Inter Press Service » Religion News and Views from the Global South Tue, 24 May 2016 18:48:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Humanitarian Summit, The Big Fiasco Tue, 24 May 2016 18:44:42 +0000 Baher Kamal UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

UN secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: United Nations

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 24 2016 (IPS)

The World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul on May 23-24, failed to achieve its fund raising goals. With the exception of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, none from the Group of the richest courtiers or of the UN Security Council attended. And the Summit could not mobilise the much-needed resources it had hoped for.

At the summit’s closing session, both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed strong “disappointment” on the absence of leaders of the most powerful countries.

Though they reiterated their appeal for solidarity to rescue the most vulnerable people on Earth–130 million victims of conflicts and natural disasters and growing, none of them could hold out or offer any hope soon.

“Their absence (G-7 and Security Council leaders) is not an excuse for inaction,” Ban said. The resources required to rescue the lives of tens of millions of human beings represent only 1 per cent of the total world military expenditure, he added.

Ban showed no signs of optimism regarding an end soon of conflicts in Syrian, Yemen, South Sudan, among others, while recalling that every year the United Nations organised a pledging conference and “countries are tired of that.” He also stressed that currently 80 per cent of the UN humanitarian resources are spent on made-made crises.

For his part, Erdogan reiterated veiled threats to the European Union (EU), saying that if this bloc does not fulfil its agreements with Ankara, the “law of returnees” (refugees deported from EU countries to Turkey) may not be passed at the Turkish Parliament.

The EU promised Turkey 3.000 billions in 2017, to add to an equal sum promised last year, in its refugees deportation deal with Ankara, sealed in March.

The EU also is to authorise the entry to its member countries without visa. Nevertheless, thus authorisation will not be implemented soon as promised, as the EU now demands that Turkey fulfils a long list of requirements.

A Foretold Political Failure
During the two-day summit, leaders of 173 countries, including 55 heads of state or government, promised to do more for the 130 million civilians who are victims of conflicts and natural disasters.
Nevertheless, the community of humanitarian organisations have shown scepticism about½ such announcements that would end up in effective commitments and if the expected funds will be employed in the right way.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, secretary general of Norwegian Refugee Council. Credit: United Nations

Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a leading humanitarian organisation with over 5000 humanitarian workers across more than 25 countries, was one of the strongest voices in this regard.

The humanitarian sector is failing to protect civilians from violence, Egeland said, while commenting how humanitarian aid has to be more efficient and cost-effective not to fail those most in need.

According to Egeland, humanitarian assistance does not reach thousands of victims who are among the most vulnerable of all. “In Fallujah, Iraq, there are now over 50,000 civilians who are besieged, prey to the Islamic State (IS), Engeland cited as an example.

“Nobody is helping them, nobody is reaching them, he warned. The Iraqi government is not helping them, the humanitarian organisations cannot reach them.”

There are thousands of victims like them who are in dire need but are not reached. In Yemen, Engeland said, there are 20 million civilians among the most vulnerable, while stressing that coalitions supported by Western countries are attacking civilians.

Egeland expressed hope that leaders can ask themselves if they can at least stop giving arms, giving money to those armed groups that are systematically violating the humanitarian law, and bombing hospitals and schools, abusing women and children.

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Nigerian refugee children at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon. Photo: UNICEF/Karel Prinsloo

Fighting parties, be they governmental or militias or opposition or rebels, still get weapons that they use to blow up hospitals and kill civilians, he warned. “Let’s blacklist that armed group and that army and that government.”

“We lack governments saying they will also uphold humanitarian law and the UN refugee convention, keeping borders open and keeping the right of asylum sacrosanct,” Egeland added.

The NSC Secretary General emphasised that “all borders should be open… in Europe, in the Gulf states… in the United States. “As Europeans, when we initiated the refugee convention we really felt that asylum was important when we were the asylum seekers. Why don’t we think it’s equally important now, when we are those to whom people come for asylum?”

From 2011 to 2013, he was the Europe Director of Human Rights Watch, prior to joining NRC where he took up his post as Secretary General in August 2013. In 2006, Time magazine named Jan Egeland one of the 100 “people who shape our world.”

“More resources are sorely needed… but more resources will not solve the problem,” said for his part Francesco Rocca, Vice-President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Speaking on behalf of 190 national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Rocca demanded more support to strengthening national and local actors, who are key to the solution.

“Strengthening local and national capacity would have an impact,” he said “Yet, scant resources have been channelled though those key local actors or invested in their long-term capacities.”

Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, warned, “the less we help in conflict zones, the more people will move,” and that “sticking people in camps is not the solution.”

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Debate Over Bangladeshi Militants’ External Connections Tue, 24 May 2016 17:59:44 +0000 Ali Riaz By Ali Riaz
May 24 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

As targeted killings of individuals with unorthodox views and members of minority communities continue unabated in Bangladesh, so does the debate on whether international terrorists have made inroads to the country. The question has been whether the claims of the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) of their presence in Bangladesh should be taken at face value. In the past months, both these organisations have been claiming responsibility for a series of killings. Until recently, these claims have not been accompanied by justifications, but that pattern seems to be changing. The AQIS affiliate Ansar-al Islam, issued a long statement after the murder of Xulhazs Mannan, an LGBT activist and USAID staff member. The government, on the other hand, has continued to deny the existence of these organisations and insists that these are the acts of ‘homegrown’ militants. In April, the English magazine of the IS, Dabiq, published an interview with the so-called Amir of the Bangladeshi chapter of the IS to bolster its presence. Ansar-al Islam claims to represent the AQIS in Bangladesh. This is a mutated version of the organisation Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT), which came into being in 2007.

Both the denial of any external connections of Bangladeshis, and insistence that the IS/AQIS has recently made inroads in the country, seem to disregard the historical background of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi militants had regional and extra-regional connections since their inception in the mid-1990s. It is worth recalling that the genesis of Islamist militants can be traced back to the Afghan War (1979-1989) in the late 1980s. The fountainhead of the militant groups in Bangladesh, Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami Bangladesh (HuJIB), emerged in public on April 30, 1992 through a press conference at the National Press Club in Dhaka. A group of so-called volunteers, who participated in the Afghan War in the previous years, arranged a press conference in the wake of the fall of Kabul to the Afghan Mujahedeen. Although the rudimentary form of the HuJI began in Pakistan in 1980, it was formally established in 1988. It expanded in the following four years, as the HuJI leadership wanted to reach out to other parts of South Asia. This led to the establishment of the HuJI in Bangladesh. The initial goal was to use Bangladesh as the launching pad for destabilising neighbouring Myanmar.

The operation of the HuJIB expanded further after it established relationships with the local militant organisation Jamaat-ul-Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB). The JMB was founded in 1998 but was named as such three years later. The founding of the JMB was a culmination of a series of meetings between Sayekh Abdur Rahman and a number of Islamist leaders and Ulema in 1996. These meetings brought Mufti Hannan and Abdur Rahman together. On January 19, 1996, law enforcement agencies busted a training camp in a remote part of Cox’s Bazar and arrested 41 armed militants. The camp was originally thought to be a training camp of Rohingya rebels based in Bangladesh. When these militants were being tried at a local court in Cox’s Bazar, Abdur Rahman was sent as the HuJIB representative to monitor and help the accused. This turned out to be the beginning of a long relationship between JMB and the HuJI-B.

The external connections of the potential militants of Bangladesh began in earnest in 1997-98. The connection established between Indian citizen Syed Abdul Karim Tunda and Abdur Rahman is a watershed moment in the history of militancy in Bangladesh. Tunda, who has been in Indian custody since 2013 on a number of terrorism charges, is alleged to be an operative of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayeba (LeT). Indian intelligence sources insist that Tunda entered Bangladesh in 1994 and operated from there for quite some time. In any case, he was the bridge between Abdur Rahman of the JMB and the LeT and Hafiz Saeed. Indian intelligence agencies had claimed that Thadiyantavide Nazir of the Lashkar-e-Tayeba, allegedly connected to the 2008 bomb blasts in Bangalore, had travelled to Bangladesh.

The presence of regional militants in Bangladesh became publicly known in 2008 and 2009. Abdur Rauf Merchant and Jahed Sheikh, two Indian militants, were arrested in Bangladesh. Between May and September 2009, six members of the so-called Aref Reza Commando Forces (ARCF), including Mufti Obaidullah were arrested. Some of these militants admitted that they were living in Bangladesh for some time; for example, Obaidullah claimed to be in Bangladesh since 1995 and another member of the group Habibullah claimed to be residing since 1993.

The other source for the connections between the Bangladeshi militants and outside groups was the presence of the Rohingya rebel groups in Chittagong Hill Tracts. HUJI’s primary goal was to establish contact with these rebel groups. Interestingly, Rohingya rebel groups, Bangladeshi militants and northeast Indian rebel groups, such as the ULFA, had reportedly worked together to procure weapons from black markets in Southeast Asia and used Cox’s Bazar’s remote shoreline as the drop-off point before being distributed. This shows that cooperation among militant groups across the border does not have to be based on ideological affinity; instead other factors can and do bring these groups together.

In the age of globalisation, exportation of terrorism does not require physical presence of operatives of international terrorist groups in a country. There are many ways of indoctrination and recruitment. Ideas of extremism to identification of targets can well be coordinated from distant lands. A number of attacks in various parts of the world have already demonstrated that the internet as a vehicle is quite effective. The phenomenon called ‘lone wolf’ is pertinent here. As such, the characterisation of ongoing militancy as a combination of global and local – a ‘glocal’ phenomenon, as Habibul Haque Khondoker writes in a local English daily – is apt.

There is no denying that there are Bangladeshi citizens willing to join the ‘Global Jihad’ and bring it home. A survey of newspaper reports published between July 2014 and June 2015, shows that law enforcing agencies arrested 112 alleged ‘militants’. Of these, 22 individuals were identified as either connected to or aspiring to be connected to ISIS, 12 reportedly tried to travel to Syria. Two rounds of arrests of Bangladeshis in Singapore, in December last year and in March this year, also show that expatriates can become vehicles for radicalisation. There have been instances of British-Bangladeshis joining the Syrian war from the United Kingdom. Indian investigators have claimed that Bangladeshi militants, particularly the JMB, have been known to operate from India, particularly in West Bengal.

As such Bangladeshi militants’ external connections should not be viewed as an entirely new phenomenon. This is not to underestimate the significance of connections with the IS or AQIS, instead to underscore that given the history such links would require few efforts. If individual acquaintances of the past metamorphose into an organisational tie, the situation will take a turn for the worse, perhaps slide down to an unmanageable level. The IS/AQIS is capable of providing additional resources and a global stage for these menacing groups. It is a matter of time and opportunity before such a tie can flourish. Therefore, it is imperative to acknowledge that denial cannot be a strategy, and that it is necessary to act in earnest.

