Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:39:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Promoting Human Rights Through Global Citizenship Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:28:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136725 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid escalating conflicts and rampant violations of human rights all over the world, spreading “human rights education” is not an easy task. But a non-governmental organisation from Japan is beginning to make an impact through its “global citizenship education” approach.

At the current annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which began on Sep. 8, two side events marked the beginning of what promises to be a sustained campaign to spread human rights education (HRE).

Alongside the first, the launch of the web resource “The Right to Human Rights Education” by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a special workshop was also convened on HRE for media professionals and journalists.

The workshop was an initiative of the NGO Working Group on HRE chaired by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a prominent NGO from Japan fighting for the abolition of nuclear weapons, sustainable development and human rights education.“It is important to raise awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts” – Kazunari Fujii, Soka Gakkai International

“This is the first time that the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning and a group of seven countries representing the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training have organised a workshop on human rights education for media professionals and journalists,” said Kazunari Fujii, SGI’s Geneva representative.

Fujii has been working among human rights pressure groups in Geneva to mobilise support for intensifying HRE campaigning. “Through the promotion of human rights education, SGI wants to foster a culture of human rights that prevents violations from occurring in the first place,“ Fujii told IPS after the workshop on Tuesday (Sep. 16).

“While protection of human rights is the core objective of the U.N. Charter, it is equally important to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses,” he argued.

Citing SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s central message to foster a “culture of human rights”, Fujii said his mission in Geneva is to bring about solidarity among NGOs for achieving SGI’s major goals on human rights, nuclear disarmament and sustainable development.

The current session of the Human Rights Council, which will end on Sep. 26, is grappling with a range of festering conflicts in different parts of the world. “From a human rights perspective, it is clear that the immediate and urgent priority of the international community should be to halt the increasingly conjoined conflicts in Iraq and Syria,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“In particular, dedicated efforts are urgently needed to protect religious and ethnic groups, children – who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence – and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions,” Al Hussein said in his maiden speech to the Council.

“The second step, as my predecessor [Navanetham Pillay] consistently stressed, must be to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and international crimes,” he continued, arguing that “impunity can only lead to further conflicts and abuses, as revenge festers and the wrong lessons are learned.”

Al Hussein, who comes from the Jordanian royal family, wants the Council to address the underlying factors of crises, particularly the “corrupt and discriminatory political systems that disenfranchised large parts of the population and leaders who oppressed or violently attacked independent actors of civil society”.

Among others, he stressed the need to end “persistent discrimination and impunity” underlying the Israel-Palestine conflict – in which 2131 Palestinians were killed during the latest crisis in Gaza, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children, and 71 Israelis.

The current session of the Human Rights Council is also scheduled to discuss issues such as basic economic and livelihood rights, which are going to be addressed through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the worsening plight of migrants around the world, and the detention of asylum seekers and migrants, including children in the United States.

“Clearly, a number of human rights violations and the worsening plight of indigenous people are major issues that need to be tackled on a sustained basis,” said Fujii. “But it is important to raise the awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts.”

During open discussion at the media professionals and journalists workshop, several reporters not only shared their personal experiences but also sought clarity on how reporters can safeguard human rights in conflicts where they are embedded with occupying forces in Iraq or other countries.

“This is a major issue that needs to be addressed because it is difficult for journalists to respect human rights when they are embedded with forces,” Oliver Rizzi Carlson, a representative of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, told IPS.

Commenting on the work that remains to be done in spreading global citizenship education, Fujii noted that tangible progress has been made by bringing several human rights pressure groups together in intensifying the campaign for human rights education.

“Solidarity within civil society and increasing recognition for our work from member states is bringing about tangible results,” said Fujii. “The formation of an NGO coalition – HR 2020 – comprising 14 NGOs such as Amnesty International and SGI last year is a significant development in the intensification of our campaign.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Honduran Mothers and Grandmothers Search Far and Wide for Missing Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/honduran-mothers-and-grandmothers-search-far-and-wide-for-missing-migrants/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 16:04:59 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136721 Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Rosa Nelly Santos arranges photos of missing Honduran migrants on a sort of shrine to ensure they are not forgotten, at the premises of the Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives in El Progreso. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
EL PROGRESO, Honduras, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

United by grief and anxiety, the grandmothers, mothers and other relatives of people who disappeared on the migration route to the United States formed a committee in this city in northern Honduras to search for their missing loved ones.
Founded in 1999, the Comité de Familiares de Migrantes Desaparecidos de El Progreso (COFAMIPRO – El Progreso Committee for Disappeared Migrant Relatives) is now one of the most highly regarded migrants’ rights organisations in Honduras.

For the past 14 years, COFAMIPRO has aired a radio programme on Sunday afternoons called “Abriendo Fronteras” (Opening Borders) on Radio Progreso, a station run by the Society of Jesus (a Catholic religious order) in Honduras.

The programme was originally called “Sin Fronteras” (Without Borders), but Rosa Nelly Santos, a member of COFAMIPRO, told IPS that as the committee expanded its activities, “we decided to call it Abriendo Fronteras, because we have indeed opened them. We are listened to by a larger audience than ever before, and not only by migrants but also by governments.”“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves.” -- Marcia Martínez

The hour-long radio programme fulfills a vital social function. It advises migrants about conditions on the routes, plays the music they request to lift their spirits, and provides a sevice by enabling them to send messages to their relatives in Honduras.

Emeteria Martínez, a founding member of COFIMAPRO, died in 2013 just months after locating one of her daughters , who had been missing for 21 years.

Finding their family members was the driving force that united them, Santos said. “The group was created out of nothing, by discovering that one woman’s grief was the same as another’s. We would meet in the home of one of the group and that’s how we built up courage to go out into the world and search for our relatives,” she said.

Twenty women started the group, and now the leadership group is composed of more than 40 members.

They are unassuming women but they are buoyed by hope, in spite of the pain of not knowing anything about their missing relatives and of facing dreadful tragedies like the Tamaulipas massacre in Mexico. Four years ago, 72 migrants, 21 of whom were Hondurans, were shot at point-blank range by Los Zetas, a Mexican criminal cartel. Their bodies were found on a ranch in the San Fernando district.

The Tamaulipas massacre brought home to Hondurans the suffering involved in migration, over and above the issue of the remittances sent back by those who make it to the United States.

“It was like a defeat for us. You hope that your son or daughter will travel safely on the migrant route and manage to cross the border, but you do not expect him or her to be massacred and shipped back to you in a box. That is really shocking,” said Santos, who together with other members of COFAMIPRO has helped and comforted victims’ relatives.

The women on the Committee are all volunteers who have overcome their fear of the unknown. For over a decade they have taken part in the mothers’ caravans , motorcades organised by the Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano (Mesoamerican Migrant Movement), which in September every year travel the migrant routes, looking for clues to the whereabouts of missing relatives.

The migratory route begins in Guatemala and ends at Mexico’s northern border.

“The first time I went on the caravan, three years ago, I understood the importance of my mother’s work. I learned from her grief and I decided to take a full part in the Committee,” Marcia Martínez, the 44-year-old daughter of another deceased Committee founder, told IPS.

“I had no idea of the huge number of mothers and relatives who join the motorcade, nor of the epic nature of the journeys my mother undertook. They cover all the routes used by the migrants, asking about them with placards, looking for answers that sometimes never arrive, or arrive too late. When we find someone we were looking for, the joy is indescribable,” she said.

“Every time I heard the rumble of The Beast [the Mexican freight train ridden by migrants on their way north] I would shudder because that’s where I discovered how dangerous the migrant route is. For them, the train tracks are their pillow. They sleep on the tracks and when they get on to the roof of the train they wait for it to get going, but some fall asleep from exhaustion and fall off when it moves,” Martínez said.

COFAMIPRO’s premises are in a shopping centre in El Progreso, one of Honduras’s five largest cities, in the northern department (province) of Yoro, 242 kilometres from Tegucigalpa. Formerly they were housed in Jesuit property, but thanks to donations they were able to rent their own small locale where people can come for support to find their relatives.

In the years since it was founded it has documented more than 600 cases of disappeared persons, of whom over 150 have been found. They continue to seek the rest, although they believe that many must have died on the way or fallen in the hands of human trafficking networks.

Initially the government would not recognise the Committee, but the success of its work with the Mesoamerican caravans led to its voice being heard. It has presented cases of disappeared migrants to the foreign ministry. In June, the group finally acquired formal legal status.

Their struggle has not been easy. Honduran officials dismissed them as “crazy old women” when, years ago, they organised their own march to Tegucigalpa to demand action for their missing loved ones.

Their response was a song they chanted at the foreign office building. Santos sang it with pride: “People at the foreign office call us liars, but we are decent women and we prove it with deeds; what we are here to demand is completely within our rights.”

Their steady, silent work has yielded fruit. When IPS interviewed a group of these women, they had just saved the life of a Honduran man, a relative of a local official in El Progreso, through their Mexican contacts.

He had been kidnapped by a criminal organisation that extorted more than 3,000 dollars from his family before they approached the Committee, which secured his release through an operation by the Mexican prosecution service.

Five years ago, COFAMIPRO issued a warning about the present migration crisis, but no one listened. According to the group, migrants will continue to flee from unemployment and criminal violence.

In the baking hot city of El Progreso, cases have been known of mothers who left town when criminal gangs told them their children would be forcibly recruited into the criminal organisations when they were old enough, and that in the meantime the gangs would provide money to raise the children and pay for their education.

An estimated one million Hondurans have emigrated to the United States since the 1970s, but the exodus has intensified since 1998. As of April 2014, Washington has intensified its deportations of families with children as well as adults.

The Honduran authorities say that 56,000 people were deported back to the country in the first seven months of this year. Of these, 29,000 arrived from the United States by air and 27,000 from Mexico by land.

Honduras has a population of 8.4 million and a homicide rate of 79 per 100,000 population, according to official figures.

In 2013, migrants contributed 3.2 billion dollars to the Honduran economy in remittances, close to 15 percent of GDP, according to the Central Bank.

In COFAMIPRO’s view, the migratory crisis should spur governments to reform their public policies and refrain from stigmatising and criminalising migrants, because “they are not criminals, they are international workers,” Santos said.

She, at least, has the consolation of having found her missing nephew four years ago.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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U.N. Launches Ambitious Humanitarian Plan for Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/un-launches-ambitious-humanitarian-plan-for-gaza/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 16:07:45 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136688 Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian families take shelter at an UNRWA school in Gaza City, after evacuating their homes in the northern Gaza Strip, July 2014. UNRWA has now launched a humanitarian reconstruction programme. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has launched an ambitious recovery plan for Gaza following the 50-day devastating war between Hamas and Israel which has left the coastal territory decimated.

However, the successful implementation of this plan requires enormous international funding as well as a long-term ceasefire to enable the lifting of the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the territory.

“We are working on a 24-month plan aimed at 70 percent of Gaza’s population who are refugees but this will only be possible if the blockade is lifted and construction materials and other goods are allowed into Gaza,” Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA), told IPS.

“Taxpayers are being asked once again to fund the reconstruction of Gaza and at this point there are no security guarantees, so a permanent ceasefire is essential if we are not to return to the repetitive cycle of destruction and then reconstruction,” Gunness said.“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future, it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price” – Chris Gunness, UNRWA spokesman

The attack on Gaza, euphemistically code-named “Operation Protective Edge” by the Israelis, now stands as the most severe military campaign against Gaza since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967.

“The devastation caused this time is unprecedented in recent memory. Parts of Gaza resemble an earthquake zone with 29 km of damaged infrastructure,” said Gunness.

