Inter Press ServiceCrime & Justice – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 27 Jun 2017 23:34:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Why Is International Human Rights Law Such an Easy Target?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/international-human-rights-law-easy-target/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-human-rights-law-easy-target http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/international-human-rights-law-easy-target/#respond Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:40:21 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151064 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Law Society in London

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Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at the Law Society in London

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
LONDON, Jun 27 2017 (IPS)

“Earlier this month, Britain’s Prime Minister called for human rights laws to be overturned if they were to “get in the way” in the fight against terrorism. Specifically, Theresa May said there was a need “to restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not evidence to prosecute them in full in court.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

For an increasingly anxious public, shaken by the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks, her remarks no doubt reflected real anger and frustration, but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector of the electorate, and it is this expectation that truly worries me.

British Government officials would probably claim the comments should be understood in the context of a tough electoral campaign, and would presumably try and reassure us quietly that the government’s support for human rights remains steadfast and unchallengeable.

Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major Western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism. And it is not just the leaders.

A few days ago, citing Prime Minister May, a former Sri Lankan rear admiral delivered a petition to the President of the Human Rights Council. He demanded action be taken against my Office for “forcing” Sri Lanka to undertake constitutional reforms, and for exerting pressure on them to create a hybrid court to try perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity – when in reality, he claimed, all they had engaged in was fighting terrorism.

My first question: Why is international human rights law such an easy target? Why is it so misunderstood, so reviled by some, feared by others, spurned, attacked?

My second: If the Prime Minister meant what she said, which universal rights would the UK be willing to give away in order to punish people against whom there is insufficient evidence to justify prosecution? What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement? The prohibition of torture? Due process?

And why are we fighting the terrorists in the first place, if not to defend both the physical well-being of people and the very human rights and values the Prime Minister now says she is willing, in part, to sacrifice – in order to fight the terrorists? And where would it stop?

Foregoing some rights now may have devastating effects on other rights later on. If we follow this reasoning to its logical conclusion, the eventual complete unwinding of human rights would transform us – both states and international organizations. To quote Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”. We would be in danger of becoming virtually indistinguishable from the terrorists we are fighting.

So why did Prime Minister May say this? At least part of the answer may lie in market conditions. Human Rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird. How can the Court consider prisoners’ voting rights, and other supposedly frivolous claims, when set against the suffering of victims? The bastards deserve punishment, full stop!

This may be understandable, at some emotional level. However, one should also acknowledge that British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European Convention on Human Rights.

And for good reason. To recognise that even a criminal has rights is the basis of enlightened thought, a principle enshrined in common law. It lies at the very core of human civilization, and distinguishes us from a primeval horde wrapped only in retribution and cruelties. I believe, like so many others, that criminals, too, have fundamental rights, because whatever evil they have wrought, they remain human beings. Frequently their pathological behaviour has been influenced by trauma inflicted on them by others.

Let me take one, perhaps extreme, example. In Iraq, there are people who argue for the killing of as many child soldiers of Da’esh as possible, and would perhaps even support torturing them, given how monstrous their actions have been. But in Sierra Leone, many child followers of Foday Sankoh, who were once hacking off the limbs of other small children, have now largely been rehabilitated, in no small measure due to the efforts of the UN. They were children even while they were terrorists – and they have to be seen as children first.

I seek in the course of this short lecture to examine some of these attacks on international human rights law, on international law generally. You have honoured me with the request that I speak to the legacy of Hugo Grotius. What would Grotius say today, were he to be brought back to life for a few moments? Would he be surprised, almost 400 years after publication of his treatise On the Law of War and Peace, by the overall achievement? The extent of the current backlash? The struggle? Or perhaps he would not be at all surprised by any of it.

While promoting an international “society” governed by law, not by force, he well may have been surprised it took a further 300 years of treaty-making and immense bloodletting, capped by two world wars, before humanity embraced a system of international law. Or, put another way, reason alone had proven itself to be insufficient.

Only the death of some 100 million people in two world wars and the Holocaust could generate the will necessary for a profound change. Humanity had fallen off a cliff, survived, and, having frightened itself rigid, became all the wiser for it. The prospect of nuclear annihilation also sharpened post-war thinking. And soon after, States drew up the UN Charter, reinforced international law – codified international refugee law, further elaborated international humanitarian law, and created international human rights law and international criminal law.

It is precisely these bodies of international law that are now endangered.

While I ought to, in this lecture, examine all the threats to public international law, from Russia’s seizure and annexation of Crimea to the almost enthusiastic derogation by European powers of their obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or the seemingly deliberate bombing by major state actors of facilities protected under IHL – such as clinics and hospitals in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan – I shall confine myself for the sake of brevity to those principal threats directed against international human rights law, and pay special attention to the absolute prohibition on the use of torture. In doing so, I hope to illustrate how they are symptomatic of a broader cynicism emerging in defiance of international law more generally.

Let me first return to the struggle against terrorism, and how it is being exploited by governments the world over to roll back the advances made in human rights. The curtailing of the freedoms of expression and association – which threatens to wipe out dissent completely in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, and Turkey – is closing what is left of a democratic space, and all under the banner of fighting terrorism. And this contagion is spreading, fast.

When I emphasise this point, and highlight the excesses of government action, I am sometimes accused of showing sympathy with the terrorists, which is outrageous. I wish to be clear. I condemn terrorism unreservedly. It can never be justified, on the basis of any grievance, real or perceived.

The Da’esh, Al Qa’eda, Al Nusra, Al Shabab, Boko Haram manifestation does have a distinct ideology, and it must be dismantled at the source. If it is to be fought from a security perspective, through intelligence networks and military force, the actions must also be extremely precise. In other words, the arbitrariness and imprecision that are the hallmarks of target selection on the part of terrorists require a diametrically opposite reaction from states. The laser-like application of the law, consistent with universal human rights standards and guarantees, is the only workable antidote if this struggle is ever to be successful.

The detention, and in some cases torture, of individuals whose association with a terrorist group is non-existent but who are nevertheless charged under a vaguely-worded counter-terrorism law – simply because they have criticized the government – is not just wrong, it is dangerous and entirely self-defeating.

It transforms not only one individual, falsely charged, into a person who hates the state, but also their families, friends, possibly even their communities. Some may even go further than simple hatred. Arbitrary detention serves the terrorists, not the state; it fuels recruitment. And yet arbitrary detentions are commonplace in those states grappling with terrorism. In fact, if you believe the rhetoric of many governments, every lawyer or journalist is almost by definition a terrorist, particularly if they are human rights-focused. Present company included!

Moreover, given that prisons often become factories for converting petty criminals into violent extremists, the lawful deprivation of liberty ordered by Courts should be reserved for the most serious offenses, and non-custodial remedies sought for lesser offenses. This is not what is happening.

Instead, we see in the United States a renewed resort to very long prison sentences for those convicted of drug offenses. And rather than focus on potentially violent individuals driven by Takfiri ideology, or any other extreme ideology, the Trump Administration is pursuing its executive orders on the travel bans all the way to the Supreme Court, despite their being struck down as unconstitutional in the lower courts.

Likewise, in the weeks following the vicious terrorist attacks in Paris, in November 2015, the French authorities took broad aim and closed down 20 mosques and Muslim associations, while also undertaking some 2,700 warrantless house searches. In the United Kingdom, the Investigatory Powers Act of 2016 constituted one of the most sweeping mass surveillance regimes in the world, permitting the interception, access, retention and hacking of communications without a requirement of reasonable suspicion.

Refugees and migrants were increasingly viewed as Trojan horses for terrorists. Hysteria raged in political circles across Europe, and the terrorists must have been grinning. When it came to the management of the public’s reaction, instead of adopting a common-sense approach, fever set in.

To overcome terrorism, governments must be precise in the pursuit of the terrorists. Pretending to seal off borders — with or without walls decorated with solar panels — is an illusion, and a nasty one. Migrant children should not be detained. There should be no refoulement. Nor should there be collective push back, or decisions taken at borders by police officers, instead of judges. Or indeed, returns to countries that are manifestly not safe.

The EU deal with Turkey, in our view, has failed on several of these key points; most especially when it comes to the right of every asylum seeker to individual assessment. Taken together with the emergency measures being rushed through a number of European parliaments, which also derogate from the 1951 Refugee Convention, Europe – as a sentinel for the observation of refugee and human rights laws worldwide – finds itself enmeshed in gross hypocrisy.

The demagogues and populists across Europe and in many other parts of the world, as well as the tabloids in this country, have for years remorselessly stoked xenophobia and bigotry – the fuel that gave rise to these unwise policies. And this seemed to be paying off, with a windfall of popular support gathering in their favour.

After the referendum here in the UK, dominated as it was by the whipped-up fear of foreigners and foreign institutions, came the outcome of the US election, and the populist bandwagon seemed to be on an unstoppable roll.

The default condition of the human mind is, after all, fear. Primordial fear. That innermost instinctive mechanism protecting us from harm, from death. An emotion every extremist, skilled populists included, seeks to tap or stimulate. By manipulating it, and obliterating deductive reasoning drawn from knowledge, they more easily mould the movements they lead, and their political ambitions are well-served – at least for a while.

The emotional mechanism in the mind of a human rights defender works rather differently. To do good in our lives, and not just to some, but to all; to defend the human rights of all – this requires a continuous investment of thought, where the natural prejudices lying deep within each of us must be watched out for and rejected every day of our lives.

The default flow in the minds of humanity may be reptilian; but the internal battle to overcome it is profoundly human. To think of all, to work for all: these are the two fundamental lessons learned by those who survived the two world wars – whether we speak in relation to the behaviour of individuals or states. And they are etched into the UN Charter.

The two words “human rights” were not placed in the preamble of the UN Charter by its final author, Virginia Gildersleeve, as a literary flourish. They were written into the text – almost at the beginning, in the third line – because human rights was viewed as the only choice possible for that first beat of a new pulse. Because on 26 June 1945, the day of the Charter’s signing, killing on a scale hitherto unknown to humans had only just come to an end, with cities across the world pulverized and still smoking, monuments to immense human malevolence and stupidity.

Only by accepting human rights as the cornerstone could the rest of the edifice – success in economic development, durable peace – become possible. It is a point that even today – perhaps especially today – needs to be absorbed by the numerous political actors who only see human rights as a tiresome constraint. Indeed, many people who have enjoyed their rights since birth simply do not realise what these principles really mean. Like oxygen, they lie beyond our daily sensory perception, and only when suddenly deprived of it do we fathom their enormous significance.

To advocate for the universal rights of every human being, every rights holder, is another way of saying that only by working together, do we – as humans and as states – have a hope of ridding ourselves of the scourges of violence and war.

Tragically, the nativistic reflexes once again being peddled by populists and demagogues still seem to work. They sell supremacy and not equality, sow suspicion rather than calm, and hurl enmity against defined categories of people who are vulnerable – easy scapegoats, and undeserving of their hatred. This brand of politician seems more intent on profiting from the genuine fear of specific constituencies than promoting care for the welfare of the whole.

Thankfully, change is afoot. The populist or nationalist-chauvinistic wave in the western world, which crested in the US, has broken for now, dashed against the ballot boxes of Austria, the Netherlands and France. There may yet be other waves. Nevertheless, in Europe, the anti-populist movement, as some have called it, is now up and running.

In other parts of the world, threats to international law and the institutions upholding them are thus far unaffected by these recent, more positive developments.

The US is weighing up the degree to which it will scale back its financial support to the UN and other multilateral institutions. It is still deciding whether it should withdraw from the Human Rights Council and there was even talk at one stage of it withdrawing from the core human rights instruments to which it is party.

Last year, it was also reported that nine Arab states – the coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting the Houthi/Saleh rebels in Yemen – made the unprecedented threat of a withdrawal from the UN if they were listed as perpetrators in the annex of the Secretary General’s report on children and armed conflict.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, the Inter-American Court, the Southern African Development Court, and the International Criminal Court have also not been spared such threats. Fortunately, in almost all these cases, either the threat of withdrawal has fizzled out, or, even if one or two countries did withdraw, no chain reaction ensued. But the regularity of these threats means it is increasingly probable the haemorrhaging will occur someday – a walk-out which closes the book on some part of the system of international law.

In this context, most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture. We are now told the US Army field manual will not be redrafted, and the US Secretary of Defence is guiding the White House on this. For now there is little danger of a return to the practice of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, a euphemism that dupes no-one. The mood in the US could of course change dramatically, if the country were at some stage to experience a gruesome terrorist attack. And, mindful of how the American public has, over the last ten years, become far more accepting of torture, the balance could be tipped in favour of its practice – and destroy the delicate position the Convention Against Torture is in.

It is worth recalling that the Convention against Torture, ratified by 162 countries, is the most unyielding of any existing instrument in international law. Its prohibition on torture is so absolute, it can never be lifted – not even during an emergency that “threatens the life of the nation.”

And yet, notwithstanding its broader recognition as jus cogens, and the crystal clarity of Article 2 of the Convention, the existence of so many surviving victims of torture, who remain unacknowledged, unsupported, denied justice or redress, forms a living testimony to the dreadful persistence of torture worldwide.

While only a small number of states appear to practise torture systematically, as part of state policy, 20 countries (and they are listed on our website) do not recognize the competence of the Committee Against Torture under Article 20. Accordingly, they refuse a priori any scrutiny of the alleged widespread violations.

A much larger number of states are host to isolated – or not so isolated – acts of torture and ill-treatment. Disturbingly, states in this group are simply not taking their obligations seriously enough. The levels of impunity are very high, given that most of those individuals who are found culpable face only administrative sanctions; and so-called evidence obtained under torture remains, in many states, admissible in court.

