Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 24 May 2017 13:49:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.18 Reflections on 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/reflections-on-2017-world-day-for-cultural-diversity-for-dialogue-and-development/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:38:04 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150497 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (“The Geneva Centre”)

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, May 22 2017 (IPS)

More than 7 billion people live on this planet spread among 7 continents, 194 states of the United Nations (UN) and numerous other non-self-governing territories. The world is made up of a mosaic of people belonging to different cultural and religious backgrounds. Our planet has been a cultural melting pot since time immemorial.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

According to the UN, the world population is expected to rise to 8.5 billion by 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion people in 2100. The projected rise of the global population will further reinforce the world’s cultural wealth and the opportunities for dynamic interchange between cultures and civilizations.

The 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development is an important opportunity to advance the goals of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. This landmark Convention aims to “protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions” and to further enhance cultural diversity around the world.

The 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity likewise reminds us of the importance of moving “from cultural diversity to cultural pluralism” through social inclusion and cultural empowerment enabling social cohesion to flourish. Harmonious relationships between peoples start with cultural interaction and cultural empathy.

While we place great importance in preserving the diversity of cultures as a common heritage of mankind, we fear that the world is on the brink of entering into a phase of fragmentation and irreconcilable division.

The inflow of migrants to Europe has been used as an excuse to justify the rise of right-wing populism. Migrants are often scapegoated for the failures of societies although their contributions to the economic and social development of societies and to cultural diversity are well documented. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This has given rise to discrimination, marginalization, bigotry and social exclusion leaving the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness.

While the flow of migrants and refugees to rich Western countries constitutes a very small one-digit percentage of the population, they are increasingly resented. Yet it has been difficult to increase development assistance resources from rich economies to help stabilize people on the move who are present in countries neighbouring their country of origin. The latter, while much poorer, have welcomed a much higher, double-digit, percentage of migrants and refugees in relation to their own population.

With a view to proposing an alternative solution to enhance cultural diversity and to reversing this trend, I co-chaired a panel debate that was held on 15 March 2017 at the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) on the theme of “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights.”

During the deliberations, one of the panellists made a salient remark that captured the essence of the debate. It was emphasized that we should never fear “the stranger, in his or her difference, because he or she will be a source of richness.”

Echoing this view, I believe that in modern societies, progress can be ascribed to the celebration of cultural diversity and to the acceptance of the stranger. The driving force behind the success of the United States of America (USA) was the country’s openness towards migrants aspiring to live the American Dream. It allowed building a prosperous society that leveraged the talent of different people regardless of religious or cultural differences.

Embracing cultural diversity, open-mindedness and tolerance enabled the US to become a symbol of success and prosperity.

Taking inspiration from this example, I would like to emphasize that we need to cultivate a climate where cultural diversity is considered a synonym for progress and development. Exclusion and marginalization of people owing to cultural differences do not belong in an open, tolerant and prosperous society.

Hence the need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about each other, to build mutual bonds and to break down the walls of ignorance that have insulated societies.

The term “the beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people” captures the essence of the 2017 World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. Let difference beget not division but an urge to celebrate diversity and pluralism.

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A Grisly Tale of Children Falling Easy Prey to Ruthless Smugglershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/a-grisly-tale-of-children-falling-easy-prey-for-ruthless-smugglers/#comments Mon, 22 May 2017 05:20:14 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150510 In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, three children look out of the window of a train, which was boarded by refugees primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, at a reception centre for refugees and migrants, in Gevgelija. Credit: UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson VII

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 22 2017 (IPS)

Don’t read this story if you are a parent or have children relatives. It is the bloodcurdling story of over 300,000 unaccompanied refugee and migrant children who are just a small part of millions of children that are innocent, easy prey for smugglers and human traffickers worldwide.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, a new UN report has just found that children account for around 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. And that Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims, at the rates of 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. “I’m a child, not a criminal, not a threat, not an outcast” – UNICEF

The new report, issued by the UN Children Fund (UNICEF), also informs that the number of children travelling alone has increased five–fold since 2010, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which was released on May 18, and presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” commented UNICEF deputy executive director Justin Forsyth. “Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators.”

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

A migrant gestures from behind the bars of a cell at a detention centre in Libya, Tuesday 31 January. Credit: UNICEF/Romenzi

First and foremost, children need protection, the UN agency reminded, while highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.”

One of World’s Deadliest Routes for Children

Few weeks earlier, a senior UNICEF official called the routes from sub-Saharan Africa into Libya and across the sea to Europe one of the “world’s deadliest and most dangerous for children and women,” as the UN agency informed that nearly half of the women and children interviewed after making the voyage were raped.

On this, its report A Deadly Journey for Children: The Central Mediterranean Migrant Route, warned that “refugee and migrant children and women are routinely suffering sexual violence, exploitation, abuse and detention along the Central Mediterranean migration route from North Africa to Italy,”

At the time of the report, which was issued end of February, 256,000 migrants were recorded in Libya, including about 54,000 included women and children. “This is a low count with actual numbers at least three times higher.”

The UN agency believes that at least 181,000 people –including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children –used smugglers in 2016 to try to reach Italy. “At the most dangerous portion– from southern Libya to Sicily – one in every 40 people is killed.”

