Inter Press ServiceArmed Conflicts – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 17 Aug 2018 17:11:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Palestinian Children, the True Victims of the Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict/#respond Wed, 15 Aug 2018 06:57:07 +0000 Carmen Arroyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157188 Over 500 to 700 West Bank children were arrested and prosecuted each year by Israeli military forces. And Palestinian child rights organisation, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), says that between 2012 and 2017 the organisation represented more than 700 children, some 72 percent of whom endured violence after their arrest. With the release of Palestinian teen […]

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Over 700 West Bank children were detained by Israeli military forces between 2012 and 2017, with 72 percent of them enduring physical violence after the arrest, according to Defense for Children International Palestine. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 15 2018 (IPS)

Over 500 to 700 West Bank children were arrested and prosecuted each year by Israeli military forces. And Palestinian child rights organisation, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), says that between 2012 and 2017 the organisation represented more than 700 children, some 72 percent of whom endured violence after their arrest.

With the release of Palestinian teen activist Ahed Tamimi in late July, the constant arrests of Palestinian children by Israeli forces have been in the spotlight once again.“Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities tend to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.” -- Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at Defense for Children International Palestine.

“Ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces is widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the Israeli military detention system,” Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at DCIP, told IPS.

July was an eventful month for Palestine. On the one hand, the observer state of Palestine was chosen to lead the Group 77 at the United Nations, making it a big win for Palestine and increasing the tensions with Israel. G77 is the largest bloc of developing countries, currently with 135 countries, and Palestine spoke at the General Assembly. Palestine will assume leadership of the G77 by January 2019, replacing Egypt.

On the other hand, some days later the 17-year-old Palestinian activist, Tamimi, was released after an eight-month stay in an Israeli prison. She was arrested after she hit an armed Israeli soldier at the entrance of her village, Nabi Saleh. The scene was recorded and the video made her well known worldwide.

Commenting on Tamimi’s case, Parker said: “Ahed’s detention, prosecution, plea agreement, and sentencing in Israel’s military court system is not exceptional, but illustrates the widespread, systematic, and institutionalised ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces and the fair trial denials inherent in Israel’s military detention system.”

“Now that she has been released, attention will likely wane but she has and continues to highlight the plight of the hundreds of other Palestinian child detainees that continue to be detained and prosecuted in Israel’s military court system,” he added.

Palestinian child arrests are becoming pervasive and the legitimacy of the methods used to process their arrests is quite questionable. Of the 727 children processed by Israeli military courts that DCIP represented, 700 had no parent or legal counsel present during the interrogation.

Additionally, 117 spent more than 10 days in solitary confinement. For Parker, “the ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces has been one of the more high profile Palestinian rights issues raised by the international community.”

With Palestine’s new leadership position at the U.N., the observer state could draw international attention towards this issue. But some experts remain sceptical as to whether this will prove to be true. Vijay Prashad, director at Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, said: “The G77 is hampered as countries that once were stalwarts in the fight against colonialism—such as India—are now hesitant. They need to be called to account.”

Asked about the role of the international system and institutions such as the U.N. to stop Palestinian child abuses in the West Bank, Prashad was adamant that there must be more action.

“The U.N. must be more vigorous. It is one thing to have declared the settlements as illegal and another to do nothing about it,” he said.

He went on, stating, “there needs to be more action by countries that abhor this policy of colonisation. Much more vocal condemnation, more stringent policies against the Israeli government [is needed].” 

Parker called the Israeli authorities to responsibility.

“Despite sustained engagement by [U.N. Children’s Fund] UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against Palestinian child detainees or guarantee due process rights and basic fair trial rights,” he said.

In response to the question of whether there had been any reforms within the Israeli military, Parker answered: “Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities tend to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.”

The international community is taking a stand with, for example, briefings and reports by different U.N. agencies and the current United States bill that focuses on the rights of Palestinian children detainees called the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act”.

According to Parker, this is not enough as Israel keeps breaking international justice agreements.

“Regardless of guilt or innocence or the gravity of an alleged offence, international juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obligated itself to implement by ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Parker said.

When asked whether the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem— enacted by U.S. president Donald Trump—has increased tensions, Prashad said: “Israeli policy has been whipped past illegality long before Trump became president. It has certainly intensified. But it is the same U.S. policy of appeasement of Israel’s ambitions.”

Parker, on the other hand, did see changes.

“Large-scale demonstrations, marches and clashes throughout the West Bank following the Trump administration’s decision to publicly recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December corresponded with a spike in the number of Palestinian child detainees held in Israeli military detention,” Parker said.

“Systemic impunity is the norm when it comes to Israeli’s 50-plus year military occupation of Palestinians, so demanding justice and accountability and ultimately an end to occupation is what is needed to end grave human rights violations against children,” he said.

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Along with Peace, Eritreans Need Repression to Endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/along-with-peace-eritreans-need-repression-to-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=along-with-peace-eritreans-need-repression-to-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/along-with-peace-eritreans-need-repression-to-end/#respond Wed, 08 Aug 2018 14:50:43 +0000 Laetitia Bader http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157137 Laetitia Bader is a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch

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The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. Once Eritrea was Ethiopia’s most northern region until gaining independence in 1991. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. Once Eritrea was Ethiopia’s most northern region until gaining independence in 1991. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By Laetitia Bader
ROME, Aug 8 2018 (IPS)

“Military service was the only prospect on my horizon — I didn’t want that,” a 20-year-old Eritrean who fled the country last year told me. “My dad had spent his whole life in military service.”

The young man, whom I recently met at an informal settlement in Rome, dreaded Sawa camp, where most Eritrean students spend their final year of high school before indefinite national service. To avoid that system, which has destroyed citizens’ lives since the border war with Ethiopia began in the late 1990s, hundreds of thousands of people, including children, have fled into exile. One young Eritrean we recently spoke to described national service as “bad treatment without any end in sight.”

On July 9, in a significant turn of events, Eritrea’s long-serving president, Isaias Afewerki, and Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, signed a declaration announcing “a new era of peace and friendship” between the countries.

Since then, each government has appointed an ambassador to the other country and reopened telephone, road and air connections for the first time in decades. Officials now discuss the possibility of land-locked Ethiopia using Eritrea’s Red Sea ports, unimaginable only a year ago. Ethiopia’s official news agency even announced a friendly football match scheduled for late August.

 

Peace has been a long time coming

In May 1998 a bloody border war erupted, and an estimated 100,000 people, mainly soldiers, are believed to have died and countless civilians were displaced, detained or summarily deported.  While active fighting ended in December 2000, enmity did not: Ethiopia rejected an international border commission’s ruling that the town of Badme, where the war began, was Eritrean territory.

Laetitia Bader - Along with Peace, Eritreans Need Repression to End

Laetitia Bader

President Isaias and Eritrea’s ruling elite have used this “no war no peace” as a justification to hold much of the country’s population largely hostage. Many of those with contrary or critical views of governance were jailed or forced to flee, deemed to have undermined Eritrea’s national security.

Repression is well-entrenched. The president has refused to hold elections since independence in 1993 and to implement the constitution with its bill of rights. The country has no functioning legislature nor independent judiciary.

Eritrea’s horrific prison system is bursting with political prisoners. The government has effectively eliminated independent public criticism. It is one of the leading jailers of journalists in Africa,  and does not permit independent domestic media, non-governmental groups, or opposition political parties. Rare public protests – such as November 2017 protests at a private Islamic school in Asmara against the arrest of the school’s nonagenarian honorary president – are met with mass arrests and occasionally with lethal force.

Freedom of religion, seen as a threat to loyalty to the nation, is severely restricted. Members of “unrecognized” religions are regularly incarcerated until they renounce their faith.

Eritrea’s horrific prison system is bursting with political prisoners. The government has effectively eliminated independent public criticism. It is one of the leading jailers of journalists in Africa, and does not permit independent domestic media, non-governmental groups, or opposition political parties.

Indefinite endless national service — which channels Eritreans, some underage, into either the military or civilian positions — is ultimately the government’s main system of control over the population. Inside, they face serious abuses, including torture, lack of food, and insufficient pay to support a family.  In 2016, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry characterized national service as “enslavement.”

But with the July 9 declaration, the Eritrean government’s– never legitimate justification for its repressive policies and system suddenly disappeared.

In recent weeks, there have been unconfirmed reports in the media of a handful of releases of detainees, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.

But the jury is still out as to whether the government will start to dismantle the systematic repression. Many Eritreans have taken to social media calling for key rights reforms, but so far, such reforms have not occurred.

President Isaias has often been impervious to condemnation for this human rights record, but regional and international entities reengaging with Eritrea should encourage him to take concrete steps to end government repression.

They should urge the government to immediately release the surviving members of a group of 21 journalists and prominent government officials held incommunicado since September 2001, at least 10 of whom are believed to have died in detention, and confirm the whereabouts and conditions of other political prisoners held incommunicado.  The government should also immediately release prisoners held for their religious beliefs, including the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox church and at least 53 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 3 of whom have been held for 24 years.

International actors should call on the government to cooperate with United Nations’ and African Commission’s independent experts and allow them to visit the country to monitor detention facilities. The government should also make a public commitment to abide by the 1997 constitution, which would provide a framework for more substantial reforms.

Finally, it should announce a timetable for demobilizing national service conscripts and start by immediately releasing those who have served more than five years.

High-level public rapprochement is important, but if Eritrea wants the full benefits of peace, it needs allow its citizens the freedom to enjoy them and give its youth the chance to hope again.

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Excerpt:

Laetitia Bader is a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch

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Farmer-Herder Conflicts on the Rise in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/farmer-herder-conflicts-rise-africa/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 15:51:42 +0000 Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157073 Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu is a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who has done extensive work on land rights issues.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Excerpt:

Juliana Nnoko-Mewanu is a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch who has done extensive work on land rights issues.

 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds initiated by IPS on the occasion of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, on August 9.

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Winds of Change on Kenya’s Northern Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/winds-change-kenyas-northern-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winds-change-kenyas-northern-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/winds-change-kenyas-northern-borders/#respond Mon, 06 Aug 2018 15:09:48 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157082 Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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At the Global Peace Leadership Conference in Uganda, President Museveni flanked by high level leaders from Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Inter-Governmental Authority for Development(IGAD). Credit: State House 03 August 2018

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 6 2018 (IPS)

Previously characterised by belligerence, based on competition for resources, the border regions of Eastern Africa can sense the blissful wind of peace approaching.

It is not a wind being blown by strict military enforcement of borders, but rather by the opening up of them, and empowerment of former warring neighbours to find collective coping mechanisms for environmental and economic shocks which have previously driven them to battle.

The charm of soft power as an alternative to aggression and inter-tribal warfare was a key highlight at the 6th annual Global Peace Leadership Conference held in Kampala, and whose theme was Moral and Innovative Leadership: New Models for Sustainable Peace and Development.

