Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 24 Apr 2017 17:35:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.17 Nikki Haley’s ‘Historic’ Debate on Human Rights Left a Small Impressionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:11:08 +0000 Dulcie Leimbach http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150050 Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

By Dulcie Leimbach
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, presided over what she was determined to sell as “an historic meeting exclusively on human rights” in the UN Security Council. But her brief speech in the April 18 meeting fell far short of introducing innovations to confront violations of human rights or prevent them in such places as Syria, Burundi and Myanmar.

“If this Council fails to take human rights violations and abuses seriously, they can escalate into real threats to international peace and security,” Haley began. “The Security Council cannot continue to be silent when we see widespread violations of human rights.

“Why would we tell ourselves that we will only deal with questions of peace and security, without addressing the factors that bring about the threats in the first place?”

The debate, ponderously titled “Maintenance of international peace and security: human rights and prevention of armed conflict,” gave an “opportunity to reflect on the way the Security Council directly addresses human rights issues in its work,” according to a concept note from the US mission to the UN.

The afternoon meeting among the Council’s 15 permanent and elected members turned political in no time. Ukraine referred to a “human-rights phobia” in the UN and blasted away at Russia’s annexation of Crimea; Uruguay said it was the responsibility of governments to protect its citizens’ human rights as well as people “in transit.” A low-level Russian diplomat rejected the whole notion of the Council concentrating on human rights in its forum.

Yet what shone through the two-hour meeting was not Haley’s remarks but the consistent messages of other Council members, who commended the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as indispensable partners with the Security Council. France, for example, said it was very “attached” to the Human Rights Council. Britain was effusive.

“Two institutions of the United Nations are particularly vital to delivering this joined up approach to human rights,” said Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the UN. “First, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office provide invaluable support to UN peace operations.” Second, he added, is the Human Rights Council.

Rights experts had hinted that Haley’s session on human rights was an attempt to undermine the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. She has pointed to the Council as “corrupt” and said she planned to visit it in June to whip it into shape.

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, reinforced the primary role of the UN human-rights monitoring bodies. He said that “close cooperation between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and all relevant United Nations bodies, including the Security Council, enhances general awareness of potential crisis situations, and our collective ability to address them.”

Guterres described the Security Council’s own “decisive action” on human rights, citing the establishment of the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere as well as the Council’s referral of atrocity cases to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

As a matter of course, human-rights abuses are raised often by Council members as an early warning — or “prevention” — method.

As if stuck on a sales pitch, the US emphasized in the weeks before the meeting that it was holding the first exclusive session in the Council on human rights. But that is debatable, say some rights experts, since the topic has been written specifically into 15 peacekeeping mission mandates, sanctions, investigations, resolutions, special-envoy responsibilities and other matters relevant to the Council.

Even Haley acknowledged these tools of the Council, admitting their relevance and value.

Haley’s office fudged how well the Council accepted the purpose of the debate, saying that “through negotiations the United States convinced all 15 Council members to agree to put the meeting on the POW” – program of work. But the meeting was technically positioned under the international peace and security umbrella and not listed as an agenda item, a threshold that some council members refused to cross.

The US concept note for the meeting posed five questions to Council members to consider when they came to the session, as if they were being asked to write a high-school essay. The first question read, “What types of measures should the Security Council take to respond to serious human rights violations and abuses?” (The US did not appear to answer that.)

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted in the lead-up to the meeting, is the “human rights discussion serious?” He added: “Are particular countries named? Do they include allies?”

In the Council’s early decades, human rights rarely crept into its deliberations because of Article 2, paragraph 7 of the UN Charter, which said, “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. . . . ”

Sensitive political realities kept the topic from going too deep when it did arise, according to “The Procedure of the UN Security Council,” a reference book by Loraine Sievers and Sam Daws. When a Council member wanted to raise a human-rights issue in a certain country — not unusual throughout the Cold War — ambassadors needed to show that the abuses could ripple outside the country.

Famously, the topic of Myanmar (Burma) was brought up in 2006 when the US representative and other Council members voiced concerns over the deteriorating situation in that country. They noted that Myanmar’s outflow of refugees and illegal drugs as well as contagious diseases could destabilize the region, the Sievers-Daws book said. But China objected to putting Myanmar on the Council’s agenda, denying its problems presented an international threat.

Nevertheless, the Council has not avoided taking on high-profile rights-abuse cases. The rise in abuses in Burundi last year prompted the Council to call on the government to cooperate with UN human-rights monitors — or else. And a UN commission of inquiry on North Korea declared the regime responsible for crimes against humanity, with the Council elevating the matter to its regular agenda.

In Burundi, the UN’s top human-rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said on April 18 that he was alarmed by what appeared to be a “widespread pattern” of rallies in Burundi in which members of a pro-government youth militia chant a call to “impregnate” or kill opponents. Burundi has been seized on and off by violence since its president, Pierre Nkurunziza, won a disputed third term in 2015.

(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Fighting Xenophobia & Inequality Together in the Age of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/fighting-xenophobia-inequality-together-in-the-age-of-trump/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:25:23 +0000 Ben Phillips http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150042 Ben Phillips is Co-Founder #fightinequality alliance]]> Credit: UN photo

Credit: UN photo

By Ben Phillips
NAIROBI, KENYA, Apr 19 2017 (IPS)

As the world marks 100 days of the Trump Presidency, we can see that we are now in a new era of crisis, that it goes well beyond one man and one country, and that only a profound and international response can get us out of the state we are in.

The crises of xenophobia and inequality embodied by the Age of Trump are profound and are worldwide. Refugees without safe haven; ethnic and religious minorities facing officially sanctioned discrimination; women facing an aggressive onslaught of misogyny.

Civil society leaders supporting marginalized people are seeing an upsurge of these injustices in every continent. We are witnessing a world in danger not just of a slow down in social progress but of a reverse in it.

For leaders of civil society, four things are clear.

First, this is a global challenge. The whirlwind first hundred days of the Trump administration in the US have both epitomized and exacerbated worrying global trends in which an increasingly economically divided world is becoming an increasingly angry and intolerant one.

Secondly, we must take sides against intolerance. We must unashamedly support the oppressed and commit ourselves to resisting forces of division – whether it be hate speech at refugees in Hungary, xenophobic attacks in South Africa, extrajudicial killings of activists in Latin America, discrimination against religious minorities in South Asia, or unconstitutional bans on migrants in the USA. We will work together with others to help foster societies built on respect for diversity, and open to refugees from war and persecution.