The writer is professor and chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University, USA. He is the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Bangladesh (2016).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Humanitarian Summit: Too Big to Fail? Mon, 23 May 2016 13:14:27 +0000 Baher Kamal A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

A family living in this tent in Baghdad, Iraq, explains that the camp and the tents were not ready for winter. Credit: WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

With a line up of heads of state or government telling all what they did to alleviate human suffering and promising to do more, along with leaders of civil society and humanitarian
organisations denouncing lack of honest political will to act while governments continue spending trillions of dollars in weapons, the two-day World Humanitarian Summit kicked off today May 23 in Istanbul.

In fact, while the United Nations reports that the international community spends today around 25 billion dollars to provide live-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). estimates world’s military expenditure in 2015 was over 1.6 trillion dollars.

“Never mind–this Summit is too important to fail,” a high-ranking Asian diplomat on condition of anonymity said to IPS. “The leaders of the richest countries, especially in Europe and the Gulf Arab states, are perfectly aware of the magnitude of the humanitarian challenges facing them,” the diplomat added.

“Some of them will be sincerely sensitive to human suffering; others will be more concerned with their ‘political’ peace of mind… Most industrialised countries, in particular in Europe, are eager that the humanitarian crises are dealt with and solved out of and beyond their borders.”

It is about the fear that this unprecedented crisis, if it grows exponentially as predicted, would inevitably lead to more conflicts and more instability affecting their [those leaders] political and economic welfare, according to the diplomat.

In this regard, the facts before the 5,500 participants in this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit are that over the last years conflicts and natural disasters have led to fast-growing numbers of people in need and a funding gap for humanitarian action of an estimated 15 billion dollars, according to UN estimates.

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

In Madaya, Syria, local community members help offload and distribute humanitarian aid supplies. Photo: WFP/Hussam Al Saleh

“This is a lot of money, but not out of reach for a world producing 78 trillion dollars of annual Gross Domestic Product,” says the report of a UN promoted high-level panel on humanitarian financing. “Closing the humanitarian financing gap would mean no one having to die or live without dignity for the lack of money,” it adds.

The report addressing the humanitarian financing gap, says that this “would be a victory for humanity at a time when it is much needed.

As part of the preparations for the WHS, the UN Secretary-General had appointed a nine-person panel of experts to work on finding solutions about this widening financial gap.

The panel identified–and examined three important and inter-dependent aspects of the humanitarian financing challenge: reducing the needs, mobilising additional funds through either traditional or innovative mechanisms, and improving the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.

The report is also relevant in the context of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It states that only by focusing the world’s attention on the rapidly growing numbers of people in desperate need will we be able to achieve the SDGs.

The panel recognises that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. “This requires a strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction.”

“Because development is the best resilience-builder of all, the panel believes that the world’s scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most—in situations of fragility,” the report concludes.

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Humanitarian Summit Aims to Mobilise Up to 30 Billion Dollars Mon, 23 May 2016 09:08:49 +0000 Baher Kamal Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

Sudanese refugee children protest against food ration cuts at Touloum refugee camp in Chad | Credit: IRIN

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey, May 23 2016 (IPS)

The two-day World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), opening today May 23 in Istanbul, aims at mobilising between 20 and 30 billion dollars to face the on-gowing, worst-ever humanitarian crises, said Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs andEmergency Relief Coordinator.

“Let us not underestimate the gravity of what lies before us in these coming days: A once in a generation opportunity to set in motion an ambitious and far-reaching agenda to change the way that we alleviate, and most importantly prevent, the suffering of the world’s most vulnerable people,” O’Brien added in an interview with IPS.

Asked about most civil society organisations increasing concern that the financial resources the WHS is aiming to moblise would come at the very cost of current, already extremely short funding to longer-term objectives, such as the sustainable development goals, O’Brien said, “Not at all; we expect the international community fo be more generous.”

The Istanbul Summit is both about fresh thinking and building on the best, and the change that’s necessary to deliver for our fellow men and women who need us most, said O’Brien.

“Disasters, both man-made and natural, are becoming more frequent, more complex and more intense. More than 60 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence. At this summit, humanitarian partners around the world will commit to take concrete action to address this,” said UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliassonin at a press conference on the eve of the Istanbul Summit.

The United Nations estimates that more than 130 million people are in need of assistance and protection across the world today.

Every year, humanitarian needs continue to grow and more people need more help for longer periods of time. This also drives up the costs of delivering life-saving assistance and protection. UN-led appeals have grown six-fold from 3.4 billion dollars in 2003 to nearly 21 billion dollars today.

Representatives of 177 countries, including 68 heads of state and governments, and crises-affected communities, civil society organisations, the private sector and UN agencies attend this first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

The WHS follows an extensive global consultation with 23,000 stakeholders world-wide to identify the key humanitarian challenges of our time.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General laid out the United Nations’ vision for the Summit in an Agenda for Humanity focusing on a set of core commitments: to prevent and end conflicts; uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; leave no one behind; change people’s lives – from delivering aid to ending need; and invest in humanity.

In addition to the Summit’s plenary sessions starting May 23, series high-level leaders’ round tables are scheduled on: Leaders’ Segment for Heads of States and Governments on day one.

The Leaders’ Segment will discuss the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity.

These five core responsibilities are: one, Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflict; two, Uphold the Norms that Safeguard Humanity; three, Leave No One Behind; four, Change People’s Lives – from Delivering Aid to Ending Need; and five, Invest in Humanity.

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Africa: Resolved to Address African Problems Using African Solutions Sun, 22 May 2016 17:31:28 +0000 Baher Kamal Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission.

By Baher Kamal
ISTANBUL, Turkey , May 22 2016 (IPS)

The African Union (AU) representing 54 countries and home to 1,2 billion inhabitants, will be in Istanbul to participate in the May 23-24, 2016, first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) with two key demands—that the international humanitarian system be redefined, and a strong, firm own commitment to itself, to the continent and its people, anchoring on the primacy of the states.

In an interview with IPS on the eve of the WHS, the Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission, Olabisi Dare said “All the key concerns that the AU will be raising at the World Humanitarian Summit is that there is a need for the redefinition of the international humanitarian system; this redefinition should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system.”

The Nigerian career diplomat and international civil servant with over 27 years international field and desk experience in Asia, Africa, Europe and America, added that the requested redefinition “should take the form of a reconfiguration of the system, it being understood that the existing system which is predicated on the UN Resolution 46 182 is to say the least not being faithfully implemented.”

It is therefore in this context that the African Union is going to Istanbul with its own commitments to itself, that is its own commitment to the continent and its people and one of the key things of this commitment is to anchor on the primacy of the states itself, “the State has the primary responsibility to its own people to satisfy their needs and to take care of their vulnerabilities,” said Olabisi.

“We look at these in several forms:

  1. The African Union feels the State has to play the primary role of coordinating any and all humanitarian action that may take place within its territory; the States have in their efforts to alleviate the needs of its people; the States have also to maintain humanitarian space and have a responsibility to guarantee the safety of both the humanitarian workers and humanitarian infrastructure.
  2. We note that the State has the capability and capacity in key areas like use of military assets in assisting humanitarian action–a key  example is the use of military forces in Liberia and other acted countries the military was deployed to serve as the first line of defense to combat the spread of the disease.

That said, Olabisi remarked “We can’t over-emphasise the role of the State in ensuring that humanitarian action and relief is dispensed in an effective manner and we see that this in itself will effect humanitarian action more readily on the continent.”

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“ - Olabisi Dare, Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees, and Displaced Persons Division at the AU Commission
Asked what are the African needed solutions that the AUC brings to the WHS, Olabisi, who was also senior Political/Humanitarian Affairs Officer at the African Union Mission in Liberia, with extensive experience in various aspects peace-building in a post conflict environment, including serving on the Technical Support Team to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia, reaffirmed “The African Union will make proposals in terms of what it considers as the reconfiguration of the International Humanitarian systems.”

“Part of the solution is that there is a need for governments to play the primary role and a greater coordination role in order to fulfill the attributes of state in terms of its predictive and responsive nature and other attributes and this in itself is as part of what Africa has committed  to do and if this find its way to the Secretary General’s report as part of the recommendation, this would be very good.”

Olabisi, who was involved in the return and rehabilitation programme of over 300,000 Liberian refugees from across the West Africa sub-region, added “We are also going to call for the re-engineering of resolution 46182 Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations to reflect  Africa’s views, to reflect the need to elevate the role of the state primarily to be to deliver to its people.”

The Resolution 46182 that Olabisi refers to, was adopted in 1991, setting as “Guiding Principles” that humanitarian assistance is of cardinal importance for the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies and must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.

Guiding Principle 3 clearly states, “The sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. In this context, humanitarian assistance should be provided with the consent of the affected country and in principle on the basis of an appeal by the affected country.”

“Each State has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory. Hence, the affected State has the primary role in the initiation, organization, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory,” states also the Guiding Principle 4.

And Guiding Principle 9 stresses, “There is a clear relationship between emergency, rehabilitation and development. In order to ensure a smooth transition from relief to rehabilitation and development, emergency assistance should be provided in ways that will be supportive of recovery and long-term development. Thus, emergency measures should be seen as a step towards long-term development.”

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

Common African Position (CAP). Courtsey of the African Union Commission

For its part, Guiding Principle 10 stresses, “Economic growth and sustainable development are essential for prevention of and preparedness against natural disasters and other emergencies. Many emergencies reflect the underlying crisis in development facing developing countries.

“Humanitarian assistance should therefore be accompanied by a renewal of commitment to economic growth and sustainable development of developing countries,” it adds. ”In this context, adequate resources must be made available to address their development problems.”

“Contributions for humanitarian assistance should be provided in a way which is not to the detriment of resources made available for international cooperation for development,” says Guiding Principle 11.

Obalisi then recalled “When you look at the Common African Position (CAP) [on the post 2015 development agenda], you find  that the first pillar speaks to the privacy of the state; all the other 9 pillar speak the same in one form or another.”

Africa will be calling on itself to be able to deliver more on resources and allocate more resources to humanitarian action, he added. “This is because it is mindful of the fact that the resource portals are dwindling from the north.”

Asked what are the outcomes that Africa would most expect from the WHS, Olabisi said that Africa expects the guarantee that international humanitarian system will be reconfigured to conform with new demands and address the issues faced by the humanitarian system at the moment – one of the main outcome the Summit will deliver.