Raped, Exploited, Left in Debt

Here, Afshan Khan, UNICEF Regional Director and Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe, said that the Central Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe is among the world’s deadliest and most dangerous migrant routes for children and women. “The route is mostly controlled by smugglers, traffickers and other people seeking to prey upon desperate children and women who are simply seeking refuge or a better life.”

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo

An abandoned farmhouse with a mattress used by prostitutes in Palermo. “I missed ever being a child,” says [NAME CHANGED] Mary, who was helped by a lawyer after she was trafficked to Italy, aged 17. Credit: © UNICEF/UN062791/Gilbertson VII Photo


“Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations,” with “widespread and systematic” sexual violence at crossings and checkpoints.

“In addition, about three-quarters of all the children interviewed said that they had “experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults” including beatings, verbal and emotional abuse.”

In Western Libya, women were often held in detention centres were they reported “harsh conditions, such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance,” the UN Children Fund informed.

What the Most Powerful Should – and Can Do

Included in the report is a six-point agenda calling for “safe and legal pathways and safeguards to protect migrating children.” UNICEF urged the European Union to adopt this agenda ahead of the Summit of the G7 (the group of the 7 most powerful countries) in Taormina, Italy, on 26-27 May.

The six-point agenda stresses the need to protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; to end the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives, and to keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.

It recommends, as well, to keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; to press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and to promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

Such commitments would obviously be easy to take and implement by the G7 governments. The point is: will the political leaders of the world’s richest countries consider, seriously, this inhuman tragedy?

Are they aware that the number of children left alone has been soaring? UNICEF –which they created to assist millions of European refugee children, victims of their Wold War II– has just reported that 92 per cent of children who arrived to Italy by sea in 2016 were unaccompanied, up from 75 per cent in 2015.

Do these mandatories know that 75 per cent of children who arrived in Italy—the very same country hosting their Summit—have reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay?

Let alone the case of hundreds of children who are abducted to sell their organs, to be recruited by terrorist organisations as child soldiers, or are exploited in harsh “modern” slavery work.

Will these political leaders mostly talk big finance and big business–including the 20 May US-Saudi Arabia weapons deal amounting to 110 billion dollars? Who knows…they might also have some spare time to read US president Donald Trump’s latest tweets.

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Indonesia’s Trial and Verdict by Omissionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/indonesias-trial-and-verdict-by-omission/#comments Fri, 12 May 2017 12:42:13 +0000 Warief Djajanto Basorie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150396 The author is a manager and instructor at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute , Jakarta since 1991.]]>

The author is a manager and instructor at Dr. Soetomo Press Institute , Jakarta since 1991.

By Warief Djajanto Basorie
JAKARTA, May 12 2017 (IPS)

Remove one word in the narrative. You hit your target with a two-year jail sentence.

Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, widely know as Ahok, was the target. After a six-month trial, the North Jakarta District Court on May 9 sentenced him to two years in jail with immediate imprisonment for defamation of religion. It was a double blow within a month.

On April 19 Ahok lost his bid for reelection as governor of this metropolis of 10 million people to former education minister Anies Baswedan.

Ahok’s change in fortune occurred on Sept 27 2016. Surveys up to then showed Ahok was a shoe-in to win reelection. He had garnered one-million-plus signatures of support from eligible voters in Indonesia’s capital, collected by a non-party volunteers group. His popularity was on a high for his clean government stance and success in delivering services. And the Jakarta race is centrally crucial.

The importance of the Jakarta governorship is that it’s a proven path to the presidency. The proof is in President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo who was previously Jakarta’s governor 2012-2014. As Jokowi did not complete his five- year governorship, Ahok as his deputy, succeeded Jokowi as governor.

On that clear Tuesday morning, Sept 27, Governor Ahok travelled to Pramuka Island in the Thousand islands group off the coast of North Jakarta. The trip was to celebrate a karapu fish harvest but the event turned to be a pre-campaign delivery.

Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation of 250 million people. Ahok is of Chinese descent and a Christian, a double minority. Apparently Ahok did not perceive the consequences when he cited a verse in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, in light of the coming gubernatorial campaign.

“You know, perhaps in the back of your mind, you feel you can’t vote for me. Because you were fooled to use Al Maidah (verse) 51 …,” Ahok remarked off-the-cuff of opposing politicians who might use Islam’s holy scripture against him.

Al Maida (The Table Spread) , the fifth surah (chapter) in the Qur’an, has 120 ayat or verses. The verse in question is verse 51.

In essence Al Maida verse 51 calls on the faithful not to accept a non-Muslim as their leader.

On Oct 6 a Jakarta academic reviewed Ahok’s statement in video and concluded Ahok has committed blasphemy. Communication studies scholar Buni Yani uploaded a clip of the video and its transcript on his Facebook account. It stirred a storm.

“All of you (Muslim voters) were fooled by Al Maidah (verse) 51 …”. This is the quote in Buni Yani’s transcript.

The difference with the original quote is that Buni Yani’s transcript does not have the word “use” (pakai in Indonesian). At a talk show on TV One Oct 11, the academic confessed he erred in transcribing the remarks the Jakarta governor made.

