Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Funding For Desperate Palestinian Refugees Under Threat Fri, 03 Jul 2015 00:05:49 +0000 Mel Frykberg UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”.  Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness, who says that unless someone steps in to alleviate the financial crisis facing the U.N. agency, “ it is innocent refugees who will again suffer”. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
JERUSALEM, Jul 3 2015 (IPS)

The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces a severe financial crisis which could see core services to desperate Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank halted unless donors step in before the end of September.

“Currently we have a deficit of 101 million dollars and, as things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IPS in an exclusive interview.

“However, following a number of stringent austerity measures already in place, we should be able to continue with life-saving, emergency services to the end of the year,” he added.“As things stand now, UNRWA will struggle to function after September because we don’t have enough money to fund even our core activities for the last few months of the year” – UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness

Due to the financial crisis, the contracts for 35 percent of the 137 internationals employed by UNRWA will end by Sep. 30 without further extension or renewal. The U.N. organisation has taken these steps to reduce costs while trying not to reduce basic services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

“UNRWA is facing financial crises on all fronts. Broadly speaking we have two sources of funding,” Gunness told IPS. “We have our general fund which funds our core services such as education, health relief and social services. Then we have our emergency funds which are for Gaza and the West Bank because there is a blockade and an occupation respectively.

“We’re also dealing with more than 400,000 displaced people in Syria, the 45,000 refugees who’ve fled to Lebanon and the 15,000 who’ve escaped over the border into Jordan.”

Following Israel’s devastating military campaign against Gaza in July and August last year, UNRWA launched a reconstruction initiative, worth 720 million dollars, at the international reconstruction conference in Cairo in October last year.

Part of the money was for rental subsidies for those Gazans whose homes were so damaged that they were uninhabitable and needed a roof over their heads, and part of it was for reconstruction.

“In February this year, we had to suspend that programme because there was a 585 million dollar shortfall. Due to the deficit not one single home in Gaza has been rebuilt, so there is a real crisis in regard to reconstruction,” said Gunness.

Last year in Syria, UNRWA launched an appeal for 417 million dollars but only 52 percent of this money was received. The shortfall forced the organisation to reduce its six cash distribution programmes from six to three.

Cash distributions have become one of UNRWA’s major emergency response programmes in Syria due to so many U.N. installations being bombed and destroyed as a result of the civil war raging there, thereby crippling its normal means of helping refugees.

With the money received for Syria, UNRWA was only able to distribute an average of 50 cents per refugee per day.

“Imagine trying to survive on 50 cents daily. It is almost impossible and although our donors have been very generous, they have not been generous enough,” said Gunness.

In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees from Syria rely on UNRWA for various things, including rental subsidies so that they can have a roof over their heads.

“We had been giving out a 100 dollar monthly rental allowance. This gets you very little in Lebanon, which is an expensive country,” Gunness told IPS.

“When I was last in Lebanon I visited a Palestinian refugee family in the poverty-stricken Shatila camp in Beirut. They were paying 200 dollars a month to live in a room 20 feet by 20 feet [6 metres by 6 metres] with a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

“Their rental subsidy was cut at the end of June and I suspect that family is now living on the street. This is the reality of the crash crisis for just one family of refugees from Syria who have been made homeless.

“And this is only one story that relates to the emergency funding UNRWA receives,” Gunness added.

“In relation to the general side of our funding, what we’ve seen over the years is a gradual increase in the structural deficit of our general fund which has led to the current deficit of 101 million dollars.”

UNRWA’s monthly running costs are 35 million dollars. This includes the salaries of 30, 000 staff members, 22,000 of whom are teachers, as well as the distribution of basic necessities for refugees such as food.

“So, unless someone steps in to alleviate the crisis, even tougher decisions may need to be made in the next few weeks and it is innocent refugees who will again suffer,” said Gunness.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Syrian Refugees Face Hunger Amidst Humanitarian Funding Crisis Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:33:21 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Syrian children outside their temporary home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 2 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations’ food aid organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Jul. 1 that up to 440,000 refugees from war-torn Syria might have to go hungry if no additional funds are received by August.

WFP, the world’s largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger, provides food every month to nearly six million people in need in Syria and the surrounding region.

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again. I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden." -- Fatmeh, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago
Though the agency received 5.38 billion dollars in 2014, the continuing emergencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere mean that needs now far outpace available funding.

From assisting an estimated 2.5 million refugees last year, limited funding has forced the organisation to scale back its operations, with the result that just 1.6 million refugees are currently receiving rations.

A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report published in March 2015 revealed that an estimated 3.33 million refugees have fled Syria since 2014, making Syrians the second largest refugee population in the world, after the Palestinians.

The cuts come at a time when Syrian refugees are spending their fourth year away from home, unable to celebrate the annual Ramadan festival, one of the most important religious occasions celebrated by Muslims worldwide.

The upcoming winter may leave up to 1.7 million people without fuel, shelter, insulation and blankets.

WFP is fully funded by voluntary contributions from governments, companies and private individuals. The organisation reports that its regional programme in the Middle East is currently 81 percent underfunded and requires 139 million dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq through September 2015.

“Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, we are forced yet again to make yet more cuts,” WFP Regional Director for the Middle East Muhannad Hadi said in a press release Wednesday. “Refugees were already struggling to cope with what little we could provide.”

The humanitarian funding crisis began in 2013, when the number of Syrian refugees receiving food assistance from WFP dropped by 30 percent.

Food parcels were downsized in October 2014, following a WFP announcement in September that they have no funding available in December 2014 for programmes in Syria.

Ertharin Cousin, executive director of WFP, appealed to the United Nations Security Council and member nations in April 2015 for more funding.

“When we announced the reductions in Jordan our hotlines were overwhelmed. Thousands of appeal calls come in each day. Calls from families that have exhausted their resources and feel abandoned […] by us all,” she said. “One woman told us, ‘I cannot stay […] if I cannot feed my children.'”

A fundraising campaign in December 2014 raised enough funds for WFP to carry on its programmes through December, but in January 2015, WFP cut the amount of money in electronic food cards provided to refugees from 27 dollars to 19 dollars.

Starting this month, the value fell to just 13.5 dollars.

This is not the first time WFP has faced a funding crisis. In 2009, aid operations in Guatemala, Bangladesh and Kenya faced reductions in supply of food rations due to a lack of funding. In 2011, a similar situation occurred in Zimbabwe.

When faced with funding shortfalls, WFP suspends programmes and only provides aid to the most vulnerable groups – pregnant women, children and the elderly.

International efforts to relieve suffering caused by the Syrian crisis culminated in the Jun. 25 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) that called for 5.5 billion dollars to fund the needs of host governments, United Nations agencies and NGO aid operations in the area.

According to the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), only 25 percent of the appeal has been met.

“This massive crisis requires far more solidarity and responsibility-sharing from the international community than what we have seen so far,” said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a Jun. 25 WFP press release.

“But instead, we are so dangerously low on funding that we risk not being able to meet even the most basic survival needs of millions of people over the coming six months.”

The United States has contributed over 609 million dollars to the effort, representing 26.4 percent of the total pledged. The United Kingdom follows behind with a contribution of over 344 million dollars.

A WFP interview with Syrian refugees in Lebanon captures the refugees’ desperation:

“Every time we take one step forward, we fall ten steps back. I have given up the hope that we will ever live normally again,” said Fatmeh, a refugee who fled to Lebanon three years ago, in the WFP interview.

“I know the world has forgotten us; we’re too much of a burden. They’ve given up on us too.”

The crisis in Syria began in 2011 after security forces killed several pro-democracy protestors. Unrest followed with demands for President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation, to which he responded with violence.

The situation worsened with the rise of the armed group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in northern and eastern Syria. The country became a battleground between four forces – Assad’s pro-governmental forces, Kurdish fighters, ISIS, and rebel fighters eager to overturn Assad’s regime.

In the midst of the violence, Syrians are faced with a crumbling economy. The UNDP report revealed that four out of every five Syrians lived in poverty in 2014, and almost two-thirds of the population was unable to secure basic food and non-food items necessary for survival.

The death toll in Syria reached 210,000 by the end of 2014, with 840,000 people wounded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Bangladeshi Migrants Risk High Seas and Smugglers to Escape Poverty Tue, 30 Jun 2015 06:21:55 +0000 Naimul Haq These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh  (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

These men, aspiring migrants who were abandoned by traffickers on the open ocean, were recently rescued by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and reunited with their families in Teknaf, located in the southern coastal district of Cox’s Bazar. Credit: Abdur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
TEKNAF, Bangladesh, Jun 30 2015 (IPS)

Though he is only 16 years old, Mohammad Yasin has been through hell and back. He recently survived a hazardous journey by sea, crammed into the cargo-hold of a rudimentary boat along with 115 others.

For 45 days they bobbed about on the Indian Ocean somewhere between their native Bangladesh and their destination, Malaysia, with scarcely any food, no water and little hope of making it to shore alive.

Midway through the ordeal, Yasin watched one of his fellow travelers die of starvation, a fate that very nearly claimed him as well.

The young man, who hails from a poor cobbler’s family in Teknaf, located on the southernmost tip of Bangladesh’s coastal district of Cox’s Bazaar, broke down in tears as he narrated the tale, putting a human face to the story of a major exodus of migrants and political refugees in Southeast Asia that has rights groups as well as the United Nations up in arms.

45 days of torture

“Horror unfolded as we sailed. Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves." -- ” Mohammad Ripon, a Bangladeshi migrant who survived a torturous maritime journey
Yasin tells IPS it all began when a group of men from the neighbouring Bandarban district promised to take him, and five others from Teknaf village, to Malaysia in search of work.

With an 80-dollar monthly salary and a family of four to look after, including a sick father, Yasin believed Malaysia to be a ‘dream destination’ where he would earn enough to provide for his loved ones.

“The men told us we would not have to pay anything now, but that they would later ‘deduct’ 2,600 dollars from each of us once we got jobs in Malaysia,” recounted the frail youth.

“On a sunny morning around the last week of April we were taken along with a larger group of men and women to the deserted island of Shah Porir Dwip, where we boarded a large wooden boat later that same evening.”

A little while into the journey on the Bay of Bengal, at the Chaungthar port located in the city of Pathein in southern Myanmar, a group of Rohingya Muslims joined the party.

