Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 03 Jul 2015 21:48:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 U.N. Remains Divided Over Domestic and State Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/u-n-remains-divided-over-domestic-and-state-terrorism/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 20:01:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141380 Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

Students and faculty at Penn State university join together in a 'March for Peace, Nonviolence and Justice' on June 19 in remembrance of victims of hate crimes nationwide, including the lives lost in the tragic church shootings in Charleston, SC. Credit: Penn State/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2015 (IPS)

When nine African-American worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist inside a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina last month, there was a sharp division of opinion in the United States whether that murderous act of killing innocent civilians constituted a “hate crime” or an “act of terrorism.”

Or both?

Just after the shooting, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Justice Department said the crime was “undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including as a hate crime and as an act of domestic terrorism”.“Terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

But Nihad Awad, executive director of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), was quoted as saying: “We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism.

“If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathiser and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses — he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard,” he said.

The ultimate definition of terrorism has continued to defy governments, rights groups, the media and even the United Nations.

The United States and Israel continue to label “Hamas” a terrorist organisation but much of the mainstream media calls it “a militant organisation.”

Last year, the European Court of Justice upheld an appeal by Hamas, pointing out that its designation as a “terrorist” group by the European Union (EU) was “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the Internet.”

Since 2000, a U.N. Ad Hoc Committee on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism has failed to adopt the last of its conventions against terrorism: the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) sponsored by India.

In an interview with Time magazine last May, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “We should not look at terrorism from the name plates – which group they belong to, what their geographical location is, and who the victims are.”

These individual groups or names will keep changing, he said. “Today you are looking at Taliban or ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): tomorrow you might be looking at another name.”

Modi said the United Nations should pass the CCIT. “At least, it will clearly establish whom you view as a terrorist and whom you don’t,” he said.

But the U.N. Ad Hoc Committee remains deadlocked, mostly over definitions because “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” are occasionally interchangeable – depending on who is doing the talking.

Ambassador Rohan Perera, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the work of his committee has resulted in the adoption of three counter terrorism conventions, namely, the International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

The committee, he said, has been mandated by the General Assembly “to provide comprehensive legal framework to fill possible gaps in the existing sectoral Conventions on Terrorism.”

While the negotiations had reached an advanced stage by the fall of 2001 and there was a strong possibility of the convention being adopted that year, in the immediate aftermath of the events of 9/11, the requisite political will to reach a consensus failed to materialize, he added.

The draft CCIT, like the precedent sectoral conventions contains an ‘operational’ criminal law definition of acts of terrorism.

The CCIT has taken on added importance due to the widespread death and destruction caused by groups dubbed “terrorist organisations,” including the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), Al-Shabaab, Al-Nusra, Al-Qaida and Boko Haram.

“We can no longer stand by and watch as this phenomenon spreads,” says U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.

“With their message of hate, violent extremists directly assault the legitimacy of the U.N. Charter and values of peace, justice and human dignity on which that document and international relations are based,” said Feltman, who also chairs the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force and is the executive director of the U.N. Counter-Terrorism Centre.

He said there are almost 50,000 Twitter accounts supporting ISIL, with an average of 1,000 followers each.

Ambassador Perera told IPS the key outstanding issue is how the CCIT was to address certain concerns expressed by different groups of states, namely; the question of acts committed in the course of struggle for national liberation against foreign occupation; the question of acts of military forces of States in peacetime; and the question of state terrorism

According to Arab diplomats, Israel has to be singled out for what they call “state terrorism.”

But the use of that term is strongly opposed by Israel’s supporters, including the United States and most Western nations.

Asked about state terrorism, U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters last February; “.. the definition of terrorism and what comprises a terrorist group or terrorist entity remains in the hands of member states and the treaty language they are working on.”

“They have to decide,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the approach adopted by the Bureau of the Ad Hoc Committee was to address some of the concerns by excluding applicable legal regimes from the scope of the Convention, rather than seeking to exclude specific acts.

Accordingly, a compromise proposal made by the coordinator to serve as a basis for negotiation, clarified that the activities of armed forces, which are governed by International Humanitarian Law, are not governed by the present convention and that the CCIT is without prejudice to the rules of International Law applicable in armed conflict.

This provides a ‘carve out’ for acts committed in national liberation struggles by pointing to the applicable law.

“It is further provided that in the case of activities undertaken by the military forces of States, as they are governed by other rules of International Law, such acts are not governed by the convention,” said Perera.

This approach recognises the fact that the CCIT, once adopted, will not operate in a vacuum, but alongside other legal regimes.

“And it would be a matter for the domestic courts of Member States to determine which regime applies in a given situation,” he added.

Perera also said since the CCIT is a law enforcement instrument dealing with individual criminal responsibility, issues of concern raised by certain States relating to state terrorism are sought to be addressed in an accompanying resolution to be adopted along with CCIT, which recalls the obligations of States under International Law, as set out in international legal instruments and judgments of the International Court of Justice.

This approach, he said, is in keeping with the general practice of the United Nations General Assembly in adopting Conventions.

While all proposals that have been presented remain on the table, since 2002 delegations have shown willingness to engage in the negotiations on the basis of the compromise proposal made by the Bureau, without prejudice to their respective positions.

During the Sixteenth Session of the Ad Hoc Committee in April 2013, the Committee was able to present a consolidated text of the draft convention, leaving open the outstanding scope, Article 3. The consolidated text reflects the work accomplished on the CCIT so far.

“It is very much hoped that in the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, the Member States will demonstrate the necessary political will to overcome the hurdles that have held up the reaching of a consensus on the CCIT,” Perera declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Rome March Celebrates Pope’s Call for Urgent Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/rome-march-celebrate-popes-call-for-urgent-climate-action/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 13:06:28 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141337 March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/350.org

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

People of faith, civil society groups, and communities affected by climate change marched together in Rome Sunday Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment, and call for bolder climate action by world leaders.

Under the banner of ‘One Earth One Family’, the march brought together Catholics and other Christians, followers of non-Christian faiths, environmentalists and people of goodwill. The march ended in St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus and blessing.“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience” – Arianne Kassman, climate activist from Papua New Guinea

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City in September last year.