Following the ceasefire, the Palestinian death toll stood at 2,130 and more than 11,000 injured.

Over 18,000 housing units were destroyed, four hospitals and five clinics were closed due to severe damage, while 17 of Gaza’s 32 hospitals and 45 of 97 its primary health clinics were substantially damaged. Reconstruction is estimated to cost over 7 billion dollars.

According to UNRWA, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 damaged during Israeli bombardments, while many higher education facilities were damaged.

Some 110,000 displaced Gazans remain in UN emergency shelters or with host families, according to UNRWA.

The reconstruction of shelters alone will cost over 380 million dollars, 270 million of which relates to Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Federation of Industries, 419 businesses and workshops were damaged, with 129 completely destroyed.

“We have a two-year plan in place which addresses the spectrum of Palestinian needs. Currently we have 300 engineers on the ground in Gaza assessing reconstruction needs,” Gunness told IPS.

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

Palestinian boy inspecting the remains of a house which was destroyed during an air strike in Central Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, July 2014. Credit: Shareef Sarhan/UNRWA Archives

UNRWA’s strategic approach has been divided into the relief period, the early recovery period and the recovery period of up to four months following the cessation of hostilities.

“The relief period, which will continue for the next four months, involves urgent humanitarian intervention including providing shelter, food and medical needs for displaced Gazans,” said the UNTWA spokesman.

“The early recovery period will continue for the next year and will address the critical needs of the population such as repairing damage to environmental infrastructure, restoring UNRWA facilities and supplementary assistance for livelihood provisioning.

“The recovery period will last for two years and will focus on the impact of the conflict through a sustainable livelihoods programme promoting self-sufficiency and completing the transition of UNRWA emergency and extended-stay shelters back to intended use and full operational capacity.”

One thrust of UNRWA’s programme will focus on protection, gender and disability. The increased numbers of female-headed households and households with disabled men is having an impact on unemployment patterns.

“Women are the primary caregivers and are closely linked to homes and the psychological trauma being exhibited by children. Furthermore, there have already been signs of increased gender-based violence,” explained Gunness.

“We want to focus on raising awareness of domestic violence, how to deal with violence in the home and building healthy and equal relationships through our gender empowerment programme.”

The UN agency will also address food distribution by providing minimum caloric requirements through basic food commodities, including bread, corned beef or tuna, dairy products and fresh vegetables. Non-food items provided include hygiene kits and water tanks for 42,000 families.

Emergency repairs to shelters are also being undertaken with 70 percent more homes destroyed or damaged than during the 2008-2009 hostilities. Emergency cash assistance for refugee families to meet a range of basic needs is also being distributed.

“Due to the enormous damage done to hospitals and health facilities, UNRWA has so far established 22 health points to provide basic health services to the sick and wounded, and health teams have been deployed to monitor key health issues,” noted Gunness.

The psychological impact of the war is another area that concerns UNRWA.  “There isn’t a person in Gaza who hasn’t been affected by the war. In consultation with UNRWA’s Community Health Programme, we have hired additional counsellors and youth coordinators who will provide a range of services to groups and individuals.”

“If Gaza is to recover and Gazans are to have any hope for the future,” said Gunness, “it is vital that the international community intervenes to help those Gazan civilians who have and continue to pay the highest price.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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For These Asylum Seekers, the Journey Ends Where it Beganhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/for-these-asylum-seekers-the-journey-ends-where-it-began/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:25:30 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136641 Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants wait patiently for the smugglers who will take them to Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

“Of course I’m scared, but what else can I possibly do?” asks Ahmed, a middle-aged man seated on the carpeted floor of a hotel located on the southern edge of Afghanistan. He is bound for Iran, but he still has no idea when or how he’ll cross the border.

In his early 40s, Ahmed looks 15 years older than his real age. He says he has no means of feeding his seven children back in his hometown of Bamiyan, 130 km northwest of Kabul. Being illiterate poses yet another major hurdle to earning money and supporting his family.

“We’re all starving back home,” Ahmed tells IPS from his position on the floor where he will rest until the smugglers finally show up. It won’t be too long now, he says.

"We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr - 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus." -- Abdul Khalil, a 22-year-old Afghan migrant
“They never spend more than two days here,” notes Hassan, the innkeeper, who prefers not to disclose his full name. He is well versed in the details of Ahmed’s impending journey, since he is the one who mediates between his ‘guests’ and the smugglers who – for a sizeable fee – facilitate the trip across the border.

“They’ll be taken in the back of a pickup all the way down to Pakistan. From there they have to walk through the desert for a full day until they reach the Iranian border. Many don’t even make it there,” Hasan tells IPS.

Ahmed is just another customer at another one of many similar establishments scattered around Zaranj’s main square, 800 km southwest of Kabul. This is the capital of Afghanistan’s remote Nimruz province, the only one that shares borders with both Iran and Pakistan.

Also called ‘Map Square’, due to a giant map of Afghanistan hanging atop a huge pedestal, Zaranj is the last stop before a journey, which, in the best-case scenario, will be remembered as a nightmare.

Every day, thousands of Afghans put their lives in the hands of mafias that offer them an escape route from a country still in turmoil 13 years after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

In 2011, some 35 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 30.55 million people lived below the poverty line, a situation that has barely improved today. The official unemployment rate stood at seven percent that same year, but the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that this number could be much higher.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Afghanistan is, after Syria and Russia, the source country for the largest number of asylum seekers worldwide.

A recent report by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) found that in 2013 alone, some 38,700 Afghans requested refugee status, accounting for 6.5 percent of the global total of asylum seekers.

Of the many destinations, Turkey remains by far the most popular, with 8,700 Afghan refugees requesting asylum last year.

Other industrialised countries like Sweden, Austria and Germany also attract a good share of Afghans in search of a better life, but the proximity of Iran, coupled with a shared language, makes it a far more sensible choice.

What many migrants find across the border, however, is a far cry from the warm embrace of a kindly neighbour.

Point “zero”

There are less than two kilometres between Map Square and the official border crossing with Iran. It’s obviously not the way out for Ahmed, but it might well be his route back.

Right next to the bridge over the Helmand River, the “no man’s land” between the two countries, lies “zero” point. It’s the place where all Afghans coming from the other side, either deported or on a voluntary basis, are told to register in.

At five in the evening, their number almost reaches 500.

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan migrants walk back home after being deported from Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“Only today we have registered 259 deportees and 211 who came voluntarily,” Mirwais Arab, team leader of the Directorate for Refugees and Returnees at the “zero” point, explains to IPS.

“Among all these we can only address the most immediate needs of 65; we give them food and shelter for the first night and a small amount of money so that they can go back home,” adds the government official.

Given the number restrictions, and the limited assistance available, the majority of migrants keep walking once they have registered in. This is not an occasional drip but a steady stream of exhausted men. The sense of defeat is overwhelming.

Many of them, like the Khalil brothers, aged 21 and 22, are very young. They tell IPS that they reached Iran six days ago, via Pakistan, after a long journey across the desert.

Like many others, they had to pay a high protection fee to a Taliban-affiliated group to ensure they could pass unharmed. Their return journey to Afghanistan was not much easier:

“We were going to Tehran but were caught in Iranshahr – 1,500 km southeast of the Persian capital. The police beat us with batons and cables, all over our bodies, before taking us back to the border by bus,” recalls Abdul, the elder of the two, speaking to IPS on the hard shoulder of the road at Zaranj’s southern entrance.

The Arifis’ story is even more dramatic. After reaching Zaranj from Kunduz, located on the northernmost edge of Afghanistan, they crossed the border illegally. They were five in all, but one of them, a seven-year-old, has not yet made it back.

Fifteen-year-old Ziaud furnishes IPS with the details of his family’s ordeal:

“When we were arrested by the Iranian police, they dragged my brother Mohammed and myself into one car, and my parents into another one. That’s when our little brother disappeared,” says the teenaged migrant.

“My father is going to try to go back today to get him,” he adds, still in a state of shock.

Najibullah Haideri, head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Nimruz, tells IPS that Iran deports an average of 600 men and 200 families on a monthly basis.

Meanwhile, Ahmadullah Noorzai, head of the UNHCR office in Zaranj, tells IPS that the wave of deportations started six years ago.

In a report released in 2013, Human Rights Watch pointed out that Afghans, by far the largest expatriate population in Iran, are subjected to a host of abuses by both state and private actors, which violate Iran’s obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention and endanger some one million Afghans recognised as refugees, as well as scores of others who have fled the war-torn country.

The NGO claimed that “thousands of Afghan nationals, who are in Iran’s prisons for crimes ranging from theft to murder and drug trafficking, are regularly denied the right to access lawyers.”

According to HRW, hundreds of Afghan migrants are believed to have been executed in recent years without any notification to Afghan consular officials.

“Getting a visa to Iran costs about 85,000 Afghanis (around 1,150 euros),” the manager of another hotel in Zaranj, who prefers to remain anonymous, explains to IPS.

“Prices for an illegal entry start at 25,000 (around 330 euros), but it always depends on the final destination. The most expensive are Tehran, Esfahan and Mashad – Iran’s largest cities. Migrants pay only when they reach their final destination so they’ll try again and again until they make it, or until they get killed,” adds the innkeeper.

Just behind him, Hamidullah, 43, and his son Sameem, 17, wait their turn to access a better life. Chances are, they’ll be back at this border crossing before too long.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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FILM: From Hamas Royalty to Israel’s Spyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/film-from-hamas-royalty-to-israels-spy/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:31:36 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136630 In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

The son of one of the founders of the biggest Palestinian militant group decides to work with Israel. He spends a decade working undercover with the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, thwarting dozens of Palestinian attacks and contributing significantly to the arrest or elimination of dozens of leading Palestinian militants.

This sounds like the makings of a Hollywood big budget spy thriller. In fact, it is the plot of a documentary, “The Green Prince,” based on the autobiography of Mosab Hassan Yousef."As long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.” -- Mosab Hassan Yousef

Yousef and his handler in the Shin Bet, Gonen Ben Yitzhak, narrate the film, which somewhat frenetically throws together surveillance footage and live interviews. Although the film tries to focus on the growing bond between Ben Yitzhak, “The Handler”, and Yousef, “The Asset,” there is an underlying tension in the film that is only partially due to the sense of overwhelming danger that Yousef faced on a daily basis.

The most obvious question that is raised by the film is “how does the son of Hassan Yousef, who helped found Hamas and is one of its most prominent leaders to this day, become a spy for Israel?”

The film itself offers only a very succinct answer to this question. As a youth, Mosab was arrested by Israel and was tortured in his interrogation, which was also when he was identified as a potential mole.

He was then sent to prison, where he witnessed far worse torture by Hamas activists, including murder, against fellow Palestinians they suspected might be Israeli agents. This, he said, convinced him to take up the Shin Bet’s offer to work for them.

Indeed, it seems that Mosab’s disillusionment with the Palestinian leadership runs much deeper than just antipathy toward Hamas. In the film, Hamas is the focus, but in the wake of Israel’s recent devastation of the Gaza Strip, the absence of the difficulties of occupation in the film is even more keenly felt. Yet Mosab very much holds to the Israeli view of recent events.

“Palestinians can continue to export their internal problems and blame Israel, but at the end of the day, they have bigger problems than occupation,” he told IPS. “There is corruption, greed, and mismanagement; those are actual enemies of Palestinian people.