This ethnic minority has long faced religious persecution in Myanmar and now contributes hugely to the movement of human beings around this region.

Together with the 10 organisers of the voyage, who turned out to be traffickers, the group numbered close to 130 people. Just how they would reach their destination, or when, none of the passengers knew. Their lives were entirely in the hands of the boat’s crew.

“Horror unfolded as we sailed,” recalled Mohammad Ripon, who also joined the journey at the behest of traffickers from the central Bangladeshi district of Narayanganj.

“Supplies were scarce and food and water was rationed every three days. Many of us vomited as the boat negotiated the mighty waves,” he told IPS.

During the day the crew opened the hatch of the cargo vessel to let in the blistering sun. At night it was kept shut, leaving the passengers to freeze. No one could sleep; the shrieks and cries of sick and frightened passengers kept the entire company awake all night long.

From time to time, the boat stalled on the choppy waters, “probably to change crews”, the passengers told IPS.

But no one knew for sure, and none dared ask for risk of being physically abused or thrown overboard. By this time, their captors had already beaten a number of the passengers for asking too many questions.

After nearly a month and a half of this torture, the Bangladesh Coast Guard steered the boat in to Saint Martin’s island, off the coast of Cox’s Bazar – very close to where the hopeful immigrants had begun their journey.

It was not until the malnourished passengers emerged, with sunken eyes and protruding ribs, that they realised the crew had long since abandoned the ship.

Traffickers exploiting poverty

Though their dreams were dashed, this group is one of the lucky ones; they escaped with their lives, their possessions and their money.

For too many others, these illicit journeys result in being robbed, pitched overboard or even buried in mass graves by networks of smugglers and traffickers who are making a killing by exploiting economically desperate and politically marginalised communities in Southeast Asia.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, an estimated 88,000 people –mostly poor Bangladeshis and internally displaced Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar – attempted to cross the borders into Thailand, Malaysia or Indonesia in a 15-month period.

This includes 63,000 people between January and December of 2014 and an additional 25,000 in the first quarter of this year.

Of these, an estimated 300 people died at sea in the first quarter of 2015. Since October 2014, 620 people have lost their lives during hazardous, unplanned maritime journeys on the Bay of Bengal.

To make matters worse, the discovery of trafficking rings has prompted governments in the region – particularly Thai and Malaysian authorities – to crack down on irregular arrivals, refusing to allow ships to dock and sometimes going so far as to tow boatloads of people back out to sea despite the presence of desperate and starving people on-board.

From humble aspirations to hazardous journeys

Aspiring migrants from Bangladesh are fleeing poverty and unemployment in this country of close to 157 million people, 31 percent of whom live below the poverty line.

Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) suggests that the unemployment rate is 4.53 percent, putting the number of out-of-work people here at close to 6.7 million.

Mohammad Hasan, 34, is one of many who dreamed of a more prosperous life in a different country.

A tall, dark welder from Boliadangi, a village in the northwestern Thakurgaon district, he told IPS, “I sold my ancestral land to travel to Malaysia where I hoped to get a welding job in a construction company, because my earnings were not enough to support my six-member family.”

At the time, he was earning less than 100 dollars a month. Feeding seven people on 1,200 Bangladeshi taka (about 15 dollars) a day is no easy task. Desperate, he put his life in the hands of traffickers and set out for the Malaysian coast.

Earlier this year, abandoned by those who had promised them safe passage, he and close to 100 other men were discovered drifting off the coast of Thailand. Fortunately, all of them survived, but the money they paid for the journey was lost.

Forty-one-year-old Kawser Ali from Gangachara, a village in the northern Rangpur District, had a similar tale. He says he made a break for foreign shores because his earnings as a farmer simply weren’t enough to put enough food on the table to keep his eight-member family, including his in-laws, alive.

Millions of people here share his woes: between 60 and 70 percent of Bangladesh’s population relies on agriculture for a livelihood, and the vast majority of them struggle to make ends meet.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Kawser was recently found deep within a forest in Thailand where he and some 50 others had been led by traffickers and abandoned to their own fate.

He told IPS that most of his companions along the journey were marginal farmers, like himself. “We have no fixed income, and can never earn enough to improve our economic condition. I would like to see my son go to a better school, or take my wife to market on a motorbike.”

It is these humble aspirations – together with tales from friends and neighbours who have made the transition successfully – that have led scores of people Kawser to the coast, to board unsafe vessels and put themselves at the mercy of the sea and smugglers in exchange for a chance to make a better life.

Aninda Dutta, a programme associate for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Bangladesh, told IPS, “In Bangladesh, there is a strong link between migration and smuggling, in which a journey that starts through economic motivations may end up as a trafficking case because of the circumstances.”

These ‘circumstances’ include extortionate fees paid to so-called agents, essentially rings of smugglers and human traffickers; beatings and other forms of intimidation and abuse – including sexual abuse – during the journey; theft of all their possessions while at sea; or abandonment, penniless, in various locations – primarily Thailand or Malaysia – where they are subject to the ire of immigration authorities.

In a bid to nip the epidemic in the bud, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) recently set up more checkpoints to increase vigilance, and proposed that the government tighten regulations regarding the registering of boats.

But until the government tackles the underlying problem of abject poverty, it is unlikely that they will see an end to the exodus any time soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Chief Seeks Equity in Paris Climate Change Pact Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:41:43 +0000 Thalif Deen The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

The Secretary-General (second from right), accompanied by Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (left), Minister of the Environment of Peru, Laurent Fabius (second from left), Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and Sam Kutesa (right), President of the sixty-ninth session of the General Assembly, at a press encounter on the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on climate change. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen

When the 193-member General Assembly hosted a high level meeting on climate change Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that any proposed agreement at an upcoming international conference in Paris in December must uphold the principle of equity.

The meeting, officially known as the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 21), should approve a universally-binding agreement that will support the adaptation needs of developing nations and, more importantly, “demonstrate solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable countries through a focused package of assistance,” Ban told delegates.“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results." -- Roger-Mark De Souza

The secretary-general is seeking a staggering 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to support developing nations and in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and strengthening their resilience.

Some of the most threatened are low-lying islands in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific that are in danger of being wiped off the face of the earth due to rising sea-levels caused by climate change.

“Climate change impacts are accelerating,” Ban told a Global Forum last week.

“Weather-related disasters are more frequent and more intense. Everyone is affected – but not all equally,” he said, emphasising the inequities of the impact of climate change.

Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly, who convened the high-level meeting, said recurring disasters are affecting different regions as a result of changing climate patterns, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu, that “are a matter of deep concern for us all”.

He said many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Kiribati, are facing an existential threat due to rising sea levels, while other countries are grappling with devastating droughts that have left precious lands uninhabitable and unproductive.

“We are also increasingly witnessing other severe weather patterns as a result of climate change, including droughts, floods and landslides.

“In my own country Uganda,” he pointed out, “the impact of climate change is affecting the livelihoods of the rural population who are dependent on agriculture.”

Striking a positive note, Ban said since 2009, the number of national climate laws and policies has nearly doubled, with three quarters of the world’s annual emissions now covered by national targets.

“The world’s three biggest economies – China, the European Union (EU) and the United States – have placed their bets on low-carbon, climate-resilient growth,” he added.

Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security and Resilience at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told IPS: “I am pleased to see the discussion of resilience at the high level discussion on climate change at the U.N. today.”

Resilience has the potential to be a transformative strategy to address climate fragility risks by allowing vulnerable countries and societies to anticipate, adapt to and emerge strong from climate shocks and stresses.

Three key interventions at the international level, and in the context of the climate change discussions leading up to Paris and afterwards, will unlock this transformative potential, he said.

First, predictive analytics that provide a unified, shared and accessible risk assessment methodology and rigorous resilience measurement indicators that inform practical actions and operational effectiveness at the regional, national and local levels.

Second, risk reduction, early recovery approaches and long-term adaptive planning must be integrated across climate change, development and humanitarian dashboards, response mechanisms and strategies.

Third, strengthening partnerships across these levels is vital – across key sectors including new technologies and innovative financing such as sovereign risk pools and weather based index insurance, and focusing on best practices and opportunities to take innovations to scale.

“There can no longer be an expectation that global action or decisions will trickle down to create local results, and this must be deliberately fostered and supported through foresight analysis, by engaging across the private sector, and through linking mitigation and adaptation policies and programmes,” De Souza told IPS.

Asked about the serious environmental consequences of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Ban told reporters Monday political instability is caused by the lack of good governance and social injustice.

But if you look at the other aspects, he argued, abject poverty and also environmental degradation really affect political and social instability because they affect job opportunities and the economic situation.

Therefore, “it is important that the benefits of what we will achieve through a climate change agreement will have to help mostly the 48 Least Developed Countries (described as “the poorest of the world’s poor”) – and countries in conflict,” he added.

Robert Redford, a Hollywood icon and a relentless environmental advocate, made an emotional plea before delegates, speaking as “a father, grandfather, and also a concerned citizen – one of billions around the world who are urging you to take action now on climate change.”

He said: “I am an actor by trade, but an activist by nature, someone who has always believed that we must find the balance between what we develop for our survival, and what we preserve for our survival.”

“Your mission is as simple as it is daunting,” he told the General Assembly: “Save the world before it’s too late.”

Arguing that climate change is real – and the result of human activity – Redford said: “We see the effects all around us–from drought and famine in Africa, and heat waves in South Asia, to wildfires across North America, devastating hurricanes and crippling floods here in New York.”

A heat wave in India and Pakistan has already claimed more than 2,300 lives, making it one of the deadliest in history.

“So, everywhere we look, moderate weather is going extinct,” Redford said.

All the years of the 21st century so far have ranked among the warmest on record. And as temperatures rise, so do global instability, poverty, and conflict, he warned.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Ghosts Of War Give Way to Development in Sri Lanka Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:13:18 +0000 Amantha Perera 26 Security Council Action on Gaza War Crimes a Non-Starter Wed, 24 Jun 2015 21:23:38 +0000 Thalif Deen Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Scenes of the aftermath of the devastating Gaza conflict, which took place during the previous summer. 14 October 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen

When a U.N. panel released a 217-page report accusing both Israel and Hamas of possible war crimes committed during the 50-day conflict in Gaza last July, the chances of Security Council action were remote because of the traditional U.S. commitment to stand by Israel – right or wrong, mostly wrong.