The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.
Thirdly, to tackle the forces of intolerance we must also confront the ever widening inequality that is driving societies apart. Progressive values are put under massive strain when economies cast millions aside. We know from history that 1929 economics can lead to 1933 politics, and that when people lose hope fascists ascend. Growth must benefit ordinary people, economies must be reoriented to create jobs, decent jobs, and not see wealth ever more concentrated in the hands of a view.

Fourthly, we must work together as one. There is an old saying, “the people united will never be defeated”. Sadly, that is not always true. But what is true is that the people divided will always be defeated. The challenge to foster societies of equality and solidarity can not be achieved by one organization or even one sector alone. That is why we have come together as many different leaders in NGOs, trade unions, and social movements in a joint call to #fightinequality, and to build power from below.

The stakes could not be higher. The forces of ever widening inequality, and of ever increasingly intolerance, are mobilizing. But so are the forces of solidarity and equality.

We are more united than ever to fight inequality and intolerance. Inspired by the great campaigns of old – anti-slavery, anti-colonialism, votes for women, anti-apartheid, drop the debt – and by the determined young people of today – in Fees Must Fall, Black Lives Matter, Gambia Has Decided – we will work to bend the long arc of the universe towards justice. The rapid rise in xenophobia and the rise in inequality which is helping to drive it need not be accepted, and can be defeated. When we stand together.

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Politicians Hijack Macedoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=politicians-hijack-macedonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/politicians-hijack-macedonia/#comments Tue, 18 Apr 2017 12:28:19 +0000 Frank Mulder http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150014 Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

Thousands of people gather daily in the center of Skopje, Macedonia to express their support for the president. Credit: Aleksandra Jolkina/IPS

By Frank Mulder
SKOPJE, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

The political crisis in Macedonia is deepening. With the president and former coalition preventing the formation of a new government, the state threatens to disintegrate in a climate of corruption and nationalism.

The television is turned up loud in a hamburger shop in a suburb of Skopje called Šutka. The ethnic Albanian owner and his workers follow the parliamentary debate live. Their faces, however, are full of contempt. While the owner is preparing an impressively filled bread for less than a euro, he shakes his head despondently."Let's be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess." --Aleksander Kržalovski

“Those politicians are only getting more and more nationalistic,” one of his clients explains.

Outside we hear the call to prayer. The majority of the people here in Šutka are Muslim. A Roma woman with red-streaked hair is selling ten euro jeans from her market stall. A man with a fluffy salafi-like beard and prayer trousers sells knick-knacks ranging from facial masks and incense sticks to Albanian Korans from beneath a Zlatan Dab Pilsener umbrella.

Filibuster

It looks like nonsensical chatter, what happens on television, but it’s not. What we see is a so-called filibuster, which means politicians preventing any decision-making by just keeping on talking. The right-wing party VMRO-DPNME doesn’t want the social democrats to form a government because that would grant the Albanian minority too many rights.

This has had a disastrous effect on the small Balkan country, which a few years ago was still a promising economy. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia there haven’t been any serious tensions between the Macedonian orthodox majority (about one and a half million) and the Albanian Muslim minority (about half a million), except for limited clashes in 2001.

But corruption has grown since then, along with nationalist rhetoric. In this climate a kind of mini-Watergate scandal has broken out, starting two years ago. Leaked secret service documents showed that ruling VMRO politicians had tapped the phone conversations of 20,000 people, for dubious ends. The country burst out in revolt. Finally, last December, after protests and diplomatic pressure, new elections were held.

VMRO won most of the seats again. Yet, they didn’t manage to form a coalition. The quarrelling Albanian parties, brought together by Albania, decided to strike a coalition deal with the social democrats. To which President Gjorge Ivanov, member of the VMRO, responded with a veto, and the VMRO parliamentarians with a filibuster. Their motive is, they say, that the new coalition wants to accept Albanian as official language, and they will not allow this to happen.

‘Captured state’

“It went very well in Macedonia,” says Samuel Žbogar, ambassador on behalf of the European Union in Skopje. “But the last few years we’ve seen a serious backsliding. We call it a ‘captured state’. Independent institutions like the judiciary are used by politicians.”

The European Union itself is partly to be blamed for the misery. For years, Macedonia has been tempted to enact reforms with a carrot called EU Membership, but year after year Greece has demanded that the country change its name first, for fear of territorial claims on its own Macedonia province.

“People feel deeply hurt,” a source within the European representation in the country says. “They have long been a EU candidate member but are overtaken by other countries.” It is an invitation for countries like Russia to step into the void, although this consists more of vocal instead of financial support – so far.

Fake majority

Thousands of people, mostly grey-haired, gather daily in the center of Skopje to express their support for the president. “Ma-ke-donia! Ma-ke-donia!” they chant, waving red-yellow flags and whipped up by nationalist songs.

“We reject the fake majority of the social democrats and the Albanian parties,” says one young demonstrator, dressed in red and yellow and wearing a 130-year-old cap from anti-Ottoman rebels. He smells strongly of of alcohol but is sure about his case. “The Albanian parties are directed by Albania. We can’t let a neighboring country decide what happens here, can we? They want to create a Great Albania. They want the Macedonian country to disappear. We cannot let this happen.”

This is nonsense, says Nasser Selmani, an ethnic Albanian and president of the Association of Journalists in Macedonia. “I am a Macedonian, this is my country. I don’t belong to Albania, I belong here.” Yet others have more to lose if the state should collapse, he explains. “We have Albania with which we have good relations. But what do the ethnic Macedonians have? Do you think there is anyone who would acknowledge their identity? Greece and Bulgaria won’t.”

The breakdown of the state is not unthinkable. Because of the stalemate, the necessary decisions can’t be made anymore. In a few months, local elections are scheduled. If they don’t take place, the local authorities lose their legitimacy, too.

What also will end in June is the mandate of the Special Prosecutor researching the wiretapping scandal. This is the real reason that politicians have hijacked the country, insiders say. They want to escape prosecution by any means possible.

“They are using the fear of Albanians for their own interest,” says Selmani. “They are using more and more nationalist language. The orthodox church is also promoting this. The cathedral in Skopje is even the gathering place for the daily protests.”

Conservatives

In the big cathedral, however, beneath beautiful icons, all looks peaceful. Evening prayer is silently attended by not more than four people. Even among orthodox believers the Macedonian church, which has declared itself independent from the Serbian orthodoxy, is known as a very nationalistic branch. But demonstrators are not there.

A young orthodox priest in Skopje is willing to explain what he thinks about the current crisis, if only on the basis of anonymity. He serves tea with pieces of Turkish fruit. “We have a separation between church and state. We don’t call for demonstrations here and we don’t give any voting advice. That’s forbidden. But if you ask me personally, I’m against Albanian as an official language. I originally come from a region without Albanians. What if all public servants would be obliged to speak Albanian because it’s an official language? That would be impossible. Our only language is Macedonian.”