Buni admitted he excluded the word “use” because he asserted he did not wear a headset to listen to the statement of Governor Basuki. But the damage has been done.

Buni’s 31-second video clip with provocative commentary can be described as a “post-truth” message where the narrative appeals to emotion disconnected from facts. The talking point continues eventhough the message is found to be misleading.

Oxford Dictionaries on Nov 15 has declared “post-truth” as its 2016 international word of the year, reflecting what it called a “highly-charged” political 12 months.

Buni Yani’s belated admission of verbal exclusion in his posted video could not repair the damage and restrain what was to come. Nor the public apology Ahok made in gatherings and on television over his misconceived Sept 27 remarks.

The omission of a single word was one element that drove a sea of white-clad mostly men on Nov 4 to flood the multi-lane streets off Jakarta’s Monas Square. The Square in Central Jakarta separates Freedom Palace, the president’s residence to its north, and City Hall, the governor’s office to its south.

Led by the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) and other hardline groups, the mass rally demanded Ahok’s arrest and criminal prosecution for defaming Islam.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo read out a midnight statement slamming the street violence and damage before the palace gates that ensued that night. He stated “political actors” were behind the mayhem that caused one death.

On Nov 16 the chief for criminal investigation of the National Police, three-star Police Commissioner General Ari Dono Sukmanto, declared Ahok a suspect in an alleged act of blasphemy. This followed intense investigation culminating in a 10-hour case screening that heard testimony Nov 15.

On Dec 2 another huge rally took place. Like the one before, it was held on a Friday to create a great mass after noon public prayers at the capital’s mosques.

On Dec 13 Ahok went to his first of 22 hearings of his blasphemy trial.

On May 9 2017 Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, chief of the five-judge panel, read out the court’s verdict. Ahok is found guilty of violating Article 156a of the Criminal Code on defaming a religion. The sentence is two years with immediate imprisonment.

The bench’s decision goes beyond the prosecutors’ demand for a year in jail with a 2-year probation. Ahok appealed.

The convicted governor was quickly bundled to the Cipinang Prison in East Jakarta. Later in the evening Ahok was transferred to the police mobile brigade compound in Depok, south of Jakarta, “for safety,” the Cipinang warden said.

Th court’s verdict triggered an outcry of grief among Ahok supporters. They gathered in front of the courthouse, the prison, City Hall and on Wednesday night May 10, they held a candle-lit vigil at Proclamation Park, central Jakarta, where Indonesia’s first president Soekarno declared Indonesia’s independence Aug 17 1945. Similar vigils assembled in Manado and Waingapu, Christian majority centers in Eastern Indonesia.

“#Save Ahok” and “#Free Ahok” were the twitter hash tags. Many of the supporters at City Hall were red-clad women. Some in red and white, the national colors. Men wore the plaited colored shirts of Ahok’s campaign.

Ahok opponents approved the verdict. In front of the court venue, wearing white garb, they cried out in triumph and knelt on the ground in gratitude.

President Jokowi called for all to respect the legal process.

“I request all parties to respect the legal process, the verdict that was read out, and also to respect the steps taken by Mr Basuki Tjahaja Purnama,” Jokowi stated.

Defence lawyer I Wayan Sudarta didn’t mince words. He told The Jakarta Post the verdict was politically driven and unacceptable.

Ahok lost votes because of the trial. The rumor mill was rife of moves to mess with the president.

Further to Jokowi’s midnight statement Nov 4 on the activity of “political actors”, Coordinating Minister for Politcal, Legal and Security Affairs Wiranto announced May 8, the day before the Ahok verdict, that the government seeks to ban by legal means the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an organization that calls for an Islamic caliphate.

HTI’s disbandment is justified as its existence is against the Constitution and Indonesia’s state ideology, Pancasila (The Five Tenets), State Intelligence Chief Budi Gunawan stated.

Indeed, the legal process and the political dynamics in Indonesia comes under scrutiny. The big raucous demonstrations outside the court house and the mass rallies demanding Ahok’s conviction contrasting against the pro-Ahok vigils raise the spectre of social unrest, if not disunity.

Interfaith leaders in Indonesia’s have repeatedly called for tolerance to safeguard the sanctity of the national credo, Bhinekka Tunggal Ika, unity in diversity.

This is a testing time for Indonesia where minorities in religion like the Ahmadis and Syiahs face discrimination as well as LGBTs. Papua in the Eastern end of Indonesia is another issue where a movement seeks separation.

As Indonesian citizens, they want equal rights under the Constitution to express their case. Article 28E(3) of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to the freedom of association and expression of opinion.”

All sections in the nation have a stake to make Indonesia a truly peaceful, just and inclusive society, to paraphrase the theme of World Press Freedom Day 2017 that Jakarta hosted early May.

To ward off any communal conflict that could arise from the Ahok case, one voice of moderation comes from a Muslim cleric in Depok, 20 km south of Jakarta. On the Sunday before the Ahok verdict, in a post-morning prayer sermon, he stated that those who bring up Al Maideh verse 51 must also acknowledge the message in verse 8 of the same chapter.