Israel carried out over 6,000 air strikes killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, while the more than 6,600 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas killed six civilians and injured 1,600, according to the report.“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable." -- Michael Ratner

“The death toll alone speaks volumes,” said the report by a two-member panel chaired by U.S. jurist Mary McGowan Davis and which included Doudou Dienne, a lawyer and former senior U.N. official from Senegal. “And the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the report as “flawed and biased”.

But at a briefing Tuesday, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby refused to comment on whether the Security Council or the International Criminal Court (ICC) would act on the U.N. report.

Kirby told reporters the United States challenges “the very mechanism which created” the panel, which was appointed by the Human Rights Council, of which Washington is a member.

“We’re not going to have a rebuttal to it. We’re certainly going to read it, as we read all U.N. reports. But we challenge the very foundation upon which this report was written, and we don’t believe that there’s a call or a need for any further Security Council work on this,” Kirby said.

Asked about a possible referral to the ICC, he said: “We do not support any further U.N. work on this report.”

Told about the United States welcoming a similar human rights inquiry on North Korea while rejecting an inquiry for Gaza, he said: “Because we’ve long said – and you know that we reject the basis under which this particular commission of inquiry was established because of the very clear bias against Israel in it.”

The question that also remained unanswered was: if the United States thinks the report is biased against Israel, does it also mean it is biased against Hamas?

“I’m saying that we object to the report,” Kirby reiterated.

Asked if the United States objects to the entire report, he said “to the foundation upon which the commission was established, and therefore the product that resulted from that work.”

Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, told IPS that once again, as it was true in the 2008-2009 Israeli assault on Gaza, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on last year’ s Gaza war was devastating regarding Israel’s commission of war crimes.

He said 65 percent of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians and international legal requirements of distinction and proportionality were ignored.

“Yes, the report also condemned Palestinian armed groups but the overwhelming majority of the crimes were laid at the feet of the Israelis. And now what?” Ratner asked.

“Once again the U.S., Israel’s primary war-crime enabler, ostrich-like, ignores the evidence of Israeli crimes and continues to give it billions so that more crimes can be committed,” Ratner said.

“When Israeli officials are put in the dock, U.S. officials ought to be right in there with them. Their conduct is inexcusable,” he declared.

Balkees Jarrah, Counsel, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS the ICC now has a mandate over serious crimes dating back to June 13, 2014, committed on or from Palestinian territory.

Such crimes, he said, include indiscriminate attacks on civilians, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians – including abuses during the 2014 conflict in Gaza.

The court’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is currently conducting a preliminary examination to determine whether to pursue a formal investigation.

With an ICC probe now possible, Israel and Hamas must show that they are willing and able to credibly investigate serious allegations, and hold accountable those who violated the laws of war, he said.

“The U.N. Gaza report makes clear that neither side is currently doing that,” said Jarrah.

Ratner told IPS: “Again, we will see the Security Council not take any action as U.S. vetoes are always a looming threat. But the crimes of Israel and reporting on them remain.”

The next stop, he pointed out, will surely be the ICC and this week, if all goes as planned, Palestine will submit its documentation of three sets of crimes: settlements, war crimes and treatment of prisoners.

“Israel of course will do nothing except scream that Palestine is not a state—an argument already lost,” he added.

The prosecutor can of course look into the rockets coming from Gaza into Israel as well, and it is likely that if she opens a preliminary investigation into Israel’s conduct, she will also look at the Palestinians .

While there is no real doubt regarding violations of the laws of war by Israel, and how the Gaza assaults were carried out, there will be counter arguments by it about proportionality and the like, he noted.

However, when it comes to settlement activity there is no counter-argument Israel can make. It’s an absolute war crime for which there is no defence. Ultimately, the ICC to have any legitimacy will need to take on the issue, he added.

“Let’s hope for the people of Palestine the court does it sooner than later,” declared Ratner.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: The Oceans Need the Spotlight Now Mon, 22 Jun 2015 11:10:30 +0000 Dr. Palitha Kohona

Dr. Palitha Kohona was co-chair of the U.N. Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

The international community must focus its energies immediately on addressing the grave challenges confronting the oceans. With implications for global order and peace, the oceans are also becoming another arena for national rivalry.

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

Amb. Palitha Kohona. Credit: U.N. Photo/Mark Garten

The clouds of potential conflict gather on the horizon. The U.N. resolution adopted on June 19 confirms the urgency felt by the international community to take action.

His Holiness the Pope observed last week, “Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species… It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.”

The oceans demand our attention for many reasons. In a world constantly hungering for ever more raw material and food, the oceans, which cover 71 percent of the globe, are estimated to contain approximately 24 trillion dollars of exploitable assets. Eighty-six million tonnes of fish were harvested from the oceans in 2013, providing 16 percent of humanity’s protein requirement. Fisheries generated over 200 million jobs.

However, unsustainable practices have decimated many fish species, increasing competition for the rest. The once prolific North Atlantic cod, the Pacific tuna and the South American anchovy fisheries have all but collapsed with disastrous socio-economic consequences.Increasingly the world's energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources.

Highly capitalised and subsidised distant water fleets engage in predatory fishing in foreign waters causing tensions which could escalate. In a striking development, the West African Sub Regional Fisheries Commission recently successfully asserted, before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the responsibility of flag States to take necessary measures to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Increasingly the world’s energy requirements, oil and gas from below the sea bed, as well as wind and wave power, come from the realm of the oceans, setting the stage for potentially explosive confrontations among states competing for energy sources. The sea bed could also provide many of the minerals required by strategic industries.

As these assets come within humanity’s technological reach, inadequately managed exploitation will cause damage to the ocean ecology and coastal areas, demonstrated dramatically by the BP Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. (Costing the company over 42.2 billion dollars).

Cross-border environmental damage could give rise to international conflicts. A proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ on responsibility for global warming and sea level rise was floated at the U.N. by Palau in 2013.

The oceans will also be at the centre of our efforts to address the looming threat of climate change. With ocean warming, fish species critically important to poor communities in the tropics are likely to migrate to more agreeable climes, aggravating poverty levels.

Coastal areas could be flooded and fresh water resources contaminated by tidal surges. Increasing ocean acidification and coral bleach could cause other devastating consequences, including to fragile coasts and fish breeding grounds.

The ocean is the biggest sink of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the rapid increases in anthropogenic GHGs will aggravate ocean warming and the melting of the ice caps. Some small island groups might even disappear beneath the waves.

Scientists now believe that over 70 percent of anthropogenic GHGs generated since the turn of the 20th century were absorbed by the Indian Ocean which is likely to result in unpredictable consequences for the littoral states of the region, already struggling to emerge from poverty.

The increasing ferocity of natural phenomena, such as hurricanes and typhoons, will cause greater devastation as we witnessed in the cases of Katrina in the U.S. and the brutal Haiyan in the Philippines.

The socio-economic impacts of global warming and sea level rise on the multi-billion-dollar tourism industry (476 billion dollars in the U.S. alone) would be far reaching. All this could result in unmanageable environmental refugee flows. The enormous challenge of ocean warming and sea level rise alone would require nations to become more proactive on ocean affairs now.

The international community has, over the years, agreed on various mechanisms to address ocean-related issues. But these efforts remain largely uncoordinated and with the developments in science, lacunae are being identified progressively.

The most comprehensive of these endeavours is the laboriously negotiated Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) of 1982. The LOSC, described as the constitution of the oceans by Ambassador Tommy Koh of Singapore, who presided over the final stages of the negotiations, details rules for the interactions of states with the oceans and with each other with regard to the oceans.

Although some important states such as the U.S., Israel, Venezuela and Turkey are not parties to the LOSC (it has 167 parties), much of its content is accepted as part of customary international law. It also provides a most comprehensive set of options for settling inter-state disputes relating to the seas and oceans, including the ITLOS, headquartered in Hamburg.

The LOSC established the Sea Bed Authority based in Kingston, Jamaica which now manages exploration and mining applications relating to the Area, the sea bed beyond national jurisdiction, and the U.N. Commission on the Continental Shelf before which many state parties have already successfully asserted claims to vast areas of their continental shelves.

With humanity’s knowledge of the oceans and seas expanding rapidly and the gaps in the LOSC becoming apparent, the international community in 1994 concluded the Implementing Agreement Relating to Part XI of the LOSC and in 1995, the Straddling Fish Stocks Agreement.

Additionally, the United Nations Environment Programme has put in place a number of regional arrangements, some in collaboration with other U.N. agencies such as the FAO and the IMO, for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources, including fisheries.

The IMO itself has put in place detailed agreements and arrangements affecting the oceans and the seas in relation to shipping. The FAO has been instrumental in promoting regional mechanisms for the sustainable use of marine and coastal fisheries resources.

In 2012, the U.N. Secretary-General launched the Oceans Compact. States negotiating the Post-2015 Development Goals at the U.N. have acknowledged the vast and complex challenges confronting the oceans and have proceeded to highlight them in the context of a Sustainable Development Goal.

The majority of the international community now feel that the global arrangements for the sustainable use, conservation and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction need further strengthening. The negotiators of the LOSC were not fully conscious of the extent of the genetic resources of the deep. Ninety percent of the world’s living biomass is to be found in the oceans.

Today the genetic material, bio prospected, harvested or mined from the oceans is providing the basis for profound new discoveries pertaining to pharmaceuticals. Only a few countries possess the technical capability to conduct the relevant research, and even fewer the ability to convert the research into financially beneficial products. The international community’s concerns are reflected in the U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted on June 19.

Many developing countries are concerned that unless appropriate regulatory mechanisms are put in place now by the international community, the poor will be be shut out from the vast wealth, estimated at three billion dollars per year, expected to be generated from this new frontier. Over 4,000 new patents, the number growing at 12 percent a year based on such genetic material, were registered in 2013.

A U.N. working group, initially established back in 2006 to study the question of concluding a legally binding instrument on the conservation, sustainable use and benefit sharing of biological diversity beyond the national jurisdiction of states, and co-chaired by Sri Lanka and The Netherlands from 2009, submitted its report in January 2015, after years of difficult negotiations.