There are also a number of states – and this group may possibly be increasing – which, while having no record of practising torture, are nevertheless acquiescing to it by, for example, disregarding the principle of non-refoulement as contained in Article 3 of the Convention.

Another large majority of states parties also fully or partially disregard their obligations under Article 14 of the Convention for the redress and rehabilitation of victims, no matter where the torture occurred or by whom it was perpetrated.

Eleven years ago, noticeable progress was made with the entry into force of the Optional Protocol, which enables preventive visits to be made by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture to any place of deprivation of liberty, at any time. Some fifty national preventive mechanisms have been created, and the Sub-Committee has conducted 54 visits. However, many national preventive mechanisms are under-resourced and not empowered to deliver real results.

The fragility of the Convention is underscored by the fact that no country abides by all of its terms. No country would admit publicly that it engages in torture, but abundant evidence shows that torture is systematically practised by at least some states – that first category I referred to earlier.

It would seem all governments have been participating in a theatrical pretence of conforming with the Convention. And this may be more crucial than we initially realise, because it implies a sense of shame. Consider the alternative.

The president of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos.

If other leaders start to follow the same rhetorical course, undermining the Convention with their words, the practice of torture is likely to broaden, and that would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed.

The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real.

Today, the 26th of June, is the international day in support of victims of torture, and earlier I participated in a panel at King’s College organised by the International Bar Association to raise awareness about the absolute prohibition of torture, and the need for the legal profession to take a far more active role in preventing its use.

Human progress never glides; it will always stagger and sometimes even temporarily collapse. The common effort, for a common cause, within a common frame of understanding and regulation, will always be attacked by those more committed to the pursuit of narrower personal or national interests.

These extreme practitioners of the assertive, thin agenda are apt to dismiss many of today’s international laws and post-war institutions as anachronisms. And because, to the non-lawyer, the system of international law is so complicated, the human rights system so indecipherable to many lay-persons, it is hard to rally the general public, who may not see any immediate threat to themselves.

This brings me to the central threat to human rights today: indifference. The indifference of a large part of the business community worldwide, who would still pursue profit even at the cost of great suffering done to others. The indifference of a large segment of the intelligence and security community, for whom the pursuit of information eclipses all the rights held by others, and who describe challenges to terrible, discriminatory practices as treachery.

Some politicians, for whom economic, social and cultural rights mean little, are indifferent to the consequences of economic austerity. They view human rights only as an irritating check on expediency – the currency of the political world. For others, indifference is not enough. Their rejection of the rights agenda is expressed in terms replete with utter contempt for others, a parade of meanness.

Our world is dangerously close to unmooring itself from a sense of compassion, slowly becoming not only a post-truth but also a post-empathetic world. It is so hard for us now in the UN to generate the sums needed for humanitarian action worldwide. Our appeals for funds for the most destitute are rarely met at levels over 50%; the final figure is often far less.

What is happening to us?

My hope lies not primarily with governments, but with those people who reject all forms of terrorism, reject extreme, discriminatory counter-terrorism, and reject the populisms of the ideological outer limits. My hope lies with those who choose to elect more enlightened political leaders.

My hope also lies with the most courageous of us: the human rights defenders, often victims of violations themselves who, armed with nothing beyond their minds and voices, are willing to sacrifice everything, including seeing their children and families, losing their work, even their lives, to safeguard rights – not just their own, but the rights of others.

How stunningly beautiful is that? I am moved by them. We should all be. It is they who ensure we retain our equanimity, and it is they, not us, who bear the greater burden of defending this crucial part of our system of international law. It is they who will save us, and we in turn must invest every effort in protecting them.

I don’t think Grotius would be surprised by any of this.

The reptilian urge of the human brain is not easily overcome, and humanity will for centuries remain untrustworthy and unreliable. Our behaviour, and the behaviour of states, will long require legal scaffolding to keep what we recognize as human civilization in place. Grotius would be grateful we are still fighting, standing up, for his international society and perhaps even crack a wry smile when thinking just how prescient he was, those four centuries ago.

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“Torture Works” — in All the Wrong Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=torture-works-wrong-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/torture-works-wrong-ways/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 19:09:46 +0000 Victor Madrigal Borloz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151031 Victor Madrigal-Borloz is Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, Copenhagen, representing 153 centres in 76 countries, and a Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate

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June 26 - International Day in Support of Torture Victims

Prisoners held at S-21, the Khmer Rouge regime's main torture centre, on display at what is now a genocide museum in Phnom Penh. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Victor Madrigal-Borloz
COPENHAGEN, Jun 23 2017 (IPS)

“Torture works” might rank among the most sweeping generalisations ever uttered, one brutal in its disregard of the pain and suffering created by this abhorrent practice. Indeed, torture works, but to all the wrong ends.

Torture is effective at creating enormous pain, severe trauma, and lasting damage. Victims suffer psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal and self-isolation, confusion, flashbacks, memory lapses and other cognitive symptoms; as well as fatigue, insomnia and recurrent nightmares.

This can naturally lead to permanent physical impairment and is psychologically scarring, leaving victims with long-lasting illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and deep depression.

In rehabilitation centers worldwide, victims of torture report suicidal feelings and of being easily frightened and suspicious, making it extremely difficult to maintain social relationships, or to work and function in society. They often describe being disconnected from the world and from the feeling of being less than human.

In addition to psychiatric disorder, it is strongly believed that PTSD results in later serious medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and possibly dementia.

So, if the intent is to inflict severe pain and lasting suffering, torture is the tool.

Torture is also an effective mechanism to corrode the social fabric. The necessary conditions for torture include alienation — the mechanism through which the perpetrator ceases to regard his or her victim as human.

What this does to a society is difficult to describe in the abstract, but easy to perceive in any conversation with a Chilean, a Cambodian, a Croatian or a Congolese survivor of torture. All will describe how it has taken decades, and will take many more, to restore the trust among neighbors, and sometimes even family.

So, if the goal is to divide communities, torture will do.

Torture, not surprisingly, also ensures long lasting damage to democratic structures. In states in which torture is systematic or widespread, human rights defenders are invariably under threat. Justice is carried out at the peril of the prosecutor. The independence of judges is curtailed. How can you expect people to speak freely, to claim their rights or to organize politically if the response from the state is torture?

So, as a way to weaken democracy, torture does the trick. What does torture not achieve?

Torture does not work to produce reliable intelligence, to solve crime or to prevent terrorism. In her foreword to the Senate’s Intelligence Committee on the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, Senator Diane Feinstein registered this conclusion pristinely: “Prior to the attacks of September 2001, the CIA itself determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations that such techniques ‘do not produce intelligence,’ ‘will probably result in false answers,’ and had historically proven to be ineffective.”

Yet the global consensus on an absolute prohibition of torture is vociferously questioned. Despite the vacuum of evidence of benefits, politicians across the political spectrum jump to vouch for the necessity of torture.

This shift in public discourse away from a universal and total prohibition of torture is now leading to other challenges. Traditional national donors are shrinking from their commitments and responsibilities by decreasing or stopping funding. This at a time of unprecedented demand for the crucial services performed by human rights organisations.
Despite these challenges, dedicated staff at rehabilitation centres continue, often at great personal sacrifice and sometimes at great risk, to provide outstanding physical and psychological treatment while assisting their clients to re-integrate into societies.

There is a lot of pending work in relation to torture victims. The member centres of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims treat some 100,000 victims around the world every year, but we know that this is a minuscule proportion of all affected children, women and men.

Our movement is resilient. Today, we speak with one voice to let demagogues and extremists know that, more than ever, we stand resolutely for what is right, and we are ready to work with anyone wishing to improve the lives of torture victims. We invite the support of those members of the public who share our aspiration to safer societies and understand that torture is not the answer, and who recognize that all victims of this despicable crime have the right to full rehabilitation to rebuild their lives.

As the world marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Torture Victims, Monday June 26, please join your voice to ours at http://irct.org

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UN Response Teams Underfunded as Costs Hit Staggering $23.5 Billionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-response-teams-underfunded-costs-hit-staggering-23-5-billion/#respond Fri, 23 Jun 2017 05:24:11 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151009 UN response teams that help the most vulnerable people in the world are still largely underfunded, a new status report has revealed. The funding available to the teams is no match for the record number of people—141 million—who need assistance today. Newer and protracted conflicts have raised the bar of funding requirements to a staggering […]

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A wide view of a briefing on the humanitarian affairs segment (scheduled to take place in Geneva, 21 to 23 June) of the 2017 session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 2017 (IPS)

UN response teams that help the most vulnerable people in the world are still largely underfunded, a new status report has revealed.

The funding available to the teams is no match for the record number of people—141 million—who need assistance today.

Newer and protracted conflicts have raised the bar of funding requirements to a staggering 23.5 billion dollars. International donors, since the launch of Humanitarian Appeal in 2016 by the UN and its partners, have contributed to a total of 6.2 billion dollars.

The lack of funding is especially worrying as many countries have seen a resurgence in violent conflicts – for instance, rapid escalation of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s central Kasai province. Many others are threatened by natural disasters, such as the drought in Kenya, or flooding in Peru. Still others, almost 20 million people, are at risk in countries at the brink of a famine, such as northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

However, teams have worked hard to reach people, and have provided crucial assistance to many. The numbers, although small in comparison to the people who need aid, is worthy of recognition to the commitment of the UN Humanitarian Appeal. Some 5.8 million people in war-torn Yemen, and 3 million people in famine-struck South Sudan have, for instance, received life-saving assistance.

“Funding to response plans is a high-impact investment as they are prioritized on the basis of thorough needs assessment and analysis. Supporting the plans also provides the most neutral and impartial aid,” said Stephen O’Brien, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

The report highlights the pressing need for financial aid to support people across 37 countries, and urges donors to step up their contributions.

“With generous donor support, humanitarian partners have swiftly scaled up to deliver record levels of life-saving assistance in challenging and often dangerous environments. Donors have invested in these efforts but we are in a race against time. People’s lives and well-being depend on increasing our collective support,” said O’Brien.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) brings together Member States, United Nations entities, humanitarian and development partners, private sectors and affected communities at the Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) to discuss urgent humanitarian issues each year in June. The event this year runs from 21st until 23rd June

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“Big Reflection” Needed on Opioid Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:26:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151003 Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency. In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world. In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at […]

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Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency UNODC

Intravenous drug users in Pakistan. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency.

In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world.

In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at least once. Of these, almost 30 million suffered from drug use disorders including dependence. UNODC found that opioids were the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70 percent of negative health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide, and its production is only increasing.

“[Opioid use] is a really dramatic epidemic…they are really, in terms of burden of disease, at the top of the scale,” said UNODC’s Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch Gilberto Gerra to IPS.

The use of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, heighten the risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C through unsafe injecting practices as well as overdoses and death.

Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths related to drugs that were mostly avoidable. A large proportion of those deaths is attributed to the use of opioids.

Though affects many countries in the world, the opioid crisis is particularly prevalent in the United States.

Mostly driven by opioids, approximately one quarter of the estimated drug-related deaths worldwide occur in the U.S.

Overdose deaths in the North American nation more than tripled from almost 17,000 to over 52,000 annually between 1999 and 2015, and increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, reaching the highest level ever recorded.

In fact, more Americans died from the misuse of opioids in 2016 than in the entirety of the Vietnam War, noted Gerra.

In the state of Maryland, opioid-related deaths quadrupled since 2010 and deaths from fentanyl increased 38-fold in the past decade. In response to the crisis, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, stating: “We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency…this is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Though some states have begun the place restrictions on the accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids, including a Florida bill that aims to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a five-day supply, Gerra stressed the importance of focusing on not only supply, but also the demand side of opioids.

“If so many people are consuming this opioid medication including legal opioids from the pharmacy, when you restrict the pharmacy’s opioid medication, they will start to turn to things like heroin,” he told IPS.

In the U.S., heroin use has increased significantly, and the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that it is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

“There needs to be a big reflection on this issue in North America,” Gerra said.

However, the potential changes in healthcare in the U.S. may impact access to treatment.

In particular, the current health care bill proposes cuts to expanded Medicaid, which is used by many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic to boost their response by paying for medication, therapy, and other treatment services.

Health advocates criticised the proposed cuts during President Trump’s first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which is charged with finding solutions for the epidemic.

“If we make it harder for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse,” said North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.

A similar scenario is found around the world as availability of and access to treatment of drug use disorders remain limited. Fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders are provided with treatment each year, UNODC found.

Gerra highlighted the importance of treatment, pointing to the need for personalised interventions and close supervision by doctors or therapists in order to avoid opioid misuse.

He also added that people possessing drugs for personal consumption should not be criminalised as it steers them away from seeking treatment for fear of punishment.

Though approaches to global drug policy have been contentious and diverse, countries in the General Assembly session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) in 2016 unanimously agreed for the first time to a people-centered approach which sees the drug problem as a health disorder rather than a criminal or moral issue.

“We cannot respond to people trapped by drugs with a punitive approach. We have to tell them that we are here, we are aware of your condition and behaviour, you are aware that you are in trouble, please come and we will do what we can to help you and your family to overcome this problem in a very humane and human-rights, science-based way,” Gerra told IPS.

Gerra called for a continuum of care approach to help keep people using drugs like heroin safe through services like needle exchange programs and to provide long-term accessible and affordable treatment once users are ready.

“No one should be left behind in the delivery of prevention and treatment interventions,” UNODC said in its report.

Gerra noted that prevention is by far the most cost-effective intervention in the long run, but approaches must be science-based in order to be effective.