“Let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice.” The cleric explained Muslims must treat people of other faiths with justice.

The statements and views expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of IPS.

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African Migrants Bought and Sold Openly in ‘Slave Markets’ in Libyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/african-migrants-bought-and-sold-openly-in-slave-markets-in-libya/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 13:32:17 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150360 A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

A shot of the living conditions inside a detention centre in Libya. Credit: UN Migration Agency (IOM)

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 9 2017 (IPS)

Hundreds of migrants along North African migration routes are being bought and sold openly in modern day ‘slave markets’ in Libya, survivors have told the United Nations migration agency, which warned that these reports “can be added to a long list of outrages” in the country. The International Criminal Court is now considering investigating.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had already sounded the alarm after its staff in Niger and Libya documented over the past weekend shocking testimonies of trafficking victims from several African nations, including Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia. They described ‘slave markets’ tormenting hundreds of young African men bound for Libya.

Operations Officers with IOM’s office in Niger reported on the rescue of a Senegalese migrant who this week was returning to his home after being held captive for months, IOM had on April 11 reported.

According to the young man’s testimony, the UN agency added, while trying to travel north through the Sahara, he arrived in Agadez, Niger, where he was told he would have to pay about 320 dollars to continue North, towards Libya.

A trafficker provided him with accommodation until the day of his departure, which was to be by pick-up truck, IOM said. But when his pick-up reached Sabha in south-western Libya, the driver insisted that he hadn’t been paid by the trafficker, and that he was transporting the migrants to a parking area where the young man witnessed a slave market taking place.

“Sub-Saharan migrants were being sold and bought by Libyans, with the support of Ghanaians and Nigerians who work for them,” IOM Niger staff reported.

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A young South Sudanese refugee looks out of a truck before being transported to the Imvepi settlement at the Imvepi Reception Centre, Arua District, in northern Uganda. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia

A ‘Long List of Outrages’

“The latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages [in Libya],” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM’s head of operation and emergencies. “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for all too many migrants.”

Abdiker added that in recent months IOM staff in Libya had gained access to several detention centres, where they are trying to improve conditions.

“What we know is that migrants who fall into the hands of smugglers face systematic malnutrition, sexual abuse and even murder. Last year we learned 14 migrants died in a single month in one of those locations, just from disease and malnutrition. We are hearing about mass graves in the desert.”

So far this year, he said, the Libyan Coast Guard and others have found 171 bodies washed up on Mediterranean shores, from migrant voyages that foundered off shore. The Coast Guard has also rescued thousands more, he added.

Sold in Squares or Garages

“Migrants who go to Libya while trying to get to Europe have no idea of the torture archipelago that awaits them just over the border,” said Leonard Doyle, chief IOM spokesperson in Geneva. “There they become commodities to be bought, sold and discarded when they have no more value.”

Many describe being sold “in squares or garages” by locals in the South-Western Libyan town of Sabha, or by the drivers who trafficked them across the Sahara desert.

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D'Amato

Risking their lives to reach Europe from North Africa, a boatload of people, some of them likely in need of international protection, are rescued in the Mediterranean Sea by the Italian Navy. Credit: UNHCR/A. D’Amato

“To get the message out across Africa about the dangers, we are recording the testimonies of migrants who have suffered and are spreading them across social media and on local FM radio. Tragically, the most credible messengers are migrants returning home with IOM help. Too often they are broken, brutalised and have been abused, often sexually. Their voices carry more weight than anyone else’s,” added Doyle.

So far, the number of Mediterranean migrant arrivals this year approaches 50,000, with 1,309 deaths, according to the UN migration agency.

IOM rose from the ashes of World War Two 65 years ago. In the battle-scarred continent of Europe, no government alone could help survivors who wanted no more than an opportunity to resume their lives in freedom and with dignity. The first incarnation of IOM was created to resettle refugees during this post-war period.

International Criminal Court May Investigate

In view of these reports, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on 8 May told the United Nations Security Council that her office is considering launching an investigation into alleged migrant-related crimes in Libya, including human trafficking.

“My office continues to collect and analyse information relating to serious and widespread crimes allegedly committed against migrants attempting to transit through Libya,” said Fatou Bensouda during a Security Council meeting on the North African country’s situation.

“I’m similarly dismayed by credible accounts that Libya has become a marketplace for the trafficking of human beings,” she added, noting that her office “is carefully examining the feasibility” of opening an investigation into migrant-related crimes in Libya should the Court’s jurisdictional requirements be met.

‘Horrendous Abuses’ at the Hands of Smugglers

Meanwhile, one person out of every 35 trying to cross the inland sea between northern Africa and Italy in 2017 has died out in the deep waters of the Mediterranean, the United Nations refugee agency on 8 May reported, calling for “credible alternatives to these dangerous crossings for people in need of international protection.”

“Saving lives must be the top priority for all and, in light of the recent increase in arrivals, I urge further efforts to rescue people along this dangerous route,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi.

The Central Mediterranean – with smugglers trafficking people from the shores of Libya to Italy – has proven to be particularly deadly. Out on the open sea, approximately 1,150 people have either disappeared or lost their lives in 2017.

