 staff.

Roman Oyarzun Marchesi, permanent representative of Spain to the UN said that the “the wake up call (for the Security Council resolution) came from organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres who are forced to stay out of certain areas or countries due to the lack of protection on the ground.”

“Attacks against the provision of health care are becoming so frequent that humanitarian actors face serious limitations to do their jobs,” said Marchesi at an event held to discuss the proposed resolution at the International Peace Institute earlier this month.

The event brought together representatives from the medical community with the five Security Council members drafting the resolution, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay.

Speaking on behalf of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), whose hospitals have come under frequent attacks in recent months and years, Jason Cone, Executive Director of MSF America called for greater accountability.

“As of today suspected perpetrators get away with self-investigating and there’s no independent follow-up of attacks,” said Cone.

“It is a critical moment for member states to reaffirm the sanctity of the medical act in armed conflict,” he said.

The current situation does not reflect the respect given to health care in war from the earliest stages of the Geneva conventions, Stéphane Ojeda, Deputy Permanent Observer to the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross told the meeting.

“The protection of the wounded and sick has been at the heart of International Humanitarian Law since the start,” said Ojeda.

“Indeed the wounded and sick and the medical personnel taking care of them were the first categories of protected persons under international humanitarian law because in the 1864 first Geneva Convention,” he said.

The principle that health care personnel should not be punished for caring for the wounded and sick also needs to be respected, said Ojeda.

“If you start questioning this that’s a whole pillar of humanity starting to collapse,” he said.

Cone also added to Ojeda’s calls for the duties of doctors in caring for the wounded and sick to be respected.

“We can not accept any criminalisation of the medical act, any resolution should reinforce and strengthen protection for medical ethics,” he said.

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Violence Against Women Journalists Threatens Media Freedom Thu, 28 Apr 2016 19:38:18 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

A journalist from Radio Bundelkhand in India conducts an interview. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

For women journalists, violence and intimidation don’t just happen in conflict zones, they are every day experiences.

“You don’t even have to be in a conflict zone to be violated anymore,” New York Times reporter and author of the Taliban Shuffle Kim Barker said Wednesday at the launch of a new book documenting the daily violence and harassment which women journalists experience.

After writing an opinion-editorial on her experience of sexual harassment in the field, Barker said that an online commenter called her “fat” and “unattractive” and told her that “nobody would want to rape you.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) chose to focus its 2016 edition of the Attacks on the Press book series on the gender-based online harassment, sexual violence and physical assault experienced by women journalists, because of the impact of this violence on press freedom.

“In societies where women have to fight to have control over their own bodies, have to fight to reassert their right in the public space—being a woman journalist is almost a form of activism,” said Egyptian broadcast journalist Rawya Rageh who also spoke at the launch.

Much of the abuse takes place online where attackers can hide behind the anonymity of online comments.

“Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard." -- Jineth Bedoya Lima.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Internet users have experienced some form of online harassment. Though men are also subject to harassment, online abuse towards women tends to be more severe, including sexual harassment and threats of violence.

For example, one journalist reported to the The International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) that a troll had threatened to “human flesh hunt” her.

Alessandria Masi, a Middle East correspondent for the International Business Times, recalled the comments she received in an essay in CPJ’s book: “I have been hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army for writing an article that was critical of Syrian President Bashar Assad and asked how many people I have to have sexual relations with to get my article published.”

Online abuse is a symptom of deep-seated and pervasive sexism, many note. University of Maryland Law Professor and Author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace” Danielle Keats Citron stated that online gender harassment “reinforce(s) gendered stereotypes” where men are perceived as dominant in the workplace while women are sexual objects who have no place in online spaces.

But the threats do not just stay online, they also often manifest in the real world.

Deputy Editor of a Colombian Newspaper Jineth Bedoya Lima was kidnapped and raped in 2000 after exposing an underground network of arms trafficking in the country.

In 2012, after reporting on the dangers of female genital mutilation, Liberian journalist Mae Azongo received death threats including that she will be caught and cut if she does not “shut up.” She was forced to go into hiding with her nine-year-old daughter.

A year later, Libyan journalist Khawlija al-Amami was shot at by gunmen who pulled up to her car. Though she survived, she later received a text message warning her to “stop your journalism” or be killed.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) journalists also face similar threats, CPJ added. Most recently, Xulhaz Mannan, editor of Bangladesh’s only LGBT magazine, was hacked to death in his home.

However, many do not report their cases.

“It was almost like this dirty little secret, you didn’t talk about it…because you had to seem like you were just like one of the guys,” Barker said. She pointed to Lara Logan’s case as the dividing point.

While covering the Egyptian Revolution for CBS, Logan was violently sexually assaulted by a mob of men. During an interview on “60 Minutes,” she described how she was pulled away from her crew, her clothes ripped off, beaten with sticks and raped.

When asked why she spoke out, Logan said that she wanted to break the silence “on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.”

One key reason that many journalists do not speak out is the fear of being pulled out of reporting because of their gender or sexual orientation.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Rageh to participants. “I don’t want to reinforce this idea of who I am or what I am is going to curtail my ability to cover the story, but of course there’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she continued.

CPJ’s Vice Chair and Executive Editor of the Associated Press Kathleen Carroll noted that the threat of sexual violence has long kept women out of the field of journalism. But there are ways to handle such threats that do not lead to the exclusion of women, she said.

Carroll stated that good tools and training should be provided to journalists, both women and men alike. IWMF established a gender-specific security training, preparing women to be in hostile environments. This includes role-play scenarios, risk assessments and communication plans.

Effective, knowledgeable and compassionate leaders are also needed in news agencies in order to help staff minimize threats, Carroll added.

Panelists urged for reform, noting that women are needed in the field.

“The more women you have out there covering those stories, the more those stories get told,” Barker said.

In an essay, Lima also reflected on the importance of women’s voices, stating: “Our words, our will, can prevent the silencing of voices, the violation of our freedom of expression…and we, as journalists, have a huge responsibility in this regard. Our words can stir a fight or bury the hope of change forever.”

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Democracy Under Construction Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:49:45 +0000 Amitava Kar Cartoon: The New York Times

Cartoon: The New York Times

By Amitava Kar
Apr 28 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society,” said Mark Twain. In fewer places than Myanmar has the saying held truer where clothed men—uniformed to be more precise—have had all the influence for more than 50 years.

That’s changing with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy winning a decisive majority in the November 2015 elections. She is sending a clear message to the generals: civilians are going to call the shots from now on and she will be in charge.

Barred from becoming president by the military-drafted 2008 constitution “for the good of the mother country”, she assumed three key positions in the government to fortify her leadership—“State Counsellor”, foreign minister and minister in the president’s office. The combination of jobs will allow her to oversee the president’s office, shape foreign policy and coordinate decision-making between the executive branch and the parliament.

Things have started moving. As “State Counsellor”, she bypassed the military-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs and used legal processes to release students who had been jailed last year for protesting the new education reform law. In her first meeting as foreign minister with her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, she made it clear that Beijing would have to pursue its interests in Myanmar with her rather than through the Army, as had been the case in the past.

Military members of the parliament denounced the moves as “democratic bullying”. At a parade last month, Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, reminded citizens that “the Army ensures the stability of the country” and “has to be present in a leading role in national politics”. The four-star general, despite reaching the retirement age of 60, will see his term extended for another five years, according to Wall Street Journal. He is in no hurry for the Army to step back from politics.

Suu Kyi cannot send the generals, who kept her under house arrest for 15 years, back to the barracks overnight. They still control three important ministries—home affairs, defence and border affairs. The first allows them to control the state’s administrative apparatus, right down to the grassroots level. Through these centres of power, it dominates the National Defence and Security Council which can dissolve parliament and impose martial law. Amending the constitution remains impossible as it requires a majority exceeding 75 percent in the parliament. Since the army has 25 percent seats reserved by law, it holds a perpetual veto.

The task ahead is daunting. In most key human development indicators, her country sits at the bottom of the pit in Southeast Asia. The new government inherits high inflation, large budget and current-account deficits, an unstable exchange rate and institutions ossified by decades of corruption and authoritarian rule. FDI rose to over USD 8 billion during the last fiscal year, but much of that money remains concentrated in the country’s jade, oil and gas industries—tied to former generals. And as the country opens up further, it is the urban “elites” and big corporations under the control of armed forces that are likely to benefit most from increased liquidity while people in rural and ethnically segregated live in extreme poverty, without basic physical or financial infrastructure.

