Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 29 Aug 2015 14:42:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142136 Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

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

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-s-provides-cover-for-use-of-banned-weapons-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142089 Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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UK, France Agree to New Measures to Tackle Migration Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/uk-france-agree-to-new-measures-to-tackle-migration-crisis/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 20:22:13 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142087 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

In response to the rapidly growing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers flooding European shores, France and the UK have announced new measures to crack down on English Channel crossings.

The deal consists of a new joint command and control centre in the northern French port city of Calais that aims to “relentlessly pursue and disrupt the callous criminal gangs that facilitate and profit from the smuggling of vulnerable people, often with total disregard for their lives,” Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May stated during a press conference Thursday.

Calais has become the focal point of a growing migration crisis, largely fueled by wars, hunger and political repression driving hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians out of countries like Syria, Libya, Sudan and other states across the Middle East and Africa.

An estimated 3,000 refugees live in makeshift tents in French port city.

The agreement also includes tough security measures such as increased police numbers, fencing, and CCTV to secure the Channel’s tunnel. The UK government has also pledged to establish a fast-track asylum process and to fund return flights for migrants. Britain plans to contribute 11.2 million dollars to the effort.

“Our joint approach rests on securing the border, identifying and safeguarding the vulnerable, preserving access to asylum for those who need it and giving no quarter to those who have no right to be here or who break the law,” said May and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve in the 6-page agreement.

However, Calais is only one of many regions seeing increased migration.

The European Union’s border agency Frontex declared on Aug. 18 that in the month of July alone, some 107,500 migrants crossed into Europe, more than triple the figure in July 2014, representing the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008 that new arrivals surpassed the 100,000 mark in a single month.

What will the new agreement mean for Eritreans?

Many of the migrants that make the perilous crossing into Europe are from Eritrea. Each month, approximately 5,000 Eritreans leave the small country of six million people in the Horn of Africa, reported a U.N. commission of inquiry on June 2015.

In a migration pattern report, Frontex found that Eritrean refugees were the second largest group in 2014 to have migrated to Europe, after Syrians.

Eritreans flee to escape gross human rights violations committed by the Eritrean government.

In the 2015 inquiry report, the U.N. commission found cases of extrajudicial killing, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced labour, enforced disappearance, as well as restrictions on speech, religious expression, and movement.

The commission also detailed the Eritrean government’s policy of military conscription, which forces men and women into national service indefinitely. This has prompted thousands of young Eritreans to flee the country.

Though the U.N. commission recognised that military conscription of citizens is a “prerogative of sovereign States,” it stated that it still involves the unlawful denial of freedoms and rights.

The commission concluded that the Eritrean government’s human rights restrictions could constitute crimes against humanity.

As a result, Eritreans migrate to Europe via neighboring countries of Sudan and Egypt. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, expressed concern over the human rights abuses in Eritrea to the General Assembly in 2013, stating, “The fact that they have crossed borders is indicative of the scale of despair these children are facing at home.”

The journey is not without its risks. Human Rights Watch has reported the brutal trafficking and torture of Eritreans for ransom money. Refugees also face the threat of treacherous boat accidents such as the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck that killed over 350 Eritreans.

But many are willing to face such dangers. While speaking to the Guardian, an Eritrean refugee discussed the decision to migrate to Europe, stating: “I have two choices – one is to die, the other is to live. If I die at sea, it won’t be a problem – at least I won’t be tortured.”

Such sentiments are heard often among refugees and asylum seekers who are increasingly risking hazardous journeys on makeshift vessels to escape brutal, degrading or even deadly conditions in their home countries.

In response to the situation in Calais, Amnesty International UK’s Refugee Programme Director Steve Symonds said that May must drop “tough” rhetoric on refugees and discuss “how the UK can save lives and protect the vulnerable.”

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, over 3,000 asylum seekers entering the UK in the first three months of 2015 were Eritrean, constituting the majority of applicants.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

“Pray for me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elida is not alone.

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

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

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

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

The shocking figures only begin to tell their story.

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

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

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

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

But Mexico’s disappeared are invisible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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U.N. Official Says Human Suffering in Yemen ‘Almost Incomprehensible’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-official-says-human-suffering-in-yemen-almost-incomprehensible/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 19:16:13 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142073 The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The 15-member Security Council discusses the security situation in Yemen on Aug. 20, 2015, at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

With a staggering four in five Yemenis now in need of immediate humanitarian aid, 1.5 million people displaced and a death toll that has surpassed 4,000 in just five months, a United Nations official told the Security Council Wednesday that the scale of human suffering is “almost incomprehensible”.

Briefing the 15-member body upon his return from the embattled Arab nation on Aug. 19, Under-Secretary-General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien stressed that the civilian population is bearing the brunt of the conflict and warned that unless warring parties came to the negotiating table there would soon be “nothing left to fight for”.

An August assessment report by Save the Children-Yemen on the humanitarian situation in the country of 26 million noted that over 21 million people, or 80 percent of the population, require urgent relief in the form of food, fuel, medicines, sanitation and shelter.

The health sector is on the verge of collapse, and the threat of famine looms large, with an estimated 12 million people facing “critical levels of food insecurity”, the organisation said.

In a sign of what O’Brien denounced as a blatant “disregard for human life” by all sides in the conflict, children have paid a heavy price for the fighting: 400 kids have lost their lives, while 600 of the estimated 22,000 wounded are children.

Aid groups say Monday’s bombing of the Houthi rebel-controlled Red Sea port by Saudi military jets has greatly worsened the risk of continued suffering, since the port served as the main entry point for shipments of humanitarian supplies.

