Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:39:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, a sharp contrast with Western European countries where Muslims’ are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for Recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—especially online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Secretary-General Calls for International Unity on Yemen and Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 21:49:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140102 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

“Political negotiations, not military intervention, are the solution” said United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the rapidly deteriorating conflict situation in Yemen and recent developments in Syria at the Yarmouk refugee camp.

Speaking from the U.N. Headquarters in New York, Ban expressed concern that countless civilians have been abandoned to misery in recent days as violence has escalated.

“Yemeni families are struggling for the very basics – water, food, fuel and medicines. Hundreds have been killed. Hospitals and schools are shutting down – some of which are direct targets of the fighting,” said Ban.

Before the current crisis, Yemen’s overall humanitarian needs were on a similar scale to all other nine countries of the Sahel region combined, but now the country has almost doubled the number of people classified as ‘severely food insecure’, he added.

The territorial advance by the Houthis and their allies, undermining the legitimate government, is a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions and a violation of the international humanitarian law, Ban said.

The crisis in Yemen has worsened since the Arab coalition military operation led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the request of president Hadi.

Ban said, “The U.N.- brokered negotiations, endorsed by the Security Council, remain the best chance to help get the transition back on track and preserve the country’s unity and territorial integrity.”

On Syria, the Secretary-General addressed the situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp, in Damascus, where residents, including over 3,500 children, are being held hostage by Da’esh armed elements.

According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), around 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees are being held in the camp.

“Civilians must be spared. Civilians must be protected at all times,” remarked Ban, saying that he is urging world leaders, member states, governments and parties involved to end all forms of violence.

Also on Thursday, U.N. Special Advisers on both genocide and the Responsibility to Protect expressed concern about the situation in Yarmouk.

“The Special Advisers recalled the commitment by all Heads of State and government in 2005 to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to cooperate in fulfilling their collective responsibility to protect.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Situation in Besieged Yarmouk Camp ‘One of the Most Severe Ever’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/situation-in-besieged-yarmouk-camp-one-of-the-most-severe-ever/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 02:32:48 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140058 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2015 (IPS)

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has described the situation inside the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, under attack by Islamic State (IS) militants, as “one of the most severe ever” for the already spartan camp.

Fighters allegedly from the IS, and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra, began their attack on the camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, on Apr. 1. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Around 18,000 people, including 3,500 children, are believed to be trapped inside Yarmouk.

Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner general for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), told a press briefing Monday the current situation was among the most dire faced by refugees in the camp, already under siege for two years and suffering from a lack of food, water and medical help.

“The current escalation has made the hour more desperate than ever for civilians inside Yarmouk,” Krähenbühl said via videoconference from Jordan.

“Concerted action by [U.N. Security Council] members and U.N. members to uphold humanitarian law is required.”

He said UNRWA had been unable to render assistance to those trapped inside due to access issues, but that the agency was “ready at any time to resume humanitarian assistance.”

On Sunday, UNRWA released a statement demanding access to the camp. “The lives of civilians in Yarmouk have never been more profoundly threatened,” the statement read.

“The level of our aid has been well below the minimum required. Potable water is now unavailable inside Yarmouk and the meagre health facilities that existed have been overrun by conflict.  The situation is extremely dire and threatens to deteriorate even further.”

Krähenbühl was unable to comment on how much of the camp may be under militant control, but conceded that affected areas did house the highest concentration of civilians.

Reports from Yarmouk include alleged beheadings by IS members, but Krähenbühl was again unable to comment, saying UNRWA had been “unable to independently verify” such reports.

Ongoing gun battles in the streets of Yarmouk further escalate an already bleak and miserable living situation for Palestinian refugees. Civilians are said to subsist on just 400 calories a day, with sparse access to food or water. Krähenbühl conceded UNRWA was only able to provide “meagre” assistance to Yarmouk residents, calling their living conditions “unbearable.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council have been briefed on the situation. While it is unclear what, if any, action the U.N. may take, Krähenbühl made several cryptic comments calling on the international community to “influence” armed groups to curtail their offensive.

“There are no easy solutions … messages have to be passed to all the parties and armed groups inside Yarmouk that respect for life is an element not only in international law, it is a fundamental human principle that is found in all religions,” he said.

“We call on states to act and influence parties on the ground … more concerted action could influence action on the ground.”

When asked whether UNRWA had any direct contact with IS, Krähenbühl said no.

“It is not up to me to give any indication on who may channel messages to different parties, including the armed groups inside Yarmouk,” he said.

 

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Death Sentences up, Executions down in 2014http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/death-sentences-up-executions-down-in-2014/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:51:50 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139998 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

Governments worldwide sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014; judgements which have been condemned by rights group Amnesty International.

Amnesty’s annual Death Sentences and Executions report, released Wednesday, documented a 28 percent uptick in death sentence judgements compared to 2013.

This increase was largely due to sharp spikes in death sentences in Egypt and Nigeria, where courts imposed mass sentences against scores of people in some cases,” the report outlined.

There were 509 death sentences recorded in Egypt and 659 in Nigeria, up from 109 and 141 respectively.

Many of these sentences came in response to terrorism threats. Pakistan, which had placed a six-year moratorium on the death penalty, reinstated capital punishment after the attack in December 2014 at a Peshawar school, where terrorists killed 145 people including 132 children.

People in at least 55 countries were sentenced to death in 2014.

Actual executions decreased in number, with 607 recorded executions in 2014 representing a 22 percent fall compared to the 778 recorded in 2013.

In launching the report at United Nations headquarters in New York, Amnesty International’s Renzo Pomi stressed the reported numbers were a bare minimum, due to difficulty in collecting accurate numbers.

“For sure, these are significantly underestimated from the real figures,” Pomi said.

“We have no data from China, because the numbers are considered a state secret.”

Amnesty stated that “thousands are executed and sentenced to death [in China] every year” but that secrecy makes the actual numbers “impossible to determine.”

“We call on China to be more transparent on its use of the death penalty,” Pomi said.

He said Amnesty condemned government use of death sentences in an attempt to solve crime problems, saying such attempts are “deceiving the public” and are often used “to cover inefficient systems.”

After China, Iran was said to be the world’s next most prolific executioner, with 289 executions; however, Amnesty stated at least 454 more were not acknowledged by authorities. Saudi Arabia carried out at least 90, Iraq at least 61, and the United States of America recorded 35 executions.

While executions dropped in 2014, Pomi expressed alarm that death sentences were widely being imposed for less serious crimes, such as drug crimes, adultery, blasphemy and robbery.

“The concern is the death penalty is being imposed not for the most serious of crimes, but for crimes that don’t fit in this category,” he said.

“The death penalty often discriminates against the poor and ethnic minorities. There have been grossly unfair trials and evidence extracted under torture, thereby increasing the risk of executing people innocent of the crime for which they have been condemned.”

Amnesty believes almost 20,000 people worldwide were under death sentences at the end of 2014.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Opinion: Where Does Nigeria Go From Here?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-where-does-nigeria-go-from-here/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-where-does-nigeria-go-from-here http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-where-does-nigeria-go-from-here/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:57:35 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139992 General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

General Muhammadu Buhari holding a broom at a campaign rally. Photo credit: By Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Flickr: Wahlkampf in Nigeria 2015)/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK/ABUJA, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

After several tension-filled months, a majority of Nigerians swept in an opposition leader and former military man, Muhammadu Buhari, to succeed incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, whose failure to contain a terrorist wave in the northern states doomed his re-election chances.

Buhari had previously ruled Nigeria from January 1984 until August 1985 – a period in which there were widespread accusations of human rights abuses – after taking charge following a military coup in December 1983.

The Mar. 28 elections were observed by teams from the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union. Carl LeVan, an assistant professor at the School of International Service, American University in Washington, DC, took part in the National Democratic Institute’s election observation mission from the United States.“[President Muhammadu] Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted” – Carl LeVan, member of a U.S. observation mission for the Mar. 28 presidential election in Nigeria

Speaking with IPS, LeVan, author of Dictators and Democracy in African Development (2015), remarked on the surprise success of Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) party that was only formed in February 2013.