Other priorities include reaching lasting peace with ethnic minorities along the country’s borders some of whom have been fighting the central government for decades and put an end to laws that have been used to stifle dissent. Most important of all is to redress the vicious persecution of hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas who have been made stateless by a 1982 law and have been languishing in squalid camps or confined to their villages while thousands more have fled the country, many into the hands of human traffickers. Suu Kyi has to find a way to quash the Anti-Islamic sentiment violently stirred-up among the near 70 percent Bamar population in part by the 969 movement initiated by radical Buddhist monk Wirathu.

Myanmar’s new government will also have to tackle land rights: confusing and poorly enforced laws leave rural farmers vulnerable to confiscation. The NLD’s election manifesto promised land reform, but it is easier promised than delivered as it will have to confront the still-powerful Army on the matter.

As of right now, Myanmar has the world’s goodwill and potential abounds. Washington wants to seize the opportunity to pull the Army away from China’s ambit and towards itself at a time when it is looking for new partners in the Indo-Pacific region to bolster its “pivot” strategy. The country has abundant natural resources and is wedged between the massive markets of China, India and Southeast Asia. A lot of expatriate Burmese are returning home, bringing in ideas, enthusiasm and skills with them. Foreign investment, especially in telecoms and energy, is pouring in. Many believe it can reclaim its title as the world’s leading rice exporter.

The low-hanging fruits of Suu Kyi’s victory have been picked. Further change will rest on deeper, structural changes that will take much longer. “People expect that the NLD will solve all their problems,” said Bo Bo Oo, an MP who spent 20 years in jail for supplying medicine to students. “But it will take at least ten years before we see real change.”

The writer is a member of the editorial team of The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Playing Ping Pong with Disability Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini 0 Any Ways to Combat Extremism? Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.


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Deep Discord at United Nations over Global Drug Policy Wed, 20 Apr 2016 14:41:27 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

A youth smokes diamba (marijuana) at a gang base in Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

International drug conventions ultimately aim to ensure the health and welfare of humankind, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said here Tuesday at the opening of a special three-day session on drugs known as UNGASS.

Convened by the 193-member UN General Assembly, the meeting brought together government officials, UN agencies and civil society organisations to review the current international drug control regime.

In his address, Eliasson noted the sensitivity of the subject but urged for collaboration and action.

“It is…important that we listen to each other and learn from each others’ experiences, not least of how the well-being of people is affected,” he stated.

“We must base our decisions on research, data and scientific evidence. And we must not shy away from new ideas and approaches – even if these sometimes may challenge traditional assumptions,” Eliasson added.

However, the ongoing discussions reflect a deep discord regarding drug policy within the international community. UNGASS, which was due to be held in 2019, was advanced to 2016 at the request of the leaders of Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico, countries that have been at the frontline of drug-related violence.

Ahead of UNGASS, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos remarked on the failure of war on drugs in an opinion editorial for the Guardian.

“Vested with the moral authority of leading the nation that has carried the heaviest burden in the global war on drugs, I can tell you without hesitation that the time has come for the world to transit into a different approach in its drug policy,” he wrote.

“This is not a call for legalisation of drugs. It is a call for recognition that between total war and legalisation there exists a broad range of options worth exploring,” President Santos added.

Since the 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs, states have focused on the criminalisation and eradication of drugs. However, evidence has shown that this approach has not only failed to reduce the production and consumption of drugs, but it has also negatively impacted human rights, health and development around the world.

In Colombia, production of the world’s supply of coca leaves stood at less than 10 percent up to the 1980s. However, following the United States-led war on drugs in Peru and Bolivia, which funded crop eradication programs and anti-narcotics policing, cocaine production was pushed northward into Colombia. By 2000, the country cultivated an estimated 90 percent of the world’s coca leaves.

Despite US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Colombia in the 1990s, drug-fuelled violence spiked and contributed to the Western hemisphere’s longest war. Approximately 220,000 civilians were killed and more than five million were displaced during the Colombian armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Colombia continues to be a major coca and cocaine producing country.

Public health concerns also arose from the use of glyphosate in aerial spraying campaigns which were conducted for over two decades to eradicate coca crops. In 2015, the World Health Organisation warned that the herbicide could cause cancer.

In the U.S. itself, the criminalisation of drugs has led to unprecedented levels of incarceration. The north American nation currently has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned for drug offences.

Mass incarceration and drug-policing disproportionately impacts African American communities.

Though Whites use drugs five times more than African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences at 10 times the rate of White drug users, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

This has produced social costs that do not stop until long after prison sentences end, if at all.

A nation-wide study found that the majority of formerly incarcerated individuals were unable to access employment, education and housing. Approximately 67 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals in the study were still unemployed or underemployed five years after their release.

Many families also lose income and struggle to meet basic needs when a family member is incarcerated and unable to earn wages. In the same study, nearly 2 in 3 families with an incarcerated member were unable to meet their family’s basic needs, and 70 percent of those families include children. This perpetuates a vicious cycle of poverty and further incarceration with little if any change in drug consumption and production nationally.

The U.S. has begun to address the issue, implementing changes in its criminal justice system. During the National Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta in March 2016, President Barrack Obama highlighted the need to change drug approaches.

“For too long we’ve viewed drug addiction through the lens of criminal justice,” Obama said at the conference.

“The most important thing to do is reduce demand. And the only way to do that is to provide treatment – to see it as a public health problem and not a criminal problem,” he continued.

In the last two years, Obama has commuted 248 sentences of non-violent drug offenders who were harshly sentenced as a result of the war on drugs. The U.S. Justice Department also plans to release 6000 drug offenders following a drug law reform which reduced punishment for federal drug offences.

The UNGASS has incorporated some of these perspectives, experiences and evidence in its newly and unanimously adopted outcome document which aims to more effectively address the world drug problem.

In the document, the General Assembly has called for alternative measures to conviction and proportionate sentencing for drug-related offences. It also highlights the need to increase access to health services and treatment and address root causes including poverty.

However, many have already criticised the session and outcome document as being insufficient to effectively address the global drug issue.

Global Drug Policy Observatory’s (GDPO) Senior Research Officer Julia Buxton told IPS of her disappointment stating: “The outcome document is shameful – a hapless fudge…it goes against science, reason, evidence, best practice and lessons learned in decades of failed efforts,” she concluded.

She added that the outcome of meeting would move towards not only evidence-based approaches, but also harm reduction based approaches.

Harm reduction includes a set of strategies utilising a social justice lens to reduce negative health consequences associated with drug use.

“It demonstrates how fundamentally out of touch many national bureaucracies and governments are with the urgency of change and tragically, will condemn another generation to violence, disease, overdose, stigmatisation and rights abuses,” she concluded.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), approximately 27 million people are problem drug users. As of 2015, there has been little change in the production, use, and health consequences of illicit drugs.

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The Unknown Fate of Thousands of Abducted Women and Girls in Nigeria Fri, 15 Apr 2016 16:16:23 +0000 IPS Africa This 15 year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon, was abducted by Boko Haram and spent four months in captivity. Photo credit: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

This 15 year-old Nigerian refugee at the Minawao refugee camp in northern Cameroon, was abducted by Boko Haram and spent four months in captivity. Photo credit: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

By IPS Africa Desk
Apr 15 2016 (IPS)

The plight of 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted two years ago is all too common in Nigeria’s conflict-affected north-eastern communities, and up to 7,000 women and girls might be living in abduction and sex slavery, senior United Nations officials on 14 April 2016 warned.

“Humanitarian agencies are concerned that two years have passed, and still the fate of the Chibok girls and the many, many other abductees is unknown,” said Fatma Samoura, Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria.

At the hands of their captors, they have suffered forced recruitment, forced marriage, sexual slavery and rape, and have been used to carry bombs. “Between 2,000 and 7,000 women and girls are living in abduction and sex slavery,” said Jean Gough, Country Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Women and girls who have escaped Boko Haram have reported undergoing a systematic training programme to train them as bombers, according to UNICEF. And 85 per cent of the suicide attacks by women globally in 2014 were in Nigeria.

In May 2015, it was reported that children had been used to perpetrate three-quarters of all suicide attacks in Nigeria since 2014. Many of the bombers had been brainwashed or coerced.

As the Nigerian military recaptures territory from Boko Haram, abducted women and girls are being recovered. Over and above the horrific trauma of sexual violence these girls experienced during their captivity, many are now facing rejection by their families and communities, because of their association with Boko Haram.

“You are a Boko Haram wife, don’t come near us!” one girl reported being told. Effective rehabilitation for these women and girls is vital, as they rebuild their lives.