“People don’t understand that there is a science behind prevention—they continue to use initiatives that are well-intentioned but completely not science-based [and] then they say prevention is not working,” he said, pointing to science-based methodologies such as life skills education and drug education to children.

The globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is to leave no one behind, includes a target to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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Sexual Violence Fuels Vicious Recruitment Cycle in Congolese Militiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/sexual-violence-fuels-vicious-recruitment-cycle-congolese-militia/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 20:00:45 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150988 In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them. Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among […]

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While measures such as the Child Protection Code brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girl soldiers

Former soldiers who have returned to school successfully in Congo. Credit: Child Soldiers International

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the active recruitment of young girls by armed militias has produced disastrous effects—facing social stigma when they’re freed, many girls find their way back to these violent groups and rejoin them.

Half of the girls, employed as what are called “operation units”, are sexually assaulted by soldiers. Among these violent defensive militias in DRC, also known as Mai Mai, girls accounted for up to 40 percent of all underage soldiers.

On the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, celebrated June 19 and commemorated three years ago by the UN, Child Soldiers International (CSI) released an important report outlining the aftermath of this violence.

“I left [to join the Mai Mai] after they raped my mother in front of all of us, even my father. I felt shame, pity, anger. One day I decided to take up arms to avenge my mother,” a former girl soldier, who is 19, explained.

Most of the girls, who were interviewed in early 2016, were abducted by groups such as the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), M23, and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

At a young age, the girls often endured sexual violence, which became a routine event.

“Sometimes I didn’t even know the name of the man who abused me at night,” said a 16-year-old girl. “I wanted to escape but saw what they did to those who tried… I was too scared.”

While measures such as the Child Protection Code of 2009 brought back 46,000 children from armed groups, only seven percent of those freed were girls.

Things didn’t get much better at home. The girls were often shunned by their families, and blamed for their status as victims as of sexual assault.

“Not two days goes by without neighbours making us feel we have known men,” a 14-year-old girl said. “We are not allowed to associate with their daughters.”

Facing a lack of aid or counseling, many went back to the groups. They long to speak with their families, and go to school, the report says. Instead, they are turned away. This injures their psyche, and can lead to low self-esteem. More has to be done, Sandra Olsson, the programme manager at CSI, told IPS.

“Community reintegration and tackling the stigma and rejection these girls face needs to be at the centre of reintegration programmes for these girls. We hope that our research and recommendations will help the DRC government develop girl specific reintegration strategies,” she said.

The report, she told IPS, hopes to raise awareness, provide long term assistance to the girls, and finally, end sexual violence in conflicts.

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The World Society Needs to Express Greater Solidarity for Refugees Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/world-society-needs-express-greater-solidarity-refugees-worldwide/#respond Tue, 20 Jun 2017 12:02:36 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150978 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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The World Society Needs to Express Greater Solidarity for Refugees Worldwide

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 20 2017 (IPS)

The world is heading into troubled waters as we are witnessing an unprecedented movement of people – refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons (IDPs) alike – fleeing from misery, poverty and conflicts. The refugee crisis that has swept across Europe and the Middle East is becoming the 21st century’s most protracted crisis with no immediate solution in sight. The world has not witnessed a more complex movement of people since the end of the Second World War; thousands of human beings undertake perilous and treacherous journeys in hope for a better and a safer future. Many of them perish during these hazardous journeys. How can we forget the words the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire who said:

No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

The 2017 World Refugee Day is an important occasion to stand united with millions of refugees around the world. This international commemorative day was announced in 2001 following the adoption of Resolution 55/76 by the United Nations General Assembly on 12 February 2001. It also marked the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the “1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.” Although the traumas of the Second World War reminded the world of the importance of never ignoring the past, the contemporary crisis calls for concerted efforts to resolve the plight of refugees worldwide as a matter of urgency and to address the root causes of mass exodus, as a long-term strategy.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 21 million refugees worldwide. In 2017, there was an estimated 5 million Syrian refugees worldwide. Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Sudan – countries located in the Arab region – are also considered as source countries of refugees owing to the proliferation of conflicts and the rise of violent extremism.

The majority of these refugees have sought refuge in countries neighbouring their country of origin. In the Middle East, countries in the Arab region are hosting one of the highest number of refugees. More than 1 million people have found refuge in Lebanon, a country that has already welcomed more than 500,000 Palestinian refugees. Jordan is home to approximately 660,000 refugees, whereas Iraq and Egypt have welcomed around 240,000 and 120,000 refugees respectively despite internal upheavals and civil strife. On top of this, one can also add Turkey that is currently hosting nearly 3 million Syrian refugees.

On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, several European countries have showed some support to address the plights of refugees from the Arab region. Germany and Sweden have taken adequate measures to accommodate the influx of refugees by welcoming 400,000 and 100,000 refugees respectively. Other countries such as France and the Netherlands have also pleaded to relocate refugees entrenched in refugee camps in transit countries such as Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Although a certain degree of solidarity is being expressed by European countries, the number of refugees being granted protection in rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population compared with countries in the Arab region. Despite being signatories to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, many countries have decided to openly defy the acceptance of refugees belonging to certain religious faiths within their societies. Walls have been built in a misconceived attempt to exclude refugees from entering certain countries. The fearmongering and scapegoating of refugees have likewise given rise to a populist tidal wave. Right-wing movements use the contemporary refugee crisis to confer legitimacy on their aspirations to political power through whipping up xenophobia and through conflating Islam with terrorism.

During a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the subject of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” several panellists underscored that these types of practices are contradictory to the core principles of Islam and Christianity preaching love, peace and tolerance towards people in need. Societies should stand united in addressing the rise of populism that is pervasive in many countries.

I would also like to call upon governments in the Middle East and in the West to work jointly to address the protracted refugee crisis. Rich countries have a moral responsibility to provide development assistance to poorer countries to achieve a more equitable burden sharing arrangement for hosting refugees. Countries in the West and in the Middle East need also to step up their joint efforts to eliminate the root causes which have fuelled extremism. Peace and stability in the Middle East need to be restored before refugees can safely return to their home societies. This calls for a radical political change of approach in problem solving in the region.

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Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/housing-refugees-middle-east-conflicts-will-go/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=housing-refugees-middle-east-conflicts-will-go http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/housing-refugees-middle-east-conflicts-will-go/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 20:39:42 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150927 Prolonged conflicts in the Middle East have led to a deadly humanitarian crisis, with as many as 17.5 million people displaced in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In Syria alone, 11.5 million people have fled their homes—more than three people a minute—since the beginning of war in 2011. Five million have fled the country, and six […]

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Housing Refugees of the Middle East Conflicts: Where Will They Go?

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs the ICRC guest book, as Mr. Maurer Looks on; 3rd Oct., 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

Prolonged conflicts in the Middle East have led to a deadly humanitarian crisis, with as many as 17.5 million people displaced in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In Syria alone, 11.5 million people have fled their homes—more than three people a minute—since the beginning of war in 2011. Five million have fled the country, and six million live in ad-hoc shelters across the country.

The new numbers, in a report by the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) highlight the sheer magnitude of movement in the region, and the struggle of everyday life in first-hand accounts.

“When the siege of east Aleppo started last Ramadan [2016], the situation grew even more difficult as people were stranded for 190 days. The situation there was in a state of paralysis. My son was always hungry as there was nothing to eat or drink. Food was extremely expensive. We were forced to eat different kinds of lentil-based food. As a result, I lost 25 kilos,” said Yasser, a businessman in Aleppo, who watched his son die as his building collapsed after a bombing.

Aleppo, a flourishing economic hub in northern Syria, laid in ruins after four years of hellish fighting between varying warring groups. When the fighting finally ended on Dec. 15, 2016, 35,000 people were evacuated to neighbouring areas in just one week. As residents move back into the city, livable housing remains a major problem.

In Ramadi, Iraq, which was recently liberated from the Islamic State, fighting damaged almost 80 percent of the city. By March, more than a year since the war ended, only 60 percent of its civilians were able to return to the city. Nationwide, even before the Iraqi offensive on Mosul began in October 2016, almost a tenth of Iraqis were uprooted from their homes.

In Mosul, at the beginning of April this year, nearly 274,000 remained displaced from their homes in the city.

In all cases, the extent of damage has been complicated by tactics of urban warfare—firing in densely packed cities, and employing sieges against civilians.

In three cities—Foua, Kefraya and Madaya—in eastern Aleppo, for instance, nearly 60,000 civilians were trapped in a siege that lasted 190 days in 2016. Similarly, in a 15-month siege in Taiz, Yemen, nearly 200,000 people were caught in the cross-fire.

Matters are made worse by continual use of high-impact weapons that destroy urban infrastructure—a single broken pipe, for instance, can deprive 100,000 people of water.

“What we are witnessing is a sustained assault on, and massive disregard for, the provision of health care during times of conflict,” said ICRC President Peter Maurer and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) President Dr Joanne Liu in a co-written editorial for The Guardian.

The report urges parties involved in the conflict to uphold the rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), protect urban settings, and work to the pressing concerns of civilians.

On May 3, 2016, spurred by ongoing attacks on volunteers and medical facilities, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2286, which called on all warring parties to protect medical facilities and personnel.

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/men-commit-femicide-lose-rights-children-argentina/#respond Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:37:22 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150908 In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her. Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives […]

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Men Who Commit Femicide Lose Rights Over Their Children in Argentina

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 16 2017 (IPS)

In January 2008, Rosana Galliano was shot to death in Exaltación de la Cruz, a rural municipality 80 km from Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires. Her ex-husband, José Arce, who was sentenced to life in prison, had hired hitmen to kill her.

Nine years later, Arce was put under house arrest, for health reasons, and lives with their children, two boys aged 12 and 13.

Women’s organisations hold that there are dozens of similar situations in Argentina, where society is becoming more aware of cases of gender-based violence.“In most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.” -- Mabel Bianco

People have responded by taking to the streets: since 2015, an extraordinary social mobilisation, which has continued to this day, has installed the issue on the public agenda and forced politicians to address the phenomenon of the high rate of femicides, the term given murders of women for gender-based reasons.

The case of Rosana Galliano’s children was the main catalyst for a law passed by Congress on May 31, which strips parents who kill, injure or sexually abuse their partners of parental rights.

“We have received queries about a number of cases similar to that of Rosana Galliano’s children, which don’t make it to the media because the families of the murdered women don’t want to go public,” said Ada Rico, who heads La Casa del Encuentro, a Buenos Aires-based organisation that combats violence, abuse and discrimination against women.

“We submitted a draft law in 2014 aimed at removing parental responsibility from those who commit femicide,” she told IPS. “It was discussed together with seven similar drafts and a consensus was reached. It is a law that is likely to be copied by other countries.”

In the face of the lack of official statistics, La Casa del Encuentro began in 2008 to gather media reports on gender-based murders of women in this South American country of nearly 44 million people.

That same year these murders were officially defined as femicides, during a meeting of the Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism of the Belem do Pará Convention, the Inter-American instrument signed in 1994 to prevent and punish violence against women.

 Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS


Demonstrators march along the Avenida de Mayo in Buenos Aires, behind a big banner that reads “Students demand ‘Not one less’” during the massive march against gender violence in the Argentine capital on Jun. 3. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

The Argentine Congress followed suit in 2012, stipulating life in prison for men guilty of murders involving gender-based violence.

Up to then, murders resulting from domestic violence were treated as manslaughter, punishable with a maximum of 25 years in prison.

However, this change did not lead to a decline in violence against women in this country. La Casa del Encuentro’s figures show that femicides have remained fairly stable, at a high level: 255 in 2012, 295 in 2013, 277 in 2014, 286 in 2015 and 290 last year.
Among the hundreds of cases, one completely changed life in the town of Rufino, in the province of Santa Fe, and shook the entire country.

Chiara Páez, a 14-year-old girl, disappeared one Sunday in May 2015.

A large part of the town’s 20,000 people went out to search for her. But eventually the police found her body buried at the house of her boyfriend’s grandparents. Her 16-year-old boyfriend confessed that he had beat her to death. The autopsy revealed that Chiara was pregnant and that she had taken medication to have an abortion.

A few days later, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Buenos Aires and other large cities to demand a stop to male violence against women. “Not one less” (“Ni una menos”) was the slogan devised by a group of feminist activists and journalists, which was taken up immediately by a good part of Argentine society.

Since then, huge “Not one less” marches have become an annual event. The last one was held on Jun. 3 on the Avenida de Mayo avenue, and one of the main speakers was Nora Cortiñas, renowned leader of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.

The pamphlet handed out at the demonstration noted that many women are murdered after reporting that they are victims of domestic violence, which makes the government responsible for their protection and their deaths, “as much as the murderers.”

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

“Not One Less” was the slogan of the Jun. 3 march against gender-based violence in Buenos Aires. Credit: Ana Currarino/IPS

They also demanded an end to discrimination against women in the labour market, and called for legal, safe, free of charge abortion.

“Violence against women will not rapidly decline since it is mainly linked to cultural factors very marked in society, such as the greater value put on men in all fields,” Dr. Mabel Bianco, the head of the Foundation for Women’s Studies and Research, told IPS.

“We are still lacking answers from the government. A protocol that unifies the steps to be followed nationwide in the face of complaints of gender-based violence must be designed,” she said.

She said that “in most cases, the woman files a complaint, but there is no support or monitoring in place to know what happens to her afterwards. And when the judges issue a restriction order, it is not enforced and the woman is defenceless.”

One of the results of the social mobilisation was the start of official record-keeping on femicides in 2015. The Supreme Court keeps these figures, and in late May it presented the statistics from 2016: 254 women were murdered for gender-based reasons, 19 more than in 2015.

In this year’s report, the Court for the first time differentiated between “biological females” and trans women, who were the victims of five of the femicides last year.