On the wall behind the black-robed priest there is a small Macedonian flag with an orange-black Saint George Ribbon, a Russian nationalist symbol. When I ask him what he hopes what will happen, he says, “I hope the crisis will soon be over. That we can live in peace with each other again, without politics being between the people.” The priest doesn’t seem radical, rather very conservative.

Alexander

Through the window of a restaurant in Skopje I look down at the paragon of nationalistic Balkan kitsch, made possible by millions of taxpayers’ money. Between the statues of the Macedonian hero Alexander the Great, to the left, and the Father of Alexander, to the right, we see nobody less than the mother of Alexander, in fourfold. Alexander in her belly, Alexander at her breast, Alexander on her lap, and Alexander around her neck. It’s all completely over the top. It’s the way the current leaders want to bring the people together, at least the ethnic Macedonians.

Inside the restaurant I have a conversation with Aleksander Kržalovski, leader of the Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation, which is the second largest NGO of the country and funder of many small NGOs. He is critical of the current nationalistic wave, he says.

“But it doesn’t make sense to demonize the more conservative population. Many left-wing organisations are very radical. They don’t want to work with fascists, they say. We, instead, believe in cooperation. It’s necessary to bridge the divide between different groups.

“To be honest, it’s unfair to blame right-wing politicians for everything,” Kržalovski continued. “The social democrats use very polarizing rhetoric as well. And many Albanians show no respect for the progress we’ve seen, the rights they have got. Many don’t want to wave the Macedonian flag or sing the national anthem. That raises suspicion. Some people have seen their house burnt down by ethnic Albanians three times, in 2001. And now they see them having a much higher birth rate. It’s understandable that people have fear.”

This doesn’t mean that we have to accept corruption, he says. “Impunity has to end now, that’s very important. But let’s not blame one party. And let’s be open: the dispute with the EU about the name is partly the reason for all this mess. We see that reflected in the diminishing support for the EU in the polls that we do. The EU clearly hasn’t done the job.”

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“We Can’t Protest So We Pray”: Anguish in Amhara During Ethiopia’s State of Emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/we-cant-protest-so-we-pray-anguish-in-amhara-during-ethiopias-state-of-emergency/#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 00:02:36 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149986 Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Woman and child outside a Gonder church with crosses marked in ash on their foreheads. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
BAHIR DAR, Apr 17 2017 (IPS)

As dawn breaks in Bahir Dar, men prepare boats beside Lake Tana to take to its island monasteries the tourists that are starting to return.

Meanwhile, traffic flows across the same bridge spanning the Blue Nile that six months ago was crossed by a huge but peaceful protest march.“They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.” --Priest in Bahir Dar

But only a mile farther the march ended in the shooting of unarmed protesters by security forces, leaving Bahir Dar stunned for months.

Events last August in the prominent Amhara cities of Bahir Dar (the region’s capital) and Gonder (the former historical seat of Ethiopian rule) signalled the spreading of the original Oromo protests to Ethiopia’s second most populace region.

By October 9, following further disasters and unrest, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front party declared a six-month state of emergency, which was extended at the end of this March for another four months.

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Ethiopian national flags and regional Amhara flags flutter along the bridge over the Blue Nile on the road going east from Bahir Dar that the protesters took last year. A mile on from the bridge the peaceful march descended into tragedy with shots fired into the crowd. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

On the surface, the state of emergency’s measures including arbitrary arrests, curfews, bans on public assembly, and media and Internet restrictions appear to have been successful in Amhara.

Now shops are open and streets are busy, following months when the cities were flooded with military personal, and everyday life ground to a halt as locals closed shops and businesses in a gesture of passive resistance.

Speaking to residents, however, it’s clear discontent hasn’t abated. Frustrations have grown for many due to what’s deemed gross governmental oppression. But almost everyone agrees that for now, with the state of emergency in place, there’s not much more they can do.

“Now it’s the fasting period before Easter, so people are praying even more and saying: Where are you God? Did you forget this land?” says Stefanos, who works in Gonder’s tourism industry, and didn’t want to give his name due to fear of arrest by the Command Post, the administrative body coordinating the state of emergency.

“Because people can’t protest, they are praying harder than ever.”

The four-month extension to the state of emergency contains less sweeping powers than before. Now police need warrants to arrest suspects or search their homes, and detention without trial has officially been ended. But grievances remain about what happened before.

“Someone will come and say they are with the Command Post and just tell you to go with them—you have no option but to obey,” Dawit, working in Gonder’s tourism industry, says of hundreds of locals arrested. “No one has any insurance of life.”

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Outside Gonder churches, beggars line streets hoping for alms. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Locals recall how if young men gathered in too large a group they risked getting arrested.

“The regime has imprisoned, tortured and abused 20, 000-plus young people and killed hundreds more in order to restore a semblance of order,” says Alemante Selassie, emeritus law professor at the College of William & Mary and Ethiopia analyst. “Repression is the least effective means of creating real order in any society where there is a fundamental breach of trust between people and their rulers.”

Across Gondar, many unemployed men seek distraction by chewing the plant khat, a stimulant that motivates animated conversation about security force abuses and the dire local economic situation.

“If you kill your own people how are you a soldier—you are a terrorist,” says 32-year old Tesfaye, chomping on khat leaves. “I became a soldier to protect my people. This government has forgotten me since I left after seven years fighting in Somalia. I’ve been trying to get a job here for five months.”

Beyond such revulsion and frustration, some claim the state of emergency has had other psychological impacts.

“Continued fear and distrust of the [ruling] regime by the Ethiopian people,” says Tewodrose Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America. “Continued loss of hope for a better form a government where basic human rights of the Ethiopians are respected.”

For many the memories of what happened during protests last summer are still raw, especially for Bahir Dar residents.

Tens of thousands gathered in Bahir Dar’s centre on August 7 before marching along the main northeast-running road out of the city toward the Blue Nile River, carrying palm tree leaves and other greenery as symbols of peace.

After crossing the bridge there are various versions about what happened next.

Some say a protester attempted to replace Ethiopia’s current federal national flag flying outside a government building with the older, pan-Ethiopian nationalistic flag—now banned in Amhara—an argument ensued and the guard shot the protester.

Others say that protesters threw stones at the building—the guard fired warning shots in the air—then protesters tried entering the compound—the guard fired at them.

But there is less uncertainly about what happened next.

“Security forces suddenly emerged from buildings and shot into the march for no reason,” says an Ethiopian priest, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They were waiting for an excuse to shoot.”