In the region, the new paradigm is being inspired by successes of the Kenya-Ethiopia Cross Border Programme, which was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia. In a joint article by Ambassador Amina Mohamed, the former Foreign Minister of Kenya and Dr Tedros Adhnom, the former Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, said, “peace and development initiative offers hope of resolving conflicts in border areas of Kenya and Ethiopia”.

The initiative, driven by the need to foster peace and sustainable development in the cross-border area of Marsabit County, Kenya, and the Borana/Dawa Zones, Ethiopia, is supported by IGAD, the European Union and Japan and implemented by the United Nations family in Kenya and Ethiopia together with local authorities on both sides.

“The programme we are launching today is transformative in its ambition…our task is to end the conflict, make certain that Kenyans and Ethiopians along the border have the same opportunities as those of other citizens in the two countries,” remarked Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta during the launch of the programme.

That programme was ignited by the United Nations, under the leadership of the former Resident Coordinator, Ms Nardos Bekele-Thomas. The current Country Team has given it momentum, and it has morphed into what is now recognized as a global best practice.

In an independent assessment, the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research hailed Kenya’s multidimensional cross-border programme for “simultaneously addressing violent extremism, human trafficking, economic development, local governance and inter-communal peace with mutually reinforcing objectives and means”.

The initiative slots in well with the vision of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his report on Peace-building and Sustaining Peace, which observed that UN agencies must “rally stakeholders to action within the entire peace continuum – from prevention, conflict resolution and peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable long-term development”.

The programme has now inspired a similar initiative in what is known as the Karamoja Cluster, also a conflict-prone border region shared by four countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda.

Map of the Karamoja area

On 26 July 2018, ministers from the four countries held consultations in Uganda, where they signed a communique on cooperation for the development of cross-border areas in the Cluster.

It was signed by Uganda’s State Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Hon Musa Ecweru, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and ASAL Areas Hon. Eugene Wamalwa, Ethiopia’s Minister for Livestock and Fisheries Prof Fekadu Beyene and South Sudan’s Minister for Environment and Forestry Hon. Josephine Napwon.

“The conflicts in South Sudan, Congo and Somalia are causing proliferation of arms into Kenya and Uganda, and this is curtailing the development in the area. What we are doing now will give a more lasting solution,” said Uganda’s Minister for Karamoja Affairs Hon. John Byabagambi.

Kenya’s Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa said that “peace will not prevail in the absence of basics such as water and food, and in the case of pastoralists, pasture for their herds“.

The Governments of Kenya and Uganda supported by their respective UN Resident Coordinators are developing a concept note that will put in place concrete modalities of cooperation by the affected countries. The mission is to develop the Karamoja Cluster as a single socio-economic zone, with joint policies and programs that will build resilience to overcome resources and erode current fault-lines–critical if this region is to realise SDGs.

The long term vision is that prevention strategies will be driven by private investment as a sustainable pathway to countering inequity and promoting inclusivity for the region’s peripheral communities.

There are already some good vibes coming from the region; last April 2018, leaders from South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda joined their counterparts from Kenya in the fourth edition of the Turkana Cultural Festival in Lodwar, Kenya.

In place of belligerence, the speeches harped on forging of trade relationships and unifying the region’s populations. Clearly, falling back into the safety of tribal enclaves is now recognised as an outdated sophism.

Slowly but surely, a light of peace is piercing through the Pearl of Africa, and it is sure to cause a rainbow of friendship between communities in the region.

The UN Country Teams in the region have the persistency of purpose, the determination to continue as the ‘sinews of peace’, so that neighbour shall not be forced by socio-economic circumstance to rise against neighbour.

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Excerpt:

Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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Jalalabad Attack Claims Life of IOM, IRC Colleagues Among Civilianshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/jalalabad-attack-claims-life-iom-irc-colleagues-among-civilians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jalalabad-attack-claims-life-iom-irc-colleagues-among-civilians http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/jalalabad-attack-claims-life-iom-irc-colleagues-among-civilians/#respond Wed, 01 Aug 2018 15:08:48 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157003 It is with profound sadness that the United Nations family in Afghanistan confirms that an employee of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was killed in yesterday’s attack on the Department of Refugees and Returnees in Jalalabad. Our immediate thoughts are with her family and friends. The United Nations expresses its deep sense of revulsion […]

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By International Organization for Migration
KABUL, Aug 1 2018 (IOM)

It is with profound sadness that the United Nations family in Afghanistan confirms that an employee of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) was killed in yesterday’s attack on the Department of Refugees and Returnees in Jalalabad.

Our immediate thoughts are with her family and friends.

The United Nations expresses its deep sense of revulsion at this senseless attack that claimed the lives of at least 13 civilians. Among the 20 others injured was another IOM colleague. The UN wishes him and all the injured a speedy and full recovery.

“I condemn this heinous crime which has already taken the life of one of our brave IOM colleagues in Jalalabad yesterday and left another grievously injured. It is a loss for IOM, our partners and Afghanistan,” said IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.

“Equally tragically the attack claimed the lives of at least 13 civilians, including an IRC colleague. My heart goes out to the families of all the victims. Everyone in IOM is thinking of our colleagues working in difficult conditions across the country on behalf of the Afghan people in the aftermath of this senseless attack,” added DG Swing.

Our colleague’s life was taken while she was working in the noble cause of assisting some of the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan. There is no justification for such acts of terror. She is one of thousands of Afghans who form the backbone of the daily work of the United Nations in the country to help the most in need, supporting development and contributing to the restoration of peace and stability.

This young woman, who was 22, lost her husband in a bombing in Kabul three years ago. She leaves behind a six-year old daughter, now an orphan.

“We mourn the loss of our colleague and, in tribute, commit ourselves to re-double our work to serve Afghanistan and its peoples,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

The deliberate targeting of civilians and the places where they work, such as the department in Jalalabad, is an appalling crime. The architects of this crime must be brought to justice.

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After Elections, Hard Work Starts for Zimbabwe’s Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society/#respond Fri, 27 Jul 2018 13:06:15 +0000 Teldah Mawarire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156923 Teldah Mawarire is a campaigns and advocacy officer with global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Women activists in Zimbabwe have long demanded a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Teldah Mawarire
HARARE, Zimbabwe, Jul 27 2018 (IPS)

For many Zimbabwean voters, casting their ballots on July 30 is sure to be a somewhat surreal experience. For the first time since the country’s independence, the ever-present face of Robert Mugabe will not be staring back at them on the ballot paper.

But that new experience – while perhaps inspiring hopes for positive change among some – is likely to be preceded by an old, familiar feeling of déjà vu. The road to the 2018 general election has been littered with the same potholes of electoral irregularities and restrictive laws of previous polls.

And for Zimbabwe’s embattled civil society, the fact that none of the repressive laws that were used against them have been touched since a bloodless military coup eight months ago is cause for concern.

This vote is proving difficult to call. It’s not the first time the race has seemed too close to call for analysts and opinion pollsters. The 2008 poll posed the same dilemma. It later emerged that the opposition was cheated of victory and a government of national unity among the political opponents was later formed.

The latest survey released by think tank, Afrobarometer last month showed that the ruling Zanu-PF party would get 42%, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 31% and the voting intentions of the remaining 26% of respondents were unknown.

Whilst these figures create the picture of a competitive race, it does not mean the conditions on the ground are favourable for a fair and credible election.

The incumbent Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man and vice president who took power after the coup, is desperate for a win to rip off the “coup plotter’’ tag on his back.

The opposition, coming from a troubled and fractured past, have been re-energised by emergence of a more youthful leader, Nelson Chamisa and need a win badly to avoid being again relegated to the dustbins of ineffectiveness. The poll’s outcome will be highly contested and could spill over into the courts, if not the streets.

Zimbabweans have been concerned with electoral irregularities, particularly related to a voters’ roll that has not been made fully transparent, and issues concerning the validity of profiles of voters appearing on the roll.

Questions have also been raised around the independence of the poll’s administrators, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and allegations that the printing of the ballot paper was compromised and done without consultation with all contesting parties. Civil society concerns however, go beyond the administration of the electoral process.

Although there is a notable peace and an absence of the politically motivated violence that has hounded Zimbabwean elections since 2000, conditions impacting freedom of assembly, association and expression remain constrained by restrictive legislation.

Zimbabwe’s civil society at home and abroad have no time to rest after the historic election and must already be strategising on giving the next administration a timeline on intentions to open civic space.

Before the coup, CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, rated Zimbabwe’s rated civic space as a ‘repressed’. That assessment remains – just one step away from the worst rating: ‘closed’. The Democratic Republic of Congo currently the only nation in the Southern Africa Development Community region regarded as ‘closed’.

On the eve of the election, outstanding human rights issues remain largely untouched and unamended restrictive laws are yet to be aligned to the constitution the country adopted in 2013, remain active, casting doubt on the country’s ability to hold a truly credible and fair election.

This legislation includes the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was used to persecute and harass journalists. Under AIPPA, it is compulsory for all media houses, foreign and local journalists to be registered with it with restrictive requirements and expensive costs. Even non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that produce publications for small or specialised audiences must be licensed.

Another law needing reform is the Broadcasting Services Act, which in its current form is an impediment to media freedom and the growth of independent media, and has been used by government for political interference in the news media sector.

While the political opposition has been largely able to assemble with less administrative and physical interference from security agents post-Mugabe, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) remains a huge concern.

Provisions that violate the right to assemble and protest such as protesters’ needing to give police four days’ written notice of an intended demonstration or the power of police to ban a gathering for three months if they believe it would endanger public safety, awkwardly remain.

NGOs will also have to work hard to have the law governing NGO registration and operations amended. The Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO) creates a web of bureaucratic red tape for NGO registration, which can take three months to a year Organisations that work to protect LGBTIQ rights are unable to operate openly and require specific legislation protecting their freedom to exist and operate.

It is also no secret that NGOs operating in rural areas at the district level have been routinely and illegally made to secure police clearance and sign a memorandum of understanding with the District Administrator to operate. This control over NGO activities has contributed to the strangling civic space in the rural areas.

And of course, there remains the glaring lack of protection for human rights defenders who have borne the brunt of brutal attacks under Mugabe. For the rights community, it has also not inspired confidence that there is still no meaningful investigation into the case of Itai Dzamara, an activist who disappeared on 9 March 2015.

Whichever way the election results swings, civil society has much work that is essential to holding Mugabe’s successors to the promise of opening civic space, so desperately needed in Zimbabwe.

The post After Elections, Hard Work Starts for Zimbabwe’s Civil Society appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Teldah Mawarire is a campaigns and advocacy officer with global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Peace & Equal Political Participation of Women in the DRChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-equal-political-participation-women-drc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-equal-political-participation-women-drc http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-equal-political-participation-women-drc/#respond Fri, 27 Jul 2018 12:12:45 +0000 Justine Masika Bihamba http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156920 Justine Masika Bihamba is President of Synergie des Femmes, a women’s organization based in Goma, DRC, and partner of global women’s group Donor Direct Action.

