Inter Press ServiceReligion – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:55:08 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 Civil Society Activists Speak Out– Despite Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/civil-society-activists-speak-despite-threats/#respond Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:49:12 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153575 They are young, smart and willing to take the rough road. Victor, Jubilanté and Khaled are independent fighters who speak out with a force that could possibly change the appearances of their countries, and beyond. These ‘sparks of hope’ were awarded with the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards for their contributions to civil society. Nigeria, […]

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Victor Ugo dedicates the award he won to all Nigerians coping with mental illness. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 15 2017 (IPS)

They are young, smart and willing to take the rough road. Victor, Jubilanté and Khaled are independent fighters who speak out with a force that could possibly change the appearances of their countries, and beyond.

These ‘sparks of hope’ were awarded with the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards for their contributions to civil society. Nigeria, Guyana and Egypt already heard about them, the award will make their endeavors known internationally—and it’s high time to hear these inspiring voices.

Creating awareness for mental health in Nigeria. Motivating young creatives in Guyana to speak out using digital media. Defending human rights and freedom of speech in Egypt. These are some of the missions they have dedicated their lives to. Victor Ugo, Jubilanté Cutting and Khaled al-Balshy received the yearly award in Fiji last week.

The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards seeks to promote individuals and organizations for their excellence and bravery in creating social change. “They inspire compassion and empathy at a time of growing fear, xenophobia, and hate speech,” says Graça Machel, the former First Lady of South Africa.

During the International Civil Society Week (ICSW)— highlighting a conference organized by CIVICUS in Fiji’s capital Suva – the winners had the opportunity to capture a large audience eager to learn about their projects. The interest was overwhelming and often left them exhausted after the daily rounds of interviews and panel discussions. The fourth winner of the prestigious prize – the philanthropic Guerrila Foundation of Germany – was not present in Fiji.

Every year, CIVICUS – a civil society organizations alliance – brings the ICSW to another location to “promote and defend a more just and sustainable future.” Fiji hosted the 2017 event, highlighting the potential and problems of the Pacific.

Victor Ugo (Nigeria) – Best organization of civil society

Victor has the confident stride of a young man with proven achievements while walking from venue to venue at the conference in Suva. He shows no trace of the depression he once suffered from. He was diagnosed with the condition almost 4 years ago. And he was lucky, he got treatment. Most Nigerians who have psychiatric ailments never get help.

Victor Ugo patiently answers questions of interested journalists: “The award makes us more desirable.” Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“Mental healthcare is none existent in Nigeria,” explains Victor. “There is no knowledge. Not just illiterate people, but also university professors think that mental illnesses are caused by evil ghosts. Patients get punished for their disease.”

As a consequence of the stigma, mental health facilities are really poor. “There are only 200 psychiatrists in Nigeria, a country of 186 million people,” an exasperated Victor says. “And many of them go into banking because they can’t find a job.”

After his depression the young doctor founded the Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI). Two years later, it has become Nigeria’s largest mental health organization. MANI combats the stigma, creates awareness and promotes services for mental health. “Most people don’t know the symptoms and that it can be treated.”

Therefor MANI encourages conversation on social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube are platforms used for online campaigns on depression, bipolar disorders or bullying. “We explain how a depression feels like. We make people talk about it,” says Victor. Patients share their experience, family and friends can ask for help. “We try to find people who want to talk about it. We call them our ‘champions of mental health’.”

Media sometimes spread misconceptions about mental health or ignore it completely. “We correct the media so that it is understood that it’s about diseases,” the young man explains. “Suicide, for example. We teach the press how to report on suicides without encouraging it.”

MANI is also creating an online platform to link doctors to patients, like Uber does with drivers and passengers. When a patient asks for help, a therapist in the area is alerted. They can make an appointment after they agree on the price. The platform will be launched next year.

“Today, in villages, patients are still being flogged and chained because of traditional beliefs,” Victor sighs. The taboo needs to be broken. “The less stigma, the more people will ask for help. That will create a market that can encourage more students to become a psychiatrist,” says the hopeful award winner. He dedicates the award to all Nigerians coping with mental illness. “The award makes us more desirable. Everybody wants to join.”

Jubilanté Cutting (Guyana) – Youth Activist Award

At just 19, Jubilanté Cutting founded the Guyana Animation Network (GAN) to help empower young people with skills in digital media and animation. During the conference in Fiji, she was not only promoting the business model of GAN but also trying to inspire. When the stylishly dressed young woman engages in discussions on civil society, she easily impresses people with her enthusiasm and motivational calls to action.

Jubilanté Cutting: “We help children to think out of the box, to learn something about themselves and express themselves.” Credit: Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“I got the spark when I was 17, at a workshop on art, technology and animation in Trinidad and Tobago. There I met many talented people who were pushing out Caribbean style media products. It was an explosion of talent, it made my creative juices flowing. Although I noticed quickly that I’m not very talented as an animator. But I do have a talent for networking, I decided to focus on that and help to develop Guyana’s digital and creative industries,” Jubilanté concludes.

Two years later, the young law student created GAN. In its first year GAN has reached than 3,500 people through summer camps, events, talks in schools and social media. The main purpose is to change a way of thinking. “Art is still seen as a hobby, not as a professional career,” says Jubilanté who taps her fingernails on the table out of frustration.

“But digital creatives can have a profitable career. If we could attach a price on creativity, many people would already be millionaires. We have to embrace creativity as more than just fun and teach people how to monetize it.”

And no better way to learn new skills and creative mind sets than to start at a young age. “Children are an important target for us,” Jubilanté points out. “Our society is ignoring the young ones. I use every forum I get to emphasize this. Children are born in the digital age. We have to learn them to use that technology in a responsible way. That’s why our organization opens its doors to children, because we acknowledge how transformational they are,” says the young woman.

Jubilanté tells enthusiastically what happened at one of her workshops. When teaching software to create digital graphics, the children aged 6 and 7 were quicker than the older ones to grasp the complicated tool. “Children are unafraid to learn, that’s critical for creative development. But books only teach them things in a structured way. We help children to think out of the box, to motivate them to learn something about themselves and express themselves.”

It took Jubilanté and her team of co-workers and volunteers a year to get the attention of the government. “We need more infrastructure, training and equipment to break the barriers for development. The Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Award won us the recognition of the government and it draws attention to Guyana and the whole Caribbean. Now people know that something is happening there with digital media.

At her 21, Jubilanté is already a force that drives things forward on sheer will power. GAN is only one year old, but she is thinking big. “I want to spread the Caribbean culture. Everyone already loves Bob Marley and Rhianna. I will make them love Caribbean animation and promote our own artists.”

Khaled al-Balshy (Egypt) – Individual Activist Award

Khaled al-Balshy is a prominent human rights defender and journalist fighting to protect free speech. In Egypt, that is no easy job. The government has increasingly cracked down on the press and has become one of the world’s biggest jailers of journalists. In a nation where media are under constant attack, Khaled is struggling to defend freedom of the press.

The journalist is gifted with the calmness necessary to face hardship. Khaled knows all too well how an Egyptian cell looks like. He has a suspended 1 year sentence for harboring journalists wanted for expressing critical views. His news website al-Bedaiah is blocked. He was accused for “insulting the police” on social media. The courts have 10 pending cases against him. These are just a few of the harassments he has grown accustomed to.

“The situation in Egypt is one of the worst in the world. More than 12 journalists have been murdered in the last three years. More than 20 are in prison, some without clear accusations. Many others are being stopped from writing and publishing,” Khaled explains for the umpteenth time. He gives many interviews at the conference in Fiji, always with the same energy and indignation.

Known to be an ardent defender of press freedom, Khaled leads numerous initiatives for the detained and disappeared journalists. “I write about their cases. I visit their families. We organize meetings and we create groups that helps lawyers with the legal process.” Sometimes that leads to success. “When a journalist is released, we are happy. But only for a few minutes. Sometimes they have spent years in prison without a clear accusation.”

“This absurd dictatorship is feels threatened, why else would they imprison us?” Khaled continues. “They are afraid of us. When we write, we make a change. If we just tell the truth all the time, that change will come. We did this with Mubarak, we can do it again with al-Sisi,” says Khaled. “The only way to protect freedom of expression is to exercise it and to denounce the violations against it.”

“When I knew I won the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Award, I was sad for 3 days. I’m getting an award, while people are spending years in prison. My son convinced me that this award is for everyone, for the people I’m fighting for. It’s a message to the imprisoned journalists that their voices can break through prison walls.” The Tunisian translator wipes tears off her face when she repeats his words in English. Her country had a successful uprising, the one in Egypt has failed.

But Khaled has hope. He will continue to fight. “I want to make that change for my son, he is making me do this.”


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world met in Suva, Fiji, December 4 through December 8 for International Civil Society Week..

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Shedding Diplomacy, Roberto Savio Speaks about Fear as a Tool to Gain Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/shedding-diplomacy-roberto-savio-speaks-fear-tool-gain-power/#respond Thu, 14 Dec 2017 11:17:39 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153533 This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

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This op-ed by Roberto Savio, IPS founder and President Emeritus is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the MENA region held on 14 December at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 14 2017 (IPS)

At the outset my thanks to Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Kassim, and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy who lead the Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue for organizing this panel discussion at a critical moment in history. The Centre, is one of the few actors for peace and cooperation between the Arab world and Europe. As a representative of global civil society, I think it will be more meaningful if I speak without the constraints of diplomacy, and I make frank and unfettered reflections.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The misuse of religion, of populism and xenophobia, is a sad reality, which is not clearly addressed any longer, but met with hypocrisy and not outright denunciation. Only now the British are realizing that they voted for Brexit, on the basis of a campaign of lies. But nobody has taken on publicly Johnson or Farage, the leaders of Brexit, after Great Britain accepted to pay, as one of the many costs of divorce, at least 45 billion Euro, instead of saving 20 billion Euro, as claimed by the ‘brexiters’. And there are only a few analysis on why political behaviour is more and more a sheer calculation, without any concern for truth or the good of the country.