In response to the recent stories reported to UNHCR’s teams by survivors, Grandi said that he is “profoundly shocked by the violence used by some smugglers.”

As the “Central Mediterranean route continues to be particularly dangerous this year, also for 2016 the UN recorded more deaths at sea than ever before.

The main causes of shipwrecks, according to UNHCR, are the increasing numbers of passengers on board vessels used by traffickers, the worsening quality of vessels and the increasing use of rubber boats instead of wooden ones.

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Equal Rights in Education: The Case of Bahrain, Colombia, Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/equal-rights-in-education-the-case-of-bahrain-colombia-sri-lanka/#comments Tue, 09 May 2017 08:40:47 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150349 The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies. Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron/IPS

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, May 9 2017 (IPS)

The role of education in enhancing equality of citizenship rights and diversity within communities affected by inter-communal civil strife will be top on the agenda of a meeting in Geneva on May 12.

Experts with extensive knowledge in the field of education, particularly in post-conflict situations and reconciliation in community settings, will take part in this event, which will focus on three case studies – Bahrain, Colombia, and Sri Lanka –

"We need to further explore the transformative power of education in building societies based on the principles of peace, tolerance and social harmony." Idriss Jazairy, executive director of the Geneva Centre
The meeting is organised by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (GCHRAGD) –known as the Geneva Centre– in cooperation with the UNESCO Liaison Office in Geneva, the International Bureau of Education – UNESCO, and the Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

The panel discussion, entitled “Human rights: Enhancing equal citizenship rights in education”, is aimed at reviewing the role of education in strengthening equality of citizenship rights and diversity within communities affected by inter-communal civil strife.

The purpose of the panel debate will be to analyse the impact of training to promote equal citizenship as part of human rights in school curricula and teaching methodologies with the broader aim of promoting a culture of peace and developing healthy, inclusive and fair societies.

The experts panel aims at broadening the discussion on human rights and global citizenship education to encompass the promotion of equal and inclusive citizenship rights through education within national societies.

According to the panel organisers, enhancing equal and inclusive citizenship rights fits against the backdrop of education on human rights and global citizenship, echoing at the domestic level the same ideals of a more tolerant, cohesive, and peace-driven world.

On this, the executive director of the Geneva Centre, Idriss Jazairy, said that the “panel debate is a timely opportunity to discuss the role of education in promoting and in enhancing at the domestic level equal and inclusive citizenship rights.

Education has the potential of playing an important role in strengthening inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation in societies permeated by conflict and violence, Jazairy added. “We need to further explore the transformative power of education in building societies based on the principles of peace, tolerance and social harmony.”

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

It acts as a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilisational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre conducts independent research and provides insights about human rights in the Arab region and to examining multiple viewpoints on human rights issues, with special focus on systematic rights weaknesses in the Middle East and North Africa region.

 

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Time to Find ‘Magic Formula’ to Stop Hatreds – Baku Forumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/time-to-find-magic-formula-to-stop-hatreds-baku-forum/#comments Mon, 08 May 2017 05:59:21 +0000 Rahul Kumar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150334 Night-time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

Night-time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

By Rahul Kumar
BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 8 2017 (IPS)

It is time to find that “magic formula” that will encourage people to stop conflicts, the rise of violent extremism and hatreds, and live together in peace, urged a United Nations senior official at the end of a UN-backed conference on intercultural dialogue in Baku, Azerbaijan.

In her closing remarks at end of the 4th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue, the head of the United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova expressed hope and optimism that the world is “on the right path” towards building “inclusive and resilient” societies. “Act now to stamp out extremism and build peace in the minds of men and women” – UNESCO chief

More than 500 delegates, experts, academics, business and civil society leaders from 120 countries took part in this year’s Forum, held in Baku (5-6 May) under the theme ‘Advancing Intercultural Dialogue – New avenues for human security, peace and sustainable development‘, which was co-organised along with UNESCO and the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), among others.

Bokova also called on participants to act now to stamp out extremism and “build peace in the minds of men and women,” echoing the UNESCO’s own timeless message about the need to make the most of the opportunities to bolster peaceful coexistence provided by our globalised world of increasing interconnections and diversity.

“I think we all feel a certain sense of urgency, that we have to act […] the world is very fragile, and peace is very fragile.”

Irina Bokova

Irina Bokova

Bokova praised president Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan for his “longstanding leadership in promoting intercultural dialogue” as well as the tireless engagement of the First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva, as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Oral and Musical Traditions.

Azerbaijan has a long history on the ‘Silk Road’ ancient trade route, as a centre for exchange, scholarship and art. Baku’s Walled City is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Too Early to Cry Victory

A flurry of debates, panel discussions, exhibits and concerts held by renowned artists working to bring people of different walks of life closer together.

Preventing terrorism in cyberspace, educating girls to combat violent extremism, and changing people’s negative perception of migrants in cities were some of the topics broached at the Forum.

The agenda also included such topics as the role of faith, religions, human security, sport, education, art, sustainable development, preventing violent extremism, and business in building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilisations.

Reflecting on the outcome of the Baku Forum, Maher Nasser, Acting UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, said it is too early to “cry victory” or dismiss the event as a failure because that can only be determined by what will follow.