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Congolese Women's Forum Meets in Kinshasa, DRC in Sept 2017

By Justine Masika Bihamba
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 27 2018 (IPS)

I am a women’s human rights defender and President of Synergie des Femmes, a platform of 35 organizations working for the improvement, promotion, defense, respect and protection of women’s rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

We offer particular support to women who are victims of sexual violence, and work towards the establishment of lasting peace in North Kivu in the east of the country.

On July 26th I briefed the United Nations Security Council on the current situation for women in the DRC in the areas of the UN mission (MONUSCO), the growth of insecurity and the increase of cases of sexual violence against women and girls, and the tense political climate following the failure to hold elections before the constitutional deadline.

The recent decision to close some bases of MONUSCO has exposed the civilian population in sensitive areas. We are left in a precarious position. Despite the rapid deployment, interventions often arrive too late, when irreparable damage has already been done.

Following a decrease in financial resources, the Joint Human Rights Office is no longer present on the ground and, as a result, can no longer effectively document the cases of serious human rights violations that are now reported.

We fear disorder during the proposed elections at the end of this year and really hope that MONUSCO will ensure that Congolese police are properly trained so that order can be maintained and that polling stations can be secured. This is extremely important as fair and transparent elections are at the core of ensuring a peaceful and prosperous nation.

Meanwhile, the situation of women – and particularly those victims of sexual violence – is worsening day by day. The increase in armed groups as part of the ongoing war here has meant that mass rapes have continued, while populations have been displaced. In North Kivu alone, cases of rape and violence have increased this year by more than 60%.

The political climate has also made things more dangerous. Things are very tense at the moment as elections were not held before the end of last year as expected. This goes against our constitution.

At the time various demonstrations were shut down by the police, civilian deaths occurred, material damage was extensive (especially convents and Catholic churches), arbitrary arrests took place of the leaders of the citizen movement, of human rights defenders and of opposition politicians.

With only five months to go before the elections are due to take place (again), the political environment continues to be extremely difficult.

In addition to this political instability and the brutal repression of dissident voices, several legal reform projects initiated by the Congolese government have further reduced Congolese freedom of expression and civic spaces. One of these aims to change how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are run here, which could have major ramifications.

Against this backdrop the participation of women in the electoral process – a tried and trusted way of increasing the chance of lasting peace – has remained very low. A problematic electoral law brought in at the end of 2017 is a serious obstacle to our rights and freedoms.

It imposes many constraints, including the requirement of candidates to reach a threshold of support of at least 1% of votes at the national level. As a result, no provincial election nomination file was filed by the deadline date in some constituencies.

This law also discriminates specifically against women in the electoral contest and doesn’t take into account their socio-economic conditions. It states that a deposit of $ 1,000 must be made by candidates. This is an astronomical sum for women and young people living for the most part on an income of less than $1 per day.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, calls for an increase in the participation of women in all peacebuilding and security efforts. In late 2017, I co-ordinated a group of over 60 women from all provinces of the DRC to make this a reality for Congolese Women.

We set up the Congolese Women’s Forum to be able to achieve this and have pleaded with the government to change this discriminatory law, which is likely to reduce rather than increase women’s political participation in the DRC.

The upcoming elections will also be problematic in terms of how they are likely to be run. The proposed use of the voting machines will cause significant challenges and may lead to fear of electoral fraud. The DRC currently has a population that is 65% illiterate – mostly women and young people – who would have enormous difficulties using these machines.

This is the environment in which we currently live in the DRC. Every day we have new obstacles to overcome but we are also hopeful for a better future. In my statement to the Security Council and Member States I recommended that five steps are taken.

We want them to put pressure on the DRC government to implement policies which truly promote women’s participation in decision-making and women’s candidatures for elections.

We want them to ask the government to respect the freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate and the civic space of the Congolese population, that the New Year’s Eve Agreement, the Constitution and the rule of law are all respected, that MONUSCO restore its bases in sensitive areas to ensure the effective protection of civilians, that it supports the ongoing electoral process and ensures that the Joint Human Rights Office effectively documents human rights violations.

Finally, we recommended that the Security Council really supports civil society organizations that work for the promotion and defence of women’s rights – particularly in training women in leadership to be able to access decision-making positions. This is a key component of ensuring we finally see lasting peace in this country.

The post Peace & Equal Political Participation of Women in the DRC appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Justine Masika Bihamba is President of Synergie des Femmes, a women’s organization based in Goma, DRC, and partner of global women’s group Donor Direct Action.

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Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 14:53:33 +0000 Aliya Iftikhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156901 Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ.

In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of yesterday’s elections, CPJ documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment. Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported. The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.

Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

*Prior to joining CPJ, Aliya Iftikhar was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and interned at the U.S. Department of State. She has worked with Amnesty International and written for Vice News.

The link to the original article: https://cpj.org/blog/2018/07/silence-from-judiciary-over-media-attacks-increase.php

The post Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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IOM Launches USD 22.2M Appeal for Gedeo, West Guji Displacement Crisis in Ethiopiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/iom-launches-usd-22-2m-appeal-gedeo-west-guji-displacement-crisis-ethiopia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iom-launches-usd-22-2m-appeal-gedeo-west-guji-displacement-crisis-ethiopia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/iom-launches-usd-22-2m-appeal-gedeo-west-guji-displacement-crisis-ethiopia/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 14:39:56 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156861 Today (24/07), IOM the UN Migration Agency launched an appeal for USD 22,200,000 to respond to the internal displacement crisis in Ethiopia’s Gedeo (SNNPR region) and West Guji (Oromia region) zones. Since April 2018, some 970,000 people have fled their homes due to fighting between communities along the border of the two regions; the vast […]

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IOM constructs safe sanitation facilities for displaced communities in Gedeo zone.
Photo: Olivia Headon/IOM 2018

By International Organization for Migration
DILLA, Ethiopia, Jul 24 2018 (IOM)

Today (24/07), IOM the UN Migration Agency launched an appeal for USD 22,200,000 to respond to the internal displacement crisis in Ethiopia’s Gedeo (SNNPR region) and West Guji (Oromia region) zones. Since April 2018, some 970,000 people have fled their homes due to fighting between communities along the border of the two regions; the vast majority were displaced in June alone.

“Leaving with what little they could carry and typically losing these possessions on their journey to safety, the displaced communities in Gedeo and West Guji are in great need of humanitarian support to help them get through Ethiopia’s cold and rainy season,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General.

“The international community must rally for the people and Government of Ethiopia. Some partners have already begun to do so, and we thank them, but the current funding levels for a sudden onset crisis of this scale – nearly one million people displaced such a short period of time – are nowhere near acceptable,” added Director General Swing.

Since June, IOM has been scaling up its response in Gedeo and West Guji. However, urgent funding is required to continue to provide life-saving assistance. The IOM appeal outlines funding requirements for the next six months in line with the Government’s West Guji-Gedeo response plan.

Many of the displaced population are staying with local communities, while others are sheltering at collective sites like schools, Government properties and disused or unfinished buildings. Those staying in the local community still come to the collective sites during the day to access humanitarian assistance. The collective sites are overcrowded with thousands of people sheltering in buildings not fit for habitation and thousands more are sleeping outside on the muddy ground with only a sheet of tarpaulin to protect them from the cold and wet weather. Both situations raise major concerns from protection and health perspectives.

IOM operations focus on providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations in collective sites and within host communities through an integrated approach, including core relief distributions, primary health care, shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Through site management support, IOM is facilitating the improvement of humanitarian service delivery, as well as the local authorities’ capacity to address protection concerns in displacement sites. In addition, IOM is supporting the overall humanitarian community’s response by monitoring population movements and needs through its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM).

In the past two weeks, IOM has distributed over 2,000 blankets and is currently transporting more items to the collective sites like blankets and emergency shelter kits, which include tarpaulin and rope, through a UK Department for International Development (DFID) in-kind donation. For those who are sheltering outside buildings, IOM has begun the construction of 40 communal shelters, of which four have been completed. IOM is also building communal kitchens for the displaced communities at collective sites: five of these have so far been completed.

With so many people sheltering in sites not prepared to host them, access to safe sanitation is another major worry. In just over two weeks, IOM has constructed more than 200 latrines of a planned total of 450. IOM is also promoting safe hygiene practices among the displaced population through the formation of committees, household visits, group sessions and information campaigns.

Health needs are also high but the capacity of local hospitals and clinics to address these needs is outweighed by the sheer number of people displaced in such a small area and short span of time. IOM plans to support local health infrastructure through staff and mobile health clinics.

Access the detailed appeal here.

For more information, please contact Olivia Headon in Ethiopia, Tel: +251902484062, Email: oheadon@iom.int

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Building Peace in Societies Affected by Small Armshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/building-peace-societies-affected-small-arms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-peace-societies-affected-small-arms http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/building-peace-societies-affected-small-arms/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 09:18:40 +0000 Izumi Nakamitsu and Jean-Pierre Lacroix http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156838 Izumi Nakamitsu is UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs & Jean-Pierre Lacroix is UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

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The post Building Peace in Societies Affected by Small Arms appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Izumi Nakamitsu is UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs & Jean-Pierre Lacroix is UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

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Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Preventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistan-world-need-inclusive-conflict-prevention/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:58:02 +0000 Quratulain Fatima http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156806 Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Baloch fighters at a location in Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Quratulain Fatima
ISLAMABAD, Jul 20 2018 (IPS)

Last week, 200 people were injured and 131 died in a suicide bombing in Mastung, Baluchistan. This attack was second most deadly since the 2014 Army Public School Attack in Peshawar, KhyberPukhtunkwah, which killed 144 people. This recent attack was one of three in 72 hours related to the country’s upcoming elections on July 25.Terrorist attacks are not new in my country. Pakistan has lost over 50,000 civilians in terror-related deaths since 2003.

For me, the latest deadly suicide bombing triggered traumatic memories and an acute reminder that Pakistan, and the world, need preemptive and inclusive conflict prevention if we are to stem the tide of growing violence.

Nine years ago, I participated in Pakistan‘s war on terrorism against the Taliban as a Pakistan Air Force officer stationed at Pakistan’s conflict torn province of Khyber Pukhtunkhwah. On 16 October, 2009, while going home to celebrate my birthday with my only daughter, I was stopped by the police who told me that a suicide bomber had  exploded near the residential complex where my house was situated. My then three-year-old daughter was in the house at the time. I was asked to go on foot to my house.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have.

The 13-minute walk to my house was the hardest of my life. My only thoughts were why this was not prevented and how much personal cost I would bear for this war. I could smell burnt flesh, saw bloody bodies and felt broken glass under my feet. I saw the young happy cobbler’s charred and shrapnel ridden dead body in front of me. He had come to the city so that he could earn a living and let his daughters study.