For nine years, consensus remained elusive. Certain major powers, including the U.S., Russia, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea held out, contending that the existing arrangements were sufficient. These are among the few which possess the technological capability to exploit the genetic resources of the deep and convert the research in to useful products.

The U.N. General Assembly is now expected to establish a preparatory committee in 2016 to make recommendations on an implementing instrument under UNCLOS. An intergovernmental conference is likely to be convened by the GA at its 72nd Session for this purpose.

The resulting mechanism is expected to complement the existing arrangements on biological genetic material under the FAO and the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nagoya Protocol) applicable to areas under national jurisdiction.

This ambitious U.N. process is likely to create a transparent regulatory mechanism facilitating technological and economic progress while ensuring equity.

A development with long term impact, especially since Rio+20, was the community of interests identified and strengthened between the G 77 and China and the EU with regard to the oceans.

Life originated in the primeval ocean. Humanity’s future may very well depend on how we care for it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Worldwide Displacement at the Highest Level Ever Recorded Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:38:26 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

A new mother watches over her child at the Ifo 2 Refugee Camp Hospital in Dadaab, Kenya, which is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Roger Hamilton-Martin

A horrific year of war, humanitarian crises, human rights violations and persecution has caused a sharp rise in global forced displacement.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR) released Thursday its annual report of global trends on refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons and the internally displaced. The report makes for sober reading two days before World Refugee Day on June 20.

The report states that global forced displacement reached unprecedented levels in 2014, with 59.5 million people fleeing their homes worldwide. An estimated 13.9 million individuals were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution.

High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres noted in a statement accompanying the report, “For an age of unprecedented mass displacement, we need an unprecedented humanitarian response and a renewed global commitment to tolerance and protection for people fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syria became the leading country of origin of refugees in 2014, with 95 per cent of those fleeing the country for surrounding nations. Turkey, for the first time, became the largest hosting country worldwide, with 1.59 million refugees. One million Syrians registered there in 2014.

Many Syrian refugees fled to Lebanon in 2014, where at the end of the year almost one in four inhabitants was a refugee. In April, Guterres noted that the numbers of refugees Lebanon has absorbed would be unthinkable in most Western countries.

“The equivalent of what we have in Lebanon in the United States would be more than 80 million refugees coming into the U.S.,” he said.

If the United Kingdom received the equivalent influx, it would have to accommodate more than 15 million refugees.

The report highlighted the heavy burden being shouldered by developing regions. Two decades ago, they were hosting about 70 per cent of the world’s refugees. By the end of 2014, this proportion had risen to 86 per cent – at 12.4 million persons, the highest figure in more than two decades.

The 30 countries with the largest number of refugees per one dollar GDP per capita were all members of developing regions. More than 5.9 million people, representing 42 per cent of the world’s refugees, resided in countries whose GDP per capita was below 5,000 dollars.

Rising numbers have stretched resources to the limit, with the World Food Programme suffering acute shortfalls in funding, leaving it unable to feed refugees in desperate need of support.

Executive Director of the U.N. World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin released a statement Thursday saying, “South Sudan is on the verge of a hunger catastrophe, violence is worsening in Iraq and Syria, and there are new trouble-spots in Yemen and Nigeria. Needs increasingly outpace resources and this poses a moral and financial challenge to the international community.”

Data indicate that the number of unaccompanied or separated children seeking asylum has reached levels unprecedented since at least 2006, when UNHCR started systematically collecting data of that kind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Approaches to Managing Disaster Focus on Resilience Thu, 18 Jun 2015 17:29:18 +0000 Kitty Stapp Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

Heavy flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia. Credit: Bigstock

By Kitty Stapp

Natural disasters have become a fact of life for millions around the world, and the future forecast is only getting worse.

From super typhoons to floods, droughts and landslides, these events tend to widen existing inequalities between and within nations, often leaving the poorest with quite literally nothing."The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it." -- Chloe Demrovsky

In 2013 alone, three times as many people lost their homes to natural disasters than to war, according to a new policy brief by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The brief, which recommends incorporating accessible risk insurance into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), frames all this as a human rights issue.

“States and other actors have a duty to protect the human rights of life, livelihood and shelter of their citizens, which can be threatened by natural hazards if exposure is high and resilience low or inadequate,” the brief’s author,  Dr. Ana Gonzalez Pelaez, a fellow at the institute, told IPS.

“Insurance is an essential element in building resilience, and for insurance to operate appropriate supportive regulation needs to be in place.”

She said that at least some of these resources could be allocated as part of the adaptation measures countries will negotiate at the climate talks in Paris in December.

Earlier this month, the G7 promised to insure up to 400 million vulnerable people against risks from climate change. This could be accomplished through a combination of public, private, mutual or cooperative insurance systems.

Tom Herbstein is the programme manager of ClimateWise, whose membership includes 32 leading insurance companies. He says many are actively exploring ways to extend coverage to emerging markets and vulnerable communities.

This includes using long-term weather forecasting to support small-scale agricultural coverage, to the African Risk Capacity, established to help African Union members respond to natural disasters.

“Yet entering such markets poses many challenges,” Herbstein told IPS. “These include distribution models unsuited to high-volume, low premium insurance products; a lack of historical actuarial data; populations struggling to comprehend a financial product one might never derive benefit from; and widespread political and regulatory uncertainties.”

Ultimately, he said, if coverage of poor communities is to be mainstreamed, “an alignment between insurers, political leaders, regulators and other stakeholders will be necessary to help lessen the risks – i.e. costs – associated with entering such new and challenging markets.”

Palaez says that microinsurance is also moving further into the mainstream strategy of major commercial insurers like Alliance and Swiss Re. In January 2015, a consortium of eight global insurance institutions announced the creation of Blue Marble Microinsurance, an entity formed to open markets and deliver risk protection in underserved developing countries.

There have already been success stories. In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in October 2013, CARD MBA of the Philippines paid claims to almost 300,000 customers affected by the catastrophe within five days of the event.

But some disaster experts also emphasise that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And even the best intentions can have lacklustre results.

Haiti is a prime example. More than five years ago, a massive earthquake struck the Caribbean nation, already the poorest in the region, killing more than 230,000 people.

A year later, the Red Cross initiated a multimillion-dollar project called LAMIKA to rebuild damaged or destroyed homes, and amassed nearly half a billion dollars in donations. But according to a recent investigation by ProPublica, only six homes were actually built.

Chloe Demrovsky, executive director of the non-profit Disaster Recovery Institute (DRI), says aiding local communities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster will never be a simple task.

“The biggest mistake is that we wait for something to happen before responding to it,” she told IPS. “Many disasters could be prevented by focusing on preparing our communities in advance. Each disaster event presents unique challenges, so there is no option to apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

“For this reason, the idea of promoting resilience is gaining ground over the traditional approach of disaster risk reduction. Resilience means the ability to bounce back from a shock. The resilience of a community in terms of disaster recovery is dependent on the resources, level of preparedness, and organizational capacity of that community.  Strong communities recover faster.”

She said that the concept of “business continuity” is a key component of building resilient systems.

“Vulnerable communities are always the hardest hit during a large-scale disaster and it is important that the government deploys enough resources quickly enough to help them recover. If the private sector is adequately prepared, that will reduce the government burden and allow them to focus resources on the most adversely affected communities.

“The private sector needs to be included in every stage of the process in order for it to be an asset rather than a potential detractor from the major goals of improving our approach to disaster aid.”

She added that it’s most useful to give cash donations rather than sending material goods, and it is preferable to give to a local organisation rather than a large international organisation with name recognition.

“The local NGO is used to working in that community, understands its unique system, and will be able to more rapidly identify its needs.  Because they are local, they will also remain in the area for the long-term even after the original outpouring of aid begins to dry up,” she pointed out.

“Finally, we need to learn from past experiences and start to prepare for the next disaster before it happens. Many tragedies can be prevented by having a good plan in place. Events happen, but disasters are man-made.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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South Sudan Again Tops Fragile States Index Thu, 18 Jun 2015 11:51:19 +0000 Beatrice Paez South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

South Sudanese Police Cadets taking oath during their graduation ceremony at the Juba Football Stadium. September 17, 2012. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy Gideon Lu'b

By Beatrice Paez
SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick, Canada, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, South Sudan has been designated as the most fragile nation in the world, plagued by intensifying internal conflict that has displaced more than two million of its people.

Headline-making events of the past year have spurred much of the movement of countries’ rankings – for better or worse – in the Fragile States Index (FSI), a joint annual report by Foreign Policy magazine and think-tank Fund for Peace (FFP) released on Jun. 17.“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts...and yet people were able to really rally at the local, national level.” -- Nate Haken

Sub-Saharan Africa found itself leading the pack, with seven out of the top 10 countries ranked as the most fragile. As far as regional trends go, the Islamic State’s encroaching influence pulled states such as Yemen, Libya, Syria and Iraq into the top 10 most-worsened countries of 2015.

Cuba stood out as the most-improved country this past decade, owing its designation to the thawing of relations with the United States and the gradual opening of its economy to foreign investment. Though trends suggest the nation is on track to improving conditions, there remains the challenge of access to public services and upholding human rights.

In an effort to measure a state’s fragility, the index accounts for event-driven factors and makes use of data to illuminate patterns and trends that could contribute to instability. The report analysed the progress of 178 countries around the world.

“At the top of the index, countries do tend to move minimally, but at the centre of the index, you tend to see a lot more movement,” said Nate Haken, senior associate of FFP. “That’s partly because fragility begets fragility and stability begets stability.”

And yet, the report highlighted, there are outliers like Nigeria that defy easy categorisation even as pressures on all fronts – political, social, economic – would indicate a country on the brink of descending into conflict.

“For me, Nigeria was one of the most interesting stories of the year. All indicators showed intensive pressures on all fronts,” Haken told IPS. “Oil prices were down, there was more killing this past year.”

But in an unexpected turn, Haken noted, the political opposition led by Muhammadu Buhari emerged as a credible threat to incumbent Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party. He added that many expected a polarising outcome that would pit the north and south against each other, whatever the outcome.

“I think most observers looking at these trends thought this was bound to be a disaster,” said Haken. “Every empirical measure shows a high degree of risk and yet, people were able to really rally at the local, national level.”