“The defeat of Africa’s largest political party, the People’s Democratic Party, will bring the All Progressives Congress (APC) into power after barely two years of organising, mobilising and coalition building. (Muhammadu) Buhari will enter office with a strong mandate from the voters, having won four out of the country’s six geopolitical zones, and the APC will enjoy a comfortable majority in the Senate.

“Though a northern Muslim from Katsina, his support included the predominantly Yoruba southwest, where President Goodluck Jonathan recent delivered bags of cash to traditional rulers according to news reports and where the militant Odudwa Peoples’ Congress launched a wave of thuggery in recent weeks.”

The election upset was especially poignant for Nigerians of the northern states, the area most devastated by Boko Haram terror attacks. While some of the vote counting was impeccable, not all of the voting went smoothly. Observers told of protestors objecting to perceived rigging, harassment, ballot boxes snatched and over-voting.

“Even before the results were announced,” said LeVan, “voters in the north reacted with jubilation, and militant groups, including the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, began surreptitiously re-arming in the creeks of the south. Sources I met with over the weekend in Rivers State say they have seen caches of weapons in camps backed by militants such Ateke Tom and others.

“In addition to such seemingly minor procedural problems, the public was locked out of some collation (vote counting) centres. We also received credible reports of serious harassment. A soldier was killed in some of the violence in Port Harcourt, and a large protest took the state electoral commission by storm on Sunday.”

The opposition victory has been achieved but some are already wondering what the new leader, not known for his adherence to human rights, will prioritise.

According to LeVan, “Buhari has a mandate, and his most urgent challenge is to neither misinterpret nor abuse it.

“According to an Afrobarometer poll released on Mar. 23, 40 percent of Nigerians say the president ‘should be allowed to govern freely without wasting time to justify expenses’, and 25 percent say the president should ‘pass laws without worrying about what the National Assembly thinks’. Sixty-eight percent are not very or not at all satisfied with the way democracy is working.”

Recalling a recent national election won by a former dictator, LeVan said that “the last time Nigeria elected a former dictator, Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999, he spent his first term battling the National Assembly and quelling violence in the region that largely voted against him. But he also began building institutions and establishing trust with his sceptics.

“The last time Nigerians had Buhari at the helm, the jubilation quickly gave way to frustration, repression, and economic failure.

“Buhari’s ‘honeymoon’ will therefore be critical, and probably even shorter lived than his memories of 1984. He will need to do more than make grand rhetorical gestures to democracy; he’ll need to practice it and educate his own supporters about the advantages of the justice and fairness it offers, even where the cost may be the kind of efficiency the Afrobarometer respondents appear to be longing for.”

LeVan also urged the new president to “go south” in view of the fact that Nigeria has often been a divided country with loyalties to different regional centres and different religious and ethnic affiliations, because this would send a “valuable message to northerners that he is everyone’s president.”

By “going south”, he said, the newly-elected president “could also include a clear transition plan or policy for the status of the ongoing amnesty programme for the Niger Delta militants, who need reassurance that they do not need an Ijaw president [like President Goodluck Jonathan] in order to have “resource control” taken seriously, or to have environmental clean-up and developmental needs addressed.

“The sooner and more clearly they hear this message, the less likely will be the re-ignition of the Delta rebellions … This is also important because in a country partly divided along religious lines between north and south, Afrobarometer reports that trust in religious leaders at 29 percent is higher than in the National Assembly, governors, local governments, or even traditional rulers (16 percent).

“Christian Igbos in the east (who overwhelmingly rejected the APC) and minorities in the south need to know they can trust Buhari, and he needs their cooperation to govern peacefully and practically.”

LeVan also suggested that Buhari should “reset” national security strategy, perhaps by ”replacing key members of the national security establishment.

“While some continuity may help preserve institutionalised knowledge, particularly with regard to the recent ‘surge’ against Boko Haram, the mishandling of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping reduced confidence in the national security team, and the pressure applied to the electoral commission prior to the election delay has contributed to the perception that some soldiers and many advisers are partisan.”

Boko Haram has been displaced but not defeated, LeVan warned, and this means creating a “credible counter-insurgency strategy”.

Among others, such a strategy would include “sustained high-level interactions with the multinational coalition partners, and a repairing of bridges to the United States, United Kingdom and other allies with a stake in Nigeria’s peaceful prosperity.”

In this context, said LeVan, a visit to the United States and the United Kingdom would be beneficial to reconnect with a disenchanted diaspora. “This will be important in the United States, where leadership in Congress has interpreted Boko Haram as a war against Christians, rather than a complex insurgency with many different victims and deep historical and socio-economic roots.

“Buhari has an unprecedented opportunity to recast the Muslim face of Africa at a time when violent terrorist movements have both perverted Islam and distorted Western foreign policies meant to be more multifaceted.”

LeVan also advised Buhari to pick a “credible, competent and diverse economic team”, noting that “in early 2014, the government of Nigeria (along with the World Bank and others) highlighted trends in economic diversification. The near crisis triggered by the decline in oil prices since then suggests either these claims were overstated or much more work needs to be done.

Buhari could reform the refinery and oil importation mechanisms, commit to publishing all of the federal governments revenue transfers to subnational units each month (like it used to), and pick a combination of experts from academia, the private sector and the bureaucracy to get the economy back on track.”

“A few obvious steps,” concluded LeVan, “would go a long way: reaffirm the independence of the Central Bank (whose governor was replaced last year), stabilise the currency, and consult the National Assembly about budget plans and fiscal crises … The rest is up to the Nigerian people, who spoke on Mar. 28. Voting was just the beginning.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

Any views expressed by persons cited in this article do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Palestine Crisis at Its Worst Since 1967, Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestine-crisis-at-its-worst-since-1967-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 21:07:58 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139904 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In 2014, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) saw the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967, said a report by the United Nations Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), released on March 26.

The report, Fragmented Lives, said that the Gaza strip’s 1.8 million civilians were directly affected by the war. Over 1,500 were killed, more than 11,000 injured and 100,000 remain displaced. Meanwhile, settlement expansion and the forced displacement of Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem are continuing.

“The crisis stems from the prolonged occupation, and recurrent hostilities, alongside a system of policies that undermine the ability of Palestinians to live normal, self-sustaining lives and realize the full spectrum of their right to self-determination,” the report stated.

UNOCHA,who have detailed key humanitarian concerns in the oPt for the past four years, reports that about 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip remain under an Israeli military occupation that prevents them from exercising many of their basic human rights.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, James Rawley, told U.N. media that the economic and social problems are expanding from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

“A record number of 1,215 Palestinians were displaced due to home demolitions by Israeli authorities, while settlement and settler activity continued, in contravention of international law, and contributed to humanitarian vulnerability of affected Palestinian communities,” he noted.

The report was released on the same day as Robert Serry, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the U.N. Security Council about peace negotiations.

Nearing the end of his mandate, Serry expressed his disappointment at the failure of the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Serry pointed out that a two-state solution cannot be forced by the international community, but can only succeed if both parties are willing and committed to such a peaceful solution.

“I must tell you, I am disheartened by seeing what has happened in these seven years, and these past three negotiations. If the parties wish to live in peace with each other, then there is no other alternative, and it is time to really think of a two state solution,” Serry said in comments to the press.

Serry urged the Security Council to revive talks, saying a greater focus should be put on Gaza.

“Gaza first, doesn’t mean Gaza only. But I don’t see how, this shattered piece (of land) can be ‘pieced’ together without addressing it now as a priority issue.”

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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U.N. Security Council Focuses on Children as Victims of Armed Groupshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/u-n-security-council-focuses-on-children-as-victims-of-armed-groups/#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 02:41:10 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139876 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 26 2015 (IPS)

24 hours after the shocking kidnap of more than 400 women and children in Nigeria by Boko Haram, the United Nations Security Council discussed the safety of children as victims of non-state armed groups.

In New York, the Permanent Representative of France called the meeting to urge countries to address the issue of violations of children’s rights in conflict areas.