My own daughter survived the bombing, but she was traumatized for a very long time. That one day changed my perception of peace and conflict forever. Despite being in internal conflict for a very long time, Pakistan has not learned the art of preemptive conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention is defined as not only controlling the damage caused by conflict but also targeting the underlying causes of conflicts to avoid recurrence.  Development remains a potent tool for conflict prevention.

Conflict prevention efforts can save both lives and money. The cost savings could be up to US$70 billion per year globally given that two billion people live in countries where economic stability and opportunity are affected by fragility, conflict, and violence and conflicts derive 80% of all the humanitarian needs.

Of course, the horrors of terrorism cannot be captured by using statistics alone. Terrorism destroys way of life, inculcates lingering fear and leaves survivors traumatized for life, as my daughter and I can attest.

What is important for conflict prevention is knowing that a cause of terrorism is a sense of relative deprivation. Social scientists have long acknowledged that people evaluate their own wellbeing not only based on what they have but also based on what they have relative to what other people have. Discontent and inequality in access to resources remain an important cause of conflict. Development strategies target exactly that.

In the case of Pakistan, the military has a very heavy involvement in the foreign policy and counter terrorism strategies. This may halt conflict and give a sense of peace, but it’s a fragile peace imposed on people instead of coming from them. This remains a handicap for Pakistan that has not been able to foster positive and sustainable peace through development as a conflict prevention strategy.

In Pakistan, most of the terrorist attacks happen in two of its provinces: Khyber Pukhtunkhwah and Baluchistan where there is a long history of unresolved grievances against the Federation and its biggest province Punjab. These areas are navigating a very complex conflict nexus that includes the Taliban, Daesh and internal separatists, but it is also a source of conflict that these provinces overwhelmingly see themselves as deprived in comparison the affluent province of Punjab.

As much as intelligence and military efforts help to curb terror attacks, targeting underlying causes of conflicts requires the inclusion of a broader group of stakeholders, such as the government, community leaders, military, civilians and media.

Today, militaries in many conflict ridden countries — including Pakistan —drive the process of conflict resolution. This needs to change. Peacebuilding needs the inclusion of all other stakeholders to make the process of conflict resolution—as well as prevention—feasible. All other parts of society need to step up and demand their voices be heard.

Until now, the world and Pakistan have been failing at conflict prevention because we’ve relied on military forces alone. We have paid a high cost through instability and recurrent loss of lives. At the same time, civil society has been driving for democracy through events like the Arab Spring. Today we need the same kind of movement to make conflict prevention a priority for the world. Indeed, a “Prevention Spring”—a time when civil society focuses on building more equitable societies rather than preventing conflict—may well be the solution to making the world peaceful.

The post Pakistan and the World Need Inclusive Conflict Prevention appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Flight Lieutenant Quratulain Fatima is a policy practitioner working extensively in rural and conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow

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Support of Influential World Leaders Not Enough to End Rohingya Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/support-influential-world-leaders-not-enough-end-rohingya-crisis/#respond Thu, 19 Jul 2018 21:04:56 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156793 Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees.  Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres […]

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Over a million Rohingya refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Credit: ASM Suza Uddin/IPS

By Naimul Haq
DHAKA, Jul 19 2018 (IPS)

Despite having the strong support of influential global leaders, Bangladesh has “missed” the opportunity to mobilise the world’s superpowers and place pressure on Myanmar to allow for the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. 

Experts specialising in international affairs expressed their disappointment to IPS that despite the recent joint visit by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, the world’s biggest refugee crisis remains unresolved.

“No single event of such magnitude ever drew so much global attention and solidarity, not even the ethnic cleansing in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina where tens of thousands of Muslims were killed in conflicts among the three main ethnic groups,” professor Tareq Shamsur Rehman, who teaches International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, told IPS.

Since the influx of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees from August last year, leaders from around the world have visited Bangladesh, travelling to the coastal Cox’s Bazar district were the refugee camps are. 

Foreign ministers from Japan, Germany and Sweden; a high-level delegation from 58 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation; a delegation from the U.N. Security Council and the European Union; a United States Congressional fact-finding mission and Dhaka-based diplomats have all heard the recounts of the refugees. In February, Nobel Laureates Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Tawakkol Karman travelled to Cox’s Bazar to highlight the plight of the Rohingya.

During his visit earlier this month, U.N. Secretary-General Guterres said he heard “heartbreaking” accounts of suffering from the refugees and expressed concern about the conditions in the camps ahead of the monsoon season.

The World Bank announced almost half a billion dollars in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily and with dignity.

But the aid may have come too late. In Bangladesh some 63 million of the country’s 160 million people live below the poverty line. The influx of over one million refugees has impacted not only the country’s monetary resources, but natural resources also. The environmental impact is significant as over a million refugees are now cramped in hilly terrains of Ukhiya in southeastern regions of Cox’s Bazar along Bangladesh border with Myanmar. Trees on over 20 acres of land near the camps are being cut down daily for firewood for cooking.

And there has been a social impact too. Some locals have said that since the arrival of the refugees the crime rate in Ukhiya has increased, with many accusing the Rohingya of assault, murder, human trafficking and drug dealing.

“The solution to the Rohingya crisis is possible if two-way pressure on Myanmar is possible. The way the U.S. imposed sanctions on North Korea, like preventing remittance and imposing economic sanctions, it has really had the desired impact,” Mohammad Zamir, a former ambassador and international relations analyst, told IPS.

“If the world imposes a similar ban on Myanmar that there will be no foreign investment in Myanmar, I think they would then be under tremendous pressure and may bow to the demands to repatriate the Rohingya refugees. If the world adopts these preventive measures on Myanmar then there will be a possibility to solve the Rohingya problem.”

It is estimated that over one million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are housed in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Credit: Mojibur Rahaman Rana/IPS

IPS visited Cox’s Bazar early this month and spoke to a number of people in the 21 Rohingya camps, including those in the largest camps of Kutupalong and Balukhali.

Mohammad Mohibullah, a spokesperson for the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told IPS that while they welcomed the visit of U.N. and World Bank chiefs, “the money they pledged is for our survival and not for resolving our crisis.”

“We have not noticed any effective role of the leaders in pressurising Myanmar to repatriate the Rohingya,” Abdul Gaffar, another spokesman for the group told IPS. “They come and go but leave us with no hope of any permanent solution. We want to return to our ancestral home and not live in shambles like we are doing now.”

In January, the Myanmar government agreed with Bangladesh to take back Rohingya refugees. However, weeks after the agreement they allowed only about 50 families, mostly comprising Hindus, to return. Then the so-called repatriation process stopped after Myanmar demanded that a joint Bangladeshi/Myanmaris team first identify the Rohingya as their citizens.

The U.N. and other international agencies have previously been denied access to Rakhine State to assess the conditions for returning refugees, however, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi was allowed entry in May. Then in June the Myanmar government signed an agreement with the U.N. Refugee Agency and U.N. Development Programme as a first step in setting up a framework for the return of the refugees.

But the process is slow.

Just this week the country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, urged U.N. Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener to persuade Myanmar to take back the refugees.

Experts have pointed out the “misreading in diplomacy” by Bangladesh towards resolving the Rohingya crisis has resulted in the current deadlock.

“Instead of using influential powers like China and Russia, Bangladesh engaged itself in bi-lateral negotiation, which is a stalemate. They [Myanmar] have clearly demonstrated defiance once again. For instance, every demand we put forward, like the demand for fixing the start of repatriation date, Myanmar instead of complying with the bilateral agreement insisted on verifying their citizens – a tactic used to delay the process and ultimately enforce deadlock,” professor Delware Hossain from the International Relations Department at the University of Dhaka told IPS.

“What we really need is lobbying with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council who have the powers to impose economic, military and political sanctions. It is sad though that until now we have not seen our foreign ministers visiting Moscow, Beijing, London and Paris in mobilising them acting in favour of Bangladesh,” Rehman said, adding that in other international cases of genocide, military leaders have been identified, tried and punished because of the strong commitment and involvement of leading nations.

Others argue that despite such powerful political support, even from the United States, Myanmar remains unmoved continuing their mission of ethnic cleansing.

Human rights organisation, Fortify Rights, stated in a report released today, Jul. 19, that the lack of action by the international community against the 2016 attacks against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State allowed Myanmar to proceed with genocide. The report is based on over 250 interviews conducted over two years with eyewitnesses, survivors of attacks, and Myanmar military and police sources, among others.

“The international community failed to act after the Myanmar Army killed, raped, tortured, and forcibly displaced Rohingya civilians in October and November 2016. That inaction effectively paved the way for genocide, providing the Myanmar authorities with an enabling environment to make deeper preparations for more mass atrocity crimes,” the report stated.

But professor Amena Mohsin who teaches International Relations at the University of Dhaka believes that there is significance to the recent visits of Guterres and Kim.

“Let us not forget that the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly will open in September next and their visits act as a pressure. We hope that the Rohingya issue will be discussed during the assembly and Myanmar will further feel the pressure,” Mohsin told IPS.

World Bank Group spokesperson in Washington, David Theis, responded to questions from IPS, saying they were collaborating closely with the U.N. and other partners to encourage Myanmar to put in place the conditions for “the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and to improve the welfare of all communities in Rakhine State.”

He said they would incentivise further progress through a proposed project focused on employment and economic opportunities for all communities in Rakhine State.

“This is part of our strategy to stay fully engaged in Myanmar’s economic transition, with a greater focus on social inclusion in conflict-affected areas.”

However, noted journalist Afsan Chowdhury told IPS that the U.N. had not been very effective since the Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh. “One of the reasons is that the U.N. is effective only when big powers are interested. The World Bank’s impact in this issue is very low end, not a high end impact, as I see it.”

Additional reporting by A S M Suza Uddin from Cox Bazaar.

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Social Media – the New Testing Ground for Sri Lanka’s Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:49:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156753 Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media […]

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Sri Lanka's media has been under pressure for most of the past decade and only gained some breathing space since the 2015 presidential election. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media independence could reverse.

In the latest world press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is listed 131 out of 180 countries across the globe—a marginal improvement from its 2014 ranking of 165.

The unexpected 2015 electoral victory for current president Maithripala Sirisena, who championed greater press freedom during his campaign, was responsible for this island nation’s rise on the index.

But Shan Wijethunge, head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the island’s premier media training centre, is apprehensive as he takes stock of what has transpired over the last six months.

In February, the government lost the local government elections to a resurgent opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which prompted opposition supporters to increase the tempo of their anti-government campaign. Many became critical of the New York Times (NYT) and its Sri Lanka journalists who reported that Rajapaksa had allegedly received funds from Chinese state companies. In a delicately balanced national political scenario, the reporters who worked on the story were accused of working for a pro-government agenda and their independence was questioned.

“The journalists were criticised and trolled rather than [there being] any challenge on the contents of the story, because what matters right now is setting the headlines,” Wijethunge told IPS.

Family and friends of the NYT journalists in Sri Lanka said that they were shocked at the personal level of the attacks and pointed out that there had been no requests for the story to be retracted.