“Africa is making these commitments to itself-due to the non-binding nature of the summit. The commitments Africa has made go beyond the WHS whether the summit is binding or not it will not affect what Africa is committed to, in its own self-interest and this is one of the key recommendations we will be taking to WHS.”

He stressed that Africa’s commitments are not to the WHS but the Summit “gives us an opportunity to discuss a paradigm shift in terms of the way we do things in the humanitarian field in Africa and also to see that we can positively add to the mitigation and alleviation of the sufferings of our people when disasters and displacements occur.”

“One of the key things to note is that Africa will go ahead with its own commitments, “our resolve to come up with something that is workable, pragmatic, and something that will make us see ourselves in a light that puts us in a position to help ourselves despite the grand bargain on Africa being shut out of the whole system,” Olabisi emphasised.

“Africa however is resolved to begin addressing its own problems using African solutions to African problems.“

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A Teacher Has Been Taught His Lesson! Sun, 22 May 2016 14:11:35 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
May 22 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Greek historian Herodotus, living in the fifth century, couldn’t have known in advance that a headmaster was going to be humiliated in Narayanganj on the second Friday of May 2016. But when he said that men trusted their ears more than their eyes, it set the standard of mob justice for all time to come. Those who’ve watched the disgusting video of that outrageous incident couldn’t believe their eyes while ears burned with shame. The headmaster was doing earholding sit-ups while an all-daddy lawmaker wagged his finger, keeping count. When the exhausted and embarrassed victim fell on the floor after the third time, he was pulled up to stand on his feet. Then like a mechanical toy, the poor man was made to raise his folded hands to his forehead asking for forgiveness before a hysterical crowd.

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Most people who had gathered at the scene had trusted ears more than eyes. Most of them had come to witness the punishment for a crime they had not witnessed. Mob justice is always swayed not by proof but by provocation.

The foreign media touted it as yet another instance of minority persecution. The teacher being a Hindu man has largely contributed to that apprehension, particularly when religious sentiments are being deployed to do dirty work for devious minds. What happened in Narayanganj was a low-down showdown, when powerful people exploited holy sentiments to settle an unholy score. The family of the student, who was disciplined by that teacher, may have pulled the strings to get even with him. The influential school committee members also saw an opportunity to get rid of him.

The teacher was allegedly roughed up by the unruly mob before the circus that followed. As far as this victim is concerned, he was already humiliated before the humiliation was recorded on video. The rest of us in this country have been humiliated afterwards. We have been humiliated when the authorities sat on their hands, despite so many outcries across the country, when nothing happened after a number of ministers condemned the act. The final humiliation came for everyone in the final blow of cruelty after the school committee, instead of being repentant and apologetic, went ahead to sack the headmaster.

I would like to plead with this teacher to take comfort in the fact that while he bore the physical brunt of the humiliation, the sensible people of this country have felt the shame. And I ask him not to think he was targeted for his professional or religious denomination. We all live in a country, where the powerful have sadly and perversely taken the powerless for granted.

I can assure him that in any civilised country, the lawmaker would have been arrested, the Parliament would have condemned their rowdy colleague, and the state would have rushed to the protection of the victim and his job. Since none of these has happened until now, he is free to draw his own conclusion. I recommend he should consider this as an option. He should think as if wild animals have badly mauled him in a dangerous jungle.

In shame and despair, human chains around the country had people holding their own ears. It was symbolic, of course, a gesture to express solidarity with the victim and indignation for his embarrassment. One of the limitations of human condition is that it’s confined to its own limitations. After initial reactions, this entire episode is either going to taper off or will be forgotten soon.

What will persist is the horror that, in future, will haunt every teacher in every school of this country. Teachers will think twice before taking a student to task, or grading papers, or even assigning homework. They will feel nervous to lance with the school committees, lest their intentions will be taken out of context and brutalised. After all, why should anybody risk their safety and honour if doing a job well should cost them both?

This isn’t to rule out the possibility that the headmaster in Narayanganj could have said or done anything wrong. But the public humiliation of a teacher has mislaid the moral compass, because more than a man was harassed on that day. An entire institution was stripped of its honour, its glory mocked as if neighbourhood kids taunted a raving madman.

Alexander the Great said he owed his living to his father and his life to his teacher. We grew up ingesting that same value, respecting teachers no less than parents because we knew and still know it for a fact that they’ve largely made us who we’re. The lawmaker in Narayanganj must be holding repressed anger against his teachers. The sit-ups could be a Freudian slip to do unto them what they may have done unto him!

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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‘We Cannot Keep Jumping from Crisis to Crisis’ Fri, 20 May 2016 15:04:51 +0000 Baher Kamal Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Chief Development Strategist, visits an IFAD-funded program in Guatemala’s Verapaces region, Arminda Cruz. The micro-irrigation project is improving the livelihoods and food security of thousands of smallholder farmers, especially women, in the country. Credit: IFAD

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 20 2016 (IPS)

“We cannot keep jumping from crisis to crisis. We have to invest in long-term development that helps people cope with shocks so that they can continue to grow enough food for their communities and not require emergency aid.”

With this clear warning, Josefina Stubbs, Chief Strategist of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), has just launched a strong message for leaders who will gather at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey next week.

Recalling that more than 60 million people across the world are reeling from the drought caused by the weather phenomenon known as El Niño, Stubbs warns, “The demand for emergency assistance cannot keep up with the supply.”

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Climate change is causing more extreme weather events and natural disasters resulting in an average displacement of 22.5 million people a year – equivalent to 62,000 people every day, says IFAD.

This movement of people can lead to local and regional instability. And when people are pushed away from rural areas and farming, it can threaten the food security of entire countries, it adds.

“Poor people in developing countries are disproportionately affected by disasters because they do not have the resources to cope with the impacts and bounce back,” says IFAD’s Associate Vice-President and Chief Strategist.

People Are Not waiting for Hand-Outs

“These people are not waiting for hand-outs. They are looking for opportunities to keep earning incomes even in the face of disasters. Our focus should be on creating these opportunities.”

The current El Niño drought has had a catastrophic effect on crops around the world causing almost 32 million people in southern Africa alone to go hungry.

“This number is expected to rise to 49 million by the end of the year. The UN estimates that at least 3.6 billion dollars is required to meet emergency needs resulting from this drought. Less than half of this has been provided.”

Ethiopia is the worst hit in Africa, with 75 per cent of its harvests lost and emergency food assistance required for at least ten million people. IFAD has been working with small-scale farmers in the country for more than a decade to make them more resilient to the impacts of drought.

With investments in irrigation, water-harvesting techniques and early warning systems, and training in sustainable water usage, none of these communities have required any food aid during the current drought, says this UN agency, which since 1978 has provided about 17.7 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached some 459 million people.

“At IFAD we have seen that building resilience to disasters does work and saves communities from suffering,” says Stubbs. “But there has to be a global commitment to invest in long-term development.”

Changing Climate, Scarcity of Natural Resources

“The changing climate and the increasing scarcity of natural resources are also impacting the already precarious situation of the estimated 60 million people who have been forcibly displaced by conflict.”

Long-term investments are urgently needed to stimulate the economies of the rural areas of host countries where the majority of refugees live.

IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialised United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub. It invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience.

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit takes place on 23 and 24 May and originates from a growing concern about the protracted nature of recent humanitarian crises and the limited capacity of the global community to respond to them.

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Credit: International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD

Some 6,000 world leaders and humanitarian and development agencies will gather in Istanbul to make commitments to help countries better prepare for and respond to crises.

“Human suffering from the impacts of armed conflicts and disasters has reached staggering levels,” the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, portrayed the current humanitarian drama, explaining why the UN has decided to hold the WHS.

For his part, in an interview to IPS, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), Stephen O’Brien, said “Every humanitarian crisis is inherently unique and context-specific.”

“However, taken together, there are 125 million people in need of aid in the world today as a result of conflicts and natural disasters and over 60 million people have been forcibly displaced. These are the highest numbers we have on record since WWII,” O’Brien told IPS.

It is not about one humanitarian crisis, but multiple crises happening at the same time, from the crisis in Syria and the region to the impact of El Niño, which currently affects 60 million people in the world, O’Brien said.

Herve Verhoosel, WHS spokesperson, wrote in an editorial for IPS “We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.”

More than 20 billion dollars is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030,” Verhoosel stressed.

Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before, he wrote, and added, “The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters.”

“We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.”

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Now 1 in 2 World’s Refugees Live in Urban Areas Thu, 19 May 2016 12:49:22 +0000 Baher Kamal A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

A view of an IDP camp in Al-Jamea, Baghdad, where 97 families from Anbar Governorate have found temporary shelter. Photo: ©UNICEF Iraq/2015/Khuzaie

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 19 2016 (IPS)

It is true that millions of refugees, especially in Africa and the Middle East, reside in camps. But in all they represent only one-quarter of the total number of refugees.

Meanwhile, more than 1 in 2 of all the world’s refugees live in slums or in informal settlements and on the fringes of cities, in overcrowded neighbourhoods and in areas prone to flooding, sanitation hazards and diseases.

These are some of the facts that United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson has just revealed basing on data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“More than half of the world’s refugees live in urban areas, and often in fragile cities with high levels of inequality,” Eliasson warned at a high-level event on ‘Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants: Critical Challenges for Sustainable Urbanization’ held on May 18 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson. CREDIT: UN

“Every day, millions of refugee children are unable to attend school. Every day, the dignity and well-being of millions of people is compromised due to lack of basic services and job opportunities.”

The drama of millions of refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced persons, and migrants will be top on the agenda of the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey.

According to Eliasson, among the issues that must be addressed include the causes of forced displacement; the safety of migrants and refugees as they cross international borders; and support for host countries to integrate newcomers into their communities.

Who Assists Urban Refugees?

The point is that while most of the humanitarian assistance goes to refugees living in camps, the ‘urban refugees’ are largely overlooked, he said.

Eliasson highlighted that in 2009, UNHCR changed its policy and practice towards refugees in cities and towns, and is now working closely with national authorities, municipalities and local communities and authorities to protect urban refugees, respecting their refugee status.

In the same vein, he said that the report of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, prepared for a summit on refugees and migrants being convened by the General Assembly on 19 September, draws attention to the important role of local authorities, which are at the forefront in providing refugees access to housing, education, health care and employment.