“As we stand at this critical juncture in addressing the climate crisis, we are particularly grateful to the Pope for releasing this encyclical as an awakening for the world to understand how climate change impacts people across all regions,” said Arianne Kassman, a climate activist from Papua New Guinea who took part in march to speak about the reality of climate change in the Pacific.

“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience,” she added.

Among the messages relayed to the Pope during the march was a request to make fossil fuel divestment part of his moral message in the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel divestment campaign is hinged on the same moral premise communicated by Pope Francis in his encyclical,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines.

“The campaign serves to highlight the immorality of investing in the source of the climate injustice we currently experience. This is why we hope that moving forward and building on this powerful message, Pope Francis can make fossil fuel divestment a part of his moral argument for urgent climate action.”

A petition urging Pope Francis to rid the Vatican of investments in fossil fuels has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures.

Over recent months, dozens of religious institutions have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries.

In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold 12 million pounds in thermal coal and tar sands and just this week the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced that it will exclude fossil fuel companies from its investments and call on its member churches with 72 million members to do likewise.

More than 220 institutions have commitments to divest from fossil fuels, with faith institutions making up the biggest segment.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris later this year for U.N. climate talks, the growing divestment movement will continue to fuel the ethical and economic revolution needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality, a key message from Pope Francis’ encyclical.

“The clear path required to address the climate crisis is one that breaks humanity free from the current stranglehold of fossil fuels on our lives and the planet,” said Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager for 350.org, one of the organisers of the march.

“This encyclical reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening – we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Pope Francis’ Timely Call to Action on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-pope-francis-timely-call-to-action-on-climate-change/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 14:22:11 +0000 Tomas Insua http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141241 Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

Pope Francis, wearing a yellow raincoat, celebrates mass amidst heavy rains and strong winds near the Tacloban Airport Saturday, January 17, 2015. After the mass, the Pope visited Palo, Leyte to meet with families of typhoon Yolanda victims. The Pope's visit to Leyte was shortened due to an ongoing typhoon in the area. Credit: Malacanang Photo Bureau/public domain

By Tomás Insua
BOSTON, Jun 22 2015 (IPS)

On June 18, Pope Francis issued Laudato Si, the first ever encyclical about ecology, which promises to be a highly influential document for years to come. The encyclical, which is the most authoritative teaching document a Pope can issue, delivered a strong message addressing the moral dimension of the severe ecological crisis we have caused with our “throwaway culture” and general disregard for our common home, the Earth.

One of the most important points of this document is that it connects the dots between social justice and environmental justice. As a parishioner from Buenos Aires I have seen firsthand how Jorge Bergoglio cared deeply about both issues, and it is beautiful to see how he is bringing them together in this historical encyclical.Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year.

The most prominent example of this connection is how our role in causing climate change is hurting those who had nothing to do with this crisis, namely the poor and future generations.

Although the encyclical will have an impact on Catholic teaching for generations to come, its timing at this particular juncture is no accident. As the Pope himself stated, “the important thing is that there be a bit of time between the issuing of the encyclical and the meeting in Paris, so that it can make a contribution.”

The Paris meeting he referred to is the crucial COP21 summit that the United Nations will convene in December, where the world’s governments are expected to sign a new treaty to tackle human-made climate change and avoid its worst impacts.

This is significant because the international climate negotiations have been characterized by a consistent lack of ambition during the past two decades, allowing the climate change crisis to exacerbate. Greenhouse gases emissions have grown 60 percent since world leaders first met in the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, and continue to accelerate setting the foundation for a severe disruption of the climate system.

Scientists are shouting at us, urging humankind to change course immediately, but we are not listening. That is why strong moral voices such as the one of Pope Francis have the potential to change people’s hearts and overcome the current gridlock.

Climate change is a moral issue, so the exasperating lack of ambition of our political leaders in the climate negotiations raises the urgency of mass civic mobilisation this year. Faced with the clear and present threat of climate change, governments have long used the supposed passivity of their citizens as an excuse for inaction.

The climate movement is growing fast and is building up pressure at an increasing scale, but its growth rate needs to be boosted to meet the size of the challenge. Pope Francis’ encyclical has the potential to draw a huge amount of people to the climate movement by inspiring the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, as well as non-Catholics who are open to his message, to mobilise in this important year.

Catholics are already responding to the Holy Father’s call by scaling their mobilisation, mainly through the recently founded Global Catholic Climate Movement. This is a coalition of over 100 Catholic organizations from all continents, aiming to raise awareness about the moral imperative of climate change and to amplify the encyclical’s message in the global climate debate by mobilising the Church’s grassroots.

The flagship campaign of the movement is its recently launched Catholic Climate Petition, which the Pope himself endorsed a month ago when we met him in the Vatican, with the goal of collecting at least one million signatures for world leaders gathered in the COP21 summit in Paris. The ask, to be delivered in coalition with other faith and secular organisations, is for governments to take bold action and keep the global temperature increase below the dangerous threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial levels.

At the same time, people of all faiths are coming together with a strong moral call for action through initiatives such as Fast for the Climate – whereby participants fast on a monthly basis to show solidarity with the victims of climate change – and the People’s Pilgrimage – a series of pilgrimages in the name of climate change led by Yeb Saño, former Philippine climate ambassador, and designed to culminate in a descent on Paris around COP21.

Leaders of other faiths will furthermore join their Catholic counterparts in celebration of the encyclical on June 28, when the interfaith march “One Earth, One Human Family” will go to St. Peter’s Square as a sign of gratitude to Pope Francis.

Whatever happens, this year will go down in the history books. Be sure of that. The Pope has made a massive contribution to making sure it’s remembered for all the right reasons. Now it’s our turn to step up and finish the job.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pope Could Upstage World Leaders at U.N. Summit in Septemberhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/pope-could-upstage-world-leaders-at-u-n-summit-in-september/#comments Thu, 18 Jun 2015 23:26:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141208 His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

His Holiness Pope Francis departs Malacañan Palace aboard a Pope Mobile after the Welcome Ceremony for the State Visit and Apostolic Journey to the Republic of the Philippines on January 16, 2015. Credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau/public domain

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

Judging by his recent public pronouncements – including on reproductive health, biodiversity, the creation of a Palestinian state, the political legitimacy of Cuba and now climate change – Pope Francis may upstage more than 150 world leaders when he addresses the United Nations, come September.

