Inter Press Service » Crime & Justice http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Europe Squabbles While Refugees Diehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142190 North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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U.S.-Made Cluster Munitions Causing Civilian Deaths in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-made-cluster-munitions-causing-civilian-deaths-in-yemen/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 21:14:43 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142174 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICM) submunitions boast a distinctive white nylon stabilization ribbon. Credit: Stéphane De Greef, Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

New research released today by a leading human rights watchdog has found evidence of seven attacks involving cluster munitions in Yemen’s northwestern Hajja governorate.

Carried out between late April and mid-July 2015, the attacks are believed to have killed at least 13 people, including three children, and wounded 22 others, according to an Aug. 26 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The rights group believes the rockets were launched from Saudi Arabia, which has been leading a coalition of nine Arab countries in a military offensive against armed Houthi rebels from northern Yemen who ousted President Abu Mansur Hadi earlier this year.

Banned by a 2008 international convention, cluster munitions are bombs or rockets that explode in the air before dispersing many smaller explosives, or ‘bomblets’, over a wide area.

“Weapons used in these particular attacks were U.S.-made M26 rockets, each of which contain 644 sub-munitions and that means that any civilian in the impact area is likely to be killed or injured,” Ole Solvang, a senior research at HRW, said in a video statement released Thursday.

According to HRW, a volley of six rockets can release over 3,800 submunitions over an area with a one-kilometer radius. M26 rockets use M77 submunitions, which have a 23-percent ‘failure rate’ as per U.S. military trials – this means unexploded bombs remain spread over wide areas, endangering civilians, and especially children.

Local villages told HRW researchers that at least three people were killed when they attempted to handle unexploded submunitions.

The attack sites lie within the Haradh and Hayran districts of the Hajja governorate, currently under control of Houthi rebels, and include the villages of Al Qufl, Malus, Al Faqq and Haradh town – all located between four and 19 km from the Saudi-Yemeni border.

Given the attacks’ proximity to the border, and the fact that Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all members of the Arab Coalition – possess M26 rockets and their launchers, HRW believes the cluster munitions were “most likely” launched from Saudi Arabia.

One of the victims was 18-year-old Khaled Matir Hadi Hayash, who suffered a fatal injury to his neck on the morning of Jul. 14 while his family were taking their livestock out to a graze in a field just four miles from the Saudi border.

Hayash’s brother and three cousins also suffered injuries, and the family lost 30 sheep and all their cows in the attack.

In the village of Malus, residents provided HRW with the names of at least seven locals, including three children, who were killed in a Jun. 7 attack.

A 30-year-old shopkeeper in Malus described the cluster bombing as follows:

“I saw a bomb exploding in the air and pouring out many smaller bombs. Then an explosion threw me on the floor. I lost consciousness and somebody transferred me to the hospital with burns and wounds on the heels of the feet and fragmentation wounds on the left side of my body.”

A thirteen-year-old caught in the same attack succumbed to his injuries in a local hospital. The boy is now buried in the neighbouring Hayran District.

“I didn’t even take [his body] back home,” the father of the deceased teenager told HRW. “Residents of the village all fled. You can’t find anyone there now.”

These seven attacks are not the first time that banned weapons have made in appearance in the embattled nation of 26 million people.

“Human Rights Watch has previously identified three other types of cluster munitions used in attacks apparently by coalition forces in Yemen in 2015: US-made CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, rockets or projectiles containing “ZP-39” DPICM submunitions, and CBU-87 cluster bombs containing BLU-97 submunitions,” the report stated.

Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States all remain non-signatories to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which currently counts 94 states among its parties.

A further 23 countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142147 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Majority of Child Casualties in Yemen Caused by Saudi-Led Airstrikeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/majority-of-child-casualties-in-yemen-caused-by-saudi-led-airstrikes/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:02:09 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142134 The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

The Tornado aircraft was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium that includes British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation); it has played a small role in the war in Yemen. Credit: Geoff Moore/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March 2015, 73 percent were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a United Nations official said Monday.

In a statement released on Aug. 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general (SRSG) for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting between Houthi rebels and a Gulf Arab coalition, led by Saudi Arabia, bent on reinstating deposed Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by the U.N.’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 kids have been severely wounded. Between Apr. 1 and Jun. 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

Gulf Coalition airstrikes on Aug. 21 resulted in a civilian death of 65; 17 of the victims were children. Houthi fighters also killed 17 kids and injured 12 more while repeatedly shelling residential areas.

In what the U.N. has described as wanton ‘disregard’ for the lives of civilians, the warring sides have also attacked schools, severely limiting education opportunities for children in the embattled Arab nation of 26 million people, 80 percent of whom now require emergency humanitarian assistance.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who number upwards of 1.5 million.

On the eve of a new school year, UNICEF believes that the on-going violence will prevent 3,600 schools from re-opening on time, “interrupting access to education for an estimated 1.8 million children.”

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams in Yemen say they have “witnessed pregnant women and children dying after arriving too late at the health centre because of petrol shortages or having to hole up for days on end while waiting for a lull in the fighting.”

MSF also faults the coalition-led bombings for civilian deaths and scores of casualties, adding that the Houthi advance on the southern city of Aden has been “equally belligerent”.

On Jul. 19, for instance, indiscriminate bombing by Houthi rebels in densely populated civilian areas resulted in 150 casualties including women, children and the elderly within just a few hours.

Of the many wounded who flooded an MSF hospital, 42 were “dead on arrival”, and several dozen bodies had to remain outside the clinic due to a lack of space, the humanitarian agency said in a Jul. 29 press release.

Appealing to all sides to spare civilians caught in the crossfire, Zerrougui said Yemen provides yet “another stark example of how conflict in the region risks creating a lost generation of children, who are physically and psychologically scarred by their experiences […].”

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the wealthy Gulf state pledged 274 million dollars to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Military Sanctions on Syria May Face Veto by Arms Supplierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-military-sanctions-on-syria-may-face-veto-by-arms-supplier/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 20:24:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142130 A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

A man stands amid the rubble of a house following an airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Apr. 15, 2013. Credit: Freedom House/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

The staggering statistics emerging from the ongoing five-year-old military conflict in Syria – including over 220,000 killed, more than one million injured and about 7.6 million displaced – are prompting calls for a United Nations arms embargo on the beleaguered regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers." -- Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch
But any proposed military sanctions will continue to hit a major roadblock because of opposition by Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC), and the largest single arms supplier dating back to a 25-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation signed by Syria with the then Soviet Union in October 1970.

Syria’s military arsenal includes over 200 Russian-made MiG-21 and MiG-29 fighter planes, dozens of Mil Mi-24 attack helicopters and SA-14 surface-to-air missiles, and scores of T-72 battle tanks, along with a wide range of rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and howitzers.

But most of these are ageing weapons systems, purchased largely in the 1970s and 1980s costing billions of dollars, badly in need of refurbishing or replacements.

As in all military agreements, the contracts with Russia include maintenance, servicing, repairs and training.

According to the latest report by Forecast International, a defence market research firm in the United States, Syria once hosted about 3,000 to 4,000 military advisers, mostly stationed in Damascus.

The Russians also forgave about 9.8 billion dollars in military debts (incurred during the Soviet era) paving the way for new arms agreements back in January 2005 – and ensuring Syria’s military survival against a rash of anti-Assad militant groups, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS Russia’s resistance to an arms embargo is a given, but Syria’s flaunting of the laws-of-war and of Security Council resolutions require a real response, not just more rhetoric.

“Providing weapons to Syria while its forces are committing crimes against humanity may translate into assisting in the commission of those crimes, raising the possibility of potential criminal liability for arms suppliers,” she said, adding: “Would such a step make a difference?”

Hicks pointed out that arms embargoes are not a perfect solution, but are a simple measure that doesn’t cost much to implement, and it would make it harder for the government to acquire new arms it could use to attack civilians.

“Action by the Security Council to impose an arms embargo would also send a strong message to Syria that its indiscriminate attacks on civilians must end. So why not impose one?” she asked.

Addressing the Security Council last November, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman pointed out the effectiveness of U.N.-imposed sanctions – from Afghanistan and Angola to Haiti and the former Yugoslavia.

“We know it is not perfect, but there is also no doubt that it works,” he said.

Since the first U.N. sanctions were imposed on Southern Rhodesia in 1966, there have been 25 sanctions regimes – either in support of conflict resolution, countering terrorism or to prevent the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, there are 15 sanctions regime in place – the highest number in the history of the United Nations.

Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, both Russia and China have jointly vetoed four resolutions aimed at penalizing the Assad regime, the last one being in May 2014.

China, which supports the Assad regime, is not an arms supplier to Syria.

In a statement released last month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for an arms embargo on Syria following repeated air attacks on market places and residential neighbourhoods, which killed at least 112 civilians.

“Bombing a market full of shoppers and vendors in broad daylight shows the Syrian government’s appalling disregard for civilians,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“This latest carnage is another reminder – if any was still needed – of the urgent need for the Security Council to act on its previous resolutions and take steps to stop indiscriminate attacks.”

On Feb. 22, 2014, the Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that “all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment.”

In August, following attacks on civilians, the Security Council issued a presidential statement reiterating its demands that all parties cease attacks against civilians as well as any indiscriminate use of weapons in populated areas.

HRW said Security Council members, including Russia, which has shielded the Syrian government from sanctions and accountability, should take immediate steps to enforce that demand.

In addition to an arms embargo, the Security Council should apply the same level of scrutiny it has put in place for chemical attacks to all indiscriminate attacks by monitoring these attacks, attributing responsibility for them, and sanctioning those responsible.