“We should bear in mind that refugees and [internally displaced persons] IDPs often are just a small proportion of those who are swelling the ranks of cities, while the speed of urbanization is getting faster,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

He noted that it is also important to remember that, even if cities struggle to accommodate large flows of migrants, they also largely benefit from their presence and work, since in many countries in the world, immigrants often take up low-paying jobs and provide services in areas like domestic work, agricultural labour and home care.

No Signs The Flow of Refugees Will Diminish Any Time Soon

“As migrants and refugees continue to arrive – and there are no signs that these flows will diminish any time soon – we must resolve to uphold and implement the principle of every human being’s equal value,” Eliasson stressed. “This is a fundamental human right, never to be compromised.”

The international community, for its part, must be concerned about political rhetoric that stigmatises refugees and migrants, and do “everything possible to counter this false and negative narrative,” the Deputy Secretary-General said.

“We must dispel the myths about migrants and migration which tend to poison the public discourse,” he added.

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo.  CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

Makeshift shelters and new tents at the new arrivals section of IFO camp, Kenya. file photo. CREDIT: UNHCR/E.Hockstein

A Half-Billion-Dollar Shortfall in Funds

On the same day, May 18, UNHCR) warned that half a billion dollar shortfall in funds for sheltering refugees is severely undermining efforts to tackle the biggest global displacement crisis since World War II, as it launched a new campaign that calls on the private sector to contribute funds for shelter solutions for two million refugees.

“Shelter is the foundation stone for refugees to survive and recover, and should be considered a non-negotiable human right,” stressed Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“As we tackle worldwide displacement on a level not seen since World War II, no refugee should be left outside,” he added.

The Nobody Left Outside campaign is aimed at individuals, companies, foundations and philanthropists worldwide.

At the launch of the campaign, UNHCR underscored that forced displacement, most of it arising from war and conflict, has risen sharply in the past decade, largely as a result of the Syria crisis, but also due to a proliferation of new displacement situations and unresolved old ones.

Worldwide, some 60 million people are forcibly displaced today, the agency said. Of that figure, almost 20 million people are refugees who have been forced to flee across international borders, while the rest are people displaced within their own countries.

“A shelter – be it a tent, a makeshift structure or a house – is the basic building block for refugees to survive and recover from the physical and mental effects of violence and persecution,” UNHCR emphasised.

“Yet around the world, millions are struggling to get by in inadequate and often dangerous dwellings, barely able to pay the rent, and putting their lives, dignity and futures at risk.”

The campaign aims to raise funds from the private sector to build or improve shelter for 2 million refugees by 2018, amounting to almost one in eight of the 15.1 million under UNHCR’s remit in mid-2015. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) cares for the remaining Palestinian refugees.

Millions of Homeless

“Without a safe place to eat, sleep, study, store belongings and have privacy, the consequences to their health and welfare can be profound.”

The UN refugee agency emphasised that as it continues to face high levels of shelter needs and with limited funding available, operations often face the difficult decision to prioritise emergency shelter for the maximum number of people of concern, over an investment in more durable and sustainable solutions.

Outside of camps, refugees rely on UNHCR support to find housing and pay rent in towns and cities across dozens of countries bordering conflict zones.

These operations are expected to cost 724 million dollars in 2016. Yet only 158 million is currently available, a shortfall that threatens to leave millions of men, women and children without adequate shelter and struggling to rebuild their lives.

UNHCR noted that the private sector is one of its increasingly important donor sources, contributing more than 8 per cent of its overall funding in 2015.

According to UNHCR, the regions most in need of assistance are sub-Saharan Africa (255 million dollars needed but only 48 million dollars available) and the Middle East and North Africa (373 million dollars needed, 91 million available).

Asia requires 59 million dollars, with only 8 million available, while Europe requires more help (36 million dollars needed, 10 million available) as the influx of refugees continues.

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‘Human Suffering Has Reached Staggering Levels’ Tue, 17 May 2016 11:05:10 +0000 Baher Kamal Stephen O’Brien during a visit to Yemen, Faj Attan neighbourhood of Sana'a. Credit: OCHA /Philippe Kropf

Stephen O’Brien during a visit to Yemen, Faj Attan neighbourhood of Sana'a. Credit: OCHA /Philippe Kropf

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 17 2016 (IPS)

“Human suffering from the impacts of armed conflicts and disasters has reached staggering levels.”

With these one dozen or few words, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, briefly but sharply portrayed the current humanitarian drama, explaining why the UN has decided to hold the first ever World Humanitarian Summit on May 23-24 this year in Istanbul, Turkey.

Secretary General Ban documented his statement with specific figures: nearly 60 million people, half of them children, have been forced from their homes due to conflict and violence.

As if this was not enough, the UN chief talked about another man-made tragedy: “The human and economic cost of disasters caused by natural hazards is also escalating. In the last two decades, 218 million people each year were affected by disasters; at an annual cost to the global economy that now exceeds 300 billion dollars.”

Based on these and other facts, experts and UN high officials labelled the on-going, growing human drama, as the “worst humanitarian crisis since World War II”.

How to face this unprecedented human and humanitarian challenge will be the task of around 6,000 delegates expected to attend this World Humanitarian Summit.

Stephen O’Brian, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affair. Credit: UN Multimedia

Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affair. Credit: UN Multimedia

IPS asks the Tanzania-born, British politician and diplomat Stephen O’Brien, who since March this year is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA), taking over from Valerie Amos, also British.

“Every humanitarian crisis is inherently unique and context-specific,” O’Brien responded to IPS in an interview. “However, taken together, there are 125 million people in need of aid in the world today as a result of conflicts and natural disasters and over 60 million people have been forcibly displaced. These are the highest numbers we have on record since WWII.”

According to O’Brien, it is clear that the landscape of humanitarian action has changed significantly over the past years and “collectively we have not been able to adequately keep up with and respond to contemporary challenges.”

The UN Under Secretary General then explains to IPS that it is not about one humanitarian crisis, but multiple crises happening at the same time, from the crisis in Syria and the region to the impact of El Niño, which currently affects 60 million people in the world.

And that the humanitarian needs have grown exponentially while the resources have not been able to follow suit which has created an ever-widening gap.

O’Brien who does not want to take questions prior to the World Humanitarian Summit on the expected specific outcomes of the Summit.

But he says it is a unique opportunity to sustain the momentum for change generated over three years of global consultations with key stakeholders and send a message of solidarity and support to the millions in need of life-saving and life-sustaining assistance.

“We expect key commitments from world leaders to meaningfully act to prevent, prepare for and mitigate the effects of conflict, natural disasters, displacement and other causes of need and move forward on issues such as timely and adequate funding of humanitarian work,” he says.

The interview then comes to another on-going and expected to rapidly grow huge humanitarian crisis—that of the known “climate refugees.”

For the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the consequences of climate change are “enormous”. Scarce natural resources such as drinking water are likely to become even more limited, it says.

And adds that many crops and some livestock are unlikely to survive in certain locations if conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet. Food security, already a significant concern, will become even more challenging.

Recent reports cited by UNHCR indicate that 22 million people were displaced in 2013 by disasters brought on by natural hazard events. And as in previous years, the worst affected region is Asia, where 19 million people, or 87.1 per cent of the global total, were displaced during the year.

That was the situation as far back as three years ago. The numbers have certainly dramatically increased.

People will have to try and adapt to this situation, but for many this will mean a conscious move to another place to survive. Such moves, or the adverse effects that climate change may have on natural resources, may spark conflict with other communities, as an increasing number of people compete for a decreasing amount of resources, says UNHCR.

IPS asks O’Brien about this phenomena and the expected number of climate refugees in the near future.

“In the Secretary-General’s Report One Humanity: Shared Responsibility, he highlights the increased disaster risk fuelled by climate change. As previous crises have shown, each crisis is different, unpredictable and context-specific and may trigger displacement and increased migration. OCHA is however not in a position to speculate or provide estimates in any hypothetical scenario,” he says.

According to O’Brien what is clear is that “we need to break through existing silos to collaboratively work together, anticipate rather than wait for crises to hit, transcend the humanitarian-development divide by working towards collective outcomes, invest more on risk and leverage on available technology and best practices.”

Then IPS asks the UN Under Secretary General if he expects from the Istanbul Summit an effective, immediate implementation of the decisions/recommendations that will be taken there. In other words, if he thinks there is now enough, solid political will to face the humanitarian crisis?

O’Brien states: “A core aim of the summit is the reinvigoration of political will and commitment to take forward the Agenda for Humanity.” And adds “The Summit is a launch pad at the highest level: but what is even more important will be a commitment to follow up and make these actions a reality.”

He also says that UN member States and other stakeholders making commitments during the Summit will be asked to update on progress against their implementation. “Follow-up at the inter-governmental level will begin with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Humanitarian Affairs Segment.

O’Brien adds that the UN Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly will address how each of the core responsibilities will be carried forward and will define the vehicles for assessing progress.

Back to the Istanbul Summit and its expected decisions/recommendations, IPS asks O’Brien if he thinks they may impact the current humanitarian funding in the sense of putting all current, available funds in just one basket, thus giving the same sum total, which is considered short, or new, additional funding?

The UN Under Secretary General responds: ”Existing humanitarian funding generally takes the form of short-term grants even when responses continue for years on end. This can result to fragmentation between all actors and specifically, it can incentivise humanitarian and development actors to operate in isolation.”

Asked to further elaborate, O’Brien states “It is clear that incoherent and inflexible financial structures, which are not equitable nor based on risk analysis are detrimental towards achieving long-term results.

“At the first instance, investment in humanity must of course be increased, says O’Brien.

“However, the aim is also for all actors to commit to financing collective outcomes rather than individual projects and to do so in a manner that is flexible, nimble and predictable over multiple years so that actors can plan and work towards achieving collective outcomes in a sustainable manner and adapt to changing risk levels and needs in a particular context.”

The pooled fund mechanism – both at global level through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and at country level where various funds exist – is one tried and tested mechanism for flexible and readily available funding, concludes O’Brien.

The CERF was the first concrete outcome of the UN Secretary-General’s reform process and the Millennium Summit. It was launched on 9 March 2006 and represents an important international multilateral funding instrument.

“It saves lives by providing rapid initial funding for life-saving assistance at the onset of humanitarian crises, and critical support for poorly funded, essential humanitarian response operations. Each year, CERF allocates approximately US$400 million.”

CERF has three objectives: to promote early and coordinated action and response to save lives; to enhance response to time-crucial requirements based on demonstrable needs, and to strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crises.

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The Real Heresy of London’s New Mayor Is that He Is a Liverpool Fan? Mon, 16 May 2016 14:56:36 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, May 16 2016 (IPS)

Sadiq Khan is not just the new mayor of London, but happens to have individually won more votes than any other politician in British history.