President Trump could be a good case study on the relations between politics and populism. Just a few days ago the United States has declared that they are withdrawing from the UN Global Compact on Migration. This has nothing to do with the interest or the identity of United States, which has built itself as a country of immigrants. It has to do with the fact that this decision is popular with a part of American population, which is voting for President Trump, like the evangelicals. I have here to show the message they are circulating, after the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what it is said in the Bible. If we recreate the world described in the bible, Jesus will make his second coming to earth, and only the just will be rewarded. And therefore they think that Trump brings the world closer to the return of Christ, and therefore he acts for the good of their beliefs. Evangelicals are close to thirty million, and they strongly believe that when the second coming of Jesus will happen, he will recognize only them as the believers who are on the right path. Trump is not an evangelical, and he has shown little interest in religion. But, like each of his actions, he is coherent with his views during the campaign, which brought together all the dissatisfied people catapulting him into the White House. Everything he does, is not in the interest of the world or of the United States. He is just focused on keeping the support of his electors – those who do not come from big towns, academia, media and the Silicon Valley. They come mainly from impoverished and uninformed white electors, who feel left out from the benefits of globalization. They believe those benefits went to the elite, to the big towns and to the few winners, and believe that there is an international plot to humiliate the United States. So, climate change for them and Trump is a Chinese hoax ! During the first year, Trump can well have a shocking approval rating of 32%, the lowest in history for a President of United States. But 92% of his voters would re-elect him. And as only 50% of Americans vote, he can conveniently ignore general public opinion.

It is not the place here to go deeper into American political trends. But Trump is a perfect example to see why a large number of Europeans, or even countries like Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic, are ignoring the decisions of the European Union on migrants, and why populism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise everywhere.

Fear has become the tool to get to power.

Historians agree that two main engines of change in history, are greed and fear.

Well, we have been trained, since the collapse of communism, to look to greed as a positive value. Markets (no man or ideas), was the new paradigm. States were an obstacle to a free market. Globalization, it was famously said, would lift all boats, and benefit everybody. In fact, markets without rules was self-destructive, and not all boats were lifted, but only yachts, the bigger the better. The rich became richer, and the poor poorer. The process is so speedy, that ten years ago the richest 528 people had the same wealth of 2.3 billion people. This year, they have become 8, and this number is likely to shrink soon. All statistics are clear, and globalization based on free market is losing some of its shine.

But meanwhile we have lost many codes of communication. In the political debate there is no more reference to social justice, solidarity, participation, equity, the values in the modern constitutions, on which we built international relations. Now the codes are competition, success, profit and individual achievement. During my lectures at schools, I am dismayed to see a materialistic generation, who do not care to vote, to change the world. And the distance between citizens and political institutions is increasing every day. The only voices reminding us of justice and solidarity, and are voices from religious leaders: Pope Bergoglio, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, and the Grand Mufti Muhammad Hussein, just to name the most prominent. And with media who are now also based on market as the only criteria, those voices are becoming weaker.

After a generation of greed, we are now in a generation of fear. We should notice that, before the great economic crisis of 2009 (provoked by greed: banks have paid until now 280 billion dollars of penalties and fines), xenophobe and populist parties were always minorities (with exception of Le Pen in France). The crisis created fear and uncertainties, and then immigration started to rise, especially after the invasion of Libya in 2001 and Iraq in 2013.We are now in the seventh year of the Syrian drama, which displaced 45% of the population. Merkel is now paying a price for her acceptance of Syrian refugees, and it is interesting to note that two thirds of the votes to Alternative Fur Deutschland, the populist and xenophobe party, comes from former East Germany, that has few refugees but an income, which is nearly 25% lower. Fear, again, has been the engine for change of German history.

Europe was direct lyresponsible for these migrations. A famous cartoonist El Roto from El Pais, has made a cartoon showing bombs flying in the air, and migrant’s boats coming from the sea. “We send them bombs, and they send us migrants”. But there is no recognition of this. Those who escape from hunger and war are now depicted as invaders. Countries who until few years ago, like the Nordic ones, were considered synonymous with civic virtues, and who spent a considerable budget for international cooperation, are now erecting walls and barbed wire. Greed and fear have been so successfully exploited by the new nationalist, populist and xenophobe parties, that now they keep growing at every election, from Austria to the Netherlands, from Czech Republic to Great Britain (where they created Brexit ), and then Germany, and in a few months, Italy. The three horses of apocalypse, which in the thirties were the basis for the Second Wold War: nationalism, populism and xenophobia, are back with growing popular support, and politicians openly riding them.

But what is shocking is that we have now a new element of division: religion, which is widely used against immigrants and should instead unite us. Religion has always been used to get power and legitimacy. Common people never started the wars of religion in Europe but by princes and kings. A few years ago we did commemorate the expulsion first of the Jews, and then of the Moors, from Spain, where they lived in harmony and peace with the Christians, forming a civilization of the three cultures. And a few weeks ago, there was a great march in Warsaw, ignored by the media, with 40.000 people, many coming from all over Europe and the United States. They marched in the name of God, crying death to the Jews and Muslim.

But while Protestant, Catholic, Muslim and Jew religious leaders engage in a positive dialogue for peace and cooperation, a number of self-proclaimed defenders of the faith, are bringing fear, misery and death. And it should be clear that we have no clash of religions. It is a clash of those who use religion for power and legitimacy. And they ride an unrealistic historical dream. To return to a world, which is gone, where mines will reopen, the country will go back to its former glory: a world, that dreams not of a better future, but of a better past. Africa is going to double its population, with 80% of its population under 35 years; while in Europe it will be just 20%. There is no hope for Europe to be viable in a global economy and in a competitive world, without substantial immigration. Yet, to speak about that in the political debate, is now a kiss of death.

In conclusion, I must stress that we face a sad reality, which cannot be ignored any longer, even if it is not politically correct. Ideals have always been used to gain support, even from those who did not believe them. And historians teach us that in modern times humankind has fallen into three traps: In the name of God, to divide and not to dialogue; in the name of the nation, often to rally support and bring citizens to wars; and now, in name of the profit. I think it is time to make new alliances, and launch a great powerful campaign of awareness on the false prophets, with mobilizations of media, civil society and legitimate politicians, to educate citizens that immigration must be regulated, as it is a necessity, with which Europe must live.

We must establish policies, and even after Trumps leaves the global Compact, like he left the Paris Agreement on climate change, he will remain an isolated voice, while citizens will strive for a better world, with no fears, based on common values. We must take an unpopular but vital action for education and participation. It will be unpopular and difficult we know. But if we do not take this road, human beings, who are the only ‘animals’ who do not learn from past mistakes, will again go through blood, misery and destruction.

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A Responsibility to Prevent Genocidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=responsibility-prevent-genocide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/responsibility-prevent-genocide/#respond Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:43:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153474 Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide. On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018. […]

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Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Credit: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2017 (IPS)

Almost 70 years since the Genocide Convention was adopted, the international community still faces a continued and growing risk of genocide.

On the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide, the UN launched an appeal for member states to ratify the 1948 convention by the end of 2018.

“Genocide does not happen by accident; it is deliberate, with warning signs and precursors,” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Often it is the culmination of years of exclusion, denial of human rights and other wrongs. Since genocide can take place in times of war and in times of peace, we must be ever-vigilant,” he continued.

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng echoed similar sentiments, stating: “It is our inaction, our ineffectiveness in addressing the warning signs, that allows it to become a reality. A reality where people are dehumanized and persecuted for who they are, or who they represent. A reality of great suffering, cruelty, and of inhumane acts that have at the basis unacceptable motivations.”

The Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” This includes not only killing members of the group, but also causing serious bodily or mental harm and imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Despite the comprehensive definition of genocide in the Convention, genocide has recurred multiple times, Guterres said.

“We are still reacting rather than preventing, and acting only when it is often too late. We must do more to respond early and keep violence from escalating,” he said.

One such case may be Myanmar.

After a year of investigation, the organization Fortify Rights and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that there is “mounting” evidence that points to a genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar with Burmese Army soldiers, police, and civilians as the major perpetrators.

“The Rohingya have suffered attacks and systematic violations for decades, and the international community must not fail them now when their very existence in Myanmar is threatened,” said Cameron Hudson from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“Without urgent action, there’s a high risk of more mass atrocities,” he continued.

More than half of Myanmar’s one million Rohingya have fled the country since violence reignited in August.

“They tried to kill us all,” 25-year-old Mohammed Rafiq from Maungdaw Township told researchers when recalling how soldiers gathered villagers and opened fire on them on 30 August. It has been the largest and fastest flow of destitute people across a border since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.

“There was nothing left. People were shot in the chest, stomach, legs, face, head, everywhere.”

Eyewitness testimony revealed that Rohingya civilians were burned alive, women and girls raped, and men and boys arrested en masse.

“These crimes thrive on impunity and inaction…condemnations aren’t enough,” said Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith.

On the other side of the border, refugees find themselves living in overcrowded camps with limited access to food, water, and shelter. They are in need of treatment for not only their physical injuries, but also the mental and emotional scars from their traumatic experiences.

IOM spoke to some of the survivor who made the treacherous journey by boat to Bangladesh including 8-year-old Arafat. His entire family including his parents, two brothers, and a sister drowned when the fishing boat carrying them capsized in stormy weather.