“The Pope will most likely be the headline-grabber,” predicts one longtime U.N. watcher, “particularly if he continues to be as outspoken as he has been so far.”“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.” -- Pope Francis

As his mostly socio-political statements become increasingly hard-hitting, the Argentine-born Il Papa, the first Pope from the developing world, is drawing both ardent supporters and hostile critics.

Last January, during a trip to Asia, he dropped a bombshell when he said Catholics should practice responsible parenthood and stop “breeding like rabbits.”

In the United States, the Pope has been criticised by right-wing conservatives for playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the resumption of U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba, and incurred the wrath of the pro-Israeli lobby for recognising Palestine as a nation state.

In fact, most of his pronouncements are closely in line with the United Nations – and specifically its socio-economic agenda.

In his 184-page Encyclical released Thursday, the Pope says “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

The Pope also complains how weak international political responses have been.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” he said.

There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected, the Pope declared.

Speaking on the global environment last year, he said: “The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth.”

“Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,” he added.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has consistently warned against the devastating effects of climate change, praised Pope Francis for his papal encyclical which highlights that “climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity, and that it is a moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society.”

He agreed with the encyclical’s findings that there is “a very solid scientific consensus” showing significant warming of the climate system and that most global warming in recent decades is “mainly a result of human activity”.

Ban urged governments to place the global common good above national interests and to adopt an ambitious, universal climate agreement in Paris this year.

Tim Gore, Oxfam International Climate Adviser, told IPS the Pope has set out how climate change is at its most basic a moral issue – it is a deep injustice that the pollution of the world’s richest people and countries drives harmful climate disruption in the poorest communities and countries.

“Anyone that is concerned about injustice should rightly be concerned about climate change, and in making his call, the Pope joins many other leaders of faith, civil society and trade unions. Climate change is all of our business,” he said.

Janet Redman, director of the Climate Policy Programme at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, said: “Pope Francis is crystal clear — the current development model, based on the intensive use of coal, oil, and even natural gas, has to go. In its place, we need renewable sources of energy and new modes of production and consumption that rein in global warming.”

Taxing carbon, divesting from fossil fuels, and ending public corporate welfare for polluters can help end the stranglehold dirty energy companies have on our governments, economies and societies, she added.

In a statement released Thursday, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, currently chair of the Africa Progress Panel and Kofi Annan Foundation, said as Pope Francis reaffirms, climate change is an all-encompassing threat.

“It is a threat to our security, our health, and our sources of fresh water and food. Such conditions could displace tens of millions of people, dwarfing current migration and fuelling further conflicts,” Annan said.

“I applaud the Pope for his strong moral and ethical leadership. We need more of such inspired leadership. Will we see it at the climate summit in Paris?,” he added.

In the United States, the criticisms have come mostly from right-wing conservatives, who want the Pope to confine himself to religion, not politics.

Representative Jeff Duncan, a Republican from South Carolina and a strong supporter of Israel, said Pope Francis should avoid the Palestine debate altogether – the Vatican should focus on spiritual matters and stay out of politics.

Asked Tuesday, just ahead of the Pope’s statement on climate change, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is running for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency, said: “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Act on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-we-have-a-moral-imperative-to-act-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 10:13:32 +0000 Edwin Gariguez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141165 Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

Candlelight vigil co-organised by 350.org, the global grassroots climate movement, held just before the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January this year. Photo credit: LJ Pasion

By Edwin Gariguez
MANILA, Jun 17 2015 (IPS)

My country, the Philippines, is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Even though we are among those countries that hardly contributed emissions and benefited least from burning fossil fuels, we find ourselves at the frontline of the climate crisis.

The catastrophe we experienced from Super Typhoon Haiyan [in early November 2013], one of the most powerful storms ever recorded, which killed thousands and damaged billions of properties, is proof to this. Almost two years later, our people are still struggling to recover from its devastating impact.“If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart”

It should therefore not come as a surprise that concern about climate change is higher in the Philippines than elsewhere. A recent public consultation showed that 98 percent of Filipinos are “very concerned” about the impacts of climate change, compared with a global average of around 78 percent.

The Church cannot remain a passive bystander. It is our moral imperative to give voice to the voiceless.

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has pronounced its strong opposition to coal mining because it will make our country contribute to climate change, and endanger ecosystems as well as the health and lives of people.

Our churches have often led the struggles against dirty energy. In my hometown of Atimonan, Quezon, for example, more than 1,500 protesters led by church leaders staged a demonstration against a proposed coal-fired power plant last week.

Similarly, Catholic priests in Batangas are at the forefront of the fight against the construction of a new coal power plant. Last month, about 300 priests held a prayer rally ahead of a committee hearing that discussed the project.

Pope Francis also understands that climate change is not only an environmental issue but a matter of justice. His upcoming encyclical is anticipated to bring the link between climate change and the poor to centre stage.

In the Philippines, we are grateful that Pope Francis came to visit and held mass in areas hit the hardest by Typhoon Haiyan.

We admire him for standing in solidarity with us, using his position to inject momentum for faith communities around the world to take a moral stance on climate change.

A papal encyclical is an extraordinary way to send a powerful message to world leaders whose actions to date lag far behind the scale of the response that is necessary.

We hope that the Pope’s message will remind world leaders of their moral duty to act as we approach the climate summit in Paris [in December], where a new international climate agreement is supposed to be reached.

The moral imperative to act could not be stronger and the world now needs to stand united in the face of the climate crisis that knows no geographic boundaries, while the worst impacts still can be avoided.

Through the Pope’s encyclical, the Church will raise critical issues that need to be taken into account in the global response to this unprecedented threat.

Global capitalism has lifted millions out of poverty by burning fossil fuels. On the flipside, it has also created vast inequalities and sacrificed the environment for the sake of short-term gain. Now is the time to break the stranglehold of fossil fuels over our lives and the planet.

If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to benefit from its wreckage; a growing global movement to divest from fossil fuels takes this ethos at heart.

The Pope’s critique of today’s destructive, fossil-fuel dependent economy will not go down well with the powerful interests that benefit from today’s status quo.