Prime ministers and members of Parliament run in their home districts, where the total number of ballots are fewer.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

Municipal elections don’t always draw global interest, but London is London, and what the world’s pundits and media has said, and as a result what the bulk of public opinion has heard, is that Mr. Khan is a Muslim, born to a family whose ancestral roots are in Pakistan. The general reaction to a Muslim mayor of London is, thankfully, one of praise for the city’s cosmopolitan spirit and tolerance. Abroad, the tone has been one of great respect, with a few spoonfuls of feigned envy.

Other points could have been made about a vote in which the Labour Party, which last won the general elections 11 years ago, dislodged the Conservatives in the U.K.’s largest city. There’s plenty to muse over the fact that Mr. Khan does not appear entirely on the same page as Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s new national leader. And then there’s the detail about how Mr. Khan grew up in council housing to parents who worked as a bus driver and a seamstress, went on to become a lawyer and a member of Parliament, and whose victory speech included the assertion that: “I want every single Londoner to get the opportunities that our city gave to me and my family.”

Or there are the photographs, now viral and appearing in the Times of India, of Mr. Khan visiting the Shri Swaminarayan temple in Neasden, wearing a flower garland and with a red bindi dot on his forehead. How frequent are such interdenominational visits in the rest of the world?

On top of that, Mr. Khan voted for the Same-Sex Marriage act, for which he was subject to menacing fatwas from local Islamic clergy. As noted by an editorial in Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest newspaper: “The plain truth is that Sadiq Khan would not have survived in Pakistan, not as a Muslim and not as a non-Muslim.”

Why, in short, does it even register what faith London’s new mayor may profess? One might add that saying “Muslim” is not very informative, given the multiplicity of interpretation of Islam.

Perhaps it should be made standard practice to emphatically mention the religions adhered to by all public figures. That could get difficult. Was Spinoza, the philosopher, a Jew? It’s widely said he was but he was excommunicated in no uncertain terms. Or what about George W. Bush? He was brought up Episcopal but converted to Methodism – does that explain some of his political views? Or Angela Merkel, the one major politician to have openly declared that she is an atheist. Should that adjective be mentioned every time she is?

While such identity tags may carry useful information, they are all divisive by nature. That may be important, as many wars have been fought in the name of religion. But Mr. Khan doesn’t seem interested in fighting any such battles.

And he was baited, notably by the billionaire Conservative candidate he battled, Zac Goldsmith, whose campaign sought out “Hindu-sounding surnames” for a direct-mail effort aimed at sparking fear of Islam. Some say Zac is Jewish, although his mother was an Anglo-Irish aristocrat. Other politicians have mentioned their religion; Ed Miliband said he wanted to be Britain’s first Jewish prime minister. Others say he can’t, as Benjamin Disraeli held the post in the 19th century. Disraeli, however, was a baptized and practising Anglican. More importantly, Miliband didn’t become prime minister at all.

There is a feel-good sentiment for many when someone from a minority group wins an election. The U.S. media duly noted recently when elections in Hawaii sent Mazie Hironi, a Japanese-born woman who practises the Jodo Shinshu strand of Buddhism, to the Senate and Tulsi Gabbard, to Congress. Gabbard, born to a Samoan Catholic father , a veteran who served in Iraq, practises Hinduism, a religion to which her mother converted. Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh men have held elected office in Washington for more than half a century.

It’s probably mostly benign in intent, spun by the chattering class in hopes of sounding modern and convincing the indigenous masses to get with the program. But maybe not. Consider Barack Obama, who is identified far more by the colour of his absent father’s skin than his Kansas-born mother’s. His religion is regularly called into question, along with his birth certificate and anything his adversaries can latch onto.

Hailing Mr. Khan’s Islamic faith may begin as well-meaning but degrades over time into something more sinister. IPS’ founder Roberto Savio recently wrote an eloquent warning of how Islamophobia is used as a political tool. His point is that it is a proxy for xenophobia, an old propaganda trick. But that’s just it: London’s new mayor is guilty of numerous offences he’s a Liverpool fan, for example, and admits that some of his campaign staff had been born in Yorkshire – but he is not a foreigner.

Immigration exists, and is obviously on people’s minds, not only in the affluent West. But it is rarely religion that is the worry; language barriers, unemployment and other forces – including kinship networks are more likely the reason for confusion and fear. Indeed, the U.K. Electoral Commission published a report in 2015 looking at why some communities – Pakistani and Bangladeshi in particular – might be vulnerable to electoral fraud due to internal patriarchal cultural patterns. Such situations are cause for concern, but instead of coded dog-whistling to stoke individual and collective phobias – one case in London involved a very prominent conservative intentionally failing to distinguish between “Islamic state” and “an Islamic state” — public chastising of those who seek to exploit them are in order.

That’s especially the case with highly multicultural populations, and not just in London. Hamtramck, a township near Detroit, Michigan, used to be 90% Polish and as of this year has a majority-Muslim city council – with stronger policing being high on the municipal wish list. But the population no longer has a dominant ethnicity, with the two largest groups, Bangladeshis and Yemenis, accounting for less than half the formerly dominant Poles once did and more than 30 languages are spoken in local schools. The Muslim call to prayer is broadcast from public loudspeakers, but that decision was made almost 15 years ago in a unanimous vote after a compromise was reached on when the noise could be made.

It was another politician from a faraway state– of Asian origin, for the record – who referred to the town as a hotbed of radicalism that other faraway people fear.

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Middle East – The Mother of All Humanitarian Crises Mon, 16 May 2016 13:15:00 +0000 Baher Kamal In March 2016, a mother walks through misty weather with her two sons along train tracks in Idomeni, Greece. Credit: ©UNICEF/UN012794/Georgie

In March 2016, a mother walks through misty weather with her two sons along train tracks in Idomeni, Greece. Credit: ©UNICEF/UN012794/Georgie

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 16 2016 (IPS)

When, in March 2015, delegates from the Middle East met in Amman for their regional consultations round in preparation for the May 23-24 World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, most likely what they had in mind is the fact that their region was –and still is– the dramatic set of “the mother of all humanitarian crises.”

Nevertheless, as a sort of reminder, the United Nations told them again: “millions of people, from Libya to Palestine, from Yemen to Syria and Iraq, have had their lives completely overturned by violence.”

They were also reminded that the huge numbers of people affected by conflict, violence and displacement did little to convey the real trauma experienced.

The Facts

The United Nations reported “more people are displaced by conflict than at any time since 1945.” Figures are self-explanatory. There are currently an estimated total of 60 million forcibly displaced people –either at home or abroad— across the globe.

Of these:

— 5 million Palestinian refugees are still dispersed mostly in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA);

— 1,5 million people are practically besieged in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, in a permanent humanitarian crisis;

— 4 million Syrian civilians so far had to flee war as refugees seeking safety in the region and in Europe, as an immediate consequence of the Syrian five-year long conflict, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimates;

— 1 million Syrians have been forcibly displaced from their homes in their own country, according to the United Nations;

— 1 million Libyans are victims of uncontrolled armed fights in their own, unstable state. “There is alarming information coming from Libya about grave acts that could amount to war crimes,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon warned on 6 March 2016;

— 5 million Iraqis have been sentenced to the condition of being either refugees abroad or ‘refugees’ at home. Already in July 2015, the top UN humanitarian official in Iraq declared as “devastating” the closure of life-saving services in Iraq for people in need, citing the most recent shut-downs of basic health care will directly impact more than one million people, including some 500,000 children who now will not be immunised, spreading risk of a measles outbreak and resumption of polio;

— 1 million Syrian refugees live in Lebanon. The UN reported six months ago that some 70 per cent of these refugees were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon;

— 2 million civilian Yemenis fled to even another war long-hit country–Somalia as result of the on-going armed conflict. More than 15.2 million Yemenis lack access to health care services, well over half the war-torn country’s total population, yet there is a 55 per cent gap in requested international funding to address the crisis, according to the World Health Organisation.

Born into conflict: Every two seconds, a child takes his or her first breath in a conflict zone. Credit: © UNICEF/UN04038/Gilbertson VII

Born into conflict: Every two seconds, a child takes his or her first breath in a conflict zone. Credit: © UNICEF/UN04038/Gilbertson VII

In other words—the Middle East is both the origin of and/or home to 1 in 3 refugees and displaced persons in the whole world.

These major figures refer to the known as ‘traditional’ Middle East region, comprising 22 Arab countries and Israel.

The data go much further when it comes to the so-called “Greater Middle East”, which also include armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The extended region would be in this case origin and home to additional 10 million refugees and displaced persons, this making nearly half of their total numbers all over the planet.

The Ira of Nature

But not only wars and conflicts hit the Middle East–natural disasters do more damage, last longer, and in many places recur before people have even had a chance to recover, according to the United Nations.

So, while all the above is a consequence of armed conflicts, there are other dramatic facts the make of the Middle East ‘the mother of all humanitarian crises’.

Just some examples:

— The Middle East risks to become an ‘uninhabitable’ region due to the impact of climate change

— 2 in 3 Arab countries already suffer from acute water shortage, while the remaining third is considered water unsafe nations;

— The United Nations predicts 40 per cent water shortfall by 2030. The Middle East is expected to be one of the most impacted.

In short, a whole region of nearly 400 million people is already victim of man-made disasters, be these wars and violence or simply the expected response of nature.

“We see it, we live it,…”

The Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit will focus on five key areas: to prevent and end conflict; to respect the rules of war; to leave no one behind; to work differently to end need, and to invest in humanity.

When announcing the Summit, top UN officials, headed by the secretary general Ban Ki-moon, have repeatedly warned that the world is living the worst ever-humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit, recently wrote in IPS “We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two.”

“We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades,” Verhoosel said.

This makes a total of 400 million victims, the equivalent to some 80 per cent of the entire European population.

Verhoosel gave specific figures: more than 20 billion dollars are needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts.

“Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.”

The situation has hit home, Verhoosel said. “We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards.”

“We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.”


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Europe’s Regression Thu, 12 May 2016 17:47:05 +0000 Mahir Ali By Mahir Ali
May 12 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

In a speech marking Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, the Israeli army`s deputy chief of staff offered his compatriots an uncomfortable reminder.

`If there`s something that frightens me about Holocaust remembrance,` Maj-Gen Yair Golan noted, `it`s the recognition of the revolting processes that occurred in Europe in general, and particularly in Germany, back then 70, 80 and 90 years ago and finding signs of them here among us today in 2016.