“Where will I go now,” he cried, transfixed with shock.

The government’s strict restrictions on Rohingya’s daily lives also point to signs of genocide.

In 2013, authorities placed a two-child limit on Rohingya couples in two predominantly Muslim townships in Rakhine State.

Others have come forward to claim that the crisis in Myanmar may constitute genocide such as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Considering Rohingyas’ self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture – and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group – given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” al-Hussein asked.

Though the UN Human Rights Council recently condemned the systematic and gross violations of human rights in Myanmar, the Security Council has failed to act on the crisis.

As the UN appeals for the remaining 45 member states to ratify the Genocide Convention, what about nations like Myanmar who are already party to the document?

The Convention requires all states to take action to prevent and punish genocide. Not only Myanmar, but the entire international community has failed to protect Rohingya civilians from mass atrocities.

“The world has reacted with horror to the images of their flight, and the stories of murder, rape and arson brought from their still smoldering villages in North Rakhine State. But this horror will have to be matched by action on the part of the international community, if we are to avert a humanitarian disaster on both sides of the border,” said IOM’s Director-General William Lacy Swing.

Perhaps the international community may need to consider additional mechanisms to address and prevent genocide, making sure ‘never again’ really means never again.

To date, a total of 149 member states have ratified the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

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Despite Progress, Gay & Abortion Rights Face Threats in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/12/despite-progress-gay-abortion-rights-face-threats-latin-america/#respond Thu, 07 Dec 2017 23:20:33 +0000 Gillian Kane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153396 Gillian Kane is a senior policy advisor for Ipas, an international women's reproductive health and rights organisation.

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Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) pride march. Credit: OHCHR/Joseph Smida

By Gillian Kane
SUVA, Fiji, Dec 7 2017 (IPS)

Cancun, Mexico, of white sand beaches and spring break-style nightlife, was, this past June, the unusual backdrop for a regional gathering on human rights and democracy.

Tour buses accustomed to ferrying sandal-shod tourists to Mayan ruins, instead, transported well-heeled activists and government representatives from their hotels to the Centro de Convenciones.

Parked a few kilometers away, one bus, neon orange and passenger-less, stood out. The so-called “Freedom Bus” was emblazoned with massive letters; “Leave our children alone!” #dontmesswithourchildren.

It was, according to its organizers, designed to get the attention of delegates attending the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). They wanted attendees to know they were putting themselves on the line to resist all attempts by permissive governments to indoctrinate their children in the immoral principles of “gender ideology.” They were, they insisted, defending their religious and freedom of speech rights.

Never mind that there is no “gender ideology,” much less governments that are forcing children to learn inappropriate material. This bus is just one of many recent direct-action attempts by right-wing organizations to pedal a falsehood that governments, aided by well-endowed liberal foundations, are out to get your children.

The bus provides the arresting visual, but it’s what takes place inside the conference center that should raise our hackles. The concern for the wellbeing of children is a cover; what these organizations want to do is disable efforts to advance protections and rights for girls, women and LGBTI people.

The movement, which defines itself as in opposition to “gender ideology,” is a response to progress made in the last decade advancing human rights for vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, the decade has also seen an increase in the organizing power and political influence of conservative evangelical churches, especially in Central America, Mexico, and Brazil.

Latin America is the locus for much of the progress on LGBTI and abortion rights, both at the country and regional level. Same-sex marriages are legal in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.

And significant advances have been made to increase access to legal abortion in Argentina, Chile, Mexico City, Colombia, Bolivia and Uruguay. At the regional level, the OAS has been a champion for LGBTI rights as early as 2008, when it adopted its first resolution condemning violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

By 2011, the OAS had created a dedicated LGBTI Unit at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The progress did not go unchallenged.

Opponents of sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTI rights in Latin America responded to victories directly, through both legislation and litigation. They also responded in more insidious ways.

Last year, in Brazil, ministries promoting equal rights for women and black communities were downgraded when they were folded into the Ministry of Justice, effectively neutralizing the ability of its leadership to negotiate or move forward any progressive policies.

The deliberate dismantling of government infrastructures that protect human rights is not endemic to Brazil. Indeed, it is a dedicated strategy of anti-rights organizations who are working to both coopt and fragment these spaces.

The OAS experienced this most fiercely at its 2013 General Assembly in Guatemala. For the first time this forum, which is historically a leader in advancing human rights, witnessed a coordinated movement forcefully agitating against reproductive and LGBTI rights.

Not coincidentally, it was also the year the OAS approved a convention against all forms of intolerance, racism and racial discrimination, which included protections for LGBTI people.

The following year, at the 2014 General Assembly in Paraguay, these same groups weren’t just oppositional to proposed human rights resolutions. They attempted to create new policies they claimed were rights-based, but were in fact camouflage to take away rights.

A proposed “family policy” included protection of life from conception, a well-used strategy to prevent access to abortion. Each subsequent assembly has been marked not just by the higher profile and activism of anti-rights groups, but also by a decrease in civility.

By the time of the 2016 General Assembly in the Dominican Republic, their ire was directed at transwomen. They felt sufficiently empowered to harass and intimidate transwomen who attended the Assembly as they entered women’s restrooms. Still, it’s clearly not sufficient to menace people inside the halls of diplomacy, but one must take the show on the road.

Cancun was not the first stop for the “Freedom Bus,” which had already made the rounds in Latin America, the United States, and Europe. The organized opposition to human rights plays out differently in each country context, but shared patterns of work are evident.

After identifying an opportunity to dismantle human rights mechanisms they see as favorable to women and LGBTI communities (women’s ministries, the OAS, etc.) they abandon facts and misrepresent the truth to advance an agenda that creates moral panic, and ultimately, that will motivate civil society and policy makers to support their regressive agenda.

These strong-arm tactics are shrinking the shared space for public discourse, and this is cause for alarm. They may have succeeded in raising their profile at the OAS, and enlisting conservative governments to support their agenda.

But they have not yet succeeded in shutting down the voices of progressives committed to human rights. The OAS continues to provide human rights activists and progressive governments the infrastructure to advance, and this must be preserved at all costs.


This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world are currently meeting in Suva, Fiji, through 8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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“Every Day Is a Nightmare”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=every-day-nightmare http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/every-day-nightmare/#respond Wed, 29 Nov 2017 00:07:50 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153235 In this special series of reports, IPS journalists travel to the border region between Bangladesh and Myanmar to speak with Rohingya refugees, humanitarian workers and officials about the still-unfolding human rights and health crises facing this long-marginalized and persecuted community.

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A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

A Rohingya woman and child at Kutupalong camp, about 35 km from Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Nov 29 2017 (IPS)

Parul Akhtar,* a Rohingya woman in her mid-twenties, may never wish to remember the homeland she and her children left about three weeks ago.

Too scared to speak out, Parul, the mother of two young children, rests inside the makeshift tent she now calls her home in Kutupalong in southeastern Bangladesh, which is hosting thousands of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.“When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.” --Nasima Aktar

But it is still fresh in her mind as she recalls the violence she and her family endured day after day when truckloads of army soldiers, along with local Buddhist men, came to violate women, loot valuables and burn homes while picking up young men in her village in Rajarbil in Maungdaw district in Myanmar.

“My body shivers when I recall those days,” says Parul, visibly upset by the horrifying memories.

Standing in front of her tent in Modhuchhara camp in the vast and so far the biggest Rohingya refugee camp in Kutupalong, about 35 kilometers from the nearest city of Cox’s Bazar, Parul, narrates the ordeal of escaping the atrocities.

“It was a nightmare trying to escape and dodge the embedded informers, army and of course, police,” Parul says.

“We fled in the darkness as our homes burnt in fierce flames. The entire village of Rajarbil turned into a ghost town,” Parul recounts, tears on her cheeks.

Parul was gang-raped weeks before she and her family arrived in Bangladesh, a south Asian country with a highly dense population even before the crisis.  She is one of about a million Rohingya refugees who fled their ancestral home in north Rakhine state, which is said to be one of the poorest states in Myanmar.

Laila Khatun*, another survivor of mass gang rapes by the junta soldiers and other security forces, describes how she, her husband and four children were beaten and tied up inside her thatched home in south Aung Dawng village in Maundaw district and threatened with being burnt alive.

“I begged the soldiers to show mercy to us,” says Laila, also in her early twenties. “I was dragged outside and stripped and then I don’t remember how many of the soldiers raped me in turns.”

Laila’s family was spared only because she showed no resistance to sexual acts which the Rohingya women call ‘Jhulum’ carried out in front of her family.

A fellow rape victim, Nasima Aktar* from Hassurata village in Mangdaw, says, “When I came back to consciousness, I found my brothers and husband missing. My children were also not spared.”

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

Rohingya women at Kutupalong camp. There are now over a million refugees in Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

This IPS correspondent visited the local hospital in Cox’s Bazar. Many of those approached to speak were too frightened to talk to a reporter.

“Their sufferings are unbearable,” said one of the doctors who requested anonymity. “We have treated scores of children who were shot and women whose legs were also blown off. I have heard of such conditions in war zones but these are innocent, unarmed people. What crimes they could possibly have committed which exposes them to landmines and indiscriminate gunshots?”

The road to safe shelter across the border in Bangladesh is not easy. Thousands who flee their homes take the risk of following almost the same route through the rough, often muddy and hilly terrain of dense forest, while few others have attempted tried to sail across the rough sea of the Bay of Bengal.

Peyara Begum* narrates how she and her neighbours escaped to reach Kutupalong in Ukhiya, a small town south of the popular tourist city Cox’s Bazar.