In a statement published shortly after the airstrikes, Edward Santiago, Save the Children’s Country Director for Yemen, said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage at Hodeida but we can’t lose a day; time is running out for Yemen’s children who are already at risk of starvation, disease, and abuse.”

He said there are already 5.9 million children going hungry, 624,000 displaced and about 7.3 million sick and wounded kids who are not receiving medical attention.

Even as civilians’ needs multiply, funding for the humanitarian response remains slow.

U.N. agencies say they have only received 282 million dollars for the response plan, just 18 percent of the 1.6-billion-dollar sum requested. Even if Saudi Arabia makes good on its pledge of 274 million dollars it will only bring funding up to 33 percent of the total required to adequately meet the crisis.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said Wednesday its operations, too, are “grossly underfunded”; the agency has received just 16 percent of an urgent 182.6-million-dollar funding appeal.

The scale and rapid escalation of the conflict has much of the international community stunned. President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, said after a three-day visit to Yemen earlier this month that he was “appalled” by the situation for civilians, which is “nothing short of catastrophic”.

Having witnessed the destruction first-hand he added in a press interview on Aug. 19, “Yemen after five months looks like Syria after five years.”

O’Brien described the southern port city of Aden as a “shattered” metropolis, “where unexploded ordnance litter the streets and buildings”; while the city of Sana’a is pock-marked with craters left by airstrikes.

While humanitarian groups struggle to provide life-saving supplies, human rights watchdogs say the combination of Saudi-coalition-led airstrikes from above and fighting between pro- and anti Houthi armed groups on the ground have put civilians in an impossible situation.

A new Amnesty International report documenting what the organisation calls a “gruesome and bloody trail of death and destruction” suggests that unlawful attacks by all parties may amount to war crimes.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Web Movements Lift Democratic Decision-Making to a New Levelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/global-web-movements-lift-democratic-decision-making-to-a-new-level/#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:55:09 +0000 Britta Schmitz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142059 The chance to make an impact seems just a few mouse clicks away. Credit: Dorian V./cc by 2.0

The chance to make an impact seems just a few mouse clicks away. Credit: Dorian V./cc by 2.0

By Britta Schmitz
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2015 (IPS)

In recent years, online activism platforms have multiplied to the degree that they are starting to have a significant real world impact in areas like environmental protection, human rights and public policy.

The most important decision-making instrument of these platforms is the online petition. In the age of social media, the chance to make an impact seems just a few clicks away.“There are many metrics for success. Victory is the most obvious of metrics, but not all campaigns win and that does not necessarily mean that they are failures." -- Michael Allen Jones of Change.org

One can easily sign existing petitions or launch his or her own petition in an instant. Organisations such as 38 Degrees, Avaaz, Causes, Care2 Petitions, Change.org, ipetitions or MoveOn, just to name a few, have spread across the world and provide the option to start a free petition. Even the White House has launched an official online petition initiative called We The People.

Two big platforms that primarily provide the service of online petitions are Avaaz and Change.org, both eight years old.

“Democratic accountability is hardwired into our model. While the Avaaz team and supporters suggest campaigns, each campaign is polled and tested with a randomized sample of the Avaaz community,” Aften Meltzer, a spokesperson for Avaaz, told IPS.

Transparent monitoring of a campaign’s impact on social change might be the key to gaining more influence and going beyond primarily raising awareness, she said.

Avaaz is a democratic network of over 41 million members which was founded in New York. It has become a global movement within just a few years. Eighteen national teams on six continents launch campaigns all over the world by mobilising individuals to participate in decision-making processes on a local, national or global level.

According to their website, more than 253 million actions have been taken via Avaaz since its launch in 2007. Avaaz solely depends on individual online contributions up to 5,000 dollars.

Change.org is a similar online initiative with over 113 million participants and more than 13,000 successful petitions in 196 countries. It works in the same way by giving people the chance to make a contribution by participating in online petitions. Change.org is a social enterprise and certified B Corporation.

“Our mission is to empower people everywhere to create the change they want to see, and we believe the best way to achieve that mission is by combining the vision of a non-profit with the flexibility and innovation of a tech startup,” said Michael Allen Jones, Deputy Managing Director for North America at Change.org.

Some measurable successes

Global online networks attract a lot of international attention. Avaaz has collected online signatures and sent personal messages to Ministers of the European Commission, asking for a European Agenda on Migration.

“450,000 EU members called for urgent action, and the petition was delivered to key EU decision maker,” said Meltzer. “Our members’ voices were heard, and the EU struck a deal to boost its search and rescue budget and offer sanctuary to over 50,000 refugees.”

A one million strong petition organised by Avaaz had an impact on clothing company Benetton’s decision to reimburse the victims of the severe accident in Bangladesh’s garment factory house Rana Plaza in 2013.

Benetton decided to contribute 1.1 million dollars to the Rana Plaza Trust Fund. Besides the online petition, Avaaz put up billboards outside Benetton’s headquarters, initiated various negotiations with the CEO and company executives, and launched awareness campaigns in social media networks.

Change.org also provides information on its online petition highlights: for example, the video game company EA sports will finally include women players in their soccer games starting from September 2016. The online petition which led to this success was initiated three years ago by 13-year-old soccer fan Rebekah Araujo.

Another successful petition is the one conducted on behalf of Jeff Mizanskey, who had spent 20 years in prison. Mizanskey was the only man in Missouri serving a life-sentence without parole for non-violent marijuana offenses. As a result of collecting almost 400,000 signatures for an online petition initiated by Mizanskey’s son, he was granted clemency by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon on May 28 this year.