Meanwhile, Congress did not stop with the parental responsibility law. The same day it was passed, the Senate gave preliminary approval to two other bills focused on gender-based violence.

One of them establishes financial support by the state for women who cannot afford to leave their abusive partners. The other one implements a subsidy for the families who raise children whose mothers have been victims of femicides. The two draft laws are now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

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Child Labor in the Arab Region Does Not Belong to the 21st Centuryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/child-labor-in-the-arab-region-does-not-belong-to-the-21st-century/#respond Mon, 12 Jun 2017 19:08:57 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150860 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 12 2017 (IPS)

Today marks the 2017 World Day against Child Labor to reaffirm the goal to eliminate all forms of child labor. This year’s annual theme highlights a subject that is often neglected, namely the importance of addressing child labor in conflict areas and in disaster settings.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

The United Nations (UN) estimates that approximately 1.5 billion people live in conflict areas around the world. It is likewise projected that around 200 million people are affected annually by disasters whether related to man-made environmental devastations, to natural hazards or to other types of catastrophes.

Out of these figures, 168 million children worldwide are affected by child labor in conflict and in disaster settings. Asia and the Pacific has the highest incidence with approximately 78 million (9.3%) followed by Sub-Saharan Africa with 59 million (21%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 13 million (8.8%). 9.2 million children – 8.4% of the total figures – are engaged in child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa.

Child labor is prohibited by several legal conventions. ILO Convention No. 182 often referred to as the “Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention” provides important guidelines on the worst types of child labor that need to be prohibited and eliminated by States. ILO Convention No. 138 entitled “Minimum Age Convention” likewise upholds in Article 7 that children at an early age should not undertake employment considered “to be harmful to their health or development.”

Although the incidence of child labor in the Middle East and in North Africa is lower than in other parts of the world, it remains a major challenge for many countries in the Arab region owing to the proliferation of conflicts.

The war in Syria is a major humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century. Several hundred thousand civilians have died, whereas it is estimated that approximately 7.6 million people are internally displaced and 4.8 million are refugees. A figure that is often left unaddressed is the incidence of child labor involving Syrian refugee and displaced children. According to several think-thanks, these children perform hazardous work and hard labor under harsh and unsustainable working conditions. Organized crime groups exploit children for financial gains. Child labor has now reached a disturbing level among Syrian refugee children.

Yemen has also witnessed the growth of child labor owing to the war that is unfolding in the country. According to a joint UNHCR-IOM press release issued in February 2017, it was concluded that the deteriorating situation in Yemen has pushed children into “danger and adversity” including child labor and hazardous work. Other Arab countries facing turmoil and civil war – such as Libya and Iraq – also experience a resurgence of child labor as a result of the disintegration and the fragmentation of these societies.

Despite this troubling context, there is hope in the horizon. I am pleased that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the importance of addressing and of ending child labor. SDG 8.7 stipulates the need to end child labor “in all its forms” by 2025. I invite all Arab states to work jointly towards the realization of this imperative goal by 2030. Arab States have showed great dedication and commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); I remain convinced that similar progress will be realized vis-à-vis the SDGs.

The deteriorating security situation and the growing threat of famine throw societies into a situation of despair and instability. The lack of employment, decent work and poverty provide fertile ground for child labor to prosper as the only hope for economically disadvantaged families is to send their children – in particular girls – to engage in child labor. To reverse this trend, war-torn societies need to be allowed to return to a modicum of peace and stability guaranteeing families safe living conditions and peaceful prospects. The return to peace is the first step towards the full elimination of child labor.

Lastly, despite a massive influx of refugees and internally displaced persons to Europe, the heaviest burden by far is borne by Muslim societies in neighbouring countries bordering war-torn countries of departure of refugees and other migrants. It is therefore important to step up the efforts of the international community to provide adequate support and assistance to such countries welcoming a high percentage of migrants and refugees including children in relation to their own population.

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The “Shocking” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S.http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 16:44:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150823 While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States. Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States.

Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained legal.

“These are old laws that were just never changed because people didn’t realize this was happening,” said Fraidy Reiss, the Executive Director of Unchained at Last, an organization fighting to end child marriage in the U.S.

Based on available data, Unchained at Last estimates that over quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Data shows girls as young as 12 years old married in states like Alaska, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which helps protect women and girls from gender-based violence, found that Texas has the second highest rates of child marriages in the nation, as nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000 and 2014.

The majority of those wedded at a young age are girls, and approximately 77 percent of U.S. children who were wed were married to adult men, often with significant age differences.

Such cases often cut across various religions, ethnic backgrounds, and circumstances, from one 15-year-old whose Muslim family forced her to marry a 23-year-old man because she was found dating someone of a different background in Nevada to a girl’s Christian community in Colorado pressuring her to get married because she was pregnant.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking,” Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division Heather Barr told IPS, noting that child marriage is an issue on every continent with similar consequences.

“The harm that happens to a child that gets married in New York state is not that different from the harm that happens to a child getting married in the Central African Republic,” she said.

Child marriage is strongly linked to high rates of school dropouts and poverty, and those married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than those married at 21 or older.

Women and girls married at a young age also often experience physical and mental health problems, including higher rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

Reiss told IPS how forced marriage takes a toll on the mental health of girls as many turn to suicide. Others just give up and continue with the marriage because of the lack of options.

“They know that going along with a marriage means that they are going to be raped on their wedding night and raped thereafter, they are going to pulled out of school—all their dreams for their future are gone,” she said.

Though the minimum age is 18, most states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental or judicial consent. However, both Reiss and Barr told IPS that such ideas of consent are problematic and “ridiculous.”

“Child marriages are very often arranged or forced by parents, so in a situation where it is actually the parents who are forcing a child to get married, parental consent is completely meaningless,” said Barr.

As for judicial consent, the law does not specify any criteria that a judge is required to consider before approving a marriage.

In 27 states, laws do not specify any age below which a child cannot marry.

“The minimum age for marriage is effectively lowered to zero,” said Reiss.

There has been a push in recent years to end child marriage domestically.

In May, Texas’ legislature passed a bill that identifies 18 as the legal age to marriage. Though it allows those younger than 18 to marry, they can only do so if a judge has found that they live on their own and are no longer dependent on guardians to support themselves. It is currently awaiting signature from the state’s governor Greg Abbott in order to go into full effect.

In New York, the Senate passed a bill on child marriage which must now be approved by the state’s Assembly. The bill, which is expected to pass, raises the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.

While Barr was hopeful that it will pass, Reiss criticised the bill noting that 17-year-olds are still children.

“This notion of allowing 17-year-olds to marry because legislators assuming that it is somehow less reprehensible than a 7-year-old getting married—it’s not,” she told IPS.

Such issues with legislatures are also happening elsewhere as states continue to push back on ending child marriage.

In March, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members, leaving the minimum age at 13.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that banned marriage under the age of 18 on the ground that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Both Reiss and Barr condemned the move, noting that child marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“This isn’t an issue about tradition, it’s an issue about human rights,” Barr told IPS.

She added that it is hypocritical that the U.S. as a donor nation criticises other countries when they themselves have weak protections against child marriage.

“It really undermines their credibility…we think that reform on this issue in the U.S. and other countries in the West that are donor countries can help support the global effort as well,” Barr said.

In 2016, The U.S Department of State called child marriage a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Reiss added, highlighting the urgency for states to end child marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, 1.5 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. If such trends continue, the number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Among the targets of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to eliminate all harmful practices including child, early, and forced marriage.

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Aggression against children in the Arab region needs to come to an endhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/aggression-against-children-in-the-arab-region-needs-to-come-to-an-end/#respond Sun, 04 Jun 2017 15:35:15 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150726 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Jun 4 2017 (IPS)

On 20 February 1997, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 51/77 to promote the rights of children. This Resolution was considered a milestone in promoting and advancing the right of children in conflict and wars.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

The resolution was also seen as a further acknowledgement of the growing number of States that had signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child that entered into force on 2 September 1990. To this day only one State has not yet ratified this seminal Convention.

Despite the broad-based ratification of the Convention, children continue to bear the burden of conflicts and calamities. They are indiscriminately targeted by belligerents owing to their vulnerability and physical weakness. According to the United Nations more than 250 million children live in countries affected by conflict.

The 2017 International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression is therefore an important opportunity to recognise the challenges and constraints children experience in the context of wars and conflicts. This day is also celebrated in commemoration of Resolution 51/77 that marked a new era in the joint commitments taken by the Member States of the United Nations (UN) to accelerate the promotion and advancement of the rights of children.

Despite the existing consensus that exists between States, there are various cases of contemporary conflicts that have indiscriminately targeted children and the Arab region is no exception.

In December 2016, UNICEF reported that approximately 2.2 million children in Yemen – out of 3.3 million people – face grave risk of hunger and malnutrition owing to the civil war in Yemen. From the period of 2015 – 2017, civil society and donor governments – in collaboration with its international partners such as WHO, WFP, UNICEF and ICRC – have allocated aid and relief assistance to the hunger-stricken population in Yemen. This has enabled several million children to benefit from the joint efforts of regional and international actors to address the severe food shortage.

The civil war in Syria – also known as the 21st century’s worst humanitarian disaster – is yet another example of a terrible humanitarian catastrophe that indiscriminately targets children. According to UNICEF, 5.8 million children in Syria are in need of help, 2.8 million children are located in conflicts areas, 281,000 living under siege whereas 2.3 million children have fled the country.

This is the gripping reality affecting children in the Arab region. They are not being spared from the adverse impacts of wars and conflicts. They are seen as the easiest victims to target. The international community needs to step up their efforts to provide the necessary aid support to the Yemeni and Syrian civilian populations.

In order to protect children from abuse, exploitation and the intensifying conflicts, peace needs to be given a chance. The conflicts in the Middle East need to come to an end through diplomacy.

It is likewise important that justice triumph in cases where abuses against children are documented. Impunity should not become the norm of societies recovering from wars and conflicts. Peacebuilding and transitional justice require that crimes against humanity be addressed in a transparent and objective manner. Perpetrators who have committed crimes against children need to be brought to justice. They should stand trial for their heinous and barbaric crimes inflicted on civilian populations.

In concluding this statement, I would also like to underscore the importance of education as a peacebuilding measure. On 12 May, I chaired a panel debate at the United Nations Office in Geneva entitled “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights through education.” The objective of this panel debate was to address the role of education in instilling a culture of peace and tolerance among children in post-conflict environments. The lessons learned from the case studies of Bahrain, Sri Lanka and Colombia underlined the potential of education in enabling children to overcome hostile mindsets – sometime resulting from family backgrounds – and to understand that differences need not beget division but can be an opportunity to celebrate diversity. Many of these countries have taken a number of initiatives in creating supportive environments to facilitate the socializing of children and their peaceful reintegration in society.

No children in the world should face conflict and war. They should spend their childhood and youth in harmony and in peaceful surroundings. Aggression inflicted on children in the Arab region and elsewhere in the world needs to come to an immediate end.

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Global South Calls for International Body to Fight Tax Havenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-south-calls-for-international-body-to-fight-tax-havens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-south-calls-for-international-body-to-fight-tax-havens http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/global-south-calls-for-international-body-to-fight-tax-havens/#comments Fri, 02 Jun 2017 12:56:30 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150712 Tax havens are “one of the worst enemies of our democracies,” said state representatives during a meeting at the United Nations. Due to concerns over the impacts of illicit financial flows, the Missions of Ecuador, South Africa, and India convened an informal workshop to discuss the issue and potential solutions. “Tax revenues are said to […]

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Illicit financial flows. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2017 (IPS)

Tax havens are “one of the worst enemies of our democracies,” said state representatives during a meeting at the United Nations.

Due to concerns over the impacts of illicit financial flows, the Missions of Ecuador, South Africa, and India convened an informal workshop to discuss the issue and potential solutions.

“Tax revenues are said to be the lifeblood of a state. With integration of economies in a globalized world, actions taken on taxation in one country affect practically everybody within borders and across borders,” said Permanent Representative of India to the UN Syed Akbaruddin, adding that the trends in illicit financial flows are alarming.

While Oxfam suggests that 7.6 trillion dollars is held in offshore accounts, others estimate a much higher figure, including UN expert Alfred de Zayas who found that up to 32 trillion dollars could be in secret jurisdictions around the world.

This deprives developing nations of essential resources needed to achieve major social and economic goals as laid out in the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose motto is to leave no one behind.

“[In] the commitment to leave no one behind…the issue of taxation is fundamental in that effort,” said Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa to the UN Mahlatse Mminele.

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), illicit financial flows cost developing countries more than 100 billion dollars per year. Africa bears the brunt of such outflows as it is estimated to be equivalent to all official development assistance received by the continent in the last 50 years.

In one case revealed by the Panama Papers in 2016, a company dodged a tax bill of 404 million dollars in Uganda, a figure representing more than the East African nation’s annual health budget.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Guillaume Long painted a similar picture in his country, estimating that one-third of its GDP is being “robbed” and stowed away in tax havens which limits opportunities for the creation of wealth and further widens societal inequality.

Long, whose country currently chairs an intergovernmental group of developing nations known as the Group of 77, called for international cooperation on tax issues.

“The issue of international tax cooperation is of crucial importance and is directly linked to the right of development and the possibility of implementing Agenda 2030, a link to guarantee human rights,” he told attendees.

Akbaruddin similarly noted the necessity of international cooperation in a world of cross-border trade and finance and criticised the lack of multilateral efforts on the issue, stating: “Those who champion multilateralism in areas such as biodiversity, in areas such as human rights, in areas such as peace and security, decide to stop championing them when it comes to matters of international tax cooperation…what accounts for this enigma?”