“It was dark and we had to carry our children and bags of whatever we could pack to run for our lives,” Peyara says, adding, “We had no men with us, only seven of us [women]. We walked for 12 days across the slopes in complete silence to evade being detected by the security men who hunt for young men and women.”

The brutality towards the Rohingyas, a majority of whom are Muslims, was well-documented long before the world came to know about the Burmese junta regime’s “ethnic cleansing,” which has escalated since late August.

The regime’s top leaders are widely accused of ordering torture, enforced disappearance, beatings, arbitrary detentions, shootings and killings to spread fear among the Rohingyas and force them out.

Hashem Ali*, one of the many survivors, showed his wounded left hand, which was recently operated on in a hospital in Cox’s Bazar.

Ali, who arrived in the camp about a month ago, describes how he and three other young men escaped near death when the Nasaka (Myanmar border guards) opened fire on them.

“We were a group of eight. When we heard the gunshots from behind us deep in the dark forest, we split and ran. I was shot in my left arm in indiscriminate shooting but did not stop. After a chase of about 20 to 25 minutes, we were only four. One of my fellows had seen two of the four men accompanying us get shot and never saw them again,” Ali says.

A fellow survivor, Joshim from Shilkhali village in Maungdaw, says, “For the past four months none of the men, particularly young ones, could stay with their families.

“I have witnessed my own brother and many other men being dragged out of their homes, being beaten until they were loaded on the army trucks,” recalls Ali, who broke down crying on his knees.

“Every day is a nightmare,” says Mosammet Jahanara*, 33, from Rasidong village in Maungdaw. “Men, young women and even tewnaged girls would go into hiding whenever we heard the sound of motor vehicles approaching our village.”

“Machine guns were fired at the thatched homes,” Jahanara says. “We would duck our heads down and run for shelter. Some fell on the ground bleeding to death while others, too weak to escape, were picked up for torture.”

The camps scattered across the 30 km stretch of Nayapara to Kutupalongmay are a temporary safe shelter, but young women and girls are still at risk of being exploited.

Some 52 percent of the population is women, most of whom have had no education. Many are now single mothers.

Sarat Dash, Mission Head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IPS, “Women are some of the worst affected by this crisis. Over half of the Rohingya refugees seeking safety in Cox’s Bazar are women and many of them have experienced physical and sexual assault.”

“For some women, settling in Cox’s Bazar does not equal safety. There have been cases of women and girls becoming the target of traffickers, hoping to prey off their vulnerability. IOM is working to prevent exploitation and trafficking. Connected to this is also the issue of forced and early marriage. Seen as a means of protection and economic empowerment, we are concerned that young girls are being married off to older men.”

Dr Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy, Chief of Health, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh, told IPS “Addressing the Rohingya issue is challenging. In a very short time, we’ve already set up 13 Women Friendly Spaces (WFS) which offer safe areas where women and girls have been able to access basic services such as counseling, referrals to medical and other services, information about other specialised services and humanitarian aid, and at times temporary shelters.”

He continued, “WFS workers and community watch groups support women and girls who have experienced, or are at risk of gender based violence, including sexual violence. We are working with community groups and partners to prevent gender-based violence, which often spikes within the context of humanitarian emergencies.”

The spokesperson of United Nations High Commission for Refugees or UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, Mohammed Abu Asaker told IPS, “UNHCR and partner organizations identified many families headed by children and children who are alone or unaccompanied.”

He says, “We are working with other child protection actors towards having sustainable foster care arrangements within the communities. We believe that it’s very important for these children to stay with their communities and to stay with people from the same village (neighbors), or with their extended family members if they have them.”

The scale of the attention from the international community for the refugees is unprecedented and their activities in Cox’s Bazar is a testimony. Bangladesh now hosts over a million refugees, with more arriving every day through 39 border points, in addition to some 300,000 already registered refugees hosted since 1992.

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Executive Director of COAST Trust, a local NGO pioneering in crisis management also working with many international aid agencies, like Mercy Malaysia, told IPS, “The crisis is huge and the interventions like counseling for trauma are also a massive challenge. We noticed from our own assessment that almost every woman and young girl is suffering trauma from sexual exploitation or killing memories. Despite mitigating the basic needs, addressing such a massive traumatized population is certainly a big task.”

Life for the Rohingya population had always been miserable, with limited access to basic services like healthcare and safe water and few livelihood opportunities.

The Rohingya community has one of the lowest literacy rates in Myanmar. Muslims face restrictions on freedom of movement and access to education. Many Rakhine contest the claims of the Rohingya to a distinct ethnic heritage and historic links to Rakhine State, viewing the Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ (the language spoken in Bangladesh) with no cultural, religious or social ties to Myanmar.

They are not considered one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982, which has effectively rendered them stateless.

Since 2012, incidents of religious intolerance and incitement to hatred by extremist and ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups have increased across the country. The Rohingya and other Muslims are often portrayed as a “threat to race and religion”. Against this backdrop, tensions have occasionally erupted into violence.

The so-called “security operations” led to numerous reports of serious abuses by government security forces against Rohingya villagers, including summary killings, rape and other sexual violence, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, and arson.

A recent UN report says these actions amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

The military insists this “clearance operation” was a justified counterinsurgency operation following an October 9, 2016 attack on security forces near the Bangladesh border, which resulted in the deaths of nine policemen.

Global leaders have called on Myanmar to respect the rule of law and end the atrocities on the innocent civilians.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto administrator, is facing mounting criticism for failing to protect the Rohingya.

*Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh are supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rejoicing in the Other and Celebrating Diversity Are Needed More than Ever to Address the Root-Causes of Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/rejoicing-celebrating-diversity-needed-ever-address-root-causes-intolerance/#respond Thu, 16 Nov 2017 17:39:19 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153069 The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalization – targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons – that is taking effect in many regions of the world. In his statement issued in relation to […]

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By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, Nov 16 2017 (IPS)

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim deplored the rise of xenophobia, bigotry and marginalization – targeting refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons – that is taking effect in many regions of the world.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

In his statement issued in relation to the observation of the 2017 International Day for Tolerance, the Geneva Centre’s Chairman remarked that people in conflict zones or in areas affected by climate change are left with no other option than to flee their home societies owing to the rise of violent extremism and the adverse impact of armed conflict. Dr. Al Qassim said:

“Meanwhile, populist movements and right-wing parties seek to legitimize their political ideologies through hate rhetoric, bigotry and stereotyping of migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons.

“Exclusion and marginalization of displaced people – as witnessed in several countries – exacerbate xenophobia, bigotry and racism. Differences related to cultures and to religions are presented as obstacles and as being damaging to modern societies. This explains the rise of social exclusion which leaves the impression that cultural diversity is a threat, and not a source of richness,” stated the Chairman of the Geneva Centre.

Dr. Al Qassim called upon societies both in the Arab region and in the West to stand united in addressing simultaneously the rise of violent extremism and of populism. He also appealed to global decision-makers to step up their efforts to create a climate that is conducive to respecting the dignity of all communities and to the achievement of peace and stability in regions affected by conflict and violence.

“Changing people’s narratives and managing diversity is key to facilitating a successful integration process of displaced people in host societies and to overcome the worrying trend of a toxic discourse against the ‘Other’ that is gaining ground in many societies around the world.

“We need to intensify dialogue between and within societies, civilizations and cultures. We need to learn more about one another and to break down the walls of ignorance and prejudice that have insulated societies,”
highlighted Dr. Al. Qassim.

Against this background, he added the Geneva Centre is in the process of arranging a World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.” This event – Dr. Al Qassim noted – will be convened at the United Nations Office in Geneva in June 2018 and will bring together leaders from the world’s main religions whether spiritual or lay.

“The ambition of this conference is to chart a more inclusive understanding and forward-looking discussion in addressing religious intolerance and in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights. This will obviate the need for diverse segments of a native population to fall back on sub-identities heretofore referred to as ‘minorities’.

“The World Conference will become an opportunity to harness the collective energy of religious and lay leaders to capitalize on the convergence between religious faiths, beliefs and value systems to respond with a unified voice to the sweeping rise of intolerance affecting the world.

“In moments where the fear of the stranger has become the norm in many societies, rejoicing in the Other and celebrating diversity are needed more than ever to address the root-causes of intolerance worldwide,” concluded Dr. Al Qassim.

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Aid Groups Sound Alarm on DRC Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/aid-groups-sound-alarm-drc-crisis/#respond Mon, 13 Nov 2017 09:25:23 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152989 The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and the international community must step in before it worsens, humanitarian agencies warn. The escalation of ethnic clashes in southeastern DRC in recent months has left millions displaced and on the verge of starvation. In the past year alone, the […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2017 (IPS)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis and the international community must step in before it worsens, humanitarian agencies warn.

The escalation of ethnic clashes in southeastern DRC in recent months has left millions displaced and on the verge of starvation.

In the past year alone, the conflict has displaced nearly 2 million, 850,000 of whom are children and some of whom have fled to the neighboring nations of Angola and Zambia. DRC already had the highest number of new displacements in the world in 2016.

Last month, the UN declared the DRC a level three humanitarian emergency—the highest possible classification on par with Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

“The alarm bells are ringing loud and clear,” said Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) DRC Country Director Ulrika Blom.

“The UN system-wide L3 response is only activated for the world’s most complex and challenging emergencies, when the entire aid system needs to scale up and respond to colossal needs.”

According to the World Food Programme (WFP), over 3 million people in the Kasai region are severely food-insecure, exacerbating hunger and malnutrition.

“As many as 250,000 children could starve in Kasai in the next few months unless enough nutritious food reaches them quickly,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley after a four-day mission to the central African country.