“The discussions that I have seen bring back the importance of dialogue and using culture as a way to connect and to connect societies – sometimes within the same country. How culture bring us together as humans. We may see things differently, but there are also, sometimes, things that can bring us together. Culture and art are important elements of that,” he explained.

Nasser also highlighted the important connection between tourism and culture. “Tourism today is one the top employers around the world… Tourism depends on stability. No one wants to go to a region in conflict, unless you are war reporter. So tourism has a vested interested in promoting peace.”

Diversity, Dialogue, Mutual Understanding

Hosted by Azerbaijan, the Baku Forum was organised also with the participation of the UN World Tourism Organization, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization and the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe.

For his part, Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nassir, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), said that military actions and security measures cannot be the only response to the world’s challenges.

“The interconnected nature of today’s crises requires us to connect our own efforts for peace and security, sustainable development and human rights, not just in words, but in practice,” he said.

“The challenge now is to make corresponding changes to our culture, strategy, structures and operations. We must commit to achieve human security and sustainable development, in partnership with regional organizations, mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious authorities to civil society and the business community, he added, adding that women and youth must also be brought to the table.

The Baku Process has become a successful platform to promote “peaceful and inclusive societies” around the world. Since its inception, Al-Nasser said, the Forum has encouraged and enabled people and communities worldwide to take concrete measures to support diversity, dialogue and mutual understanding amongst nations.

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How to Counter Violent Extremism, Youth Radicalisation – Baku Forumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/how-to-counter-violent-extremism-youth-radicalisation-baku-forum/#comments Fri, 05 May 2017 14:54:35 +0000 Rahul Kumar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150319 Baku Forum to promote sustainable development and human security through dialogue. Credit: UNESCO

Baku Forum to promote sustainable development and human security through dialogue. Credit: UNESCO

By Rahul Kumar
BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 5 2017 (IPS)

The integration of migrants in cities, countering the rise of violent extremism, as well as youth radicalisation on the Internet have been some of the key issues discussed at a United Nations forum in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The Fourth World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue (May 5 – 6) hosted by Azerbaijan under the theme ‘Advancing Intercultural Dialogue – New avenues for human security,peace and sustainable development’ examined effective responses to challenges facing human security, including massive migration, violent extremism and conflicts.“Inclusive societies cannot exist without the full participation of youth” -- Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (UNAOC)

The focus has primarily been put on the role of faith, religions, migration, human security, sport, education, art, sustainable development, violent extremism, business in building trust and cooperation among cultures and civilizations.

According to the UN Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC), the Forum provides a platform to discuss the way forward to build societies based on genuine respect for everyone’s rights including freedom of belief, equal opportunities, and good governance as well as an inclusive framework of tolerance and respect for diversity.

Organised in partnership with UNAOC, the Council of Europe, the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the North-South Center of the Council of Europe, and UNESCO, the Forum brought together heads of government and ministers, representatives of inter-governmental organisations, the private sector, policy-makers, cultural professionals, journalists and civil society activists.

‘The World Has Become a Very Complicated Place’

Nadia Al-Nashif, UNESCO Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences, said the Baku Forum has a “very strong vision and resonates deeply with UNESCO’s mandate to build peace in the minds of men and women.”

Night time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan

Night time view of Baku, Azerbaijan. Credit: Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Azerbaijan


“The world has become a very complicated place,” she noted. “We are looking at huge innovations in technology but at the same time, we are facing increased tensions, a result of the lack of general trust that stems from how much insecurity there is in the world.”

Al-Nashif said the UN intercultural dialogue is a platform for people to debate the notion of coexistence and what that means in regards to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that seeks to “promote norms for social justice, advocate for social inclusion, integration, acceptance, and not just tolerance but empathy.”

Ahead of the Forum, the network of the UNESCO Silk Road Online Platform met at the Baku Congress Centre to examine progress made in its 2016-2018 Action Plan.

The Youth Vision

As part of the preparations for the Baku Forum, about 150 youth representatives from around the world gathered at the UN Alliance of Civilizations’ 7th Global Forum (See: BAKU: youth chart vision of inclusive society at UN forum) in Baku, Azerbaijan, 25-27 April 2016.

Young people of all walks of life, from an Internet technology intern to a dentist, have been working to define future narratives to counter potentially compelling discourse of those who seek to divide society.

“People are disconnected because they don’t know each other’s experiences,” Rashida M. Namulondo, a storyteller and actress from Uganda, told communities, and platforms of action, told the UN News Centre during the pre-opening event of the UNAOC’s Global Forum, Baku April 2016.

Namulondo operates an online platform through which people can share each other’s experiences. “It is important that we tell our stories and listen to other people’s stories,” she said, emphasizing the power of storytelling to heal people’s hearts.

Lou Louis Koboji Loboka, a medical lab scientist in South Sudan, was also among the 150 participants at the youth event, titled ‘Living Together in Inclusive Societies: Narratives of Tomorrow.’

Having been displaced to a neighbouring country, he returned home to start a health-training venture. “A lot of youths are not educated, and therefore are messing up the country as I speak,” he said.