Chibok Abduction Not Isolated Incident

Children have suffered disproportionately as a result of the conflict. The Chibok abduction was not an isolated incident, the UN reports. In November 2014, 300 children were abducted from a school in Damasak, Borno, and are still missing.

A UNICEF report, released earlier this week, states that 1.3 million children have been displaced by the conflict across the Lake Chad Basin, almost a million of whom are in Nigeria. Similarly, Human Rights Watch have reported that 1 million children have lost access to education.

Thousands of people, mainly women and children, are scattered across the arid land of Nguigimi, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. Photo credit: WFP Niger/Vigno Hounkanli.

Thousands of people, mainly women and children, are scattered across the arid land of Nguigimi, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. Photo credit: WFP Niger/Vigno Hounkanli.

“The abducted Chibok girls have become a symbol for every girl that has gone missing at the hands of Boko Haram, and every girl who insists on practicing her right to education,” said Munir Safieldin, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria.

More needs to be done by the Nigerian Government and the international community to keep them safe from the horrors other women and girls have endured. Safe schools are a good start, but safe roads and safe homes are also needed.

“We Cannot Forget the Girls from Chibok”

Marking two years since Boko Haram abducted 276 girls in Nigeria, a United Nations child rights envoy on 13 April reiterated a call to bring them back, stressing that the international community must “be their voice” and help give children of Nigeria and the region the peaceful, stable lives they deserve.

“It is up to us to be their voice and give them back the life they deserve,” said Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in a message on the anniversary.

Two years ago, in the middle of the night, 276 girls were abducted by Boko Haram from their school dormitory in Chibok, in Nigeria’s northeast. Fifty-seven escaped hours later but what happened to the remaining 219 girls has been unknown.

In the past two years, the conflict has continued to grow and Boko Haram’s activities have spilled over into the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger. More children have been abducted. Hundreds of boys and girls have been killed, maimed and recruited by Boko Haram.

Children Used as Suicide Bombers

In what has become one of the armed group’s most gruesome tactics, women and children, girls in particular, have been forced to serve as suicide bombers in crowded markets and public places, killing many civilians, according to Leila Zerrougui.

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (centre), meets displaced children and their families in northeastern Nigeria, in January 2015. Credit: UN

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui (centre), meets displaced children and their families in northeastern Nigeria, in January 2015. Credit: UN

“It is no surprise that in the midst of such violence, families decided to flee to safer areas in Nigeria, and to neighbouring countries. With over two million people displaced, including more than one million children, often separated from their families, the UN has described these massive displacements as one of the fastest growing crises in Africa.”

In the past year, as the Government of Nigeria has retaken control of some territory in the country’s northeast, Boko Haram captives were liberated or have been able to escape, including many children.

“Girls and boys told distressing stories about their captivity, including how entire villages were burned to the ground, and recounted stories of rape and sexual violence, recruitment and use of children by the group, as well as other violations,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

“These children yearn for the safety of their families, but going back to their communities can mean persecution and mistrust,” she said. “Girls who come back as young mothers face even greater challenges. These traumatised children require assistance and our support to fight stigma and rejection.”

Missing Out on Education

The conflict’s impact on education has been no less profound. Over 1,500 schools in North Eastern Nigeria have been destroyed and the teachers are gone. Hundreds of thousands of children are missing out on their education. The international community’s efforts to support initiatives to bring children back to school are essential and must be maintained.

Much has been done to help children reintegrate back into their communities and return to school, but the need far exceeds the resources available.

“It is our collective responsibility to keep shining a spotlight on these children in need and ensure they have a future in which they can overcome these challenges,” she said.

The abduction of the Chibok girls catalysed international action, including in the Security Council. In June 2015, Council members adopted resolution 2225 that made the act of abduction by an armed group or force a trigger to list them in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, she noted.

This means future acts of abduction, like in Chibok, can translate into a listing for those perpetrators and increase pressure on them by the international community.

“We cannot tolerate the abduction of children. We cannot forget the girls from Chibok,” she said.


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Can an Animal Heist Fable Help Solve the Middle East Crisis? Fri, 15 Apr 2016 15:37:20 +0000 Baher Kamal A scene from the film, Giraffada, directed by Rani Massalha and produced by Pyramide Films. The film was screened at the UN on 7 April 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Pyramide Films | Source: UN News Centre

A scene from the film, Giraffada, directed by Rani Massalha and produced by Pyramide Films. The film was screened at the UN on 7 April 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Pyramide Films | Source: UN News Centre

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 15 2016 (IPS)

Make no mistake-the Middle East is the longest and perhaps the most complex crisis in recent History, this explaining the innumerable, successive –and frustrating- attempts to solve it.

Now, while expecting the US president Barack Obama to follow the “tradition” of his predecessors of calling for a big summit in Washington to talk about this crisis as one of his last official acts, an animal heist fable has just appeared as a new try to serve as poignant metaphor for Middle East relations.

See what is this all about: A 4.5 meter giraffe is one of the main characters in Giraffada, a film shown on April 13 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, depicting the struggles of living in a Palestinian town as seen through the eyes of a young boy who has a close connection with the animal.

The award-winning production’s title is a cross between “giraffe” and “intifada” or Palestinian “uprising,” the director Rani Massalha told the UN News Centre in an interview ahead of the screening.

“The film is set during the second Intifada,” Massalha said, referring to a period of intensified Israeli-Palestinian violence from September 2000 to February 2005.

The film focuses on a widowed Palestinian veterinarian, Yacine, and his 10-year-old son, Ziad, who are trying to keep a giraffe named Rita from dying of loneliness after her partner is killed in an Israeli air raid. The only viable solution is for Rita to be placed in a zoo in Tel Aviv, Israel, or so it seems.

Created as a fable, the film shows “what it is to be a kid in West Bank today living in war, living with a wall surrounding you, with checkpoints, colonies, it’s a very different childhood from people in the West,” the director said.

In one of the most emotional scenes in the film, a giraffe meanders through Palestinian streets, temporarily stopping day activities, such as shopping and praying, as people watch in jaw-dropping disbelief.

“The giraffe is the tallest animal in nature so it sees man from above looking down,” Massalha said, a reference to the height giving the animal perspective to see the situation in the Middle East as it is, not politicized.

The director also used giraffes as a metaphor for how the relationship between the Israelis and Palestinians could be, with two giraffes coming together from both sides of the West Bank barrier, known simply as the wall.

In this interview clip, Massalha discusses how he came up with the idea of having the world’s tallest land animal star in the film, and the connection with hope for peace in the Middle East.

The screening was organised under the auspices of the UN Working Group of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations and Chairperson of the Working Group, Natasha Meli-Daudey, said the film was chosen because of its portrayal of “the reality of the conflict and the impact of the Israeli occupation on the daily life of Palestinian adults and children.”

“We thought the film was well suited to inform a UN and broader New York audience about such topics,” she continued, adding that more than 500 people, including children, attended the screening.

The film’s human characters include different portrayals of Israeli and Palestinian personalities, often with fluid stereotypes. The characters include an Israeli veterinarian, who is actually played by an Arab actor of Moroccan descent, and whose help is integral to the plot’s success.

In contrast, there is an angry confrontation between the characters and a gun-wielding Israeli settler.

Despite it being a film with animals, shown through a child’s eyes, there are scenes that touch on the brutality of living in a war zone. Rather than give away the film’s ending, the UN News Centre asked Massalha to explain one of the scenes from the film

The ‘Two-State Solution Is in Danger’

All this is fine. The point is that only one day after the film screening, a new UN report warned that the viability of a two-state solution –which envisages peaceful co-existence of both Israel and Palestine– is in danger due to the negative trends on the ground, including recent violence, on-going settlement activity, demolitions, incitement, and the absence of Palestinian unity.

The report, issued on April 14 by the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), highlights an increase in settlement activities by Israel and a further consolidation of Israeli control over the West Bank.

It underscores that the demolition of Palestinian homes and livelihood structures more than doubled in the reporting period as compared with the previous six months, noting that the total demolitions by mid-April already exceeded last year’s total. The report also expresses concern over Palestinian access to land and natural resources in ‘Area C’ of the West Bank, among other development factors.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has condemned the April 6 large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills.

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

A boy in the Bedouin refugee community of Um al Khayr in the South Hebron Hills where large scale home demolitions by Israeli authorities took place. Credit: UNRWA

As a result, according to UNRWA, 31 Palestine refugees, including 16 children, were made homeless in a community that has endured several rounds of demolitions and often faced harassment from the nearby illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel.

Already this year, over 700 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli demolitions in the West Bank. This figure is approaching the total number of displaced for all of 2015, said Lance Bartholomeusz, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, who stated that he was “appalled” by the “unjustifiable” demolitions, which are in violation of international law.