“They just felt so vulnerable, as if things suddenly regressed by three years. It just shows how quickly things can get bad here,” said a colleague of the harassed journalists. He requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of being targeted.

It was only less than a decade ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated in 2009—just months before the country’s 26-year civil war ended. A year after Wickrematunge’s death, cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

However, there are signs that media freedom has improved on the island nation.

In 2016 when the respected regional magazine Himal Southasian came under increased bureaucratic pressure in Nepal, where it had been operating since 1996, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo became the obvious choice for relocation. In March, the magazine opened a new office in a Colombo suburb. Amnesty International also now has a regional office in the capital.

But many are concerned that if the upcoming 2020 presidential election proves to be a tight race, there will be heightened pressure on journalists to toe the line.

Not only that, the recent shut down of social media platforms across the country has left analysts concerned that freedom of speech in general could be targeted.

In March, parts of Sri Lanka’s Central Province experienced a wave of anti-Muslim riots that led to a weeklong shutdown of the social media platforms Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Viber. The government blamed the riots on hate speech against the minority Muslim community that was spread over the various platforms. After meeting with Facebook, which owns Whatsapp and Instagram, the government unblocked the platforms.

“It was a knee jerk reaction, but it is a reaction that is again possible in the future, especially when we are heading into elections,” Wijethunge said.

He feels that social media was targeted because that is where Sri Lankans tend be freest in airing their views and disseminating news.

Facebook data shows that there are between five to six million accounts of Sri Lankan origin, generating one billion posts on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram each month. Even politicians like president Sirisena, ex-president Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa have been using their Facebook and Twitter profiles as integral parts of campaigning and reaching out to their constituencies.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher with the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, has extensively researched the impact social media has on voters. His research shows that for a quarter of the country’s eligible voters, those within the age bracket of 18 to 34, social media is the primary platform of political interaction.

“Misinformation and disinformation are clearly engineered to heighten their anxieties and anger,” he said, referring to fake news content.

Hattotuwa’s research also shows that hate speech, trolling and fake news were quite visible on accounts and groups originating in Sri Lanka long before the March riots. He said these should have been tackled in a much more organised and professional manner with technology and human vetting playing an important role. He said he feared that old political games could be at play on these new forums.

“The growth of social media and the spread of internet access, in Sri Lanka, cannot be equated with a stronger democracy, and the growth of liberal government. The weaponisation of social media needs thus to be seen as the latest strategy of an older political game.”

With its growing popularity, Wijethunge feels social media is now the main vector for political news and sentiment.

Given that there is no effective countering of fake content and misinformation other than outright blocking, “it will be the testing ground where we will see all these freedoms gained in the last three and half years are really sustainable or just an illusion.” More so as the criticism of the government increases.

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Mission Accomplished: 15 Years of Peacekeeping Success in Liberiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 14:53:50 +0000 Kingsley Ighobor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156673 Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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Liberians wave goodbye to departing Ukrainian peacekeepers. Credit: UN Photo/Gonzalez Farran

By Kingsley Ighobor
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

On a bright, sunny day in January this year, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf turned over power to George Weah, a decorated soccer star, following peaceful and successful elections. This marked Liberia’s first democratic transfer of power in more than 70 years.

In his inaugural address, President Weah was quick to advise his compatriots to “not allow political loyalties to prevent us from collaborating in national interest.” He vowed to tackle inequality because “the absence of equality and unity led us down the path of destroying our own country.”

Weah was referring to the Liberian civil war from 1989 to 2003, which left the country in tatters politically and economically. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was deployed in 2003 to help restore peace and security in the country.

After nearly 15 years in Liberia, the UN peacekeeping mission ended last March, having disarmed more than 100,000 combatants, secured about 21,000 weapons, enabled about one million refugees and displaced persons to return home and assisted in the holding of three peaceful presidential and legislative elections.

The UN’s secretary-general António Guterres in a statement issued in early April expressed his “respect to the memory of 202 peacekeepers who lost their lives” in Liberia.

“Peace is here to stay and our democracy is maturing. Now we need jobs,” Marwolo Kpadeh, head of the Liberian Youth Network, a leading youth organization, told Africa Renewal.

After the peaceful handover of power, Kpadeh is correct when he says that Liberia’s key challenge is now mostly economic. “Limited employment continues to undermine the welfare of Liberians in both urban and rural areas,” notes the World Bank.

UN’s engagement continues

While President Weah must deal with economic issues, the withdrawal of UNMIL peacekeepers will test the government’s readiness to perform public safety and security duties, writes FrontPageAfrica, a Liberian newspaper.

The UN has allayed concerns, promising to remain engaged even in the absence of a peacekeeping force.

The UN family will remain in the country “with a view to ensuring that the hard-won peace can be sustained and the country and its people will continue to progress and thrive,” Guterres added, in his statement.

The UN Country Team, including its agencies, funds and programmes, such as the UN Development Programme, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, will remain in the country.

A “strengthened Resident Coordinator” will lead the team and help the government achieve targets set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Amina Mohammed, the UN’s deputy-secretary-general, said in March.

Mohammed, who visited Liberia in late March as the final batch of peacekeepers prepared to leave, praised UNMIL for being “at the forefront of establishing the key foundations for peace in Liberia.”

The UN’s promise of continuing engagement should be welcome news to Liberians, who have been dealing with the ubiquitous peacekeepers over the past 14 years.

How it began

The Liberian civil war began in 1989 when Charles Taylor started a military campaign to overthrow President Samuel Doe.

By 2003, with more than 205,000 people killed, the UN Security Council authorized the establishment of a peacekeeping force consisting of up to 15,000 military personnel and over 1,000 police officers, among others.

UNMIL began operations in October 2003, when about 3,500 troops of the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), who had arrived in Liberia a few months prior, were rehatted as UN peacekeepers. Guterres said that ECOMOG troops laid the foundation ahead of UN peacekeepers’ deployment.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed by President Taylor and leaders of all warring factions and political parties on August 18, 2003 in Accra, Ghana, provided the political cover for UNMIL’s deployment throughout the country.

UNMIL’s first force commander, now-retired Lieutenant General Daniel Opande, described the situation of the country at the time of deployment: “Nothing functioned, the government had collapsed, no security arrangement, the entire country was in turmoil. People were moving from place to place, looking for safety or for food. It was very bad.”

“When I arrived in Liberia, a thick cloud of uncertainty and insecurity hung over the country,” corroborates Patrick Coker, who joined UNMIL as a senior public information officer in October 2003. “There was no electricity, no water, fighters carried weapons around, thousands of internally displaced persons, hopelessness, poverty, anguish—we were on edge.”

UNMIL and its partners, including an interim government headed by Gyude Bryant, attempted but failed to begin disarmament on December 7, 2003. General Opande attributed the botched attempt to UNMIL’s ill-preparedness. There was a misunderstanding over money to be paid the fighters, and when they began firing in the air, the process ended abruptly.

Successful disarmament

Fighters of the rebel faction Liberians United for Reconstruction and Democracy (LURD) tested UNMIL’s resolve on Christmas Day of 2003 when they prevented the peacekeepers from deploying in Tubmanburg, northwest of Monrovia. Two days later, General Opande led heavy reinforcements of troops and weapons back to Tubmanburg. This time the fighters capitulated, even danced—and, bizarrely, set fire to their checkpoint.

“The Liberian people are tired of war. We too are tired,” said LURD’s deputy chief of staff, “General” Oforie Diah.

The mission had learned a lesson and so, when disarmament restarted in April 2004 after a robust communications campaign to educate combatants on the process, there were no serious hitches.

Coker recalls that “dealing with the ex-combatants, who had been in the bushes for more than a decade, was no easy task.” At the slightest provocation, such as a delay in payment of disarmament allowance, they rioted and threatened to torpedo the peace process. During such moments, UNMIL and partners often relied on Liberian women to bring the former fighters under control.

“If there is a group in Liberia that I, Opande, can give the biggest congratulations for bringing peace, it is the women,” says Lieutenant General Opande.

After a successful disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration process and peaceful elections, the mission’s attention shifted to providing security for the country, helping to midwife a new army and police force and extending civil authority throughout the country. As well, UNMIL provided technical and logistical support to various government departments.

Renewed hope

Former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf inherited an economy ruined by war; however, she mobilized foreign and domestic resources to kick-start development, including in the energy and transportation sectors.

In 2010, Liberia secured nearly $5 billion in debt relief from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, African Development Bank and other creditors. That was 90% of the country’s total foreign debt and 15% of its GDP.

As the economy was taking off, the Ebola epidemic hit in late 2014 and caused a negative 1.6% growth rate by 2016. The World Bank now forecasts modest but sustained positive growth after a 2.6% rise last year.

Fourteen years of war, bad leadership and the Ebola epidemic might have derailed Liberia’s socioeconomic development, but Weah’s inauguration—as much as Sirleaf’s 12 years in power—appears to be rekindling hope in the country’s future.

President Weah needs to build on Sirleaf’s successes, writes Benjamin Spatz in the New York Times. “She brought Liberia back from the dead. Now it’s his turn to nurture the country’s fledgling institutions by taking on its coercive, corrupt political culture.”

In sum: “Liberia is an important example of what sustainable peace means in practise,” reflected Mohammed, speaking for the UN.

Kpadeh’s hope of a better country depends on sustained peace. “Development is never possible without peace,” he said. “We should all be proud of UNMIL’s achievement.”

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information.
The link to the original article: https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/april-2018-july-2018/mission-accomplished-15-years-peacekeeping-success-liberia

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Excerpt:

Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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A Gender-Specific Approach To Counter-Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/gender-specific-approach-counter-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-specific-approach-counter-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/gender-specific-approach-counter-terrorism/#respond Thu, 12 Jul 2018 08:55:22 +0000 Carmen Arroyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156663 Understanding the different way that terrorists target women and how to prevent their recruitment could play a significant role in counter-terrorism efforts, and is gaining increased recognition among the international community. “Any prevention programme should be fully mindful about its gender implications, and should be tailored toward understanding men and women’s grievances being exploited by […]

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Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb took credit for bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Algiers in December 2007, an act that claimed the lives of 17 U.N. personnel. The international community is increasingly recognising the importance of integrating a gender perspective into the global counter-terrorism efforts. Credit: UN Photo / Evan Schneider

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2018 (IPS)

Understanding the different way that terrorists target women and how to prevent their recruitment could play a significant role in counter-terrorism efforts, and is gaining increased recognition among the international community.

“Any prevention programme should be fully mindful about its gender implications, and should be tailored toward understanding men and women’s grievances being exploited by recruiters,” Mattias Sundholm, communications adviser to the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, told IPS.

Hundreds of members of civil society and representatives of member states met at the United Nations Headquarters in New York at the end of June for the first High-Level Conference on Counter-Terrorism. During the two-day conference, the role of gender in counter-terrorism strategies was discussed in length. 