The U.N. Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said to the Council, “Since I last addressed the Council on this issue one year ago, hundreds of thousands more children have been confronted with the emergence or intensification of conflict, and have endured new and grave threats posed by armed groups.”

In 2014, it was estimated that 230 million children lived in areas where armed groups are fighting, and almost 15 million were direct victims of violence.

“The tactics of groups such as Daesh and Boko Haram make little distinction between civilians and combatants. These groups not only constitute a threat to international peace and security, but often target girls and boys,” he added.

U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said that from Nigeria to Iraq, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Syria, extremist actors militarise schools, abducting and recruiting children to become soldiers, or sexual slaves. Especially girls who suffer sexual abuse and are denied education.

“Armed groups are taking controls of lands, erasing borders, using modern technology to recruit people and to expose (the world to) their brutal actions,” said Zerrougui, who in 2014 jointly launched a programme with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Children not Soldiers”, aimed at ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers by government forces by 2016.

Constructive dialogue, even if it seems a difficult task, may be one of the strategies that mediators and peacekeepers should pursue to protect children and fight extremism, she added.

“We need to think of all possibilities to engage with them…Taking into account children’s safety is essential if we want lasting peace,” Zerrougui concluded.

2015 is the 10th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1612, which condemns the recruitment of child soldiers by parties to armed conflicts.

Among the speakers, Junior Nzita, an ex-child soldier in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, brought to light the harsh realities of growing up as a child soldier.

Speaking to the Council, Nzita said, “We had to kill, and destroy infrastructure, we did everything they demanded, violating international human rights laws. Carrying munitions, we walked with one fundamental principle: ‘we must fire on whatever moves before they fire on us’. Innocent lives were taken without reason… I continue to regret it.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Palestinian Women Victims on Many Frontshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-women-victims-on-many-fronts/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 10:17:44 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139798 Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Islam Iliwa lost her home and cleaning products business in Gaza following an Israeli bombardment. She is one of many single, divorced mothers struggling to survive under the siege. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

Israel’s siege of Gaza, aided and abetted by the Egyptians in the south, has aggravated the plight of Gazan women, and the Jewish state’s devastating military assault on the coastal territory over July and August 2014 exacerbated the situation.

In a resolution approved by the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women on Mar. 20, Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian territory was blamed for “the grave situation of Palestinian women.”

The 45-member commission adopted the resolution – which was sponsored by Palestine and South Africa – by a vote of 27-2 with 13 abstentions. The United States and Israel voted against, while European Union members abstained.The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

“Women’s suffering doubled in the Gaza Strip in particular due to the consequences of Israel’s latest offensive, as they have been enduring hard and complicated living conditions,” said Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in a statement released on Mar. 8 to mark International Women’s Day.

“During the 50-day Israeli offensive, women were exposed to the risks of death or injury because of Israel’s excessive use of lethal force as well as Israel’s blatant violations of the principles of distinction and proportionality under customary international humanitarian law,” said PCHR.

During the war, 293 women were killed (18 percent of the civilian victims) and 2,114 wounded, with many sustaining permanent disabilities.

However, inherent cultural, religious and legal implications have also played a part in making life untenable for Gaza’s female population.

The world of 40-year-old Islam Iliwa from Zeitoun in Gaza City was shattered during a night of heavy bombardment last year during the war.

The divorced mother of three children, aged 10 to 16, lost nearly everything when an Israeli air strike destroyed her home and with it the business that she had worked so hard for years to build up.

Iliwa had been living in Dubai when she and her husband divorced, a move that makes it particularly hard for women to reintegrate into conservative Arab society.

The divorce was traumatic but Iliwa was determined to make a go of her life and moved back to Gaza in 2011 with the money she had saved up while working in Dubai.

Under Islamic law, the father would have been given automatic custody of their three children at their respective ages.

However, Iliwa decided she would pay her husband to sign custody of the children over to her as well as forfeit her rights to child support.

“I told him I would survive without him and make a good life for myself and my children,” Iliwa told IPS.

“On arriving back in Gaza, I poured my life savings of 20,000 dollars into a small business which sold cleaning materials,” she said.

“In a good month before the war I was able to earn about 2,400 dollars and my business was growing. However, my home and the little factory I built were both destroyed during the Israeli bombing attack. My son Muhammad was also injured,” recalled Iliwa, as she broke down and wept at the bitter memory.

Iliwa and her three children were forced to flee to a U.N. shelter, along with hundreds of thousands of other desperate Gazans.

When it was safe to leave the shelter, after a ceasefire had been reached, Iliwa and her children were destitute and homeless.

However, the plucky mother of three has been able to rent a new home and slowly rebuild her business with the help of Oxfam, even though she is now making a fraction of what she used to.

The collective suffering of Palestinian women extends beyond death and injury, with forcible displacement and surviving in overcrowded shelters with inadequate facilities, including inadequate clean drinking water and food, lack of privacy and hygiene issues.

A rise in domestic violence has aggravated the situation with women having little recourse to societal or legal support with many Palestinians believing that this is a private matter between spouses.

Under Palestinian law, the few men that are arrested for “honour killings” receive little jail time and women beaten by husbands would have to be hospitalised for at least 10 days before police would consider intervening.

According to PCHR’s documentation, 16 women were killed last year in different contexts related to gender-based violence.

Last year, U.N. Women in Palestine released a statement saying that they it was “seriously concerned” about the killings, highlighting that the “worrying increase in the rate of femicide demonstrated a widespread sense of impunity in killing women”.

A 2012 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) said that 37 percent of Palestinian women were subject to some form of violence at the hands of their husbands, with the highest rate in Gaza at 58.1 percent and the lowest in Ramallah at 14.1 percent.

Gaza’s Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) explained that the difficult economic circumstances, poverty and unemployment, were the reasons behind the spike in domestic violence.

“These factors reflect negatively on men’s psychological status. They became more stressed and angry as they can’t support their families financially, live in crowded conditions and have no privacy,” PCDCR told IPS.

“There has also been a reversal in gender roles where women accept low-paying jobs which men consider below their status as the head of families or single women/widows are forced to take on the breadwinner role.

“This has all fed into men’s feelings of inadequacy and to them taking their frustrations out on their female relatives,” PCDCR told IPS.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Victims of Clerical Sex Abuse Join Forces in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/victims-of-clerical-sex-abuse-join-forces-in-latin-america/#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 07:26:00 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139780 Actors Luis Gnecco (left) and Benjamín Vicuña in a scene from “Karadima’s Forest”, a film that portrays pedophile Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, seen here with one of his victims, James Hamilton, his “favourite”, who finally dared to speak out. Credit: Courtesy of Constanza Valderrama

Actors Luis Gnecco (left) and Benjamín Vicuña in a scene from “Karadima’s Forest”, a film that portrays pedophile Chilean priest Fernando Karadima, seen here with one of his victims, James Hamilton, his “favourite”, who finally dared to speak out. Credit: Courtesy of Constanza Valderrama

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 20 2015 (IPS)

Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Latin America are taking the first steps towards grouping together in order to bolster their search for justice – a struggle where they have found a new ally: filmmaking.

“Besides entertaining us, movies urge people not to forget, to memorise what is happening to us as a society,” Chilean filmmaker Matías Lira told IPS.

He added that, with respect to the sexual abuse committed within the Catholic Church, “the media has a pending task, and society has a duty.”“When they named Pope Francis, we felt that in the Vatican we had someone from home, someone who spoke our own language, who understood our culture; it was an enormous source of pride. But the first victims he met with were from the United State, Germany and Great Britain; he never met with us.” -- Juan Carlos Cruz

Based on this premise, Lira directed “Karadima’s Forest”, based on real events. The film, which comes out in Chile in April, tells the story of a priest who sexually and psychologically abused dozens of boys and young men, and who was one of the country’s most influential priests thanks to his enormous charisma and his reputation as a “saint” – which was even his nickname.

There is great expectation surrounding Lira’s film in Chile, a country with a highly conservative society where 67 percent of the population of 16.7 million identifies as Catholic.