“As the UN has said repeatedly, these demolitions must stop,” said UNRWA.

Regarding the Palestinian side, the new UNSCO report notes that despite continuing reconciliation discussions held in February and March between Fatah, Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Qatar, no consensus has been reached on achieving genuine Palestinian unity.

“The formation of a national unity government and the holding of elections are vital to laying the foundations of a future Palestinian state,” the report adds.

Degenerated Human Rights Situation

Citing a protracted humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, the report says that “some 1.1 million people in the West Bank and some 1.3 million in Gaza, over 900,000 of them refugees, need some form of humanitarian assistance in 2016.”

The report stresses that the human rights situation degenerated with the dramatic rise in clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli Security Forces in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, increased instances of punitive measures against families of alleged perpetrators of attacks, and administrative detentions.

The new UN report will be presented to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) at its bi-annual meeting in Brussels on 19 April. The Committee, chaired by Norway and co-sponsored by the European Union and the United States, serves as the principal policy-level coordination mechanism for development assistance to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Merely three weeks ago, the UN envoy for the peace process in the Middle East warned the Security Council that the prospects for an independent Palestinian state are disappearing, and questioned the political will of the Israeli and Palestinian actors to address the main challenges blocking peace efforts.

“The time has come to ring the alarm bells that the two-state solution is slipping from our fingers,” on 24 March said Nickolay Mladenov, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, pointing to ongoing Israeli settlement activities and confiscation of Palestinian land, as well as the continued lack of genuine Palestinian unity.


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Desert Locust Invading Yemen, More Arab States Wed, 13 Apr 2016 16:32:31 +0000 Kareem Ezzat Juvenile desert locust hoppers. Photo: FAO/G.Tortoli

Juvenile desert locust hoppers. Photo: FAO/G.Tortoli

By Kareem Ezzat
CAIRO, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Now that Yemenis begin to hope that their year-long armed conflict may come to an end as a result of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations sponsored round of talks between the parties in dispute, scheduled on 18 April in Kuwait, a new threat to their already desperate humanitarian crisis has just appeared in the form of a much feared massive desert locust invasion.

“The presence of recently discovered Desert Locust infestations in Yemen, where conflict is severely hampering control operations, poses a potential threat to crops in the region,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned.

On 12 April the FAO also urged neighbouring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iran, to mobilise survey and control teams and to take all necessary measures to prevent the destructive insects from reaching breeding areas situated in their respective territories.

The desert locust threat poses high risks not only to the Southern region of the Gulf, but also to North of Africa, FAO said and warned that strict vigilance is also required in Morocco and Algeria, especially in areas south of the Atlas Mountains, which could become possible breeding grounds for Desert Locust that have gathered in parts of the Western Sahara, Morocco and Mauritania.

Climate change appears among the major causes of the destructive plague, as groups of juvenile wingless hoppers and adults as well as hopper bands and at least one swarm formed on the southern coast of Yemen in March where heavy rains associated with tropical cyclones Chapala and Megh fell in November 2015.

“The extent of current Desert Locust breeding in Yemen is not fully known since survey teams are unable to access most areas. However, as vegetation dries out along the coast, more groups, bands and small swarms are likely to form,” said Keith Cressman, FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer.

Cressman noted that a moderate risk exists that Desert Locusts will move into the interior of southern Yemen, perhaps reaching spring breeding areas in the interior of central Saudi Arabia and northern Oman.

There is a possibility that this movement could continue to the United Arab Emirates where a few small swarms may appear and transit through the country before arriving in areas of recent rainfall in southeast Iran.

For its part, the Cairo-based FAO Regional office for the Middle East and North of Africa reported that the organisation is currently assisting technical teams from Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in conducting field survey and control operations in infested coastal areas.

As for the North of Africa, the UN agency has also warned that in the North Western region, small groups and perhaps a few small swarms could find suitable breeding areas in Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. In addition, some small-scale Desert Locust breeding is likely to occur in South Western Libya, but numbers should remain low.

Elsewhere, the situation remains calm with only low numbers of adults present in northern Mali and Niger, South West Libya, southeast Egypt and North East Oman.

A Force of Nature?

Desert Locust hoppers can form vast ground-based bands. These can eventually turn into adult locust swarms, which, numbering in the tens of millions can fly up to 150 km a day with the wind.

Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime while an adult insect can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day — about two grams every day.

A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people and the devastating impact locusts can have on crops poses a major threat to food security, especially in already vulnerable areas.

Locusts can devastate crops and pastures. Photo: FAO/Giampiero Diana

Locusts can devastate crops and pastures. Photo: FAO/Giampiero Diana

Locust monitoring, early warning and preventive control measures are believed to have played an important role in the decline in the frequency and duration of plagues since the 1960s; however, today climate change is leading to more frequent, unpredictable and extreme weather and poses fresh challenges on how to monitor and respond to locust activity.

FAO operates a Desert Locust Information Service that receives data from locust-affected countries. This information is regularly analysed together with weather and habitat data and satellite imagery in order to assess the current locust situation, provide forecasts up to six weeks in advance and if required issue warnings and alerts.

It also undertakes field assessment missions and coordinates survey and control operations as well as assistance during locust emergencies. Its three regional locust commissions provide regular training and strengthen national capacities in survey, control and planning.

A Disastrous Year

2015 was a disastrous year for Yemen, which is home to around 27 million people living over an area of more than 528,000 km2. Already the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country, the rise of the Houthi insurgency and Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes intended to oust them from power led to a full-blown humanitarian disaster. And then in November, coastal regions were hit by the most powerful storm in decades, causing displacement and flooding.

Services are the largest economic sector in Yemen (61.4 per cent of Gross Domestic Product-GDP), followed by the industrial sector (30.9 per cent), and agriculture (7.7 per cent). Of these, petroleum production represents around 25 per cent of GDP and 63 per cent of the State revenue.

In recent decade, agriculture represented between 18–27% of the GDP, but this percentage has been shrinking due to emigration of rural labour, among others. Main agricultural commodities produced in Yemen include grain, vegetables, fruits, pulses, gat, coffee, cotton, dairy products, fish, livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, camels), and poultry.

Nevertheless, most Yemenis are employed in agriculture. Sorghum is the most common crop. Cotton and many fruit trees are also grown, with `mangoes being the most valuable.

Regarding the on-going humanitarian crisis, one year on into the conflict in Yemen, tens of thousands of Yemenis have been killed or injured, one in 10 are displaced and nearly the entire population is in urgent need of aid, the top UN humanitarian official in the country stated on 22 March 2016.

Credit: Almigdad Mojalli / IRIN

Credit: Almigdad Mojalli / IRIN

“It has been a terrible year for Yemen, during which a war peppered with airstrikes, shelling and violence had raged on in the already impoverished country,” added Jamie McGoldrick, Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.

Shelling of ports and airports, resulting in blockades and congestion, is one of the drivers of the humanitarian crisis, McGoldrick said, noting that health workers cannot reach patients and some 90 per cent of the food has to be imported.

“The country had extremely high levels of poverty before the war, and currently, the war has escalated, in an already fragile environment,” said the aid official.

Some 6,400 people have been killed in the past year, half of them civilians, and more than 30,000 are injured, with 2.5 million people displaced, according to figures from the UN World Health Organization (WHO). And more than 20 million people, or 80 per cent of the population, require some form of aid – about 14 million people in need of food and even more in need of water or sanitation.

The UN has appealed for 1.8 billion dollars for food, water, health care and shelter and protection issues, but only 12 per cent has been funded so far.

Bettina Luescher, senior communications officer for the World Food Programme (WFP) recently said in Geneva that shortages have forced the agency to cut rations to 75 per cent of a full ratio so that enough people could eat. “Yemen should not be forgotten, with all the attention focused on the Syria crisis,” she said.


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More Children Displaced, Used for Suicide Attacks by Boko Haram Tue, 12 Apr 2016 23:42:16 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

A meeting session of the #BringBackOurGirls daily protest campaigners at Maitama Amusement Park, Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Credit: Ini Ekott/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

A dire humanitarian and security crisis continues to worsen in the Lake Chad Basin with severe consequences for youth, said Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel Toby Lanzer.

“Boko Haram’s horror continues to wreck the lives of millions and millions of people,” Lanzer told press.

The Lake Chad Basin comprises of over 30 million residents from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. While visiting Northeastern Nigeria, Lanzer saw rampant poverty and food insecurity in the region with villages that were “completely deserted, completely destroyed.”