Currently, the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation on Tax Matters provides a framework for dialogue and cooperation on tax issues. Though it helped create the UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion, the committee has been insufficient. Long noted that the committee works in individual capacities rather than on a governmental level and does not have sufficient resources to tackle the issue.

The three representatives therefore called to strengthen and upgrade the committee, transforming it to an intergovernmental body that represents all.

Of the 25 seats in the committee,12 are occupied by the 35-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which includes countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, leaving the other 158 countries with only 13 seats.

“Every country, every state – rich or poor, big or small – does have the right to an inclusive place at the table to decide on an issue that impacts all of us,” said Akbaruddin.

The representatives called the UN and Secretary-General to take urgent action on the issue.

“The international community needs to urgently address this global test…the status quo should no longer be allowed to persist,” said Mminele.

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A UN of the Future to Effectively Serve all Member Stateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-un-of-the-future-to-effectively-serve-all-member-states-2/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 14:22:44 +0000 Antonio Guterres SG http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150683 In a letter to Permanent Representatives of 193 member states, the Secretary-General details his plan for a revitalization of the UN system.

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In a letter to Permanent Representatives of 193 member states, the Secretary-General details his plan for a revitalization of the UN system.

By Secretary-General António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

Through a series of recent global agreements on sustainable development, climate change, sustaining peace, disaster risk reduction, and financing for development, Member States have provided a broad vision of the future they want. I am committed to advancing meaningful reforms to adapt the United Nations to this complex world, so that it can effectively serve all of its Member States in achieving that future and managing shared challenges and opportunities along the way.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

As part of a broader effort to engage with Member States to strengthen the work of the United Nations, I wanted to provide you with a brief update of initiatives and reform processes under way to enhance our shared goal: making our Organization more effective and responsive to those we serve.

As many of you have stressed, there is a profound need for greater collaboration across the pillars of peace and security, development and human rights.

The Executive Committee, which I established in January, combines the expertise of senior managers and staff of many departments, field operations and duty stations, to provide strategic advice in a more holistic manner.

At that same time, I also decided to co-locate the regional desks of the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Political Affairs to enable greater coordination of our peace and security work. This initiative involves much more than the sharing of space. It is about pooling our perspectives more dynamically, to overcome silos and fragmentation and to generate improved policies and products.

In January, we strengthened whistle-blower protection to boost openness, transparency and fairness. Enhanced safeguards are now available for individuals who rep01i misconduct or cooperate with duly authorized audits or investigations.

I have directed an internal working group to examine how these efforts could be further expanded to cover consultants and individual contractors. The working group will submit its recommendations to me by 30 June 2017.

In March, based on the recommendations of a task force that I established in January, I launched a new strategy to combat sexual exploitation and abuse throughout the United Nations system. This effort puts the rights and dignity of victims first; aims to end impunity for those guilty of crimes and abuses; and calls on us to share best practices and draw on the knowledge of external pa1tners such as civil society, local communities and experts.

In April, I submitted my proposals to the General Assembly for creating a new office of counter-terrorism to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General, who would serve as the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and Executive Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre.

To advance our commitment to equal rights and the empowerment of women, I asked my Senior Adviser on Policy to lead a Gender Parity Task Force to develop a strategy for the United Nations system. The first draft of the strategy was submitted to the Senior Management Group in April and I have consulted further with the United Nations Chief Executives Board for Coordination. We will consult with Member States and staff in the coming weeks. I plan to submit the final strategy to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

The Secretariat has also embarked on a process of comprehensive reforms on inter-linked tracks.

In January, I established an Internal Review Team (IRT), led by Mr. Tatmat Samuel, to study proposals for change in the peace and security architecture of the Secretariat. The Team is drawing on recent major reviews and consulting widely with experts across the world. l will review preliminary options in June and submit a detailed proposal to the General Assembly at its seventy-second session.

With respect to development, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review resolution provides us with a strong mandate to propose realignments to the United Nations development system so that it can support Member States in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. I have asked the Deputy Secretary-General to lead the review to develop a more cohesive and integrated system, with enhanced leadership at all levels, more effectiveness on the ground and greater accountability for results. A first report will be issued by June 2017 and a second towards the end of2017.

We need global responses to today’s challenges that address the root causes of conflict and integrate peace, sustainable development and human rights. To this end, my Senior Adviser on Policy is mapping the prevention capacities of the United Nations system with a view to creating a platform that enables us to make the best use of our many assets. This platform will not be a new structure, but rather a new and more effective way of working together to apply all of our tools in a timely way. My fo1thcoming report on Sustaining Peace represents an oppo11unity to engage with Member States on this idea. In the meantime, I attach my broad vision of prevention for your reflection.

Our efforts to implement this ambitious reform agenda rest on ensuring that we simplify procedures, decentralize decision-making and move towards ever greater transparency and accountability. The Chef de Cabinet is overseeing the management reform track. In April, I appointed an Internal Review Team on management reform, led by Ms. Alicia Barcena and Mr. Atul Khare.

Throughout this process, I am committed to continuing to engage in extensive consultations with Member States. To further this effort, my Chef de Cabinet, supported by the IRT on management reform, will hold informal brainstorming sessions with Member States. A list of questions will be circulated to facilitate these sessions. I also plan to hold a retreat in mid-July with Member States to informally consult on the initial findings of the IRT on management reform.

By the end of May, the IRT, with the assistance of departments, offices and operations in the field, will prepare an action plan for immediate measures that the Secretariat could undertake to streamline internal procedures and expedite decision-making. I will submit a detailed report on management reform to the General Assembly for consideration at its seventy-second session.

The work of the various reform tracks will be aligned within my Executive Office, under the guidance of the Chef de Cabinet. Just as the broad work of the United Nations must be more integrated, so must the reform workstreams link up and be mutually reinforcing.

Once again, I thank you for your ideas and inputs to further strengthen these essential efforts and advance our common goals. I count on the continued support of Member States and staff as we embark on this shared journey of reforming and renewing our United Nations.

THE VISION OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON PREVENTION

With profound gratitude and humility, I took up the helm of the UN system at a time of great aspirations as well as great challenges. While the universal and comprehensive agenda for sustainable development and sustaining peace pledged to “leave no one behind”, the goals of peaceful coexistence and development are at risk in many countries. The fundamental norms and values of the United Nations are being disregarded. Millions flee in search of safer, better lives, even as doors are closing in many places. Brutal and violent conflicts continue to rage in many corners of the world, taking countless lives and displacing millions more. For many others, sustainable development seems distant. Terrorism and violent extremism are affecting all regions of the world. Climate-related natural disasters are becoming more frequent and their destructive powers more intense.

How can the United Nations better help countries to avoid such crises and build resilient societies that can deliver on the promise to leave no one behind? How can we preserve the norms that safeguard humanity? How can we win back the trust of “we the peoples”?

By prevention, I mean doing everything we can to help countries to avert the outbreak of crises that take a high toll on humanity, undermining institutions and capacities to achieve peace and development. I mean rededicating ourselves to the UN Charter and the mandate of Agenda 2030 and ensuring that our assistance goes to those who need it the most. Prevention should permeate everything we do. It should cut across all pillars of the UN’s work, and unite us for more effective delivery.

Preventing human suffering and ensuring progress on the SDGs are primarily the responsibility of Member States. But the United Nations has a vital supp01ting role. We need to become much better at it, building trust with Member States and all stakeholders. see us doing this in four ways: A surge in preventive diplomacy; Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention; Strengthening partnerships; and Reforms to overcome fragmentation and consolidate our capacities to meet the prevention challenge.

Nobody is winning today’s wars. I appeal to all leaders, parties and those with influence to bring these burning conflicts to an end. I and my peace envoys are fully engaged in support of the national and regional actors. But wars can only be ended by the actions of the direct parties and their supporters to forge political solutions and tackle the root causes. Meanwhile, we must make conce1ted efforts to prevent new conflicts from flaring up. This means promptly identifying and responding to early signs of tension, using all tools available.

As part of our surge in preventive diplomacy, I am strengthening the UN’s mediation and facilitation capacity in the broadest terms, enhancing leadership, resources and partnerships. To make prevention effective, dialogue towards peace needs to be comprehensive. We thus need to pay attention to the local, national, regional and international levels. Accountability is a critical element in resolving conflict and addressing root causes to prevent conflict. I am ready to make greater use of my powers under the Charter, including with respect to early warning and good offices.

Integral to my view of prevention is inclusion and women’s empowerment in their fullest sense. We need more women at the table at all levels. This effort starts at home and I have taken steps to advance gender parity at the UN and in all our activities. We will further strengthen our support to integrate gender perspectives in mediation efforts, and we will be quickly expanding the pool of qualified women leaders to serve as my envoys or as mediation specialists.

Based on these parameters, I will appoint a High Level Advisory Group to provide recommendations on how to further enhance our work in mediation.

Agenda 2030 and Sustaining Peace as essential to long-term prevention

The best way to prevent societies from descending into crisis is to ensure they are resilient through investment in inclusive and sustainable development, including concerted climate action and management of mass migration. Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change are an essential part of humanity’s universal blueprint for the future.

For all countries, addressing inequalities, strengthening institutions and ensuring that development strategies are risk-informed are central to preventing the fraying of the social fabric that could erupt into crisis. We need to invest more to help countries build strong and inclusive institutions and resilient communities. Our partnership with the World Bank and regional development banks will be critical. Development is the key to prevention. Far from diverting resources or attention away from development, an effective and broad focus on prevention will generate more investment and concerted efforts to achieve the SDGs.

For countries at particular risk of or recovering from conflict, the resolutions on Sustaining Peace and the Women, Peace and Security agenda provide additional tools adapted to their needs. The SDGs and Sustaining Peace are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Sustainable development underpins peace, and sustained peace enables sustainable development. Implementation of both agendas will ensure that stable societies prosper and fragile societies become resilient and can manage risks and shocks effectively.

Societies are more resilient when they uphold the full breadth of human rights of all, gender equality and women’s empowerment, the rile-of-law, inclusion and diversity as well as nurture their youth and children. These norms make for tolerant and vibrant societies where diversity is celebrated. Conversely, it is often the systematic undermining of these norms that point to risks of crisis. Sovereignty is strengthened when people, their dignity and rights are fully protected and respected. Working in support of Member States, our prevention work seeks to shore up national and local institutions and capacities to detect and avert looming crises, sustain peace and achieve sustainable development.

We must recognize that the UN is not the only actor, and in many cases not even the most important actor. The ultimate goal is not to expand our remit but to make a real difference for people, especially the most vulnerable. As the anchor of multilateral ism with universal membership, the UN has unparalleled capacity to convene and mobilize. The UN system is most impactful when truly enabling others.

This means building meaningful partnerships with the widest array of Governments, regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society organizations, academia and the private sector, always being truthful to our mission as the guardian of the international norms that the Organization has generated over the past seven decades.

The most recent example of our resolve to strengthen our partnerships to prevent conflict and sustain peace was the signing of the Joint United Nations African Union Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security on 19 April 2017.

We cannot meet the prevention challenge with the status quo. The UN needs to be much more united in its thinking and in its action, putting people at the centre of its work. People do not experience problems and crises in silos. They question why our support comes from so many different actors with different plans and messages, burdening their already limited systems and capacities.

We need to bring together the capacities of diverse actors in the Organization in support of people and countries in managing risks, building resilience against shocks and ave1ting outbreaks of crisis. This means the horizontal joining-up of all pillars of the UN’s work- peace and security, development, human rights- as well as vertical integration in each from prevention to conflict resolution, from peacekeeping to peacebuilding and sustainable development.

I have begun this with my own office and decision-making. The Executive Office has been restructured for better strategic analysis, coordination and planning across all pillars; and the Executive Committee of the Secretariat has been established and is meeting weekly for timely decision-making and action.

I have also set up an Internal Review Team to provide options on the peace and security architecture. My report on Sustaining Peace will be an opportunity to further elaborate the steps I have taken or propose. The architecture will be strengthened with the addition of the Office of Counter-Terrorism as proposed to the General Assembly, including to ensure that the work on preventing violent extremism is rooted in the Global CT Strategy.

Through the QCPR resolution, Member States have encouraged me to propose bold measures to reform the UN development system. Under the leadership of the DSG, this work is well underway so as to spell out the needed reforms by the end of this year as requested by the GA, with my first set of proposals in June 2017.

To underpin our ability to implement these reforms, I have also launched a process for significant management reform to streamline our processes and rules, especially on budget, human resources and procurement. The reforms require that the system becomes much more nimble, efficient and cost-effective. A crucial part of this work is my gender parity initiative, a new whistle-blower policy and my new approach to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse committed under the UN flag.

The outcome of these reforms will enable an integrated prevention platform. This is not a new entity or structure but an integrated way of thinking and acting, harnessing the diverse prevention tools and capacities across the system, at HQ and in the field, in support of Member States. It will build upon the Human Rights Up Front initiative, enhance our work on the ground, and strengthen the accountability of each actor to collective results.

It will be underpinned by a consolidated arrangement for financing prevention so that existing and new funding streams are most effectively utilized. Effective public outreach and communication will be crucial to our success as we go forward along this path. In an information saturated world of a continuously expanding media landscape, we will need to be much more innovative and strategic in telling our story.

In all of these endeavours, building trust with Member States, our staff and all stakeholders is crucial to success. This means I and other leaders in the system will actively reach out to consult, listen and bring in fresh ideas.

I have been humbled by the confidence placed in me by all Member States during the selection process. I wilI rely on the same confidence, the same trust to work together to steer our Organization through the reforms and reinstate prevention at the core of our everyday work.