NRC said that over 80 percent of people in displacement camps in Tanganyika province did not have access to clean drinking water, heightening the risk of cholera outbreaks.

Though WFP and NRC are both scaling up assistance, aid agencies are constrained by challenges in funds and access.

The UN’s humanitarian response appeal for DRC is only 33 percent funded, the lowest level of funding for the country in more than 10 years, while WFP has received only one percent of the 135 million dollars needed for the next eight months.

Multiple active militias, poor road networks, and the upcoming rainy season further impede humanitarian access.

Swift intervention is needed now to stop the conflict and address humanitarian needs in order to prevent “long-term chaos,” Beasley said.

Though some families have been able to return to their villages in Kasai, Beasley noted that many could not work on their fields for fear of being attacked again.

“I have met too many women and children whose lives have been reduced to a desperate struggle for survival…that’s heartbreaking, and it’s unacceptable,” he said.

Blom expressed hope that a level three emergency classification will bring in more funds, and highlighted the importance of having such resources be flexible.

For instance, North Kivu, which hosts the largest number of displaced people in the country, is not included within the UN’s emergency classification. Blom said that though North Kivu is not experiencing the same level of violence as seen in Kasai, the conflict’s unpredictable nature could change this.

“Resources coming into the country must be flexible so we can put them to use where needs and gaps arise. Lives depend on it,” she warned.

DRC’s long-standing conflict has left over 8 million people in need of assistance and protection. The most recent iteration of the crisis has partly been fueled by the refusal of President Joseph Kabila to step down after his mandate expired in December 2016

Beasley said he saw the horror in survivor’s eyes as they told stories of beheadings and sexual violence.

“The Kasai region, it was rather appalling in ways that are truly hard to explain, in ways you actually don’t want to explain.”

According to a mission report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), security forces and militias “actively fomented, fueled, and occasionally led, attacks on the basis of ethnicity.”

Witnesses told OCHR that two pregnant women’s foetus’ were removed and allegedly chopped into pieces, while another two women were accused of being witches and were beheaded.

Among the survivors was a woman who was raped with a rifle barrel four hours after giving birth. “I did not end up like the others because I lied on the ground pretend to be dead…and I hid my baby under my body,” she told OHCHR. Her newborn baby was reportedly shot twice in the head.

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‘Never Again’: Investing in Prevention and Early Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/never-investing-prevention-early-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=never-investing-prevention-early-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/never-investing-prevention-early-action/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 17:30:14 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152858 After the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations promised ‘never again.’ But has the international community kept their word? From Mexico to Myanmar, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied. Millions continue to be targeted for their religious, national, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and some are even forced to cross borders to escape violence committed simply because […]

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Adama Dieng (centre), the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, briefs journalists during his visit to the Central African Republic. At left is Vladimir Monteiro, Spokesperson for the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Credit: UN Photo/Herve Serefio

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 2 2017 (IPS)

After the Rwandan genocide, the United Nations promised ‘never again.’ But has the international community kept their word?

From Mexico to Myanmar, conflicts and humanitarian crises have multiplied.

Millions continue to be targeted for their religious, national, racial or ethnic backgrounds, and some are even forced to cross borders to escape violence committed simply because of their identity.

IPS spoke to the UN Secretary-General’s Advisor for the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng about these complex crises and efforts needed to avoid another Rwandan genocide.

Q: As Special Advisor, what crises today are most concerning and should be paid attention to or acted on?

A. The situations in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar, South Sudan and Syria are some of the places that I have raised concern about recently, although there are many other countries that require attention, including Iraq.

In Syria, the atrocities that have been reported by the Commission of Inquiry have truly shocked the conscience of humanity, from the intensive bombardment of Aleppo last year to the alleged use of chemical weapons, as well as the continued besieging of thousands of civilians in flagrant violation of international law. Despite this, the Security Council has largely failed to take action to protect civilians and provide accountability for victims.

When I visited the Central African Republic earlier this month I was told of serious violations against the civilian population, particularly women and children, for allegedly belonging to certain ethnic or religious groups. Despite progress made towards peace, there are still worrying occurrences of manipulation and incitement to ethnic and religious hatred that needs to be addressed by the government, with the support of the international community, in order to sustain the country’s fragile peace.

Q: What steps can and must be taken in order to prevent genocide?

A. History has shown that genocide and other atrocity crimes take place on a large scale, and are not spontaneous or isolated events; they are processes, with histories, precursors and triggering factors which combined, enable their commission.

If you look at all of these conflicts, whether it is the Central African Republic or Myanmar or Iraq, there is one common denominator: exclusion. People feel that they are not included, so they resort to some form of violence for their rights to be recognized.

So we can link these crises to the lack of respect for human rights, of observance of the rule of law, and also a problem of governance. All of these elements therefore confirm the close link between development, peace, security, and human rights.

This is also one of the reasons why the Secretary-General made prevention a key aspect of his mandate. Unless you invest in prevention, you may not be able to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or achieve the aspiration of sustaining peace.

There will be no development without peace, and no peace without development.

Unless we manage to make everybody included in whatever we are doing, we are set to fail at the national, local, and international levels.

Unless the member state invests in having strong judiciaries, a strong and courageous parliament, strong and outspoken civil society, it will be hard for those governments to achieve something that is really durable.

And it has to start of course at the local and national levels. If you make sure young people, including women, are included in all of these projects, you have a better chance to win your aspiration for development and peace.

Q: The motto “never again” continues to be used in reference to the Rwandan genocide. Has the international community become better at responding to or acting on atrocities around the world?

A. One of the principal roles of my mandate is to act as an early warning mechanism and a catalyst to mobilize action for the prevention of genocide and other atrocity crimes at the national and international level.

In line with these efforts my office has also developed a Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes that is used by the UN, member states and civil society alike to assess the risk of atrocity crimes and develop strategies to prevent these crimes.

We are today able to identify the risk factors which lead to the commission of these atrocity crimes. We are able to identify those early signs, which is much easier today than it was in the past with new technology spreads information faster.

What is required today more than ever is early action.

For example, I have been calling for the last three years or more the attention of the international community on the situation of the Rohingya Muslim population in Myanmar but without much success.

I identified the risk factors which were there, and I even went to the extent of writing an op-ed to draw the attention of the public at large.

The main problem is the political will to act at the earliest stage.

I think the Secretary General’s prioritization of prevention will hopefully play a key role in further enhancing the ability of the UN as well as the willingness of member states to act early to prevent situations from escalating to the point where there is a risk of atrocity crimes.

My wish is from now onward is for the international community through the Security Council which has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security to be more determined to address situations before they escalate further.

Preventing atrocities before they start continues to be the best way of ensuring that we live up to our commitment of “never again”.

Q: Is what’s happening in Myanmar a genocide, or could it become a genocide?

A. I think in Myanmar there were several warning signs of the violence we are now witnessing. I have repeatedly raised alarm of the risk of atrocities being committed against the Rohingya, and that is why I welcome readily the position of the Security Council to condemn the violence.

But more needs to be done to act on this condemnation.

What we are witnessing today needs to be thoroughly investigated. From the perspective of my mandate, there is no doubt that we are seeing elements which are very worrying—when you see a population being forcibly moved out of their location, their houses being burned, women being raped, people being murdered, and people having no choice than to cross the borders and when you see this was happening without condemnation from the Myanmar authorities.

When Aung San Suu Kyi took to the floor for the first time, her speech raised more questions than answers.

And that is why I do believe that if this situation is not addressed right now in a very energetic manner, the allegations being made that we are witnessing an ethnic cleansing will be confirmed.

It is time for the Myanmar authorities to first and foremost stop the violence and to allow thorough investigation of the alleged atrocities being committed right now.

Q: In Kenya, some have raised concerns that the persisting ethnic divisions in the country are reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda. What are your thoughts on the situation there, and should it be higher on the radar?

A. What is happening in Kenya is a situation of concern. Ahead of the elections, my office had been monitoring the situation. We identified areas where we see a potential of violence and we invested and gave support to the Kenyan National Committee for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and All Forms of Discrimination. We supported their activities aimed to prevent the commission of atrocity crimes.

Because we all remember that in December 2007 and early 2008, there was a spread of violence following the elections and nearly 1300 people were killed. There was definitely at that time ethnicity at play, and this was even the case that was brought to the ICC.

If you take the 2013 elections, they went almost peacefully and my office as well as other international offices invested a lot in it. But I think we should give credit first and foremost to the people of Kenya who mobilized for peaceful elections in 2013.

Now for the 2017 elections, it is remarkable to see for the first time in history, one may agree or disagree, that the Supreme Court really took a decision and I am glad the decision has been respected by the candidates.

I wish that all actors were in this process and now we also have to make every effort to prevent further escalation of violence, to make sure that there is no hatred or hate speech particularly directed against one or another ethnic group.

During the 2013 election, I made a very strong call to all candidates that whoever will be elected should commit that he or she will fight against tribalism. For the current situation, I now call on all the Kenyan leaders to make every effort to send clear messages to their followers to not go into any form of violence, and particularly using ethnic violence should not be tolerated. The law should prevail.

This is the responsibility first and foremost of the Kenyan government but the entire world has an entire responsibility to contribute to preventing atrocity crimes.

Q: Should the International Criminal Court play a greater role or be given more authority to prosecute those involved such atrocities?

A. Without a doubt.

Where you have a weak judiciary and where you have lack of political will from the government to hold perpetrators of atrocity crimes accountable, then efforts have to be made to refer those cases to the ICC if that state concerned is not a state party to the ICC.