The Security Council should also refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, HRW said.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Mexico’s Gruesome War Against Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-mexicos-gruesome-war-against-migrants/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 17:24:14 +0000 Carolina Jimenez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142083 Families demand official investigations into the fate of missing migrants, and the creation of a database. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Carolina Jiménez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

“Pray for me.”

Those are the last words Eva Nohemi Hernández Murillo told her mother, Elida Yolanda, through a patchy phone line on the evening of Aug. 22, 2010.

The 25-year-old from Honduras was about to get into a van that would, she hoped, take her and 72 other men and women across the Mexican border to the U.S.Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

Eva Nohemi wanted to arrive in what for her was the “promised land” to find a job that would give her enough money to support her parents and three young children back in El Progreso, in Honduras. But she, and all of her travel companions, but one, never made it.

Two days later when Elida sat in her living room to watch the evening news, her worst nightmare was realised.

The image of the lifeless bodies of 72 men and women filled the screen – the victims of what has come to be known as the first massacre of San Fernando. She recognised the clothes on one of them as belonging to her daughter.

“The next day we bought the newspapers to see if we could confirm it was her from the pictures. I felt it was her but was not sure, no one wants to see her daughter dead like that,” Elida said.

The only information about how the massacre unfolded came from the testimony of its sole survivor – who since then has felt terrified for his life after receiving numerous death threats.

Elida didn’t have enough money to travel to Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, to demand more information or action from the Mexican embassy there. No one contacted her either.

It was only when a human rights organisation reached out to the family that the investigations started gathering pace.

Another agonising two years passed by before Elida received a call from the Mexican embassy in Tegucigalpa with the confirmation that Eva Nohemi was dead.

“I went into shock. I suspected it was her but you never want to accept that your daughter is dead. Like Eva Nohemi, people are dying on that route all the time. All I want is justice so that this does not happen again,” she said, shaken.

Elida is not alone.

The massacre of San Fernando, which took place five years ago today, provides a glimpse into a shocking crisis that had been lurking for years.

Men, women and children desperate for better opportunities or under death threats by criminal gangs in violent-ridden Central America embark on this dangerous journey with little left to lose but their lives.

Criminal gangs, some of them believed to be working in collusion with local Mexican authorities, attack the migrants along the way. Women are kidnapped and trafficked into sex work. Men are tortured and many of them are kidnapped for ransom.

Few make it to the border without having suffered any human rights abuse; many go missing on the way, never to be found again.

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

Six months after the San Fernando massacre, another 193 bodies were found in 47 mass graves in the same town. A year after that, 49 dismembered torsos, believed to be from undocumented migrants, were found in the city of Cadereyta, in the neighbouring state of Nuevo León.

In 2013, a forensic commission made up by the relatives of the migrants, human rights organisations, forensic anthropologists and government officials took on the task of starting to identify the remains from these massacres.

According to official figures from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM), between 2013 and 2014, abductions of migrants increased tenfold, with 62 complaints registered in 2013 and 682 in 2014.

Mexican authorities are quick to blame powerful criminal gangs for the abuses, choosing to ignore evidence that local security forces, too, often play a role in the abductions and killings.

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

Or at least the authorities look the other way. Meanwhile the stories of death and suffering continue to pile up.

A few days after the San Fernando massacre, then Mexican President Felipe Calderón promised to implement a coordinated plan to end kidnappings and killings of migrants.

Five years on, there’s little to show for this.

Mexico’s current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, chose a security strategy over a human rights solution to his country’s migrant crisis.

In a recent visit to Washington, he was quick to congratulate President Barack Obama’s plan to protect millions of undocumented migrants living in the U.S. from deportation, describing it as an “act of justice”. At the same time, he has done remarkably little to tackle the abuses against migrants occurring in his own country.

There are no magic formulas to resolve this complex tangle of crime, drugs, violence and collusion, but there’s certainly much more than the Mexican authorities can and must do to end it.

Committing more and better resources to undertake effective investigations into these massacres and providing protection to the thousands of migrants crossing the country are two measures that cannot be delayed any longer.

Doing so will send a strong message that Mexican authorities truly do want justice for migrants. We already know the macabre consequences of not doing enough.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Helpless Watching Rising Deaths of Children in War Zoneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-remains-helpless-watching-rising-deaths-of-children-in-war-zones/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:44:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142076 Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

Children residing at a Protection of Civilians (POC) site run by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) perform at a special cultural event in Juba March 27, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

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

The rising death toll of civilians, specifically women and children, in ongoing military conflicts is generating strong messages of condemnation from international institutions and human rights organisations – with the United Nations remaining helpless as killings keep multiplying.

The worst offenders are warring parties in “the world’s five most conflicted countries”, namely Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR), and most horrifically, Yemen, where civilian casualties have been rising almost by the hour.According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

The 1949 Geneva Convention, which governs the basic rules of war, has also continued to be violated in conflicts in Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, Nigeria, Myanmar, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), among other military hotspots.

The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says some 230 million children grow up caught in the middle of conflicts, involving both governments and “terror groups” such as Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS), and Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

According to a new report by UNICEF, one of the worst cases is Yemen where an average of eight children are being killed or maimed every day.

The study, titled Yemen: Childhood Under Threat, says nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated about four months ago.

In the conflict in Gaza last year, according to U.N. statistics, more than 2,100 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. And the civilian killings included 495 children and 253 women compared with the death toll of 72 Israelis, including seven civilians.

Addressing the Security Council during an open debate on children and armed conflict last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said there was “a moral imperative and a legal obligation” to protect children — and they should “never be jeopardized by national interests.”

He said 2014 was one of the worst years in recent memory for children in countries devastated by military conflicts.

The conflict in Yemen is a particular tragedy for children, says UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he added.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, says the UNICEF report, “it will have terrifying consequences for their future.”

Across the country, nearly 10 million children – 80 per cent of the country’s under-18 population – are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes, the report said.

The New York office of the Tokyo-based Arigatou International, which has taken a lead role in protecting children at the grassroots level, is hosting a forum on “Religious Ideals and Reality: Responsibility of Leadership to Prevent Violence against Children,” in Geneva next week.

The forum is being co-hosted by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes), a global network dedicated to protecting children.

Rebeca Rios-Kohn, director of the Arigatou International New York Office, told IPS interfaith dialogue can play a critical role in bringing about behavioural change in areas of the world affected by armed conflicts.

“Religious leaders who have strong moral authority and credibility can influence positive change,” she added.

She pointed out the example of “corridors of peace” promoted by UNICEF which allowed vaccination of children to take place in conflict areas.

“However, while this is an important and tragic issue which receives great attention by the media, we must not forget that the issue of violence is global and affects many more children within the home, school and community, as well as orphanages, detention centres and other institutions where children are residing.”

Also, she said, the phenomenon of online exploitation of children, which will be addressed at the Forum, is a huge problem that has the attention of experts including Interpol due to its growing magnitude and the fact that the perpetrators can get away with it so easily.

“In other words, the work that we are doing focuses more on the broader dimensions of the problem,” she noted.

“We collaborate closely with the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC), another Arigatou Initiative that is led from Nairobi.”

Together, she said, the initiatives draw on the religious teachings and values of all major religions and on the power of prayer, meditation and diverse forms of worship to mobilise concrete actions for children.

Jo Becker, advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, points out that children’s education has also suffered, as armed forces or groups damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 schools around the globe last year.

The most affected schools were in Palestine, where Israeli airstrikes and shelling damaged or destroyed 543 schools in Gaza, and Nigeria, where the Islamist armed group Boko Haram carried out attacks on 338 schools, including the abduction of 276 girls from their school in Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.

The result: hundreds of thousands of children are denied an education, she said.

According to UNICEF, there have not been this many child refugees since the end of the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the UNICEF report outlines the different dimensions of the crisis facing children in Yemen including:

At least 398 children killed and 605 injured as a result since the conflict escalated in March.

Children recruited or used in the conflict has more than doubled – from 156 in 2014 to 377 so far verified in 2015; 15.2 million people lack access to basic health care, with 900 health facilities closed since March 26; and 1.8 million children are likely to suffer from some form of malnutrition by the end of the year.

Additionally, 20.4 million people are in need of assistance to establish or maintain access to safe water and sanitation due to fuel shortages, infrastructure damage and insecurity, and nearly 3,600 schools have closed down, affecting over 1.8 million children.

Over the past six months, the children’s agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict. Some 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF says its response remains grossly underfunded.

With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of 182.6 million dollars met so far, “Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is currently responding to around the world.”

“We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” said Harneis. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Relief Agency Pledges to Open Schools ‘On Time’ for Half a Million Palestinian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142054 Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming a serious funding shortfall, and caught between numerous regional conflicts, the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees announced on Aug. 19 that it would nevertheless open schools on time for the roughly half-a-million children who rely on the international community for their education.

In a statement released today, the cash-strapped U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) promised to start the school year on schedule, allowing over 500,000 kids in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to return to their classrooms between Aug. 24 and Sept. 13.

Established in 1949 to address the needs of some five million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs 685 schools across Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday.

For months both UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have stressed the importance of uninterrupted schooling for Palestinian refugees, and warned of the risks of allowing a generation of young people to be forgotten.

Congratulating UNRWA on its tireless efforts, Ban said in a statement Wednesday, “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions”, adding: “[For Palestine refugees] education is a passport to dignity. We must stand by them and the agency that serves them.”