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The Worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/the-worsening-humanitarian-crisis-in-syria/#respond Wed, 31 May 2017 05:18:46 +0000 Stephen O Brien http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150668 Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

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Stephen O’Brien is UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator

By Stephen O’Brien*
UNITED NATIONS, May 31 2017 (IPS)

The cruel conflict in Syria continues to tear families apart, inflicts brutal suffering on the innocent, and leaves them pleading for protection and justice. I readily acknowledge that there have been reports of a significant drop in violence in some areas of the country, but such steps forward continue to be counter-weighted by the reality of a conflict that continues to devastate the civilian population.

Stephen O’Brien

Stephen O’Brien

Just last week, 30 children and women were gravely injured in a heinous attack by ISIL on besieged neighbourhoods in Deir ez-Zor as they were lining up for water. In addition, more than a hundred civilians, many of them women and children, have fallen victim, in recent weeks, to the escalating counter-ISIL airstrikes, particularly in the north-eastern governorates of Al-Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor.

Millions more are in the line of fire, facing crushing poverty and alarming physical danger. Tens of thousands of children have been killed, and for those who have survived till today, the outlook remains bleak. Children have been forcibly detained, they have been tortured, subjected to sexual violence, forcibly recruited and in some cases executed.

Close to seven million children in Syria live in poverty. Nearly 1.75 million children remain out of school and another 1.35 million are at risk of dropping out. 7,400 schools – one in three across the country – have been damaged, destroyed, or otherwise made inaccessible. And even if the schools were intact, many would be unable to open, with almost one quarter of the country’s teaching personnel no longer at their posts.

Outside Syria, hundreds of thousands of Syrian children are left to face an uncertain and traumatic future on their own; they have become stateless, abandoned by the world but for the generosity of neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey, as well as Egypt.

How are these children meant to function as adults? What future do these children have – illiterate, orphaned, starved, traumatized and maimed? What future does a country have when its next generation is a lost generation? For these suffering children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their lives and their futures. It is their innocent voices, their suffering that need advocating.

Astana produced a promising step: a memorandum between the three guarantors – Iran, Russia and Turkey – on the creation of four de-escalation areas; a memorandum that stipulates, in no uncertain terms, that fighting must significantly decrease and unhindered humanitarian access be enabled to these four areas – areas which essentially encompass all of the besieged locations except for those in Damascus and Deir ez-Zor.

That said, too many agreements that could have saved lives and reduced suffering have failed in the past. Let me therefore be clear: this agreement simply has to succeed. We owe it to the 2.6 million people that we estimate to be in these four de-escalation areas.

We – the United Nations – stand ready to sit with all parties involved to make it a workable agreement – one that will make a tangible difference to civilians on the ground; one that facilitates the delivery of life-saving assistance based on the UN’s own needs assessments without constant interference, reduced beneficiary numbers, the removal of medical and other essential items out of spite, bureaucratic restrictions and procedural and physical roadblocks.

We also must not lose sight of the fact that – all over Syria – millions of people, in locations inside and outside the four de-escalation areas, continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives. We must not stand silent while violence flares up elsewhere in the country and parties continue to use starvation, fear tactics and the denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as methods of war.

As you all know, in recent months, restricted access and increased attacks resulted in a number of so-called ‘surrender’ or ‘evacuation’ agreements in communities such as Al-Tal, Darraya, Moadamiyeh, Eastern Aleppo, Khan al-Shieh, Wadi Barada, and the four towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Foah and Kafraya. In the last few weeks, thousands more have been moved from the besieged neighbourhoods of Barzeh and Qaboun (Damascus) and the besieged Al Wa’er neighbourhood in Homs city to Idlib and Jarablus city in rural Aleppo.

These are evacuations that have followed years of intense airstrikes, shelling and sniping. The tactics are all too obvious: make life intolerable and make death likely; push people to choose between starvation and death or fleeing on green buses to locations that are just as unsafe.

There needs to be accountability for these actions; for these ‘starve and surrender tactics’ – a monstrous form of cruelty to impose upon a civilian population. We have seen this happen numerous times already – as I said, in Homs, Moadamiyeh, Al Waer, and elsewhere. In fact, Darayya and Zabadani are already devoid of their civilian population. And this may very well be the fate of hundreds of thousands more people still trapped in besieged locations across the country.

Evacuations are, however, only the beginning of a new set of challenges for both those who are forced to leave their homes, and host communities. Traveling mostly to Idleb and northern rural Aleppo, those displaced now find themselves in an increasingly precarious environment. The capacity in these areas to support additional displacement is reaching its limit.

In Idleb alone, there are over 900,000 displaced people, placing significant strain on local communities and resources. While the situation has quietened since the memorandum on de-escalation was signed, any increase in fighting – attacks by the Government of Syria, or fighting among groups inside of Idelb – would be catastrophic for these already stressed communities.

In fact, in many corners of the country, the protection space is shrinking, humanitarian conditions are worsening, and the level of despair is rising – not due to insecurity or poor infrastructure, but by increasingly strict limitations by local authorities, non-State armed groups, as well as terrorist organizations, and the actions of some neighbouring countries.

I call on members of the Security Council to use their influence to see that these actors respect humanitarian principles and allow the unfettered delivery of aid. We are also greatly concerned at cross-border restrictions and regulatory impediments imposed on the NGO community operating in northern Syria and are troubled by increasing reports indicating that IDPs fleeing Raqqa Governorate are being kept for prolonged periods in screening camps and subjected to restrictions on their movement by the self-proclaimed Democratic Self-Administration in northeastern Syria.

We need to see a step-change in access to the increasingly dire situation in northeastern Syria. Rather than restrictions, we need an opening of space to respond. With some 100,000 people displaced due to fighting around Raqqa since April, access is needed now through every possible modality.

We need to see restrictions eased for those operating in the area. We need to see increased cross-border and cross-line access for humanitarian assistance into the area, including land access from Aleppo. I call on all with influence over the parties involved to act now. Further delays or restrictions will only result in the continued suffering and the death of civilians.

For cross-line inter-agency convoys, administrative delays on the part of the Syrian Government in the approval of facilitation letters and convoy plans continue to hamper our efforts. Every month, thousands of facilitation letters are readily signed for convoys headed to Government-controlled areas.

Yet, in cross-line areas, we have only been able to secure facilitation letters for seven convoys under the April/May access plan, allowing us to reach 266,750 people in need. This is out of a million people requested under the bi-monthly plan. And as a result, we are essentially down to one cross-line convoy per week to reach those who are most in need, with only one besieged location – namely Duma in eastern Ghouta – reached by road during the April/May period.

Compared to last year, when we deployed 50 cross-line convoys through May, today we stand at 18 cross-line convoys in 2017. In addition, the ICRC and the SARC also delivered three cross-line convoys without the UN, reaching 136,500 people in hard-to-reach areas during this period as well.

Moreover, the removal of life-saving medicines and medical supplies such as surgical kits, midwifery kits, and emergency kits has continued unabated, with nearly 100,000 medical supplies refused or removed from convoys since the beginning of the year. In addition, and as you all know, attacks on hospitals and other health facilities – as highlighted by the Secretary-General in the open debate last week on the Protection of Civilians – have become commonplace in Syria – about 20 per month between January and April this year, an average of one attack every 36 hours, turning Syrian hospitals into death traps.

These attacks and restrictions are not only violations of international law and Council resolutions, they are deliberate and cowardly acts aimed at those – the sick, the injured, the infirm, unborn children, the elderly, pregnant women, young children – who are least able to protect themselves and are most in need of care and assistance.

The denial and delay of access, particularly to those in besieged locations, is a political calculation and a military tactic; this much is clear in Syria. We may speak about the practical elements of delay and denial – facilitation letters, inspections, checkpoints – but these are simply the manifestation of a mindset and approach by the Government of Syria to use civilian suffering as a tactic of war.

We have seen that when political will exists, the humanitarian imperative to deliver based on assessed need is possible. Facilitation letters are signed, inspectors do not remove items, and checkpoints allow safe passage. I call on the Security Council to take all necessary steps to see that the will to place humanitarian aid delivery in its rightful position – outside of any military or political calculations and totally impartially – is restored.

The delivery of aid is not an ask, but is a demand and the law and its denial, refusal or frustration is and must be a red line not to be crossed. Denial and delays of assistance contravene resolutions of the Council and are against international humanitarian law. They must end. I call on this Council to act to see its resolutions implemented. Any prevarication will result in further death and suffering of civilians. Humanitarian relief cannot be viewed as an optional element to be occasionally provided. It must go where it is needed, when it is needed, not where it is allowed and when it is convenient.

As I have said numerous times before, we remain committed and ready to deliver aid – through all possible modalities – for people in desperate need, whoever and wherever they are. However, the bottom line is that the real extent of progress cannot be measured by ad hoc deliveries to besieged communities – once or twice, every so often.

The bottom line is that we have been wasting too much of our time literally begging for facilitation letters; too much time arguing at roadblocks, pleading that trucks can pass without the sniper taking the shot and medical items not be removed.

I do not come here today to seek favours. But let me say this. Calling for humanitarian actors to be allowed sustained access to all people in need throughout Syria is not a favour. Calling for an end to the removal of medical items off of convoys is not a favour. Calling for the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure by all parties to the conflict is not a favour.

Seeking to prevent children from being buried under piles of rubble, in their basements, in their schools, is not a favour. Medicine for the sick and food for the starving are not favours. These are the common precepts, the bedrock, of our shared humanity and the foundations of international humanitarian law, and they must be an unflinching call to the fundamental decency of all people. I call on all those with influence over the parties to reinforce this message and act.

In closing, let me send my very best wishes to everyone observing the holy month of Ramadan. For Muslims in Syria, in the region and across the world it is a time for charity, for contemplation and community; a time for peace and forgiveness. Let us all sincerely hope for an end of violence for this period and beyond.

Let us all sincerely work towards achieving the objectives of the Astana memorandum, so that attacks and bureaucratic impositions are put to an end – once and for all – and the UN and its humanitarian partners can sustainably reach those hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped behind the current front lines.

(* From a statement before the UN Security Council on 30 May 2017)

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In a “World of Plenty,” G7 Must Fight Faminehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/in-a-world-of-plenty-g7-must-fight-famine/#respond Fri, 26 May 2017 06:28:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150597 World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam. Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels. “Political failure has led to these crises – political […]

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A child from drought-stricken southern Somalia who survived the long journey to an aid camp in the Somali capital Mogadishu. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 26 2017 (IPS)

World leaders must step up and take action in fighting famine to prevent further catastrophic levels of hunger and deaths, said Oxfam.

Ahead of the 43rd G7 summit, Oxfam urged world leaders to urgently address the issue of famine, currently affecting four countries at unprecedented levels.

“Political failure has led to these crises – political leadership is needed to resolve them…the world’s most powerful leaders must now act to prevent a catastrophe happening on their watch,” said Oxfam’s Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

“If G7 leaders were to travel to any of these four countries, they would see for themselves how life is becoming impossible for so many people: many are already dying in pain, from disease and extreme hunger,” she continued.

In northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, approximately 30 million people are severely food insecure. Of this figure, 10 million face emergency and famine conditions, more than the population of G7 member United Kingdom’s capital of London.

After descending into conflict over three years ago, famine has now been declared in two South Sudan counties and a third county is at risk if food aid is not provided.

In Somalia, conflict alongside prolonged drought – most likely exacerbated by climate change – has left almost 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance. Drought has also contributed to cholera outbreaks and displacement.

Byanyima pointed to the hypocrisy in a “world of plenty” experiencing four famines.

These widespread crises are not confined to the four countries’ borders.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, almost 2 million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya, making it the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Due to the influx of South Sudanese refugees, the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the largest in the world, placing a strain on local services.

Escaping hunger and conflict, Nigerians have sought refuge in the Lake Chad region which shares its borders with Cameroon, Chad, and Niger only to once again face high levels of food insecurity and disease outbreaks.

Among the guest invitees to the G7 meeting are the affected nations, including the governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria.

Oxfam called on the G7 countries to provide its fair share of funding. So far, they have provided 1.7 billion dollars, just under 60 percent of their fair share. Meanwhile, only 30 percent of a 6.3-billion-dollar UN appeal for all four countries has been funded. If each G7 country contributed its fair share, almost half of the appeal would be funded, Oxfam estimates.

In 2015, the G7 committed to lift 500 million people out of hunger and malnutrition. Oxfam noted that they should thus uphold their commitments and focus on crisis prevention.

However, some of the G77 nations’ actions do not bode well for accelerated action on famine.

For instance, the U.S. government has proposed significant cuts to foreign assistance, including a 30 percent decrease in funding for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The proposal also includes the elimination of Title II For Peace, a major USAID food aid program, which would mean the loss of over 1.7 billion dollars of food assistance.

Former US Foreign Disaster Assistance chief Jeremy Konyndyk noted that the cuts are “catastrophic.” “So bad I fear I’m misreading it,” he added.

International Rescue Committee’s (IRC) President David Miliband highlighted the importance of continuing U.S. foreign assistance in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering abroad and protect the interests and security of the U.S. and its allies.

“Global threats like Ebola and ISIS grow out of poverty, instability, and bad governance. Working to counteract these with a forward-leaning foreign aid policy doesn’t just mean saving lives today, but sparing the US and its allies around the world the much more difficult, expensive work of combating them tomorrow,” he stated.

President Trump also called for the elimination of the U.S. African Development Foundation which provides grants to underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, and has suggested cutting funds to climate change programs such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund which aims to help vulnerable developing nations combat climate change.

Meanwhile, UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has already abolished its climate change department.