A senior European Union official shared with IPS that “the international community is increasingly recognising the importance of integrating a gender perspective into the global counter-terrorism efforts.”

“Gender inequality and corruption, combined with the lack of information, no access to education and lack of understanding of what’s happening on the battlefield seem to play a role in the recruitment of women fighters,” the official said.

Despite the military setback of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in many Middle Eastern countries, countering its influence in the media and public opinion, along with Al-Qaeda’s power and Boko Haram’s attacks, remains a top priority for the U.N.

Last year, the General Assembly decided to implement the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and created the Office of Counter-Terrorism, while the establishment of a Global Network of Counter-terrorism coordinators was discussed. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Strengthening international cooperation to combat the evolving threat of terrorism,” with the goal of creating partnerships and finding practical solutions.

Different approaches to recruiting men and women

The way terrorists target men and women is different as they promise them particular rewards they find appealing.

“Extremist armed groups shrewdly exploit gender just as they exploit any other potential recruitment tool. For women, they may dangle the promise of adventure, travel, romance, commitment to a cause, and the possibility of being part of an extended family yet far from the yoke of immediate relatives. For men, the pitches are often more macho, complete with the promise of glory and multiple wives,” Letta Tayler, senior researcher on terrorism at Human Right’s Watch (HRW), told IPS.

Megan Manion, policy analyst with U.N. Women, explained men are often recruited as fighters with a promise that fighters get wives as a reward.  “Extremist groups also offer a salary for services of the fighters.”

But on the other hand, Manion explained, women are promised different things.

“Women join extremist groups together with or to follow their husbands or boyfriends. Women also join violent extremist groups to get the opportunities they will not have in their own communities due to inequalities,” she said.

If terrorism strategies include gender-specific narratives, so should prevention plans.

“Women have a particularly influential role in families and can play an important role in preventing young people from radicalising,” the senior EU official said.

Thus, prevention strategies must raise to the level of terrorist strategies in terms of their nuances. “When extremist groups understand gender inequalities and the impact and power they hold, but we, those who are preventing violent extremism do not, there is a significant issue around identifying and responding to human rights violations, as well as serious security implications and risks,” Manion said.

When asked how prevention strategies should then be framed to be effective, Tayler firmly responded that any successful prevention strategy had to provide the same sense of belonging and thrill that groups like ISIL offered.

“That can only work if states stop marginalising communities and individuals who are vulnerable to recruitment,” Tayler said.

One of the ways to implement gender-specific strategies could be through the strengthening the role of women in law enforcement and policing both in terms of numbers but also on all hierarchical levels, the EU source said.

He argued in favour of reaching out to all communities, especially the de-radicalised ones.

“There is an important role for women religious leaders and local interfaith dialogue to build an environment which is less conducive to violent extremism,” he said.

Some civil organisations, such as the non-profit International Centre for Religion and Diplomacy, are already including religious actors in their counter-terrorism strategies.

Moreover, Sundholm, from the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, added that youth, and in particular girls, “should also be empowered to lead and participate in the design and implementation of prevention programmes.”

Tayler explained that at HRW gender was taken into account when the issue required it. For example, ISIL rapes or the sexual enslavement of Yezidi women require the counter-terrorism strategy to be very gender-specific. Another case would be Nigeria, where “women who managed to escape Boko Haram are reportedly being raped by Nigerian security forces who claim to be their rescuers.” 

What should member states do?

Most experts and policy makers say that counter-terrorism should be the responsibility of U.N. member states, as they control borders and pass laws, which can either give privilege to or marginalise groups. Member states should also take the lead in including a gender perspective into their policies.

“Gender-mainstreaming should be integrated in the work and programmes of both Member States and the U.N.,” the EU source said.

Manion believes that member states hold the key to prevention.

“Repressive laws and lack of security, rule of law or good governance are powerful drivers for radicalisation for women and men,

“They must make sure that the laws they pass to respond to terrorist threats do not impose unreasonable burdens on women, including women civil society organisations who are often working on the front lines to identify and prevent radicalisation and re-integrate returnees,” she added.

However, Tayler warned that while gender should be a critical focus of counter-terrorism efforts, “neither the U.N. nor national governments should assume that being gender-sensitive is a panacea.”

“Ticking off the “gender” box alone is not an effective counterterrorism strategy. Authorities need to address the myriad root causes of terrorism,” she said.   

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-way-forward-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/#respond Wed, 04 Jul 2018 08:12:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156531 Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives. While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard […]

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemen - A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2018 (IPS)

Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives.

While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard Rodier told IPS that it was a “failed opportunity.”

“We didn’t have the right people because those who are in a position to make political decisions, the kind of decisions that we need, were not there,” he said.

The conference was co-chaired by Saudi Arabia, one of the parties to the Yemeni conflict, and France, who has long backed the Saudi-led coalition, raising concerns over the event’s credibility.

“We all know that the main problem is man-made and if you really need to find a solution, you need the two parties around the table…we cannot expect from a conference that is only representing one party to the conflict that is supported by allies or countries that have interest on the one-side of the conflict to reach a significant political gain,” Rodier told IPS.

An Escalation of Violence

Since violence broke out three years ago, 22 million Yemenis are now dependent on aid and over eight million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

After a four-day visit, United Nations Children Agency’s (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore observed what was left of children in the war-ravaged country.

“I saw what three years of intense war after decades of underdevelopment and chronic global indifference can do to children: taken out of school, forced to fight, married off, hungry, dying from preventable diseases,” she said.

Approximately 11 million children — more than the population of Switzerland — are currently in need of food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.

Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

“These are only numbers we have been able to verify. The actual figures could be even higher. There is no justification for this carnage,” Fore said.

Violence has only escalated in the past month after a Saudi-led offensive in Hodeidah, which has already displaced 43,000, left three million at risk of famine and cholera, and provoked an international outcry.

Fore said that basic commodities such as cooking gas has dwindled, electricity is largely unavailable, and water shortages are severe in most of the western port city.

Prior to the war, Hodeidah’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports including fuel, food, and humanitarian aid.

“In Hodeida, as in the rest of the country, the need for peace has never been more urgent,” Fore said.

“Parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them should rally behind diplomatic efforts to prevent a further worsening of the situation across the country and to resume peace negotiations,” she added.

However, the struggle for control over Hodeidah forced Paris’ humanitarian conference to downgrade from a ministerial-level event to a technical meeting, preventing any political discussion on the crisis.

“It became a very technical meeting with different workshops to discuss things that really then would have needed the presence of people who have a knowledge of what is happening on the ground. It is good to have workshops and technical discussions with the right people at the table,” Rodier said.

But who are the right people?

A New Hope?

Many are now looking to new U.N. Envoy to Yemen’s Martin Griffiths whose recent efforts have sparked some hope for a possible ceasefire and peace deal.

“The U.N. Special Envoy is in the best position to lead this process. He should receive all the backing from all the countries that are presenting good will and that want to see progress,” Rodier told IPS.

Griffiths has been meeting with both parties to the conflict who have agreed to temporarily halt the assault on Hodeidah and have expressed a willingness to return to the negotiating table after two years of failed attempts.

While control over the port city was a point of contention that led to the failure of previous talks, Griffiths said that the Houthi rebels offered the U.N. a lead role in managing the port — a proposal that both parties accepted and a move that could help restart negotiations and prevent further attacks.

He expressed hope that an upcoming U.N. Security Council meeting will result in a proposal to be presented to the Yemenis.

However, political commitment and international support is sorely needed in order for such an initiative to be successful.

For the past three years, the Security Council has been largely silent on the crisis in Yemen and the U.N. continues to be lenient on Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of human rights.

The U.N.’s recent Children and Armed Conflict report noted that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for more than half of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2017. The report also accused both Houthis and the Saudi coalition of recruiting almost 1,000 child soldiers — some as young as 11 years old.

However, the Secretary-General failed to include the coalition in his report’s list of shame.

Instead, the coalition was put on a special list for countries that put in place “measures to improve child protection” despite a U.N. expert panel having found that that any action taken by Saudi Arabia to minimise child casualties has been “largely ineffective.”

Rodier urged for the international community to maintain a sense of urgency over Yemen.

“We need to have another kind of conference with the ambition to have political gains that is U.N.-led and it has to happen soon,” he told IPS.

“We need some kind of mediation…there will be no military solution to the humanitarian crisis today in Yemen. It has to be a political solution,” Rodier added.

Fore echoed similar sentiments, highlighting the need for a political solution to the conflict.

“We all need to give peace a chance. It is the only way forward,” she said.

It is now up to the international community to step up to the plate to prevent further suffering and violations. If not, peace will continue to remain elusive with repercussions that will last generations.

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Church and Conflict in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=church-conflict-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/#respond Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:53:06 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156517 Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world.  Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — […]

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South Sudanese Christians celebrate Christmas mass at El Fasher church in North Darfur. South Sudan's different churches have remained one of the country's few stable institutions. Credit: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

By James Jeffrey
JUBA, Jul 3 2018 (IPS)

Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world. 

Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — often considered a fight for religious freedom for the mostly Christian south — from the hard-line Islamist government to the north in Khartoum, Sudan.

Amid destruction and failed politics, church leaders emerged as the only players left standing with any credibility and national recognition, enabling them to effectively lobby the international community to support the southern cause while also brokering peace between communities torn apart by war and ethnic strife.

However, they have been less able to influence politicians and generals in South Sudan’s latest civil war raging since 2013, which began just two years after gaining independence from Sudan. Last week, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebels, led by his former vice president Riek Machar, signed a peace agreement to bring about a ceasefire. But Reuters reported that fighting broke out again on Sunday, killing 18 civilians. “The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ," Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe.

“The new outbreak of war caught the Church unprepared,” says John Ashworth, referring to the five-year civil war. Ashworth has worked in South Sudan, including advising its churches, for more than 30 years. “While the Church played a major role in protecting people and mobilising humanitarian support, and in mediating local peace and reconciliation processes, it took quite a while to rebuild the capacity to implement national level initiatives.”

Although Islam has dominated the region for centuries, Christian roots in Sudan and South Sudan go back to the 5th century. Missionaries were active in the 1800s, mainly from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and Coptic churches.

Though there are conflicting reports about South Sudan’s exact religious composition, Christianity is the dominant religion, with a 2012 Pew Research Centre report estimating that around 60 percent are Christian, 33 percent followers of African traditional religions, six percent Muslim and the rest unaffiliated.

In the face of shared adversity, South Sudan’s Christian churches embraced an ecumenical approach to establish the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), which spearheaded the churches’ joint efforts that proved heavily influential in the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

The SSCC continued its involvement in the process that led to the January 2011 referendum on independence, in which an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede and become Africa’s first new country since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993. South Sudan formally gained independence from Sudan on Jul. 9, 2011.

But all those achievements began to unravel in 2013 when government troops began massacring ethnic Nuer in the capital, Juba. Afterwards, the national army, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), split along ethnic lines during a violent uprising, pitting ethnic Dinka loyal to Kiir against Nuer led by Macher.