Ban thanked member states for their contributions to UNRWA’s coffers, which include a 19-million-dollar contribution from Saudi Arabia and 15 million dollars each from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

To date, the agency has received contributions amounting to 78.9 billion dollars, or just over 75 percent of the 101-million-dollar deficit. The money will go towards fulfilling UNRWA’s mandate of providing health care, relief and social services, camp improvement and education.

Numerous obstacles stand between Palestinian children and their classrooms. In documenting some of these challenges, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lists such issues as military incursions; demolitions of schools buildings; restrictions on movement or limited access to school premises; and damage and destruction of school property.

A 2013 UNICEF report entitled Education Under Occupation revealed that 38 schools serving approximately 3,000 children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “have been issued either verbal and/or written stop-work or demolition orders by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).”

In the 2011-2012 period, UNICEF recorded 63 instances of “denial of access” to education in the Occupied Territories, which affected over 34,000 Palestinian students.

During the seven-week-long conflict in Gaza last summer some 327 schools were partially or completely obliterated, according to a 2015 UNICEF update, stripping thousands of kids of their only protective environment.

The situation is even more precarious for Palestinian refugees, who are often closer to the frontlines of conflict and thereby face greater risks in their quest to gain a decent education.

For instance in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, home to an estimated 16,000 Palestinians, all 28 schools have been closed and the only education opportunities exist in the form of informal classes conducted by volunteer teachers in 10 “safe spaces”, according to a report by the Guardian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kudos for Bolivia’s Success in Reducing Coca Cultivationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kudos-for-bolivias-success-in-reducing-coca-cultivation/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:58:36 +0000 Ronald Joshua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142038 Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

Bolivian President Evo Morales (right) shakes hands with UNODC Representative Antonino De Leo at the launch of the latest Bolivia Coca Survey. Credit: Jose Lirauze/ABI

By Ronald Joshua
VIENNA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has praised Bolivia for reducing coca bush cultivation for the fourth year in a row. According to the latest Coca Crop Monitoring Survey, released Tuesday in La Paz, coca cultivation declined by 11 per cent in 2014, compared to the previous year.

The surface under cultivation declined from 23,000 hectares (ha) in 2013 to 20,400 ha last year, hitting the bottom since UNODC began its monitoring survey in 2003.

At the Survey’s launch, UNODC’s Representative in Bolivia, Antonino De Leo, praised the Bolivian Government’s efforts for the continued reduction of the coca crop area during the last four years. De Leo highlighted that, between 2010 and 2014, “the surface under coca cultivation declined by 10,600 ha, which represents a reduction of more than a third.”

Through the use of satellite imaging and field monitoring, reductions in the two main areas of cultivation were detected. The regions of Los Yungas de La Paz and Trópico de Cochabamba together constitute 99 per cent of the areas under coca cultivation in the country.

Between 2013 and 2014, these two areas reduced their surface under coca cultivation by 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively, from 15,700 to 14,200 ha and from 7,100 to 6,100 ha. In the Norte de La Paz provinces the cultivation area decreased from 230 to 130 ha, reports the survey.

There are 22 protected areas in Bolivia – accounting for 16 per cent of the country’s surface – where coca crops are forbidden by Bolivian law. In 2014, there were 214 ha of coca crops detected within six protected areas, of which 59 per cent were in Carrasco National Park.

In February 2013, Bolivia re-acceded to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs with a reservation on coca leaf. This reservation allows the chewing, consumption and use of the coca leaf in its natural state for cultural and medicinal purposes, as well as its growth, trade and possession to the extent necessary for these licit purposes.

The United Nations Information Service (UNIS) from Vienna said: “The current national legislation, which dates back to 1988, states that the area under coca cultivation must not exceed 12,000 ha. In the last years, the Bolivian government delineated the zones where coca crops are allowed within the three coca cultivation areas of the country: the Yungas de La Paz, Trópico de Cochabamba and Norte de La Paz provinces.”

The reduction of the surface under coca cultivation in 2014 is mainly explained by the Government’s efforts to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas – known as ´rationalization´ – and to eradicate coca crops in prohibited areas, UNIS added.

A dialogue-based process led by the Government saw the participation of coca growing unions in the implementation of the national strategy to reduce the surplus of coca crops in permitted areas. Another important factor has been the abandonment of old coca fields in the Yungas de La Paz province, due to the drastic reduction of their coca crop yields.

Between 2013 and 2014, the area eradicated declined by two per cent at the national level, from 11,407 to 11,144 ha. Meanwhile at the provincial level, some 7,400 ha were eradicated in the region of Trópico de Cochabamba, around 3,200 ha in the Yungas de La Paz and Norte de La Paz provinces, and 526 ha in the Santa Cruz and Beni regions.

The potential coca leaf production in the country was estimated to be 33,100 tonnes in 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, the total value of the coca leaf production declined from 294 million dollars to 282 million. The total value of coca leaf production in 2014 represented 0.9 per cent of Bolivia’s overall gross domestic product (GDP) and 8.8 per cent of its agricultural sector Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The amount of coca leaf traded in the two authorised markets – Villa Fátima and Sacaba – was around 19,800 tonnes in 2014, equivalent to 60 per cent of the total production of coca leaf. Ninety-three per cent of the legally traded coca leaf was marketed in Villa Fátima, and the other seven per cent in Sacaba. The average weighted price of coca leaf in these authorised markets increased six per cent, from 7.8 dollars per kg in 2013 to 8.3 dollars per kg in 2014.

Download the full 2014 Coca Survey in the Plurinational State of Bolivia (in Spanish)

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Egypt’s Terror Law Violates “Fundamental Freedoms”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/egypts-terror-law-violates-fundamental-freedoms/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 20:31:26 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142022 Grafitti in Cairo showing police brutality. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

Egyptian authorities are already holding a record number of journalists behind bars, and a draconian new anti-terror law signed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday will further broaden the crackdown on dissent, press freedom groups warn.

It imposes heavy penalties on journalists who publish “false news,” including fines of up to 64,000 dollars for stories that contradict official reports on terrorist attacks. Critics say this will create a chilling effect on independent reporting, particularly on smaller presses.

On Monday, Said Benarbia, Director of the International Commission of Jurists, Middle East and North Africa Programme, said, “The promulgation of the Counter-Terrorism Law by President el-Sisi expands the list of repressive laws and decrees that aim to stifle dissent and the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

“Egypt’s authorities must ensure the law is not used as a tool of repression and, to this end, comprehensively revise it so that it fully complies with international human rights law and standards,” he added.

Mahmoud Sultan, chief editor of the pro-Islamist newspaper Al-Misriyun, Tweeted that, “The anti-terrorism law signed by Sisi clearly tells journalists and the media and anyone with an opinion: Very dark days ahead.”

The ICJ said the law also gives state officials broad immunity from criminal responsibility for the use of force in the course of their duties, including the use of lethal force when it is not strictly necessary to protect lives.

“[The new law] grants sweeping surveillance and detention powers to prosecutors, entrenches terrorism circuits within the court system (which have in the past frequently involved fair trial violations), and grants the President far-reaching, discretionary powers to ‘take the necessary measures’ to maintain public security, where there is a ‘danger of terrorist crimes.'”

Press freedom groups have strongly criticised the law since it first appeared in draft form, with an earlier incarnation (since softened, following international outcry) threatening to jail journalists who printed information that contradicted the official line.

In a letter to al-Sisi last month, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), noted that “your government arbitrarily imprisons journalists using national security and anti-terror laws. In a prison census conducted on June 1, CPJ found that Egypt was holding at least 18 journalists in jail in relation to their work, the highest since CPJ began keeping records.”

Most of the imprisoned journalists are accused of being affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Egypt, he noted. At least five other journalists have been arrested since then.

According to Al Jazeera, financing “terrorist groups” will also carry a penalty of life in prison, which in Egypt is 25 years. Inciting violence, which includes “promoting ideas that call for violence”, brings between five and seven years in jail, as does creating or using websites that spread such ideas.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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World’s Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Cyber-Attackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/worlds-nuclear-facilities-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 18:13:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142016 Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. The IAEA has reported cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear plants. Credit: Stefan Kühn/cc by 2.0

Nuclear power plant in Cattenom, France. The IAEA has reported cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear plants. Credit: Stefan Kühn/cc by 2.0

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

As hackers continue to rampage through closely-guarded information systems and databases with monotonous regularity, there is a tempting new target for cyber-attacks: the world’s nuclear facilities.

A warning has already been sounded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has urged the world community to intensify efforts to protect nuclear facilities from possible attacks.“We need to drain the swamp and stop developing technologies that are vulnerable to catastrophic attacks." -- Randy Rydell

Pointing out the nuclear industry was not immune to such attacks, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano says there should be a serious attempt at protecting nuclear and radioactive material – since “reports of actual or attempted cyber-attacks are now virtually a daily occurrence.”

The United States, whose defence networks at the Pentagon and also its intelligence agencies have already been compromised by hackers largely from Russia and China, is increasingly concerned about possible cyber-attacks by terrorist organisations – specifically the Islamic State (IS) with its heavy and sophisticated presence on social media.

Ironically, the United States reportedly collaborated with Israel to launch a virus attack on Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme years ago.

Tariq Rauf, director of the Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS nuclear power plants and the nuclear industry rely intensively on computer systems and computer codes.

“Any corruption, malware or targeted attacks potentially could have catastrophic consequences for nuclear safety and security,” he warned.

In this regard, he said, it is deplorable that Israel and the United States targeted Iran’s uranium enrichment programme in past years with malware and viruses, thus initiating unprovoked cyber warfare, he added.

Stuxnet, the computer virus introduced into the Iranian nuclear programme by these two countries, has now escaped into other programmes in other countries, said Rauf, the former head of IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination unit.