Raising awareness vs. lack of transparency

Given the fact that the signing of online petitions is the most important instrument of these organisations, their networks seem quite loose. All around the world, people who are normally not interconnected can make a one-time contribution and organisations like Avaaz or Change.org have little influence on whether contributors will engage in further campaigns or not. Participants might not necessarily want to learn more about the cause of a petition.

“The network here isn’t as loose as it may seem,” Jones told IPS. “They [the signers] join forces with a petition starter and want to be kept in the loop about a campaign’s narrative and progress.

“Sure, the numbers might be big, but we’ve found that petition signers actually crave updates on petitions – they want to see news articles written about the campaign, see photos from a petition delivery that a starter might do, or hear about whether a campaign wins or makes progress. That’s a level of engagement that goes far beyond just signing a petition, and really makes signers part of the story in a petition’s life cycle.”

The impact of online petitions cannot always reliably be monitored. Other groups or individuals work on social issues as well, so it is hard to say who is responsible for a change.

Jones of Change.Org told IPS: “There are many metrics for success. Victory is the most obvious of metrics, but not all campaigns win and that does not necessarily mean that they are failures. Campaigns have the power to influence a narrative on an issue, introduce new thought and emotion into a debate, and of course raise the volume on issues important to marginalised communities.”

When anyone can start a campaign and mobilise a vast number of participants, the rising number of online petitions might lead to a decline in their value. The White House already had to raise the threshold for petitions via We The People from 5,000 to 100,000 signatures, as the platform was flooded with petitions.

Nevertheless, when looking at the outcome of online petitions, they are a perfect example of the strength of weak ties. People can easily and collectively interact on the same social causes. Online petitions raise awareness. They enable immediate action, as they spread through social media. Online campaigns can be started anytime, anywhere and by anyone who has access to the internet.

With their polished web appearances, these organisations continuously expand their communities, especially attracting young web-savvy individuals who want to make a difference in some way.

Besides online petitions, some platforms also conduct on-the-ground campaigns. As long as they continue offering the option to participate in such initiatives and deliver reliable monitoring when it comes to the impact, they have the chance of transforming political decision-making processes in the long-term.

Of course, the end goal is that activism goes beyond the realms of the internet, and mobilises people to get involved in their communities and beyond. Effective and transparent monitoring that shows the impact of an online petition could attract more citizens and transform the online petition into an established instrument of modern democracy.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The Writing on the Western Wallhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-writing-on-the-western-wall/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 17:40:57 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142045 Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

Western wall in Jerusalem at night. Credit: Wayne McLean/cc by 2.0

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

The writing on the Western Wall is evident to most Israelis: “דמוגרפיה היא גורל” or “demography is destiny”. Those unwilling to acknowledge the prophetic message are either deceiving themselves or simply ignoring it in order to avoid facing the implications of demography for Israel’s future.

In order to be both a Jewish and democratic state, Israel has adhered to a clear demographic principle:  maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority. During the first few decades following its establishment in 1948, the proportions Jewish among the several million Israelis remained at record highs of nearly 90 percent (Figure 1).In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo.

Since then, even with the large-scale Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, the Jewish proportion in Israel, while still a sizeable majority, has declined steadily. Today the proportion Jewish among the Israeli population of more than eight million is at an historic low of 75 percent.

Although the country’s Jewish majority will likely continue to decline slightly over the next 20 years, it is expected to remain over 70 percent according to official Israeli population projections. Those projections, however, assume that no significant numbers of non-Jews outside pre-1967 Israel are granted Israeli citizenship. If this assumption is relaxed, very different demographic futures emerge for Israel.

The Israeli population, for example, could be combined with the Palestinian populations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to form a single state with universal suffrage, in other words the one-state solution. While the expanded nation would continue to be democratic in principle, it would no longer be a Jewish state because the majority of the enlarged Israeli population would no longer be Jewish.

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

Source: Israel Central Bureaus of Statistics and United Nations Population Division

A more likely possibility perhaps would be for the Palestinians in the West Bank to be granted Israeli citizenship. At least during the first couple of decades of such a scenario, Jewish Israelis would retain their majority, being slightly above half of the total population.

However, after several decades, Jewish Israelis would likely turn out to be the minority due to higher rates of demographic growth among their non-Jewish compatriots. Here again, an expanded Israel enfranchising large numbers of non-Jews would continue to be a democracy but would eventually cease to be a predominantly Jewish state.

The current Israeli government does not envisage the establishment of a Palestinian state any time in the foreseeable future. Although some Israeli politicians have called for the creation of a separate Palestinian state in the occupied territories, key Israeli government officials and their pivotal supporters believe that it would be collective suicide for Israel to permit the establishment of a Palestinian state. They prefer to annex West Bank land, or Judea and Samaria using their terminology, which some contend is already the de facto case.

In addition, a majority of the Israeli public view reaching a peace agreement with a two-state solution as a pipedream and many are opposed to a two-state solution. Any support voiced by Israelis for a two-state solution invariably evaporates when the details of a possible peace agreement are spelled out, such as the sharing of Jerusalem, removing Israeli settlements or returning to some pre-1967 borders.

Also, more than 120 government-approved Israeli settlements and 100 unofficial ones have been established in the West Bank. The growing Israeli settler population in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is estimated at approximately 750,000. In the West Bank alone, the number of settlers has more than doubled since 1995 to about 400,000.