Both sides committed atrocities, while the narrative of fighting for religious freedom was manipulated for political advantage. The SPLA has painted themselves as Christian liberators — atrocities notwithstanding — their propaganda referring to the churchgoing Kiir as the “Joshua” who took South Sudan to the promised land of independence.

“The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ,” Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe remarked in 2014.

But the church has been caught up in the divisive fallout too. 

“The current war has divided people along ethnic lines — the church is not immune to these divisions,” says Carol Berger, an anthropologist who specialises in South Sudan.

In a speech in April, South Sudan’s vice president James Wani Igga accused priests of promoting violence.

“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathise with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” Ashworth says.

Some have accused the church of inaction during the latest civil war. Ashworth suggests that after the 2005 peace agreement the SSCC “took a breather to rebuild and repair,” with the 2013 outbreak of war catching them unprepared and less capable. Subsequently it has taken church leaders longer than expected to rebuild capacity, but now the SSCC is taking action to make up for lost ground.

It has begun by choosing a new Secretary General, says Philip Winter, a South Sudan specialist who has long been engaged in its peace processes. He notes how the SSCC was called upon by the warring parties negotiating in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to help them get over their differences — something the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) failed to do as a mediator.

Following the talks in Ethiopia in June, both warring sides signed a peace agreement in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, a week later.

“The SSCC recognised that is was perhaps not as effective as the most recent conflict required,” Winter says. “So they are once more playing an important, if discreet, role.” 

The SSCC’s renewed impetus includes implementing a national Action Plan for Peace (APP), which recognises the need for a long-term peace process to resolve not only the current conflict but also the unresolved effects of previous conflicts which are contributing causes of the current conflict. The SSCC says the APP may continue for 10 or 20 years.

At this stage of the plan, the SSCC hopes to see a visit to the country by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church. Earlier this year a delegation of Christian leaders from South Sudan met the Pope and urged him to visit.

“We gave the situation of the Church in South Sudan, that the people are hungry for peace, and they expect the Pope to visit them,” the Bishop Emeritus of Tori, Paride Taban, a member of the delegation, told media after meeting the Pope. “He [the Pope] encourages us not to fear. We are not alone, he is with us, and he will surely come.”

The bishop spoke at the Rome headquarters of Sant’Egidio, a peace and humanitarian group that is trying to help peace efforts in South Sudan. The group played a crucial role in the 2015 papal visit to another war-torn country, the Central African Republic, and was instrumental in the signing of the Mozambique peace accords in 1992. 

The Pope previously postponed a planned 2017 South Sudan trip with Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican Church. Most media assumed that decision was based on the country being too dangerous to visit. But Welby told media the visit was postponed to ensure it would have the maximum impact in helping to establish peace. However, with the current, tentative ceasefire, the pope may visit to consolidate peace.

“You’re playing a heavyweight card and you have to get the timing right,” he said. “You don’t waste a card like that on anything that is not going to work.”

Others, however, remain deeply sceptical of how the Pope could visit.

“I see no way that the Pope could visit South Sudan,” says Berger. “The capital of Juba is a sad and troubled place these days. People have left for their villages, or neighbouring countries. Shops and hotels have closed. The town is heavily militarised and there is hunger everywhere.”

Whether the Pope would have a lasting impact, if he comes, remains to be seen. But current events indicate why the SSCC think it worth his trying, as the world’s youngest state remains afflicted by war and famine, and mired in an almost constant state of humanitarian crisis.     

“More exhortations to the antagonists to stop fighting are largely a waste of breath,” Winter says.

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Overly Bureaucratic Procedures and Long Waits Cuts off Support to 22 Million Yemenishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis/#respond Thu, 28 Jun 2018 14:41:38 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156445 As Yemen’s people struggle to survive amid what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the stranglehold by both government coalition forces and rebels over the country’s main ports of entry and distribution is cutting off a lifeline of support to 22 million people. Amnesty International, in a report published on Jun. 22 […]

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Sana'a backstreet, Yemen. Credit: Ahron de Leeuw

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jun 28 2018 (IPS)

As Yemen’s people struggle to survive amid what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the stranglehold by both government coalition forces and rebels over the country’s main ports of entry and distribution is cutting off a lifeline of support to 22 million people.

Amnesty International, in a report published on Jun. 22 after seven months of extensive research, said that the Saudi-led government coalition are blocking the entrance of essential humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and medicines. And any distribution of this aid is slowed by Houthi rebels within the country.

“The core aspect highlighted by the report is that humanitarian aid finds it extremely difficult to reach destinations inside the country,” Riccardo Noury, communications director and spokesperson for Amnesty International in Italy, told IPS.

Aid workers described to Amnesty International the extent of delays, with one saying that it took up to two months to move supplies out of Sana’a, the country’s capital.

“The most difficult part was getting the aid out of the warehouse once it is in Yemen,” the aid worker was quoted as saying.

World’s worst humanitarian crisis

Yemen’s war began after Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital at the end of 2014, forcing the government to flee. In support of the government a coalition of states, led by Saudi Arabia, launched an offensive against the rebels. At least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in almost three years of fighting, with the overall injured numbering 40,000.

The conflict has pushed Yemen, which was already known as the Middle East’s poorest country before 2014, to the verge of a total human, economic and social collapse.

Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights, estimates that 130 children in Yemen die every day from extreme hunger and disease.

It is estimated that three quarters of Yemen’s 27 million people are in need of assistance.
A third require immediate relief to survive and more than half are food insecure – with almost 2 million children and one million pregnant or lactating women being acutely malnourished, the Amnesty International report said. About 8.4 million people face severe insecurity and are at risk of starvation, the report noted quoting figures from the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Overly bureaucratic procedures and long waits for clearance

Amnesty International examined the role of the two major parties in the conflict. On the one hand there is a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on the country’s air, road and harbour ports, while and on the other hand the slow bureaucracy and corruption of Houthi rebels compromises the flow of aid within Yemen.

Last November, the Saudi-led coalition blocked all Yemen’s ports after rebels fired missiles on neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The ports where opened weeks later but only to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

“However, humanitarian aid alone is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Yemeni population, who also rely on commercial imports of essential goods such as fuel, food and medical supplies,” the Amnesty International report said. It noted the restriction on commercial imports “impacted Yemenis’ access to food and exacerbated existing food insecurity.”

Whereas prior to the blockade more than 96 percent of the country’s food requirements were being met, as of April, “food imports were half (51 percent) of the monthly national requirement.”

Exacerbating the matter is the fact that this year Yemen only received 53 percent of required aid funding. According to the Financial Tracking Service database, which tracks humanitarian aid flows in areas of crisis, in 2018 Yemen received only USD1.6 billion against a request of USD2.9 billion. According to UNOCHA, Saudi Arabia has donated over half a billion dollars towards this aid.

While humanitarian aid is allowed into the country, the government coalition forces are accused of forcing aid vessels to wait for coalition clearance before being allowed to proceed to anchorage. This leads “to excessive delays and unpredictability that have served to obstruct the delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid.”

However, even when aid eventually enters Yemen, its distribution is hindered by rebel forces.

Houthi rebels have to approve authorisation of movement of aid in the country. It is meant to take, at the most, two days. But sometimes it can take up to five days because of a shortage of officials.

“However, [aid workers] complained that overly bureaucratic procedures have caused excessive delays. They gave the example of the fact that permits provided to humanitarian organisations confine authorisation for movement to the specific day, time, and geographic location that was mentioned in the application.”

The consequence is that if aid workers “are not able for some reason to proceed to the operation on that day [they] have to put a request for a new permit and wait again,” the report said.

Houthi forces have been accused of extortion and interference in the distribution of aid and of “using their influence to control the delivery of aid, to influence who receives aid, and in which areas, and which organisations deliver it.”

One aid official told Amnesty International that they were “often told by Houthi forces to hand over the aid and that they [Houthi forces] would distribute it.”

The delays by both sides is against international humanitarian law, said Noury.

“All warring parties must facilitate the rapid distribution of impartial humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need. They also must ensure freedom of movement for all humanitarian personnel,” he added.

Human rights in Yemen

Noury expressed deep concern for the human rights situation in the country.

“First of all, you have all this situation linked to violations of international humanitarian law, that deals with the conflict itself. This is a very dirty conflict, in which warring parties have used arms that are forbidden by international law, such as cluster bombs. Then, you have the countless attacks against civilians that were committed by the Saudi-led coalition, and then, obviously the issue of humanitarian aid flows,” he said.

Noury stated his concern over the freedom of expression in Yemen as activists from local NGO, Mwatana for Human Rights, are being arrested by both Houthi rebels or Saudi forces as they attempt to impartially report on crimes perpetrated by both warring parties.

Amnesty International have called for the U.N. to “impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance and for committing other violations of international humanitarian law.”

It’s called on the government coalition forces and rebel forces to end delays and allow prompt delivery of aid and the allowance of commercial flights into the country.

Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

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Mideast Faces Tragic Shredding of its Diverse Religious, Ethnic & Cultural Fabrichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 15:31:14 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156407 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in an address to the Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East & North Africa

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Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2018 (IPS)

I thank the Russian Federation Presidency for convening this debate at a crucial juncture for the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

The region faces profound divisions, troubling currents and a tragic shredding of its diverse religious, ethnic and cultural fabric.

Decades-old conflicts, together with new ones, as well as deep-rooted social grievances, a shrinking of democratic space and the emergence of terrorism and new forms of violent extremism, are undermining peace, sustainable development and human rights.

The territorial integrity of countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya is under threat. Millions of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The impacts of this instability have spread to neighbors and beyond.

In addressing these challenges, we would all do well to recall the series of Arab Human Development Reports issued by the UN Development Programme starting in 2002. Those studies identified significant deficits in education, basic freedoms and empowerment, especially of the region’s women and young people.

Among the findings of the first report, in 2002, was, and I quote:

“Political participation in Arab countries remains weak, as manifested in the lack of genuine representative democracy and restrictions on liberties. At the same time, people’s aspirations for more freedom and greater participation in decision-making have grown, fueled by rising incomes, education, and information flows. The mismatch between aspirations and their fulfilment has in some cases led to alienation and its offspring – apathy and discontent. Remedying this state of affairs must be a priority for national leaderships.”
Many such shortfalls continue to bedevil societies across the region.

Let us also recognize that many of today’s problems are being compounded by the legacy of the past, including the colonial era and the consequences of the First World War, notably the dissolution of the Ottoman empire. The well-known “peace to end all peace” did unfortunately achieve that aim.

It was in this broad context that the Arab Spring reverberated widely as a call for inclusion, opportunity and the opening of political space.

Here I would like to pay tribute to the people of Tunisia, where the call began. They have achieved considerable progress in consolidating their young democracy, including through a new constitution and a peaceful transition of power.