In addition to scaling up humanitarian funding, G7 nations must commit to fund longer-term solutions that build resilience and improve food security to avoid large-scale disasters, Oxfam stated. This includes action on climate change, “no excuses,” said Oxfam.

President Trump is expected to announce whether the U.S. will remain in the Paris climate agreement after the G7 summit.

“History shows that when donors fail to act on early warnings of potential famine, the consequence can be a large-scale, devastating loss of life….now clear warnings have again been issued,” Oxfam stated.

“The international community have the power to end such failures—if they choose to—by marshaling international logistics and a humanitarian response network to work sustainably with existing local systems to prevent famine and address conflict, governance, and climate change drivers,” Oxfam concluded.

The G7 summit is hosted by Sicily, Italy and will be held from 26-27 May.

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Why the G7 Must Fund Health & Nutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/why-the-g7-must-fund-health-nutrition/#respond Thu, 25 May 2017 21:42:57 +0000 Grace Virtue http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150593 Grace Virtue, Ph.D., is a social justice advocate and senior communications advisor for ACTION global health partnership.

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By Grace Virtue
TAORMINA, Italy, May 25 2017 (IPS)

The G7 Summit, held annually among the leaders of the world’s most powerful economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU), plays an important role in shaping responses to global challenges—theoretically at least.

The format of the Summit continues to be modeled off the first one, held in 1975 when French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited his counterparts to an informal meeting in Rambouillet to discuss the economic crisis triggered by the oil shock of 1973–1974. Leaders adopt a relaxed approach, discussing candidly the main issues on the international agenda.

Their aides (the so-called Sherpas) draft a joint declaration which is signed by the leaders and enshrined as high-level political pledges. Before and during, the Sherpas are lobbied fiercely by civil society trying to get their issues of concern in the joint communiqué released by the Summit.

This year’s Summit begins May 26 in Taormina, Italy. It is arguably one of the most charged and uncertain atmosphere for a meeting of traditional western democratic political leaders. The United States, which normally plays a leading role, is hamstrung by its government, led by Republican President Donald Trump, who, among his many challenges, is currently under investigation by his own law enforcement agencies to determine whether his campaign was complicit in Russian interference in the general election of 2016, which landed him a shock victory over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

Outside of ethical and perhaps legal challenges, Trump, since his inauguration in January, has unleashed a set of policy proposals deliberately targeted at rolling back social justice gains under Barack Obama, his predecessor and even before. From proposed cuts to signature programs like the Affordable Care Act and food stamps for needy families, and hostile policies toward immigrants, the administration’s programs are causing deep uncertainty and anxiety at home and abroad. Trump’s lack of interest and understanding of the outside world, rounds off a list of flaws that justifies completely questions about his capacity or suitability to lead the free world toward any progressive end.

This year’s summit also comes with the shadow of Brexit—the United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union; a French President, the youngest in the country’s history and a mere three weeks in his presidency; looming elections in the UK and Germany; a continued migrant crisis as desperate people flee wars and famines in Africa and the Middle East, and this week’s horrific terrorist attack in Manchester, England. Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity like we have not seen since the height of the Cold War, are the watchword of this G7 Summit.

So, when the leaders gather at their hilltop hideaway tomorrow, there is much that is new and worrying to be discussed and great energy will likely be consumed navigating these new and unpredictable dynamics. This does not augur well for those concerns that are so devastating but so old and entrenched, that they are not news anymore—no longer sexy enough grab the headlines, if they ever were. I speak here of diseases of poverty like tuberculosis and chronic starvation and malnutrition in parts of Africa.

In 2015, 10.4 million people were sickened with TB; 1.8 million of them died—more than HIV and malaria combined. Tuberculosis is the world’s only airborne drug-resistant epidemic and is responsible for one-third of the world’s antimicrobial resistance (AMR) deaths. By 2050, estimates show drug-resistant TB (DR-TB) will claim an additional 75 million lives at a global economic cost of US$16.7 trillion.

Since its establishment in 2002 by G7 countries, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) has saved more than 20 million lives through its support for AIDS, tuberculosis (TB), and malaria programs in countries and communities most in need. Vulnerable communities, including migrants and refugees, are at increased risk of diseases like TB and HIV/AIDS because of overcrowded living and working conditions, poor nutrition, and lack of access to care. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all G7 countries signed on to, called for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria by 2030.

To achieve this, G7 leaders must continue to invest in the Global Fund. Concerned civil society groups like ACTION global health partnership in Taormina advocating to the end, are hoping they will. Other major ask of G7 leadership include accelerated efforts to eradicate malnutrition and ensure proper nutrients for every child, particularly in the first 1000 days of life. Coupled with the inability to access proper healthcare by the world’s poorest people, malnutrition is one of the greatest barrier to human development and global prosperity

It is obvious that there are many complicated issues facing the G7 leaders, but, investing in health and nutrition should not be controversial—it should be fundamental.

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Survivors of the El Mozote Massacre Have New Hopes for Justice in El Salvadorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/survivors-of-the-el-mozote-massacre-have-new-hopes-for-justice-in-el-salvador/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 21:32:13 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150557 Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago. “Many of us who live here are descendants of those who […]

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Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Sofia Romero Pineda, 55, and her grandson hold the few portraits she preserves of some of her family members killed during the military operation which slaughtered some 1,000 inhabitants of El Mozote and neighboring villages in eastern El Salvador. The portraits are of Simeona Vigil, her grandmother; Florentina Pereria, her mother; and Maria Nelly Romero, her sister. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
EL MOZOTE, El Salvador, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Except for a house with its walls riddled with holes made by bursts of machine gun fire, nobody would say that the quiet Salvadoran village of El Mozote was the scene of one of the worst massacres in Latin America, just 35 years ago.

“Many of us who live here are descendants of those who managed to survive the massacre,” 21-year-old university student Nancy García, who is from this village of about 700 people in the rural municipality of Meanguera, in the eastern department of Morazán, told IPS.

Shelved since 1993 in the Salvadoran justice system, the case known as the El Mozote Massacre was reopened in September 2016, providing a historic opportunity to try soldiers and officers accused of killing more than 1,000 inhabitants of this village and neighbouring hamlets.

The reopening of the case was made possible by a July 2016 Supreme Court ruling that declared unconstitutional the 1993 Amnesty Law which prevented the prosecution of those accused of serious human rights violations during the 1980-1992 Salvadoran armed conflict.“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister.” -- María Dorila Márquez

One of the survivors of the massacre was 79-year-old Juan Antonio Pereira, who was 35 when the military raided Los Toriles, a hamlet near El Mozote. He remembers the four days of terror, from Dec. 10-13, 1981.

From his hiding place behind some bushes, he said he watched the soldiers order people from their homes at gunpoint, including members of his family, and line them up to shoot them.

“You can’t imagine how sad it is to see your family being killed,” the peasant farmer told IPS. He watched his 35-year-old wife, Natalia Guevara, and their two children – José Mario, 10, and Rosa Cándida, 14 – as they were shot to death.

Investigations to clarify the events were launched in 1990, but the case was amnestied in 1993.

Now, the lawyers from the María Julia Hernández Legal Protection organisation and the Centre for Justice and International Law (Cejil), as well as local residents belonging to the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, are working together to find those responsible for the massacre and bring them to justice.

Legal Protection tried to reopen the case in 2006, but the initiative was rejected because the Amnesty Law was still in force.

“This is not about vengeance, or about going against the armed forces, but against some elements that were involved in serious human rights violations. What we want is for this not to remain unpunished,” lawyer Wilfredo Medrano, from Legal Protection, told IPS.

On Mar. 29, a court in San Francisco Gotera, the capital of the department of Morazán, held a hearing to notify seven high-ranking army officers implicated in the massacre of the charges against them, which include murder, rape, deprivation of liberty and acts of terrorism.

Among those officials were Generals Guillermo García, a former minister of defence (1979-1983), and Rafael Flores Lima, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The investigation will be based on much of the documentary and testimonial evidence already collected when the case was first filed in 1990.

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

According to the testimonies of the survivors of the El Mozote Massacre in El Salvador, government troops locked women and children in this now rebuilt small church and murdered them in cold blood. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“I cried when I saw the officers sitting there. I imagined them organising the operation and murdering my family, my parents, my 11-year-old little brother, Adolfo Arturo, my pregnant sister,” 60-year-old María Dorila Márquez, president of the El Mozote Association for the Defence of Human Rights, who was 25 at the time of the massacre, told IPS.

Márquez estimates that 100 of her relatives were murdered.

The military leadership considered the local population collaborators of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas – a claim that is denied by the survivors and family members of the victims.

After the 1992 peace deal that put an end to the war, the FMLN became a political party. It has governed the country since 2009, having won two consecutive presidential elections.

On May 6, the same court notified three other officers, who had not been present at the previous hearing, of the charges against them.

“I feel terrible when I talk about this, I remember my murdered father, I have so much anger… If I were closer to those soldiers I would kick them,” said Santos Jacobo Chicas, 40, a native of the village of Cerro Pando, interviewed by IPS at the end of the hearing.

He and other relatives of several victims attended the court proceedings.

“Whoever gave the orders should pay, should go to prison,” he said.

He recalled how the soldiers of the Atlacatl rapid response battalion, an elite force trained by the United States military, killed his cousin’s two-day-old baby boy.

“They set him on fire,“ he said. It is estimated that more than 400 children were slaughtered during the operation.

For her part, Sofía Romero Pereira, 55, who was 19 in 1981, said that at least 35 relatives of hers were killed, including her father and four of her eight brothers and sisters.

She survived because her father, Daniel Romero, managed to get her and three other sons and daughters out of the village, before the troops entered El Mozote, taking them to the town of San Miguel, in a neighboring department.

But when he returned to get the rest of the family, he was caught in the middle of the military raid and was not able to rescue the rest: Ana María, 16; Jesús, 14; María Nelly, 11; and Elmer, just one year old. Ana María was taken to a nearby hill, where she was raped and later murdered, Romero said.

“They should at least admit that they did it, they should apologise, I would forgive them…what good is prison?” she said.

The lawyers from Legal Protection have also requested reopening the case of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated on March 24, 1980, while giving mass in the country´s capital.

Meanwhile, the Movement of Victims of Terrorism in El Salvador has asked the Attorney General’s Office to reopen cases of crimes attributed to the guerrillas during the armed conflict.

These include the killings of three US Marines, allegedly executed when their helicopter was shot down by the guerrillas in 1991, while flying over the municipality of Lolotique in the eastern department of San Miguel.

Other cases involve four more Marines, who were shot in a restaurant in San Salvador in 1985, as well as the murders of mayors and other public officials, and of children killed by land-mines placed by the insurgents.

If the petition is accepted, criminal charges would be brought against members of the former guerrilla leadership and officials of the current government, including Salvadoran President Salvador Sánchez Cerén.
“Generally those who demand justice are leftist victims … and we are the voice of the victims of the war that have been forgotten, not only from the right, but also all of those who have been forgotten,” Fernán Álvarez, a lawyer for the Movement of Victims of Terrorism, told IPS.

The 12-year war in this Central American country, with a current population of 6.3 million people, left about 70,000 dead and 8,000 missing.

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“Horrific” Increase in Worldwide Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/horrific-increase-in-worldwide-displacement/#respond Tue, 23 May 2017 15:04:43 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150545 Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report. In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement. “Since we […]

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Saidi Olivier, a displaced farmer in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with his family in an IDP camp. Credit: IDMC

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 23 2017 (IPS)

Over 30 million people were newly internally displaced in 2016 by conflict and disasters, according to a new report.

In examining trends around the world for its annual Global Report on Internal Displacement, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) found “horrific” and high levels of new displacement.

“Since we started this conversation, hundreds of families have been or are in the process of being displaced today,” said Secretary-General of NRC and former Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Jan Egeland during a press briefing.

In 125 countries, a total of 31.1 million new displacements were recorded, representing an increase of over 3 million from 2015 and translating to one person displaced every second.

“When a family is pushed out of their home, often for years, it is a sign that something is horrifically wrong in a nation, in a locality, and also in international relations,” Egeland added.

Of the total, nearly 7 million were newly displaced by conflict alone in 2016. To everyone’s surprise, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) surpassed Syria and Iraq in having the most new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world.

“Our eyes and our focus were very much on the Middle East,” IDMC’s Director Alexandra Bilak told IPS.

“Sub-Saharan Africa has been consistently affected by internal displacement over the years, but we just weren’t expecting that spike in the DRC and we certainly weren’t expecting higher numbers there than in Syria,” she continued.

DRC has been marred by insecurity since the 1990s when the Rwandan genocide and an influx of refugees plunged the country into the deadliest conflict in African history, killing almost 5 million civilians.

Though the country declared peace in 2003, there has been a resurgence in violence between armed groups which has led to more than 900,000 new displacements over the course of 2016.

Egeland recalled his experience working in the DRC as Under-Secretary-General between 2003 and 2006, stating, “We were supposed to end that [conflict] a decade ago.”

He noted that DRC saw dwindling humanitarian resources over the years and fading attention.

“It fell off the top of the agenda and that was dangerous—that was a major mistake,” Egeland continued.

Bilak told IPS that the displacement figures found for the DRC in the report are “clearly an underestimate” as over 1 million have been newly displaced in the Central African country since the beginning of 2017.

The organizations also found that disasters displaced three times more people than conflict, documenting over 24 million new displacements in 118 countries.

Over 68 percent of all new disaster-related displacement took place in East Asia and the Pacific, including China and the Philippines, which saw the highest numbers of displacements due to heavy floods and typhoons. The effects of climate change on the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will only further increase such displacement, the report noted.

And it is vulnerable small island states that will and continue to suffer disproportionately, Bilak said.