The film comes after “The Club”, by Pablo Larraín, winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in February, which also tackles the question of pedophile priests in Chile.

The case of Fernando Karadima is emblematic. As the parish priest of El Bosque (“the forest”), in the wealthy Santiago neighbourhood of Providencia, the priest forged an empire with the backing of high-level church authorities from the early 1980s until his retirement from his post in 2006.

An ecclesiastical court sentenced him in 2011 to “a life of prayer and penitence” for pedophilia and ephebophilia (a sexual attraction to post-pubescent adolescents), after he spent decades abusing boys and young men who trusted him, while amassing a fortune from donations to the church, according to an investigation by the Centro de Investigación Periodística (Centre for Investigative Reporting).

Journalist Juan Carlos Cruz was one of those youngsters. He met Karadima when he was 15 years old, right after his father died, when he was grieving and vulnerable.

“They recommended that I go and talk to this priest, who was considered a saint, a man of enormous kindness. He was a very influential man and it was incredible when he paid attention to me,” he told IPS.

“He told me that from then on he would be my father, that I had to make my confession only to him, and that he would be my spiritual director,” he added.

Cruz said that at the age of 15 he was dazzled by the priest’s powerful friends: ranging from then dictator Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) to Angelo Sodano, who during the military regime in Chile was apostolic nuncio (1978-1988) and later became the Vatican’s secretary of state (1991-2006), and including businessmen, senior military officials and high-level politicians.

Joining forces against regional cover-up

To confront the church’s policy of covering up the sexual abuse by priests, victims in Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Peru created a network called Unidos (United).

In the Feb. 16 meeting held to found the network, in Mexico City, they called on Pope Francis to take effective actions and hold to account in civilian court both the perpetrators and those responsible for covering up the crimes.

In a letter to the pope, they said that only with a profound overhaul of the church and civilian trials of those responsible “will there be a beginning of the end to this huge holocaust of thousands of girls and boys sacrificed to avoid scandal and to safeguard the image and the prestige of the representatives of the Catholic Church in the world.”

One especially illustrative case, according to the new network, is that of Józef Wesołowski, a former apostolic nuncio in Santo Domingo (2008-2013) who was accused of pedophilia and is under house arrest in the Vatican, where he fled from the Dominican justice system.

“Although the Dominican courts are seeking his extradition, they’re holding him there, where he is protected,” said Cruz.

“In Latin America they step on us a little because our legal systems aren’t like those of the United States or Europe. In Philadelphia, where I live, there are 34 priests in prison, and they sentenced the vicar general to 21 years for the cover-up,” he added.

In February 2014, the United Nations accused the Vatican of violating the Convention of the Rights of the Child, because of the sexual abuse committed by its priests.

Shortly after Cruz met Karadima – who is now 84 – the priest began to sexually and psychologically abuse him.

“Psychological abuse sometimes is the most complicated: living under constant threat, under his yoke, living in fear and not being able to forgive yourself for it even once you’re grown up,” said Cruz from the United States, where he now lives.

“I consider myself an intelligent guy who has gone far. I’m vice president of a multinational corporation responsible for 130 countries. Nevertheless, I can’t forgive myself for how I let that man torture me for eight years,” he lamented.

Karadima’s horrific abuse came to light in May 2010, when Cruz and other victims recounted what they had suffered on the weekly programme Informe Semanal of the public TV station Televisión Nacional (TVN).

James Hamilton, the priest’s “favourite”, had contacted TVN after seeing a report on that channel about the aberrations committed for years by Mexican priest Marcial Maciel, the founder of the ultraconservative Legionaries of Christ congregation. Maciel had a great deal of influence in the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul II (1978-2005).

Maciel, the most famous pedophile priest in the region, who even had children despite his vows of celibacy, died in 2008, two years after Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) removed him from active ministry for creating a “system of power” that enabled him to lead an “immoral” double life “devoid of scruples and authentic religious sentiment.”

Advocates of the victims unsuccessfully sought to bring to a halt the beatification of Pope John Paul II, arguing that he systematically covered up the sexual abuse committed by the powerful Mexican priest.

In Chile, Karadima’s victims are now fighting the appointment of Juan Barros as bishop of the city of Osorno. According to Cruz and other victims, Barros witnessed and participated in the abuse by Karadima.

But far from listening to the victims, the Apostolic Nunciature or Vatican embassy confirmed its support for Barros, who became bishop on Mar. 21.

“That support is arrogant and stupid,” Cruz said.

Karadima’s victims also accuse Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz, who was named adviser to Pope Francis, Benedict’s successor, of taking part in the cover-up. Several investigations concluded that Errázuriz turned a deaf ear for years to the victims’ complaints, when he was archbishop of Santiago.

His successor, Ricardo Ezzatti, is also accused by Karadima’s victims of helping cover up the powerful priest’s crimes.

This is one of the reasons that prompted the victims of abuses by different priests in various countries of Latin America to meet in mid February in Mexico City to join forces and try to draw attention – mainly the attention of the first Latin American pope, Francis, from Argentina – to the problem.

“When they named Pope Francis, we felt that in the Vatican we had someone from home, someone who spoke our own language, who understood our culture; it was an enormous source of pride. But the first victims he met with were from the United State, Germany and Great Britain; he never met with us,” said Cruz.

“I just want to sit down with him and tell him what we have gone through,” he said.

And that is because, even though he believes the Catholic Church in Latin America covered up the abuse by its priests, Cruz is still a fervent Catholic.

“I go to mass every Sunday,” he said. “I’m not going to let them also steal something so precious as my faith.”

Lira, the filmmaker, is also Catholic, although he said the priesthood “has a great debt to society” in Chile and the rest of the region.

“They should understand that apologising is not enough; what matters is that actions are taken,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Unseen and Unheard: Afghan Baloch People Speak Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:08:47 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139744 Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Balochistan, divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a vast swathe of land the size of France. It boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand kilometres of coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

Despite the wealth under their sandals, the Baloch people inhabit the most underdeveloped regions of their respective countries; Afghanistan is no exception.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing]. We just need the rest of the world to know about us.” -- Baloch intellectual and historian Abdul Sattar Purdely
Often overlooked, the Afghan Baloch count as just one among the many groups that make up the colourful ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan. And like the Pashtuns, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks, they have also seen their land divided by the arbitrary boundaries in Central Asia.

Baloch historian and intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS there are “about two million of us in Afghanistan, but only those living in the southern provinces of Nimroz and Helmand speak Balochi.”

In his late sixties, this former MP during the rule of Mohammad Najibullah (1987-1992) is today a professor, writer, and a leading advocate for the preservation of the Baloch language and culture in Afghanistan.

In coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Education, Purdely has written textbooks in Balochi that go as far as the 8th grade, which are already being used in three schools.

The Baloch in Afghanistan make up just a tiny portion of a people scattered throughout the Iranian Plateau, but they are united by the experience of religious, linguistic and ethnic persecution in a region increasingly marked by Islamic extremism.

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A shepherd and his family walk their sheep in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

In Pakistan, for instance, the Baloch people have long weathered a crackdown against what the government calls an insurgency, while “Tehran is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative in Nimroz [a province in southwest Afghanistan] as they consider it a potential threat to their security,” according to Mir Mohamad Baloch, a political and cultural activist.

This Afghan-born Baloch tells IPS that an independent Balochistan is a “life dream” for him – but under current political conditions in the region, this dream is a long way from reality.

Currently, Zaranj hosts the only TV programme in Balochi in Afghanistan for one hour a day between five and six pm. Although the first TV channel in Balochi was set up in 1978 preceding the printing of the community’s first books and newspapers, the fall of the Communist government led to a sharp cultural decline in Afghanistan.

Historically a nomadic group, the Baloch people have endured years of brutal repression for their moderate vision of Islam. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, even issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the people of Nimroz, calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch and Shia population.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing] bigger despite the ongoing chaos in the country,” proclaims Abdul Sattar Purdely from his office in downtown Kabul. “We just need the rest of the world to know about us.”