It appears highly unlikely that Israel will be able to withdraw its Jewish settlers from the occupied land as it did in 2005 when it withdrew with some difficulty about 9,000 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip.

Despite the government’s opposition, public resistance and the ever-expanding demographic facts on the occupied ground, the two-state solution continues to be kept on life support largely through the sponsorship, funds and hopes of the international community, in particular the United States and its Western allies.

The ostensible reason for keeping this all-but-dead diplomatic path alive is to avoid confronting the inevitable alternatives to the failed attempts to establish a separate Palestinian state.

Soon, however, the two-state solution will be given its formal funeral, especially as peace talks have collapsed and the Israeli occupation is approaching its 50th anniversary. When this happens, the options remaining for the Israelis will be limited and difficult with the one-state solution with its eventual Palestinian majority loudly knocking at Israel’s front doorstep.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-state solution’s formal demise, Israel will try to avoid facing demographic realities and maintain an untenable status quo. The Israeli government will likely continue to enforce its costly and troubling occupation and control over millions of Palestinians, expand and increase Jewish settlements and consolidate its presence and authority throughout Jerusalem. However, those and related acts will in all likelihood only exacerbate an already vexing and volatile situation.

Attempts to preserve the status quo will lead to the numerous Jewish settlements becoming increasingly entrenched and entangled in the West Bank. The living conditions and disposition of the Palestinians in the occupied territories will worsen and their human rights concerns can be expected to rise to the top of the international community’s political agenda.

Israeli administrative decisions, Knesset bills and judicial pronouncements can neither dismiss nor repeal the laws of demography. No doubt some will choose to challenge the numbers and their significance, contending that under any foreseeable demographic circumstances Israel will remain a democratic and Jewish nation.

Inevitably, however, and likely sooner rather than later the Israeli government will be obliged to acknowledge the writing on the Western Wall and address demography’s decisive implications for the future of Israel.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan Falters in the Face of Intensifying Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:40:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142041 This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the number of civilians impacted by the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan rises along with the fighting, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded, hungry and displaced.

The first half of 2015 has seen “record high levels” of civilian casualties, the United Nations relief agency said Tuesday, with civilian deaths touching 1,592 and total non-combatant casualties standing at over 4,900 – a one-percent increase compared to the number of casualties in the same period in 2014.

Fresh fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab and Nangarhar are indicative of the geographic spread of the conflict, while tensions and sporadic clashes all across the central regions are forcing huge numbers of civilians from their homes.

An estimated 103,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in 2015 alone, including from locations hitherto untouched by forced population movements including Badakshan, Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar and Badgis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its mid-year review released on Aug. 18.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen.

Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering.

Funding for every single relief “cluster” identified by OCHA is failing to keep pace with civilians’ needs. So far, the U.N. has received only 3.5 million dollars of the required 40 million dollars for provision of emergency housing, while funding for food security and health are falling short by 56 million and 29 millions dollars respectively.

Far more refugees have returned to the country, primarily from Pakistan, in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, with 43,695 returnees as of July 2015 compared to 9,323 in 2014.

OCHA noted, “Overall return and deportee rates of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan stand at 319,818 people. At the same time, over 73,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan, which is on average six times higher per day than in 2014.”

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.

As is always the case, providing adequate water and sanitation facilities is one of the top priorities of the humanitarian plan in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, but though the U.N. has put forward a figure of 25 million dollars for this purpose, only 15 million dollars are currently available.

“An increase in people requiring humanitarian assistance coupled with insufficient funding for food security agencies, particularly WFP [the World Food Programme], means that programmes for conflict IDPs, vulnerable returnees, refugees and malnourished children are all seriously under-resourced and in some cases have been terminated,” the report revealed.

Data on affected populations are believed to be incomplete owing largely to inaccessibility of the most heavily embattled regions, prompting U.N. officials to warn that the real number of people in need of critical, lifesaving services and supplies could be even higher than current estimates.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that civilian casualties in the first six months of 2015 saw an increase of 43 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

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U.N. Marks Humanitarian Day Battling Its Worst Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-marks-humanitarian-day-battling-its-worst-refugee-crisis/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 20:42:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142034 Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Portrait of a man inside the "27 February" Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf, Algeria. 24 June 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is commemorating World Humanitarian Day with “inspiring” human interest stories of survival – even as the world body describes the current refugee crisis as the worst for almost a quarter of a century.

The campaign, mostly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, is expected to flood social media feeds with stories of both resilience and hope from around the world, along with a musical concert in New York.“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it's simply not enough to meet the growing needs.” -- Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam

“It’s true we live in a moment in history where there’s never been a greater need for humanitarian aid since the United Nations was founded,” says U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

“And every day, I talk about people and I use numbers, and the numbers are numbing, right — 10,000, 50,000,” he laments.

But as U.N. statistics go, the numbers are even more alarming than meets the eye: more than 4.0 million Syrians are now refugees in neighbouring countries, including Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon (not including the hundreds who are dying in mid-ocean every week as they try to reach Europe and escape the horrors of war at home).

And more troubling, at least an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced within Syria – all of them in need of humanitarian assistance—and over 220,000 have been killed in a military conflict now on its fifth year.

The U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien said “with nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced around the world, we face a crisis on a scale not seen in generations.”

In early August, O’Brien decided to release some 70 million dollars from a U.N. reserve fund called the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) – primarily for chronically underfunded aid operations.

Besides Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen, the humanitarian crisis has also impacted heavily on Sudan, South Sudan, the Horn of Africa, Chad, the Central African Republic, Myanmar and Bangladesh, among others.