He added: `There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate. There is nothing easier than to behave like an animal and to act sanctimoniously.` Golan`s intervention stirred a predictable response in Israel: there was some support for his words, but it was almost drowned out by vituperative, and occasionally hysterical, condemnation. Inevitably, some have demanded his dismissal.

For all that, drawing parallels between the European mindset that facilitated the Holocaust and current trends in Israeli society is a somewhat less fraught enterprise in Israel today than it is across much of Europe; more than one commentator has noted, for instance, that had Golan been a member of the British Labour Party, his comments would have warranted his immediate suspension.

It is not just Israel, though, that should be alert to the echoes of the 1920s-30s. The political processes unfolding in Europe a combination of economic despair and a rising tide of xenophobia ought to be ringing far more alarm bells than has thus far been the case.

The series of profoundly worrying developments continued last month with the far-right Austrian Freedom Party`s Norbert Hofer taking the lead in the first round of his country`s presidential election. The sense of impending crisis was exacerbated on Monday by the unexpected resignation of the country`s social democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann.

Post-war Austria has hitherto elected only mainstream conservative or social democratic presidents. For the first time, neither of those parties is in contention: on May 22, Hofer faces a run-off against Alexander Van der Bellen, a former Green running as an independent. The presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but with potential political powers that Hofer has vowed to exercise.

In Germany, meanwhile, the relatively new Alternative fur Deutschland party, which demonstrated its growing popular appeal in three state elections in March, has adopted an explicitly anti-Muslim platform. Its leader, Frauke Petry, has in the past suggested that German border guards should be permitted to shoot refugees. It is complemented by the Pegida movement, which tends to demonstrate its power on the streets.

A refusal to perceive in these phenomena echoes of the Nazi past would require a remarkable blindness to recent history. To their credit, plenty of Germans seem to be well aware of this, and mobilisations by the far right frequently attract counter-demonstrators in far larger numbers. That rarely occurs to the east of Germany, however, and much of the greatest cause for alarm emanates from nations where the extreme right is either already in power or thrives on state backing.

The administration of Viktor Orban in Hungary offers perhaps the worst instance of neo-fascist tendencies, and it thrives on the support of the racist Jobbik party, which won more than 20pc of the vote in the 2014 general election. Orban shares the view of his Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico, Europe must defend its `Christian heritage`. Fico is ostensibly a social democrat, but on crucial issues his views coincide with those of Marian Kotleba, the leader of People`s Party-Our Slovalcia, who until recently paraded about in a Nazi-era uniform.

In Poland, authoritarian tendencies are on the rise under the ruling Law and Justice Party, whose leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has accused refugees of bringing `cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna`. Similar rhetoric is increasingly common throughout the continent. From France to Russia, there is hardly a country in Europe that does not register growing support for organised right-wing extremism, all too often with mainstream conservative and social democratic parties not least François Hollande’s Socialists and hitherto progressive parties across Scandinavia shamelessly pandering to xenophobia and other deleterious tendencies.

Last year`s massive refugee influx is obviously a key factor behind this trend, as are the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, not to mention the appalling criminal assaults in Cologne on New Year`s Eve. Let`s not forget, though, that extremist tendencies manifested themselves much earlier in 21st-century Europe: the Austrian Freedom Party entered government as a coalition partner at the turn of the century.

Although many of the far-right parties include a distaste for the European Union in their smorgasbord of pet hates, which feature the Roma people, Jews, Muslims and especially Muslim refugees, no coherent response can be expected from Brussels.

Continued failure to learn from its history may well condemn Europe to repeating it in the years ahead.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Unity Over Division Thu, 12 May 2016 17:26:32 +0000 Amitava Kar Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with his supporters. PHOTO: AFP

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, with his supporters. PHOTO: AFP

By Amitava Kar
May 12 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Sadiq Khan’s strength is that he exemplifies the city he is set to run as its mayor. “I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,” he said in a recent interview with The New York Times. He was born in South London, to immigrants from Pakistan, and grew up in a public-housing project. His father drove a bus, and his mother was a seamstress.

While his Conservative opponent Zac Goldsmith was busy exploiting racial and cultural stereotypes about Muslims through a dog whistle campaign, Sadiq’s campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues like the cost of housing and transportation. In the end, the nasty campaign of Goldsmith hit a solid wall and Londoners told him to get lost. There is a limit to how far bigotry can go to win popular votes. In his acceptance speech, Khan said that he was “proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division.”

The 45-year-old new mayor has enough credentials for the job. A human rights lawyer by profession, he was elected to Parliament in 2005, appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary Communities and Local Government in 2008, and Secretary of State for Transport—a cabinet position—in 2009 under Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Sadiq has taken a hot seat. To run a city with an acute shortage of affordable homes and a creaking, overcrowded mass transit network is by no means going to be easy. And unlike his counterparts in the US and Europe, the amount of hands-on power that he will enjoy is limited.

He has a lot of great ideas about how to provide more affordable housing to low-income people but any major decision needs the approval of the central government. When he needs extra money above an annual budget of $24.5 billion for more police or an expansion of the city’s railway, he has to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Conservative who may be reluctant to pay for Labour ideas.

Would he be a successful mayor? Well, strong convictions precede great actions. He has promising plans to improve residents’ skills and speed up the construction of a new underground railway that will run from London’s south-west to its north-east. Most excitingly, he wants to expand the power and scope of mayoralty—puny in comparison with its New York equivalent—pledging to lobby for new tax-raising abilities.

His pro-business programme is also interesting. It seems to be more about what firms can do for the city – things like building infrastructure and houses, raising wages and giving policy advice -than what the mayor can do for firms. And the best thing going for him, by all accounts, is that he is an efficient and likeable manager, aware of his weaknesses and open to new ideas.

Sadiq’s victory sends a powerful message to bigots everywhere. That religious prejudice might be real but it is ultimately a losing proposition. That the kind of divisive strategy that has so far worked for the Donald in the US is unlikely to be a formula for winning elections everywhere.

And it wasn’t for former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. When he started playing the anti-Muslim card as he sought re-election last year, he was trounced by his opponent Justin Trudeau who ran a more inclusive campaign. Like most Londoners, Canadians made it clear that there is no place for religious bigotry in their secular societies.

The calm, unyielding yet racially and religiously inclusive campaign of Sadiq Khan has come to symbolise all that is most impressive about London: its diversity. About a quarter of its residents are foreign-born, and one-eighth Muslim. But he is not the first Muslim to hold important office in Europe. Sajid Javid is the British Secretary of State for business, a cabinet rank. Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has had a Morocco-born Muslim mayor since 2009. Across Britain many councilors – typically in the Labour party – and 13 MPs are Muslim.

The win, which garnered more than 1.3 million votes, reaffirms London’s multicultural image at a time when Europe’s anti-immigration parties have been making inroads in recent months, fuelled by rising public fears following the attacks in Brussels and Paris. Lord Hain, a former Labour cabinet minister, said, “In the dominant British city, probably the most important city in the world, to have a Muslim mayor is an important statement.”

And yet the fact remains – many of those who demand that Muslims in the West prove their fidelity to secular values have not yet begun to internalise these values themselves.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The writer is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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A Women`s Jirga Thu, 12 May 2016 10:18:52 +0000 Rafia Zakaria By Rafia Zakaria
May 12 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

When interviewed by Reuters, Zardad Khan, from the village of Makol to which 16-year-old Ambreen belonged, said, `This barbarity has never happened before.` The teenager was killed, her body put in a van and burned.

His words may be true for the village of Makol but not for Pakistan in general. Over recent decades, village after village and, in particular, jirga after jirga, has been implicated in ordering murders and even rapes of women under the pretext of preserving `honour`. Over a decade ago was the famous case of Mukhtaran Mai, ordered raped and humiliated in Meerwala. More recently, a tribal jirga in Kohistan condemned four women because they were seen clapping and singing apparently in the company of men in a grainy mobile phone video.

They had been attending a relative`s wedding.

The numbers are probably greater than most imagine and, as is the case with crimes against women in Pakistan, difficult to tabulate with real accuracy. Pakistani society, at all levels, is adept at cover-ups for the crimes of men, at subterfuge supporting the easy erasure of women. The status of the jirga- or panchayat-ordered killing, an ironic form of `justice`, is a sub-category within the larger compartment of `honour killings`, both populated with the lost lives of women who died to sate the anger and bloodlust of men.

Functioning as instruments of communal justice, jirgas often dole out sentences unfettered by the constraints of the laws of the country. As Ambreen`s tragic end reveals, they can carry out their sentences. Outcry, if it follows at all, takes place after the object of their wrath is already dead. In many cases, once outcry and attention have faded, all those indicted for the crime (if they are indicted at all) are often freed to live their lives. In a country where a woman`s life has meagre worth, why should men be punished for taking it? Given the regularity with which women are ordered killed, there seems to be implicit agreement on this point.

In their current form, jirgas are composed almost entirely of men and unbound by the limits of the law of the country. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the form of justice doled out by them is misogynistic and brutal. In simple terms, a com-munity`s need for expedient dispute resolution is manipulated by its powerful men and then used to order and enforce punishments that serve their own interests. The weakness of the state`s own legal system, the cost involved in availing oneself of it and the deadly delays that all it further bolster the reach and mandate of local jirgas. Even for the villagers of Makol, which isn`t far from larger towns and cities, the court system, it seems, was too far away, too distant from the lives of Makol`s inhabitants.

It does not have to be this way. The work of one woman in the valley of Swat reveals how the actual need for justice and the provision of it at a communal level can be harnessed to protect and empower women, rather than leaving them at the mercy of ruthless and self-interested men. Three years ago, Tabassum Adnan inaugurated a Sister`s Council or `Khwendo Jirga` in the village of Mingora.

According to Adnan, who was herself married at the age of 13 and endured domestic abuse, the existing tribal councils in her community did not permit women to join them. Fed up of this decision, she got together a group of women and began discussing the issues and concerns of the community with them.

The women then pressed the men on the jirga council to take their decisions and consensus into account. According to Adnan, nearly 1,000 women in the area are now involved in the Sister`s Council by bringing their problems to it and participating in its processes.

Tabassum Adnan`s work has received international acclaim. She has received the International Women of Courage Award and just last month was also awarded the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machele Innovation Award. Her pioneering strategy deserves attention and implementation beyond Swat. A council where women of a community are empowered to intervene and participate in communal decision-making can be a crucial and pressing form of intervention in a situation that has become increasingly untenable.