Ranim Asfahani, of Syria, said she chose to join the thematic group on youth and children because her organization engages with youth and children. Her one-word message is “peace.”

Shuhei Sakoguchi, a student at Soka University in Japan and a Buddhist, said he joined the thematic group on interfaith because every religion has good principles.

For Minh Anh Thu, of Viet Nam, said she was inspired by many peers who engage in innovative intercultural projects, and this youth event was an opportunity to think about community development and investment in youth in her country.

Inclusive Societies

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser

Addressing the youth to the Global Forum, UNAOC High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser highlighted their ability to transform the world for the better.

“For the Alliance, inclusive societies cannot exist without the full participation of youth,” he said, stressing that UNAOC’s youth-focused activities and programming are built on the principle that young people are the primary agents of change – not just in the future – but in the present as well.

Al-Nasser, of Qatar, who held the presidency of the UN General Assembly for its 2011/2012 session and now heads up the UNAOC as the Secretary-General’s High Representative, said that the recent rise of violent extremism and terrorism worldwide only strengthened his work and mandate.

Growing Migratory Flows Threatening Peace, Security

Given this situation, UNAOC’s work must be more visible than ever, he stressed, noting that his priorities also include addressing issues related to the growing migratory flows that are threatening international peace and security, and the spread of negative narratives, such as hate speech on social media.

According to UNESCO, a boom in the world’s population (more than 7 billion in 2017), the power of technology, more salient human mobility, and the increased flow of goods and ideas across borders have brought cultures much closer together in the 21st century in ways unimaginable only a few decades ago.

“But as some doors have opened, others have closed in particular in the minds of women, men and children living with increased and more complex manifestations of diversity. This has strengthened prejudice, intolerance, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, radicalization and violent extremism.”

The Forum gives added impetus to the UN International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), for which UNESCO is the lead agency within the UN.

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Mob Killing Sparks Fresh Outrage Over Pakistan’s Blasphemy Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/mob-killing-sparks-fresh-outrage-over-pakistans-blasphemy-laws/#comments Fri, 05 May 2017 00:01:39 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150309 A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 5 2017 (IPS)

Aimal Khan, 27, an airman in Pakistan’s Air Force, warns the country will end up in the throes of mayhem if the state does not do something about the abuse of the blasphemy laws. “People will use it to settle personal scores,” he said.

He should know. His younger brother, Mashal Khan, 25, was brutally killed by a mob roused to a frenzy by allegations he had committed blasphemy. “They became the judge, the jury and the executioner,” Aimal said. "It's pretty obvious that religious passions are easily ignited because day in and day out all we hear about is religious sermonizing in one form or the other." --Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy

Studying at the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), Khan was known for speaking out against corruption and injustices prevalent in society. On April 13, he was shot, stripped and not satisfied with that, the mob then beat up his corpse as shown in the graphic video footage.

The police investigation following his killing, however, found no evidence he had committed blasphemy. The government has since arrested 47 of the 49 accused.

Political activist and lawyer Jibran Nasir told IPS that the country’s blasphemy laws are not just used by the land mafia to evict people, but often for raising funds and recruiting members by rogue organisations. “The social media has become a more potent tool where one fake account with just one blasphemous tweet can kill someone,” he said alluding to the fake account created in the name of Mashal Khan to falsely establish he’d committed blasphemy.

According to opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah, since 1990, 65 people have been killed on allegations of committing blasphemy and no one was executed for the crimes.

A month later, Aimal says the family continues to receive phone calls expressing condolences from all across Pakistan. Ordinary people to celebrities and even politicians have visited their home to offer comfort.

“After my brother’s murder, we thought humanity had fled from this country, but I tell you, it’s quite the opposite. We have been given unconditional support,” Aimal said, his voice filled with emotion, over the phone from his village Zaida in Swabi district, KPK.

He hopes his family’s loss can open the door to a meaningful debate on reviewing the infamous laws.

Muhammad Iqbal Khan (left), the father of Mashal Khan, who was murdered by a religious mob in Pakistan. The men offer prayers. Credit: Abdul Hameed Goraya/IPS

Muhammad Iqbal Khan (left), the father of Mashal Khan, who was murdered by a religious mob in Pakistan. The men offer prayers. Credit: Abdul Hameed Goraya/IPS

Aimal’s sentiments are echoed by Reema Omer of the International Commission of Jurists. “If Mashal’s most tragic killing could revive the debate and lead to blasphemy reform, that would be a fitting tribute to his bravery and courage,” she told IPS.

“The law should have been reviewed and reformed a long time ago. These incidents are latest but not the first,” pointed out Nasir. While exploitation of these laws can be corrected through procedural reforms, he said what was innately wrong was that they are in violation of Hanafi jurisprudence [followed in Pakistan] which gives no death penalty to non-Muslims for blasphemy but Pakistani law does.

Asia Bibi, a Christian, has been on death row for the last seven years. International Christian Concern  has termed her case one of the most “controversial” and best examples of the abuse of blasphemy laws.

While a complete scrapping of the law is unlikely, many see this as an opportunity to revive a debate. In 1986, to ‘Islamise’ the country, Pakistan’s then leader General Mohammad Zia ul Haq enacted these laws.