Noah Gottschalk, Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response at Oxfam International, told IPS the international humanitarian system created decades ago has saved countless lives but today, the humanitarian system is “overwhelmed and underfunded” at a time when natural hazards are projected to increase in both frequency and severity at the same time as the world must respond to unprecedented protracted crises like the conflict in Syria.

“Some donors have been very generous and their support is crucial and deeply valued, but it’s simply not enough to meet the growing needs,” he said.

The United Nations and the greater humanitarian system, he pointed out, needs to be reformed to be more efficient and to better respond to needs by supporting local leadership and capacity and funding programmes that help communities reduce the impact of disasters before emergencies occur.

Meanwhile, the #ShareHumanity social media campaign, currently underway, hopes to build momentum towards the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in Istanbul next May.

According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), this year’s World Humanitarian Day campaign, beginning Aug. 19, reflects a world where humanitarian needs are far outstripping the aid community’s capacity to help the millions of people affected by natural disasters, conflict, hunger and disease.

Oxfam’s Gottschalk told IPS World Humanitarian Day is an important opportunity to stop and honour the brave women and men who work tirelessly around the world every day to save lives in incredibly difficult circumstances.

He said local humanitarian workers are often the first to respond when a crisis hits and rarely get the recognition, and most importantly, the support they deserve to lead responses in their own countries.

Oxfam has been making a strong push for mandatory contributions from U.N. Member States to fund humanitarian responses, which it says, will provide a more consistent and robust funding stream.

More of that funding should flow directly to the local level, and be allocated more transparently so that donors can track impact and local communities can follow the aid and hold their leaders accountable and demand results, he noted.

Gottschalk said millions of people around the world depend on the global humanitarian system, and this is in no small part due to the committed and compassionate people who are struggling to make the system work despite declining resources and increasing need.

These reforms will make the system more effective and better equip these dedicated humanitarians to save lives and ease suffering, he declared.

The ongoing military conflicts have also claimed the lives of hundreds of health workers, says the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva.

In 2014 alone, WHO said it received reports of 372 attacks in 32 countries on health workers, resulting in 603 deaths and 958 injuries, while similar incidents have been recorded this year.

“WHO is committed to saving lives and reducing suffering in times of crisis. Attacks against health care workers and facilities are flagrant violations of international humanitarian law,” said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, in a statement released to mark World Humanitarian Day.

She said health workers have an obligation to treat the sick and injured without discrimination. “ All parties to conflict must respect that obligation,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Prospects for Peace in South Sudan Fading Fasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 13:29:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142024 A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

By a Global Information Network correspondent
JUBA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Dismissing efforts, including those of U.S. President Barack Obama, to sign off on a peace agreement and end the 20-month-long civil war in the world’s newest nation, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declined to sign, saying he needed more time for consultations.

President Kiir’s team reportedly had “reservations” over the deal and wanted an additional 15 days before returning to sign, Seyoum Mesfin, mediator for IGAD, a regional group, told the media.

Rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar did sign the agreement.

Among the issues in dispute were the structure of the government, the powers of the president, and the vice president, power-sharing percentages, security issues, and the demilitarisation of Juba and other places.

Then, in a move that would add fuel to the fire, President Kiir on Monday removed four elected state governors and arrested one of them.

The actions by the South Sudanese leader threw the U.S. strategy into a tailspin. A State Department release expressed “deep regret” for the failure to sign a peace proposal by Monday’s deadline.

“The United States deeply regrets that the government of South Sudan chose not to sign … We call on the government to sign the agreement within the 15-day period it requested for consultations,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at his daily briefing.

Meanwhile, a film that shows that cost of war and colonial exploitation in South Sudan, opened in New York on Monday. The film, “We Come As Friends” is a work by Austrian-born filmmaker Hubert Sauper who previously made the film “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a film about Uganda.

That film, nominated for the Academy Award, “sifted through the wreckage of globalization by way of the fishing export industry in Lake Victoria, the impact on local Tanzanians, and a fast-and-loose subculture of Russian cargo-plane pilots.

“We Come as Friends” is firmly rooted in reality, wrote The New York Times in a review. “The ‘land grab’ confirmed in the nighttime scene with the tribal leader has occurred frequently, in Sudan and elsewhere, said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the think tank Oakland Institute, which has studied such issues.

“It’s not one of a kind — it’s not a small trend; it’s widespread,” Ms. Mittal said of the kind of “resource theft” that Sauper depicts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Tiny Island Nation Pleads for Global Moratorium on New Coal Mineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:03:21 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141976 Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

The tiny island of Kiribati in the Central Pacific, with a population of about 103,000, has long been identified as one of the U.N. member states threatened with physical extinction due to sea-level rise triggered largely by climate change.

Expressing these fears, Kiribati President Anote Tong has called on world leaders, on the eve of a summit meeting at the United Nations next month, for “a global and immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection - it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse." -- Kumi Naidoo

In a letter to the leaders of the 193 member states, he has urged them to back his call to action in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in December.

Speaking on behalf of “a nation faced with a very uncertain future”, he says: “It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour.”

“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical,” he says in the letter.

The president, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on September 30, already has strong backing from Greenpeace International,

Asked how coal and coal mining impacts on climate change, Leanne Minshull, Senior Portfolio Manager, Climate and Energy at Greenpeace International, told IPS a third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal.

“And it’s used to produce nearly 40 percent of the world’s power,” she pointed out.

Coal mining, the first step in the dirty lifecycle of coal, causes deforestation and releases toxic amounts of minerals and heavy metals into the soil and water, she said.