But we, the Church and the people of the Philippines, will stand alongside the Pope as strong allies in the struggle for a socially just, environmentally sustainable and spiritually rich world that Pope Francis and the broader climate movement are fighting for.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Opinion: Why Are Threats to Civil Society Growing Around the World?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/opinion-why-are-threats-to-civil-society-growing-around-the-world/#comments Wed, 10 Jun 2015 10:38:39 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141060

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that in recent years there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civil space and suggests four key drivers: a global democratic deficit, a worldwide obsession with state security and countering of ‘terrorism’ by all actors except the state, rampant collusion by a handful of interconnected political and economic elites, and the disturbance caused by religious fundamentalist and evangelist groups seeking to upend the collective progress made by civil society in advancing the human rights discourse.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Jun 10 2015 (IPS)

Whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are hounded – not by autocratic but by democratic governments – for revealing the truth about grave human rights violations. Nobel peace prize winner, writer and political activist Liu Xiaobo  is currently languishing in a Chinese prison while the killing of Egyptian protestor, poet and mother Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, apparently by a masked policeman, in January this year continues to haunt us. 

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, has documented serious abuses of civic freedoms in 96 countries in 2014 alone. The annual report of the international advocacy group, Human Rights Watch, laments that the once-heralded Arab Spring has given way almost everywhere to conflict and repression while Amnesty International’s Annual Report 2014/2015 calls it a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In recent years, there has been a perceptible rise in restrictions on civic space – the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. While the reasons for the eruption of repressive laws and attacks on dissenters vary, negative effects are being felt in both democracies and authoritarian states.

It is increasingly evident that the dangers to civic freedoms come not just from state apparatuses but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies. This begs a deeper analysis into the extent and causes of this pervasive problem.

In several countries, laws continue to be drawn up to restrict civic freedoms. They include anti-terror laws that limit freedom of speech, public order laws that limit the right to protest peacefully, laws that stigmatise civil society groups through derogatory names such as ‘foreign agents’, laws that create bureaucratic hurdles to receive crucial funding from international philanthropic institutions as well as laws that prevent progressive civil society organisations from protecting the rights of marginalised minorities such as the LGBTI community.

In this situation, it is indeed possible to identify four key drivers of the pervasive assault on civic space. The first is the global democratic deficit.  Freedom House, which documents the state of democratic rights around the world, has reported declines in civil liberties and political freedoms for the ninth consecutive year in 2015.

In too many countries, peaceful activists exposing corruption and rights violations are being stigmatised as ‘national security threats’, and subjected to politically motivated trials, arbitrary detentions and worse. There appears to be no let up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.“It is increasingly evident that the dangers to civic freedoms come not just from state apparatuses but also from powerful non-state actors including influential business entities and extremist groups subscribing to fundamentalist ideologies”

Freedom of assembly is virtually non-existent in such contexts, and activists are often forced to engage online. But when they do so, they are demonised as being agents of Western security agencies.

Ironically, excessive surveillance and/or hounding of whistle-blowers by countries such as Australia, France, the United Kingdom and United States – whose foreign policies are supposed to promote democratic rights – are contributing to a global climate where close monitoring of anyone suspected of harbouring dissenting views is becoming an accepted norm.

The second driver – and linked to the global democratic deficit – is the worldwide obsession with state security and countering of ‘terrorism’ by all actors except the state. The decline in civic space began after the attack on the World Trade Centre in September 2001 when several established democracies introduced a slew of counter-terror measures weakening human rights safeguards in the name of protecting national security.

The situation worsened after the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 as authoritarian leaders witnessed the fall of long-standing dictators in Egypt and Tunisia following widespread citizen protests. The possibility of people’s power being able to overturn entrenched political systems has made authoritarian regimes extremely fearful of the free exercise of civic freedoms by citizens.

This has led to a severe push back against civil society by a number of repressive regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. Governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

Similar reverberations have also been felt in sub-Saharan African countries with long-standing authoritarian leaders and totalitarian political parties. Thus repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia too, in countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia which have a history of repressive government and in Thailand where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

The third major driver of closing civic space is the rampant collusion and indeed capture of power and resources in most countries by a handful of interconnected political and economic elites.

Oxfam International projects that the richest one percent will own more wealth than 99 percent of the globe’s population by 2016.  Thus civil society groups exposing corruption and/or environmental degradation by politically well-connected businesses are extremely vulnerable to persecution due to the tight overlap and cosy relationships among elites.

With market fundamentalism and the neo-liberal economic discourse firmly entrenched in a number of democracies, labour, land and environmental rights activists are facing heightened challenges.

At least 29 environmental activists were reported murdered in Brazil in 2014. Canada’s centre-right government has been closely monitoring and intimidating indigenous peoples’ rights activists opposing large commercial projects in ecologically fragile areas. India’s prime minister recently urged judges to be wary of “five-star activists“ even as the efforts of Greenpeace India to protect forests from the activities of extractive industries have led it to be subjected to various forms of bureaucratic harassment including arbitrary freezing of its bank accounts.

The fourth and emerging threat to civic space comes from the disturbance caused by religious fundamentalist and evangelist groups seeking to upend the collective progress made by civil society in advancing the human rights discourse.

Failure of the international community to prevent violent conflict and address serious human rights abuses by states such as Israel and Syria is providing a fertile breeding ground for religious extremists whose ideology is deeply inimical to the existence of a vibrant and empowered civil society. 

Besides, religious fundamentalists are able to operate more freely in conflicted and politically fragile environments whose number appears to be rising, thereby exacerbating the situation for civil society organisations and activists seeking to promote equality, peace and tolerance.

Current threats to civic space and civil society activities are a symptom of the highly charged and polarised state of international affairs. The solutions to the grave and interconnected economic, ecological and humanitarian crises currently facing humanity will eventually have to come from civil society through a reassertion of its own value even as political leaders continue to undermine collective efforts.

Beginning a series of conversations on how to respond to common threats at the national, regional and international levels is critical. Establishment of solidarity protocols within civil society could be an effective way to coalesce around both individual cases of harassment as well as systemic threats such as limiting legislation or policies.

Further, the international legal framework that protects civic space needs to be strengthened. The International Bill of Rights comprising the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) leaves scope for subjective interpretation of some aspects of civic freedoms.

It is perhaps time to examine the possibility of a comprehensive legally binding convention on civic space that better articulates the extent and scope of civic space, so essential to an empowered civil society.  However, laws are only as good as the commitment of those charged with overseeing their implementation.