“If they can come to a higher conscience where they can see violence is not the way, but negotiations and co-existence is the higher path to achieve their freedom, then the international community will trust them and build bridges. But as long as Hamas is digging tunnels and promoting extremism, I don’t see how anyone can co-exist with this type of danger.”

In fact, in the past few years, Mosab has become something of a minor celebrity on right-wing and fundamentalist Christian talk shows. His message varies, but his target is often Islam in general.

In 2010, on the Canadian news show, Power and Politics, Mosab told a shocked host that “The problem is much bigger than Hamas, the problem is in the God of Islam…he is a god of torture, he is the deceit god, this is what he talks (sic) about himself.”

More recently, on Sep. 6, in the aftermath of the massive destruction by Israel in Gaza, Mosab told Fox News that “I recommend that we stop saying ISIS, this is the Islamic State, this is the Islamic dream, and this is the manifestation of the Qur’anic verses on the ground.”

This echoes the views he has espoused several times as a guest on the far-right wing Sean Hannity show.

When talking with Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network in 2010, which caters to the most extreme of Christians in the United States, Mosab continually spoke of his love of Jesus and how Jesus was the only true path to peace.

This would displease many Jews who have come to adore him, not only for his story but for stances like the one the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported him telling an orthodox Jewish crowd in 2011.

“There is no room for another state in that small country [of Israel],” he said. “The Jewish nation has the historic right to that land [in] the West Bank…The Israeli historic right to this land is obvious and clear to any person who can read.”

All of this raises some real questions about Mosab’s motivations, and indeed how sincere the story we saw in the film was. “The Green Prince shows a man who made a difficult choice but believed he was doing it to save lives. The film does note that Mosab converted to Christianity, but gives no hint of his deep antipathy toward Islam.

What we do see in the film, quite clearly, is the growing bond between Mosab and his Shin Bet handler, Gonen Ben-Yitzhak.

Ben-Yitzhak, now a lawyer in Israel after losing his job with the Shin Bet, echoes Yousef’s view that the Palestinians are to blame for the perpetuation of the conflict, although Ben-Yitzhak has a somewhat less idealized view of Israel.

“Look, I’m not pleased with all Israeli policies,” Ben-Yitzhak told IPS. “But now, Palestinians need to find a way to develop. But for many years, they are stuck with bombing and terrorism and violence. Many (people around the world) criticize Israel, but can you compare occupation to blowing up people on a bus? What is the comparison, what are the values that make him blow himself up?

“I’m sure he doesn’t share any values with you… My grandparents, although they suffered and left family in Europe, took responsibility to build a new future, rather than wait for an outside power, a miracle to change their lives. The biggest problem the Palestinians have is that they don’t take responsibility for their own lives, waiting [instead] for the outside world to do something.”

Clearly, Mosab and Gonen built a strong and devoted bond. They both believe that their friendship can be a model for co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“I don’t see a big difference between Israelis and Palestinians,” Gonen told IPS. “When I worked with Shin Bet, I was working with people. I didn’t see a Palestinian as anything but a human being. If we all look at each other as human beings, not as Israelis, Palestinians, occupier and occupied, we can solve these problems.” Mosab put forth a similar sentiment.

Yet it seems that this coming together only happened because Mosab fully came over to the Israeli worldview, and a somewhat extreme one at that. This accounts for some of the discomfort in the film, where one has the feeling that there is a lot that is being omitted. Mosab’s and Gonen’s relationship seems more like a blueprint for surrender than for co-existence.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

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OPINION: Bishop Appeals to U.N. to Rescue Minorities in Northwestern Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-bishop-appeals-to-u-n-to-rescue-minorities-in-northwestern-iraq/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:07:03 +0000 Bishop Bawai Soro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136599 Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

Iraqi Christians attend an Easter mass at Chaldean Catholic church in Amman Apr. 24, 2011. Thousands of Iraqi Christians fled to neighbouring Jordan following a spate of bombings that targeted churches in Iraqi cities in the past few years. Credit: http://catholicdefender2000.blogspot.com/

By Bishop Bawai Soro
SAN DIEGO, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

For decades, the minority Christian population of Iraq has been suffering hardships. But in the summer months of 2014 – and since the beginning of the military campaign by ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, also known as ISIL or Islamic State) – the situation has gone from bad to intolerably worse.

The Chaldean Catholic Church is one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which is an autonomous, self-governing church in full communion with the Pope (Bishop of Rome) and the wider Roman Catholic Church.What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

Chaldean Christians number over half a million people who are ethnic Assyrians and indigenous to predominantly northwestern Iraq and parts of northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran.

The core villages of the Chaldean people, located in the Nineveh plain in northwestern Iraq, were attacked and decimated by ISIS in a matter of days, leaving the fleeing Christian inhabitants not only homeless but also internally displaced refugees (IDRs) in their own ancient land.

After having their lives threatened and facing the stark choice of either converting to the warped and extremist interpretation of Islam proselytised by ISIS, paying a heavy tax, or dying in large numbers (many by beheading), tens of thousands of men, women, children, the elderly and infirm fled.

And many of them fled on foot in the searing heat with little or no food, water or shelter – into Iraqi Kurdistan, mostly to Erbil and Duhok, seeking safety, security and asylum.

It is incumbent on all democratic peoples to aid the scattered Chaldean people who find themselves in such a desperate, stark life or death situation. Some are encouraging the displaced to return to their villages, and indeed they are always free to do so.

However, we must understand that people have chosen to leave their beloved homeland to reach safety and protect their families, even at the cost of their dignity.

Upon their return, the displaced would more often than not find their homes damaged, looted or destroyed by ISIS and their local allies.

The million-dollar question therefore is: What kind of future awaits the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christian population of Iraq?

The people fleeing and begging for international asylum have spoken for themselves. It is now up to those in the democratic West led by the United States and Europe, together with the United Nations, to respond to this acute humanitarian crisis and crimes against humanity.

They need swift justice and human generosity.

What is needed is not short-term panacea or lip-service or promises but long-term institutional solutions overseen by the United Nations and aimed at protecting the human right to life of the minority Chaldea and Assyrian Christians, and their Yazidi neighbours.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s White House address to the nation on Wednesday night was very encouraging, to say the least.

As President Obama stated, the launching of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the extremists from ISIS “wherever they exist” shall create the necessary security environment to bring about peace and stability.

It will undoubtedly create conducive conditions for the return of displaced minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and the Yazidi to their homes in Nineveh province they have inhabited for over two thousand years.

The future of a united Iraq depends on maintaining peace, stability and economic prosperity for all the peoples inhabiting this ancient land.

Ensuring that the spirit of tolerance and cohabitation deepens and thrives is part and parcel of any such long-term structural solution.

It is imperative that policymakers in Washington, DC, New York and at the United Nations and in western European capitals take this long-term vision on board and act accordingly with adequate resources made available.

It is then, and only then, that the plight of the minority Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and other minorities can be addressed in a truly meaningful fashion in a future peaceful, multi-religious, multi-ethnic and economically prosperous Iraq.

Failure to do so will only see a recurrence of the tragic events unfolding in Iraq and Syria, further compounding the destitution, misery and desperation of millions of human beings caught up in the mayhem being unleashed by armed terrorists.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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Hamas Rocket Launches Don’t Explain Israel’s Gaza Destructionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/hamas-rocket-launches-dont-explain-israels-gaza-destruction/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 18:24:22 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136560 Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Palestinians collect their belongings from under the rubble of a residential tower, which witnesses said was destroyed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Aug. 24. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Israel and its supporters abroad have parried accusations of indiscriminate destruction and mass killing of civilians in Gaza by arguing that they were consequences of strikes aimed at protecting Israeli civilians from rockets that were being launched from very near civilian structures.

That defence has already found its way into domestic U.S. politics. A possible contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defended her vote for more military aid for Israel during the Israeli assault on Gaza by citing the rocket launch defence.The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

“[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” said Warren. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

But although some Hamas rockets were launched near homes or other civilian structures, military developments on both sides have rendered that defence of Israeli attacks on civilian targets invalid.

The rocket launchers for Hamas’s homemade Qassam missiles consist of simple tripods that can be removed in seconds, and the extensive Hamas tunnel network has given it underground launching sites as well as storage facilities for its larger, longer-range Grad and M-75 missiles.

On the other side, the Israeli Air Force possesses air-to-ground missiles that are so accurate that they can destroy a very small target without any damage to civilian structure even if it is very close.

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a report on Hamas’s “illegal use of civilian infrastructure” last month shows an attack – obviously by an Israeli drone — on an underground rocket launcher only a few metres away from a mosque causing no damage whatever to the mosque.

These technological changes take away any justification for flattening civilian buildings even if a rocket launch site is nearby. In fact, however, the evidence now available indicates that Hamas launch sites are not that close to hospitals, schools and mosques.

The IDF sought in mid-July to use the rocket launcher defence to explain the damage to Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City from 15 rockets, which forced the staff to evacuate its patients. An IDF spokesman said the military had “no choice” because rockets had been launched from very near the hospital.

Clearly revealing that the rocket launch justification for the attack was a ruse, however, the spokesman revealed to Allison Degler of Mondoweiss that the alleged launch site was 100 metres from the hospital. That would have been far more space than was needed to strike the launch site without any damage to the hospital whatever.

A report released by the IDF Aug. 19 included an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked at locations that appeared to be much farther from the hospital than the 100 metres claimed by the IDF spokesman.

The IDF nevertheless went so far as to declare on Jul. 21, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.”

When the IDF destroyed Al Wafa hospital completely by airstrikes on Jul. 23, it abandoned the pretense that the reason was a Hamas rocket launch site. Instead it released a video purporting to show firing at IDF troops from the hospital.

It turned out, however, the video clips of the firing been shot during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, not in 2014.

The IDF has continued to suggest that its destruction of public civilian facilities was forced on it by rocket launches from within those facilities. At the end of the “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF spokesman’s office claimed that 597 rockets had been launched from civilian facilities, of which 160 were allegedly fired from schools, 50 from hospitals, and 160 from mosques.

But those figures were by produced only by pretending that launching sites some distance from the facilities in question were on the premises of the facilities.

An IDF “declassified report” released Aug. 19, aimed at showing that civilian facilities were serving as military infrastructure for Hamas, includes no evidence of any rocket launches on the grounds of any civilian facility.

A very blurry 20-second video appears to show a rocket launch from what is identified as “Abu Nur” school. But it, too, is deceptive. A black streak rises from the area of the school for a little more than a second of the video, but for the entire length of the video two voices declare repeatedly that they saw three rockets launched “from within the school”.

Careful viewing of the footage reveals, however, that the apparent launch comes from outside the wall of the three-story school building rather than from within it.

In three other cases of alleged rocket launches from schools, the IDF provides no visual evidence – only large red dots drawn on an aerial view of the schools.

During the “Operation Protective Edge”, the IDF openly targeted mosques, claiming they are military targets, demolishing 73 mosques and partially destroying 205 more.

The Aug. 19 IDF report refers to a “rocket cache and gathering point for militants hidden in a mosque” in Nuseirat. But despite frequent repetitions of the notion that Hamas routinely stores rockets in mosques, the IDF has not produced photographic evidence of rocket storage in a single mosque.

Nor has the IDF made public any video evidence of secondary explosions from the destruction of mosques. In a tacit admission that such evidence is lacking, the report instead cites an instance of a “concealed entrance” to a Hamas tunnel located between a mosque and a school.

The most extensive destruction of civilian structures in “Operation Protective Edge” was the complete leveling of large parts of entire neighbourhoods in the Shujaiya district of Gaza City on Jul. 19. After the United Nations published a map showing the complete destruction of those areas of Shujaiya, the IDF published its own map on Aug. 4 aimed at justifying the destruction.