Meanwhile, Portugal and Georgia joined the ranks of Cuba for the most improved, with strides being made in the economy.

Whereas some countries’ progress or decline has held steady, a closer look can reveal an emerging narrative, said Haken. The United States’ year-over-year score (ranked at 89) has remained flat, but group grievances – tensions among groups – has been increasing since 2007, with respect to the immigration of children fleeing Central America and protest against the police over racial relations.

Far from being a predictive tool, the index functions as a diagnostic tool for policy makers working in human rights and economic development to identify high-priority areas, he noted. As well, it serves to turn the spotlight on countries that seemingly have marginal bearing for the international community.

In the case of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, countries like Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone may not have figured large in headlines, but the “ripple effects across the region” also had far-reaching consequences for the international community as the world scrambled to contain the outbreak, Haken noted.

Demographic pressures – massive rural-urban migration – coupled with lack of proper road infrastructure gave way to the spread of Ebola.

“One thing that came out of the index is how critical infrastructure is for sustainable human security,” he said. “… Once it began to spread, it was difficult for medical personnel and supplies to reach the rural areas.”

This regional crisis, in particular, served as a reminder that “post-conflict” nations “on path to recovery” still face vulnerabilities, the report noted.

The index relies on 12 indicators (plus other variables) to make its assessment. They account for state legitimacy; demographic pressures; economic performance; intervention of state or non-state actors; provision of public services; and population flight, among others. Each indicator is given equal weight, and countries take a numerical score, with one for the best performance and 10 for the worst.

On this basis, policy makers are encouraged to use the index to frame research questions and to help determine the allocation of humanitarian aid.

Since 2014, FSI moved away from the use of the term “failed” in favour of “fragile,” as a way of acknowledging that in some instances, the pressures a state faces can be beyond its control, said Haken.

For instance, he cited refugee crises in which governments – ill-equipped or not – take on a large number of refugees.

“Failure connotes culpability somewhere, whereas that’s not what this index was ever trying to do,” he said. “It was looking at factors – some of which governments have influence over, some of which they don’t.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Could Peacekeeping Wives Deter Sexual Abuse in U.N. Overseas Operations? Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:00:34 +0000 Thalif Deen A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

A Uruguayan peacekeeper with UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) watches as the helicopter carrying Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous, makes its way back toward Goma after Mrs. Ladsous’ visit in Pinga, North Kivu Province. Credit: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

By Thalif Deen

Back in November 2007, about 108 military personnel from an Asian country, serving with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti, were deported home after being accused of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of minors.

After their return, one of the expelled peacekeepers was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, rather defiantly, “What do you expect us to do when the U.N. is providing us with free condoms?”“I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour." -- Barbara Tavora-Jainchill

But then all those free condoms were being provided to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and not to encourage sexual abuse.

As a result of the widespread sexual abuse with peacekeeping missions, the United Nations plans to set up an independent review panel calling for recommendations specifically to prevent these crimes and also to hold those responsible accountable for their deeds and mete out punishments.

But as a preventive measure, would it help if peacekeepers and U.N. staffers are sent on overseas missions along with their wives, partners and families?

Pursuing this line of thinking, Joe Lauria, U.N. correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, told IPS, “Perhaps the U.N. should look into making it possible for U.N. peacekeepers to have their wives and girlfriends and children live with them during their deployment.”

He said he realised it would be an added expense for the U.N. to transport them and perhaps to find suitable housing on U.N. peacekeeping bases.

“But the potential benefits of cutting down on what is an epidemic — of U.N. peacekeepers sexually abusing the people they are sworn to protect — could be immense. It is difficult to understand why the U.N. has never thought of this before.”

Lauria also said there is a longstanding tradition throughout military history of soldiers allowing their wives to accompany them– even to the front.

Two examples are in ancient Rome and in the American Civil War. And U.N. peacekeepers are rarely in combat situations, so the logistics are simpler, he said.

Today U.S. troops stationed at bases abroad, such as in Germany or South Korea, are allowed to live with their families. The wives and girlfriends of U.N. peacekeepers could be expected to live from the salaries of the peacekeepers, perhaps with an additional stipend, he argued.

“It would be troubling for the U.N. not to look into this possibility given all the negative fallout for the organisation, not to mention the serious harm done to the victims of U.N. peacekeeper’s sexual abuse,” said Lauria.

When he raised this issue at a press briefing last week, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that virtually all of the peacekeeping operations, with a couple of exceptions like Cyprus, are “non‑family duty stations for the civilian staff.”

“You raise a point that’s interesting, that I don’t know the answer to. I don’t believe uniformed peacekeepers or police officers are able to bring their spouses along,” he said.

Pressed further by Lauria, Dujarric said: “I think I see where… where you’re going, but I think the issue of abuse of power, of sexual abuse needs to be fought, regardless of what those rules may be.”

Since the United Nations has no political or legal authority to penalise military personnel, most of them escape punishment for their criminal activities because national governments have either refused or have been slow in meting out justice within their own court systems.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staff working at the United Nations, told IPS that as far as it concerns U.N. civilian staff, “I’m not sure you can draw a link between the two.”

“We have over 21,000 civilian colleagues in field and peacekeeping operations, doing a great job and almost all in what are called non-family duty stations. Yet reported sexual abuse by staff, while horrific, remains extremely low,” he said.

Three staff were reported, investigated and fired for sexual abuse last year.

“So these are very specific cases rather than a generalised trend. All U.N. staff are aware of the organisation’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual abuse and sign a declaration on this when they’re recruited.

“Therefore, I’m not sure that absent spouses is an issue in this sense. In any case, non-family duty stations are declared as such because they are in conflict zones or prone to rebel or terrorist activity. They’re not places to bring spouses or children,” Richards added.

A U.N. staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IPS there were some U.N. civilian staffers, based in a virtual war zone in Iraq, who housed their families in neighbouring Kuwait, but at their own expense.

But staffers serving in these missions are well remunerated with “hazard pay allowances” (HPA) and “mission subsistence allowances” (MSA).

A senior U.N. official told IPS it is very unlikely that wives and families will be permitted in overseas missions, specifically high risk missions, because it would be difficult to ensure their security (and it will double or triple the U.N.’s current burden of protecting staffers).

Barbara Tavora-Jainchill, president of the U.N. Staff Union in New York, told IPS even though being away from the family brings stress, “I believe that an unstable place with a weak (or no) government may create a sensation of lack of accountability, of power over the local population and a few individuals might feel free to engage in unacceptable behaviour.

“Accountability should be strengthened in peacekeeping and political missions and the U.N. should adopt a serious whistleblower policy, because sometimes whistleblowers are the ones who make accountability possible,” she added.

Meanwhile a High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, chaired by former President of Timor-Leste Ramos-Horta, has released a report with a comprehensive assessment of the state of U.N. peace operations and the emerging needs of the future.

At a press conference Tuesday, Ramos-Horta emphasised the United Nations had “zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.”

He said sexual abuse by peacekeepers “rocks and undermines the most important power the United Nations possesses: its integrity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Cities Will Be Decisive in Fight for Sustainable Development Wed, 17 Jun 2015 13:44:32 +0000 Beatriz Ciordia The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

The sharp contrast between the poorer communities’ shanties and the skyline of the Makati City financial district underscores the huge income gap between the haves and have-nots. The Philippines’ income disparity is one of the biggest in South-east Asia. Credit: IPS

By Beatriz Ciordia

With cities increasingly in the spotlight on the international stage, urban planning and development has become a critical issue in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

While slums continue to grow in most developing countries, reinforcing other forms of inequality, urban planning requires a shift from viewing urbanisation mainly as a problem to seeing it as a powerful tool for development, according to the 2015 UN-Habitat Global Activities Report.“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world's 200 or so largest cities." -- Daniel Hoornweg

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says cities have the potential to shape the future of humankind and to win the battle for sustainable development.

“Cities are at the forefront of the global battle against climate change,” he said last week at the Mayor’s Forum of the World Cities Summit in New York.

“The way in which cities are planned, run and managed is crucial. The leadership role of mayors and city governments is therefore of fundamental importance,” he added.

In the last two decades, cities and urban centres have become the dominant habitats for humankind and the engine-rooms of human development as a whole. For the first time in history in 2008, the urban population outnumbered the rural population, marking the beginning of a new “urban millennium”.

Today, more than half of humanity lives in cities. By 2050, around 70 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas, according to the report.

Poverty, which remains the greatest global challenge facing the world today, is increasingly concentrated in urban areas.

As Eliasson highlighted, close to one billion of the world’s urban dwellers still live in dire, even life-threatening, slum conditions – and this figure is projected to rise to 1.6 billion by 2030. Some 2.5 billion people in the world lack access to improved sanitation, not least in urban areas.

Daniel Hoornweg, a former World Bank specialist on cities and climate change, says that the lion’s share of implementation will fall to cities regardless of what countries agree in terms of the SDGs.

“National governments, when negotiating, need to fully reflect local government capacities as the ‘doing arm of government’. This is less about urban planning than it is about empowerment and assistance to local governments,” he told IPS.

As stated in the 2014 Revision of the World Urbanization Prospects, urbanisation is integrally connected to the three pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection.

However, international governments and organisations have not respected this triumvirate, going against the 11th SDG, which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

“Urban planning is still too focused on economic efficiency and growth, leaving aside the goal of upgrading sustainable lifestyles,” Leida Rijnhout, director of Global Policies and Sustainability of the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), told IPS.

“Facilitating a well-functioning and affordable public transport system can be more important than building highways for an increasing number of private cars. Also, preserving local shops (SMEs) and not ‘killing them’ by building big shopping malls is another example of urban sustainability that provides social cohesion,” she added.

The equation is clear: if well managed, cities offer a unique opportunity for economic development and growth, but at the same time, they can expand the access to basic services, including health care and education, for millions of people.

In other words: providing universal access to electricity, water, sanitation, housing and public transportation for a densely settled urban population promotes economically, socially and environmentally sustainable societies.

However, this goal can only be achieved if U.N. member states and U.N. agencies come together to promote sustainable urbanisation and if there’s a connection between the power dynamics of local governments and national governments.

“The U.N. is fundamentally challenged with its construct of one country, one vote, when most of the implementation of sustainable development will fall to the world’s 200 or so largest cities,” Hoornweg told IPS.