Children especially bear the brunt of this insecurity.

According to the UN’s children agency (UNICEF), of the almost 3 million people displaced by Boko Haram-related insecurity, 1.3 million are children. This is one of the fastest growing displacement crises in Africa, UNICEF noted.

In its new report, the UN children’s agency found that the number of children with severe acute malnutrition spiked in one year from 149,000 to almost 200,000.

Youth also continue to face threats of kidnapping and recruitment.

With the second anniversary for the Chibok kidnappings soon approaching, the majority of the girls still remain missing. However, Lanzer noted that this is just one case.

“The plight of the girls who were taken…that is one awful example, in a litany of awful examples,” he said, adding that the those who have been taken by Boko Haram now number in the thousands.

As they continue to disappear from the Lake Chad Basin, children as young as eight years old are increasingly used in suicide attacks.

One out of every five suicide bombers deployed by the terrorist group has been a child and are mostly girls, UNICEF reported.

“To me, that’s the epitome of evil,” Lanzer told reporters at a press briefing. “I cannot think of anything more horrifying.”

The report found that 44 children were used in suicide attacks in 2015, a ten-fold increase from 2014. Cameroon had the highest number of attacks involving children, reflecting the increased spillover of violence in the region.

Many kidnapped girls also experience sexual violence and forced marriage. In one account, Cameroonian 17-year-old Khadija told UNICEF that she was kidnapped while visiting her mother in Nigeria and forced to marry to one of the group’s militants.

“’If you don’t marry us, we will kill you,’ they said. ‘I will not marry you, even if you kill me,’ I responded. Then they came for me at night. They kept me locked in a house for over a month and told me ‘whether you like it or not, we have already married you,’” she recalled.

For those who do return home, communities often shun them out of fear that they will turn against their families.

Khadija revealed the discrimination she faced after escaping Boko Haram and arriving at a displacement camp.

“Some women would beat me, they would chase me away. Everywhere I went, they would abuse me and call me a Boko Haram wife,” she said.

Lanzer urged for a broader engagement in the Lake Chad Basin to address not only short-term relief, but also long-term development and security challenges to help stabilise the situation.

“More can be done,” he said. “I know that every donor capital at the moment is stretched…but when I see the scale of destruction and the level of suffering that stared me at the face…I haven’t seen anything worse anywhere recently,” he concluded.

So far, UNICEF has only received 11 percent of its $97 million appeal to provide lifesaving assistance to families affected by Boko Haram violence in the Lake Chad Basin.

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Baby Steps on Long Road to Justice for Atrocities in Syria Mon, 11 Apr 2016 22:08:57 +0000 Neil Sammonds Neil Sammonds is Amnesty International’s Syria, Lebanon and Jordan Researcher. ]]>

Neil Sammonds is Amnesty International’s Syria, Lebanon and Jordan Researcher.

By Neil Sammonds
GENEVA, Apr 11 2016 (IPS)

The negotiations on April 11, 2016 in Geneva and the recent reduction of hostilities in Syria may represent important steps towards a peaceful solution to more than five years of turmoil. Few would not welcome the guns falling silent once and for all and for an end to the suffering of civilians.

With war crimes, crimes against humanity and other abuses being committed with impunity in Syria it is essential that justice, truth and reparation form a key part of any agreement. Those who ordered, carried out or allowed such crimes to happen must be brought to justice. Yet this crucial pillar is not on the agenda in Geneva and risks being sacrificed in the interests of political expediency.

The absence of a tribunal in Syria capable of tackling the justice deficit is patently clear. The judicial system in Syria is mostly subservient to the political authorities and the security and intelligence agencies. Over the last five years, tens of thousands of civilians have been detained without trial, often forcibly disappeared. Thousands have died in custody.

The gravity and scale of abuse and impunity in Syria became evident within the first few months of the crisis. Yet the UN Security Council has abjectly failed to refer the situation in Syria for investigation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), despite repeated calls by international organizations, at least 65 states and the UN’s own Secretary General. An ICC investigation would have sent a powerful warning to commanders ordering war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Security Council could also have established an ad hoc international criminal tribunal, as it did with the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and Yugoslavia; at the moment this remains a remote possibility. Another option would be to establish an internationalised criminal court for Syria, as occurred for Sierra Leone and Cambodia. It is hard to imagine that such a court could be established and be effective without the consent of the Syrian government—which is currently inconceivable.

Alternatively, a neighbouring country might consent to a tribunal being set up on its own territory, but this too remains an elusive prospect particularly as many of Syria’s neighbours have themselves been directly involved in the conflict.

These obstacles mean that the only realistic avenue to address impunity at this time is for national authorities of other countries to exercise universal or other extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes under international law—including crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The flow of people out of Syria presents fresh opportunities to gather evidence of abuses from victims and witnesses and to investigate and prosecute suspected perpetrators. These include people seeking refuge or participating in business or negotiations. Amnesty International firmly holds that anyone who has sought refuge from the conflict in Syria should be granted sanctuary.

Countries have both the right and the obligation to carry out investigations into allegations that individuals under their jurisdiction may have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious human rights abuses.

In the event of such suspects having diplomatic or other privileged status, checks should be carried out into whether such status may grant immunity and under what, if any, circumstances that status may be removed and by whom. Civil society organizations and others should be vigilant and well-informed as to which legal organizations and individuals may be best able to advise and potentially file criminal complaints.

Opportunities for international justice may come at short notice and require preparedness to act promptly and decisively.

At least, 166 countries are able to exercise universal jurisdiction over at least one crime under international law—usually war crimes—regardless of the nationality of the suspect or of the victim. In recent months countries including Germany, Sweden and France, have opened such investigations into suspected international crimes in Syria. In January 2016 there were reports that a Syrian man was arrested in Germany on suspicion of war crimes relating to the kidnapping in Syria of a UN observer.

In Sweden, a Syrian asylum-seeker appeared in court accused of war crimes committed in Syria. In France, a Syrian asylum-seeker is being investigated for his alleged involvement in torture and killing of government opponents. Just last month a Syrian asylum-seeker in Sweden had criminal charges filed against him regarding his suspected involvement in the killing of captured government soldiers.

States whose nationals have travelled to Syria to fight should also investigate any allegations of crimes under international law and, where sufficient admissible evidence exists and laws provide, seek to prosecute them before their national courts.

States that have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance have an express obligation to exercise jurisdiction over those crimes allegedly committed by their nationals abroad.
Sweden and Germany are also actively investigating returnees from the conflict in Syria and in December 2015, Sweden sentenced two of its nationals to life imprisonment for their role in killings by the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS).

These moves by the international community are small but deeply significant steps in the right direction. The crimes they relate to and the individuals affected are greatly eclipsed, however, by the colossal scale of the violations and impunity in Syria.

There are some misgivings that suspected perpetrators on the government side, whose forces are responsible for the overwhelming majority of serious violations in Syria, are less likely to travel outside the country.
But that may well change. And states with the capacity and commitment to undertake investigations and trials should make sure that they are prepared to act quickly.

As it stands, the enormity of the injustice and impunity reigning in Syria dictates that the road to justice, truth and reparation has to start somewhere and as such, any opportunities that arise must be seized and built upon.


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Ethiopia’s Smoldering Oromo Mon, 11 Apr 2016 04:31:40 +0000 James Jeffrey 7 Turning to Agriculture Fri, 08 Apr 2016 05:45:44 +0000 Moyiga Nduru A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

A woman weeds a sesame crop field in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Moyiga Nduru
JUBA, South Sudan, Apr 8 2016 (IPS)

Facing an unprecedented economic crisis, South Sudan — the newest nation of the world — has urged its 12 million inhabitants to turn to agriculture instead of depending on declining oil revenues.

Before the fall of oil prices below $30 a barrel in the international market, oil-rich South Sudan used to import virtually all of its basic requirements from overseas.

Chicken came from Brazil. Tomatoes, onions, maize flour, cooking oil, dairy products and beans are still being imported from neighbouring Uganda. China and Dubai export a variety of goods such as soft drinks, smart phones as well as construction materials.

All of this is unsustainable and worries the government. South Sudan has ignored agriculture since it achieved its independence in July 2011. Up to 75 per cent of the country’s land area is suitable for farming.

“South Sudan has virgin land. Yet we import most of our food from neighbouring countries,” finance minister, David Deng Athorbei, complained during a meeting organised in the national capital Juba recently to address the deteriorating economic situation in the country.

Every year, South Sudan spends between US$200-300 million on food imports, according to estimates for 2013 provided by the Abidjan-based African Development Bank (AFDB).