Haiti, which is still reeling from the impacts of the 2010 earthquake and most recently Hurricane Matthew, is among the top countries with the largest per capita disaster displacements. The Caribbean nation not only faces a high risk of disasters, but also a low capacity to respond and cope.

“This is another sad demonstration of the recurrent shocks to the system that these types of events represent and how difficult it is for certain countries to recover from them,” Bilak stated.

However, despite the fact that IDPs outnumber all refugees by two to one, much of the world’s attention and concern has been focused on refugees and migrants rather than the issue of internal displacement. For instance, more money was spent resettling refugees in donor countries than on the crises in countries of origin that forced people to flee in the first place.

“By only looking at refugees and migrants, you are essentially only really looking at the endpoint of a crisis—you are looking at the tip of the iceberg,” Bilak told IPS.

“It’s incredibly short-sighted and unstrategic to focus all political and financial attention on the symptoms of the problem rather than on the causes,” she continued.

Egeland echoed similar sentiments, stating that though there are high numbers of refugees in the world today, it is a “total myth” that people are “overflooding” Europe.

There are some links between IDPs and refugees as unresolved internal displacement can sometimes lead to cross-border movements. Countries that often have high numbers of IDPs also tend to produce many of the world’s refugees such as South Sudan and Syria.

However, it is necessary to look at the full migration and displacement picture and to acknowledge that internal displacement is an integral part of that picture, Bilak said.

Understanding patterns of displacement and movements allow for efficient and effective work on prevention, preparedness, and response efforts.

Both Bilak and Egeland called on renewed and redirected political and financial investments in this often overshadowed issue.

“The report is a tool for policymakers to help them prioritize where they should allocate their resources, both political resources and their financial resources,” Bilak told IPS.

This includes an increase in development assistance in order to reduce existing vulnerabilities and future risk, helping mitigate the long-term impacts of internal displacement and preventing cyclical crises from continuing in the future.

“Until the structural drivers of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment are addressed, conflict and human rights violations will continue to cause displacement and impede solutions,” the report concludes.

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Ecuador Focuses on New UN Tax Body to Fight Illicit Financial Flowshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/ecuador-focuses-on-new-un-tax-body-to-fight-illicit-financial-flows/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 19:29:49 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150523 The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long. Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 22 2017 (IPS)

The time is now to work together to fight illicit financial flows, according to Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Guillaume Long.

Guillaume Long

Guillaume Long

Ecuador, having long advocated for tax justice, has shed light on the issue at the United Nations. As Chairman of the Group of 77, Long highlighted the need to end the financial secrecy of tax havens that often harm developing countries and to create an intergovernmental body to help regulate taxation and financial flows.

In an interview with IPS, Long explains the issues, challenges, and goals in achieving tax justice.

Q: The President of the General Assembly said that SDG financing is going to take 6$ trillion annually and $30 trillion through 2030. Do you think much-needed finances will be made available if the current rate of illicit financial flows is curbed?

A: I think it’s huge what you can get from curbing illicit flows and basically from tax dodging or tax evasion. In the case of Ecuador, we calculated that an approximate amount of $30 billion is held in tax havens. Just so you get a general idea of what that means, Ecuador’s gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly around $100 billion so $30 billion means almost 1/3rd of our GDP. Most countries struggle to grow, but here you’ve got 30 percent of GDP literally being robbed from us in tax havens.

That means less investment, less dynamism in the economy, less creation of jobs and also less taxes—it’s those taxes that are used for public policies to reduce poverty, reduce inequality, and create much needed infrastructure.

There are have been estimates that public infrastructure that is needed right now in the developing world is roughly $1.5 trillion. This includes hospitals, schools—the kind of infrastructure that the developing world needs to reduce huge rates of inequality, poverty, and some of the things we are trying to amend through, for example, the SDGs. And that’s only probably about 15% of illegal assets held abroad in tax havens and various offshore accounts.

[Curbing illicit financial flows] could revolutionize and dramatically transform the story and history of development. And it would certainly be one of the best sources of financing for development which is the big thing. Now that we have come to an agreement on the 2030 Goals and what it is that we want to do, the next question is how do we do this? And we have to do this with resources. Some resources are available to us, but many others aren’t and this is basically through tax dodging.

This is also fundamentally a practice that is carried out by elites and therefore it also means that you get greater rates of inequality. In a continent or a region like Latin America—if you do a per capita average then it is the middle class but we know that averages hide huge disparities and Latin America is actually the most unequal region in the world and a lot of that has to do with elites not being a willing part of the social contract. And a major aspect of the social contract is taxation and not participating in tax dodging.

Q: How much does the developing world, particularly Africa, Asia, and Latin America, lose to illicit financial flows?

A: There are huge numbers that are being reported. Oxfam talks of $7.6 trillion in tax dodging—I’m not even talking about illicit financial flows, not even talking about offshore accounts, I’m talking about $7.6 trillion in tax dodging.

This is why Ecuador has taken this issue so seriously. We’ve been talking about tax havens and tax avoidance for years, particularly in this government in the last ten years with the Presidency of Rafael Correa. But after the Panama Papers scandal last year, President Correa really launched this as his priority and as a major crusade. He even launched what he called an “Ethical Pact” which included a referendum in Ecuador to ban civil servants and elected officials from holding assets in tax havens. If you are found to hold assets in tax havens, you can be removed from office automatically.

I really think Ecuador is one of the countries, if not the country in the world, that’s done the most. This referendum, which was successful in terms of its results, is an example to the world. And I think Ecuador has been the most proactive country in the year that’s transpired since the revelations of the Panama Papers in taking concrete and bold steps.

Another major thing that we have been doing on the international front is from our presidency of the G77 which we currently chair. We have pushed for the creation of an intergovernmental body on tax justice. We had a workshop this morning which was co-chaired by Ecuador, India, and South Africa with huge participation exactly on this issue.

There is an opportunity—now that the issue is back at the forefront of the media, it means that we have to maximize that opportunity to try and create mechanisms, particularly inside the United Nations, that fight tax dodging. [This issue] we can deal with if we have the right tools and institutions to fight that.

Q: What are your thoughts on public disclosures on tax havens like the Panama Papers? Is that something that is needed more in order to increase transparency and action on tax havens?

A: Whistleblowing plays an important role. When information is public and people find out about these things, if their politicians have been hiding money and fog them—most politicians have a very patriotic discourse saying they’re going to create jobs and economic activity and bring foreign investment. But surely there is a paradox and a contradiction if you are saying ‘vote for me because I’ll bring loads of foreign investment into the country’ and then on the other hand you’ve got all your personal assets hidden away somewhere without paying taxes. I think when those contradictions and lies, and I would use the world ‘robbery’ especially if you are dodging taxes, are exposed then that’s a good thing. It creates greater consciousness.

I think this is a time of great opportunity because since the Panama Papers scandal, a lot of countries that could be considered to be tax havens are starting to take measures because they are under increasing pressure by people and by countries like Ecuador and other countries to do something about it. The fact that we are having this debate today and the fact that I am talking to you is not necessarily in the tax havens’ interest because it brings the spotlight onto their activities so generally speaking, those kinds of public disclosures are very important part of creating a general awareness that this must stop.

There are a lot of double standards too. On the one hand, developing countries are under pressure for all sorts of things. They’ve got to grow, they’ve got to be good economically, they’ve got to guarantee human rights—all of these things which we absolutely abide by and are very committed to—but surely there is a contradiction with having to do that and then on the other hand, all of these countries that are kind of sermonizing the rest of the world from their civilizational pedestal are reaping the benefits of all the crony and corrupt elites of the developing countries depositing their money in these bank accounts without paying taxes.

So there’s a hypocrisy there that has to be exposed. And if these public disclosures can help to do that, then so be it.

Q: Has there been any progress since the Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) adoption of the ‘UN Code of Conduct on Cooperation in Combating International Tax Evasion’?

A: That was a very important step. It was the first piece of important legislation and regulatory result that came out of the Committee of Experts in a long time. So we are seeing progress, though still not enough, but still progress. And that has to do with [it being] back on the agenda.

Now there is a new step, which I think is very important, that the Secretary-General from June onwards is going to be naming the members of the Committee of Experts. So that’s also a positive development because it obviously raises the stakes and gives it more political clout.

Ecuador’s position is that we celebrate that the Committee of Experts was created with largely the fruit of debate that goes back to Monterrey in 2002. But now we think that the Committee of Experts is insufficient and that we need something else. We need something with more clout, with more accountability, with more relation with the United Nations system itself and the governmental nature of this organization.

You have it in other spheres—if you look at trade, the World Trade Organization is a regulatory body at the highest level for trade while the Intellectual Property Organization is a regulatory body for intellectual property at the highest level.

Those institutions exist because it is in the interest of big capital that they should exist. Big capital is in favor of free trade and if a country stands in the way of free trade, then you get reprimanded. But it’s not necessarily in the interest of big capital to have the equivalent in the field of taxation. This is an important concept that we should bear in mind. A lot of the institutions of global governance that we have inherited respond to specific interests and not always to the interests of the most powerless in society. They respond to the interests of the most powerful in society.

And why should trade be more important than taxation? Probably in terms of redistribution, taxation is more important than trade. Although, nobody is saying that trade isn’t important for the overall accumulation of wealth of different countries, but in terms of redistribution and in terms of capacity of the state to work towards the 2030 Agenda, then surely [taxation] plays a huge role.

It is great that we are getting closer but it is frustrating that we are still talking about a fight in order to create an institution that will then dedicate itself to fighting for a greater outcome which is tax justice. We are not even fighting for tax justice, we are fighting for the right to have the corresponding institutions just like you have them in the fields of trade and intellectual property and others.

Q: Are you proposing for a new UN tax body or are you hoping to transform the Committee of Experts into an intergovernmental body that you have proposed?

A: We are looking to transform the Committee of Experts but we are very open to different kinds of formats. We are trying to create consensus and if you are trying to create consensus—I mean, we preside over the G77 which is 134 nations so creating consensus between 134 nations is already a tall order—but at the end of the day, we are actually trying to create consensus between 193 nations of the United Nations and that includes tax havens, countries that have been a little pro-status quo particularly in the OECD, and a lot of countries that are not in the G77.

So we are open to all sorts of different outcomes. We just want to raise the hierarchy, the political clout, the visibility, the strength of the body. There are a number of initiatives. Some people have talked about keeping it within the ECOSOC while others want to elevate it to the General Assembly—there’s a huge debate within the G77 about it. But there is consensus between 134 nations of the G77 that it should be an intergovernmental body. And that’s something that we are trying to, through our presidency, express the will of the nations that are members of our group.

Q: How feasible is the proposal for an intergovernmental body for approval by the General Assembly?

A: I think multilateralism is a slow process always. I think we are getting closer. And I think that the big conference on financing for development in the next few weeks should make significant progress. I think we will find that there is much more consensus than there was in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Most countries from the Global South have these discussions about tax justice and the right to development. But a number of countries from the G20 or OECD or more industrialized countries have also started to be flexible in their position. We are seeing changes. In the workshop we had today, which would have been unthinkable a few years ago, we had loads of tax havens present. Not just tax havens that are blacklisted in the Global South by the Global North but tax havens from Europe and from other parts of the world. And they were there because they want to listen in on the debate which shows that at least they are concerned or interested and some of them actually spoke out and said they are making changes and showing a greater commitment.

There is another major thing which is the securitization of the issue. For some countries, issues of terrorism is a big thing. Where do terrorists hide their money? Well, increasingly in constituencies that enjoy banking secrecy and those tend to be tax havens. If we can all at least agree on the outcome which is greater accountability and greater regulations on that matter, even if it is for different reasons, it’s about consensus building and that’s what multilateralism is about.

Q: So would this proposed UN tax body help bring such international cooperation in tackling illicit financial flows?

A: That’s exactly right. It’s not just about naming and shaming tax havens. If suddenly you have two neighboring countries in a European setting, even if they are developed countries, and they start this kind of taxation war by lowering their taxes in order to try to suck capital and investment out of each other in this kind of race to the bottom, then a [UN tax] body like that should be able to intervene and make at least the right recommendations. Whether those recommendations become compulsory then that’s another debate, but it should be a body like you have in other fields that has the capacity to make clear recommendations.

Q: Have you faced or expect to face opposition for this proposal, especially from the Global North?

A: For sure. The G77 has been facing—basically with the same position I am presenting to you is not a new position, the position has been going on for decades and there has been clear language on behalf of the G77.

It is interesting because within the G77, you actually have tax havens as well. But even those tax havens have accepted that an intergovernmental body, which doesn’t exclude them, is quite a good measure if you want to have a serious debate and discussion between member States on this issue. This has been the position of the G77 which has been resisted for decades. There has been loads of opposition. We saw it in Addis Ababa, particularly members of the G7 or the G20 and lots of opposition from the OECD countries and oppositions from countries that are not always considered to be tax havens in the kind of stereotypical manner.

Countries like the United Kingdom has been opposed to this very much, not only because of its own policies but also because of what is euphemistically called non-autonomous territories. The five biggest tax havens in relative terms of the offshore assets per GDP index are non-autonomous territories and four of the five are British while one is the U.S. They are not sovereign nations and they are not members of the United Nations. That’s an important issue and it’s not surprising that there is opposition when we are trying to move away from this.

The Panama Papers singled out Panama and actually Panama is making quite significant efforts to move away from that image. We are very happy to see them move away from such practices but actually, Panama is not necessarily in the top five in terms of the GDP index. The very people who even write up the black lists are not free of tax malpractice themselves.

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Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/#respond Mon, 22 May 2017 05:38:04 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150497 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

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