It’s estimated 27 died that day, the death toll rising to 52 by the end of the week. A total of 227 civilians have died during unrest in the Amhara region, according to government figures, while others claim it’s much higher.

“Two people on my right side dropped dead,” says 23-year-old Haile, marching that day. “One had been shot in the head, one in the heart.”

Such violence was unprecedented for Bahir Dar, a popular tourist location, known for its tranquil lake and laid-back atmosphere.

“The city went into shock for months,” says the Ethiopian priest.

But as the months have passed, normal daily life has gradually reasserted itself.

“People are tired of the trouble and want to get on with their lives,” says Tesfaye, a tour operator. “But, then again, in a couple of years, who knows.”

Many criticise the government for failing to address long-term structural frictions between Ethiopia’s proclaimed federal constitution and an actual centralist developmental state model, as well as failing to resolve—with some saying it actively stokes—increasing ethnic tensions.

“Three years ago I went to university and no one cared where you were from,” says Haile, a telecommunication engineer in Bahir Dar. “Now Amhara and Tigray students are fighting with each other.”

“Federalism is good and bad,” says Haile’s friend Joseph, who is half Tigrayan and half Amhara. “Ethiopia has all these different groups proud of their languages and cultures. But [on the other hand] even though my father is Tigray, I can’t go and work in Tigray because I don’t speak Tigrayan.”

Joseph pauses to consider, before continuing.

“This government has kept the country together, if they disappeared we would be like Somalia,” he says. “All the opposition does is protest, protest, they can’t do anything else.”

Finding such a view in Gonder is much harder.

“The government has a chance for peace but they don’t have the mental skills to achieve it,” says tourist guide Teklemariam. “If protests happen again they will be worse.”

The main road between Gonder and Bahir Dar winds up and down steep hillsides, surrounded by mountains, cliffs and tight valleys stretching to the horizon.

Ethiopia’s vertiginous topography has challenged foreign invaders for centuries. But it’s potentially a headache for domestic rulers too, added to which militarism is a traditional virtue in the Amhara region.

In Gonder, men talk admiringly of an Amhara resistance movement which conducted hit-and-run attacks on soldiers when they occupied the city, before withdrawing into the surrounding mountains.

“The farmers are ready to die for their land,” the Ethiopian priest says. “It’s all they have known, they have never been away from here.”

According to Gonder locals, armed farmers have been fighting Ethiopian security forces for months.

“I saw dozens of soldiers at Gonder’s hospital with bullet and knife wounds,” says Henok, a student nurse, who took part in the protests. “The government controls the urban but not the rural areas.”

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Off the main streets in Gonder, Ethiopia, poverty becomes starker. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Young men like Henok talk passionately of Colonel Demeke Zewudud, a key member of Amhara resistance arrested by the government in 2016, and even more so about Gobe Malke, one of the leaders of the farmer insurrection until he was killed this February, allegedly at the hands of his cousin in the government’s payroll.

“If the government wants a true and real form of stabilization, then it should allow for a true representative form of governance so all people have the representation they need and deserve,” Tewodrose says.

“But the concern of the TPLF is the perception from the international community, so they can continue to receive and misuse foreign aid.”

In his role with the Amhara Association of America, Tewodrose presented a report to a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing March 9 about “Democracy Under Threat in Ethiopia”. The report also detailed 500 security forces killed during fighting in Amhara—Gonder locals claim many more.

“Before I die I just want to see Ethiopia growing peacefully and not divided by tribes,” says 65-year-old grandmother Indeshash, housebound in Gonder due to ongoing leg problems. “If my legs worked I would have protested.”

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UN to Investigate Violations Against Rohingyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/un-to-investigate-violations-against-rohingya/#comments Mon, 27 Mar 2017 20:03:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149667 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 27 2017 (IPS)

A top UN human rights group has decided to investigate human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council agreed to send an international fact-finding mission to investigate alleged killings, torture, and rape by security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims.

Since October, Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts.

After speaking to hundreds of Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh following the retaliation, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights Yanghee Lee found cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces.

Nearly half of the 220 Rohingya interviewed by the UN said a family member had been killed, while 52 out of 101 women interviewed said they had experienced some form of sexual violence from security forces.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations and expressed disappointment in the Council’s move.

“Such kind of action is not acceptable to Myanmar as it not in harmony with the situation on the ground and our national circumstances. Let the Myanmar people choose the best and the most effective course of action to address the challenges in Myanmar,” said Myanmar’s Ambassador Htin Lynn.

Myanmar’s investigatory committee had recently interviewed alleged victims and is due to announce its findings by August.

Proposed by the European Union, the resolution was adopted without a vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council and called for “full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.”

India and China did not back the decision, stating that they, along with Myanmar, would “disassociate” themselves from the mission.

Though Lee had initially urged for a full international commission of inquiry, many human rights groups applauded the move.

“[An] international fact-finding mission is crucial for ensuring that allegations of serious human rights abuses in Burma are thoroughly examined by experts, and to ensure that those responsible will ultimately be held accountable,” said Human Rights Watch’s Advocacy Director John Fisher.

“Burma’s government should cooperate fully with the mission, including by providing unfettered access to all affected areas,” he continued.

Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific Champa Patel echoed similar sentiments, stating that the mission is “long overdue” and that Myanmar’s government should “welcome” it.

“The world has a right to know the full truth of events,” she stated.

Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and enacted several discriminatory policies, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

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Women and Tribal Leaders Call for “Balanced” Libyan Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:42:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149611 "Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City." Credit: MAFO

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2017 (IPS)

A delegation of Libyan tribal leaders and women leaders has called on the UN to take a balanced approach to the Libyan peace process.

The delegation from the National Movement for Libya (NML) met with UN officials and U.S. government representatives while visiting New York and Washington D.C. to discuss the UN-led peace process in Libya.

“We don’t have a state, we don’t really have a government to control everything. The whole institution has collapsed after 2011,” said Libya Institute for Advanced Studies’ Head of the Mediation Department Ali Masoud to IPS.

“The only thing to help people find a solution and help peace-building is the tribal leaders or community leaders,” he continued.

Despite a UN-brokered peace deal known as the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in 2015, which established the internationally-backed unity government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj, armed factions have continued to battle for control over the oil-rich nation.

Most recently, pro-unity government armed forces expanded their control in the capital of Tripoli, fighting rival militias including groups allied with former Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweli.

Ghweli was ousted from power when al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA) took office and has refused to recognize the new administration, instead forming his own Government of National Salvation (GNS).