The map shows that the IDF can’t claim the proximity of Hamas rocket launching sites as the justification for the leveling of many residential blocks in Shujaiya. The Israeli military had identified every home in the devastated neighbourhoods on its map as a “hideout” for Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.

The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

Although the red dots on the IDF map identifying rocket launch sites are too big to estimate accurately the distance between them and the closest houses, only a few such dots appear to be as close as one city block to a house in one of the areas of massive destruction. And all but a few of the homes destroyed are much farther than a block from the alleged launching sites.

An account of the Shujaiya destruction by journalist Mark Perry based on a Jul. 21 U.S. Defence Department report recalls that the IDF fired 7,000 artillery shells at residential areas in the district the night of Jul. 19, including 4,500 shells in the space of just seven hours.

Such massive and indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures is strictly prohibited by the international laws of war. Israeli officials have frequently said the purpose of IDF military operations in both Lebanon and Gaza was to “deter” their adversaries in the future by imposing heavy costs on the civilian population.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at porter.gareth50@gmail.com

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Schools to Shelters in Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-from-schools-to-shelters-in-iraq/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 17:59:24 +0000 Fred Abrahams http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136558 The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

The U.S. can help the Yazidis and their Kurdish hosts by increasing financial support for desperately needed shelters and schools. Credit: Fred Abrahams / Human Rights Watch

By Fred Abrahams
ERBIL, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Using schools for shelter was a natural. When the Islamic State drove waves of people from the Sinjar area of Iraq in early August, most of them members of the Yazidi minority group, they fled first to the mountains and then to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan. They camped out in whatever unoccupied structures they could find.

Now more than 600 schools are filled with desperate families struggling to come to terms with the trauma of the mass killings, abductions, and sexual violence by the Islamic State that decimated their communities. They sleep in classrooms, hallways, and the courtyards of facilities intended for children’s education.The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The impact is double-edged. With no prospect for them to return home soon, these people need better shelter and care for the long term, including education for the tens of thousands of children among them. Yet the children of accommodating host communities also need access to their schools.

The school year under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) is due to start on Sep. 10. But hundreds of schools will not be able to open that day.

According to the KRG Education Ministry, 653 schools in the Dohuk governorate, which has borne the brunt of the crisis, are being used to shelter displaced Yazidis and others, with schools playing a similar role in the cities of Sulaimaniya and Erbil. Across Iraq, around 2,000 schools are being used to shelter the displaced, the United Nations says.

The northwestern Duhok governorate, with its 1.3 million residents, has absorbed 520,000 displaced people, according to the U.N. That’s in addition to 220,000 refugees from the conflict in neighboring Syria already in KRG areas. Around the country, 1.8 million people are internally displaced.

The governor of Duhok, Farhad Atrushi, said 130,000 people were living in Duhok schools. “If I didn’t open the doors, they would be on roads and in open areas,” he said.

The immediate answer to the crisis gripping Duhok schools is to build camps, and that is happening. But it will take months before the 14 planned camps in KRG areas are up and running, and they will only serve half of the displaced. More funds are urgently needed to expedite and expand the work.

The United States and other countries can help the Yazidis and other Iraqis by increasing their financial support for desperately needed humanitarian aid.

Compounding the problem is an ongoing budget dispute between the KRG and Iraq’s central government, which has blocked central government funding for displaced people in the Kurdish region and kept teachers there from getting regularly paid for months. Children should not be held hostage to the political crisis gripping Iraq.

The dispute includes differences in curriculum between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish-run region. To promote education and reduce tension, the Baghdad authorities and the KRG should rapidly find ways to deliver textbooks and administer exams.

The logistical and political hurdles are daunting. But the children here, both residents and the displaced, need all the help they can get to turn the shelters back to schools.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. This article originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus.

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War Over but Not Gaza’s Housing Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:12:19 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136527 Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

“When the [Israeli] shelling started, I gathered up my family and headed for what I though was a safe place, like a school, but then that became overcrowded and lacked sanitation, so we ended up in the grounds of the hospital.”

Islam Abu Sheira from Beit Hanoun, a city on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, was speaking to IPS in front of what has been his family’s makeshift ‘home’ at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for the last two months. His eyes misted over as he recalled his devastated home and his efforts to find a safe refuge for his family."I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families" – Islam Abu Sheira, a refugee from Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

In his forties, Islam described his family’s ordeal after Israeli shelling left them homeless and they first sought refuge in a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees, and were then forced by overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions to move out and seek shelter elsewhere.

“I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families, ” said Islam,  adding that “during the war, the only thing we were looking for was a place that could protect us from the shelling.”

Like the majority of Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed, they have lost their belongings and, for the time being, their chances of living a life of dignity. Most families in the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes so quickly that they had no time to take anything with them.

“We simply have no livelihood and my children sleep every night on the ground without even a blanket to cover them,” lamented Islam. “We have been living a primitive life since we fled our home without even taking the clothes we need.”

As the numbers of people escaping the shelling mounted, so did the difficulty of sheltering them. Schools did their best, but there were insufficient basic necessities and medical supplies, and they were housing four or five persons, if not more, in each classroom.

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Jamila Saad, a housewife who is taking care of her 12-member family and also fled to one of the UNRWA schools, told IPS: “The school was receiving more and more refugees, and we and the other refugee families were sharing one toilet. We need a better life for our children and we hope that our home will soon be rebuilt so that we can begin a new life there in our new home.”

The complex and harsh conditions that the Palestinian refugees are suffering in schools and other shelter centres has pushed most international organisations to provide the refugees with as much aid as possible, but this is far from finding a final solution for the refugees’ suffering.

The conditions of the thousands of refugees who have lost their homes has placed the new Palestinian government before an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to provide these refugee families with care and a secure environment, as well take on the responsibility of implementing the reconstruction programmes financially aided by the European Union and donor states in accordance with ceasefire agreement brokered in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, especially in terms of the reconstruction of Gaza.

Mufid al-Hasayna, Minister of Public Works and Housing in the new Palestinian unity government, told IPS that “the amount of destruction of houses and economic facilities is massive, and the population of Gaza is living under hard conditions, so we are working hard to improve the living conditions of people. We are working on programmes to start reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and rebuild destroyed houses and

Al-Hasayna believes that the blurred vision Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have of their future after 50 days of war and their constant fear of being retargeted by the Israeli occupation forces have only added to a worsening of their situation.

Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestinian NGO Network, told IPS: “The harsh circumstances that the Gaza Strip underwent over the 50 days of the Israeli occupation’s war reduced the population’s access to water and food and threatened people’s security, while the bombing of residential high ‘towers’ housing dozens of families has left serious impacts on civilians.

According to Shawa, the housing situation is now all the more dramatic because, even before Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the Gaza Strip was already suffering from the deficit of 70,000 housing units that had been destroyed in the 2009 and 2012 wars.

“Following the two wars, scheduled housing projects to rebuild the infrastructure were not implemented, and the deficit of housing units has reached a state that has put the population in a situation of real disaster,” Shawa told IPS.

He called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to form an independent body of Palestinian civil society organisations to create a plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

According to a report prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in June 2014 the Gaza Strip was home to an estimated population of 1.76 million living in a coastal area that extends along the Mediterranean Sea and covers approximately 365 square kilometres with a maximum width of 12 kilometres.

The PCBS believes that Gaza Strip’s narrow surface area and high population has contributed to some extent to the distribution of people in large blocks and increased its population density, turning the Strip into one the most densely populated areas in the world.

Population density in the Gaza Strip has reached 2,744 per square kilometre, and experts say this means that food, health and education should be the top priorities for the future development agenda of decision-makers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Operation Could Hide Major Shift in Europe’s Immigration Control Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 17:27:05 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136519 By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Sep 6 2014 (IPS)

‘Mare Nostrum’ – the largest search and rescue immigration operation ever carried out in the Mediterranean Sea – has become an issue of bitter brinkmanship between human rights groups and anti-immigrant lobbies.

At a higher political level, it has produced a tough negotiation between Italy and Europe, with the former asking for a European solution to immigration control in the Mediterranean.

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

‘Mare Nostrum’ was launched in October 2013 by Italy in the wake of a shipwreck south of the island of Lampedusa – the southernmost part of Italy lying 176 km off the coast of Sicily – that took the lives of 368 immigrants, mostly refugees from Syria and African countries.

The search and rescue operation is a military naval operation supported by the Italian Air Force and Coast Guard as well as civilian volunteers and medical personnel. It has operated in a vast area of the Central Mediterranean.

Between October 2013 and August 2014, ‘Mare Nostrum’ rescued over 115,000 people, mostly refugees, and transferred them to Italian territory. About 2,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the same period.

Human rights activists have praised the operation for rescuing refugees while its opponents have blamed it for producing a pull factor for immigrants and providing an illicit shuttle to Europe for them, making the job of traffickers easier.

The European Commission has now decided to flank the ‘Mare Nostrum’ initiative, although it has no intention of replacing it. After a meeting on August 27, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano announced a new Frontex operation to stand by Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation in the Mediterranean.

One of the main roles of Frontex – the European Union agency for external border security that started operations in May 2005 – is to protect Europe’s external borders from illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Announcing the new operation, which has temporarily been named ‘Frontex Plus’, Commissioner Malmstrom called on European member states to translate “oral solidarity into concrete action” by contributing resources and means.Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Ska Keller, Green Member of the European Parliament  told IPS that the new operation is “the result of pressure extorted by Italy on Brussels, but not what Italy has been asking for. It’s true Italy is rescuing a lot of people but this is not their main concern, they will not necessarily be happy to continue with Mare Nostrum.”

Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Silvia Canciani, press officer of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), told IPS that her association is “extremely concerned” because the only certainty about the new operation “is that ships will patrol only in European waters, 12 miles from the coast”, meaning they will no longer venture into international waters, like ‘Mare Nostrum’, which operated 170 miles from the Italian coast.

She added that it is still unknown whether Italian authorities plan to postpone, amend or carry on with ‘Mare Nostrum’ as it is, but a withdrawal from the operation might have a direct consequence on lives being lost in the Mediterranean.

Other critical voices stress how conservatives in the European Union see an opportunity in the negotiations that will follow on the new operation to capitalise on the issue of returning incoming migrants to safe third countries or to their countries of embarkation.

In a blog commenting on the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’, Italian law professor Fulvio Vassalo Paleologo, a well-known commentator on immigration issues in the region, observed that in their joint announcement “the word ‘rescue’ has disappeared from Alfano’s and Malmstom’s vocabulary.” He also noted that neither of them had made a single remark about the conditions immigrants face in transit countries.

Both could be indications that the European Commission is seriously considering pushing for the control of population influxes outside European borders.

One day before the Malmstrom-Alfano announcement, the Italian edition of Huffington Post published an article citing an anonymous source in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, who was present at negotiations for the new operations in Brussels, as saying that “many people in Brussels see Mare Nostrum as an informal ferry for migrants.”

The unprecedented flows Europe is going to face given the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East will enforce a change of policy, which will translate into trying to “manage the flows of refugees and migrants in transit countries before they are on board for Italy,” the source said.

For this, he continued “we must work to re-negotiate readmission agreements with countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco” and then stop incoming immigrants on board and not let them proceed to Italy “unless they have already started the procedures for refugee status and we have already made identifications before they are on board.”

The policy scenario in the Huffington Post article was vividly mirrored in an Italian Interior Ministry’s press release two days later, after a meeting between Minister Alfano and his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve to discuss “illegal immigration in the Central Mediterranean”.