“South Sudan currently imports as much as 50 per cent of its needs, including 40 per cent of its cereals from neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia”, according to AFDB.

During the first two years of independence, the country was producing nearly 245,000 barrels of crude oil per day, raking in billions of dollars in revenue annually. As a result, the elite saw no value in labour-intensive activity like farming.

That is now changing. A drop in the oil output, a decline in global oil prices and the devastating conflict in South Sudan, as well as an acute scarcity of hard currency have triggered shortages of goods in the market.

South Sudan, which currently produces 165,000 barrel of crude oil per day, depends on oil revenue for nearly 98 per cent of the total government budget.

“We must diversify. We should not depend on one commodity — oil. We have gold in Kapoeta (on the border with Kenya). We have cattle,” said Gabriel Alak, a senior official of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on a popular programme, Face the Nation, on the state-owned South Sudan Television recently.

Campaigners are now focusing on food production to mitigate the impact of a devastating conflict that erupted in Juba in December 2013. The violence spread quickly to oil-producing states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.

The fighting has left hundreds of thousands of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

At the height of the oil boom, South Sudanese businesspeople had directed their energy toward trade, ignoring agriculture.

“The business of trade is over. We now need to embark on the business of production. We have to change our ways of doing business. Let’s start with agriculture,” Athorbei advised.

In April 2015, President Salva Kiir donated 1,000 tractors to farmers around the country. He also set up the country’s first food security council headed by himself.

“I am determined to end hunger and malnutrition in the Republic of South Sudan,” Kiir said during the launch of the tractors in Juba.

“We have vast fertile lands, abundant water and climate suitable for production of wide variety of food and cash crops but the country still faces enormous challenges which prevent it from realising its full potential,” he said.

“Experts estimate that up to 300,000 metric tonnes of fish could be harvested on a sustainable basis from its share at the River Nile swamps and tributaries,” Kiir disclosed.

South Sudan produces some food crops, but the food is rotting in the bush due to poor road network to transport the commodities to the market.

Athorbei said he would set aside some money in the financial year 2015/2016 to boost agriculture. He did not say how much he would allocate.

With South Sudan joining the East African Community (EAC) on 2 March 2016, Juba hopes to invite farmers across the region to till the country’s vast lands. “This will cut transport costs and reduce food prices,” vice-president James Wani Igga told a parliamentary caucus of the ruling SPLM in Juba on March 10, 2016.

EAC comprises Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and now South Sudan, with a combined population of more than 157 million.

As South Sudan works out plan to fix agriculture, prices have continued to spiral beyond the reach of the poor. The crisis has prompted parliament to urge government to reduce inflation to mitigate the sufferings of ordinary persons.

“There is urgent need to mobilise up to US $20 million for the importation of food commodities and medicines within a period of one month. The food commodities shall be sold through established consumer cooperative network,” the chairperson for the committee for economy, development and finance in parliament, Goc Makuach Mayol, said in a 14-page report on March 7, 2016.

The parliament has also called for a probe into a US$70 million, which was disbursed by an agency known as “financial auction” to commercial banks and forex bureaux with instructions by the central bank to allocate 50 per cent for importing food commodities, 30 per cent for industrial inputs and 20 per cent for school fees and medical treatment overseas.

The parliament did not indicate when the money was disbursed. But it has demanded for a record showing how the money was spent.


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Global Guidelines on Land Tenure Making Headway in Latin America Wed, 06 Apr 2016 23:04:11 +0000 Marianela Jarroud A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

A meeting to discuss the restoration of land in Colombia to rural victims of the half-century armed conflict – a situation that the voluntary guidelines on land tenure can help solve. Credit: Helda Martínez/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 6 2016 (IPS)

Voluntary guidelines on land tenure adopted by the international community to combat the growing concentration of land ownership and improve secure access to land have begun to make headway in Latin America, a region that is a leader in the fight against hunger and that is taking firm steps towards achieving food security.

“The guidelines are an absolutely political document, which helps even out the playing field,” promoting dialogue and negotiation, said Sergio Gómez, a consultant with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) regional office, in the Chilean capital.

“The dynamics of the land market and the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing by foreign interests had gotten out of control, and the FAO addressed this because if these things are not kept within reasonable limits, food security is jeopardised,” he told IPS.

The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security can only be understood in relation to the existing levels of land concentration and land-grabbing, he said.“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis.” -- Sergio Gómez

According to a FAO studied carried out in 17 countries in this region, land-grabbing has increased significantly since the turn of the century.

In this region, the concentration of land ownership and land-grabbing are at their strongest in Argentina and Brazil, followed by the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.

These problems are at a mid- to high level of intensity in Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru, while they are less present in the countries of Central America and the English-speaking Caribbean.

“The land tenure situation today is unprecedented, because it is happening at a very particular moment, when the food crisis that applies heavy pressure to natural resources is compounded by an energy crisis and a financial crisis,” Gómez said.

“All of this leads to unprecedented pressure with regard to the land question,” he said.

The Guidelines, approved in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – described as the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all – are aimed at serving as a reference point for and providing orientation to improve the governance of land tenure, fisheries and forests.

“The Guidelines are a negotiating tool in an area where there are no clear formulas, but where, in a wide range of situations, the affected groups have to sit down and dialogue, to seek agreements,” Gómez said.

The document establishes 10 rules that the different actors must accept before engaging in dialogue. They are called implementation principles, and are obligatory and designed to provide orientation for this kind of discussion.

They range from respect for human dignity and existing laws to gender equality and transparency.

All of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have signed the accord, and although it is not binding, “it is understood that there is a willingness to comply,” Gómez said.

Three approaches

But the guidelines are just now starting to be applied in the region.

Concrete experiences in three countries – Guatemala, Colombia and Chile – represent three different approaches.

In Guatemala, the initiative emerged from a request from the government, which in 2013 asked the FAO to provide support and technical assistance to strengthen the country’s agricultural institutions.

“What we did in Guatemala is the most significant thing we have done in the region,” said Gómez.

The land issue, fraught with conflict and inequality, is a major problem in that Central American country of 15.8 million people, where nearly 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent are indigenous.

In rural areas in Guatemala, the poverty rate climbs to 75 percent, and six out of 10 people living in poverty are considered extremely poor.

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

This Mapuche couple, Luis Aillapán and his wife Catalina Marileo, were tried and convicted under an anti-terrorism law for protesting the construction of a road across their land, which violated their land rights. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

In terms of land ownership, two percent of farmers own 57 percent of the land, while 92 percent own just 22 percent.

As a result of the progress made, 80 percent of the aspects tackled in discussions in the country were incorporated in the 2014 national agrarian policy plan.

But the 2015 political crisis brought the process to a halt, although the FAO hopes to get things moving again.

In Colombia, meanwhile, land questions are at the heart of the armed conflict that has shaken the country for over half a century, and resolving this problem is essential to achieving peace, and to ensuring compliance with a preliminary agreement on justice and reparations reached Dec. 15 in the peace talks between the government and the FARC insurgents in Havana.

An estimated 6.6 million hectares – roughly 15 percent of Colombia’s farmland – were stolen or abandoned when the families were forcibly displaced since the early 1990s. Today, 77 percent of the land in the conflict-torn country of 48 million people is in the hands of 13 percent of owners, while just 3.6 percent own a full 30 percent of the land.

“In Colombia, land is a hot issue, and it is key to the peace agreement” expected to arise from the peace talks in the Cuban capital, Gómez said.

He added that the authorities “have passed a few laws to restore land to people who were forced off it, who number in the tens of thousands. But now we’re entering another phase, based on a project for cooperation with the European Union, as part of the peace process.”

On the road to implementation of the Guidelines, the FAO has discussed holding regional workshops and has stressed the need for local involvement.

Nury Martínez, a leader of FENSUAGRO, the largest agricultural workers union in Colombia, which has contributed to the process aimed at implementing the Guidelines, said some of the points included in the Guidelines “are very important to us as peasant farmers…and are tools of struggle.”

But to use a tool it is necessary to be familiar with it. With that aim, the Food Sovereignty Alliance drew up a popular manual on the Guidelines, “aimed at helping people understand them better and enabling peasant farmers and indigenous people to make them their own,” Martínez, who is also a regional leader of the international peasant movement Vía Campesina, told IPS from Bogotá.

In Chile, meanwhile, the FAO has worked in the southern region of La Araucanía, where the Mapuche indigenous people have long been fighting for their right to land.

In the South American country of 17.6 million people, forestry companies own 2.8 million hectares of land, with just two corporations owning 1.8 million hectares.