Khalifa Haftar, who leads troops for a third rival government in the Eastern region of the country, also opposes the UN-backed GNA but has focused on battling Islamist militias including the al-Qaeda-linked Ansar Al-Sharia and Islamic State (ISIS). His Libyan National Army (LNA) recently recaptured major oil ports from militias.

The NML was formed to address the country’s complex conflicts and engage in reconciliation efforts. However, community leaders have been left out of the peace process.

“[The UN] has carried on with the political track with politicians who are really not representative of the Libyan people,” Masoud told IPS.

"Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

“Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City.” Credit: MAFO

“They failed to start the tribal track which is really very important to engage tribes in Libya where they feel they own this political agreement and own the [dialogue] process,” he continued, adding that the dialogues stopped inviting tribal leaders as they were hosted outside of Libya.

Another NML representative Nour Elayoun Mohamed Abdul Ati Alobeidi highlighted the role that women have played in mediation, pointing to a case in the southern Libyan town of Ubari where Tuareg and Tebu tribes have clashed.

“In that war, men tried to mediate to stop the fire, but it was only when women decided to build a mobile tent in the middle of the shooting—only then the war stopped immediately because of those brave women who initiated this even though it was risky but they weren’t scared because they wanted the war to stop,” she told IPS.

Alobeidi said that tent was established to bring together the two sides to have a dialogue.

“This led both sides of women to understand that their pain is the same. And those women, the same women who were against each other, helped in bringing peace back to the Ubari area,” she continued.

Masoud and Alobeidi called on the inclusion of community leaders to create a National Charter that represents and ensures the rights of all Libyans.

“There is no national charter, no constitution, no surveys to understand what Libyan people demand, what they would like exactly, and what kind of a system they hope to have after this era of dictatorship,” Masoud told IPS.

They believe that creating a National Charter is essential before holding elections in order to help unite Libyans.

They also called on the international community to support inclusive tribal and political tracks that focus on building institutions rather than on one person or politician.

“All these tracks should feed each other, and when a national agreement is reached, then we will shrink the power of these politicians–they will have no space for violence, only the vision of Libyans that they should rely on,” Masoud told IPS.

The NML consists of tribal groups that both supported and opposed Gaddafi during the 2011 revolution. The delegation of tribal and women leaders was sponsored by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers and the Libya Institute for Advanced Studies, with the support of Finn Church Aid.

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‘Words of Fear and Loathing Can -and Do- Have Real Consequences’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/words-of-fear-and-loathing-can-and-do-have-real-consequences/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=words-of-fear-and-loathing-can-and-do-have-real-consequences http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/words-of-fear-and-loathing-can-and-do-have-real-consequences/#comments Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:51:46 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149517 Students watch a performance by their peers at Barros Barreto School, in Salvador, Brazil. The performance tackled social issues such as racism and gender discrimination. Credit: UNICEF/Claudio Versiani

Students watch a performance by their peers at Barros Barreto School, in Salvador, Brazil. The performance tackled social issues such as racism and gender discrimination. Credit: UNICEF/Claudio Versiani

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Mar 21 2017 (IPS)

“Politics of division and the rhetoric of intolerance are targeting racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, and migrants and refugees. Words of fear and loathing can, and do, have real consequences,” warns the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

The UN rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21 March that Governments around the world that they have a legal obligation to stop hate speech and hate crimes, and called on people everywhere to “stand up for someone’s rights.”

The theme for the Day this year is ending racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including as it relates to people’s attitudes and actions towards migration.

At the Summit for Refugees and Migrants in September 2016, UN member states adopted a Declaration strongly condemning acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

The Summit also sparked the UN’s Together initiative to change negative perceptions and attitudes aimed at refugees and migrants.

Zeid said that States do not have any excuse to allow racism and xenophobia to fester.

States “have the legal obligation to prohibit and eliminate racial discrimination, to guarantee the right of everyone, no matter their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law,” the senior UN official said.

He urged governments to adopt legislation expressly prohibiting racist hate speech, including the dissemination of ideas based on racial superiority or hatred, incitement to racial discrimination, and threats or incitement to violence.

“It is not an attack on free speech or the silencing of controversial ideas or criticism, but a recognition that the right to freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities,” Zeid said.

To promote human rights, the UN High Commissioner’s office, known by its acronym OHCHR, is asking people around the world to , “Stand up for Someone’s Rights Today”.

The campaign urges people to take practical steps in their own communities to take a stand for humanity.

Rising Populism and Extremism

For his part, UN secretary general António Guterres had on 27 February said that “disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading – North, South, East and West.”

Addressing the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council http://www.ohchr.org, he urged member states to uphold the rights of all people in the face of rising populism and extremism.

Having lived under the dictatorship of Portugal’s António de Oliveira Salazar, Guterres explained that he was 24 before he knew democracy. Denying his compatriots their human rights had oppressed and impoverished many of them, resulting in a mass exodus, and also brought bloody civil wars to Portugal’s former colonies in Africa.

World, More Dangerous Today

Calling today’s world “more dangerous, less predictable, more chaotic,” the Secretary-General called for making prevention a priority, tackling root causes of conflict and reacting early and more effectively to human rights violations.

He highlighted the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the treaties that derive from it, and urged the Council to be “fully engaged” on the issues that require their attention.

“We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomenon of populism and extremism feeding off each other in a frenzy of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance,” said Guterres.

“Minorities, indigenous communities and others face discriminations and abuse across the world,” he added, noting abuse targeting refugees and migrants, and people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or intersex.

Among other issues raised, Guterres also called for protection of the human rights defenders and of journalists who are “essential” to the checks and balances of any society.

In his address, UN High Commissioner Zeid denounced “reckless political profiteers” who threaten the multilateral system or intend to withdraw from parts of it.

“We have much to lose, so much to protect,” the UN High Commissioner said.

“Without a commitment to fundamental human rights, to the dignity and worth of the human person and to the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, our world will become chaos, misery and warfare,” he warned.

“Of all the great post-war achievements, it is this assertion of the universality of rights in human rights law that may be the most noteworthy.”

Speaking directly to the political actors, Zeid said “the sirens of historical experience ought to ring clear” and pledged that “we will not sit idly by” in the face of violations.

“Our rights, the rights of others, the very future of our planet cannot, must not be thrown aside by these reckless political profiteers,” he added.

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Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Outhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/former-boko-haram-abductees-speak-out/#comments Sat, 18 Mar 2017 22:39:31 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149482 Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
DUBAI, UAE, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network.

Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

Hope persists

“My dream is to be a medical doctor in the future and inspire others and go back to my home country and help those kids to go back to school and assist others get the education they deserve,” Sa’a says.

Rachel, who is back at school in Nigeria, says she wanted to be medical doctor as well but would now like to be a top ranking military officer after what happened to her father and three brothers.