“This clearly demonstrates that cyber warfare agents cannot be contained, can spread uncontrollably and can potentially create many hazards for critical infrastructure in the nuclear field,” he said.

He said cyber warfare at the state level is much more dangerous and difficult to defend against than cyber-attacks by hackers, though the hacking of nuclear safety and security systems by amateurs or criminals also pose major risks for radioactive and nuclear materials.

Randy Rydell, a former senior political officer at the U.N’s Office of Disarmament Affairs (ODA), told IPS the real question here is not capabilities but motivation: “Why would someone wish to launch such an attack?”

The answer, he said, is political.

“We need to drain the swamp and stop developing technologies that are vulnerable to catastrophic attacks,” said Rydell, former senior counsellor and Report Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Commission.

IAEA’s Amano pointed out that last year alone there were cases of random malware-based attacks at nuclear power plants, with such facilities being specifically targeted.

He said staff responsible for nuclear security should know how to repel cyber-attacks and to limit the damage, if systems are actually penetrated.

“The IAEA is doing what it can to help governments, organisations, and individuals adapt to evolving technology-driven threats from skilled cyber adversaries,” he added.

At the next IAEA ministerial conference, scheduled for December 2016, one of the topics for discussion should be how best to elaborate a Code of Conduct for Cyber Security for the Nuclear Industry.

Asked about the cyber capability of terrorist groups and their use of social media, Admiral Cecil Haney, commander U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters last March the Islamic State (IS) and various other organisations have been able to recruit and threaten – “and so we see more and more sophistication associated with that.”

“This is something that we look at very, very closely,” he said, pointing out that U.S. Cyber Command, as well as its interagency team, is working on this.

“And, quite frankly, it is looked at on a day-to-day basis,” he added.

In one of the major breaches of security, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which maintains security clearance for millions of federal employees, was one of the targets of hackers last year.

“The threat we face is ever-evolving,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters last June. “We understand that there is persistent risk out there and we take it seriously,” he added.

But cyber-attacks are also increasingly a policy decision by governments in the United States, Western Europe, Russia and China, as a means of fighting back when attacked.

SIPRI’s Rauf said the IAEA is recognised as playing the central role in setting nuclear security standards for peaceful nuclear activities and has issued guidance documents in this regards for operators of nuclear facilities.

Addressing the IAEA International Conference on Computer Security in a Nuclear World, held in Vienna on June 1, Amano correctly drew attention to the risks and dangers of actual or attempted cyber-attacks against nuclear power plants and the nuclear industry, he noted.

Amano said that “computers play an essential role in all aspects of the management and safe and secure operation of nuclear facilities, including maintaining physical protection, and thus it is vitally important that all such systems are properly secured against malicious intrusions”.

In a statement released last month, the White House said that from the beginning of his current administration, President Barack Obama “has made it clear that cyber security is one of the most important challenges we face as a nation.”

In response, “the U.S. Government has implemented a wide range of policies, both domestic and international, to improve our cyber defences, enhance our response capabilities, and upgrade our incident management tools.”

As the cyber threat continues to increase in severity and sophistication, so does the pace of the Administration’s efforts, the White House noted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The U.N. at 70: Leading the Global Agenda on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality – Part Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/the-u-n-at-70-leading-the-global-agenda-on-womens-rights-and-gender-equality-part-two/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 13:25:15 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142009 Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Credit: U.N. Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

The efforts of the United Nations and the global women’s movement to promote the women’s rights agenda and make it a top international priority saw its culmination in the creation of U.N. Women, by the General Assembly in 2010.

UN Women is the first – and only – composite entity of the U.N. system, with a universal mandate to promote the rights of women through the trinity of normative support, operational programmes and U.N. system coordination and accountability lead and promotion.This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind.

It also supports the building of a strong knowledge hub – with data, evidence and good practices contributing to positive gains but also highlighting challenges and gaps that require urgent redressal.

UN Women has given a strong impetus to ensuring that progressive gender equality and women’s empowerment norms and standards are evolved internationally and that they are clearly mainstreamed and prioritised as key beneficiaries and enablers of the U.N.’s sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, humanitarian action, climate change action and World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) + 10 agendas.

In fact, since its creation five years ago, there has been an unprecedented focus and prioritisation of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all normative processes and outcomes.

With the substantive and intellectual backstopping, vigorous advocacy, strategic mobilisation and partnerships with member states and civil society, U.N. Women has contributed to the reigniting of political will for the full, effective and accelerated implementation of Beijing Platform commitments as was done in the Political Declaration adopted at 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women; a remarkable, transformative and comprehensive integration and prioritisation of gender equality in the Rio + 20 outcome and in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal and gender sensitive targets in other key Goals and elements.

Additionally, there was also a commitment to both gender mainstreaming and targeted and transformative actions and investments in the formulation and implementation of financial, economic, social and environmental policies at all levels in the recently-concluded Addis Accord and Action Agenda on  Financing For Development.

Also we secured a commitment to significantly increased investment to close the gender gap and resource gap and a pledge to strengthen support to gender equality mechanisms and institutions at the global, regional and national levels. We now are striving to do the same normative alchemy with the Climate Change Treaty in December 2015.

Equally exhilarating and impactful has been the advocacy journey of U.N. Women. It  supports and advocates for gender equality, women’s empowerment and the rights of women globally, in all regions and countries, with governments, with civil society and the private sector, with the media and with citizens – women and girls, men and boys everywhere including through its highly successful and innovative Campaigns such as UNiTE to End Violence against Women / orange your neighbourhood, Planet 50/50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality and the HeforShe campaign which have reached out to over a billion people worldwide .

UN Women also works with countries to help translate international norms and standards into concrete actions and impact at national level and to achieve real change in the lives of women and girls in over 90 countries. It is in the process of developing Key Flagship Programs to scale up and drive impact on the ground in priority areas of economic empowerment, participation and leadership in decision making and governance, and ending violence against women.

Ending the chronic underinvestment in women and girls empowerment programs and projects and mobilising transformative financing of gender equality commitments made is also a big and urgent priority.

We have and will continue to support women and girls in the context of humanitarian crisis like the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the earthquake relief and response in Nepal and worked in over 22 conflict and post conflict countries to advance women’s security, voice, participation and leadership in the continuum from peace-making, peace building to development.

UN Women’s role in getting each and every part of the U.N. system including the MFIs and the WTO to deliver bigger, better and in transformative ways for gender equality through our coordination role has been commended by all. Already 62 U.N. entities, specialised agencies and departments have reported for the third year on their UN-SWAP progress and the next frontier is to SWAP the field.

Much has been achieved globally on women’s right from education, to employment and leadership, including at the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appointed more senior women than all the other Secretary-Generals combined.

Yet, despite the great deal of progress that has been made in the past 70 years in promoting the rights of women –persistent challenges remain and new ones have come up and to date no country in the world has achieved gender equality.

The majority of the world’s poor are women and they remain disempowered and marginalised. Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. Women and girls are denied their basic right to make decisions on their sexuality and reproductive life and at the current rate of progress, it would take nearly another 80 years to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment everywhere, and for women and girls to have equal access to opportunities and resources everywhere.

The world cannot wait another century. Women and girls have already waited two millennia. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and all other normative commitments in the United Nations will remain ‘ink on paper’ without transformative financing in scale and scope, without the data, monitoring and follow up and review and without effective accountability mechanisms in this area.

As we move forward, the United Nations must continue to work with all partners to hold Member States accountable for their international commitments to advance and achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment in all sectors and in every respect.

UN Women is readying itself to be Fit For Purpose but must also be Financed For Purpose in order to contribute and support the achievement of the Goals and targets for women and girls across the new Development Agenda.

This is a pivotal moment for the gender equality project of humankind. In order to achieve irreversible and sustained progress in gender equality and women’s empowerment for all women and girls – no matter where and in what circumstances they live and what age they are, we must all step up our actions and investment to realise the promise of “Transforming our World ” for them latest by 2030. It is a matter of justice, of recognising their equal humanity and of enabling the realisation of their fundamental freedoms and rights.

As the U.N. turns 70 and the entire international development  and  security community faces many policy priorities – from poverty eradication, conflict resolution, to addressing climate change and increasing inequalities within and between countries – it is heartening that all constituents of the U.N. – member states, the Secretariat and the civil society – recognise that no progress can be made in any of them without addressing women’s needs and interests and without women and girls as participants and leaders of change.

By prioritising gender equality in everything they pledge to not only as an article of faith but an operational necessity, they signal that upholding women’s rights will not only make the economy, polity and society work for women but create a prosperous economy, a just and peaceful society and a more sustainable planet.

Part One can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief, Seeking Accountability, Shatters Myth of Lifetime Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 21:21:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142000 Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stopped short of telling one his high-ranking Special Representatives: “You’re fired.”

If he did, he was only echoing the now-famous words of a U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is best known for frequently dismissing his staffers, using that catch phrase, in a long-running reality TV show.

Following the alleged outrageous rape of a 12-year girl by peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) — adding to 11 other cases of sexual abuse in the battle-scarred country — the secretary-general unceremoniously forced the resignation of his highest-ranking official, Babacar Gaye of Senegal.

The dismissal has been described as “unprecedented” in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

As U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “It is not something that I have seen in terms of Special Representatives in the field in the 15 years that I’ve been here, an action taken like this by a Secretary‑General.”

An "Unprecedented" Sacking

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS firing of a Special Envoy is exceptional.

In this particular case, the Secretary General made his point in an unprecedented manner.

In previous cases, he said, a Secretary General would send a discreet message about the need to resign “for personal reasons” or transferred elsewhere until a contract expired.