Tabassum Adnan`s jirga does not currently receive any kind of monetary support from the government or from any other source, but its work and powers of enforcement could be enhanced even further if the state invested resources and empowered its leaders. The Sister`s Council, with its grass-roots and women-centred agenda, its rootedness in the community, represents a promising answer to a difficult problem.

Not only have honour killings continued in Pakistan, many women`s organisations report that their numbers have increased. One reason for this is that while there have been various legislative measures to try and combat the persecution of women and the irrelegation to the status of objects that can be exchanged or extinguished, there has been no effort towards actually bringing about change at the community level. Honour killings continue despite laws and campaigns against them, because those committing these crimes continue to believe that they are doing the right thing. They will not stop, unless others in their community speak up, and these others have to be women.

Ambreen was killed at the behest of a jirga; she is just one among so many Pakistani women who have lost their lives in similar ways with community collusion and consensus. A change can only occur if women from communities are empowered to create their own alternate jirgas whose decisions are binding on the community as well.

To help these women`s jirgas gain credibility within communities, the state should invest in them, recognise their leaders and incentivise participation. Male jirgas have made Pakistan a home for grotesque and brutal crimes, women`s jirgas may actually make it a more just and equitable place.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Should Sadiq Khan`s Faith Matter? Tue, 10 May 2016 21:26:12 +0000 Jawed Naqvi By Jawed Naqvi
May 10 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Sadiq Khan`s brilliant victory as London mayor is a feather in the cap of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, which the leftist leader is striving to lick into an agreeable shape. How is it of use to be reminded profusely that Khan is a Muslim or is of Pakistani extraction? Parochial exultations here will necessarily smack of hypocrisy and are disingenuous.

Celebrating the first ‘Muslim Lord Mayor of London’ runs the risk of surprising the disparate groups of open-hearted Londoners who chose Khan over his opponents` perverse recourse to religious innuendo. Does Khan`s victory indicate that racism is over in Britain? The answer is no. It will be a while and may require a nationwide change of heart. Khan`s election is a milestone in that direction.

In any case, the plain truth is that Sadiq Khan would not have survived in Pakistan, not as a Muslim, not as a non-Muslim. There was one Labour Party-like (or possibly better) hope in the country in the 1970s but its leaders compromised with right-wing Muslim zealots. And the zealots found a self-proclaimed Muslim despot to hang their former benefactor. That was that. The daughter tried to rekindle some hope for an open society but sadly ended up creating the Taliban. The liberal soufflé has not risen since in Pakistan. Where would Khan fit? Well, the news of his victory in London coincided with another cowardly murder of an open-minded Pakistani, the murder of Khurram Zaki. The slain human rights activist would have savoured the Labour-Corbyn-Khan win had he lived to rejoice.

Khan too was a respected rights activist before plunging into politics.

And here we can say that Zaki`s killers do seem to belong to the stock of self-proclaimed Muslims, the kind that can and do make life difficult for people like Khan. And by making it difficult for Khan, they make it equally uphill for Corbyn`s old Labour politics and its growing allies, Bernie Sanders among others.

Some will say since we supported Barack Obamaas the first black contender for the White House why not celebrate Khan as the first Muslim mayor of London. A simple answer would be: history. Obama`s election ushered a point of departure in American history. And then he was the most progressive hope doing the rounds at the time, more so after the dark years of Bush presidency. To use a counterfactual argument, however, would Colin Powell have clinched the support of black voters, or even Obama, for that matter, had he been a Republican candidate? The analogy is actually relevant in Khan`s case. In a parallel narrative on the London circuit, a suggestion is being circulated by some of his admirers, inappropriately in my view, that he won the election despite or perhaps because of policy differences with Corbyn.

Another view on offer, with Corbyn as the obvious target, is that Khan won because he reached out to Tory voters and businesses. The claim suggests that Labour under Corbyn doesn`t have what it would take to offer a strategy to win a wider range of support than he had inherited. Let`s hope this view is wrong for I do believe that Khan`s major winning asset if not the only one was the Labour Party in its new changing avatar. But let me return to the issue of parochial identities coming into play.

The reason why I might seem more sensitive than some others about narrow identities could be because of their overuse in India. India, we are told ad nauseam by fellow Indians, is secular as it has the Khan brothers as movie heroes, a Muslim vice president, a Catholic (is she?) leader of a national party and so on. People would helpfully add how beautiful Urdu sounds and also how their grandfathers spoke Persian. The fact is with all these facets of important symbolism, Indian society is hurtling towards increasing prejudice, a well-defined majoritarianism and state-sponsored violence.

Besides, how much longer are we going to be stuck in the Hindu pani and Muslim pani vacuity, the water pitchers thus labelled on railway platforms in pre-Partition India? Add to that an Ahmadi pitcher, a Jewish pitcher and a Christian pitcher in an imaginary mayoral fray. What would the original inhabitants of the city, the pagans, have to say about it? Are the Hindus in London or Tamilians for that matter going to jockey for their community member next to make the mark? If so to what avail? In any case, as the Guardian said in its assessment of Khan`s campaign, it has become standard practice for London politicians to proclaim the city`s ethnic diversity as its strength. On the other hand, there was appeal by Khan`s rivals to the city`s dark underbelly. For example, Zac Goldsmith attempted to woo Indian and Tamil Londoners ‘London’s Hindus,’ as the Mirror`s headline put it with tales of threats to their family jewels because Khan proposed to impose wealth tax.

We are told that in the run-up to the polls, Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, escalated his drive to scare up votes in London`s suburbs.

Leaflets were sent to voters in Harrow and elsewhere with messages tailored to arouse hostility to Sadiq Khan.

One leaflet claimed that Khan `supported` Corbyn who `wanted to BAN [India`s] Prime Minister Modi from visiting the UK`. It added that Khan did not attend the vast welcome event held at Wembley stadium for Modi when he visited London last year.

The fact is that both Corbyn and Khan eventually did meet Modi. And that tempts me to wonder if the Labour tally would not be higher had the two not met the controversial leader as a matter of principle enshrined their liberal ideals.

The writer is Dawn`s correspondent in Delhi.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Identity Politics? Tue, 10 May 2016 09:55:16 +0000 Huma Yusuf By Huma Yusuf
May 10 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Sadiq Khan is London`s new mayor.

Today is his first day in office. Or, as the world`s press would have it, he is London`s first Muslim mayor; the first Muslim mayor of a European capital. As results rolled in on Friday, to show that he had beat the Conservative Party`s Zac Goldsmith 57pc to 43pe, global news headlines began trickling in, with Khan`s religious identity inevitably the adjective of choice.

The New York Times described Khan as `one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the West`; the American news website Drudge Report went for a cruder option, describing Khan as `the first Muslim mayor of Londonistan` The headlines have echoed the tenor of the London mayoral election, which has been a case of identity politics at its worst.

The Conservative Party tried to play up Labour candidate Khan`s Muslim identity, casting it in a negative light even positing it as a threat. A leaflet in Goldsmith`s name was distributed to the homes of voters with Hinduand Sikh-sounding names, claiming that Khan would impose a wealth tax on family jewellery simultaneously scaremongering and offending by conjuring stereotypes of South Asians with stashes of gold bangles.

A letter in Prime Minister David Cameron`s name addressed to similar constituencies described Khan as `dangerous` Other Conservative materials distributed to the homes of Hindu, Silch and Tamil Londoners contained assurances that Goldsmith would keep London safe from terrorist attacks (with the implication that Khan would not).

Goldsmith and Cameron also repeatedly accused Khan of being sympathetic to extremists, with the prime minister accusing him of links to radical imam Sulaiman Gani (Gani subsequently declared that he voted for the Conservative Party in the last general election).

The Conservative campaign backfired, as confirmed by the election results. Londoners have been offended at being singled out on a linguistic, ethnic and religious basis, and for being treated as communities apart from the British mainstream some have accused the Conservative party of stoking communalism. Goldsmith`s campaign has been labelled racist and bigoted. Goldsmith`s sister Jemima on Friday tweeted that she was `sad that Zac`s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be` Acknowledging the criticism of his rival`s campaign, Khan in his victory speech said he was proud of Londoners for choosing `hope over fear, and unity over division`. With these words, he has of fered a strong reminder of the limitations of identity politics. If Khan were interested in identity politics at any time in this campaign, it was in the context of class not creed. His campaign materials sought to frame the mayoral race as a contest between the son of a bus driver and the son of a billionaire. His official campaign video showed him riding a London bus, recalling his youth spent in a council flat a form of public housing while musing London`s current shortage of affordable homes.

But Khan`s victory has ultimately come down to policies: his commitment to ensure that 50pc of new homes built in London are affordable; his promise to freeze public transport fares for four years; his pledge to improve the city`s air quality and help Londoners gain skills to boost employment.

His victory has also come down to the perception that Khan is an effective politician.

As the local press has pointed out, he doesn`t lose he`s won seats as an MP and he helped the Labour party increase its vote share in London during the last general election even while the party was decimated elsewhere in the county.

There`s a lesson here for Pakistani politicians, many of whom are probably smugly celebrating the win of a British Pakistani Muslim mayor (and wondering what his housing policies mean for the value of their Mayfair apartments).

When election fever begins in Pakistan, too many parties remain complacent, relying on ethnic and linguistic affiliation to determine who they represent and how they win their votes. The PML-N has tried to reframe itself as a party that tackles the three Es extremism, energy, economy but by only doing so in Punjab it continues to implicitly play an identity politics.

In a Pakistan where the effects of the 2010 political devolution have yet to fully manifest, identity politics may seem like a valid option. But if Khan`s victory shows anything, it`s that it offers no guarantees if anything, it can be the thing that loses an election. This is particularly true in large cities where diverse identities are subsumed by the shared urban experience and the only things that matter are sensible policies and good governance. There are lessons here for politicians in the fastest urbanising country in South Asia; we`ll have to wait until 2018 to see what they have learned, if anything.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Rohingya Crisis: Politics of Denial Mon, 09 May 2016 06:40:00 +0000 Mizanur Rahman Rohingyas in Ukhia's Kutupalong area. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

Rohingyas in Ukhia's Kutupalong area. Photo: Anurup Kanti Das

By M. Mizanur Rahman
May 9 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

The Rohingyas are probably one of the only ethnic groups in the world whose existence is denied despite their presence. Although Rohingyas are one of the 136 ethnic groups in Myanmar, they have been most widely used as a political pawn in the country. While giving a glimpse of the history of the Rohingya issue, this article will also look at how Myanmar as a nation is thriving upon a flawed premise, thereby risking its image which the country only recently re-established in the international world after its return to democracy.