Importantly and urgently, to reverse the global onslaught on civic space and human rights, we need visionary political leadership willing to take risks and lead by example.

Over the last few years, analysts have noted with horror the steady dismantling of hard won gains on civic freedoms. Many thought things could get no worse. … but they did.

It is time to start thinking seriously about stemming the tide before we reach the point of no return. Ending the persecution of Assange, Snowden and Liu Xiaobo could be a good start for preventing precious lives such as Shaimaa’s from being lost.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Minorities Threatened More by Governments than Terrorist Groups, Says Studyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/minorities-threatened-more-by-governments-than-terrorist-groups-says-study/#comments Wed, 20 May 2015 19:52:59 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140729 Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Hundreds of Christian girls have been abducted in Egypt, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD), and coerced into converting to Islam. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

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

In the conflict-ridden Middle East, minority groups continue to be threatened, attacked and expelled from their home countries by terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Still, a new study released Wednesday by the London-based Minority Rights Group International (MRG) says populations in the region were more at risk from their own governments.Threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan - increased significantly both last year and this year.

The minorities under attack include Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, ethnic Kurds, and both Coptic and Assyrian Christians.

Mark Lattimer, MRG’s executive director, told IPS the threat to minorities around the world from terrorism is very real, “but it is generally not as great as the threat from their own governments.”

From Sudan to Myanmar to the Russian Federation, he pointed out, minorities have suffered systematic attacks from the governments that are supposed to protect them.

In Syria, while many minorities now live in government-held enclaves, the civilian death toll as a whole is highest from attacks by the government side, he added.

With over 200,000 people now dead in the conflict, and up to half of the population forced from their homes, the crisis in Syria continues to worsen.

For the first time, the Syrian crisis tops the annual ‘Peoples under Threat’ table.

Extreme sectarianism has now infected much of the country, with nearly all the remaining Christian communities living in enclaves in government-held areas, the report noted.

Only in the Kurdish-held regions of the north has there been a serious attempt at establishing an inclusive democracy, says MRG.

According to the report, threat levels to civilians in seven countries – Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan- increased significantly both last year and this year.

Asked what the United Nations can do to protect minority rights, Lattimer told IPS thousands of U.N. staffers around the world work hard to protect minority communities.

But the U.N. as a whole often takes a reactive approach, only taking notice once violations of minority rights become extreme.

Enormous improvements could be made if minorities were routinely included in development projects, if minorities were able to participate fully in public life and if minority communities were represented around the table at peace talks, he added.

Iraq headed the table when the Peoples under Threat index was first published in 2006 and it has never been far from the top of the index in the intervening years.

Over 14,000 civilians were killed in 2014, many of them in massacres perpetrated by ISIS as it expelled minority communities, including Yezidis, Shabak, Chaldo-Assyrians and Turkmen, from Mosul, Sinjar and the Ninewa plain.

Thousands of Yezidi women and girls remain in ISIS captivity, and the risk remains acute for Shi’a communities threatened by ISIS and Sunnis at risk of retaliation from Iraqi Security Forces and allied Shi’a militias, according to MRG.

Conflict in the Central African Republic, which has risen four places this year, to occupy number 10 in the ranking, continued between the largely Muslim former Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka militias comprised mainly of Christians.

Upwards of 850,000 people – nearly one-fifth of the country’s population – were refugees or internally displaced at the end of 2014, and many tens of thousands more fled their homes in the first months of 2015.

A controversial peace agreement was signed in April 2015 between ex-Séléka and anti-Balaka leaders in Nairobi.

Egypt rose another three places in the index this year, according to the study.

Ongoing fighting and toughening security measures have affected the lives of Sinai Bedouin, who have long suffered political and economic marginalisation.

Human rights activists also continued to criticise the government for doing too little to provide security for Coptic and other Christian communities, especially in Upper Egypt, where individuals, their homes and places of worship regularly came under attack.

In China, which has risen a dramatic 15 places in the table, there was a severe escalation in the tactics used by Uighur militants seeking independence in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Over 200 people were killed in terrorist attacks, hundreds detained in mass arrests and dozens of death sentences handed down.

Little has been done, says MRG, to address the legacy of under-development and exclusion of Uighur communities that lies behind the unrest, and the government’s strategy of labelling Uighur human rights activists as terrorists has forestalled attempts to improve the situation.

The return of a more autocratic style of government in the Russian Federation, which occupies position 16 in the table, has coincided with rising xenophobia in Russian society against migrants, whether from abroad or from the Caucasus, says MRG.

But the threat is greatest in the North Caucasus itself, where regular clashes continue between Russian forces and Islamist separatists in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and, particularly, Dagestan, adds MRG.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Bangladesh’s Persecuted Indigenous Peoplehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-bangladeshs-persecuted-indigenous-people/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 21:25:20 +0000 Julia Bleckner http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140687

Julia Bleckner is a Senior Associate in the Asia division at Human Rights Watch.

By Julia Bleckner
NEW YORK, May 18 2015 (IPS)

The August 2014 killing of Timir Baran Chakma, an indigenous Jumma activist, allegedly in Bangladeshi military custody, was protested by his supporters. His death, and the failure of justice, like the plight of his people across the Chittagong Hills region, received little international notice.

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Photo courtesy of Julia Bleckner

Representatives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission came to New York this month to shed light on the dire situation in the border region between India and Burma. Describing the ongoing crisis to the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, they expressed one clear and simple ask: to finally implement the terms of a peace accord established almost two decades ago between the government and local armed groups.

One member of the community told the U.N. that the Bangladesh government has taken “repressive measures and deployed heavy military,” adding that instead of ensuring their protection, the military presence “has only aggravated human rights violations.”

In Muslim-majority Bangladesh, the indigenous groups—who mostly practice Theraveda Buddhism and speak local dialects of Tibeto-Burman languages—have a long endured displacement and suffering. In the late 1970s, then-president Ziaur Rehman instituted a government-run “population transfer programme” in which the government provided cash and in-kind incentives to members of the country’s majority Bengali community to move to the Chittagong Hills area, displacing the local population.