Envoys usually have different, more limited contracts than regular staff.

For a long period, and in order to build a dedicated international civil service that would withstand taking instructions from those other than the Secretary General, a “career contract” was offered, normally after five to 10 years of proven competence.

Appointment and Promotion bodies jointly selected by the Administration and staff would review and ensure a valid transparent competitive process.

“I had served for years as Chairman after Kofi Annan left to take over Peacekeeping,” he said.

Regrettably, these bodies were abolished after Annan became Secretary General --apparently to give senior manager more leeway in selecting their own staff.

Also contractual arrangements were changed mainly under pressures that sought to influence staff policy attitudes.

That substantive shift eroded the spirit of International Civil Servants who habitually were drawn from the widest cultural and geographic backgrounds, demoralising the existing staff and leading to weakening the main base of the Secretary General's authority.

But in a bygone era, U.N. jobs, like most dictatorial Third World presidencies, were for life – until you hit the retirement age of 60 (or 62 now, and 65 in the future).

The most that would happen for any infractions is a U.N. staffer taking early retirement – either gracefully or disgracefully.

The rule is best exemplified in a long running anecdote here of a secretary, enraged at her boss, who picked up her typewriter and threw it at him, many moons ago. But because she held a life-time job, so the story goes, she couldn’t be fired from her job.

However, the end result was a memo from the human resources department to all divisional heads at the U.N. urging them to nail all typewriters to their desks.

The story may be apocryphal but it reflected the long standing professional lifestyle at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River.

Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “I cannot recall a political appointee being fired.”

The usual practice, even for incompetent assistant secretaries-general (ASGs) or under-secretaries-general (USGs), has been to let their contracts lapse, or ease them out by retiring them or moving them sideways to a non-job, he said.

“Cases of staff being terminated are very rare and usually for disciplinary reasons. However, there have been cases where contracts have not been renewed, usually citing performance difficulties, but which we believe to have been abusive circumstances. But it’s thankfully rare,” said Richards.

Where there is a big concern going forward is the General Assembly’s approval of a new mobility policy under which appointments and moves of D-1 and D-2 staff – both at director levels — will be managed by the Secretary-General’s office (making them virtually political appointments and not regular staffers).

“This could have serious repercussions as those who don’t toe the line could be threatened with a move to an undesirable duty station,” he added.

In closed-door consultations with the 15-member Security Council Thursday, the secretary general said: “I cannot express strongly enough my distress and shame over reports of sexual exploitation and the abuse of power by U.N. forces, police or civilian personnel.”

With respect to the allegations and cases in the Central African Republic, the time had come for a strong signal that leaders will be held responsible, he said.

“This is why I asked for the resignation of General Babacar Gaye despite his long and illustrious service to the United Nations.”

Ban said an effective response demands accountability — individual, leadership, command level, as well accountability by the Organisation and by Member States.

“In the case of peacekeeping missions, accountability begins at the top, with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and carries through each level of management and command.”

On Friday, he convened an extraordinary meeting of his Special Representatives, Force Commanders and Police Commissioners in all 16 peacekeeping missions to send the unequivocal message that they are obligated – every day and every night – to enforce the highest standards of conduct for all.

He also said it is critical that Troop Contributing Countries take swift action to appoint national investigation officers, conclude investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.

It is squarely their responsibility to ensure justice and to communicate to the Secretariat the results of their actions.

“All too often this is not done quickly enough – and in the most frustrating cases, it is not done at all,” Ban said.

“When the Secretariat does receive information about the actions taken in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, I am frustrated by what appear to be far too lenient sanctions for such grave acts affecting men, women and, all too often, children.”

A failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity, he warned.

“That injustice is a second blow to the victims – and a tacit pass for the crimes we are trying so hard to end.”

Referring to the firing of the Special Representative, Dujarric told reporters: “As you know, the Secretary-General did not take this action based on one particular case.”

He took it based on the repeated number of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct that have taken place in the Central African Republic.

“According to our numbers, we had 57 allegations of possible misconduct in the Central African Republic reported since the beginning of the mission in April 2014. And that includes 11 cases of sexual abuse, possible sexual abuse. Those cases are being investigated,” he added.

Deployed in early 2014, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, known by the French acronym MINUSCA and headed by the dismissed Gaye, has been trying to defuse sectarian tensions across that country.

More than two years of civil war and violence have displaced thousands of people amid ongoing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, according to the United Nations.

In addition, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group, continues to operate in the south-eastern part of the country.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Nuclear Deal Could Offer Glimmer of Hope for Jailed Journalist in Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 17:22:40 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141998 Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

As Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian awaits his verdict, human rights advocates and press freedom groups continue to condemn the trial and call for his immediate release.

It has been over a year since the Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief, Jason Rezaian, was jailed on charges including espionage for the United States and anti-Iranian propaganda. On Monday, Rezaian spoke in his own defence at a final closed-door hearing. His verdict is expected to be announced next week.“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced." -- Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed

Following a midnight raid on July 22, 2014, Rezaian and his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, were detained along with two American photojournalists. Unlike his wife and the two journalists, who were released after a short time, Rezaian remained in custody at Tehran’s Evin Prison where he was “subjected to months of interrogation, isolation, and threats”, his brother Ali Rezaian told The Atlantic.

In a previous article on Jason Rezaian’s incarceration, Ali Rezaian told IPS about his brother’s endeavour to show his readers a different side of Iran and encourage people to visit the country.

Indeed, Jason Rezaian, who is also a former IPS correspondent for Iran, used to move beyond the typical coverage of the most critical topics such as the Iranian nuclear programme, focusing instead on social and cultural issues. This is why his detention was all the more met with astonishment and dismay.

Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was herself detained by Iranian security authorities in 2007, told IPS: “I truly cannot understand why they went after Rezaian because he avoided critical issues and kept to social issues. But as a foreign journalist in Iran, he must have been under surveillance and they were following him.

“When the judiciary decided to arrest him, it was a way for hardliners to do harm to the government who was negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. So my understanding is that Jason’s detention is due to domestic issues rather than to Jason having done something outrageous.”

In a recent New York Times article, Esfandiari considered Rezaian’s detention in the context of negotiations between the Iranian government and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) on the Iranian nuclear programme “a ploy to weaken Rouhani”.

A moderate reformer, President Hassan Rouhani has sought to improve American-Iranian relations and facilitate the reintegration of Iran into the international community, she explained. However, since Rouhani’s election, hardliners including Iran’s intelligence services, the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been critical of Rouhani’s reforms and – regarding the nuclear programme – have been pushing for confrontation with Western governments instead of concessions, she added.

Esfandiari told IPS: “The detention of Rezaian probably came as much of a surprise to Rouhani and his cabinet members as to all of us and I’m sure that behind the scenes, his government tries to pressure the judiciary to release Rezaian.”

The Washington Post editorial board also evoked the context of the nuclear negotiations as a major reason for Rezaian’s custody, but rather considers Rezaian a means of pressure for the regime: “It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is being used as a human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.”

Hopes have been expressed that the Iran nuclear deal could prove helpful in achieving Rezaian’s release as Iran’s image abroad would be even more at stake and the supposed reasons for Rezaian’s arrest no longer relevant.

Yet, despite the international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme achieved last month and currently awaiting approval by the U.S. Congress, Rezaian has remained in prison.

All eyes are now on the verdict which might be delivered as early as next week, according to Rezaian’s lawyer Leila Ahsan. Iranian law provides for verdicts to be announced within one week of the last hearing. However, no official date for the verdict has been released yet.

Esfandiari mentioned three possible outcomes. The luckiest scenario would be for Jason Rezaian to get sentenced to time served, meaning he will be freed immediately either on bail or on his own recognizance. Other possibilities involve a sentence of 15 or 16 months, meaning two additional months in prison or, in the worst case, a much longer sentence which he will be able to appeal.

Human rights advocates and press freedom groups condemn not only the unjustified and politically motivated incarceration itself but also the entire conduct of the trial and especially the delays in the judicial proceedings.

Sherif Mansour, MENA Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS, “According to Iranian law, no person may be detained at an Iranian prison for more than a year, unless charged with murder. This means Rezaian should have been released by July 22, 2015. This did not happen. We continue to condemn the trial and call for Rezaian’s unconditional release.”

Last month, The Washington Post formally appealed to the U.N. for urgent action in the Rezaian case by filing a petition with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. The petition denounces the unlawful trial, including Rezaian’s solitary confinement, strenuous interrogations and insufficient medical treatment.

Earlier this year, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, along with other high-profile human rights experts, also expressed serious concerns about the trial.

“In May… [we] recalled that Mr. Rezaian’s trial on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic’ began behind closed doors following his detainment for nearly 10 months without formal charges, and following a number of months in solitary confinement.”

“Concerns, therefore, about fair trial standards in this case persist, and I continue to hope that the arbitrary nature of Mr. Rezaian’s detention and charges will be confirmed by the court,” Shaheed told IPS.

According to Shaheed, the human rights situation in Iran, especially regarding freedom of expression, continues to be worrisome.

“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced.

“Journalists, writers, netizens, and human rights defenders continued to be interrogated and arrested by government agencies during the first half of 2015, and the Judiciary reportedly continues to impose heavy prison sentences on individuals for the legitimate exercise of expression. Thirty of those currently detained are charged with ‘propaganda against the system,’ 25 with ‘insulting’ either a political leader or religious concept, and 12 are charged with harming ‘national security’,” he said.