Now we have countries which are state parties like Kenya who took the case of the 2007 election violence themselves before The Hague. The case at the end was closed because of lack of evidence but you have to remember, these are very complex crimes.

And today in my view, we need definitely to use the ICC when states are failing to bring criminals before the courts. Impunity is not an option—we have to end impunity everywhere.

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Myanmar’s Democracy Feels Strain of Religious Fault Lineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines/#comments Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:01:42 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152694 I try to hold on tight as my driver navigates his motorbike over a bumpy and muddy track. His helmet is decorated with a swastika and an eagle, part of an ill-inspired fashion trend called Nazi chic. It’s symbolic for a country where hate and racism seen to have become normalized. For many years the […]

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Muslims in the Thingangyun community of Yangon. They say extremist Buddhist monks sometimes try to provoke them by shouting nationalist slogans in their neighborhood. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Muslims in the Thingangyun community of Yangon. They say extremist Buddhist monks sometimes try to provoke them by shouting nationalist slogans in their neighborhood. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
YANGON, Oct 25 2017 (IPS)

I try to hold on tight as my driver navigates his motorbike over a bumpy and muddy track. His helmet is decorated with a swastika and an eagle, part of an ill-inspired fashion trend called Nazi chic. It’s symbolic for a country where hate and racism seen to have become normalized.

For many years the Rohingya in Rakhine State have been suffering from state-sponsored discrimination and stigmatization. Today this hostility is spreading rapidly toward other Muslims in the country."We have the choice between a harmonious country and a failed state." --Tet Swei Win, director of the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony

We’re driving towards the outskirts of Dalla, a village on the Yangon River. I chose this place randomly, to sample the relations between Buddhists and Muslims. And it seems to go well.

“We don’t like what is happening in Rakhine. But here we have no problem with Muslims. There is mutual respect,” an elderly woman tells me. Most people I talk to confirm this.

A former soldier uses harsher language. “In Rakhine, Buddhists are being slaughtered. Muslims are burning down villages, cutting people’s throats and raping women. I don’t believe anymore that there is such a thing as a good Muslim.” His wife summarizes in her own fashion: “All Muslims must die.”

Because of disinformation, rumors and propaganda, these wrong ideas have penetrated all levels of society. Many people in Myanmar believe that all Rohingya are arsonists, rapists and murderers. As a result, they think that violence against them is acceptable. The fact that the Rohingya are not the instigators but the victims of an ethnic cleansing is being denied by many.

A former soldier in the Burmese village of Dalla who says he doesnʼt like Muslims because of what is happening in Rakhine State. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A former soldier in the Burmese village of Dalla who says he doesnʼt like Muslims because of what is happening in Rakhine State. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A worsening situation

The hatred towards the Rohingya is well known. But less documented is the spread of this hate towards other Muslims in Myanmar.

“Since the military coup in 1962, religion has been used to set up people against each other,” says U Aye Lwin, a Muslim and one the founders of the interreligious movement ‘Religions for Peace Myanmar’. I meet him in his mosque in Yangon. The building is well cared for but modest. Nothing would encourage visitors to suspect that it houses the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of India.

“The dictatorial regime did not have the support of the population,” U Aye Lwin tells me. “So the army manipulated the Burmese sentiments of identity and religion. They told the Buddhist majority that the Muslims are a threat to their religion and country. That’s how Islamophobia has set in.”

The democratization of Myanmar did not change this. Hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD would defend the minorities were soon dashed.

“When the NLD won the elections, it got even worse. Religion is now being used by the army to create instability. That’s how it clings to power,” the religious leader says.

The army wants to show it’s the only institution that can save Buddhist Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi is powerless, critics say, and her government has no control over the army. Moreover, she risks losing voters if she defends the Rohingya.

U Aye Lwin stands in Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Hall, which also functions as a mosque, in Yangon. U Aye Lwin is a Muslim and one the founders of the interreligious movement Religions for Peace Myanmar. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

U Aye Lwin stands in Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Hall, which also functions
as a mosque, in Yangon. U Aye Lwin is a Muslim and one the founders of the
interreligious movement Religions for Peace Myanmar. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“Buddha is not Burmese”

Kyaw Min Yu is an expert on prisons. He spent eight years behind bars after the student revolt of 1988. After a new uprising in 2007 he served five more years in detention. He is Rohingya and Muslim.

I meet the president in the small headquarters of his Democracy and Human Rights Party in Yangon. He walks with great difficulty, a consequence of his long periods of incarceration. “I used to believe in Aung San Suu Kyi. I worked for her. I protested for her. I have spent time in jail for her. But now I have had enough of her,” he says.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has become biased. She is using a language that doesn’t suit her function as the unofficial leader of the country. She speaks only for the Buddhist Bamar, the largest ethnic group of Myanmar.”

At the NLD, nobody wanted to talk to me. But I did get Htin Lin Oo on the phone. He is the former spokesperson for the NLD. He is Buddhist and defends religious tolerance. In December 2014 he dared to criticize the monks that spread hate: “Buddha is not Burmese. Burmese extreme nationalists should therefore not adhere to Buddhism if they wish to defend their own race.”

This provocation was answered by the military regime with two years of forced labor for insulting Buddhism. The party canceled his membership, under pressure from the monks who felt insulted.

But Htin Lin Oo is still optimistic. “Problems between migrants and natives will always exist. It does not stop our democratic development. Other countries had the same problems. The US fought a civil war. They still have problems with extremists.

“Therefore, the international community should not put us under pressure. They should help us. They should stop complaining about problems with the Bengali in Rakhine,” Htin Lin Oo says.

Although he preaches peace, he does refer to Rohingya as Bengali, illegal immigrants.

A gift from heaven

The international community produces statements but does not intervene. The United Nations is still investigating the events in Rakhine and still hasn’t decided whether the Rohingya are victims of a genocide or not. But it is a textbook example of an ethnic cleansing, says Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 900,000 refugees are now being cared for by the Bangladesh government. Shelter is the most pressing priority, but many other critical needs must also be met, including protection, proper registration, food security, basic health services and water and basic sanitation facilities.

Speaking at an international pledging conference in Geneva this week, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing “[urged] international leaders to support the peaceful resolution of this decade long crisis in Myanmar and insist that the Myanmar authorities create conditions of safety, security and dignity in Rakhine state to one of the world’s most persecuted populations.”

On a local level, hundreds of activists are trying to avoid the contamination of violence from Rakhine State to the rest of the country. “All kinds of false rumors are being spread through social media. We are teaching people how to deal with one-sided information. It’s our way to prevent violence.”

Tet Swei Win is the director of the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony in Yangon. He takes me to Thingangyun, a predominantly Muslim district. Sometimes, extremist monks come to make mischief. “Those Buddhists come here with a hundred people to shout slogans. Then we have to react very quickly to prevent violence.”

When I step out of his little van in the contentious neighborhood, Tet Swei Win tells me not to mention to anyone that I am a journalist. That could create tensions. The peace is very fragile. He shows me the local school. According to the new manager it is full. “There is no place anymore for Muslim children. I try to fight this,” the activist tells me.

“Many people in Myanmar thought that democracy is something that falls from the sky. A gift from heaven. But they didn’t realize that democratization is a process. If you want democracy, you will have to work for it. The different religions will have to learn how to talk to each other. It could take decades before that problem is solved.”

Tet Swei Win thinks it could go either way. “We have the choice between a harmonious country and a failed state.”

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Rohingya Crisis Stokes Fears of Myanmar’s Muslimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:07:07 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152677 In a quiet street, the sound of children’s voices can be heard from an open window. They are reciting verses of the Koran in unison. The small Islamic school lays hidden in a walled neighborhood where only Muslims live. This is an island of tranquility in Mandalay, the second-largest city of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Calm […]

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The propaganda of the government and hostility of Buddhist nationalists are not exclusively reserved for the Rohingya in Rakhine - The entrance to the gated community of Joon, Myanmar. With tensions between Muslims and Buddhists rising, the gates are closed at night. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

The entrance to the gated community of Joon, Myanmar. With tensions between Muslims and Buddhists rising, the gates are closed at night. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
YANGON, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

In a quiet street, the sound of children’s voices can be heard from an open window. They are reciting verses of the Koran in unison. The small Islamic school lays hidden in a walled neighborhood where only Muslims live. This is an island of tranquility in Mandalay, the second-largest city of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

Calm seems to be the norm in the narrow streets leading to the Joon Mosque. But since a few years ago, the gates of this community have been locked at night. After centuries of peaceful coexistence, tensions between Muslims and Buddhists are building. Residents of the neighborhood don’t feel at ease anymore."Our shopkeepers are sometimes being harassed by monks. But when we call the police, they never show up." --U Wai Li Tin Aung

“Sometimes Buddhist monks try to intimidate us by shouting religious slogans. They call us ‘kalar’, an insulting word for Muslims,” says U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay.

He thinks that the tensions are being provoked by the conflict in Rakhine State, in the west of Myanmar. There, the Rohingya – a Muslim minority group – is being persecuted and murdered by the military and by militias. Since August almost 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN has labelled it ethnic cleansing.

Simmering tensions

The propaganda of the government and hostility of Buddhist nationalists are not exclusively reserved for the Rohingya in Rakhine. According to some Burmese, all Muslims are terrorists who want to take over the country. Since the gradual democratization of Myanmar, the authoritarian controls on media have disappeared, giving extremist ideas a free and unfiltered forum. In large parts of society, racism has become normalized. Many fear violence against Muslims has become acceptable.

U Wai Li Tin Aung is worried. “The government does nothing. Our shopkeepers are sometimes being harassed by monks. But when we call the police, they never show up. Laws are only in favor of Burmese Buddhists.”