“I would like to contribute to a better nation. I am not conformable because of what I have seen and I feel bad,” Rachel said. “Some girls cannot go to school now because of what happened and do not value education because without education they can survive. This is sad.”

Rachel is a teenager that went to school in northeast Nigeria. Her father was a plainclothes policeman who had moved his family with him to a smaller town where he thought it would be safer. He was assigned to protect the local church. Rachel’s mum found a job working in the Education department of the church that her father was on security detail to.

Then one day in late 2014, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the church that her father had been assigned to protect.  Rachel’s father fled to his house to gather his children. Unfortunately, as they tried to escape, they ran into the terrorists who shot dead her father and three younger brothers on the spot. They were 14, 12 and 10 years old and in secondary and primary school, respectively.

Vikas Pota, Chief Execuive of the Varkey Foundation, the hosts of the Global Education Forum, said the Boko Haram question is wider than simply the question of the girls, and is related to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and elsewhere. He said collective action was needed to make the world more inclusive thereby creating an environment to access education to all.

“I think it is ridiculous in today’s age that so many girls and all the human intelligence that exists that we do not know where these girls are. It shows we do not care,” Pota told IPS, adding that,” As a father, how can we tolerate this situation? I think the government not – just the Nigerian one but governments around the world – should help and make sure this situation is resolved.”

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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‘Religious Discrimination, Fanaticism and Xenophobia Worsened’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/religious-discrimination-fanaticism-and-xenophobia-worsened/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religious-discrimination-fanaticism-and-xenophobia-worsened http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/religious-discrimination-fanaticism-and-xenophobia-worsened/#comments Sat, 18 Mar 2017 20:52:43 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149481 Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America, thus there is a need for alternatives to identify a common strategy to address these challenges, a Geneva-based think tank promoting global dialogue stated.

The issue has been top on the agenda of a meeting organised by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on Mar. 16 at the United Nations Office in Geneva, during which representatives from the Muslim and Christian regions of the world exchanged views on the convergence between Islam and Christianity,

William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) who participated in this meeting, entitled “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights, highlighted the importance of recognising the convergences of the Abrahamic religions – Islam and Christianity – in order to overcome religious divisions.

“We live today in turbulent and troubled times. There are many and loud voices that take perverse delight in drawing attention to what divides and splits our global community. In these circumstances, it is all too easy to forget that Islam and Christianity – two of the world’s three ancient Abrahamic monotheist religious traditions – have more in common than in contention.”

Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan underlined in a video message the importance of fostering religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony between Christians and Muslims as well as intra-faith cohesion.

Referring to the Brussels Declaration entitled “The Peace of God in the World’ Towards Peaceful Coexistence and Collaboration Among the Three Monotheistic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”, he underscored the importance of bringing peace to the world and the need for peaceful co-existence between religious groups.

“All of our religions disapprove of religious justification of violence and inhumane actions, none of them approve of violence, terrorism or ill treatment of human beings,” he said.

For his part, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim highlighted the significance of garnering the support of Muslim and Christian leaders to restore relations between Islam and Christianity.

“Today we have a tremendous opportunity to discuss the convergences between Islam and Christianity and to continue our joint efforts combining our strengths to promote equal citizenship rights,” he added.

The Minister of State for Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi, for her part emphasised the need for Christian-Muslim dialogue as a necessary condition for peace, tolerance and harmony.

“Irrespective of national identity, all citizens need to be granted equally universal human rights. Our states need to protect these human rights. To grant equal protection, we need to rethink our Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is only through engaging in dialogue and accepting the diversity of each other that we can reach a peaceful reconciliation.”

Representing over 500 million Christians in more than 110 countries of the world, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said, “that the nature of the relationship between these two faith communities is of vital significance for the welfare of the whole human family.”

For his part, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, Lakhdar Brahimi, condemned the hijacking of religious faiths by violent and extremist groups stating that the “majority of people in the so-called Muslim majority countries are horrified by the barbaric violence committed by groups who claim to serve Islam.”

“Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram and similar groups in our countries and in Europe are abusing Islam and gravely trying to destroy its values, its cultures and its civilisation.”

Equal, Inclusive Citizenship Rights

As part of the meeting’s agenda, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Idriss Jazairy presented a draft agenda for a forthcoming world conference entitled “Religions, Creeds or Other Value Systems and Equal Citizenship Rights” that will build on the discussions initiated during the meeting.

The goal of this conference would be to initiate a structured dialogue that might lead to the obsolescence of the concept of minority and to its replacement by that of a model of inclusive and equal citizenship rights.

On the conference, the Former Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the current Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Dr. Tarek Mitri, argued that states should be established on the principles of citizenship, equality and law to create an environment of plurality and tolerance.

“Re-vitalising the pact of citizenship necessitates the rebuilding of state institutions on the foundation of the rule of law. The state’s chief obligation is to protect its citizens, all its citizens. Politics of inclusion in fractured societies are a condition for equal citizenship,” he said.

The former US ambassador to the United Nations and former member of the US Congress, Dr. Mark D. Siljander, ascertained that the convergence and the commonalities between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity could lead to equal and inclusive citizenship rights. Drawing on his long-time expertise as a diplomat and peacemaker.

And Pakistan’s ambassador Tehmina Janjua reminded the participants that the concept of equal and inclusive citizenship should go beyond religious affiliation.

“If we are to address the issue of citizenship rights/minorities globally, then we need to go beyond the relationship of Christianity and Islam. We also need to go beyond viewing this issue from the perspective of religion alone.”

The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognise the potential of a “great convergence” between both religions, and to mitigate and reverse the social polarisation between affiliates of these two religions and the resulting marginalisation of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and violence.

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Violence, Power Vacuum in Mideast, Fertile Ground for Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/violence-power-vacuum-in-mideast-fertile-ground-for-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-power-vacuum-in-mideast-fertile-ground-for-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/violence-power-vacuum-in-mideast-fertile-ground-for-terrorism/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 07:01:08 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149379 Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 13 2017 (IPS)

Long decades of violence in the Middle East and Northern Africa, resulting from the proliferation of international and local conflicts, have strained the social fabric that once held peaceful Arab societies together, says a Geneva-based think tank promoting global dialogue.

The resulting power vacuum has provided fertile ground for the emergence of terrorists group advocating a distorted view of Islam in an attempt to access power through violence exercised against Muslims, Christians and other religious minorities, adds the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (GCHRAGD).