“The human rights situation in Iran remains quite concerning. Despite small steps forward in some areas of concern, the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by the international human rights mechanisms for the past three decades persist. This includes issues with the independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s judiciary and its legal community.”

“Of particular alarm is the surge in executions, which amounted to 694 hangings as of early last months, a rate unseen in 25 years. The majority of these executions were for offense not considered capital crimes under international human rights laws.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clan Wars Increase Displacement, Hinder Development in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:27:46 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141993 Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The charred foundations are all that is left of the homes that made up Kenemote village in the mountainous Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

For the past four and a half months a tribal war has raged between four clans of the Kintex tribe who are armed with high-powered guns, as well as bows and arrows. Nine people are dead, including a small boy, and most dwellings have been burned to the ground, while women and children are traumatised.

“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety.” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote
“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety,” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote, told IPS.

Fighting erupted at the beginning of April after one clan accused another of using poison or sorcery to cause a death in the community. The victorious clan, still brandishing their weapons, are encamped among the ruins. The other three clans, numbering three quarters of Kenemote’s population of 1,500, have fled and are staying in squatter settlements in the nearby town of Goroka or with relatives scattered in other villages.

“We want peace when we see the houses burning and properties destroyed, but the other clans’ people continue to come and provoke us. It will take years to recover the loss we have gone through, so we want peace, but we don’t know who can bring this peace,” Chief Lim Nareo declared to IPS on Jul. 30.

A police mediation team and the Eastern Highlands branch of the Red Cross are attempting to broker a ceasefire. But until that happens, Chief Nareo’s people won’t leave the area because of the risk of further attacks, and those displaced are unable to return.

For the past two years, the Red Cross has devoted enormous quantities of resources to helping people caught up in ongoing fighting in at least four of the province’s eight districts, providing temporary shelter, access to medical care, water and food supplies.

Meanwhile, in a province of about 579,000 people, the local police say they are trying to address at least 30 separate conflicts.

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Age-old conflicts bring new challenges

The human toll and suffering due to tribal fighting has escalated in the last 20-30 years with greater access to modern high-powered weapons. Today international and local gun smuggling networks provide villagers with a supply of M-16s, AK-47s, 0.22 rifles and grenades.

Many highlanders claim that guns are needed for their personal security and that of their businesses and communities because of lack of reach of the state, particularly law enforcement, in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s population live.

However, guns have also become a major symbol of status and power for men and youth.

The consequences are increasingly tragic, Robin Kukuni of the Eastern Highlands Red Cross said, because most villagers “haven’t had any firearms training, so they just fire their guns indiscriminately and a lot of women and children are dying.”

Traditional warfare has existed in Papua New Guinea, home to a population of 7.3 million and an estimated 1,000 different ethnic and linguistic groups, for thousands of years.

Hostilities can be triggered by disputes over land, pigs (the most prized livestock animal), or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed by one clan against another.

Even after 40 years of modern statehood, most citizens are still bound by clan allegiances, and customary ways of dealing with disputes remain paramount, particularly in rural communities.

But today conflicts are also complicated by grievances over access to royalties, benefits and compensation associated with resource extraction projects in the country, whether mining, gas extraction or logging. And the ritualised nature of traditional combat, which included rules such as a ban on violating women and children, has given way to guerrilla tactics with worsening atrocities fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

The long-term impacts include protracted internal displacement, in many cases for up to 10 years.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates there are about 22,500 people displaced within Papua New Guinea as a result of tribal warfare and natural disasters. But the International Committee of the Red Cross believes the true figure could be more than five times that estimate, or more than 110,000 people.

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women peacemakers take on warring tribes

Lilly Be’Soer, leader of Voice for Change, a women-led non-governmental human rights and sustainable livelihoods organisation involved in conflict resolution in nearby Jiwaka Province, emphasises that the process of peace mediation, reconciliation, resettlement and integration is a very long one.

In 2012, Voice for Change brokered a peace agreement in the province between two clans of the Kondika tribe who had been warring since 2009 when a clansman was killed during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Be’Soer says that a number of strategies contributed to the success of their peace negotiations following four previous attempts by other parties, which failed.

But a significant breakthrough was made when the organisation brought together and mentored women from the displaced communities, so that they could speak in public to gatherings of the men, village chiefs and police about their hardships, such as increasing poverty and insecurity.

Ultimately they “told the men [who had been fighting] that this situation has happened and you have caused this problem […]. This was one of the strategies we used that impacted and moved the men, who then said they would move forward [and support peace],” Be’Soer recounted.

But resettlement of the 500 people who were displaced due to hostilities is an ongoing challenge.

“When we were interviewing the [displaced] women, the bottom line was that they wanted to go back to their husbands’ traditional land, because when you are on your husband’s land you have a certain status and security. And the women felt that if they continued to live on other people’s land, the land might not be available for their sons,” she continued.

After lengthy consultations between all the stakeholders, an agreement between the displaced people and those occupying their land was reached. The resettlement plan entailed a set of conditions to be adhered to by both clans, such as vacation of the occupied territory within six months and a ban on either clan being derogatory toward the other.

But “the conditions were not honoured and then law enforcement [of the conditions] didn’t work,” Be’Soer said.

The suffering is now prolonged for the displaced families.

According to Be’Soer, “Children are very [badly] affected; they don’t have proper meals and are unable to go to school. The women cannot walk around freely and it is very difficult for them to access money and food.”

And there are heightened risks of sexual violence against women, a grim reality in a country that is ranked 135 out of 187 nations for gender inequality.

“The men in the host communities are the main perpetrators; or the man who is taking care of the family, he might want the daughter and you don’t have security,” Be’Soer said.

A second attempt at returning the families will be made within the next month, but, even if that succeeds, there are further cultural obligations to be met before the process is complete.

“In the final stage compensation has to be paid for the people who have been killed. Once this has been done in about four or five years, then the clans will have to find enough pigs to slaughter to give to the people they stayed with when they were displaced. So it takes a long time, another four, five, or even ten years,” Be’Soer told IPS.

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be'Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be’Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Small-scale wars incur large costs

The cumulative cost of both the destruction and displacement from dozens of small-scale clan wars occurring across the country includes the undermining of human development and entrenchment of hardship and inequality in rural families and communities.

In Eastern Highlands, life expectancy is about 55 years and the under-five mortality rate is 73 per 1,000 births, compared to the capital, Port Moresby, where life expectancy is estimated at 59 years and there are some 27 deaths of under-five infants per 1,000 births.

Looking to the future, Kukuni at the Red Cross believes there is a need to prevent the escalation of violence in the first place, adding, “The village courts and community leaders could do more to stop a conflict in the early stages before it grows bigger.”

Voice for Change also emphasises the importance of aiming for generational change by educating the country’s youth to fully understand the long-term impacts of violence on their lives and empowering them with the ability to intervene and implement alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Launches Second Abuse Probe of Peacekeepers in CARhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:39:47 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141978 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It was two a.m. on Aug. 2 as peacekeeping forces from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) searched for a criminal suspect in the PK5 Muslim enclave of the capital city of Bangui.

As one house was searched, the men were taken away, the women and crying children were brought together by yelling troops, and a 12-year-old girl hid in the bathroom out of fear, according to accounts by the girl and her family."It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them." -- Joanne Mariner

The girl was allegedly dragged out of the bathroom by one of the blue-helmet troops, where she says she was groped, taken behind a truck and raped. A medical examination later found evidence of sexual assault.

“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty International.

One of her sisters recalled: “When she returned from the back of the courtyard, she cried ‘mama’ and fainted. We brought her inside the house and splashed water on her to revive her.”

“I had her sit in a pan of hot water,” the mother explained — a traditional method of treating sexual abuse.

Amnesty International heard about the incident almost immediately, and spent the past week conducting an intensive investigation.

If the allegations prove to be true, it would not be the first incident of misconduct and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). In May, leaked documents showed that high-level U.N. staff knew of sexual abuses by soldiers in CAR and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

The documents showed that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea were implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports. In June, the U.N. set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe the allegations.

In addition to the alleged rape of the 12-year-old girl, the more recent incident included the fatal shootings of two civilians, a young boy and his father.

Balla Hadji, 61, and his son Souleimane Hadji, 16, were struck by bullets in front of their house. Balla was apparently shot in the back, while Souleimane was shot in the chest. A neighbour who witnessed the killings told Amnesty International that “they [the peacekeepers] were going to shoot at anything that moved.”

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon announced that the U.N. envoy to CAR, Babacar Gaye, had resigned his post.

“The initial response of the U.N. was very lackadaisical,” Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Joanne Mariner, told IPS. “It wasn’t until we issued a press release and it got international attention that suddenly the system kicked in and action was taken.”

“It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them. They are not trained well enough to carry out their duties in the appropriate way.”

She noted that “The U.N. has no power to prosecute them, and that does create a structural tension. It’s the U.N.’s responsibility to put pressure on its Member States to prosecute these individuals.”

“We have not seen the U.N. being vigilant or active enough on these issues. There has been much more talk than real action,” Mariner said. “We are just trying to make sure that the UN is doing what it should be doing.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said, “I want to be clear that this problem goes far beyond one mission or one conflict or one person. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response.”

He said sexual abuse and exploitation in Central African Republic would be investigated further by a high-level external independent panel, and he urged victims to feel safe in coming forward.

“I have been often asking Member States to provide more female police officers, because many victims feel very shamed in coming out to bring these crimes, so we really need to have these victims come out.”

“I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Those who work for the United Nations must uphold our highest ideals,” Ban said, adding that the forces are not completely accountable to the U.N., but to their home countries.