“Coal mining’s effects persist for years after coal is removed. Coal also causes damage to people’s health and communities around the world. While the coal industry itself isn’t paying for the damage it causes, the world at large is,” said Minshull.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including widespread drought, flooding and massive population displacement caused by rising sea levels, she noted, “we need to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (compared to pre-industrial levels). To do this, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and from there go down to zero.”

The world’s top hard coal producers include China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Speaking from Kiribati, where is currently on a visit, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Dr. Kumi Naidoo, said the people of Kiribati are refusing to be silenced by reckless governments and corporations that are perpetuating climate change, and which in turn is causing rising sea levels.

“I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice,” Naidoo said.

“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection – it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse,” he added.

Asked about the power wielded by the coal mining lobby and corporations that are in the coal mining business, Minshull told IPS the fossil fuel industry as a whole has a long history in the U.S. of disseminating misinformation on the impacts of climate change and using underhanded tactics to gain positive legislative outcomes for their industry.

She said Greenpeace put out an excellent report last year exposing the influence of the fossil fuel industry including coal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says “for nearly three decades, many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change.”

Their deceptive tactics are now highlighted in seven “deception dossiers“— collections of internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

Naidoo said, “We know the science and we know the end of the age of coal is coming. Scrambling to dig up more dirty coal can only be driven by ignorance or sheer disregard for the millions of people at risk from burning it.”

“We need international leadership on this issue and a planned retreat from coal involving a just transition for existing workers and developed in consultation with affected communities,” he declared.

An assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed that the sea level rise projected for this century will present ‘severe flood and erosion risks’ for low-lying islands, with the potential also for degradation of freshwater resources.

Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. In some places the sea level is rising by 1.2 centimetres a year, four times faster than the global average.

This means that 80 per cent of coal reserves must remain unused if we are to have any chance at protecting nations like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines, according to Greenpeace.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Half a Million U.S. Women and Girls at Risk of Genital Cuttinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/half-a-million-u-s-women-and-girls-at-risk-of-genital-cutting/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:41:34 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141879 FGM is a taboo topic in many cultures. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Jaha Dukureh knows firsthand the barbaric effects of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Now a resident of the United States, she was mutilated as a baby in the Gambia in West Africa. Her sister bled to death after enduring the same procedure.

What was done to Dakureh is called “infibulation,” where the clitoris and the labia are removed and the vagina is sealed to insure a girl’s virginity until marriage."Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse." -- Paula Kweskin

Now a passionate advocate against FGM/C, Dakureh issued a call to arms on the eve of President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa, urging him to “play a historic role in the fight to eliminate FGM.”

“While the origins of FGM are ancient and predate organised religion, there is one thing we know for sure: its purpose is to control female sexuality and lessen a woman’s humanity,” she wrote in a powerful commentary for the Guardian.

In the last 15 years, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM/C in the United States has more than doubled, advocacy groups warn, calling for stronger measures to prevent this human rights violation.

According to data from the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. research group, a staggering 506,795 girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

“It’s important this subject is no longer taboo,” Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney who produced a film called Honor Diaries that deals with the problem of FGM, told IPS. “It needs to be discussed at every level so that it can be addressed and eradicated. When it’s swept under the carpet, women and girls are revictimized by the silence and inaction.”

“Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse.”

The top 10 metropolitan areas where girls and women are at highest risk of female genital mutilation include New York, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The PRB notes that FGM/C, which entails partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth.

Most girls at risk are in found in sub-Saharan Africa. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, for example, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. But the practice is not limited to developing countries.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone the procedure, according to a report released in July by City University London and Equality Now.

In the United States, the PRB says, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters abroad to be cut — so-called “vacation cutting” — spurred the passage of a law in 2013 making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting.

“We urge the U.S. to provide a public update on its plans to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels,” Shelby Quast, policy director at Equality Now, said last month.

She added that having specific laws in each state would prompt state schools, hospitals and clinics as well as local law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to step up prevention efforts and act swiftly in FGM cases.

“People in [the U.S.] don’t want to think it happens here. But their daughters might be sitting next to a best friend who can be subjected to a violent, cultural procedure,” she told NPR. “If it were cutting the nose or the ear off — something everyone could see — there’d be a different response. We can’t continue to hide this away.”

The U.S. Congress had already passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice, which has grown in part because of increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2000 and 2013, the PRB says, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million. Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013.

“This is a barbaric and completely unnecessary practice that causes devastating physical and psychological damage for countless girls and women in the United States and countries across the globe,” said Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Raheel, a human rights activist, is among several Muslim women featured in Honor Diaries, a documentary breaking the silence on FGM and other abuse against women and girls in honour-based communities.

Edited by Thalif Deen

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Pakistan One of the World’s First Safe Havens for Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/pakistan-one-of-the-worlds-first-safe-havens-for-refugees/#comments Tue, 04 Aug 2015 16:28:14 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141861 A group of refugee women and their children await the arrival of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Shamshatoo camp in December 2001. The camp, at a frontier province in north-west Pakistan, served as temporary home to some 70,000 Afghan refugees fleeing fighting between the United Front and the Taliban. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

A group of refugee women and their children await the arrival of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the Shamshatoo camp in December 2001. The camp, at a frontier province in north-west Pakistan, served as temporary home to some 70,000 Afghan refugees fleeing fighting between the United Front and the Taliban. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations has declared that 2015 is already “the deadliest year” for millions of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing war and persecution in their countries.