Notably the meeting took place only one day after the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’ in which France is expected to be one of the most active partners.

In the ministry’s press release, the term ‘rescue’ is again absent and the definition of the aim of ‘Frontex Plus’ is to “ensure control and surveillance of the external sea borders of the European Union … according to the rules of Frontex.”

From the press release, it also appears that both the Italian and French ministers believe that the issue of immigration should increasingly be dealt with “as a foreign policy issue” with “more emphasis to be given to the role of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, meaning the European External Action Service (EEAS) which implements the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The two ministers also identified two key policy objectives to push for within the European Union: “the commitment of all Member States of the European Union to a strict application of the rules for the identification of illegal migrants provided by European legislation and the strengthening of cooperation with countries of origin and transit in the field of border surveillance, police cooperation and development aid to these countries.”

Frontex’s key role in a new operation could facilitate these objectives given that the regulation “establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operation Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (Frontex)” adopted on April 30, 2014, includes provisions for the interception of incoming vessels in international waters and their return to third countries.

Many pro-immigrant organisations such as Frontexit (a campaign led by associations, researchers and individuals from both North and South of the Mediterranean on the initiative of the Migreurop network), the Belgian Coordination Initiative for Refugees and Foreigners (CIRE), as well as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, have indicated highly controversial legal gaps in the regulation that could compromise the rights of persons in need of international protection.

In a joint briefing, the latter said that despite some positive aspects, other aspects fail to meet the requirements of international law, including refugee law, human rights law, the law of the sea and E.U. law.

When asked to comment on the nature of the ‘Frontex Plus’ operation, Malmstroms’s office said: “At the moment we do not have anything to add in addition to the statement made by the Commissioner last week. The Commission is working on the definition of the adequate operational area and the components of a larger joint operation which can be a useful complement to the Italian efforts.”

It is thus clear that ‘Frontex Plus’ will eventually only play a merely auxiliary role alongside Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, particularly so when the costs of the operation are taken into account.

‘Mare Nostrum’ costs Italy over 9 million euro each month, while the current entire 2014 budget for Frontex is 89 million euro, with only 55 of them allocated for operational activities.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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No Easy Choices for Syrians with Small Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:24:01 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136492 What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The woman who walked into the Islamic Front (IF) media office near the Turkish border was on the verge of fainting under the hot Syrian sun, but all she cared about was her infant son.

With over half of the country’s population displaced, she was just one of the parents among the more than three million UN-registered Syrian refugees grappling with how to keep their children safe and healthy while dealing with the innumerable dangers inherent in war zones, refugee camps and statelessness.

When IPS met the young woman in early August, she was living in the nearby Bab Al-Salama camp in northern Syria after having been displaced from an area of heavy fighting.Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

The infant was only a few weeks old and needed to be breastfed, but there was nowhere out of the sight of men. And so, wearing a stifling niqab, she asked to use the room that now serves to ‘register’ foreign journalists crossing the border.

The room afforded some shade and privacy in which to breastfeed and, once the twenty-two-year-old former fighter in charge of the office had stepped out, she started feeding her child.

As she blew gently his sweaty forehead, the woman told IPS that she had kidney problems and could not sit – she could only lie down or stand up. She said that she was also having problems accessing medical care, for both herself and her feverish son. And even if the black abaya covering her body and the niqab over her face were hot, ‘’it’s better to use them,’’ she said, ‘’it’s war”.

The area around the Bab Al-Salama camp just across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis has been bombed several times, including a car bomb in May that killed dozens.

On the other side of the border, the camps that the Turkish government has set up for the over 800,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations are said to be able to accommodate fewer than 300,000 of them.

In formal and informal refugee camps throughout the world, women are notoriously at risk of sexual crimes. Alongside economic issues, many parents on both sides of the border cite this as a reason to marry off their daughters earlier, in the attempt to ‘’protect their honour’’ and find someone to provide for them.

The children resulting from these unions are almost always unable to be registered and are thus stateless, joining the ranks of the many Syrian Kurds and others denied citizenship under Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Mohamed was an officer in the Syrian regime’s army. From a fairly large tribe in Idlib, his family was targeted by the regime once the conflict began and he has fought with different Free Syrian Army brigades over the past few years.

Soon after a number of women were reportedly raped by ’shabiha’ in his area, he moved his young wife, mother and sisters across the border. He now crosses illegally into Turkey to see them when not fighting.

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Mohamed is seeking ways to reach Europe. When IPS first met him in autumn of 2013, he had no intention of leaving. However, since then, his first son has been born, stateless.  The Syrian regime did not issue passports to officers in order to prevent them from defecting even prior to the 2011 uprising, and none of his family possesses one.

As a professional soldier without a salary and with no moderate rebel groups providing adequate wages to support a family, as well as no desire to join extremist groups – many of which would pay better – he feels does not know how else he can provide for his family.

‘’There’ s no future here,’’ he said.

On the Turkish side of the border, Ahmad – originally from Aleppo, Syria’s industrial capital – says he does not want to leave the region.

“I once asked my wife what country in the world she would go to if she could, and she answered ‘Syria’,’’ he told IPS proudly.

However, he added that he had stopped going backwards and forwards as a fixer and media activist as the day approached for his wife to give birth and the situation in Aleppo worsened.

When children approached a table as IPS was having tea with him in a Turkish border town, he somewhat gruffly told a little girl begging that she should ‘’work, even if that means selling packets of tissues on the streets.’’

‘’They have to learn to work and not just ask for money. Turks are starting to get angry that we are here,’’ he said.

Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

Meanwhile, some attempts are being made to raise money for schools inside Syria that would be virtual ‘bunkers’, as Assad’s regime continues to target both schools and medical facilities.

In rebel-held Aleppo, IPS stayed with a Syrian family for a number of days in August as the regime barrel bombing campaign continued and as the danger of an impending siege by government forces or a takeover by the extremist Islamic State (IS) became more likely.

The eldest of the family’s four girls – only eight-years-old – had recently been hit by a sniper’s bullet while crossing the road to one of the few schools still functioning. Although it was healing, the exit wound will leave a very ugly scar on her arm.

Whenever the bombs fell during the night, the occupants of the room would move about restlessly, while the eight-year-old was always already awake, staring into the dark, utterly motionless.

Her father was adamant, however, that – come what may – the family would not leave.

In the late afternoon, little boys could be seen playing outside in the street with scant protection from snipers, only the nylon tarp of a former UNHCR tent hung across the street in an attempt to shield them. Large gaping holes marked the buildings, or what was left of them, in the street around them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Child Trafficking Rampant in Underdeveloped Indian Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 07:08:51 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136482 NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country where well over half the population lives on less than two dollars a day, it takes a lot to shock people. The sight of desperate families traveling in search of money and food, whole communities defecating in the open, old women performing back-breaking labour, all this is simply part of life in India, home to 1.2 billion people.

But amidst this rampant destitution, some things still raise red flags, or summon collective cries of fury. Child trafficking is one such issue, and it is earning front-page headlines in states where thousands of children are believed to be victims of the illicit trade.

The arrest on Jun. 5 of Shakeel Ahamed, a 40-year-old migrant labourer, by police in the southern state of Kerala, created a national outcry, and reawakened fears of a complex and deep-rooted child trafficking network around the country.

Ahamed’s operation alone was thought to involve over 580 children being illegally moved into Muslim orphanages throughout the state.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children. Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. Gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children." -- Justice J B Koshy, chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission
Experts tell IPS that children are also routinely trafficked to and from states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), child trafficking is rampant in underdeveloped villages, where “victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignitiesand even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs.”

Available records show a total of 3,554 crimes related to human trafficking in 2012, compared to 3,517 the previous year. Some 2,848 and 3,400 cases were reported in 2009 and 2010 respectively, as well as 3,029 cases in 2008.

In 2012, former State Home Affairs Minister Jitendra Singh told the upper house of parliament that almost 60,000 children were reported as “missing” in 2011. “Of those,” he added, “more than 22,000 are yet to be located.”

It is not clear how many of these “missing” children are victims of traffickers; a dearth of national data means that experts and advocates are often left guessing at the root causes of the problem.

NGOs and government agencies often cite contradictory figures, but both are agreed that a child goes missing roughly every eight minutes in the country.

Human rights watchdogs say there are many contributing factors to child trafficking in India, including economic deprivation. Indeed, the 2013 Global Hunger Index ranked India 63rd out of 78 countries, adding that 21.3 percent of the population went hungry in 2013. According to the World Bank, 68.3 percent of Indians live on less than two dollars a day.

“Socio-economic backwardness is a key factor in child trafficking,” Justice J B Koshy, former chief justice of the Patna High Court and chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding that a political-mafia nexus also fueled the practice in remote parts of the country.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children,” Koshy stated. “Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. The gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children. In some cases, good-looking girls are taken away by force.”

An action research study conducted in 2005 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of trafficking victims belonged to socially deprived sections of society.

It is estimated that half of the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Some 32.3 percent of trafficked girls suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other gynaecological problems, according to a 2006 report by ECPAT International.

This is likely due to the fact that most girls are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

A government-commissioned study conducted in 2003, the last time comprehensive data was gathered, estimated that the number of sex workers increased from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04, representing a 50-percent rise.

Many of these sex workers are thought to be girls between the ages of 12 and 15.

Sreelekha Nair, a researcher who was worked with the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Studies, added that parents coming from poor socio-economic conditions in remote villages sometimes readily hand over their children to middlemen.

Some parents have been found to “sell their children for amounts that are shockingly worthless,” she told IPS, in some cases for as little as 2,000 rupees (about 33 dollars), adding, “law and order agencies cannot often intervene in the private matters of a family.”

Rajnath Singh, home minister of India, told a group of New Delhi-based activists headed by Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, that a central agency would conduct a probe into the mass trafficking of children from villages in the Gumla district of the eastern state of Jharkhand over the past several years.

The group had brought it to the attention of the minister that thousands of girls were going missing from interior villages in the district every year, while their parents claimed ignorance as to their whereabouts.

Raja told reporters in New Delhi this past Julythat developmental schemes launched by individual states and the central government often fail to reach remote villages, leaving the countryside open to agents attempting to “sneak teenage girls out of villages.”

Experts point out that implementation of the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act remains weak. Many believe that since the act only refers to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children, nor does it provide a clear definition of the term ‘trafficking’.

Dr. P M Nair, project coordinator of the anti-human trafficking unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi and former director general of police, said that investigations should focus on recruiters, traffickers and all those who are part of organised crime.

The ‘scene of crime’ in a trafficking case, he said, should not be confined to the place of exploitationbut should also cover places of transit and recruitment.

“Victims of trafficking should never be prosecuted or stigmatised,” he told IPS. “They should be extended all care and attention from the human rights perspective. There is a need for the mandatory involvement of government agencies in the post-rescue process so that appropriate rehabilitation measures are ensured” as quickly as possible, he added.

NGOs like Child Line India Foundation help provide access to legal, medical and counseling services to all trafficked victims in order to restore confidence and self-esteem, but the country lacks a coordinated national policy to deal with the issue at the root level.

Experts have recommended that the state provide education, or gender-sensitive market-driven vocational training to rescued victims, to help them reintegrate into society, but such schemes are yet to become a reality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Iraq On the Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 04:23:16 +0000 Bill Miller http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136478 Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Bill Miller
NEW YORK, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The catastrophic events in Iraq that are unfolding daily are more significant than at any point in recent memory.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is now calling itself the Islamic State (IS), steamrolled out of Syria into Iraq and appeared to be unstoppable in its march to Baghdad. The Iraqi military, which was far larger and better armed, was either unable or unwilling to confront this ragtag, but determined, force of about 1,000 fighters.