From 1977, the military moved into the region in response to the rise of local armed groups opposed to the “settlers” and the imposition of Bengali identity and language.The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

In the years following, there were credible reports of soldiers subjecting the indigenous civilians to abuses including forced evictions, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, torture, and killings. According to one source, more than 2,000 indigenous women were raped during the conflict from 1971-1994. The security forces were implicated in many cases of sexual violence.

The 1997 peace accord aimed to bring an end to this violence and officially recognised the distinct ethnicity and relative autonomy of the tribes and indigenous people of the Chittagong Hills region.

However, 17 years later, the terms of the peace accord still have not been implemented. Instead, the Jumma face increasing levels of violence from Bengali setters, with no effective response from the state.

Members of the CHT Commission, a group of activists monitoring the implementation of the 1997 peace accord, told Human Rights Watch that the settlers have attacked indigenous homes, shops, and places of worship—in some cases with the complicity of security forces. There are reports of clashes between the two communities.

The situation is so tense that even some members of the CHT Commission were attacked by a group of settlers in July 2014. The perpetrators are yet to be identified and prosecuted.

The peace accord specifically called for the demilitarisation of the Chittagong Hills area. But nearly two decades later, the region remains under military occupation. The army’s failure to protect the Jumma from settlers, and in some cases aiding in attacks on indigenous families, has been well documented.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have failed to deliver the autonomy promised by the peace accord, representatives of the CHT Commission said. Instead the central government has directly appointed representatives to the hill district councils without holding elections as mandated by the peace accord.

With the tacit agreement of the military, Bengali settlers from the majority community have moved into the Chittagong Hills, in some cases displacing the Jumma from their land without compensation or redress.

The Kapaeeng Foundation, a foundation focused on rights of the indigenous people of Bangladesh, has reported that at least 51 women and girls suffered sexual violence inflicted by Bengali settlers and the military in 2014, while there have already been 10 cases as of May 2015.

Earlier this year a group of Bengali settlers gang raped a Bagdi woman and her daughter, according to the Foundation. The perpetrators are seldom prosecuted. In some instances, survivors—such as the Bagdi women—who file cases at the local police station have faced threats from the alleged perpetrators if they do not withdraw their case.

In an effort to block international attention to the plight of the Jumma, in January, the Bangladesh Home Ministry introduced a discriminatory directive which, among other things, increased military checkpoints and forbade both foreigners and nationals from meeting with indigenous people without the presence of government representatives.

In May, under national public pressure, the Home ministry withdrew the restrictions. But in practice, the government continues to restrict access by requiring foreigners to inform the Home Ministry prior to any visit.

The Jumma people have waited far too long to be heard. It’s time we listen. Implementing the Chittagong Hills peace accord would be an important first step.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Reviving Dignity: The Remarkable Perseverance of Myanmar’s Displacedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/reviving-dignity-the-remarkable-perseverance-of-myanmars-displaced/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 16:27:21 +0000 Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140574 Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

By Rob Jarvis and Kim Jolliffe
SITTWE, Myanmar, May 12 2015 (IPS)

In Myanmar’s Western Rakhine State, over a hundred thousand people displaced by inter communal violence that broke out nearly three years ago remain interned in camps on torrid plains and coastal marshes, struggling to survive.

In the face of unimaginable hardship, many have found ways to cope and maintain their dignity, through innovation and hard work.

Behind sensational and at times gory headlines peddled by the mainstream media, a far more simple story is unfolding: the story of scores of victims of violence in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) outside the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, gaining sustenance, acquiring fuel for fires, re-establishing businesses, and developing community-led social services.

Inter communal violence erupted in 2012 between the region’s majority Rakhine Buddhists and minority Muslims who mostly self-identify as Rohingya, an ethnic label that remains heavily contested and at the heart of a decades-old conflict.

Three years later, over 140,000 IDPs, predominantly Rohingya Muslims, remain effectively interned and segregated in camps from which the government has not allowed them to return home.

Aid is administered through United Nations agencies and other mainstream bodies that are bound to work primarily with the government, leading to top-down interventions that do little to build the capacity of beneficiaries themselves, at worst stifling their ability to take their lives back into their own hands.

Up against the odds, these communities are nevertheless demonstrating the sheer strength of the human spirit, and the remarkable resilience that often presents itself only in the darkest, most hopeless situations. Through small acts of determination, courage and kindness, they are assuring their own survival and slowly regaining their dignity.

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here, all wear beads that were blessed by the local Mullah. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Arafa lives in this tent with her six children and three grandchildren. When she fled her burning home she had nothing but her longyi (traditional skirt) and one shirt so has begun growing gourds on the tent for extra sustenance. Her grandchildren photographed here all wear beads that were blessed by the local mullah. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money to ensure that she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Chu Mar Win, a Rakhine Buddhist IDP in her early twenties whose house was burned down by Rohingya Muslims in July 2012, volunteers as a teacher in her camp. To ensure the young children can stay in school, the community all donate some rice and small amounts of money so she can afford to keep teaching. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Zadi Begum, a 25-year-old single mother of five, runs a small noodle shop out of the front of her hut. As she fled her village in July 2012 with her mother and children, her husband, 30-year-old Ibrahim, stayed behind to collect some things but was killed by Rakhine Buddhists with a machete. She struggled to raise the roughly 27 dollars needed to buy the basic tools and materials to start her noodle shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Three years ago, in July 2012, Noor Ahmed had his boat stolen by Rakhine Buddhists in his village of Myo Thu Gyi. Now, he and his 13-year-old son, both IDPs, work tirelessly on other people’s boats for daily wages. He stands before one such boat that the pair has been working on for 20 days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtsey Rob Jarvis

Mohammed Hussain, aged eight, spends his weekends in the mud with friends looking for buried pieces of wood that can be salvaged for fuel. Here, he has been at work with his three brothers and two friends for four hours, and they have found a single piece that he is excited to take home to his mother. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

La La May is making a blouse, catching the last minutes of sunlight through her doorway. She provides training to other girls here and makes between fifty cents and one dollar per day by tailoring clothes. She currently has four female students who she teaches for free using this single sewing machine, which they bought from the ‘host community’, locals from the neighbouring village. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Farida, aged 18, works in her family’s betel nut processing business. The nuts belong to Rakhine business owners, who pay the family less than 0.09 dollars per nut. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Abul Kasim, aged 53, a father of seven, finds it hard to explain what is wrong with him. He spends most of his days at the local clinic in Say Tha Ma Gee IDP camp, having not been able to eat properly, with severe bowel problems and internal bleeding for eight months. The clinic has referred him to Sittwe General Hospital but he says dares not go, and could not afford to in any case. Relying on traditional medicine, he has bouts of pain every day that leave him shaking uncontrollably. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