“This situation has had a spill-over effect affecting also the West and other regions in which the disruptive effects of globalisation, and the growing disengagement of political elites from the concerns of ordinary people, have given rise to a populist tidal wave.“

According to the GCHRAGD, the emerging populism has a strong xenophobic component. Societies are prey to the growing polarisation created through manipulation of religions and beliefs. “The disruptive effects of globalisation, and the growing disengagement of political elites from the concerns of ordinary people, have given rise to a populist tidal wave” – The Geneva Centre

“The rise of far-rightist populist movements goes hand in hand with the political instrumentalisation of religions, which exacerbates divisions and incites hatred and violence. While Islam and Christianity are vectors of peace, their malevolent manipulation seeks to accentuate alleged differences and depict them as incompatible and opposed to one another.”

The Geneva Centre has repeatedly consistently addressed issues related to the rise of xenophobia, extremist violence, racism and discrimination with various partners.

This way, it organised, in 2016, a series of conferences on themes related to “Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching Out”; “De-radicalization or the Roll-Back of Violent Extremism”, and “Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony”.

Notwithstanding the relevance of the topics, some participants pointed out to the Geneva Centre the necessity of broadening the debate to not only include Muslim minorities in Europe, but also to take into account other religious minorities affected by the current environment of tension and incitement to hatred.

In this regard, the GCHRAGD has planned to organise a side-event on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship rights”, scheduled for 15 March, in relation to the 34th ordinary session of the UN Human Rights Council.

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue


The objective will be to study the “alternatives to identify a common strategy that addresses the issues of religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia,” which have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America.

According to the organisers, the goal will be to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognise the potential of a “great convergence” between both religions, and to mitigate and to reduce the marginalisation of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and the resulting violence.

This debate could then be the starting point for a larger conference, which identifies common commitments to dialogue, tolerance and non-discrimination, announce the organisers.

According to the Geneva Centre, “some high-level politicians are trying to oppose Islam and Christianity and express concerns about the plight of minorities affiliated to particular religions.”

The planned initiative aims at restoring globality to the debate taking into account the need to empower all minorities so that the very notion of minorities ends up dissolving into the broader and more inclusive concept of equal citizenship rights.

“It is fortunate that this agenda is bringing together some of the most senior representatives of the body politics, the religious leaders and academics from the Christian and the Muslim regions alike.”

GCHRAGD is an independent, non-profit, non- governmental organization dedicated to the advancement of human rights through consultation and training with youth, civil society and governments.

In addition to the Geneva Centre’s chairman Hanif Ali Al Qassim, and executive director, Idriss Jazairy, the panel with bring together Sheikha Lubna Khalid Al Qasimi, minister of State for Tolerance of United Arab Emirates; Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches, and Lakhdar Brahimi, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria.

Also participating Tarek Mitri, former acting minister of Foreign Affairs of Lebanon; ambassador Mark D. Siljander, former U.S. Congressman; Reverend Timothy Radcliffe, Dominican friar of the English Province, and former Master of the Order of Preachers (commonly known as the Dominicans); Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the UN, and professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic History, University of St. Andrews.

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The United Nations and the Religious Right​http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%25e2%2580%258b http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-united-nations-and-the-religious-right%e2%80%8b/#comments Tue, 28 Feb 2017 04:30:46 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149156 Tolerance. Credit: Rebecca/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Tolerance. Credit: Rebecca/Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 28 2017 (IPS)

Religious advocacy groups have a long history of working with the United Nations, pushing back against progressive interpretations of the terms ‘family’ and ‘marriage’ as enshrined  in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That effort was seemingly rewarded in 2016 as more people voted across the globe for political parties promising conservative interpretations of both, in stark contrast to moves by some countries in recent years to legalise same sex marriage and enhance protections for LGBTQI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex] people.

In 2017, the battle to define these terms both as they appear in the declaration and in law is growing increasingly fierce.

Like most advocacy directed at UN or Washington policy makers, lobbying by religious groups typically takes place behind the scenes, with success often measured in terms of whether or not progressive social policies get adopted.

Two of the most active and successful players are the World Congress of Families (WCF) – with its longstanding ties to African, Russian and Eastern European governments, as well as conservative US  politicians –  and the legal advocacy group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which has  had many successes in international courts defending Judeo-Christian rights. Both organisations cite their consultative status at the UN as a key to their reputations.

WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs says that, given the current political climate, WCF and its supporters have cause for optimism.

“There’s been a fundamental denial over the last 50 years that the family is needed,” he told IPS, referring to the diversification of family structure away from the ‘traditional’ or nuclear model favoured by conservatives towards a more open interpretation. “Much of it is a result of the agenda of sexual revolution lobbyists,” he added, a view also shared by many involved in religious social policy.

“I think one of our greatest successes is protecting Article 16.3 [The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State]. Other groups are trying to redefine existing mandates in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the idea that family is ‘natural’ is one of our biggest successes.”

Pope Francis echoed these sentiments during his address to the United Nations, describing the family as “the primary cell of any social development”. While Pope Francis has preached acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality, he has never shown support for the non-nuclear family or gender fluidity.

The WCF coordinates conservative groups and has been linked to major international policy shifts, such as Russia’s law prohibiting the promotion of ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’, and Hungary’s ‘family-friendly’ policies. These moves have been linked to a rise in persecution of and violence against LGBTQI citizens. Members and associates of the group have been linked to the passage of laws outlawing homosexuality throughout Africa, and the failure of the Estrela Resolution to pass the European Parliament, a proposal to treat abortion as a human right and standardise sexual health education.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” -- Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May.

In the opposite corner to these groups, but likewise  drawing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  as the foundation for its  work, is  LGBTQI advocacy group Outright Action International. Outright argues that denying the expansion of ‘family’ beyond a nuclear structure and ‘marriage’ beyond a heterosexual union violates human rights.

“We need to ensure that cultural reasons or ‘traditional’ values aren’t used to undermine the universality of human rights principles, or equal application of existing law in regards to everyone,” says Outright’s UN program coordinator Siri May. “We felt very grateful for the support of [ex- UN Secretary General] Ban Ki Moon. He became a strong advocate for universality.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom joined the World Congress of Families in UN consultative status in 2014, with its declared aims to “help craft language that affirms religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. Chief counsel Benjamin Bull wrote: “ADF can now have a say when UN treaties and conventions are drafted that directly impact religious liberty and important matters related to the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.”

“No person – anywhere – should be punished simply for holding to Christian beliefs,” says Bull. Bull opposed Former UN Secretary-General Ban’s support for Ban’s LGBTQI rights arguing that it privileged “the demands of sexually confused individuals over the rights of other individuals.”

Cases for which ADF have advocated in the United States, Europe and in the Global South, most notably in Central and South America, have drawn accusations of human rights violations.