José Aylwin, co-director of the Citizen Observatory, a Chilean NGO, told IPS that in Chile, “there is no other case, except private conservation projects, of such heavy concentration of land in so few hands.”

He added that the context surrounding the conflict in southern Chile “is that of a people who lived and owned that land and the natural resources, and a state and private interests that came in later and stripped the Mapuche people of a large part of their territory.”

Despite the polarisation of groups in the area, the FAO managed to bring together 67 people, including Mapuche and business community leaders, in May 2015.

Aylwin said these talks demonstrated “the timeliness of the Guidelines” with respect to conflicts generated by the concentration of land in the hands of the forest industry.

“The conflicts in La Araucanía do no one any good; solutions are needed, and the Guidelines provide essential orientation,” he said.

Despite the difficulties, Gómez predicted that the Guidelines would increasingly be applied in the region. “So although we feel distressed that faster progress isn’t being made, we’ll have Guidelines for several decades.”

With additional reporting by Constanza Viera in Bogotá.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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War Zones Littered with More than Just Land Mines Mon, 04 Apr 2016 19:40:03 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands By Lyndal Rowlands

Land mines are not the only type of explosive devices that families returning home after conflicts risk stumbling across, representatives from the UN’s Mine Action Service (UNMAS) told journalists here Monday.

“There is a lot of stigma about using mines now – the real issue is just the explosive detritus of conflict,” said Paul Heslop, UNMAS chief of program planning on the International Day for Mine Awareness. This detritus, said Heslop, includes unexploded hand grenades, rockets, bombs, shells, cluster munitions, and improvised explosive devices.

This is why UNMAS does not discriminate when removing unexploded ordinances in conflict and post-conflict zones, said Agnes Marcaillou, director of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). For UNMAS, it doesn’t matter if the explosive device is a land mine or an improvised explosive device inside a soda can, she said.

Marcaillou described how in Iraq people are returning home to find their homes deliberately booby-trapped. “In Iraq if you decide to return to your home after Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL) has left your village you are likely to find your doors, your windows, everything will be booby trapped,” she said.

Syrian families who return home are faced with “a land littered with unexploded bombs and cluster munitions that might kill (them) or (their) children today, or perhaps tomorrow,” she said.

While some of these devices are sometimes described as improvised or homemade, they are actually sophisticated systems designed to make sure that people are not safe to return home even after the fighting has ended, said Marcaillou.

Marcaillou told journalists that it is essential that mine action is incorporated into the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul in May. If not, it will be impossible to meet the cost of clearing mines and other unexploded devices from Iraq and Syria, which, she said, could exceed 100 million dollars. However Marcaillou said that the cost of removing the unexploded weapons was small in comparison to the amount spent on purchasing bombs and fighter jets. “There is money to clean up what money paid to do,” she said.

And while progress has been made on mine clearance, including in some of the worst affected countries such as Afghanistan and Cambodia, the international community should not yet see the problem as solved, said Heslop.

For example, in Afghanistan, he said, the number of deaths from mines has dropped from hundreds per month down to five or six, yet other types of unexploded ordinances still cause about 70 deaths per month.

And despite decades of clearing land mines from Cambodia, Heslop said that making Cambodia mine free could still take another decade, with cluster munitions posing a new challenge as people move to areas which haven’t yet been cleared.

In a statement issued to mark the International Day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that he was “particularly concerned about the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.”

However Ban also noted that even in extremely challenging contexts such as Syria progress is being made on removing mines. Since August 2015, some 14 tonnes of unexploded ordnance have been destroyed in Syria, he said.

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International Community Falls Short on Syrian Resettlement Thu, 31 Mar 2016 15:57:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

Syrian refugee children learn to survive at a camp in north Lebanon. Credit: Zak Brophy/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“We cannot respond to refugee crises by closing doors and building fences,” said UN High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi in his opening address to a high-level event in Geneva.

By the end of the meeting, however, the international community remained reluctant to welcome refugees.

The conference, which brought together representatives from 92 countries, along with governmental and nongovernmental organizations on 30 March, was convened by UNHCR to explore pathways for refugees and asylum-seekers to help relieve the pressure on Syria’s neighbouring countries.

While highlighting the need to globally share responsibility, Grandi said it cannot be “business as usual,” leaving the burden to a handful of states.

“Offering alternative avenues for the admission of Syrian refugees must become part of the solution, together with investing in helping the countries in the region,” Grandi added.

The five-year conflict in the Middle Eastern nation has forced over 4.8 million civilians to flee while displacing another 6.5 million within its borders.

Though many seek refuge in Europe, the majority of refugees have stayed in the region.

Turkey currently hosts over 2.5 million Syrians, making it the largest refugee-hosting country. In Lebanon, a country of just four million hosting more than 1 million refugees, one in five people are Syrian.

Unable to cope with the unprecedented numbers, neighboring countries have found their economic resources exhausted.

According to a UN and World Bank study, 90 percent of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon live under the national poverty line.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also pressed for action, noting that the world must “step up” with concrete actions, including the fulfillment of governments’ resettlement promises. Countries have so far pledged 179,000 resettlement places for Syrians.

However, according to an Oxfam report, wealthy nations, which have made the majority of resettlement pledges, have only resettled 1.39 percent of all Syrian refugees.

Only three countries, including Germany, Norway, and Canada, have made resettlement pledges that have surpassed their “fair share,” calculated according to the size of their economy.

Canada, while working with UNHCR, was able to resettle over 26,000 Syrian refugees in less than four months.

The Secretary-General and High Commissioner also urged countries to also allow other pathways for admission, including family reunification, labor mobility schemes, and student visas and scholarships.

“Today, they are refugees. Tomorrow, they can be students and professors, scientists and researchers, workers and caregivers,” Ban said in his address.

In a recent report, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) said that though these channels already exist, they are often “blocked by practical, technical and political obstacles.”

While speaking to delegates, Razan Ibraheem, a Syrian journalist who reached Ireland with a student visa, said she had met a woman who had taken a boat to Greece with her sister’s four children and her own five children because a family unification application had failed.

“Had her application been processed, those children would have been saved the horrors of crossing the Mediterranean,” she stated. She stressed that countries must expand resettlement programmes and speed up other channels including family reunion.

UNHCR has called for resettling or providing other avenues of admission for 10 percent of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, or 480,000, over the next three years.

Other organizations have followed suit, but have called for the resettlement of 10 percent by the end of 2016.

Despite appeals, the conference ended with doors remaining closed on Syrian refugees.

Grandi announced that countries have pledged just an additional 6,000 resettlement spaces, falling short of the refugee agency’s request.

International organizations including Oxfam and Save the Children expressed their disappointment in a joint statement, saying that governments have shown a “shocking lack of political and moral leadership.”

“Almost all states attending have failed to show the level of generosity required,” they continued.


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UN Chief Lauds Oman for Discreet Role in Peace Talks Wed, 30 Mar 2016 21:09:09 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has singled out Oman as perhaps the only Arab country in the Gulf playing a discreet role – mostly behind-the- scenes – in helping resolve some of the military and political conflicts in the war-ravaged region.

The conflicts include the devastating war in Yemen, the long drawn out confrontation between Iran and the big powers on a controversial nuclear agreement with Tehran, and the eight year- long Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

The Secretary-General’s sentiments have been reinforced in a new book titled “Oman Reborn” by Linda Pappas Funsch, Professor of Middle East Studies at Frederick Community College, Maryland, who points out that “the Sultanate of Oman is arguably one of the few ‘good news’ stories to emerge from the Middle East in the contemporary era.”

Described as one of the oldest independent countries in the Arab and Muslim world, Oman differs from many of its neighbours in the Middle East, Funsch says.

Largely ignored by a mainstream media that “gravitates toward sensation and scandal, Oman remains a hidden gem…”

When he visited Oman last month, the Secretary-General specifically acknowledged Oman’s role in hosting discreet talks between U.S. and Iranian officials, which eventually helped set the stage for the landmark nuclear agreement involving Iran and P5+1 – namely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany.

As the United Nations moves towards mediating peace negotiations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia in Kuwait on April 18— preceded by a cease-fire on April 10 — the Secretary-General said Oman has been a critical partner “as we try to bring peace to Yemen.”

Ban said he is particularly appreciative of Oman’s support for UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including enabling him to meet representatives of the parties to the Yemen conflict in the Omani capital of Muscat, ahead of peace talks in Switzerland late last year.

Meanwhile, Oman has helped secure the release of foreign nationals held in captivity in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, and has opened its doors to hundreds of Yemenis needing medical assistance and temporary accommodation.