 

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Da Naing clinic demonstrates the abject level of neglect faced by the IDP communities, as a result of aid mismanagement and the government’s lack of care. The clinic was built by an international NGO in 2012 and has lain dormant for much of the time since. Though the government promised doctors and medicine, such provisions have been discontinued. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Noor Jahan spends her days drying out and grinding chillies to help support her three children, mother-in-law, and out of work husband who used to be a labourer downtown where they are no longer allowed to travel. She buys the chillies fresh from the local market and then sells small affordable packets of 1-2 teaspoons worth, and is able to make just about two dollars in three or four days. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Mi Ni Ra, 16, is from Nasi village, which was burned to the ground during the violence in 2012. Her baby, just 16 days old here, was born in a small hut in Bu May IDP camp, outside Sittwe. Her baby was delivered traditionally in a small hut nearby, with the help of a local traditional birth attendant, without modern medical support. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This boy spends his days selling betel nut in the traditional form, wrapped in a leaf with a bit of lime powder and tobacco. A salvaged halved buoy serves as his basket. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This elderly Rakhine woman has lived through independence and suffered as a member of a repressed minority under authoritarian rule by successive military regimes in Burma. After Rohingya Muslims burned her village in 2012, she has lived in an IDP camp outside Sittwe, where she struggled to save enough money to open this shop. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo Mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

In the face of adversity, many of the displaced Muslims have turned to God, as instructed by their mullahs. These handmade bamboo mosques have been built in each IDP camp, with pump well washing facilities outside. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Angu Mia plucks and boils chickens for a female Rakhine business owner, who pays him 0.4 dollars per bird and then sells the meat at a local market. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

This man has installed solar panels to the top of his hut to provide a phone charging service to the minority of IDPs who have phones, as their huts have no power. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These pufferfish are dried and turned inside out to be sold to traders who take them to China. This man lost stocks of the product worth hundreds of dollars when his house was burned down in June 2012. He now leases fish from local fishermen, promising to pay them in full once he has made a sale. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

These women spend hours crouched in the sun on the seashore, drying out fish caught in previous days. Drying the fish preserves it for longer, making it more attractive locally, where a single fish will be eaten over days with small portions of rice. Large numbers of Rohingya Muslims from fishing communities in other parts of Rakhine State fled by boat when the violence began and came straight to this part of the coast, where the Rohingya Muslim communities have long run their fishing businesses. Credit: Courtesy Rob Jarvis

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Photos by Rob Jarvis: info@robjarvisphotography.com.

Text by Kim Jolliffe: spcm88@gmail.com

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Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervenehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140445

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 124nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Arab Youth Have No Trust in Democracyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-arab-youth-have-no-trust-in-democracy/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 07:24:40 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140315

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that from a high point in the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, Arab youth have largely lost their trust in democracy, betrayed by the return of the army to power or the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 27 2015 (IPS)

The results of a survey of what 3,500 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 – in all Arab countries except Syria – feel about the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa have just been released.

The report of the survey, which was carried out by international polling firm Penn Schoen Berland (PBS), is not a minority report given that 60 percent of the population of the Arab population is under the age of 25, which means 200 million people. Well, the outcome of the survey is that the large majority of them have no trust in democracy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The word democracy does not exist in Arabic, being a concept totally alien to the era in which Muhammad created Islam. However, it is worth noting that the concept of democracy as it is known today is also relatively recent in the West, and we have to wait from its origins in the Greek era for it to make a comeback at the time of the French Revolution.

It became an accepted value just after the end of the Second World War, and the end of the Soviet, Nazi and Japanese regimes.

As a matter of fact, it is still not a reality in large parts of Asia (just think of China and North Korea) and Africa.

Then we have governments, as in Hungary where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is openly preaching a style of governance à la Russian President Vladimir Putin, followed by several of his esteemers, including the National Front party in France, and the Northern League in Italy. But few have such a negative view of democracy as young Arabs.After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent

After the Arab Spring revolutions in 2012, a massive 72 percent of young Arabs believed that the Arab world had improved. The figure dropped to 70 percent in 2013, then 54 percent in 2014, and now it stands at just 38 percent.

According to the survey, 39 percent of young Arabs agreed with the statement “democracy will never work in the region”, 36 percent thought it would work, while the remaining 25 percent expressed many doubts.

It is clear that the Arab Spring has been betrayed by the return of the army to power as in Egypt, or by the clinging of the old guard to power regardless of the costs, like Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

If you add to this the fact that 41 percent of young Arabs are unemployed (out of a total unemployment figure of 25 percent), and of those 31 percent have completed higher education and 17 percent have graduated from university, it is not difficult to understand that frustration and pessimism are running high among Arab youth.

It also contributes to explaining why so many young people feel attracted to the Islamic State (ISIS) which wants to topple all Arab governments, defined as corrupt and allied to the decadent West, and create a Caliphate as in Muhammad’s times, where wealth will be distributed among all, the dignity of Islam will be enhanced, and a world of purity and vision will substitute the materialistic one of today.

This is why ISIS is attracting youth from all over. Besides, according to experts, for the terrorist to have a geographical space and run it  as a state, where hospitals and schools function and there is a daily life to prove that the dream is possible, represents a great difference with previous terrorist movements like Al-Qaeda, which could only destroy, not really build.

But the survey also reveals something extremely important. To the question “which is the biggest obstacle for the Arab world?”, 37 percent indicated the expansion of ISIS and 32 percent the threat of terrorism. The problem of unemployment was mentioned by 29 percent and that of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by 23 percent.

It is worth noting that the threat of a nuclear Iran was mentioned by only 8 percent (contrary to the declarations of Arab governments), while 17 percent consider that the real problem is the lack of political leaders, while only 15 percent denounce the lack of democracy.