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

 

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: A Radical Approach to Global Citizenship Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-a-radical-approach-to-global-citizenship-education/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 17:42:37 +0000 Wayne Hudson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139641

Wayne Hudson is a professor at the University of Queensland, Charles Stuart University and the University of Tasmania, Australia.

By Wayne Hudson
BRISBANE, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

Although global citizenship education has now received the recognition it deserves, much of the literature recycles old agendas under another name –  ‘education to promote peace and justice’, ‘sustainability’, ‘care for the environment’, ‘multi-faith’ and ‘multi-cultural understanding’  – and so forth.

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Courtesy of Wayne Hudson

Another literature proposes that children learn specific global knowledge: world history, global ethics, global law etc. In my view these approaches do not grasp the revolution that global citizenship involves.

They do not rise to the level of the times and promote an approach to education which is radical enough to bring about the changes which are needed. There is also a problem about the tendency for some advocates of global citizenship education to promote political and social activism under another name.

Finally, there is a major problem about the way global citizenship education tends to be presented in Western terms, heavily indebted to the European Enlightenment. I propose an approach to global citizenship education which is much more radical and involves a new conceptuality of pedagogical practice.

Clearly I would not argue for a global citizenship education that ignores the achievements of the West or the rich heritage of the European Enlightenment. Equally, however, global citizenship education cannot be education in the Enlightenment ideology of the West.Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites.

It cannot ignore the substantive claims of Islam. It cannot pretend that Russian Orthodoxy is some sort of private option and that the Russian Federation is a secular nation state. And it must relate to the actual diversities – political, cultural and ethical – found around the world, if it is not to be yet another example of educational utopianism with only limited impact on the ground.

Global citizenship education cannot be simply Western, and it must relate to children living in poor countries and in rural environments, and not only to the children of urban elites. Many current forms of global citizenship education do not seem to address their needs.

Global citizenship education which goes beyond both Western ideology and utopian dreaming needs in my view to make two radical leaps:

First, it needs to make a post-secular leap and reconcile moderate secularity with a recognition of non-mundane performances in both public and private life. This represents a rejection of American ideology about ‘the public square’ or ‘the public sphere’.

It reconnects with real world realities, and involves a model of global citizenship education which takes different spiritual perspectives seriously at the level of religious citizenship, at the level of human rights, and at the level of the role of the state.

Pious declarations which simply recite Western Enlightenment mantras about these matters will fail in practice in the Islamic world and Russia. They may not even recommend themselves to Islamic minorities in Western Europe. In the longer term they may not be implemented in practice in much of Asia, including India, Burma and China.

To this extent, global citizenship needs to be more global than most writers on global citizenship education currently envisage. It needs to take cultural, religious and civilisational differences much more seriously than is currently the case.

What is at issue here is not particularism, or an irrational form of cultural relativism, but an approach that addresses actual heterogeneities and real world contexts and does not rely on Kantian moral philosophy, or on Anglo-American political philosophy.

‘Global’ cannot mean Anglo-Saxon or even European. A global approach must both respect, and to a degree explain, differences, and this implies the need for more powerful concepts than individual traditions traditionally provided. This leads on to the second leap.

In my view, global citizenship education also needs to make a leap towards a new conceptuality: one that can encompass historical and historical particularities, while also creating portability across cultures and nation states.

This is a strong claim, and one with which educationists around the world are relatively unfamiliar, even though it is possible that nothing less will adequately traverse the world of electronic media, especially social media, or allow an integration of the sciences with the humanities and the fine arts.

A new global conceptuality is not on offer in educational institutions at present, and it does not inform most thinking on educational development. This is partly because the type of thinking involved is more commonly found among mathematicians, physicists and philosophers than among professors of education.

However, it may not be that difficult to produce and exemplify such a conceptuality in pedagogic practice. Indeed, I think that it will be easier to establish this conceptuality in pedagogic practice than to explicate the new concepts in philosophical or other theoretical terms.

Here my position is substantially alternativist and obviously requires considerable exemplification. The approach I commend differs from many dominant strategies in education, which often assume that curricula should implement pre-existing educational concepts and strategies.

My approach to global citizenship education implies a very different conception of pedagogy and learning, one which paradoxically has links both with strong cognitivism of a type educationists tend not to favour and with strong pragmatism of a type they favour, but do not always practice.

It has particular links with the pragmatism of the American philosopher and mathematician Charles Sanders Peirce, as opposed to the weaker pragmatism of John Dewey, William James or Richard Rorty.

My claim is that such an unusual approach to philosophy and practice has benefits for global citizenship education. Pedagogy based on this approach has the advantage of being suited to delivery using new technologies.

It is also inexpensive, practical and easy to implement in local communities around the world. Of course, such an innovative approach may be controversial, at least until the foundations for the approach in contemporary philosophy, mathematics and cognitive science are better understood. However, this is the approach I am working on. It is one that I think can make a real contribution to the current debates.

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. 

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Aid Under Fire Calls for New Strategieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/humanitarian-aid-under-fire-calls-for-new-strategies/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 23:51:05 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139610 By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations – many of which have already reached their financial and logistic limits – are in desperate need of global coordination.

“We feel like we’ve hit the wall,” is how U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Kyung-Wha Kang has described the dramatic situation.

This situation was the subject of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress held last week in the Austrian capital under the slogan ‘Humanitarian Aid Under Fire’.Humanitarian organisations are rethinking their strategies, especially in Syria and Iraq, and trying to include all stakeholders in a dialogue to obtain access to the people in need – Kyung-Wha Kang, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

Opening the congress, Annelies Vilim, Director of Global Responsibility, the Austrian platform for development and humanitarian aid, told participants: “Humanitarian aid is not an act of charity. It is a human right.“

In a world in which trouble spots and wars are on the rise, the question of how aid operations are carried out most successfully to meet the necessities of recipients is becoming increasingly relevant and, noted Vilim, at this moment millions of people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Among others, the goal of the congress was to make humanitarian work more visible in these difficult times and to commit decision makers at all levels to value the importance of humanitarian assistance and cooperation.

Unfortunately, sufficient funding and clear structures are lacking and already inadequate contributions are under constant threats of budget cuts.

Host country Austria itself, for example, is no exception – an OECD study has shown that state spending in 2013 was only 1.3 euro per capita, 20 times less than the amount a country of similar wealth such as Sweden was paying.

“The world is facing drastic transformations and politics are not keeping up,” complained Yves Daccord, Director General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

To address those challenges, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has launched an initiative, managed by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to hold the first World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.

It will bring together governments, humanitarian organisations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners, including from the private sector, to draw up solutions and set an agenda for the future of humanitarian action.

 Logo of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress. In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations are in desperate need of global coordination.


Logo of the 3rd Vienna Humanitarian Congress. In the face of the growing number of crises taking place at the same time worldwide, humanitarian aid organisations are in desperate need of global coordination.

One issue that is certain to be on the agenda is the safety of aid workers. With 1.5 billion people living in conflict-affected areas, “we will unfortunately have to face more stories in the media about aid workers killed in the line of duty, of atrocities committed against innocent civilians,” said Kang.

In 2013 alone, 474 humanitarian workers were attacked, injured or abducted and 155 lost their lives.

Due to the difficult circumstances, Kang explained that humanitarian organisations are rethinking their strategies, especially in Syria and Iraq, and trying to include all stakeholders in a dialogue to obtain access to the people in need.

Controversially, this also means that for the sake of civilians, parties that are considered “terroristic” should also be involved in the process. Humanitarian actors legitimate this by upholding the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and non-discrimination in regard to beneficiaries, and independence.

It is estimated that today over 30 armed conflicts are taking place worldwide, 16 of which are considered as wars with more than 1,000 victims each year. According to the United Nations, Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the Central African Republic are ranked at the highest level of emergency.

The Central African Republic occupied some of the limelight at the Vienna congress in a panel discussion on humanitarian space and life and work in war. Two of the country’s religious leaders – Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and Imam Layama Oumar Kobine – spoke out about their fight for peace and disarmament.