“I want Member States to know that I cannot do this alone,” Ban added. “They have the ultimate responsibility to hold individual uniformed personnel to account and they must take decisive preventive and punitive action. They should be brought to justice in accordance with their national laws.”

“Before [troops] are being deployed, [Member States] should educate and train them properly for the importance of human rights and human dignity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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HRW to Honour Six Human Rights Defendershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hrw-to-honour-six-human-rights-defenders/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:45:04 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141973 2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

2015 Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism Honorees. Top: Khadija Ismayilova (Azerbaijan), Yara Bader (Syria), Father Bernard Kinvi (CAR). Bottom: Nicholas Opiyo (Uganda), Nisha Ayub (Malaysia), Dr. M.R. Rajagopal (India) © Jahangir Yusif, Francesca Leonardi (Internazionale), 2014 Human Rights Watch, 2015 Rebecca Vassie, 2015 Nisha Ayub, Paramount Color Lab, Ulloor, Trivandrum

By Jaya Ramachandran
BERLIN, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Governments around the world are obliged to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, according to the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights.  But reality is far removed from international covenants.

This is evidenced yet again by the valiant struggle for human rights in Malaysia, war-torn Syria, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, and in Uganda. Human Rights Watch (HRW) announced earlier this week that it is honouring four “courageous and tireless advocates for human rights” with the 2015 prestigious Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

The four leading voices for justice in their countries, include: Nisha Ayub, an impassioned human rights defender on transgender rights in Malaysia; Yara Bader, a journalist and human rights activist exposing the detention and torture of journalists in war-torn Syria; and Khadija Ismayilova, a prominent investigative journalist dedicated to fighting for human rights in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

According to the Human Rights Watch, Ismayilova is currently behind bars and on trial on bogus tax and other charges brought in retribution for her reporting.

Yet another champion of rights is Nicholas Opiyo, an eminent human rights lawyer and founder of the human rights organisation Chapter Four Uganda. He has been working untiringly to defend civil liberties in Uganda.

The four 2015 honourees and two 2014 recipients of the award, Father Bernard Kinvi from the Central African Republic and Dr. M.R. Rajagopal from India, will be honoured at the Voices for Justice Human Rights Watch Annual Dinners held in more than 20 cities worldwide in November 2015 and March-April 2016, Human Rights Watch said on Aug 10.

Ayub will be honoured in Amsterdam; Bader in London and Paris; Ismayilova in Munich and Geneva; and Opiyo in Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. Father Kinvi will tour North America and will be honoured at dinners in New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Toronto. Dr. Rajagopal will be honoured in Hanover.

The award is named for Dr. Alison Des Forges, senior adviser at Human Rights Watch for almost two decades, who died in a plane crash in New York State on Feb. 12, 2009.

Des Forges was the world’s leading expert on Rwanda, the 1994 genocide, and its aftermath. The Human Rights Watch annual award honours her outstanding commitment to, and defence of, human rights. It celebrates the valour of people who put their lives on the line to create a world free from abuse, discrimination, and oppression, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Alison Des Forges Award honours people who work courageously and selflessly to defend human rights, often in dangerous situations and at great personal sacrifice,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “The honourees have dedicated their lives to defending the world’s most oppressed and vulnerable people.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. to Unleash “Power of Education” to Fight Intolerance, Racismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-to-unleash-power-of-education-to-fight-intolerance-racism/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 13:41:34 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141961 The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

The Pakistani Taliban destroyed over 838 schools between 2009 and 2012. Credit: Kulsum Ebrahim/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is planning to launch a global campaign against the spread of intolerance, extremism, racism and xenophobia — largely by harnessing the talents of the younger generation.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly says education is the key. “If you want to understand the power of education, just look at how the extremists fight education.”“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

They wanted to kill the Pakistani teenage activist, Malala Yousafzai and her friends because they were girls who wanted to go to school, he said.

Violent extremists kidnapped more than 200 girls in Chibook, Nigeria, and scores of students were murdered in Garissa, Kenya and in Peshawar, Pakistan.

“What they fear most are girls and young people with textbooks,” said Ban, who will soon announce “a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism,” along with the creation of an advisory panel of religious leaders to promote interfaith dialogue.

The proposed plan is expected to be presented to the 70th session of the General Assembly which begins the third week of September.

As part of the campaign against intolerance and extremism, the U.N.’s Department of Public Information (DPI) recently picked 10 projects from young people from around the world, in what was billed as a “Diversity Contest,” singling out creative approaches to help address a wide range of discrimination, prejudice and extremism.

The projects, selected from over 100 entries from 31 countries, include challenging homophobia in India and Mexico; resolving conflicts to access water to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; promoting interfaith harmony in Pakistan; encouraging greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa and promoting greater employment opportunities to Muslim women in Germany.

Lara-Zuzan Golesorkhi, a PhD student and instructor at the New School in New York who submitted one of the prize-winning projects, told IPS she seeks to address one of the most discussed political issues in contemporary Germany: integration of Muslim immigrants.

At the centre of these discussions, Golesorkhi said, lies the so-called ‘veil debate’, which was brought about by the Ludin case in 1998.

That year, Fereshta Ludin (the daughter of Afghan immigrants) was rejected from a teaching position in the state’s public school system on the alleged basis of “lack of personal aptitude” that made her “unsuitable and unable to perform the duties of a public servant in accordance with German Basic Law.”

The endless dispute between Ludin and the German judicial system led to the inauguration of institutionalised state-based unveiling policies for public school teachers across Germany.

These policies have been in effect in eight states and have just recently been called into question on the federal level with a court decision that demands respective states to revise the inherently discriminatory policies, said Golesorkhi.

The DPI says Golesorkhi will return to Germany to challenge the perceived discrimination against Muslim women.

She will ask potential employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women. She will also produce a list of those employers so that women can feel safe and empowered to apply to those work places.

The end result is to help decrease discrimination and increase the employment of Muslim women in Germany.

The New York Times, quoting the Religious Studies Media and Information Service in Germany, reported last month that Muslims make up around 5.0 percent of the population of 81 million, compared with 49 million Christians.

The newspaper focused on the growing controversy related to the renovation of an abandoned church in the working class district of Horn in Hamburg – where the “derelict building was being converted into a mosque.”

“The church stood empty for 10 years, and no one cared,” Daniel Abdin, the director of the Islamic Centre Al Nour in Hamburg told the Times, “But when Muslims bought it, suddenly it became a topic of interest.”

Golesorkhi told IPS her ‘With or Without’ (WoW) non-profit organisation, in its most abstract form, is aimed at addressing the intersection of two crucial aspects in the German polity: immigration and religion.

Immigration and religion have played a significant role in the nation building process of Germany, specifically in terms of the country’s laws and diverse social composition, as well as the development of anti-Muslim sentiments (Islamophobia) and discriminatory acts against Muslims (particularly since 9/11).

She said the population of Muslims in Germany has increased from about 2.5 million in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2010 and is expected to grow to nearly 5.5 million Muslims in 2030.

The top three countries of origin for Muslim immigrants are Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and Morocco.

This significant and continuously growing presence of Muslims has led to varied responses by state and society, she noted.

Though the large majority (72 percent) of those interviewed in a 2008 study claimed that “people from minority groups enrich cultural life of this country”, Muslims are the least desirable neighbours, as data from the same year shows.

Further, 23 percent of German interviewees, she said, associated Muslims with terror, while 16 percent viewed the hijab, the Muslim head scarf, as a threat to European culture.

In the latest study on anti-Muslim sentiments conducted by the Bertelsman Stiftung in late 2014, 57 percent of non-Muslim interviewees reported they perceive Islam as very threatening.

The study also disclosed that 24 percent of the interviewees would like to prohibit Muslim immigration to Germany and an overwhelming 61 percent said they think Islam does not belong to the ‘Western’ world.

Particularly alarming, in the very recent context of anti-Muslim sentiments, she noted, is the continuously growing PEGIDA (Patriotrische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes), which rejects the alleged “Islamisation” of Europe and demands an overhaul of immigration policy.

Golesorkhi’s project includes a ‘Job Ready’ seminar and workshop series to prepare Muslim women for the German job market; “I Pledge Campaign”, an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to encourage employers to symbolically pledge to hire Muslim women; and an online and offline campaign (Twitter and photo series) to raise public awareness of difficulties faced by Muslim women in the German employment sector.

While the pledge does not guarantee employment, it allows WoW to produce a database of employers that would hire Muslim women.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Settlement Expansion Largely Responsible for Violence in Occupied West Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/settlement-expansion-largely-responsible-for-violence-in-occupied-west-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=settlement-expansion-largely-responsible-for-violence-in-occupied-west-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/settlement-expansion-largely-responsible-for-violence-in-occupied-west-bank/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 20:39:53 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141952 A fence guards a neighbourhood under construction in the Ariel settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

A fence guards a neighbourhood under construction in the Ariel settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

Just weeks after an 18-month-old baby was killed in an arson attack in the Palestinian village of Duma, located south of Nablus city in the Occupied West Bank, a United Nations special committee has blasted Israel’s policy of settlement expansion, saying it is the root cause of violence towards Palestinians.

In the first seven months of 2015, the U.N. has documented over 120 attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians living in the West Bank, including shootings, beatings, cutting down of fruit trees, poisoning of livestock and dumping of waste on Palestinian farmland.
Having completed their annual fact-finding mission to Jordan on Aug. 8, the same day that the father of the baby boy also succumbed to severe burns after settlers threw a fire bomb into the family’s home, the Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories stated it was “alarmed” at the escalation of violence towards Palestinians, blaming a “climate of impunity relating to the activities of settlers” for tragedies such as the attack on Jul. 31.