According to Hoornweg, the U.N. needs to be reformed in order to get a fair representation of large cities on the international stage – “Countries like Fiji and Vanuatu cannot have more influence than Shanghai and Sao Paulo.”

He says an alternative approach could be establishing a “pragmatism council” of the world’s largest cities –say those that are expected to have five million or more residents by 2050 (around 120 cities).

“Having this council negotiate things like SDGs would not yield binding accords but they would yield a very powerful ‘shadow accord’ that no country could easily ignore,” he told IPS.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: What the Philippines Can Learn from Morocco, Peru and Ethiopia Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:47:12 +0000 Chris Wright and Jed Alegado NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

NGOs call for an energy revolution at the Bonn talks. Credit: IISD

By Chris Wright and Jed Alegado
MANILA, Jun 16 2015 (IPS)

(Last week, Australian Climate Activist offered an apology to the Philippines for his country’s lack of action. Today, he partners up with climate tracker from the Philippines Jed Alegado to talk about what the Philippines can do to show its leadership in tackling climate change.)

There has been a lot of pressure on the Philippines in the last week. Climate Change Commission Secretary Lucille Sering faced a senate hearing about the Philippines’ commitment to its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs.

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), INDCs were introduced in Warsaw in 2013 to hasten and ensure concrete climate action plans from countries.We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

During the visit of French President Francois Hollande to the Philippines last February, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III announced that his country’s INDC will be submitted by August this year after he delivers his final State of the Nation Address. However, during the Senate hearing last week, Sering said that the Philippines aims to submit the INDC before the October 2015 deadline.

In an interview last month, civil society representative to the Philippine delegation, Ateneo School of Government Dean Tony La Vina, clarified the process conducted by the Philippine government for its INDC. According to La Vina,  INDC orientation and workshops were conducted among government agencies in January 2015. A technical working group was formed last March followed by stakeholder discussions last month which included civil society groups, key government agencies and the private sector.

For a country which has played a leadership role and has become a rallying point for the global call for climate action due to its former lead negotiator Yeb Sano and the Super Typhoon Haiyan which wreaked havoc in the central Philippines in 2013, there has been a lot of pressure for the Philippines to come up with a definitive and clear commitment for its INDC.

Last month, Sering announced that the Philippines’ INDC might focus on a renewable energy and low-carbon sustainable development plan: “low emission and long-term development pathway to involve private sector and other stakeholders”. Sering also said that the Philippines intends to increase the use of renewable energy.

However, last week, the Palawan Community for Sustainable Development gave the go-ahead to a company to construct a coal-powered plant in Palawan in the western part of the Philippines, often described as the country’s last frontier. Environmental NGOs based in the province have been trying to stop the construction of this 15-megawatt coal plant to be built by one of the major construction companies in the Philippines.

In the past two years, the government has also approved the construction of 21-coal powered projects despite the President Aquino’s declaration that the Philippines intends to “nearly triple the country’s renewable-energy-based capacity from around 5,400 megawatts in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.”

In spite of these events happening in the Philippines, the second week of the Bonn intersession has also been characterised by developing countries who have stood proud and shown the world just what they can do to stop global warming.

Reform, Accountability and Ambition

It may therefore be timely for the Philippines to take some lessons from three recent INDC announcements that have each drawn great praise at the U.N.

Step 1: Reform

The first lesson comes from Morocco, which this week came out as the first country to address “fossil fuel subsidy reform” in their Climate Action Plan. As the first Arab country to make an international Climate Action Plan, they naturally shocked a lot of people.

However, when you dive into their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 32 per cent by 2030 compared to what they call “business as usual”, I guess it’s understandable that some of us are having apprehensions.

But what is good about their efforts is to “substantially reduce fossil fuel subsidies”. This is one of the truly ‘unspoken’ aspects of transitioning away from fossil fuels.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we need to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible to keep us below two degrees of warming. In order to give Filipinos a chance at a safe future, we need a global phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, and the first step to get there is to cut fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally, the IMF estimates that the fossil fuel industry receives 10 million dollars every minute. If the world is ever going to move into a fossil-free future, reforming these subsidies will be critical. This is one way the Philippines can show some real leadership with their Climate Action Plan.

Step 2: Accountability

Late last week, Peru publicly announced their Climate Action Plan. While they haven’t yet officially submitted it to the U.N., what they have produced is very impressive.

In developing their Climate Action Plan, Peru has carefully calculated exactly how much emissions they can cut based on a concrete number of projects which they clearly outline in the plan. As such, their plan to cut emissions by 31 per cent based on business as usual is backed up by 58 clearly outlined different mitigation projects.

This makes it very easy for Peru to ask for support from developed countries to help them improve on their commitments. In fact, they have even outlined how they can increase their emissions cuts to up to 42 per cent with an extra 18 projects.

While they haven’t made a specific ask for international assistance to meet this difference, this level of transparency could make it a very simple step in the future. What’s more, they have now opened this plan up to public consultations until July 17.

They will be holding workshops across Peru and asking a wide range of citizens what their views on the Climate Action Plans are.

If the Philippines want to ask for international support to help increase their ability to combat global warming, this level of international and domestic transparency will be a critical step to take.

Step 3: Ambition

It is definitely true that the Filipinos have not caused climate change. In fact, the Filipinos are among the smallest contributors to climate change per person. What’s more, the energy needs across the country are critical. But is coal really the answer?

With 26 coal plants planned over the next ten years, what will become of the air that everyone has to breathe? We have already seen this year how cities like New Delhi and Beijing have become almost unlivable due to the dangerously polluted air. What will happen to the Philippines if it follows a similar path?

One country seeking to link their development needs to combatting climate change is Ethiopia. Yesterday they released a Climate Action Plan which aims at a 64 per cent reduction on their business as usual predictions.

With 94 million people, and over a quarter of those in extreme poverty, Ethiopia is a great model for the Philippines to follow. They have focussed their emissions cuts around agricultural reform, reforestation, renewable energy and public transport. These are all reforms which are possible for the Philippines to also make.

Ethiopia is not simply giving in to a broken development model that relies on fossil fuels, but neither is it living a “green” fantasy. It is among the fastest growing countries in the world and the fastest growing non-oil-dependent African country.

With international support, it plans to double its economy while still achieving carbon-negative growth. This, Ethiopia believes, is best for not only for the health of its economy in the long term, but their people.

If the Philippines is going to show the type of global leadership it has strived for over recent years at the U.N. climate negotiations, there are three easy steps for them to take forward; Reform, Accountability and Ambition.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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Climate Justice: Trial by Public Opinion for World’s Polluters Tue, 16 Jun 2015 21:31:49 +0000 Thalif Deen Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Campaigners at the September 2014 NYC Climate March say, “We need a cooperative model for climate justice.” Credit Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations, which is tasked with the protection of the global environment, has asserted that climate change affects people everywhere – with no exceptions.

Still, one of the greatest inequities of our time is that the poorest and the most marginalised individuals, communities and countries — which have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions — often bear the greatest burden, says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable." -- Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia

With an increasing link between climate change and human rights, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, which is conscious of the growing threat of rising sea levels to Pacific island nations, is seeking “climate justice,” including both redress and accountability.

“For the first time anywhere in the world,” says Greenpeace, it will submit a petition to the Philippines Commission on Human Rights asking the Commission to investigate the responsibility of the world’s biggest polluters for directly violating human rights or threatening to, due to their contribution to climate change and ocean acidification.

Anna Abad, climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, told IPS: “The filing of the human rights petition before the Philippine Commission on Human Rights is a first step to investigate the responsibility of the Carbon Majors (a.k.a. big carbon polluters) for their human rights violations or threatened human rights violations resulting from climate change and ocean acidification impacts.”

Asked whether there is a possibility of the issue being taken up either by the Security Council or the International Court of Justice, she said Greenpeace Southeast Asia is also exploring other avenues – both legal and transnational – to amplify the urgency of climate justice and to ensure that those responsible for the climate crisis are held accountable for their actions.

“This is a collective effort between our partners and allies. With the climate justice campaign, we have certainly begun the trial by public opinion,” Abad said.

Zelda Soriano, legal and political advisor from Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said climate change is a borderless issue, gravely affecting millions of people worldwide.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council has recognised that climate change has serious repercussions on the enjoyment of human rights as it poses an immediate and far-reaching threat to people and communities around the world.”

In this light, she said, “We view climate change as a social injustice that must be addressed by international governments and agencies, most especially those responsible for contributing to the climate crisis.”

Last week, the President of Vanuatu Baldwin Londsdale joined climate-impacted communities from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and the Solomon Islands, as well as representatives from the Philippines, at “an emergency meeting” in Vanuatu vowing to seek ‘Climate Justice’ and hold big fossil fuel entities accountable for fuelling global climate change.

The Climate Change and Human Rights workshop was held on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, with the participation of about 40 delegates and civil society groups from Pacific Island nations.

“It is now more important than ever before that we stand united as affected communities in the face of climate change, rising sea-levels and changing weather patterns. Let us continue to stand and work together in our fight against the threats of climate change,” Londsdale told delegates.

The workshop concluded with participants signing on to the ‘People’s Declaration for Climate Justice,’ which was handed over to the President of Vanuatu.

According to Greenpeace, human-induced climate change is forecast to unleash increased hardship on the Philippines and Pacific Island nations due to stronger storms and cyclones.

A new study, Northwestern Pacific typhoon intensity controlled by changes in ocean temperatures, suggests that with climate change, storms like Haiyan, which in 2013 devastated Southeast Asia and specifically the Philippines, could get even stronger and more common.

It projects the intensity of typhoons in the western Pacific Ocean to increase by as much as 14 percent – nearly equivalent to an increase of one category – by century’s end even under a moderate future scenario of greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace says it believes that those most vulnerable will continue to suffer, representing a violation of their basic human rights.

According to Greenpeace, recent research has shown that 90 entities are responsible for an estimated 914 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) of cumulative world emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1854 and 2010, or about 63 percent of estimated global industrial emissions of these greenhouse gases.

Abad said: “These big carbon polluters have enriched themselves for almost a century with the continued burning of coal, oil and gas. They are the driving force behind climate change.”

She said time is running out for these vulnerable communities and the world’s big carbon polluters have a moral and legal responsibility for their products and to meaningfully address climate change before it is too late.