Both argued that the civil war in their country was not a religious war. “Neither the Bible nor the Koran say that people should kill,” said Nzapalainga, explaining that five days after the beginning of the crisis in December 2012, religious leaders had come together to work collectively on an interreligious platform.

The problem, said the religious leaders, is that 75 percent of the country’s population is illiterate and therefore open to exploitation and recruitment by militant groups. This affects young people in particular and, because the state and government have ceased to exist, it is humanitarian workers who often fulfil the duties of the authorities.

Karoline Kleijer, Emergency Coordinator of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), described her experience of how life has become incredibly difficult for humanitarian workers in the country.

She described how shortly after arriving in the country in April 2014, armed forces entered a meeting of MSF staff and local community leaders that she was attending, opened fire and killed 20 people, including three MSF workers.

The incident had a huge impact on the organisation, she said, but despite all the difficulties “it did not stop us from working in the country. Since then, we have performed more than 10,000 operations and treated more than 300,000 people for malaria. We have delivered more than 15,000 babies and we have been continuing activities up to today.”

Although the principle that civilians have to be protected in armed conflicts and war and have a right to humanitarian assistance is embedded in the Geneva Convention, humanitarian workers have to take great risks to obtain access to the population in distress and, contrary to their neutrality, are becoming targets themselves.

“We hope that humanitarian workers will continue to take those risks, because we continue to take those risks in order to help the population in need,” said Nzapalainga.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Study Shows Shift in Level of Social Hostility Involving Religionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/study-shows-shift-in-level-of-social-hostility-involving-religion/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 22:56:07 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139387 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 26 2015 (IPS)

Social hostilities involving religion have declined worldwide, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

The latest data show that after reaching a six-year peak in 2012, the state of religious tolerance improved in 2013 in most of the 198 countries analysed in the report.

The share of countries with high or very high level of religious hostilities dropped from 33 per cent in 2012 to 27 per cent in 2013. However, a quarter of the world’s countries are still struggling with high levels of hostilities and government restrictions.

Acts of religious hostility range from vandalism, such as the ruining of religious buildings and the desecration of sacred texts, to violent assaults resulting in injuries and deaths.

The U.S. think tank’s study was measured on the basis of two indices, the Social Hostilities Index (SHI) and the Government Restriction Index (GRI). The first includes hostile actions from individuals, organisations or groups in society, like mobs or sectarian violence. The second keeps track of laws and policies that restrict religious beliefs and practices.

Following this distinction, while the share of countries with high or very high levels of social hostilities involving religion fell six per cent between 2012 and 2013, the share of countries with a high or very high level of political restrictions on religion only fell two per cent.

The share of countries with government restriction was 27 per cent in 2013 compared to 29 per cent in 2012. Most of those countries have discriminatory policies towards, and place outright bans on, certain faiths.

Overall, whether resulting from social hostilities or government actions, figures show a high or very high level of religious repression in 39 per cent of countries in 2013. Among the world’s 25 most populous countries, the ones with the greatest limitations were Myanmar, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan and Russia. China had the highest level for GRI and India for SHI.

In recent years, religious harassment of Jews increased, reaching a seven-year high in 2013. In that year, Jews were plagued either by government or social groups in 77 countries. In Europe, Jews were harassed by social groups in 34 countries.

The analysis was conducted in order to observe the extent to which governments and societies around the world impact religious beliefs and practices. It is the sixth in a series of Pew studies on religious hostilities, which are part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project looking at religious change and its effect on societies around the world.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

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Human Rights in Asia and the Pacific: A “Regressive” Trend, Says Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/human-rights-in-asia-and-the-pacific-a-regressive-trend-says-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 25 Feb 2015 23:03:11 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139360 Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

Protestors armed with bamboo sticks faced police in riot gear in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, on May 4, 2013. Credit: Kajul Hazra/IPS

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

The cradle of some of the world’s most ancient civilizations, home to four out of the planet’s six billion people, and a battleground for the earth’s remaining resources, Asia and the Pacific are poised to play a defining role in international affairs in the coming decade.

But what does the future look like for those working behind the scenes in these rising economies, fighting to safeguard basic rights and ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and power in a region where 70 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day?

In its flagship annual report, the State of the World’s Human Rights, released Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) slams the overall trend in the region as being “regressive”, pinpointing among other issues a poor track record on media freedom, rising violence against ethnic and religious minorities, and state repression of activists and civil society organisations.

The presence of armed groups and continuing conflict in countries like Pakistan, particularly in its northern tribal belt known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Myanmar and Thailand, constitute a major obstacle to millions of people trying to live normal lives.

Much of the region’s sprawling population is constantly on the move, with the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) counting 3.5 million refugees, 1.9 million internally displaced people (IDPs), and 1.4 million stateless people, mostly hailing from Afghanistan and Myanmar.

UNHCR has documented a host of challenges facing these homeless, sometimes stateless, people in the Asia-Pacific region including sexual violence towards vulnerable women and girls and a lack of access to formal job markets pushing thousands into informal, bonded or other exploitative forms of labor.

Intolerance towards religious minorities remains a thorny issue in several countries in Asia; Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have allowed for the continued prosecution of Shi’a Muslims, Ahmadis and Christians, while hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups in both Myanmar and Sri Lanka have operated with impunity, leading to attacks – sometimes deadly – on Muslim communities.

Meanwhile, ethnic Tibetans in China have encountered an iron fist in their efforts to practice their rights to freedom of assembly, speech, and political association. Since 2009, about 130 people have set themselves aflame in protest of the Chinese government’s authoritarian rule in the plateau.

A dark forecast for women and girls

Despite all the conventions ratified and millions of demonstrators in the streets, violence against women and girls continues unchecked across Asia and the Pacific, says the AI report.

In the Pacific island of Papua New Guinea, home to seven million people, an estimated 75 percent of women and girls experience some form of gender-based or domestic violence, largely due to the age-old practice of persecuting women in the predominantly rural country for practicing ‘sorcery’.

In the first six months of 2014, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission had recorded 4,154 cases of violence against women, according to the AI report, while India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported an average of 24,923 rapes per year.

A 2013 U.N. Women study involving 10,000 men throughout Asia and the Pacific found that nearly half of all respondents admitted to using physical or sexual abuse against a partner.

According to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA), two out of every five girls in South Asia could wind up as child brides, with the highest prevalence in Bangladesh (66 percent), tailed closely by India (47 percent), Nepal (41 percent) and Afghanistan (39 percent).

“In East Asia and the Pacific,” the organisation said, “the prevalence of child marriage is 18 percent, with 9.2 million women aged 20-24 married as children in 2010.”

Holding the State accountable

Amnesty’s report presents a cross-section of government responses to activism, including in China – where rights defender Cao Shunli passed away in a hospital early last year after being refused proper medical treatment – and in North Korea, where “there appeared to be no independent civil society organisations, newspapers or political parties [and] North Koreans were liable to be searched by the authorities and could be punished for reading, watching or listening to foreign media materials.”

Imposition of martial law in Thailand saw the detention of several activists and the banning of gatherings of more than five people, while the re-introduction of “colonial-era sedition legislation” in Malaysia allowed the government to crack down on dissidents, AI says.

Citizens of both Myanmar and Sri Lanka faced a virtually zero-tolerance policy when it came to organised protest, with rights defenders and activists of all stripes detained, threatened, attacked or jailed.

Throughout the region media outlets had a bad year in 2014, with over 200 journalists jailed and at least a dozen murdered according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Amnesty’s report also found torture and other forms of ill treatment to be a continuing reality in the region, naming and shaming such countries as China, North Korea, the Philippines and Sri Lanka for their poor track record.

An earlier Amnesty International report, ‘Torture in 2014: 30 years of broken promises’, found that 23 Asia-Pacific states were still practicing torture, three decades after the U.N. adopted its 1984 Convention Against Torture.

The report found evidence of torture and ill treatment ranging “from North Korea’s brutal labour camps, to Australia’s offshore processing centres for asylum seekers or Japan’s death rows – where prisoners are kept in isolation, sometimes for decades.”

In Pakistan the army, state intelligence agencies and the police all stand accused of resorting to torture, while prisoners detained by both the policy and military in Thailand allege they have experienced torture and other forms of ill treatment while in custody.