In a press release issued on Aug. 10, the committee revealed that testimony from a range of civil society groups and Palestinian officials all pointed to one conclusion: that until the government of Israel reigns in illegal settlement activity in the West Bank, the violence will likely continue.

According to the non-governmental organisation Peace Now, Israeli settlers in the West Bank currently number some 350,000, in addition to an estimated 300,000 settlers residing in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured and illegally annexed from Jordan in 1967.

Settlements are primarily concentrated in a zone marked ‘Area C’, which accounts for 61 percent of the West Bank’s territory. Here, an estimated 60,000 Palestinians are squeezed into an ever-shrinking space, while new settlements further segregate and marginalize them in an already miniscule area.

Last year, Israel upped its annual spending on settlement activity in the West Bank to 100 million dollars, representing an increase of 600 percent from the previous year. Factor in settlement expenditure in the Golan Heights, and the number shoots up to 200 million dollars per year.

Peace Now says that since 2009 the Israeli government has approved bids for some 4,485 new units including houses, roads, industrial buildings and agricultural sites; in the last two years alone, two-thirds of fresh construction has taken place on the Palestinian side of a border agreed upon in the 2003 Geneva Initiative.

The U.N. has, on countless occasions, reiterated that the building of settlements on occupied land is illegal under international law. Despite repeated entreaties by a string of U.N. secretaries-general, including most recently Ban Ki-moon, there are now close to 220 Israeli settlements dotting the 2,100 square-mile West Bank.

According to one comprehensive report by the New York Times, these residences range from scrappy “hilltop outposts”, to sprawling cities that house their own universities and movie theatres.

The largest of these, an Orthodox enclave known as Modiin Illit, houses 60,000 residents and is growing at a terrific pace, recording 60 births every week in 2009.

The separation wall runs between the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev and a Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS

The separation wall runs between the Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev and a Palestinian refugee camp. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS

Besides annexing Palestinian land and further fragmenting West Bank territory, settlement expansion has also contributed to a climate of impunity in which crimes against Palestinians – often at the hands of settlers themselves – continue unchecked.

A recent report by the Israeli rights group Yesh Din revealed that “only 7.4 percent of police investigations carried out by the SJ (Samaria and Judea) District Police into offenses committed by Israeli civilians against Palestinians and Palestinian property in the West Bank have resulted in indictments against the suspects.”

The organisation says the figure is based on a sample of some 1,000 investigations carried out by the SJ District Police between 2005 and 2014. Many acts of violence and vandalism occur on Palestinian farmland, or on the outskirts of Palestinian villages.

Yesh Din has labeled these attacks as “a calculated strategy designed to restrict and dispossesses Palestinians of their land.”

In the first seven months of 2015 alone, the U.N. has documented over 120 attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians living in the West Bank. Reports by Yesh Din indicate that these violent incidents run the gamut from shootings and beatings, to running Palestinians over with vehicles.

Settlers also routinely attempt to destroy Palestinian farmland by cutting down trees, setting fields ablaze, damaging machinery or stealing and poisoning livestock.

Attacks on property account for 41 percent of all complaints filed, half of which involve the destruction of fruit trees. Since 1967, over 800,000 olive trees have been uprooted in the West Bank and Gaza.

Yesh Din also says that five percent of the SJ District Police’s investigative files “include the killing of farm animals, desecration of mosques and cemeteries, discharging of sewage into Palestinian farmland [and] dumping of waste on land belonging to Palestinians.”

A further 14 percent of criminal offenses against Palestinians involve settlers attempting to seize Palestinian land by practicing unauthorized cultivation, fencing off certain areas, illegally trespassing or setting up portable homes and greenhouses on the Palestinian side of the border.

Although the Israeli government often publically condemns settler violence, a quick look at the numbers paints a clearer picture of its policies: according to a comprehensive analysis of the settlements’ economic costs published by the Tel Aviv-based Macro Center for Political Economics in 2015, the state allocated 950 dollars to each Israeli resident in the West Bank in 2014, twice the amount spent on residents in larger cities like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Its expenditure on Israeli citizens in more isolated settlements amounted to 1,480 dollars per person last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Fair Justice Requires Incontrovertible Evidence in Airline Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 16:49:53 +0000 Andrey Klishas and Aslan Abashidze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141934 Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Transport of Malaysia, addresses the U.N. Security Council on July 29, 2015. The Council failed to establish a tribunal on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 due to a veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Transport of Malaysia, addresses the U.N. Security Council on July 29, 2015. The Council failed to establish a tribunal on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 due to a veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Andrey Klishas and Aslan Abashidze
MOSCOW, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

We refer to the IPS article posted by Mr. Somar Wijayadasa, a former Representative at the United Nations.

Now that the tribunal fiasco is over, let us examine the legal aspects of the inquiry into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 still being conducted by Dutch experts.Here the question arises: why demand the establishment of an international tribunal, when results of the investigations are still not complete?

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

The United States and its allies are ever ready to use any excuse to blame Russia. They often abhor any moral imperatives.

There are many questions that demand clarification from a legal point of view.

(a) What rules should be applied in situations of such tragic incidents?
(b) What legal steps should be taken by the State in whose airspace the tragedy took place?
(c) What is the legal status of ongoing investigations?

First, the tragic incident (in which all 298 people on board were killed) took place in the Ukrainian airspace. Therefore, the Ukrainian authorities must bear full responsibility for whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace and/or inside its territory.

From an international law perspective, the incident affected the interests of the State of Ukraine, in whose airspace the tragedy took place; the State of Malaysia as owner of Malaysia Airlines; the Netherlands and other States whose nationals died in the tragic incident. Thus, it should be stressed that this tragedy does not affect Russia at all.

In such tragic situations the rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, adopted on 7 December 1944 in Chicago, U.S. (Chicago Convention) are to be applied. All U.N. Member States are parties to this Convention, including those affected by this tragedy.

Article 9 of the Convention states that “each contracting State may, for reasons of military necessity or public safety, restrict or prohibit uniformly the aircraft of other States from flying over certain areas of its territory.”

A vivid example is the tragedy that occurred in 2001 in international airspace over the Black Sea, when Ukrainian air defence forces fired a missile and shot down a Russian plane TU-154 with passengers on board.

In this case, the Ukrainian authorities were obliged to follow the Convention requirements of preventive character by immediately providing the description of restricted areas to other contracting States and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Article 9 of the Convention further requires each contracting State establishing such restricted area to require any aircraft entering such areas to effect a landing at a designated airport within its territory.

But the Ukrainian authorities announced a no-fly zone only after this tragic event occurred on 17 July 2014.

Article 26 of the Convention states that “In the event of an accident to an aircraft of a contracting State occurring in the territory of another contracting State, and involving death…, the State in which the accident occurs will institute an inquiry into the circumstances of the accident, in accordance, so far as its laws permit, with the procedure which may be recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).”

However, the Ukrainian authorities did not initiate an inquiry into the circumstances of the accident, and they did not appeal to ICAO regarding the procedure for the investigation into the tragedy.

Article 26 further states that “The State in which the aircraft is registered shall be given the opportunity to appoint observers to be present at the inquiry, and the State holding the inquiry shall communicate the report and findings in the matter to that State.”

It is evident that Malaysian authorities could not appoint observers because the Ukrainian authorities failed to establish an investigation into the tragedy.

Also, the Convention does not provide for another State the right (other than the State in which the tragedy occurred) to conduct inquiry into its circumstances. If so, what is the legal basis for Netherlands to make any investigation into the Malaysian Airline tragedy?

Furthermore, Article 82 of the Convention states: “The contracting States accept this Convention as abrogating all obligations and understandings between them which are inconsistent with its terms, and undertake not to enter into any such obligations and understandings.”

Therefore, any agreements between the authorities of the Ukraine and the Dutch authorities, including those related to the inquiry into the circumstances of the catastrophe of the Malaysian airplane – inside Ukraine’s airspace – are contrary to the rules of the Convention.

Article 83 of the Convention states that even arrangements “not inconsistent with the provisions of this Convention shall be forthwith registered with the ICAO Council, which shall make it public as soon as possible.”

Notably, the ICAO Council did not publicise any such agreement. We wish to stress that even with such “secret” agreement between the Ukrainian and the Dutch authorities, the latter do not have the right to investigate the circumstances of the tragedy.

The whole irony of the situation lies in the fact that visiting the crash site by experts from the Netherlands and other countries, picking up debris and other evidence to shed light on the causes of the tragedy was made possible only thanks to the support of the militia of Donetsk People’s Republic.

What is surprising here is the lack of professionalism on the side of the Dutch experts who selectively chose some wreckage, dismembered it into several parts, and took them to study, which is categorically unacceptable in terms of the methods of collecting and studying of material evidence of a catastrophe.

This case is further complicated by the fact that many important aspects of the investigation are not conducted by the Dutch experts (who lack appropriate qualification), but in the laboratories of the UK, which has no relation to the case.

Here the question arises: why demand the establishment of an international tribunal, when results of the investigations are still not complete? And how is it possible to rely on the findings of the investigation, if the process itself raises concerns regarding the controversial actions (and omissions) of those who have usurped the right to investigate the circumstances of the disaster?

Against the background of the hypocritical policy exercised by the U.S. and its allies, what surprises us most is that the Dutch authorities, acting under the written scenario of the United States, are not being shy of their mockery targeting the victims of the disaster of the Malaysian airlines in the airspace of Ukraine.

It should be remembered that such actions commensurate not only with the imperatives of international law and morality, but also the canons of God.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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