It is important to note that no interviews were carried out in Iran, which is not an Arab country but is a Muslim country. However Iranian Muslims are Shiites and not Sunnis, as in all Arab countries, except for Iraq and Bahrein, and perhaps Yemen, where Shiites are a majority. Of the world’s total Islamic population of 1.6 billion people, Shiites make up only 10 percent.

It is within Sunnite Islam that a dramatic conflict is going on, where Wahabism, a Sunni school born in Saudi Arabia and the official religion of the Saudi reigning house, has now split into those who want to return to the purity of the early times and those are considered “petrowahabists” because they have been corrupted by the wealth created by petrol (they are also called sheikh wahabists because they accept government by sheikhs).

Saudi Arabia has been spending an average of 3 billion dollars a year to promote Wahabism. It has built over 1,500 mosques throughout the world, where radical preachers have been asking the faithful to go back to the real and uncorrupted Islam.

It was with Osama Bin Laden that the Wahabist movement escaped from the control of Saudi Arabia, very much like the radical Hamas movement, originally supported by Israel to weaken the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Yasser Arafat, turned against the Israeli state. It is not possible to ride radicalism.

The survey also reveals that young Sunnis see ISIS and terrorism as their main threat, but we are talking here of a poll which should represent 200 million people between the ages of 18 and 25. Even if just one percent of them were to succumb to the call of the jihad, we are talking of a potential two million people … and this is now being felt acutely.

The polarisation inside Sunni society (Shiites are not part of that – there are no Shiite terrorists) is felt as the most important problem for the future.

In Europe and the United States, this should be the clearest of examples that ISIS and terrorism are first and foremost an internal problem of Islam and that to intervene in that problem will only unify the Arab world against the invader. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: Burundi – Fragile Peace at Risk Ahead of Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-burundi-fragile-peace-at-risk-ahead-of-elections/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 10:59:08 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140290

In this column, David Kode, a Policy and Research Officer at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, describes a series of restrictions on freedom in Burundi and, in the run-up to elections in May and June, calls on the international community – including the African Union and donor countries – to support the country by putting pressure on the government to respect democratic ideals and by condemning attacks on civil liberties.

By David Kode
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 24 2015 (IPS)

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa is not permitted to get close to an airport, train station or port without authorisation from a judge.  He cannot travel outside of the capital of his native Burundi, Bujumbura. Whenever called upon, he must present himself before judicial authorities.

These are some of the onerous restrictions underlying the bail conditions of one of Burundi’s most prominent human rights activists since he was provisionally released on medical grounds in September last year, after spending more than four months in prison for his human rights work.

David Kode

David Kode

Mbonimpa was arrested and detained on May 15, 2014, and charged with endangering state security and inciting public disobedience. The charges stemmed from views he expressed during an interview with an independent radio station, Radio Public Africaine, in which he stated that members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, were being armed and sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for military training.

The arrest and detention of Pierre Claver is symptomatic of a pattern of repression and intimidation of human rights defenders, journalists, dissenters and members of the political opposition in Burundi as it heads towards its much anticipated elections in May and June 2015.

The forthcoming polls will be the third democratic elections organised since the end of the brutal civil war in 2005.  The antagonism of the CNDD-FDD government and its crackdown on civil society and members of opposition formations has increased, particularly as the incumbent, President Pierre Nkurunziza, silences critics and opponents in his bid to run for a third term even after the National Assembly rejected his proposals to extend his term in office.“The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962”

Tensions continue to mount ahead of the polls and even though the president has not publicly stated that he will contest the next elections, the actions of his government and the ruling party clearly suggest he will run for another term.  Members of his party argue that he has technically run the country for one term only as he was not “elected” by the people when he took to power in 2005.

Civil society organisations and religious leaders recently pointed out that Constitution and the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement – which brought an end to the civil war – clearly limit presidential terms to two years.

As the 2015 polls draw closer, state repression has increased, some political parties have been suspended and their members arrested and jailed. The Imbonerakure has embarked on campaigns to intimidate, physically assault and threaten members of the opposition with impunity. They have prevented some political gatherings from taking place under the pretext that they are guaranteeing security at the local level.

Civil society organisations and rival political movements have on several occasions been denied the right to hold public meetings and assemblies, while journalists and activists have been arrested and held under fictitious charges in an attempt to silence them and force them to resort to self-censorship.

Legislation has been used to stifle freedom of expression and restrict the activities of journalists and the independent media.  In June 2013, the government passed a new law which forces journalists to reveal their sources.

The law provides wide-ranging powers to the authorities and sets requirements for journalists to attain certain levels of education and professional expertise, limits issues journalists can cover and imposes fines on those who violate this law.  It prohibits the publication of news items on security issues, defence, public safety and the economy.

The law has been used to target media agencies and journalists, including prominent journalist Bob Rugurika, director of Radio Public Africaine.

The government does not see any major difference between opposition political parties and human rights activists and journalists and has often accused civil society and the media of being mouth pieces for the political opposition, describing them as “enemies of the state”.

In the lead-up to the last elections in 2010, most of the opposition parties decided to boycott the elections and the ruling party won almost unopposed. However, the post-elections period was characterised by political violence and conflict.

Ideally, the upcoming elections could present the perfect opportunity to “jump start” Burundi’s democracy.  For this to happen, the media and civil society need to operate without fear or intimidation from state and non-state actors.  On the contrary, state repression is bound to trigger a violent response from some of the opposition parties and ignite violence similar to that which happened in 2010.

The international community and Burundi’s donors cannot afford to stand by idly and witness a distortion of the decade-long relative peace that Burundi has enjoyed, which represents the most peaceful decade since independence from Belgium in 1962.

It is increasingly clear that the people of Burundi need the support of the international community at this critical juncture. The African Union (AU), with its public commitment to democracy and good governance, must act now by putting pressure on the government of Burundi to respect its democratic ideals to prevent more abuses and further restrictions on fundamental freedoms ahead of the elections.

The African Union should demand that the government stops extra-judicial killings and conducts independent investigations into members of the security forces and Imbonerakure who have committed human rights violations and hold them accountable.

Further, Burundi’s close development partners, particularly Belgium, France and the Netherlands, should condemn the attacks on civil liberties and urge the government to instil an enabling environment in which a free and fair political process can take place while journalists and civil society activists can perform their responsibilities without fear.  (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

Integration vs. alienation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripe for recruitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

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

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri
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