Tuvalu delegate Puanita Taomia Ewekia was quoted as saying: “Climate change is not a problem for one nation to solve alone, all our Pacific Island countries are affected as one in our shared ocean.”

She said governments must stand up for their rights and demand redress from these big carbon polluters for past and future climate transgressions.

“Our climate-impacted communities have a moral and legal right to defend our human rights and seek Climate Justice by holding these big carbon polluters accountable and to seek financial compensation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Remittances from Europe Top 100 Billion Dollars Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:40:05 +0000 Kitty Stapp Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

One in five migrant workers – about 50 million people – lives and works in Europe, making the region home to a quarter of global remittance flows, according to a new report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Migrants living in Europe sent 109.4 billion dollars in remittances to lower-income European countries and to the developing world last year.

And the actual figures for many countries could be substantially higher than official estimates due to the frequent use of informal channels to transfer money.

“We need to make sure that this hard-earned money is sent home cheaply but more importantly that it helps families build a better future for themselves, particularly in the poorest rural communities where it counts the most,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, about the report’s findings.

IFAD estimates that globally 80 billion dollars could be available for investment if migrant workers and receiving families in rural areas were given more options to use their funds.

Of the total remittances sent by migrants living in Europe, about one-third (36.5 billion dollars) remained within 19 countries in Europe, while two-thirds (72.9 billion dollars) were received by poor families in over 50 developing countries outside Europe.

The report comes at a time when Europe is taking heavy criticism over its policies towards migrants, especially with respect to the Syrian refugee crisis.

In the last two decades, the Mediterranean – the most lethal of Europe’s barriers against irregular migration – has claimed nearly 20,000 migrant lives.

Figures for 2014 and this year indicate that the phenomenon is on the rise, with more migrant deaths than ever before.

However, people to continue to brave the perilous crossing, or over land borders, and an estimated 150 million people worldwide now benefit from remittances coming from Europe.

The report says that most remittances are spent on staples like food, clothing, shelter, medicine and education. However, studies indicate that up to 20 per cent of remittances could be available for savings, investments or to repay loans for small businesses.

With 40 per cent of remittances going to rural areas, the report also suggests that remittances play a critical role in the transformation of vulnerable communities. In fact, remittances are estimated to equal at least three times official development assistance to developing countries.

“The immense potential of remittances for development is still largely underutilized but it is within our capacity to make every hard-earned euro, ruble, pound, krona, or Swiss franc sent home count even more,” said Nwanze.

Western Europe and the Russian Federation (26 total sending countries) are the main sources of migrant remittances in Europe.

The top six European sending countries account for 75 per cent of the flows: the Russian Federation (20.6 billion dollars), the United Kingdom (17.1 billion), Germany (14 billion), France (10.5 billion), Italy (10.4 billion) and Spain (9.6 billion).

“Remittances offer a unique opportunity to bring millions into the formal financial sector,” said Pedro De Vasconcelos, co-author of the report and Coordinator of the Financing Facility for Remittances at IFAD.

“Given the frequent interaction between remittance senders, receivers and the financial system, remittances could spark a long-term and life-changing relationship.”

While significant progress has been made over the last few years to lower transfer costs, De Vasconcelos added that more could be done through increased competition. By reducing transfer costs to 5 per cent, as per the G20 objective set in 2009, an additional 2.5 billion dollars would be saved for migrant workers and their families back home.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Rights Groups Call for Durable Solution for Europe’s Migrants Sat, 13 Jun 2015 21:58:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

Human rights groups are calling for a sustainable solution to the migrant crisis in Europe, especially following the dismantling of refugee camps in Paris and Calais, France, over the past two weeks.

In one of the latest incidents, tense confrontations occurred in the French capital when security forces evicted migrants from a park last Thursday, with activists later blocking the police from entering a former barracks where the migrants were temporarily sheltered.“The state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum” – Marco Perolini, Amnesty International

Amnesty International, present as observer during the operation, said that the state needs to do more to find housing solutions for migrants who have been sleeping on the street and in public parks.

“The state can evict people for various reasons, but migrants also have rights,” Stephan Oberreit, director general of Amnesty International France, told IPS.

“If the state informed people, explained the regulations and offered decent shelters, then that would be fine,” he added. “But this is not the case. They are not providing enough shelters for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Some of the migrants in the park – at the Bois Dormoy in the city’s 18th district – had already been evicted from a makeshift camp set up under a metro overpass, where conditions had become increasingly unsanitary.

Others came from a second cleared camp in northern Paris where about 350 migrants had been living. Most of those affected are from Sudan but there are also Somalis, Eritreans, Egyptians and other nationalities among the groups, officials said.

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

The authorities had additionally evicted about 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps in Calais, northern France, where more than 2,000 migrants have been living in rough conditions in tent settlements.

On Thursday, at the Bois Dormoy, in incidents that lasted late into the night, the migrants took steps to organise their own response to the security operations after they had been told to leave the park. They held meetings among themselves and liaised with activists – who have been providing food and support – to make their concerns known.

City officials initially offered about 60 places at state shelters but eventually increased the number to accommodate more of the migrants, following negotiations. Rights groups feared, however, that many would still remain homeless.

“The French authorities cannot just keep moving these migrants and asylum seekers from pillar to post without seeking viable alternatives – the state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Discrimination in Europe.

“Real and viable alternative solutions must be found to give these migrants and refugees adequate shelter and services, including access to asylum procedures,” he added.

Other groups such as GISTI (Group for Information and Support to Immigrants), told IPS that they were also providing legal assistance to the migrants, with their lawyers representing asylum seekers at court hearings.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she would like to open a “welcome centre” for migrants who may be en route to other countries, or who may eventually decide to seek asylum in France.

“We are facing a huge increase in the numbers, and we need to open some kind of welcome centre,” she told French media. “One thing is certain – they cannot sleep on the streets.”

Such a centre would only be for temporary stays, and groups such as Amnesty International say that more permanent solutions are urgent and necessary.

This week, the European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-nation European Union (EU), called for member states to endorse its proposal to resettle 40,000 migrants as the boats keep arriving at Italian and Greek shores.

According to United Nations figures, more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of 2015, and about 1,800 have died in the perilous boat trips, as they flee poverty and warfare in their homelands.

Thousands have entered France, often in an attempt to reach other countries such as Britain.  But while both France and Britain are against the proposed EU quotas, the number of people who would be relocated in France is just a “drop in the ocean”, Oberreit of Amnesty International told IPS.

“We can’t keep looking at temporary solutions,” Oberreit warned. “Individuals must be able to have a proper process of their situation in order to have refugee status, and migrants must have some form of shelter so they don’t have to be out in the street and go hungry.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Cli-Fi Film from Philippines Packs a Punch Wed, 10 Jun 2015 20:49:30 +0000 Dan Bloom A scene in Guiuan, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, Nov. 21, 2013. Credit: Roberto De Vido/cc by 2.0

A scene in Guiuan, Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan, Nov. 21, 2013. Credit: Roberto De Vido/cc by 2.0

By Dan Bloom
TAIPEI, Jun 10 2015 (IPS)

I live on a crowded, subtropical island ​nation ​in the Western Pacific, on the opposite side of the “Pacific Pond” from North America. And just south of Taiwan is the ​many-splendored island nation of the ​Philippines. We are neighbours. You can fly there in one hour, it’s that close.

So when Typhoon ​Yolanda hit Tacloban City in the Philippines in November 2013, we ​in south Taiwan ​could feel the rain and wind here in Taiwan, although the storm made its direct hit on Tacloban and ​sadly ​killed 7,000 people there."Movies like 'Taklub' present scenarios that make large events comprehensible and future possibilities concrete." -- Prof. Edward Rubin

​The Philippines has been a Catholic country for over 400 years now. People ​there ​know the Bible, people know Jesus, and people are devout and deeply religious.

So when the well-known Filipino film director Brillante ​Ma ​Mendoza decided to make a feature film about the aftermath of ​what the international community called ​Typhoon Haiyan — known as ”Typhoon Yolanda” in the Philippines — he used a quote from the ​Bible to bookend the story: “A time to tear ​one’s garments and mourn, and a time to ​mend and ​​build up.”

Mendoza’s ​powerful and emotional ​cli-fi movie “Trap” (called “Taklub” in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines) was set up originally as an ”advocacy movie” financed by the government of the Philippines ​and produced by a senator from the national parliament ​to help raise awareness of typhoon readiness and the resilience of the Filipino people.

The carefully-crafted 90-minute feature has already been shown at the Cannes Film Festival and has a good chance of bagging an Oscar next year in Hollywood in the best foreign film category.

​It has also been recently been hailed by the Cli Fi Movie Awards (dubbed the ”Cliffies​”) — a film awards programme that recognises the best climate-themed movies worldwide — as the winner of the international 2015 cli fi awards for: best picture, best director, best actress, best actor, best child actor, best screenplay, best cinematography, best producer, best government sponsor and best trailer.

It’s that good, it’s that poignant, it’s that brilliant. Mendoza is a film director who is well-known in Asia, but while “Trap” is a powerful climate-themed movie with a great cast and helmed by a savvy director, whether the movie will catch on among arthouse fans in Europe and America ​it ​is hard to say.​

But for the Cli Fi Movie Awards, whose mission is to wake up the world via movie awards about climate change issues. of all the cli fi films nominated for 2015, “Taklub” took top honours in all categories this year! It is that important a movie.

“Trap” is a quiet, slow-moving, thoughtful piece of international cinema. It stars the famous Filipina actress Nora Aunor, and for her performance alone, the film is worth the price of admission.

​The quote from Ecclesiastes ​fits this movie to a T.

For me, that’s what “Trap” is about: a powerful piece of cli-fi storytelling that is about an almost unspeakable tragedy, following the lives of a group of typhoon survivors trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but at at the same time Mendoza says after the tear​ing of garments ​ and mourning, it’s time to mend the country and get things right again. And prepare for the next big storm as well.

​I asked a professor from Vanderbilt Law School in Nashville, Tennessee, Edward Rubin, who is very concerned with climate change issues and the power of novels and movies to impact changes in public awareness, what he thought of Mendoza’s movie and its power to effect change.