Simultaneously, the world was riveted on the minority Yazidi community that had to escape to Mount Sinjar to avoid certain annihilation.

What made the situation even more dangerous was that Mount Sinjar is a rocky, barren hilltop about 67 miles long and six miles wide, protruding like a camel’s back with a daytime high temperature of 110 degrees, as Kieran Dwyer, communications chief for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, recently reported from Erbil.

Dwyer also shared other staggering statistics:

– Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of 200,000 people, as armed groups have ramped up their violence, and there are more than 1.2 million displaced people.

– The U.N. High Commission for Refugees is providing protection and assisting local authorities with shelter, including mattresses and blankets.

– The U.N. World Food Programme set up four communal kitchens in that Governorate and has provided two million meals in the past two weeks.

– The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided drinking water and rehydration salts to help prevent or treat diarrhea, as well as provisions of high-energy biscuits for 34,000 children under the age of five in the past week.

– The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting over 1,300 pregnant women with hygiene supplies and helping local authorities with medical supplies to support 150,000 people.

While returning from South Korea, Pope Francis sanctioned intervening in Iraq to stop Islamist militants from persecuting not only Christian, but also all religious minority groups.

This is a dramatic turnaround, given that the Vatican normally eschews the use of force. His caveat was that the international community must discuss a strategy, possibly at the U.N., so that this would not be perceived as ‘a true war of conquest.’

Shortly thereafter, French President Francois Hollande called for an international conference to discuss ways of confronting the Islamic State insurgents who have seized control of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Both suggestions tie directly into U.S. President Barack Obama’s intention to preside over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council during his attendance at the world body’s annual General Assembly meeting in mid-September.

Specifically, Obama’s agenda will focus upon counterterrorism and the threat of foreign fighters traveling to conflict zones and joining terrorist organisations.

Additionally, all major players in the region, even ones that have had a traditional animosity to one another such as Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and the U.S., must be at the table.

It is critical to remember that a major reason for the disasters occurring in many areas of the Middle East can be traced directly back to the misguided and widely-viewed illegal invasion of Iraq by former President George W. Bush in March of 2003.

Allegedly, the U.S. went to Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which did not exist.

When the bogus WMD argument collapsed, the rationale quickly moved to regime change and then to establishing democracy in the Arab world.

The real reasons were to control the oil fields and re-do that area so it could be manipulated by Western interests.

In reality, the legacy of the biggest U.S. foreign blunder in history left Iran as the powerhouse in the region, converted Iraq into a powder keg for conflict among the Sunnis and Shias, got 200,000 Iraqis and over 4,000 U.S. military personnel killed, and gave the American taxpayer a bill for two trillion dollars, which is a figure that will continue to rise because of the thousands of troops that will need medical and psychological assistance, as well as Iraq requesting financial, military and technical assistance in the future.

Tragically, some media outlets, such as Fox News and many right-wing talk radio stations, are putting the same purveyors of misinformation and disinformation – such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, Senator John McCain and Bill Kristol – back on the air to re-write history on how the Iraq War was really a glowing success.

In a democracy it is critical to have a cross-section of ideas and stimulating debate on Iraq and other issues, but it is questionable and foolish to heed the advice of such a devious and counterproductive group that adheres to the nonsensical tenets that if only the U.S. had stayed longer, left more troops or invested more blood and treasure in that region, there would have been a positive outcome.

They refuse to recognise that neither the Iraqis nor the Iranians wanted the U.S. to stay, and the American public was turning against a failed war.

Couple that with the fact that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to isolate the Sunnis from any power-sharing or involvement in the political, financial and cultural facets of Iraq.

From the despicable beheadings of freelance photographer James Foley and freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, to the imposition of draconian Sharia Law that violates human and civil rights, the challenges in Iraq are multiplying daily.

Probably no one in the world knows this better than U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said recently, “… I can bring world leaders to the river, but I cannot force them to drink.”

When the leaders of the world meet later this month at the U.N., it will be time for them to ‘drink the water’ for everyone’s benefit.

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

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Mass Deportations Don’t Squelch Migration Dreams of Honduranshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 08:09:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136463 Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
CORINTO, Honduras , Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

The clock marks 9 AM when a bus coming from the Mexican city of Tapachula reaches Corinto, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the first bus of the day, carrying children and their families sent back from a failed attempt at making it across the border into the United States.

The bus is carrying 19 children between the ages of five and 12, six women and seven men, all of them families. The trip took 10 hours. A team of volunteers from Red Cross Honduras, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets them and climbs aboard to provide them with bags of essentials.

It is the first stop the bus will make in Honduras, in the northwestern department or province of Cortés.

Its destination is the nearby city of San Pedro Sula, where they will be censused in a government shelter and given a bag of food and a small amount of money to help them return to their homes. The authorities don’t allow journalists to interview, photograph or film the minors.“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad.” -- Daniela Díaz

But this IPS reporter is allowed to get on the bus, where I see the sad, exhausted faces of the children. Their parents or other relatives look down into their laps, to hide their pain, defeat and sense of impotence.

Today, four busloads of deported immigrants – two of which carry children as well as adults – totaling 152 people come through customs at Corinto. The flow is steady, although minors only arrive, alone or accompanied, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The buses bring an average of 30 to 38 people,” Yahely Milla, a volunteer with the Red Cross team, explains to IPS. She says “the mass deportation of minors started in April,” and in May and June, when the crisis of unaccompanied Central American child immigrants broke out in the United States, up to 15 buses a day were arriving.

“Children from the age of three months to 10 years, some of them alone and others accompanied by their parents, came one time; it had a big impact on us because we hadn’t seen so many deportations since we have been here at the border,” she said.

Corinto is 362 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa. It is one of the main areas along the border used by Hondurans heading north on the migration route to the United States. There are at least 80 “blind spots” used by migrants to cross the border into Guatemala before continuing on to Mexico and, if they’re lucky, to the United States.

The authorities have beefed up controls along the border, which has slightly curbed the exodus.

Institutions are practically nonexistent here and the only support for deported migrants comes from the Red Cross and the ICRC, which has been operating in this town for about two years.

The only time the government made an appearance, people here say, was in July, when the deportations spiked and Ana Hernández, the wife of president Juan Orlando Hernández, came to receive a group of children.

Over a month later, the promised camps have not yet been built, and there isn’t even a toilet at the bus stop for the deportees to use.

Between buses, Mauricio Paredes, the head of the Red Cross at the Corinto post, explained to IPS how the reception centre works. The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis has made it necessary to ration the aid.

For children there are disposable diapers, water, baby bottles and IV saline solution, while the adults are given water, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sanitary pads for women and razors for men. They are also allowed a three-minute call to phone their families.

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The sun is beating down five hours later when the next bus comes, from the Mexican town of Acayuca. It brings 38 immigrants, including adolescents and adults.

One of them, 19-year-old Daniela Díaz, calls her mother to tell her that she is back from her second attempt to reach the United States. She then tells IPS about her odyssey.

“I set out on this journey nine months ago and although it’s my second try, I was still shocked by what I saw,” she says.

“This time I managed to get up on The Beast [the Mexican cargo train used by migrants, who ride on top of the wagons], but horrible things happen there. I saw women raped, I saw how the coyotes [migrant smugglers] sell people to criminal bands,” she says, speaking with long pauses.

“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad,” she says with a broken voice.

“What you go through is so tough that I almost have no tears left. I went out of need, because there’s no work here, my family is very poor, sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t, we are five brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest and the most rebellious, my mom says,” adds the young woman who is from Miramesí, a poor neighbourhood in the capital.

But despite her experiences, she says she’s going to try it again. “Going to the United States is my dream, and I’ll do it even if I die in the attempt,” she says, while getting ready to hitchhike – or walk – back to the capital, because she came back without a cent.

The deportees return like Díaz – without money and with a broken dream.

Poverty and violent crime are the main factors driving Hondurans to attempt the dangerous trek to the United States, experts say. Between October 2013 and May 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran minors reached the United States.

In the first six months of this year, some 30,000 Hondurans were deported by the United States and Mexico, according to the governmental Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (Reception Centre for Returned Migrants).

David López, 18, comes from Copán Ruinas in the western department of Copán, one of the “hot spots” in the country, where organised crime flourishes.

That is what he was fleeing. But he came back frightened, defeated and frustrated. He was assaulted twice by criminal bands that operate along the migration route. “I left because it’s not safe to live here anymore, you see things that it’s better not to talk about. I told myself, it’s time to leave the countryside, and I came back defeated, yes alive!…but defeated,” he tells IPS with a pained voice.

His aquiline features crumple as he remembers the assaults, the abuse, the drought and the hunger he survived.

“I thought the paths life took you on were different, but this is really tough,” he says. “I’m ashamed to go home because I failed this time. But I’ll try again, when things have calmed down along the border.”

In August alone some 19,000 deportees were brought back to the country through Corinto – as many as arrived in all of 2013, Paredes said.

This Central American nation of 8.4 million, where 65 percent of households are poor, is also one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 79.7 per 100,000 population, according to the Honduran Observatory on Violence.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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With Sewing and Sowing, Self-reliance Blooms in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 06:46:24 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136467 Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

In the small rural village of Svetlaya Polyana, not far from the city of Karakol in Issyk Kul Province, north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, there is no sewage system and 70 percent of households lack access to hot water.

But still, gardening efforts are underway. In the houses of the women members of the community fund you can see seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper and even some flowers being prepared for planting in the soil.

There are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. -- International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
These women are taking part in one of several agricultural trainings to learn how to plan vegetable gardens, prepare the soil, find good-quality seeds, plant and care for vegetables, as well as gardening tips, recipes and more.

“We all have learned a lot. Now I know what to do to get a good harvest,” said one beneficiary. “Now I have a beautiful and eco-friendly garden, I have healthy vegetables for my family that I know how to plant myself and I do not have to buy anything more at the bazaar.”

Through collective vegetable cultivation, their harvest in 2013 garnered a profit of 48,000 Kyrgyz SOM (about 930 dollars), which was put back into community projects and to buy high-quality seeds.

The small businesses established through the programme are now generating employment in this rural area, increasing independence and boosting household income not only in summer but also during the harsh winter months, when preserved vegetables and fruit jams are sold.

“The [...] project is highly important for the development of our community,” says Jylkychy Mamytkanov, head of the municipality of Svetlaya Polyana. “Programme participants have managed to build solidarity and mutual assistance among themselves. … Moreover, the income that we have already received from selling our vegetables will allow our community to make new investments in the future, such as construction of greenhouses.”

Across Central Asia, many families and individuals living in poverty migrate in order to find work. According to the IOM, there are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. Migration provides a vital source of income, but those left behind often feel dependent and have a hard time making ends meet.

To tackle such challenges, the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) was created in 2010, with the second phase currently underway, until March 2015.

Jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Bank and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with financial support from the UK Government, the programme focuses on reducing poverty by improving the livelihoods of migrant workers and their families, protecting their rights and enhancing their social and economic benefits.

The regional migration programme focuses on families from the region’s top two migrant-sending countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2011-2013 more than 5,324 labour migrants’ families in both countries received training, access to resources and micro-credits and became self-reliant entrepreneurs through the programme.

The RMP programme also promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue on migration and the needs of migrant workers across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. In those four countries, more than 520,000 migrant workers and their families have benefitted from a wide range of services, including legal assistance and education.