One key act during Ban’s tenure was the creation of a Special Rapporteur for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Inaugural appointee Vitit Muntarbhorn has been charged with identifying instances where human rights are violated based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Muntarbhorn only narrowly kept his role after the legitimacy of the office was challenged twice by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting deep divisions within the UN’s membership on this issue.

“Vitit has a very focused brief so we’re excited to be working with him and other mandate holders,” says Outright’s May. “We’ll be looking to provide him and other experts with the best information available.”

WCF’s Larry Jacobs is keen to point out that, despite being designated a ‘hate group’ and ‘virulently anti-gay’ by both mainstream news media and human rights advocacy groups, he does not condone violence.

“We are not anti-gay. Homosexuals are the people that need a natural family the most. We are the ones that want to help the victims of the sexual revolution, the victims of divorce, the victims of people who have lived a promiscuous lifestyle. I think the question about homosexuality is ‘how do we deal with brokenness?’ ”

But May contests this. “We know throughout history that family units are not about one man, one women and two children. That’s quite a western construct. There are many examples of same-sex couple families with children that provide love. Human rights are applicable to the individual, and family units are very important, but they should never trump the right of the individual.”

“What we know about gender-based violence and LGBTQI rights are that they’re needed to protect an individual that might be at risk from their family. They have rights and obligations within human rights law and those rights should never be used to privilege heterosexuality.”

Despite their marked differences, both Jacobs and May are cautiously optimistic about the UN’s approach under new Secretary-General António Guterres, a man who forged his political and diplomatic career balancing socialist beliefs with his Catholic faith.

“We’d expect the incoming Secretary General would have the same interpretation of human rights law and traditional cultural values as Ban Ki Moon,” says May. “We feel very encouraged about his statements.”

“It’s a very exciting time,” concurs Jacobs. “Even when his party went against him on abortion, Guterres stayed true to his faith and his values. He wasn’t afraid to talk about the sanctity of human life from conception to death, so this is an exciting time.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt Vitit Muntarbhorn’s name.

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Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:17:59 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148944 Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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A Dire Vacuum in a World in Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:21:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148875 Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

By Baher Kamal
ROME/GENEVA, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

“The world is in a crisis, not least because governing élites have estranged themselves from the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. This sense of being left behind has lead the latter to rebel against their country’s stratified governance,” warns a Geneva-based human rights and dialogue centre.

“At the same time, complaints about the unfairness of globalisation were hushed up or ignored when they hit the poor in the Global South but now that people in the Global North are feeling the pinch as well, the issue’s priority is moving up in media reports”, says the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue(GCHRAGD).

All these trends have exacerbated populist movements rejecting citizenship in favour of narrower concepts of identity related to dominant races or religions, the Centre continues, adding that on the other hand foreign military invasions in the Middle East, with the resultant casualties and exclusions, have created bitterness and have destroyed social mechanisms for conflict resolution.

“These developments have brought about a vacuum, which has been occupied by terrorist groups seeking legitimacy in a perverted interpretation of Islam… Thus for different reasons, the two main world religions have become embroiled in the rise of extremist ideologies and are increasingly being perceived as part of the problems underlying this world crisis.”

Now the GCHRAGD is in the process of launching a new initiative during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, 2017)—a side-event on March 15th a panel discussion around the theme “Islam and Christianity, The Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship.”

According to the Centre, this initiative is aimed at creating a grand coalition to let these major world religions become part of the solution to the current crisis by unleashing their joint potential for peace at the service of equality in citizenship which implies a definition of identity based on citizenship rather than on religious, ethnic or other affiliations.

Thus could be addressed the issue of minorities, both Muslim ones in the West and Christian ones in the Middle East, let alone the parlous situation of Muslim minorities in parts of Asia or religious tension between Muslims and Christians in some parts of Africa as well as contemporary phobic language which tends to create more social tension, explains GCHRAGD.

“A side-event is only a first awareness raising opportunity which should be followed by other initiatives, hopefully in the Human Rights Council itself and beyond.”

The panel discussion will build on a series of events organised by the Geneva Centre in collaboration with various partners working on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Arab region and in Europe, as well as on extremist violence and Islamophobia.

In this context, the Geneva Centre organised in 2016 a number of conferences on four related themes: The Advancement of the Status of Women in the Arab World; Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching out; De-radicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremist Violence; and Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony.

According to its organisers, the side event seeks to ascertain religious diversity and consolidate the view of the Christian and Muslim religions as vectors of peace, by focusing on the great convergences between Islam and Christianity based on the commonalities of their basic values.

The Rationale Behind

The Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue explains the rationale behind the March 15th side event:

“Over the past few years, on-going armed conflict and indiscriminate terrorist attacks bringing bereavement principally to the Arab region and to parts of Africa, and spilling over to the Western world, have contributed to an exacerbation of human rights violations with a worldwide worsening human rights impact of unprecedented proportions not witnessed since the end of World War II.

“This can take form through the violation of human rights encompassing the freedom of worship, the freedom of expression, the freedom of movement, the restriction of education, the repression of women, and the violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“Against this dire background, the world is witnessing a rise of right wing populism and extremist ideologies, resulting from increasing remoteness of the State from the electorate.

“Feeding on violence and dormant biases, Islamophobia has been increasing steadily and worryingly over the past years. For instance, only in the United States alone, hate crimes against Muslims rose by a staggering 67 per cent since 2015.

“The Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has also witnessed ethnic cleansing and religious persecution by Buddhist extremists in the state of Rakhine that has largely been neglected and ignored by the world community.

“Other relevant examples of religious persecution can be extended to include the genocide committed by the Bosnian Serbs on the Bosniaks of Bosnia-Herzegovina in which the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, largest massacre in Europe after the end of the Second World War, was carried out in the town of Srebrenica resulting in the killing of more than 8,000 Muslims.

“During the late 1980s, the Bulgarian Turks experienced widespread human rights violations by the Bulgarian government that launched a campaign to erase the ethnic and religious identities of the Bulgarian Turks.

“Moreover, the demolition of the Baburi mosque by Hindu extremists in 1992 gave rise to heightened Muslim-Hindu tensions in India. Likewise, the distorted representation of Muslim communities as well as of Islam itself in the media has been playing a malevolent role in strengthening xenophobic trends around the world, by perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of Muslims.

“We can explore ways in which the media can mitigate their role in presenting a distorted picture of religious minorities, and more fully contribute to increased tolerance and inter-religious understanding by promoting peaceful messages to the public.”

The primary outcome of the side event could be the adoption of a draft agenda for an international conference to be held on the same subject for which a first draft is attached as an annex to the concept note.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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