“Written and audiovisual fiction (cli-fi novels and cli-fi movies like ‘Taklub’) can — and must — play a crucial role in educating people worldwide about climate change,” Rubin told me. “To begin with, people will watch the movie and be moved by it; they are not going to look at government charts and scientific research papers.”

Even more important, movies like ‘Taklub’ present scenarios that make large events comprehensible and future possibilities concrete,” he added, noting: “What is truly false, and belongs in the category of puerile fantasy, is to deny that climate change is occurring. The fact is that many of the grim possibilities portrayed in a cli-fi movie like ‘Taklub’ will become realities unless we take global concerted action.”​

“Trap” is not a documentary. It’s pure storytelling, pure cinema, pure magic. Can it help to raise awareness about global warming and climate change in the Philippines and worldwide?

Mendoza set out to make a touching local movie for audiences in the Philippines first, but he has succeeded in creating a piece of art that transcends borders now and has a global tale to tell.

It’s well worth seeing if it comes your way.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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Why ACP Countries Matter for the EU Post-2015 Development Agenda Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:20:13 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

We are witnessing a shift in the original rationale behind the unique relationship between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries of the ACP group, which goes beyond the logic of “unilateral aid transfer”, “donor-recipient approach” and “North-South dialogue”.

“The [ACP] Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU” – Dr Patrick I. Gomes, ACP Secretary General
In November last year, in his mission letter to the newly appointed European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said: “The first priority is the post-2015 framework and the second priority of my mandate is the future of EU’s strategic partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.”

With the agreement for that partnership coming to an end in 2020, both the European Union and the ACP group are currently stimulating intense debates on a critical review of the past and future perspective as well as challenging issues for the future “acquis” between the ACP countries and Europe under the umbrella of the Cotonou Agreement.

Last month’s Joint Session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers held in Brussels (May 28-29) May offered an occasion for discussing innovative options to outline new bases of common interests, needs and difficulties, and to forge forthcoming cooperation, particularly in terms of the post-2015 agenda, financing for development, migration, international trade, climate change and democratic governance.

At ACP level, there is a growing awareness among members that “the Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU,” said ACP Secretary General, Dr Patrick I. Gomes.

“There is the need to re-balance the ACP-EU partnership in favour of the ACP Group” was one of the key messages from the 101st ACP Council of Ministers held on May 27-28 to re-align ACP positions before the Joint Session with the European Union.

Within the European Union, there is also recognition of the relevance of the EU-ACP relationship. “Our exchanges of view on a number of key issues such as the post-2015 development agenda and migration once again underlined the importance of our partnership,” said Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for E.U. Affairs, in a statement.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

On paper, the Cotonou Agreement remains the most sophisticated framework for ACP-EU cooperation, covering political, trade, economic and development cooperation issues.

According to the last figures for the E.U. budget for 2014-2020, a package of 30.5 billion euros is specifically provided to ACP regions and countries. In fact, the ACP still remains the biggest group of states with which the European Union has a partnership.

The European Development Fund (EDF), an implementing instrument of the Cotonou Agreement, will finance E.U. development cooperation projects until 2020 to assist partner countries in poverty eradication. These funds will target the people most in need and finance different sectors such as health and education, infrastructure, environment, energy, food and nutrition.

Looking towards the future, the ACP is determined to move from being on the receiving end of development assistance to asserting its aim to speak with “one voice in global governance institutions”, in the words of ACP Secretary-General Gomes.

The need to consider and treat ACP countries as “responsible partners” at the global level despite the reluctance of the international community, emerged strongly during the E.U.-Africa Summit in  April 2014, with ACP members hoping for a lift-up effect on the ACP’s political leverage.

According to observers, ACP countries matter for the European Union partly to help overcome the effects of the economic crisis. Some ACP countries in the North African region, for example, have witnessed upturns in economic growth since 2004. At the same time, the abundance of natural resources in ACP countries provides an alternative to the volatile Middle East, Russia and some other countries as a source of energy and raw materials.

On the issue of financing for development, Alexandre Polack, European Commission Spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management & International Cooperation and Development told IPS: “We need to come away from Addis with a comprehensive agreement which covers all the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda.”

He was referring to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development which will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Jul. 13 to 16 this year.

“This,” added Polack, “means addressing non-financial aspects, including policies. We need an agreement which puts domestic actions and domestic capacities at the heart of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and adheres to the principles of universality in terms of shared responsibilities.”

Observers also point out that the ACP countries can also be important interlocutors during the U.N. Climate Change Conference this coming December in Paris.

While the Western industrialised and emerging countries are the main greenhouse gas emitters, many ACP countries – particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – are directly threatened by the consequences of climate change through, for example, natural disasters, hurricanes and tornados, flooding and drought.

Their voice on this, along with their experience and good practices developed in countering or mitigating the drastic effects of climate change, can make a useful contribution to the deliberations in Paris.

Meanwhile, the ACP-EU Joint Council has endorsed recommendations concerning the migration crisis, including enacting comprehensive legislation on both trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants, stressing the differences between both phenomena, while also implementing relevant national laws.

The co-President of the Joint Council, Hon. Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of the ACP ministers, said: “We consider that even if the military and security approach is meant to discourage and respond immediately to the issue, there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive approach to deal with the root causes of this phenomenon, in partnership with all the countries involved.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Children Mon, 08 Jun 2015 23:59:39 +0000 Thalif Deen A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Minsk Agreements, the Only Path to Peace in Ukraine Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:43:19 +0000 Aslan Abashidze

Prof. Aslan Abashidze is the Head of the Department of International Law at Moscow’s Friendship University and a member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

By Aslan Abashidze
GENEVA, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

The “U.N. Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine”, which was referred to in an Inter Press Service (IPS) article of Jun. 2, does not, in my view, reflect many salient points.

How the lawful Government of Ukraine was overthrown is now well known. The new Kiev regime immediately announced the prohibition of the Russian language in the eastern regions of the country, inhabited mostly by the Russian speaking population.Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

As the U.N. report confirms, those who committed numerous murders on Maidan Square and in Odessa have not been prosecuted.

Combat aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force, armed with a full complement of missiles, bombed the centre of Donetsk in broad daylight. These events forced the creation of militia groups to defend their interests and territory.

That is how the military confrontation between the new regime in Kiev and eastern regions of Ukraine was created – thus causing 6,500 deaths, and over a million Ukrainian refugees now living inside Russia.

The fulfillment of all provisions of the Minsk agreements (ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, delivery of aid to the needy, local elections, formation of local authorities, constitutional reforms, etc.) signed by President Petro Poroshenko would no doubt preserve the territorial integrity of the Donetsk People’s Republic (Donetsk) and Luhansk People’s Republic (Luhansk) regions by obtaining acceptable status within the Ukrainian State.

Instead, what are we facing in fact?

The shelling of civilian areas in the eastern regions continues unabated. The observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report violations of the Minsk agreements on the side of Kiev. They probably cannot witness the Ukrainian Military incursions into East Ukraine which undoubtedly spark retaliation.

Civilians in Donetsk, including children, are dying. Various military units wearing fascist symbols act independent of the Kiev authorities, claiming they do not have to abide by Minsk Agreements.

Against this background, Poroshenko publicly states that his goal is to reclaim all areas by military force. To achieve that objective, Poroshenko mobilises the military, equips armies and recruits Private Security Companies from the U.S. and NATO Member States as well as others such as Georgia. Also, he continuously requests aid from Western countries — not only billions of dollars, but also heavy military equipment, including lethal weapons.

What for? To make peace or wage war?

Recently, the Ukraine Parliament – on the pretext of “anti-terrorist operations” – adopted an Act on the non-respect of human rights in Donetsk and Luhansk. But no one, including the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reminded the Ukrainian authorities that it is a violation of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In doing so, the Ukrainian authorities ignored the basic human right of the right to life.

It is also required that before passing such drastic laws, the country should declare a state of emergency, and clarify the need and duration of such a regime.

To declare a state of emergency, the Kiev authorities have to first recognise that an internal armed conflict exists in their territory, and secondly, they have to adhere to Article 3 that is common to four Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War of 1949 and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977.

In such a scenario, Kiev may not have access to loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, and it would not ethical to keep draconian restrictions of a socio-economic nature at the expense of the poor segment of the population while doing nothing against the high-level of corruption in government sectors.

Furthermore, the Kiev authorities have arbitrarily cancelled the benefits of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims, as well as child allowances. The U.N. human rights laws prohibit such retrogressive measures that worsen the situation of vulnerable groups.

Blatantly ignoring its social and economic obligations, the Kiev authorities have stopped supplying most needed medications; stopped paying pensions and benefits to people in those regions; and have blocked all food and essential items supply routes to these beleaguered regions.

What is also not acknowledged is the fact that since the beginning of this disaster, the Russian Federation has voluntarily sent 29 convoys of humanitarian aid to these regions, and that Russia provided natural gas after Kiev cut gas supplies to these regions in the height of the winter.

On Jun. 4, Poroshenko told the Parliament they will withdraw the economic blockade against Donetsk and Luhansk only if these regions came under their total control.

To achieve this, the Kiev authorities declared a total mobilisation of reservists and strengthened the bombing of the territory by large-scale artillery shells.

The selective approach of human rights organisations in relation to certain events raises concerns. Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

You may ask: What else can we do “to stop armed activities in the eastern part of Ukraine”, even though it is the paramount condition spelled out in the Minsk agreements signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, and supported by the U.S.?

First, of course, is to ensure that the Ukrainian authorities unreservedly honour the ceasefire. Secondly, if Kiev does not control certain military groups in territories under its control, then they should be disarmed by the OSCE peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, the structures of international organisations, including U.N. human rights structures, are subject to political influence from the United States and its NATO allies, which has led to a sharp decline in credibility of these establishments.

As we know, the U.S. continues its attempts to control world affairs – including world football. If this trend continues, the principles and norms of international law enshrined in the U.N. Charter will cease to operate – paving the way for military commanders to solve world problems. Any child understands that it would lead to the death of our civilisation.

The U.N. Charter states that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

There is no dispute in the world that cannot be resolved by peaceful negotiations. Figuratively speaking, we live in an “armed peace”, and in conditions of increasing threats and challenges.

What we need is the political will of world leaders to decide what kind of a world we want to live in – and for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

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