Dreams and designs in Tajikistan

Born in the remote district of Gonchi, northern Tajikistan, Farangis Azamova had a dream of becoming a designer, but with no means to finance university studies, the young rural woman had to find another means to realize her dreams.

With assistance from the Association of Women and Society, a long-time partner of UN Women and beneficiary of the regional migration programme, Farangis and five like-minded women established a community-based “self-help group” to sew curtains.

They took part in various seminars, learning how to set up, plan and manage a business. They rented a small place and established an atelier.

At first they sold curtains to neighbours, but with time their clientele grew. In June of 2014, her group took part in the annual traditional ‘Silk&Spices’ festival in Bukhara, eastern Uzbekistan, which brings together handicrafts from the entire Ferghana Valley.

It was an exciting opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to exchange experiences, learn to become more competitive in the labour market, take craft-master classes as well as present their handicrafts and find new buyers.

(END)

                                 This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, visit the Beijing+20 campaign websiteimage002

 

 

 

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The Age of Survival Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-age-of-survival-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-age-of-survival-migration/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:41:53 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136410 A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

A 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant heading to the U.S. Credit: Wilfredo Díaz/IPS

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

“Survival migration” is not a reality show, but an accurate description of human mobility fuelled by desperation and fear. How despairing are these migrant contingents? Look at the figures of Central American children travelling alone, which are growing.

The painful journeys of children and teenagers from Central America to the United States border sounded alarms this year.While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Refugee Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far.

More than 52,000 children —mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador— were detained when they crossed the border without their parents in the last eight months, says the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

While it is an unprecedented crisis, Gervais Appave, special policy adviser to the International Organisation for Migration’s director general, frames it “within a more general global trend”, which could be defined as “survival migration”.

Children travelling from the Horn of Africa to European countries, through Malta and Italy, or seeking to reach Australia by boat from Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka, are just two examples.

The European agency dealing with borders, Frontex, reported an increase in the “phenomenon of unaccompanied minors claiming asylum in the European Union (EU)” during 2009 and 2010.

According to Frontex, the proportion of children migrating alone “in the overall number of irregular migrants that reach the EU is worryingly growing.”

Appave told IPS it is impossible to identify a single cause for the spread of this child migration. But he pointed out there is a “very effective and ruthless smuggling industry”. There is “a psychological process that kicks in if you have a critical mass of people moving. Then others will try to follow because this is seeing as ‘the’ solution to go forth,” he said.

The muscle of smugglers and traffickers is apparent in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But nobody flees without a powerful reason.

According to a report published in July by the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, 85 percent of the new asylum applications received by the United States in 2012 came from these three countries, while Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize registered a combined 435 percent increase in the number of individual applications from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

A broader definition of refugee

Exactly 30 years ago, with Central America engulfed by civil wars and authoritarian regimes, the Latin American Cartagena Declaration enlarged the international concept of refugee.

This made it possible to include people who had fled their country because their lives, safety or freedom were threatened “by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violations of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.” Many Latin American countries adopted this regional concept.

In 2004, the countries adopted an action plan and a regional programme of resettlement. In July this year, governments of Central America and Mexico met in Nicaragua to discuss how to tackle the displacement forced by transnational mafias. The goal to protect vulnerable migrants must rest on the principle of shared responsibility of the involved states, they agreed.

A new Latin American plan on refugeees, asylum and stateless people for the next decade will be adopted in December in a meeting in Brazil to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Cartagena Declaration.

While in recent weeks there have been fewer children crossing the U.S. southern border, “this phenomenon has been here since years ago,” Adriana Beltrán, WOLA’s senior associate for citizen security, told IPS.

Criminal gangs, mafias and corruption are major drivers, agree Beltrán and José Guadalupe Ruelas, director of Casa Alianza – Honduras, an NGO working to promote children’s rights.

Killings, extrajudicial executions, extortion and fear “have grown dramatically” in Honduras, Ruelas told IPS.

The country has 3.7 million children under 18, and one million do not attend school; half million suffer labour exploitation; 24 out of 100 teenage girls get pregnant; 8,000 boys and girls are homeless, and other 15,000 fled the country this year, according to official statistics.

“Five years ago, there were 43 monthly murders and arbitrary executions of children and under-23 youths,” he said. Now the monthly average is 88, according to Casa Alianza’s Observatorio de Derechos de los Niños, Niñas y Jóvenes.

Moreover, the perception of security is altered. When people in the “colonias” (poor neighbourhoods) see an ambulance, they “immediately presume a murder or a violent death, instead of a life about to be saved or an ill person to be cured,” and if they see a police or a military patrol, “they think there will be heavy fire and deaths.”

These terrified people mistrust state institutions. Only last year, 17,000 families left their homes following gangs’ threats, “and the state could do nothing to prevent it.”

“They are displaced by the war,” Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández said in June.

The 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol establish that a refugee is a person who fled his or her country due to persecution on the grounds of political opinion, race, nationality or membership to a particular social group.

While Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and parts of Mexico are like hell on Earth, the Convention is not easily applicable in these cases, and moves to broaden or amend it have failed so far. Instead, the 1984 Cartagena Declaration (see sidebar) offers a more flexible refugee definition for the region.

Through a 10-point plan of action, the UNHCR asks governments to include refugee considerations in migration policies, particularly when dealing with children, women and victims of trafficking.

According to a 2008 law, U.S. authorities must screen all cases of children under 18 who crossed the border alone to determine whether they are victims of trafficking or abuse, to provide them with legal representation and ensure due process. But the agencies in charge are overloaded and lack adequate resources.

“Some sectors want to change this law and, despite the fact that there have not been deportations, Washington has not clearly indicated yet which stance will take,” said Ruelas.

With elections set for November, it is highly unlikely the political parties will keep this issue out of the electoral fight, he added.

Beyond the urgency of this refugee crisis, underlying causes are a much more complicated issue.

It is not just violence or poverty, but “incredibly weak criminal justice institutions penetrated by organised crime,” said Beltrán.

Ruelas points out the “wrongful” militarisation of Honduras, which will further erode the state’s ability to control its territory. “Despite more soldiers patrolling the streets, criminals feel free to threaten and murder in the colonias,” he said.

According to Beltrán, the United States’ ad hoc assistance through the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) is excessively focused on the “anti-drug fight”, when the region requires more investment in prevention policies, particularly at the local level.

“Washington needs to refocus its policies toward the region, but Central American governments can’t evade their own responsibility,” she added.

Their fiscal revenues, for example, are among the lowest in Latin America, thus undermining their capacity to provide services and respect human rights.

However, the crisis of migrant children is providing a golden opportunity to reexamine all of these larger issues, Ruelas says. “We need a human security, one which regains the public space for the citizens.

“When people control the territory,” he argued, “because the police protect and support them, they gain the chance to rebuild a more peaceful community life.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at dia.cariboni@gmail.com

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U.N. Conference Set to Bypass Climate Change Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-conference-set-to-bypass-climate-change-refugees/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 21:56:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136329 A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

A boy walks his bicycle down a flooded street in Georgetown, Guyana. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2014 (IPS)

An international conference on small island developing states (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Samoa next week, will bypass a politically sensitive issue: a proposal to create a new category of “environmental refugees” fleeing tiny island nations threatened by rising seas.

“It’s not on the final declaration called the outcome document,” a SIDS diplomat told IPS."It's clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad." -- Kristin Casper of Greenpeace

The rich countries that neighbour small island states are not in favour of a flood of refugees inundating them, he added.

Such a proposal also involves an amendment to the 1951 U.N. Convention on the Status of Refugees, making it even more divisive.

The outcome document, already agreed upon at a U.N. Preparatory Committee meeting last month, will be adopted at the Sep. 1-4 meeting in the Samoan capital of Apia.

Sara Shaw, climate justice and energy coordinator at Friends of the Earth International (FoEI), told IPS, “We believe that climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection.”

Unfortunately, she said, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees.

“Worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees,” Shaw added.

The world’s first-ever “climate change refugee” claimant, a national of Kiribati, lost his asylum appeal in a New Zealand courtroom last May on the ground that international refugee law does not recognise global warming and rising sea levels as a valid basis for asylum status.

Ioane Teitiota, a 37-year-old native of the Pacific island nation, claimed his island home was sinking – and that he was seeking greener and safer pastures overseas.

But the New Zealand court ruled that the 1951 international convention on refugees, which never foresaw the phenomenon of climate change, permits refugee status only if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

The U.N.’s electronic newsletter, U.N. Daily News, quoted Francois Crepeau, the special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, as saying, “We don’t have, in international law, or any kind of mechanisms to allow people to enter a State against the will of the State, unless they are refugees.”

And even then, he said, they don’t technically have the right to enter, but cannot be punished for entering.

Addressing the General Assembly last September, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Winston Baldwin Spencer told delegates, “It is a recognised fact – but it is worth repeating – that small island states contribute the least to the causes of climate change, yet we suffer the most from its effects.”

He said small island states have expressed their “profound disappointment” at the lack of tangible action at U.N. climate change talks.

Developed countries, he said, should shoulder their moral, ethical and historical responsibilities for emitting high levels of anthropogenic greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“It is those actions which have put the planet in jeopardy and compromised the well-being of present and future generations,” he said.

Kristin Casper, legal counsel for campaigns and actions at Greenpeace International, told IPS, “It’s a scandal that low-lying coastal and small island developing states stand to lose their territory by the end of this century due to sea level rise.”

She said climate-driven migration will increase, “therefore we salute all efforts by Pacific Small Island Developing States, other governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to call for urgent action to allow the world to fairly deal with climate-forced migration.

“It’s clear that governments have an obligation to reduce the risk of climate-related disasters, and displaced individuals and communities should be provided legal protection in their countries and abroad,” Casper said.

The Samoa conference is officially titled the Third International Conference on SIDS, the last two conferences being held in Barbados in 1994 and Mauritius in 2005.

The 52 SIDS include Antigua and Barbuda, Cuba, Fiji, Grenada, Bahamas, Suriname, Timor-Leste, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Addressing reporters last week, the Secretary-General of the Samoa conference Wu Hongbo told reporters he expects over 700 participants, including world political leaders, 21 heads of U.N agencies and over 100 NGOs.

The outcome document, he said, has several recommendations for action on how to move forward. But these goals, he stressed, cannot be achieved by governments alone.

“All of us are affected by climate change,” he said, pointing out that there was a broad agreement among member states on the challenges ahead.

FoEI’s Shaw told IPS millions of people around the world are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge in other countries because of hunger or conflict. Many of these crises are being directly exacerbated by climate change as resources such as fresh water become scarcer and conflicts arise.

“The impacts of climate change, which include increased sea-level rise, droughts, and more frequent extreme weather events, will lead to a growing number of climate refugees around the world,” she warned.

Friends of the Earth would welcome climate refugees being recognised under the U.N. refugee convention and offered international protection, she said.

“However we remain doubtful that these refugees would ever receive a warm welcome from the rich countries whose climate polluting actions forced them from their homes.”

The reality is that the overwhelming majority of climate refugees like those escaping conflict or persecution will end up in other poor countries, whilst rich countries build ever greater walls and fences to keep out those seeking a safer life for their families,
Shaw said.

According to the United Nations, SIDS are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world in terms of the intensity and frequency of natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact.

SIDS face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences when disasters occur.

These vulnerabilities accentuate other issues facing developing countries in general.