It used to be different. The Muslim area around the Joon Mosque has a respectable history. Mindon Min, the penultimate king of Burma, gave this neighborhood to the Muslims in 1863. The monarch had founded the new capital in Mandalay and his administration was run mainly by Muslims. But that recognition seems to be forgotten, and now the inhabitants are victims of discrimination.

The propaganda of the government and hostility of Buddhist nationalists are not exclusively reserved for the Rohingya in Rakhine - U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, Myanmar, stands on the entrance steps with two of his children. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, Myanmar, stands on the entrance steps with two of his children. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Pathe Aye Maung shows his identity card and the one of his son. Both are officially registered as Muslims. The ID card of the father says that he is a member of the Panthee, a recognized ethnic group in Myanmar. But the son is registered as an ‘Indian’, which means he is considered an illegal foreigner. “When my son went to complain about this, he was put in jail,” Maung says.

This is a problem that the Rohingya know all too well. They have been living in Rakhine for centuries, but they have been discriminated against since independence in 1948. The media and the government never use the word Rohingya. Naming them correctly would be interpreted as a recognition of their historical rights. Instead, most Burmese people consider them Bengali: illegal immigrants who should return home.

A large group of Buddhists feel that their culture and religion is being threatened by ‘foreigners’. They are afraid of so-called Islamification. They fear that Myanmar will evolve the same way as Indonesia, a Buddhist country that later became Islamic. So for many, all Muslims are viewed with suspicion. Some religious leaders have tried to turn these anxieties into violence against Muslims.

“We don’t let ourselves be provoked,” says secretary U Wai Li Tin Aung. “Whatever the extremist monks say, we stay calm and keep the peace. We have learned that from our religion. We don’t use violence.”

But that does not always work. In 2014 riots erupted in Mandalay, the bastion of Burmese Buddhist culture. The violence was ignited by false rumors of the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim. Nationalist monks had spread these rumors with lightning-fast speed through social media. In the resulting street fighting, a Buddhist and a Muslim were killed.

During those tumultuous days, the police raided the Joon Mosque. They seized sticks, rods and marbles hidden in the prayer room. The secretary stresses that they were only to be used in case of an attack on the mosque. “Everybody was scared at that time. We couldn’t expect any protection from the army or the police.”

A political conflict

The violence placed Muslims and Buddhists in a polarized position, with simmering religious tensions and identity politics. And critics say the army and consecutive governments have used it to divert the attention away from their faltering policies.

The conflict with the ‘foreign jihadis’ signals to Myanmar’s citizens that the army is the only trustworthy protector of the country. It is a way to tighten the military’s grip on the economy, even after the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party. For the Muslims, the much-lauded democratization has not delivered much yet. For the first time in the history of independent Myanmar, there is no Muslim presence in parliament anymore.

Still, not everyone agrees with the extremists, and most Buddhists still get along nicely with their Muslim neighbors.

One Buddhist fruit vendor strolls through the Muslim neighborhood with her merchandise on her head. “It’s a pity that there’s a conflict going on. I have been coming here for years and I never had problems. Why should there be problems now? That’s bad for business.”

Meanwhile, the international donor community announced pledges on October 23 for more than 344 million dollars to address the mounting humanitarian crisis of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The pledging conference in Geneva was co-organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and with Kuwait and the European Union as co-hosts. They noted that the ongoing exodus is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

“Today’s pledges from the international community will help rebuild Rohingya refugees’ lives. Without these vital funds, humanitarians would not be able to continue providing protection and life-saving aid to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. While we are thankful, I hope that the end of this conference does not mean the end of new funding commitments. We have not reached our target and each percentage point we are under means thousands without food, healthcare and shelter,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General.

The series of reports from the border areas of Myanmar and Bangladesh is supported by UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC)

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Let’s Harness the Egalitarian Spirit of Sport for Global Cohesionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 06:19:25 +0000 Ann Therese Ndong Jatta and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152658 Ann Therese Ndong Jatta is Director UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

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Football match to raise awareness on environmental issues in Watamu, Kenya jointly organized by UNESCO, UN Environment and UN Information Center. Credit: @UNESCO

By Ann Therese Ndong Jatta and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

24 October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948.

In his message to the world the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres remarked, “When we achieve human rights and human dignity for all people – they will build a peaceful, sustainable and just world”.

Sport has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible tool in promoting peace and development objectives

Consider this. On assuming the presidency, one political masterstroke by the late Nelson Mandela was his use of sports to foster the country’s healing process. As hosts of the 2010 World Cup, white and black fans stood and cheered the country’s team together, forgetting past antagonisms.

Mandela said, “Sport can create hope where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. Sport has power to change the world.”

Sport eliminates barriers and stereotypes in a way few other human endeavors do, rendering innocuous differences in gender, religion, and cultures, and uplifting the importance of team work, discipline and rules of the game for a team to score and win. It is the ideal opportunity to teach team-building, peace and appreciation of the other person’s qualities and abilities.

A team implies a group of people linked to a common purpose. Though human beings learn and work together various professional and personal settings, sports and games strengthen human ties most, endearing most effectively the pain or joy of losing or winning.

That team spirit and a belief in promoting peace, justice, happiness for the whole of humanity are what define us at the United Nations. That is what drives what we do to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The values of sports are universal. Olympism is a philosophy that combines the qualities of body, mind and spirit. Blending sports with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational values of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

This is especially relevant today in a world where values are increasingly under threat, with wars, violent extremism, especially gender-based violence and civil conflicts becoming the order of the day.

Research has provided evidence of the benefits and outcomes of physical education and sports in schools, for both children and for educational systems, which include children’s physical, lifestyle, affective, social and cognitive development.

According to data from the Education for all Global Monitoring Report 2015, the number of children enrolled in primary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa rose by 75 % to 144 million between 1999 and 2012, and this is attributed partly to the abolition of school fees in countries like Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya, as well as to an increase in the number of teachers.

This is a population that is a potentially powerful force for cohesion if all these schools have compulsory physical education class.

At UNESCO, Values Education contributes to the development of self-confidence, healthy lifestyle choices, life skills, and an understanding of rules and rights. Values-based education is at the heart of the Kenya Curriculum Reform, supported jointly by UNESCO and UNICEF.

Sport is often seen as of secondary importance to the traditional or ‘legacy’ subjects. However, sensitizing young people to the universal values of sport, such as fairness, inclusion, equality and respect, can equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for the SDG 4 on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In East Africa, UNESCO together with members of the UN family is working tirelessly to build a culture of peace, human rights, gender equality and to tackle the social and human dimensions of climate change among other initiatives seeking social transformations for human dignity. Towards these values, we work with youth through sports and cultural activities to unleash their potential and make their dreams possible to achieve.

As enablers of youth growth and development, sport and social actions can lead to raising of awareness of other topics, like gender, domestic violence, drug abuse, breaking stereotypes, religion, race and identity.

Our imagination is the only limit to what sports can achieve for humanity. In a remarkable feat, during the 2016 Rio Olympics Games, a team of Refugees, comprising of 10 members from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria, used sports to break the cycle of poverty, hopelessness and to give courage to millions of people around the world about the power of will, discipline, excellence, solidarity and hard work. Through Sport, the team became the heroes, powerful and inspirational stories of triumph over adversity.

As we celebrate UN day today, our shoulders are squared for the task of giving our youth the tools they need to live happy, fulfilled lives, thus cascade their inner and outer healthy state of beings to a greater human and global cause.

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Lack of International Action on Rohingya Crisis Called a “Disgrace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lack-international-action-rohingya-crisis-called-disgrace/#respond Mon, 23 Oct 2017 22:29:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152655 As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively. Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world. The UN warns that up to […]

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

As the crisis in Myanmar reaches unprecedented levels, frustration is at its peak as the international community remains slow to respond and act cohesively.

Over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed into Bangladesh since the renewal of violence on August 25, making it the fastest-growing refugee emergency in the world.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The UN warns that up to one million—representing the entire Muslim population of Rakhine state—could flee to the neighboring nation by the end of the year if the crisis continues.

Rohingya refugees have provided the outside world with glimpses of their horrific experiences, from villages being burned and attacked to women being raped by Burmese soldiers.

One 26-year-old Rohingya woman recounted her story to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) rapid response team, deployed to Bangladesh to assess the situation on the ground, stating:

“I woke up at 3 a.m. and my house was on fire. There was chaos, everyone was running everywhere, they were shooting to kill us, they took women and dragged them away to rape them. They did not spare anyone—even children were beaten and tortured…I have tried for a long time to live in peace, even during difficult times, but this attack was horrible.”

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called the government’s campaign against the minority a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” while others have said that the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Those that are able to reach Bangladesh often arrive to no food or shelter and are at risk of disease outbreaks as the resource-strained South Asian nation struggles to cope with the influx.

Despite the evidence for the scale of violence and suffering, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has largely remained silent on the crisis while divisions in Security Council (UNSC) have prevented decisive progress towards any measure.

With no end in sight, IPS spoke to the Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue Idriss Jazairy about the crisis in Myanmar, as well as his frustrations and appeals for action.

Q: What is your response to the crisis in Myanmar and what is the Geneva Centre doing to help end the crisis?

I have sent, to all members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a letter appealing to them to organize a special session on the desperate situation of the Rohingyas that have been pushed back from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

I have not received one single answer.

About 650,000 people have been pushed out mercilessly—all of their property has been burned or destroyed, many have disappeared in large numbers, women have been raped, children have been killed—and nothing happens.

I know in terms of politics there are all sorts of elements that need to be taken into account, but there comes a time when a situation of a violation of human rights exceeds certain proportion, whatever the politics, we should speak up.