The Sultanate has also re-settled 20 detainees – all Yemenis – who were transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention centre to Oman.

Oman’s role as a mediator, Ban said, also goes back to the cease-fire negotiations which the Sultanate hosted during the 1980s to help end the conflict between Iran and Iraq (1980-1988).

Paying a tribute to the leadership of Sultan Qaboos bin Said who has been in power for over 26 years as the longest reigning leader in the Middle East, Funsch says Oman neither adopts modernization and Westernization wholesale nor rejects their components outright.

The nine member Saudi coalition, accused of indiscriminate civilian killings in Yemen, includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan—but not Oman, which has scrupulously kept out of the ongoing conflict.

In her book, Funsch says Oman has maintained a venerable tradition of friendship and longstanding cooperation both with Western friends, including UK and the US, with which it shares strong bilateral ties dating back more than two centuries, and with Eastern friends such as Iran, whose history is inextricably linked to Oman’s own.

“Oman is distinguished from many of its regional neighbours in its steadfast embrace of a measured and independent foreign policy, designed to preserve its sovereignty and avoid interference in the internal affairs of other countries while simultaneously pursuing peaceful coexistence with all nations.”

This strategy, says Funsch, effectively permits the country’s leadership to pursue a path of “quiet diplomacy”, engaging with various parties, when requested, in an attempt to serve as interlocutor and mediator in the cause of defusing regional and international tensions.

The present Sultan took over the leadership from his father in 1970. “This affair may have gone down as a bloodless coup but for the fact that one palace insider who attempted to oppose the (former) Sultan’s removal was killed in the melee that followed.”

Meanwhile, according to Ban, Oman is currently helping the United Nations to digitize the world body’s audiovisual archives dating back to the founding of the Organisation 70 years ago.

They will now be preserved for all time, thanks to Oman, the Secretary-General said.

“All Member States stand to benefit from gaining access to these online archives from anywhere in the world.”

Oman’s reputation as a strong presence on the world stage, he declared, can only be enhanced by this generous act. “And Omanis will gain archiving skills that will help you to safeguard your own precious cultural heritage,” Ban said.

The writer can be contacted at

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HUMANISTANBUL: World Humanitarian Summit Tue, 29 Mar 2016 15:44:02 +0000 Mevlut Cavusoglu By Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu
Mar 29 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Despite worldwide shock and indignation, it looks like little Aylan Kurdi’s tragic death last summer changed little. This is a sad – but brutal – comment on our collective humanity, if such a thing still exists.

The power of images and social media, so effective for celebrity purposes, seems to have fallen flat on its face in mobilising assistance to those less fortunate. Indeed, since Aylan’s death six months ago, countless more innocents – men, women and children – have died completely preventable deaths.

It is true that we are now faced with major humanitarian crises, unlike anything since the last World War. But, there can be no excuse for the global indifference on display.

While major natural disasters continue to be a significant cause of death and displacement, what is most alarming today is that a great majority of humanitarian crises are conflict-related and of a recurrent or protracted nature. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Syria, where a mass murderer has, with outside help, targeted his own people indiscriminately and with impunity.

Beyond Syria, whether in the Middle East, Asia, Africa or elsewhere, humanitarian crises are transcending borders. Today, 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance around the globe. The number of displaced persons, 60 million, has almost doubled in just a decade. These numbers stand as testament to the human suffering caused by the growing complexity of humanitarian crises, our inability and unwillingness to tackle them, and the widening financial gap between increasing needs and limited resources.

Something has to be done and Turkey is leading the way, not only in terms of setting an example, but also in working to galvanise the international community towards action.

Today, while a major humanitarian donor, Turkey also hosts the largest refugee population – 2.7 million and counting – in the world. This is largely due to the war in Syria. Providing shelter and vital services such as free health care, schooling and vocational training for these refugees is a major financial burden that Turkey has had to assume largely on its own.

But our humanitarian diplomacy is not limited to our immediate region. Having received vulnerable persons, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity as far back as in the late 15th century, Turkey today is responding to all manner of humanitarian crises from Haiti to Nepal, Guinea to Somalia and the Sahel to Indonesia. Our humanitarian efforts seek, not only to relieve symptoms but also to treat the disease. This holistic approach covers humanitarian and development assistance, but also seeks to address the root causes and push factors of humanitarian crises. This approach is demand-driven and can best be seen in the countries of the Sahel or in Somalia, where Turkey has pursued an integrated policy conducted with a multi-stake holder approach. It has combined official aid with the active involvement of the business sector and civil society, and has managed to dramatically improve countless lives.

While individual efforts like these of Turkey are crucial, the international humanitarian system is being deprived of available funds and the clock is ticking for those affected by the many crises we are witnessing globally. There are simply too many lives at stake, and inaction is not an option.

At this critical juncture, Istanbul will host the first ever UN World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24, 2016. The choice of Turkey as host was hardly coincidental. It constitutes a timely recognition of the successful humanitarian diplomacy that we have been conducting.

The World Humanitarian Summit will provide a vital platform to address the challenges burdening the humanitarian system. In addition to such issues as responding to recurrent/protracted crises and waves of displacement, other pressing issues such as ensuring sustainable, reliable and predictable humanitarian financing will be examined. Other questions such as, what innovative methods could be used, or how to promote localised humanitarian responses through more tailor-made and user-friendly approaches, as well as the question of dignity and safety in humanitarian action, will be addressed at the Summit.

The World Humanitarian Summit will be an occasion for all the nations of the world and their leaders to take action while millions stand on the brink of life and death. As I remember first seeing Aylan’s image, I recall the overwhelming grief that came over me, thinking about how alone and without protection he was as an innocent toddler. I would like to believe that we learnt something from that image and that we do not need more images like this to compel us into action.

We are all responsible for what happens next to those vulnerable persons looking to us for help. Istanbul is an opportunity to step up and shoulder that responsibility. I am calling on all leaders of the world to come to Istanbul for the UN Humanitarian Summit and to work with us to find solutions for those who desperately need humanitarian assistance.

The writer is Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Yemen’s Health Crisis is “Critical,” Says WHO Mon, 28 Mar 2016 20:55:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The health situation in Yemen has severely deteriorated and is critical, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported.

The conflict, which is now entering its second year, has devastated the country’s health system. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien has called the crisis a “human catastrophe.”

Since March 2015, more than 6,200 people have been killed and 30,000 injured.

WHO has expressed alarm over the rise in the number of causalities amid hospital damages as well as shortages in trained staff and medicine. Approximately 25 percent of all health facilities have already shut down in the country.

However, health needs remain vast, said WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Ala Alwan.

“Operating in a conflict context is never an easy task,” Alwan added.

According to WHO, more than 21 million people—82 percent of the total population—are in dire need of humanitarian aid.

Though the provision of health services was already weak prior to the conflict, the escalation of violence has left millions of Yemenis without access to essential health services.

As a result of air strikes and rockets, water infrastructure has been and continues to be severely damaged. In February, a water reservoir serving over 40,000 people was destroyed in the capital of Sana’a following an airstrike.

Almost 19 million people currently lack access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the risk of epidemics such as dengue fever, malaria and cholera.

More than 14 million Yemenis also require urgent health services, including over 2 million acutely malnourished children and pregnant and lactating women. WHO found that 16 percent of children under the age of 5 are acutely malnourished, with the rate in some areas reaching more than 30 percent.

Alwan noted the numerous challenges in providing health services, including lack of access to hard-to-reach areas.

Permission to move and distribute humanitarian foods and personnel has been inconsistent by al-Houthi forces and allied groups such as Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners.

In a statement to the Security Council, O’Brien found that bureaucratic requirements have delayed and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance and even restricted movement of aid workers.

In one week alone in February, the Ministry of Interior in Sana’a rejected travel permission to three separate UN missions.

More than one third of Yemenis in need of assistance live in inaccessible areas.

Alwan highlighted the need for all parties to provide humanitarian access to all areas of Yemen and to respect the safety of health workers and health facilities which operate “under extremely challenging conditions.”

He also expressed concern over the limited funding for the health sector, which has only received 6 percent of its 2016 requirements. In February, the UN also appealed for $1.8 billion for the 2016 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. So far, 12 percent has been funded.

“Despite our efforts so far, much more needs to be done to respond to the health needs of people in Yemen,” he urged.

Last week, UN Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed announced that the country’s warring parties have agreed to cease hostilities starting on April 10 and to continue peace talks in Kuwait on April 18.

Under-Secretary-General O’Brien welcomed the move and urged for continued action to support and provide assistance to civilians in the country.


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