“Worldwide, one in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum,” says the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)."Even as the current challenges are unprecedented in scope and nature, they call for responses that are anchored in the values of compassion and empathy and living up to our collective humanitarian responsibility.” -- Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi

But one of the least publicised facts is that Pakistan was one of the world’s first countries to provide safe haven for millions of refugees fleeing a military conflict in a neighbouring country: Afghanistan.

According to UNHCR, Pakistan has been hosting over 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees — the largest protracted refugee population globally—since the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Currently, Turkey ranks at number one, hosting more than 1.7 million registered refugees, mostly from war-devastated Syria, with Pakistan at number two and Jordan ranking third with over 800,000 refugees.

Developing countries now host over 86 percent of the world’s refugees, compared to 70 percent about 10 years ago.

Asked how her country coped with that crisis in the 1980s, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi told IPS Pakistan actually hosted well over 3.0 million refugees when the numbers fleeing conflict peaked in 1990.

A 2005 census confirmed that figure, of which 1.5 million are registered while the rest are undocumented.

“The United Nations and the international community have played an important role in support of Pakistan’s efforts to look after our Afghan brothers and sisters,” she said.

“But a great deal of this effort has been met from our own modest resources because we see this to be our humanitarian responsibility,” said Dr Lodhi, a former journalist with a doctorate from the London School of Economics and who has had a distinguished career as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK and Ambassador to the United States.

“It is the people of Pakistan who have shown exemplary generosity and compassion in embracing the Afghan refugees and extending help and support to them, and that too for over three decades,” she added.

As the UNHCR report notes, she said, Pakistan remains the world’s second largest refugee-hosting country. “I would add that in terms of the protracted presence of refugees, it is still the world’s top refugee-hosting country.”

At a U.N. panel discussion on “the plight of refugees and migrants” last week, she said: “We never tried to turn any back, nor did we erect barriers or walls but embraced them as part of our humanitarian duty.”

As hundreds and thousands of refugees continue to flee to Europe, some of the European countries have tried either to limit the number or bar them completely.

Peter Sutherland, a U.N. special representative for international migration, is quoted as saying the attempt to bar migrants and refugees, mostly from Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan, is “a xenophobic response to the issue of free movement.”

The humanitarian crisis has spilled over into Europe, mostly Germany, with about 175,000 claims by asylum seekers, compared with 25,000 claims in the UK last year.

According to the United Nations, the 28-member European Union (EU) received 570,800 claims from asylum seekers in 2014, an increase of nearly 44 percent over 2013.

The crisis point, according to the New York Times, is one of Britain’s main traffic-clogged highways where migrants make their way through the Channel Tunnel from the French port city of Calais.

“The British are blaming the French, the French are blaming the British, and both are blaming the European Union for an incoherent policy toward the thousands of people, many of them fleeing political horrors at home, who are trying to find jobs and a better future for themselves and their families in Europe,” the Times said.

As his country vowed emergency steps to resolve the refugee crisis on the home front, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann said last week shelter for refugees was a human right the country was legally and morally obligated to provide.

Austria, with a population of about 8.5 million, has received over 28,000 asylum claims in the first half of this year, slightly more than the total for 2014.

In 2014, up to 3,072 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean, compared with an estimate of 700 in 2013, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Globally, IOM estimates that at least 4,077 migrants died in 2014, and at least 40,000 since the year 2000.

“The true number of fatalities is likely to be higher, as many deaths occur in remote regions of the world and are never recorded. Some experts have suggested that for every dead body discovered, there are at least two others that are never recovered,” said IOM.

Asked about lessons learnt, Ambassador Lodhi told IPS “even as the current challenges are unprecedented in scope and nature, they call for responses that are anchored in the values of compassion and empathy and living up to our collective humanitarian responsibility.”

She said these challenges also require a spirit of generosity and to never turn away from the needs of those who are so tragically displaced by circumstances of war, poverty or persecution.

“This spirit should shape our policies, inform our strategies, as well as empower the institutions of global governance and create conditions that can address the drivers and underlying reasons for such displacements,” she added.

At the panel discussion, Ambassador Lodhi pointed out that more than half of the world’s refugees today are children, a number that has risen steadily, up from 41 per cent in 2009, and the highest figure in over a decade.

This only magnifies the scale of the tragedy at hand, she added.

The recent and ongoing surge of forced displacement has been accompanied by the tragic loss of lives. Thousands of men, women and children have drowned in the Mediterranean.

And in East Asia, she said, thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been reported dead or missing as they made their journeys of escape from persecution, confinement and waves of deadly violence directed at them.

“How has the international community responded to all of this?” she said. “By, frankly, not doing enough and not acting decisively in the face of this humanitarian emergency. The international community – to its shame – has ignored massive human suffering in the past. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica, among other crises.”

And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame, she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Partnerships Critical to the SDGs, Reducing Inequalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/partnerships-critical-to-the-sdgs-reducing-inequality/#comments Mon, 03 Aug 2015 18:26:19 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141851 South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

South Korea's Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated last week as the president of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 3 2015 (IPS)

Last week, South Korea’s Permanent Representative Oh Joon was inaugurated as the new president of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). As such, he will have a key role in setting the course for implementing the ambitious Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be adopted at the summit of world leaders in September.

In his inaugural address, Oh laid out his agenda, saying, “The Council will lead the efforts to build an inclusive and engaging global partnership – one that welcomes the significant contribution that all stakeholders can provide.”"We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.” -- Hahn Choong-hee

He has made the problem of inequality among and within nations his priority and announced that he is convening a special meeting of ECOSOC on this subject early next year.