But the Tunisia promise did not materialize everywhere in the region.

Today, in a region once home to one of history’s greatest flowerings of culture and coexistence, we see many fault-lines at work, old and new, crossing each other and generating enormous volatility. These include the Israeli-Palestinian wound, resurgent Cold War-like rivalries, the Sunni-Shia divide, ethnic schisms and other political confrontations.

Economic and social opportunities are clearly insufficient. As such difficulties rise, trust in institutions declines. Societies fracture along ethnic or religious lines, which are being manipulated for political advantage.

At times, foreign interference has exacerbated this disunity, with destabilizing effects.
And the risk of further downward spirals is sky high.

Our most pressing peace and security challenges in the Middle East are a clear reflection of the rifts, pressures, neglect and long-term trends that have brought us to today’s crossroads.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains central to the Middle Eastern quagmire.

Achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting two-state solution that allows Palestinians and Israelis to live side-by-side in peace, within secure and recognized borders, is essential for security and stability in the entire region. The recent tensions and violence in Gaza are a reminder of the fragility of the situation.

International support is critical to create an environment conducive to launching meaningful direct negotiations between the two parties. I remain deeply committed to supporting efforts towards this end.

Later today, I will preside over a pledging conference to address severe funding gaps facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees.

In Syria, civilians have borne a litany of atrocities for more than seven years of conflict: sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks, the use of chemical weapons, exile and forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances.

Syria has also become a battleground for proxy wars by regional and international actors. Violence is entrenched, amid a fractured political landscape and a multiplicity of armed groups. In the absence of trusted state institutions, many Syrians have fallen back on religious and tribal identities.

I continue to call on the parties to the conflict to engage meaningfully with my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in the UN-facilitated political process in Geneva. I urge progress in the establishment of the constitutional committee. Security Council resolution 2254 remains the only internationally agreed avenue for a credible and sustainable end to this conflict.

More than ever our aim is to see a united and democratic Syria, to avoid irreparable sectarianism, to ensure full respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to enable the Syrian people to freely decide on the country’s future.

Yemen is suffering a prolonged and devastating conflict with clear regional dimensions.

My Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has been actively engaged in order to avoid an escalation that could have dramatic humanitarian consequences at the present moment. One week ago, he presented to this Council elements of a negotiation framework that he has been discussing with various interlocutors inside Yemen and in the region. Our hope is that this framework would allow for a resumption of badly needed political negotiations to put an end to the conflict.

In Gaza, Syria and Yemen, the international community must remain mobilized in order to ensure a strong humanitarian response to millions of people in dire need.

In Libya, the United Nations is committed to supporting national actors to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The national conference process organized as part of the UN Action Plan is delivering a clear message: Libyans are longing for an end to the conflict and an end to the transition period. All stakeholders must continue lending their support to my Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, as he leads the political process.

Political success in Libya will also hopefully allow the country to play its role in addressing the dramatic plight of migrants and refugees who have been suffering so much in attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

In the past few years, we have witnessed numerous examples of Iraq’s resilience, including overcoming the risk of fragmentation and achieving victory over ISIL. Iraq’s endurance as a stable, federal state is a testament to the enormous sacrifices of the Iraqi people, from all communities. I strongly hope that the Iraqi institutions will be able to ensure an adequate conclusion of the electoral process in a way that fully respects the will of the Iraqi people.

In this context, the reconstruction of areas destroyed in the retaking of territory from ISIL is a priority, as is the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Iraq’s displaced people to their homes, including those from religious minorities. It is also important to complement such efforts by ensuring that those who committed atrocity crimes are held accountable for their actions, in accordance with international standards.

Let us remember that what look like religious conflicts are normally the product of political or geo-strategic manipulation, or proxies for other antagonisms.

There are endless examples of different religious groups living together peacefully for centuries, despite their differences. Today’s artificial divides therefore can and must be overcome, based on respect for the independence and territorial integrity of the countries concerned.

In this context, it is important to value the experience of respect for diversity that Lebanon today represents.

In Lebanon, parliamentary elections — the first since 2009 — were held peacefully in May, underscoring the country’s democratic tradition. We look forward to the formation of the new Government, to further strengthen state institutions, promote structural reforms and to implement the dissociation policy.

Heightened regional tensions could threaten Lebanon’s stability, including at the Blue Line. Steadfast international effort remains critical in supporting Lebanon to consolidate state authority, safeguard the country from regional tensions and host refugees until durable solutions are found, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

I remain particularly concerned with the risks of destabilization around the Gulf.

That is why I have always supported the efforts of the Kuwaiti mediation to overcome divisions among Arab states in the area.

On the other hand, it is important to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which should remain a valuable element of peace and security, independently of the wider discussion about the role of Iran in the region.

During the Cold War, ideological rivals still found ways to talk and cooperate despite their deep divides, for example through the Helsinki process. I do not see why countries of the region cannot find a similar platform to come together, drawing experience from one another and enhancing opportunities for possible political, environmental, socio-economic or security cooperation.

Regional and sub-regional organizations also have a key role to play in supporting preventive diplomacy, mediation and confidence-building.

The region needs to ensure the integrity of the state, its governance systems and the equal application of the rule of law that protects all individuals.

Majorities should not feel the existential threat of fragmentation, and minorities should not feel the threat of oppression and exile.

And everyone, everywhere, should enjoy their right to live in dignity, freedom and peace.

I call on the members of the Security Council to find much-needed consensus and to act with one strong voice.

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Excerpt:

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in an address to the Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East & North Africa

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Savagery of Rapes of Minorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/savagery-rapes-minors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=savagery-rapes-minors http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/savagery-rapes-minors/#comments Fri, 22 Jun 2018 21:56:03 +0000 Geetika 3 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156382 Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) professorial research fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Visiting Scholar, Population Studies Centre, University of Pnnsylvania, USA).

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Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) professorial research fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Visiting Scholar, Population Studies Centre, University of Pnnsylvania, USA).

By Geetika Dang, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
NEW DELHI, Jun 22 2018 (IPS)

Rapes of minors surged from 16 per day in 2001 to 46 per day in 2016. As if this was not horrendous enough, their savagery adds to it.

In 2016, 43.3% of the total female rape victims were minors. Around 13% of the minor female victims were of age 11 and below. The deceased victim in the Kathua rape case from a nomadic Muslim community was barely eight years old. Her crumpled body was found in a blood-smeared dress in January, 2018. A group of Hindu men lured her into a forest, kidnapped her, drugged her, locked her in a Hindu temple, gang-raped her and then strangled her.

Geetika Dang

In another depraved and cruel assault, an eight-month-old baby girl was raped in New Delhi in January, 2018, by her 28-year-old cousin. As reported, the baby was on life support as her internal organs were damaged during the assault. In yet another case in Hisar’s Uklana town in December 2017, a 6-year old Dalit girl was brutally raped and murdered. The post-mortem revealed that the murderer had inserted a wooden stick in her body. Her body parts were badly brutalized, bore multiple injuries and scratch marks, and blood was spilt all over her body.

In April 2018, a four-month-old baby was raped and murdered in the historic Rajwada area in Madhya Pradesh. The infant’s body was found in the basement area of the heritage Shiv Vilas Palace, with blood smears on the stairs telling a barbaric tale. The ravaged body was carried away in a bundle. Many more gruesome cases could be cited but are omitted as they differ in location but not in the brutality. At the risk of overstating it, the surge in the frequency of rapes of minors has been inextricably linked to their brutality in recent years. Why bestial masculinity has risen in recent years is unclear.

Our analysis with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data and from other sources over 2001-16 yields useful insights into changes in incidence of rapes of minors (per lakh minors) across different states and over time.

Rapes of minors spiked between 2010-14, dropped sharply in 2015, and then spiked again in 2016. Surprisingly, after enactment of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) in 2012, the incidence of rapes of minors surged. It covers crimes such as child rape, sexual assault and harassment and using children for pornography. However, NCRB began collecting data under POCSO in 2014. This may be partly linked to the spike in 2014.

Vani S. Kulkarni

There are some striking variations across the states (including Delhi as a sole union territory because of its infamous characterisation as the ‘rape capital’ of India). In 2001, the top three states (with lowest incidence of rapes of minors per 1,000,00 minors) were West Bengal (0.03), Jharkhand (0.12) and Arunachal Pradesh (0.19). In 2016, the top two states changed, with Bihar as the best (0.33), followed by Jammu and Kashmir (0.35) and Jharkhand (1.24) slipping from the second to the third best. So not just the states changed but the incidence was much higher among them.

In 2001, the three worst states/union territory were Delhi (4.44), followed by Chattisgarh (4.16) and Madhya Pradesh (3.24). In 2016, the three worst were Delhi (8.32), followed by Arunachal Pradesh (7.97) and Chattisgargh (7.58). Thus, while two out of the three worst states remained unchanged, the incidence of rapes rose.

At the regional level, the central was the worst in 2001 (33.53% of total rapes of minors), followed by a considerably lower share of the northern (19.01), and a slightly lower share of the southern (16.90%). In 2016, the central contributed the largest share (33.62%), followed by the southern (18.41 %), overtaking the northern region (16.10 %).

Raghav Gaiha

Using the NCRB and other data sets for the period 2001-16, we conducted an econometric panel analysis of rapes of minors during 2001-16, designed to isolate the contribution of each of the several factors associated with the surge in rapes of minors. Specifically, the panel model allows for individual state heterogeneity The larger the pool of minor girls (<17 years relative to men), the higher is the incidence of rapes of minors (hereafter just rapes). The greater the affluence of a state (measured in terms of state per capita income), the lower is the incidence of rape. The effect, however, is small. The lower the ratio of rural to urban population, the lower is the incidence of rapes, implying higher incidence in the latter. Congress and its coalition- ruled states lowered the rapes while President- ruled states saw a rise, presumably because the latter resulted from a breakdown of law and order. There are two surprising findings. One is that after the enactment of POCSO in 2012, the rapes increased. This is contrary to the spirit and intent of POCSO which was enacted as part of an initiative to make anti-rape laws more stringent. As convictions for rapes of minors are not available for the entire period of our analysis, we have used convictions for rapes as a proxy. This has a positive effect on rapes albeit small. This is not surprising as in 2016, out of 64,138 cases of child rapes for trials in courts, trials were completed only in 6626 cases and 57,454 (89.6%) cases are still pending. Of the cases in which trials were completed, offenders were convicted only in 28.2% of the cases.The problem is not just underreporting of rapes of minors for familiar reasons such as incest and fear of retaliation but also the incompetence and corruption of the police and judicial systems. So the recent legislation of capital punishment for rapists of girls below 12 years is a mere distraction from the imperative of systemic reforms. Worse, the capital punishment could add to the butchery of rapes of minors.

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Excerpt:

Geetika Dang is an independent researcher; Vani S. Kulkarni is lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) professorial research fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England, and Visiting Scholar, Population Studies Centre, University of Pnnsylvania, USA).

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