In that same vein, governments’ continued reliance on the death penalty across Asia and the Pacific demonstrates a grave violation of rights at the most basic level.

Amnesty International reported that 500 people were at risk of execution in Pakistan, while China, Japan and Vietnam also carried on with the use of capital punishment.

Perhaps the only positive trend was a rise in youth activism across the region, which is home to 640 million people between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the United Nations. The future of the region now lies with these young people, who will have to carve out the spaces in which to build a more tolerant, less violent society.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Report Cries out on Behalf of Iraqi Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/report-cries-out-on-behalf-of-iraqi-women/#comments Fri, 20 Feb 2015 21:35:58 +0000 Leila Lemghalef http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139284 No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015. Credit: Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

By Leila Lemghalef
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 20 2015 (IPS)

Iraqi women continue to be subject to physical, emotional and sexual violence, according to a new report by Minority Rights Group International and Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict concludes that attacks on women – conducted by both pro- and anti-government militias across the country – are a war tactic in Iraq, and emphasises that while women are punished for the aggressions they have endured, their perpetrators are absolved from punishment under Iraqi Penal Code.

“Women are threatened by all sides of the conflict: by the armed groups which threaten, kill, and rape them; by the male-dominated security and police forces which fail to protect them and are often complicit in violence against them; and by criminal groups which take advantage of their desperate circumstances.

“They are simultaneously betrayed by a broader political, legal and cultural context that allows perpetrators of gender-based violence to go free and stigmatizes or punishes victims,” the report says in its opening remarks.

The rights of women are based on conditions and Taliban-style “moral” codes forbidding women from wearing gold or leaving home without a male relative.“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians... are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.” -- Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights

The report also points out the development of threats against female doctors, educators, lawyers and journalists.

Sexual assault is another major preoccupation, along with the commodification, disappearances, captivity and torture of women.

Yezidi (Kurdish) women are reported to be targeted on a massive scale, and many are said to be sold as sexual slaves or forced to marry ISIS fighters.

Human trafficking “has mushroomed in recent years” according to the report, which describes related prostitution rings.

Breakdown in Iraqi society

IPS spoke with Mark Lattimer, director of the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, which delivered the report.

He said part of the challenge is Iraq’s “very poor rule of law”, and elements of its criminal code that “discriminate against women and enable abusers to get away with assaulting and even sometimes killing women”.

He also spoke of a long-term breakdown in Iraqi society, which has led to an explosion of violence against women in Iraq.

“What has happened in Iraq is not the story just of the last six months,” Lattimer told IPS. “It’s a story of the last 12 years.”

Before coming up with top-down military strategies that involve arming factions and further engaging in violence, he said, Iraqi civilians – especially the women – need to be listened to.

“The trouble is that the voices of female civilians there are effectively ignored in Iraq, and they’re ignored internationally.”

The international community

“It’s no longer possible to talk about Iraq, which doesn’t involve international engagement, or involvement,” Lattimer told IPS.

“There are many other states that are intimately involved in what is happening in Iraq,” he said, referring to countries like neighbouring Gulf States that give large amounts of money to various armed opposition groups.

The Iranian government supports the Iraqi authorities militarily, and the U.S. and members of the coalition are engaged in bombing raids and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

He stressed that the states with influence over the Iraqi government, including the U.S. and parts of Europe “need to make it very clear, that their support for Iraq doesn’t involve or shouldn’t include giving a carte blanche to the Shi’a militias”.

Numerous recommendations are made in the report, to the federal government of Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government and the international community.

They include amending the criminal code in Iraq, preventing the transfer of resources to dangerous parties, recruiting women into the police force, improving support to female survivors of abuse, and promoting the accountability of those responsible for violations of international law.

Shatha Besarani is a woman’s rights activist and member of the Iraqi Women’s League and public relations person for the league in the UK.

She says she has seen similar reports come out in previous years with nearly identical recommendations.

“(There are) so many reports on exactly the same subject of concern to Iraqi women, which is violence. All these years, since 2003, it got worse and worse and worse, and now it’s got to the point where the women started to be sold and bought like cattle,” she told IPS.

“I have one concern, while these reports are coming out,” she said.

“I want to know how much these reports are getting into women’s lives, how much they’re improving women’s lives, and how much they are affecting this bloody Iraqi government, which one after another is coming with all these Islamist issues, and they don’t do anything about women.”

According to Besarani, what has happened to Iraqi women cannot even be measured.

“Do we really have a justice system, which brings a man who burns his wife to justice?” she asks. 

“No.”

“We have women to be blamed but we never heard of a man to be blamed.”

She wishes to see a body hold the government or responsible party to account, and have them be asked “again and again and again: What have you done? Is there anything really factual and statistical and real on real grounds being done?”

In her view, women’s organizations, NGOs, and small independent organizations are needed for this cause as much as the U.N. and big alliances.

No Place to Turn: Violence against women in the Iraq conflict will be presented at the U.N. Human Rights Council, March 2015.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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OPINION: U.S. and Middle East after the Islamic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/us-and-the-middle-east-after-the-islamic-state/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 16:38:31 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139262 Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Former CIA Director Tenet warned the Bush administration of the negative consequences of failing to consider the aftermath of a U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

As the Congress ponders President Barack Obama’s request for an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or IS), U.S. policymakers must focus on the “morning after” before they embark on another potentially disastrous war in the Levant.

The president assured the nation at his press conference on February 11 that IS is on the verge of being contained, degraded, and defeated. If true, the United States and the West must address the future of the region in the wake of the collapse of IS to avoid the rise of another extremist threat and another “perfect storm” in the region.

The evidence so far that Washington will be more successful than during the Iraq war is not terribly encouraging.

The Iraq War Parallel

George Tenet, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote in his book At the Center of the Storm that in September 2002 CIA analysts presented the Bush administration with an analytic paper titled “The Perfect Storm: Planning for Negative Consequences of Invading Iraq.” The paper included “worst-case scenarios” of what could go wrong as a result of a US-led invasion of Iraq.

The paper, according to Tenet, outlined several negative consequences:

  • anarchy and the territorial breakup of Iraq
  • regime-threatening instability in key Arab states
  • deepening Islamic antipathy toward the United States that produced a surge of global terrorism against US interests

The Perfect Storm paper suggested several steps that the United States could take that might mitigate the impact of these potentially negative consequences. These included a serious attempt at solving some of the key regional conflicts and domestic economic and political issues that have plagued the region for decades.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration spent more time worrying about defeating Saddam’s army than focusing on what could follow Saddam’s demise. Ignoring the Perfect Storm paper, as the past decade has shown, was detrimental to U.S. interests, the security of the region, and the stability of some key Arab allies. The U.S. and the region now have to deal with these consequences—anarchy, destruction, and refugees—of the Bush administration’s refusal to act on those warnings."If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture"

The past decade also witnessed the resurgence of radical and terrorist groups, which happily filled the vacuum that ensued. U.S. credibility in the region plummeted as well.

When CIA analysts persisted in raising their concerns about a post-Saddam Iraq, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary for Policy Doug Feith dismissed the concerns as “persnickety.”

If the Obama administration wants to avoid the miscalculations of the previous administration about Iraq, it should make sure the land war against IS in Iraq and Syria does not become “enduring” and that the presence of US troops on the ground does not morph into an “occupation.”

Defeating IS might be the easy part. Devising a reasonably stable post-IS Levant will be more challenging because of the complexity of the issues involved. Before embarking on the next phase of combat, U.S. policymakers should have the courage and strategic vision to raise and answer several key questions.

  1. How will Sunni and Shia Muslims react to the re-entry of U.S. troops on the ground and to the likelihood that US military presence could extend beyond three years?

The “liberation” of Iraq that the Bush administration touted in March 2003 quickly turned into “occupation,” which precipitously engendered anger among the population. Iraqi Sunnis and Shia rose up against the US military. The insurgency that erupted attracted thousands of foreign jihadists from the Middle East and other parts of the Muslim world. Bloody sectarianism and vigilantism spread across Iraq as an unintended consequence of the invasion, and it still haunts the region today.