But anyone who has tried to even tried to open debate has either been censured or silenced.

In 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the then governor of Punjab, was assassinated for supporting Asia Bibi, accused of blasphemy. His murder was followed by that of Shahbaz Bhatti, a minister who had talked of misuse of the laws.

Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazal) chief Maulana Fazalur Rehman, enjoying a huge following in the KPK, while condemning Khan’s lynching, said he was well aware that liberal forces would use this incident and call for amendment in the laws, but warned that no one would be allowed to touch it.

“For a few days when there was such an outcry it was felt the time for a critical review of the blasphemy laws had arrived,” said I.A. Rehman, noted rights activist, speaking to IPS. “The clerics were on the defensive.”

This euphoria was short-lived.

Rehman said the lawmakers belonging to religious parties disowned the resolution in the assembly which they had earlier backed.

In fact, soon after Mashal’s lynching, the legislative assembly of Pakistan-administered Pakistan passed two resolutions regarding the finality of Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) and respect of his family and companions.

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

A protest in Karachi over the lynching of Mashal Khan. Credit: Abida Ali/IPS

The resolution also stated that if Ahmadis (declared non-Muslims by the constitution of Pakistan) claim themselves to be Muslims, they should be charged with blasphemy.

He has little hope in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who himself narrowly survived ouster and was saved by a supreme court verdict last month, after the opposition had taken him to court on charges of corruption.

“It [ruling Pakistan Muslim League — PML-N] will not take on the clerics at this stage,” Rehman said, lamenting: “The chance of doing something about blasphemy will again be missed.” But then he never had much hope attached to Sharif in the first place. “The PML-N is an accomplice to orthodoxy therefore there is no hope of a change for the better.”

However, there are others who say the laws have nothing to do with the recent episodes of lynching. The laws were not even invoked once.

Following the killing of Khan, in another part of Pakistan, a man was shot dead by his three sisters. He was accused of blasphemy in 2004 and the sisters in their confessional statement said they were incited by the imam of their neighbourhood mosque.

The same day a mob attacked a man after Friday prayers in northern Pakistan town of Chitral, and was saved in time by the mosque imam and the police officers who intervened and rescued him. The man was mentally ill and was on his way to Islamabad for treatment.

“It’s not the law, it’s the people, a people that have gone berserk,” said eminent educationist, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, who teaches physics at universities in Islamabad and Lahore.

That is why he insists on teaching Occam’s Razor in his classes. “It’s a metaphor for parsimony of assumptions. Start with the obvious, if that doesn’t work then assume that something more complicated is involved,” he explained, adding: “In this [lynching] particular case, it’s pretty obvious that religious passions are easily ignited because day in and day out all we hear about is religious sermonizing in one form or the other.”

But Omer thinks otherwise. “Killings in the name of blasphemy and mob violence after blasphemy allegations cannot be separated from the law and its mandatory death punishment; the impunity – even patronage – enjoyed by perpetrators in the past; and the state’s use of blasphemy to clamp down on dissenting/critical voices,” she said.

Recalling the climate just before Khan’s killing, she said there was renewed movement by various state institutions condemning ‘blasphemers; calling blasphemy ‘an act of terrorism; and urging people to report blasphemy so strict action could be taken against them.

Nasir, too, believed that when the parliament associates the death penalty with a crime it “does trickle down into society, socially and politically”. He gave the example of the arrest of three people for desecrating a Hindu temple and tried under section 295A (of blasphemy laws) which does not carry death penalty but shows clearly that blasphemy against other religions does not create a “huge social or political uproar”.

In addition, Omer said, the existence of the blasphemy laws in their current form gives a certain “cloak of legality” to such calls. “Which is why we shouldn’t lose sight of the connection between the existence of the blasphemy laws and the kind of violence we saw in Mardan, in Chitral, and before that in Kot Radha Kishan and other cases,” she said.

A large number of people accused of blasphemy, or even convicted of blasphemy by trial courts for defiling the Holy Quran, suffer from mental illnesses, said Omer. “This too is a common thread in how blasphemy laws play out in practice,” she said.”This is a damning indictment of the prosecution and police, who allow these cases to continue despite the fact that the accused do not have the requisite capacity to commit a crime.”

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Nikki Haley’s ‘Historic’ Debate on Human Rights Left a Small Impressionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/04/nikki-haleys-historic-debate-on-human-rights-left-a-small-impression/#comments Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:11:08 +0000 Dulcie Leimbach http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150050 Nikki Haley, the American ambassador to the UN, with Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador, before the April 18 Security Council meeting focused solely on human rights. Credit: Rick Bajornas /UN Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: UN photo

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

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

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

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

For leaders of civil society, four things are clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Frank Mulder
SKOPJE, Apr 18 2017 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

Filibuster

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

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

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

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

‘Captured state’

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

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

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

Fake majority

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservatives

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

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

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

Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there is less uncertainly about what happened next.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph pauses to consider, before continuing.

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

Finding such a view in Gonder is much harder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising Populism and Extremism

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

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

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

World, More Dangerous Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telling our story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope persists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equal, Inclusive Citizenship Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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