The death of more than 20 people in a boat accident in the Rakhine State and demonstrations by Ma Ba Tha – the anti-Rohingya nationalist Buddhist group – in front of the US embassy have once again brought the Rohingya crisis to the forefront. In response to the accident, the US embassy released a statement expressing its concern about the state of the Rohingya people. A peaceful resolution of the Rohingya crisis was expected under the new NLD government but so far there has been little to no change. The Rohingya crisis does not only impact the bilateral relations of Myanmar with other countries but also hampers the image of Myanmar as a state in the humanitarian world.

The entire debate centered on the Rohingya issue is confined to their citizenship status. The unique nature of Myanmar as a state has added some salt to this debate. The dominance of religion in national discourses sets Myanmar apart from the mainstream practices of other states. For example, Senior General Than Shwe declared that the Western concept of human rights and freedom is not compatible with the culture and tradition of Myanmar and that is why his country is very different in these matters. According to him, Myanmar is Burmese and consists of “one race, one language and one religion” (Gravers, 2013). It appears that this belief justifies Myanmar’s history of atrocities against the Rohingya who are not of the same race, language or religion.

Rohingyas constitute 1 percent of the total population, and 4 percent of the Arakan state population of Myanmar. Although they have become pawns in the game of colonial and post-colonial politics, according to Ragland (1994), they are “an ethnic, linguistic, and religious minority both within Burma and within their own province.” The word ‘Rohingya’ is an ethno-religious term which means Muslim people whose ancestral home is in Arakan. However, under the 1974 Emergency Immigration Act, and ultimately with the Citizen Act of 1982, the Rohingyas were denied citizenship of Myanmar.

According to Professor Imtiaz Ahmed, a group of historians and scholars suggests that Rohingya are the descendants of Moorish, Arab and Persian traders, including Moghul, Turk, Pathan and Bangali soldiers and migrants, who arrived between the 9th and 15th centuries. A smaller group claims that they are the descendants of the people of Chittagong. But a significant number of scholars agree that the history of Rohingyas ‘traces back to the early seventh century, when Arab Muslim traders settled in the area’. Arakan was an independent state, where in the 15th and 16th centuries a distinct Muslim community was formed. In 1784, the Burmese King Badaw Paya invaded and occupied Arakan and it became a part of Burma.

Although the seed of hatred between the Arakanese and Burmese grew during the colonial period, it was sparked during the immediate post-colonial era in Burma. In 1947, after the assassination of Aung Sun and his six cabinet ministers, U Nu became the new leader. During his government’s ten-year rule, Rohingyas were not given citizenship, and so eventually, some of them took up arms to establish their rights. They were pacified and managed by the government with the false promise of giving them citizenship and equal rights as with other ethnic groups.

Some Buddhist scholars like Aye Chan promote the belief of the majority Buddhists of the country that Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the term ‘Rohingya’ was only introduced after 1950. Chan contradicts himself in his paper titled, ‘The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)’. He notes that the British census included Muslims in some accounts as ‘Indians’ and in others as ‘Chittagonians’. He states, “History tells us that we do not have to go back very far”, thereby attempting to reject the history of Rohingyas living in Myanmar for hundreds of years. Anti-Rohingya scholarship claims that since there are similarities between the languages of Rohingyas and Chittagonians, it proves that Rohingyas originally hail from Bangladesh. But interestingly, like many others, a prominent Burmese lawyer and scholar Maung Zarni rejects these views and argues that Chittagong itself was a part of the old Arakan Kingdom, which explains the similarities in the language of people of these two communities. He also asserts that “many of them (Rohingyas) had resided in Myanmar for centuries with roots going back to the pre-colonial era.” After a robust analysis, this scholar claims that what is happening towards the Rohingya community in Myanmar can be called a ‘slow burning genocide’ and thus is punishable under established international law.

Therefore, it is clear that Myanmar has no reason or justification to deny the history and existence of Rohingyas as an ethnic race of its land. Then why does the hardline nationalist group continue to be so provocative against this community? After the victory of NLD, Ma Ba Tha was on the backfoot because of their declared support for the immediate past military government and their “nation building project”. However, since their election to power, Suu Kyi’s government has done nothing to solve this issue. They are instead planning to hear the views of all the ethnic groups (except Rohingyas) living in Myanmar. Ma Ba Tha, on the other hand, is trying to reposition themselves in the centre of Myanmar politics. This demonstration can also be seen as a new strategy of Ma Ba Tha to jeopardise Suu Kyi’s relations with the US, one of her strongest allies. Time will tell whether this group will trouble the new government or only worsen the plight of the downtrodden Rohingya community.

The writer is a development researcher and doctoral research fellow in Australia. Email:

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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Religious Leaders Can End Harmful Cultural Practices & Advance Women’s Empowerment Thu, 05 May 2016 15:51:44 +0000 Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee Dr Seth Berkley, @Gaviseth is an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Siddharth Chatterjee, @sidchat1 is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

By Dr Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 2016 (IPS)

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges.

In Northern Nigeria, a former global epicenter of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunization, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months, a development that brings us significantly closer to eradicating this terrible disease.

A profound realization has lately emerged among health professionals about how well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges. Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions.

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners, to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.

Religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services, and whose wholesome health is so central to survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, access to health by women is largely determined by cultures and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning the women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, but the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples; evil manifestations of a society determined to control women.

The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in some regions, women such as North Eastern Kenya, total fertility rate is 7.5. National averages of such indicators often substantially mask the disparities between socio-demographic groups and regions within the country.

The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is therefore the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

It is in such hard-to-reach areas in Kenya that the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with its partners are working with religious leaders to bring positivity and hope into the lives of communities, to put them in good stead to play a full role in development.

The faith leaders are being engaged in dispelling misconceptions about the religious basis for harmful practices, and re-emphasizing messages about the dignity of women.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, nearly as many as childbirth, with the vast majority in developing countries. Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which Gavi is now helping to make available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help, by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls.

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, in abandonment of FGM and early marriage, in fewer women being struck down by cancer and in uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organizations have not only been moral pillars in the community, but they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalized. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures.

This article was published first by Reuters

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A Tale of Twin States Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:54:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman By I.A. Rehman
Apr 28 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Pakistani visitors to India, usually beset with anxiety about their country`s future, are sometimes relieved to find a good number of Indians similarly worried about their country.

This is perhaps due to the fact that the twin states face many identical issues, and their people thus try to find solutions in the subcontinent`s shared culture.

For instance, last week in Delhi the discussion at gatherings of left-inclined intellectuals and social activists was dominated by queries as to what will happen to India if the saffron brigade continued to bring all matters under the stamp of Hindutva.

Sparks of resistance were not denied such as the resistance by writers and artists (in renouncing state awards) or the defiance of the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leaders. But generally, the conclusion was that these actions, highly morale-boosting though they were, did not generate the kind of movement for the rejection of humbug that was needed.

One also noticed a receding enthusiasm among optimists. Perhaps most people were more disappointed with the showing of the liberals (who should not be relied upon in any case) than was objectively necessary. But in the end, somebody or the other would cut the discussion short by claiming that India would never go down in the duel with fundamentalism because the traditions of tolerance in its society were so deep-rooted and strong.

One could not help drawing parallels with similar gatherings in Pakistan where those lamenting the uncertainty of civil society (along with the state authorities) see no silver lining on the horizon.

Does this mean that India and Pakistan both are condemned to suffer for a long time at the hands of people who are equipped with mantras that cannot be spurned without inviting the charge of sacrilege? That said, it is impossible not to find the judiciary challenging the executive or the legislature for transgressing its authority. Last time, it was a former Supreme Court judge taking parliament to task for amending the law so that an 18-year-oldcould be hanged.

This time it was Uttarakhand High Court in a fiery mood in the case of the dissolution of the state government by the president. The president can be an exalted person but he can also go terribly wrong, the court said.

The crisis arose when nine of the chief minister`s supporters joined the BJP opposition and the president accepted the establishment`s view that the government had broken down. Now the BJP was eagerly waiting for an invitation to form the state government. Whatever the final outcome, the BJP will be blamed for manipulating the fall of the state government.

For Pakistani students of politics, there is nothing surprising in this story. In the early years of independence, the ruling parties in both India and Pakistan were extremely unwilling to allow any opposition party to form a state-province government, but one thought the process had ended in India after an Andhra chief minister flew into the capital with all his supporters in the assembly and compelled the centre to take back the orders of his sacking. In Pakistan, the process continued somewhat longer and was overshadowed by frequent sacking of the National Assembly by all-powerful presidents.

With regard to judiciary-executive ties, it is not clear if India is now following Pakistan`s example or whether Pakistan was earlier copying an Indian pattern.

Although Pakistani chief justices in distress might have shed tears in private, there is no record of their breaking down before the political authority. But it must be said for Chief Justice T.S. Thakur that he was pleading the cause of justice and not seeking a personal favour.

One hopes, however, that his tearful plea does not embolden the sarkar to the extent of filling the courts with Modi loyalists. Justice Thakur could have a better bargain with the executive by holding firm as the head of his brother judges.

The Delhi state government`s decision to prohibit fee increases by private educational institutions should not fail to remind the people of Punjab of a similar step taken by their provincial government sometime ago.

The reasons advanced by the educational institutions on both sides are the same: mounting expenditures on teachers, rent and extracurricular facilities. The parents complain of their inability to pay fees they consider exorbitant but they are unlikely to win their case in either Delhi or Lahore.

Although the Indian government earned credit for forcing the private institutions to give relief to poor students, the patrons of private schools are likely to surrender to the argument that they cannot wish to have for their kids anything less than the best. The neo-liberal stalwarts are unlikely to cow before parents who admit to being less affluent.

It is not possible to be in Delhi and not be caught by surprise at the expansion of the metro train network or the odd-even scheme to restrict traffic that has increased the gains of operators of public transport.

The privileged car owners make no secret of their tactic to beat the system by having two cars for each user, one for odd number days and the other to be plied on even number days.

What makes Delhi a lively place despite the heat and shortage of water is the pace at which cultural activities continue.

It was good to see the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i -Khana, the son of Bairam Khan who had secured the throne for the child-king Al Journalists in the doghouse: Pakistan enjoys the dubious distinction of being among the most dangerous places for journalists. In Sri Lanka, before the change of government, journalists were commonly meted out unsavoury treatment. Now Bangladesh too has taken to targeting journalists rather indiscriminately.

But what has happened to the democratic government of Nepal that Kanak Mani Dixit has been jailed? He is not afraid of making enemies, if he is being punished for that, but he must be respected as a leading exponent of the South Asian identity.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible! Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at and find more information on the Summit at

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