During the Iraq war, the Iraqi Sunni minority, which has ruled the country since its creation in the early 1920s, perceived the United States as backing the Shia majority at the expense of the Sunnis. They also saw the United States as supporting the sectarian policies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially as he excluded Sunnis from senior government positions. This feeling of alienation pushed many Iraqi Sunnis to support the Islamic State.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld refused to admit that an insurgency and a civil war were spreading across Iraq. By the time he admitted that both were happening, it became impossible to defend the “liberation” thesis to Iraqis and other Arabs and Muslims.

  1. If the U.S.-led ground war against IS extends to Syria, how will Washington reconcile its announced policy favouring Assad’s downfall with fighting alongside his forces, and how will the Arab public and leaders react to such perceived hypocrisy? 

It’s foolish to argue that the US-led war against IS in Syria is not indirectly benefiting the Assad regime. Assad claimed in a recent BBC interview that the coalition provides his regime with “information” about the fighting. Regardless of the veracity of his claim, Assad has enjoyed a breathing room and the freedom to pursue his opponents viciously and mercilessly, thanks to the US-led coalition’s laser-like focus on IS.

Sunni Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are already urging the Obama administration to increase substantially its military support of the anti-Assad mainstream opposition. These regimes, which are also fighting IS, argue that the United States could simultaneously fight IS and work toward toppling Assad.

If this situation continues and Assad stays in power while IS is being contained, Sunni Arab populations would soon begin to view the United States as the “enemy.” Popular support for radical jihadists would grow, and the region would witness a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

The territorial expansion of IS across Iraq and Syria has for all intents and purposes removed the borders between the two countries and is threatening the boundaries between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

If U.S. policymakers are interested in creating political stability after IS, they should explore how to re-establish a new political order on the ashes of the century-old Sykes-Picot Levant political architecture. Otherwise, the “Iraq fatigue” that almost crippled U.S. efforts in Iraq in recent years, especially during the Maliki era, will surely be replaced by a “Levant fatigue.”

It will take a monumental effort to redesign a new Levant based on reconciling Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Kurds, and Arabs on the principles of inclusion, tolerance, and respect for human rights, economic opportunity, and good governance. If the United States is not prepared to commit time and resources to this goal, the Levant would devolve into failed states and ungovernable territories.

  1. If radical Sunni ideology and autocracy are the root causes of IS, what should the United States do to thwart the rise of another terrorist organization in the wake of this one?

Since the bulk of radical Sunni theology comes out of Saudi Arabia and militant Salafi Wahhabism, the United States should be prepared to urge the new Saudi leadership, especially the Deputy to the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Nayef, to review the role of Salafi Wahhabi preachers and religious leaders in domestic public life and foreign policy. This also should certainly apply to Saudi education and textbooks.

Whereas in the past, Saudi officials have resisted any perceived foreign interference as an encroachment on their religion, this type of extremist, intolerant ideology has nevertheless given radical jihadists a religious justification for their violence. It now poses an undeniable threat to the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens in the region.

Autocracy, corruption, repression, and anarchy in several Arab states have left millions of citizens and refugees alienated, unemployed, and angry. Many young men and women in these populations will be tempted to join new terrorist organizations following IS’s demise. The governments violate the rights of these young people at whim, imprison them illegally, and convict them in sham trials—all because of their political views or religious affiliation or both—in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere.

In Egypt thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail. In Bahrain, the regime has been stripping dozens of citizens of their citizenship because of their pro-democracy views. Once their passports are taken away, Bahraini citizens are deprived of most government services and opportunities. When visiting a government office for a particular service, they are required to show the passport, which the government has already taken away, as a proof of identity—a classic case of “Catch 22” leaving these citizens in a state of economic and political limbo.

Partnering with these autocrats in the fight against IS surely will reach a dead end once the group is defeated. Building a new Levant cannot possibly be based on dictatorship, autocracy, and corruption. Iraq and Afghanistan offer stark examples of how not to build stable governments.

The Perfect Storm paper warned the Bush administration about what could follow Saddam if critical questions about a post-Saddam Iraq were not addressed. The Bush White House did not heed those warnings. It would be indeed tragic for the United States if the Obama administration made the same mistake.

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. 

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Sri Lanka Gets Temporary Reprieve Over U.N. Report on War Crimes Chargeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sri-lanka-gets-temporary-reprieve-over-u-n-report-on-war-crimes-charges/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-gets-temporary-reprieve-over-u-n-report-on-war-crimes-charges http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/sri-lanka-gets-temporary-reprieve-over-u-n-report-on-war-crimes-charges/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 03:36:31 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139214 The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussein (right), opening the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council September 8, 2014. Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers;

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Raad Al Hussein (right), opening the 27th Session of the Human Rights Council September 8, 2014. Credit: U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers;

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

The 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC), responding to a request by the newly-elected government in Colombo, has deferred the release of a key U.N. report on human rights violations and war crimes charges against the Sri Lankan armed forces and Tamil separatists who fought a devastating decades-long battle which ended in 2009.

The request to the Geneva-based HRC came via the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who sought the postponement of the long-awaited report, originally due in March, until September this year.

“This has been a difficult decision,” Zeid said Monday."A delay is only justifiable if more time will lead to a stronger report and to a concrete commitment by the new Sri Lankan authorities to actively pursue accountability."

“There are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”

But he pointed out that the deferral of the report was “for one time only,” and guaranteed it would be published by September.

Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director told IPS the decision to delay, until September, the release of a key report into widespread human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka must not allow the perpetrators of horrific crimes during the country’s armed conflict to escape punishment.

“Sri Lankan victims of human rights violations deserve truth and justice,” he said.

Survivors of torture, including sexual abuse, people whose family members were killed or forcibly disappeared have waited a long time for this report.

“A delay is only justifiable if more time will lead to a stronger report and to a concrete commitment by the new Sri Lankan authorities to actively pursue accountability. This includes by cooperating with the U.N. to investigate conflict-era abuses and bring perpetrators to justice,” he added.

Bennett warned the Human Rights Council to be vigilant and “ensure that all those coming forward to give testimony are protected from any potential threats from those who do not want justice to prevail.”

The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which was unseated after national elections last month, refused to cooperate with the three member U.N.Panel of Inquiry comprising Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Silvia Cartwright, former Governor-General and High Court judge of New Zealand, and judge of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia and Asma Jahangir, former President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association and of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

But the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought the postponement of the report’s release and has offered to set up a “domestic mechanism” not only to probe war crimes charges but also stall any possibility of an international war crimes tribunal.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the High Commissioner told IPS Zeid had also spoken by telephone with Sri Lanka’s new Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who is expected to attend the next regular session of the Human Rights Council which begins March 2.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS he was pleased with Zeid’s statement.

“It’s very clear this approach will take away any chance the new government can say they haven’t had enough time to start a serious justice effort. By September we will all be able to judge the sufficiency of their efforts,” he added.

In a statement released Monday, Zeid said he has received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate “on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”

He also pointed out that the “three distinguished experts who were appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues.”

“Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report,” Zeid said.

“I am acutely aware that many victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including those who have bravely come forward to provide information to the inquiry team, might see this is as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see.”

“I fully understand those fears and deep anxieties, given the history of failed or obstructed domestic human rights inquiries in Sri Lanka, and the importance of this international investigation being carried out by my team at the UN Human Rights Office.”

He said there should be no misunderstanding because “I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment the report will be published by September.”

Like his predecessors, he said, he believes that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims.

“I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected,” he declared.

The U.N. inquiry was the result of a resolution adopted by the HRC back in March last year which requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka”

The HRC requested Zeid’s office “to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations, and of the crimes perpetrated, with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability,” with assistance from relevant experts.

The resolution requested the Office to present a comprehensive report at its 28th session in March 2015.

The author can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/u-s-ally-yemen-in-danger-of-splitting-into-two-again/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:23:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138868 Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival."This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease." -- Vijay Prashad

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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