In an interview with IPS, Oh’s Deputy Permanent Representative Hahn Choong-hee said, “Inequality has in the past been a separate discussion, however, it is now being discussed much more in the context of development.”

Explaining its importance of dealing with both development and inequality in a troubled world, Hahn said, “We cannot achieve a really peaceful and inclusive society without addressing violent extremism. At the same time, without achieving economic growth there are always isolated and marginalised groups which are more prone to violence, which makes it really difficult to counter violent extremism.”

Hahn, a career diplomat who has held senior positions in South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and served in Africa, Europe and America, stressed the importance of global partnership in pursuing the SDGs.

This requires three steps which must be accomplished.

The first is communicating the SDGs, so everybody understands what they stand for and hope to accomplish. However, there should also be conceptual understanding of the underlying issues such as social justice, inequality, and the economic, social, and environmental aspects.

Second, he said, all stakeholders, including civil society, NGOs, youth, media and academia, should participate in the process.

Third, everybody has something to contribute to the SDGs. “Whether it is financing from the private sector or technology and knowledge from academia and universities, everybody can contribute,” Hahn said.

Hahn touched on a range of issues of importance for the post-2015 agenda.

“Throughout the next 12 months we have many different processes to invite global partnerships, in which youth particularly will be extremely engaged. Society is very vocal about youth being a major player in the outcomes of development, especially in the next 15 years, but this is not just an issue to be talked about, but an issue to be acted on,” said Hahn.

He said motivating people for development was key, especially in rural areas. “This is an important engine. We have resources and technology, however, we cannot overcome this poverty without people understanding that we have to work together diligently. We have to mobilise with the motivation that this poverty should and could be stopped within our generation if we work hard collectively and strategically.”

Hahn also stressed the importance of democracy for development, citing the experience of his own country.

“Democracy means developing democratic institutions and rule of law to ensure that money which individuals earn through hard work will be protected… In (the Republic of) Korea’s development narrative, economic growth was advancing while the democratic process was lagging behind. However, when people have a good revenue and increased salary, they begin to want better protection systems for this income. What democracy means is protection and transparency.”

On how to deal with extremism, he said that education, media, migration and youth are four key areas in tackling the problem.

“Although we are talking about ‘Nobody Left Behind’ in the post-2015 agenda, in reality we need to leave behind the groups perpetuating violent extremism, in order to indicate that their argument is not acceptable to the international society,” Hahn said. “We have to isolate these groups.”

He added: “We have to teach young students about global citizenship. Critical thinking is very important when it comes to handling issues of violent extremism, to teach the youth that violent extremism is not workable with a peaceful and inclusive society.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Panel Spotlights Plight of Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-panel-spotlights-plight-of-refugees/#comments Fri, 31 Jul 2015 22:03:15 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141826 Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

Ramatou Wallet Madouya (r) and her sister Fatma (l) in Goudebo camp, Burkina Faso on Feb. 14, 2013. They are two of many Malians who fled the fighting in their country. Credit: Marc-André Boisvert/IPS

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 31 2015 (IPS)

“Let us remember that behind every story, every figure, every number, there is a person – a girl, a boy, a parent, a family,” Anne Christine Eriksson, Acting Director of the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), said at a panel discussion at the U.N. on Thursday.

Amidst the rising numbers of people forced to flee their homes, the event, titled on “The Plight of Refugees and Migrants: Assessing Global Trends and Humanitarian Responses,” aimed at raising awareness of the current global refugee crisis and discussing the most important challenges linked to it as well as ideas on how to tackle it.

As emphasised throughout the discussion, worldwide displacement is at the highest level ever recorded due to new and ongoing conflicts, persecution and poverty. According to UNHCR’s recently released annual “Global Trends Report: World at War”, the number of people forcibly displaced reached a record high of 59.5 million by the end of 2014. This number was 51.2 million one year earlier and only 37.5 million a decade ago.

Apart from that, 2015 has also proven to be the deadliest year for migrants and asylum seekers. Over 900 migrants died in just a single incident in April 2015. One month later, thousands of fleeing Rohingya muslims were facing death from starvation in East Asia.

The international response to such crises has been inadequate, Maleeha Lodhi, Permanent Representative of Pakistan, said in her opening remarks.

“The international community to its shame has ignored massive human suffering in the past and the U.N. is not without blame in this regard. We are reminded of Rwanda and Srebrenica among other crises. And the current crisis of refugees could mark a new flag of shame.”

Speaking about challenges in addressing the global refugee crisis, participants and panelists highlighted in particular the strains on refugee-hosting countries in terms of infrastructure and education. Fears were also expressed that the mass movements would lead to spill-over effects and threaten the security of the whole region.

In this respect, lacking international solidarity in terms of burden-sharing was declared a major concern. Further problems expressed were donor fatigue and rising hostilities towards migrants on top of their human suffering.

Peter Wilson, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the U.N., named three examples that might represent upcoming opportunities to resolve the crisis. First, Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), building peaceful and inclusive societies, which can be used “to tackle the causes of these problems and not just the symptoms”, second, the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul which brings together both the humanitarian and the development community and third, new innovative concepts such as providing migrants with direct cash.

Other ideas expressed during the discussion involve cooperating with all stakeholders concerned, including host governments, authorities on regional, local and national levels, the U.N. system as well as development organisations and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the donor community.

Moreover, reframing the refugee crisis as security issue might help to convince voters and parliamentarians to spend more money on solving the crisis as an investment in security and thus allow for additional funding.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceilinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/women-peace-and-security-agenda-still-hitting-glass-ceiling/#comments Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141798 Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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