These include challenges around trade liberalisation and globalisation, food security, energy dependence and access; freshwater resources; land degradation, waste management, and biodiversity.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Migrants Deported from the U.S. in Limbo on the Mexican Borderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/migrants-deported-from-the-u-s-in-limbo-on-the-mexican-border/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 21:40:12 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136301 A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

A migrant deported from the United States sleeps under a bridge on the stretch of the Tijuana River known as El Bordo, at the northwestern tip of Mexico, next to the border. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
TIJUANA, Mexico, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

The areas under the low bridges over a section of the canalised channel of the Tijuana River that runs along the border between Mexico and the United States have become enormous open-air toilets.

Along the entire two-km stretch from the eastern part of Tijuana to the wall on the U.S. border, hundreds of people sleep in makeshift tents of cardboard and cloth, tunnel-like holes, and sewage ditches and on the bridges and the sides of the levees. The banks are strewn with trash washed down by the Tijuana River, which stinks from the sewage.

The stench is dizzying. At 7:00 AM, the junkies, who can get heroin here for two dollars a dose, are happy to be given a few chocolates, which help curb their sugar craving. “This is the city of El Bordo,” one of them tells IPS with a crooked smile, his hand stretched out.

This is the “city” of people who have no one. The underside of the border bridges and the banks of the concrete-lined channel are home to hundreds of deported homeless migrants who have decided to wait for a better moment to cross this tightly sealed border, and who survive cleaning windshields, offering to carry people’s bags outside of supermarkets, doing odd construction jobs, collecting refuse to sell for recycling, or panhandling on the streets of the border city of Tijuana.

“The population that inhabits El Bordo is an illustration of the extreme conditions that the most vulnerable deportees can face in Mexico,” says the study “Estimates and Characteristics of the Population Residing in El Bordo on the Tijuana River Channel”.

The report, produced by the Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF), counted between 700 and 1,000 people living in El Bordo in August-September 2013.In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

It adds that the residents of El Bordo are mainly male addicts (some began to use drugs here) in their forties, who were deported in the last four years and have no identity documents. Most of them have left children behind in Mexico or the United States.

According to the report, half of them speak English, and overall they have similar levels of schooling as the rest of the population of Tijuana. It adds that only six percent say they want to return to their place of origin in Mexico.

“These results reflect that deportations from the United States to Mexico are causing families to separate, and are specifically separating parents from their homes, which causes a rupture in the lives of individuals and families, and puts an end to the possibility of integration in the country of residency by the rest of the members of the family,” says the study, coordinated by Laura Velasco, a researcher in COLEF’s Department of Cultural Studies.

Tijuana is at the northwestern tip of Mexico, 2,780 km from Mexico City. It is in the state of Baja California across the border from San Diego, California. In 2012, the city received 59,845 of the 409,849 people deported by the government of Barack Obama.

Since Obama’s second administration began in 2009, more than two million people have been deported – seven people per hour in 2012 – which means the administration has deported more people than any other government.

Tijuana, population 1.7 million, has more drug addicts than any other city in Mexico, in proportional terms. It is the headquarters of weakened drug cartels, and is considered one of the most violent and dangerous cities in the world.

For decades it was the main gateway for migrants to the United States.

But the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington prompted a shift in U.S. migration policy and the Mexican border began to be sealed off, forcing undocumented immigrants to seek out increasingly remote and hazardous routes, while the number of Border Patrol agents climbed from 3,500 in 2005 to 21,000 in 2013.

Mexico and the U.S. are separated by a 3,500-km border. Baja California, which borders the city of San Diego and the state of Arizona, receives one-third of the deportees and is the state with the largest number of foreign residents.

In the state capital, Mexicali, 177 km east of Tijuana, the heat of August – up to 50 degrees Celsius – can kill, and people who don’t have air conditioners sleep on rooftops.

Mexicali has its “mini Bordo”: the Montealbán condominium complex, severely damaged by an earthquake in 2010, on the eastern shore of the now non-existent Nuevo River, a few metres from the historic old city.

Some 80 local homeless people and deported immigrants, basically all of them addicts, live in the condemned buildings.

Bodies have been found in the ruins. The latest was discovered on Apr. 15. And there are constant fires and police raids.

“I live here because there is nowhere else to go,” Josué, a 33-year-old from Guatemala, told IPS.

“I felt overwhelmed in the shelter, there are so many people,” said Josué, who was deported Aug. 1, 2013 and has only one thing on his mind: returning to the United States.

He has already tried to cross the border in Nogales, in the state of Sonora, but he didn’t make it. He was told it was easier here, and he’s just waiting “for the heat to end” to try again. “I was 10 years old when I got to California; I have nothing in Guatemala,” he said.

Another COLEF study on the characteristics of deported immigrants, in this case Mexican women, sounds the alert about the health problems they face.

“There is an alarmingly high rate of symptoms of emotional problems among the deportees – nearly 20 times higher than among those who return voluntarily,” says the study, based on research on the health of deportees being carried out by Letza Bojórquez, a researcher with COLEF’s Department of Population Studies.

Drawing on statistics from the Border Survey of Mexican Migration, the study found that 40 percent of the migrant population living on the streets reported emotional problems and 12 percent answered “yes” to the question of whether they had ever thought about taking their life.

In the last five years more and more families have been broken up as a result of deportations. One statistic reflects the magnitude of the phenomenon: while in 2007 only 20 percent of those deported were sent back without their families, that proportion climbed to 77 percent in 2012.

“The problem here is that there is no policy providing for attention to the deportees,” activist Sergio Tamai, director of the Albergue Hotel Migrante, a shelter in Mexicali, and one of the heads of the organisation Ángeles sin Fronteras, told IPS. “Hundreds of deportees started to arrive and there was no institution prepared to receive them.”

Between August and November 2013, Tamai led a protest in Tijuana, with 800 people camping out in the Plaza Constitución to demand programmes providing assistance to migrants, deportees and the homeless.

Lobbying of the authorities by civil society organisations and religious groups has brought some results.

On Aug. 7, the state legislature of Baja California passed a law for support for the rights of and protection of migrants in the state, which requires that the state system for the integral development of the family provide social assistance to unaccompanied minor children and adolescents, and that a state registry of migrants be created.

It was the first state to do so, after the Mexican Congress approved the creation of a new migration law in 2011, which replaced the 1947 law and provides legal recourse for Central American migrants making their way through Mexico.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Israel, Hamas Set to Escape War Crimes Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/israel-hamas-set-to-escape-war-crimes-charges/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:08:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136286 A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

A view of the remains of structures hit by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 6, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a rare moment of political candour, lashed out at Israel last week, questioning its “respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality” – particularly in the context of the civilian death toll that kept rising to over 2,000 Palestinians, with more than 75 percent civilians.

“I expect accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred,” he warned."The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation." -- Michael Ratner of CCR

That “accountability” has to come only before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague where both Israelis and Hamas militants are liable for war crimes – even though only two civilians died in the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel. But the chances of either one of the warring parties going before the ICC are remote.

Asked about a possible ICC intervention, John Quigley, professor emeritus at Ohio State University, told IPS one should not be asking whether Israel can be brought before the ICC.

“The ICC does nothing against states. It prosecutes individuals. So the question is whether Israelis could be brought before the ICC,” he noted.

One way is a Security Council resolution, said Quigley, author of ‘The Statehood of Palestine: International Law in the Middle East Conflict.’

But according to most U.N. diplomats, any such resolution will be vetoed either by one, or all three Western nations – the United States, Britain and France – who traditionally throw their protective arm around Israel, right or wrong.

Quigley said, “If a state is a party to the Rome Statute, then its nationals can be prosecuted in the ICC.”

Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC.

“However, the ICC has jurisdiction based on the territory where a crime is committed. So if an Israeli commits a crime in a state that is a party, the ICC can prosecute that Israeli,” said Quigley, author of ‘Genocide in Cambodia and The Ruses for the War.’

Beyond that, said Quigley, if a state is not a party but files a declaration conferring jurisdiction on crimes within its territory, then anyone who commits a crime in the territory of that state may be prosecuted.

That is the basis on which the ICC has jurisdiction over Israelis who commit crimes in the territory of Palestine, because Palestine filed such a declaration in 2009, he added.

The obstacle is that the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, says the Palestine declaration was not valid because Palestine was not a state in 2009.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS there is a desperate need to hold Israel, its leadership and military officials accountable for the international crimes Israel is committing today in Gaza, and for the crimes it has committed in the past in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel itself.

“Along with Israeli officials, the aiders of abettors of this ongoing criminal conduct should be in the dock as well,” Ratner said.

This, he said, would include especially officials of the U.S. and other countries who, knowing that Israel is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, continue to give it the means for doing so, said Ratner, president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

A story in the London Guardian last week said the ICC was under Western pressure not to open a Gaza war crimes case.

Julian Borger, the Guardian’s diplomatic editor, wrote that in recent days, a potential ICC investigation into the actions of both the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and Hamas in Gaza has become a fraught political battlefield and a key negotiating issue at ceasefire talks in Cairo.

“But the question of whether the ICC could or should mount an investigation has also divided the Hague-based court itself,” he wrote.

An ICC investigation could have a far-reaching impact, he said, pointing out it would not just examine alleged war crimes by the Israeli military, Hamas and other Islamist militants, but also address the issue of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, for which the Israeli leadership would be responsible.

In an exchange of letters in the last few days, Bolger wrote, lawyers for the Palestinians have insisted that Bensouda has all the legal authority she needs to launch an investigation, based on a Palestinian request in 2009. “However, Bensouda is insisting on a new Palestinian declaration, which would require achieving elusive consensus among political factions such as Hamas, who would face scrutiny themselves alongside the Israeli government.”

Ratner told IPS the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in referring Israel to the U.N. Human Rights Council, said Israel was in deliberate defiance of international law.

“While she also referred Hamas for indiscriminate firing of rockets, that violation pales compared to the massacre Israel has carried out,” Ratner added.

Her condemnation also was aimed at the United States for providing the weaponry Israel is employing in its assault on Gaza.

“The High Commissioner is right: Israel is deliberately violating the laws of war and has boasted of it,” he said.

After the second war in Lebanon in 2006 in which Israel flattened the Dahiya civilian neighbourhood of Beirut, an Israeli general said Israel will use disproportionate force against any village that fires upon Israel, “causing great damage and destruction.”

Ratner said by failing to hold Israel accountable in large part because it is protected by the United States, it is making a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and international law.

“The impunity of Israel and the United States are a license for every country to violate humanitarian and human rights laws that are fundamental to civilisation,” he said.

Ratner argued that the United Sates is too powerful and the chances of an ICC investigation, much less a prosecution, are remote. Even were the court by some miracle to launch an investigation, it would never, because of U.S. pressure, result in a prosecution. But this does not mean Palestinians and their allies should stop trying, said Ratner.

“Every means to expose and hold Israel accountable and demonstrate the bias of our international system is important,” he added. “The effort is clearly terrifying Israel because Israel knows the criminality it is engaged in.”

So, if the ICC is not really a means to hold Israel and the U.S. accountable, then efforts should be doubled to hold Israeli and U.S. officials accountable through universal jurisdiction in every national court of every state, he noted.

Many countries have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity no matter where committed and even if the perpetrator is not in the country.

“The goal is to make Israel the pariah state it ought to be for committing these crimes, to make its officials unable to move outside the country and to ultimately send a message: Enough! It is saddening at this moment to see horrendous crimes committed hourly and watch the governments of many states stand by or enable,” he added.

“Our hope to hold Israel accountable should be in the outpouring of opposition to these crimes by citizens throughout the world. Ultimately, the courts will need to act,” declared Ratner.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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