Otherwise it shows that, in the UNHRC, politics have definitely taken precedence over values and this would be the beginning of the end of this Council.

It would be enough to have 16 states taking the initiative for a special session to take place.

Can’t we find, in the whole of the membership, a few others that claim they are sensitive to human rights to respond and take this initiative?

In 2007, the UNHRC held a special session on Myanmar because there were some peaceful demonstrations that had been exposed to violent responses by the military.

The situation today is 100 times worse, so I cannot imagine why there isn’t a similar reaction.

Q: Do the atrocities in Myanmar amount to crimes against humanity or even genocide?

I am not qualified to say but I believe that some more qualified than myself have talked at least about ethnic cleansing.

It is a case of ethnic cleansing but no one has responded to my appeal for a special session which would in fact have had a dual purpose—first, to impose, under UN control, a return of these people that have been brutally thrown out of a country in which they were born and lived for generations and secondly, to come to the help of Bangladesh which is one of the poorest countries that finds it difficult to face these financial consequences of the mass arrival of refugees.

We therefore have a double moral obligation.

The lives of all 650,000 people who have lost their homes—doesn’t that justify just a one-day special session when we have special sessions about every other country, every other crisis in the world?

I do not understand that. My multilateral faith in human rights is being undermined.

Q: If such a special session were to happen, what are you hoping would result from that?

A recognition of the right of the Rohingyas to go back to their land, including a recognition of their status of citizens.

I am aware that this [crisis] is the consequence to a great extent of British colonizers who would take some labor from what was then India and bring them over to Myanmar to work.

The source of the problem goes back centuries but you can’t redo history. These people have been there for generations, sometimes hundreds of years.

There must be a proper law that gives them the right to citizenship—citizenship should not be based on race.

Bangladesh should also be given compensation and people or victims themselves must be given compensation for what they have undergone.

It is true that there has been a group of violent protestors that have carried out some unacceptable violent actions like attacking police stations and we would not condone these actions.

But let us have a commission of inquiry that looks into all the issues and submit an official report, including to determine the nature of the crimes in this awful situation.

Q: If the crisis continues, should the international community take more drastic measures? Some are pushing for an arms embargo or targeted financial sanctions, what are your thoughts on that?

I have always been hesitant about sanctions.

Myanmar was exposed to sanctions and then the sanctions were removed. Neither did they improve their performance when the sanctions were on nor obviously since the sanctions have been removed and it has now become even worse.

So for me, this is not a question of just sanctions.

It is a grave issue—I understand the Secretary-General raised the issue four times in the Security Council (UNSC)—and I hope that the international community and UN system can join forces in addressing every aspect of this situation.

But the UNHRC not having a special session on this now is a disgrace.

Q: What is your response to the current divisions within the Security Council on the crisis as both Russia and China cite issues of sovereignty and ask to exercise “patience”?

This is why I say: I understand the politics behind these issues but I do feel that the situation has reached such a peak that there must be action.

The UNSC provides the politics, and the UNHRC provides the ethics. But where are the ethics now?

Idriss Jazairy is the former Algerian Ambassador and has long worked with the UN and other organizations.

Among other high-level positions, he has been the President of UN agency IFAD and the Chief Executive of a consortium of international organizations ACORD.

In 2015, Jazairy was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

A ministerial-level pledging conference is set to be held in Geneva on 23 October to help meet the most urgent needs of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.

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Austrian Elections: The Crisis of Europe Continueshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/austrian-elections-crisis-europe-continues/#respond Sat, 21 Oct 2017 19:06:32 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152640 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

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Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 21 2017 (IPS)

The Austrian elections show clearly that media have given up on contextualising events. To do that, calls for a warning about Europe’s future, as a vehicle of European values is required. Europe has been weakened by all the recent elections, with the notable exception of France. Common to all, France included, were some clear trends, that we will hastily, and therefore maybe imperfectly, examine.

Roberto Savio

The decline of the traditional parties.

In every election, since the financial crisis of 2009, the parties we have known to run their country since the end of the Second World War, are on the wane ( or practically disappearing, like in the last French elections). In Austria, the far right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) secured 26 per cent of the vote, just a few votes behind the Social Democrats who took 26.9 per cent of the votes. The social democrats have been in power practically since the end of the war. And the other traditional party, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP), won the elections with 31.5 per cent. Together the two parties used to have more than 85% of the votes. In the Dutch elections held in March, Geert Wilder’s far-right Party for Freedom PVV, came second after the ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy VVD, at the expense of all other parties. And in September in Germany, the far right anti immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) enjoyed historical success, becoming the third party while the two traditional parties, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany CDU and the social democrat Social Democratic Party of Germany SPD, suffered the worst results in more than a half a century. According to polls, next year Italian elections will see a populist movement, with the 5 Stars taking over the government.

Austria is the best example to understand how European national politics have changed. It is important to note that no right wing party was really visible in Europe, (except Le Pen in France), before the financial crisis of 2009. That crisis brought insecurity and fear and in the same year the Austrian far right, under the charismatic leadership of Jorg Haider, got the same percentage of votes as of today. And the conservative Prime minister of the time, Wolfgang Schlussel broke a taboo by bringing the Freedom Party into the government. Everybody in Europe reacted with horror, practically isolating Austria. And the FPO, lost all its lustre in the government, going down to 5%, and with the death of Haider even further down. There Are no gasps of horror now in Europe over any far right wing parties getting in to govern.

What has fuelled the decline of the traditional parties

The traditional parties were facing already a loss of participation and trust by the electors at the end of the last century but in 2009 Europe imported the financial crisis which racked the US in 2006. And, 2009 saw hardship and unemployment all over Europe. And that year Greece became the battleground of two visions in Europe. The Southern countries wanted to push out of the crisis with investments and social relief, while the bloc of Northern countries, led by Germany, saw austerity as the only response. Germany wanted to export it’s experience: they were doing well thanks to an internal austerity reform started by Schroeder in 2003, and they did not want to take on other reforms at any cost.

Greece was just 4% of the European economy and could have been rescued without problems. But the German line won and today Greece has lost 25% of its properties; pensions went down by 17%, and there is a massive unemployment. Austerity was the response to the crisis for all of Europe and that aggravated fear and insecurity.

It is also important to remember that until the invasions of Libya, Iraq and Syria, in which Europe played a key role (2011- 2014), there were few immigrants and this was not a problem. In 2010, immigrants numbered 215.000, in a region of 400 millions. But during the invasions, a very fragile balance between Shite and Sunni, the two main religious branches of Islam, collapsed. Civil war, and the creation of ISIS in 2015 pushed many to try to reach Europe to escape the civil wars. So, in 2015 more than 1.2 million refugees, the majority coming from countries in conflict, arrived in Europe, which was not prepared for such a massive influx. And, if we study the elections before then, we can see that the far right parties were not as relevant as they are now.

Therefore it should be clear that austerity and immigration have been the two main factors for the rise of the right wing. Statistics and data show that clearly. Statistics also show that immigrants, of course with exceptions, (that media and populism inflates), basically want to integrate, accept any kind of work, and are law abiding and pay their contributions, which is obviously in their interest. Of course the level of instruction plays a crucial role. But the Syrians who come here were basically middle class. And of course it is an inconvenient truth that if Europe did not intervene in the name of democracy, the situation would be different. NATO estimates that more than 30 billion dollars have been spent on the war in Syria. There are now six million refugees, and 400.00 dead.

And Assad is still there. Of course, democracy has a different value in countries which are closed and rich in petrol. If we were serious about democracy, there are so many African countries which need intervention. Book Haram has killed seven times more people than ISIS; and Mugabe is considering running for re-election after dominating Zimbabwe for nearly four decades. But you will never hear much on those issues in the present political debate.

How the far right is changing Europe

Nigel Farage is the populist who led a far right party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which fought for leaving Europe. UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra Member of the European Parliament MEPs for a total of 24.[55] The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland.[56] It was the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the mosti votes in a UK-wide election.

But Farage lost the elections held just before Brexit, in June 2016. His declaration to the media was: Infact, I am the real winner, because my agenda against Europe now is the basis for politics in all the traditional parties. Brexit did follow.

And this is what is happening now everywhere. The Austrian elections did not see only the FPO rise. They also saw the conservative OVP taking immigration, security, borders and others part of the far right agenda of the populist agenda in the electoral campaign. A full 58% of the voters went for the far right or the right, with the social Democrats also moving more to the center. The new Dutch governement took a turn to the right, by reducing taxes on the rich people, and to companies. The same turn to the right can be expected by the new coalition led by Merkel, with the liberals aiming to take over the ministry of Finance. Its leader, Christian Lindner, is a nationlist and has several times declared his aversion to Europe. In that seense, he will be worse than the inflexible Schauble, who just wanted to Germanize Europe, but was a convinced European. And it is interesting that the main vote for the far righ party AfD came from East Germany, where immigrants are few. But in spite of investing the staggering amount of 1.3 trillions Euro in the development of East Germany, important differences in employment and revenues with West Germany remain. No wonder that the President of South Korea has warned President Trump to avoid any conflict. They have decided a longtime ago, looking at the German reunification that they would not have the resources required by annexing with success, North Korea.The rocketman, as Trump calls Kim, after the decertification of Iran, can claim that the only way to be sure that US will not intervene, is to show that he has a nuclear intercontinental ability, because US does not respect treaties.

Those considerations done, a pattern is clear everywhere. The agenda of the right wing has been incorporated in the traditional parties; they bring in the governing coalition, like Norway did , or they try to isolate them , as did Sweden. This does not change the fact that everybody is moving to the right. Austria will now tilt to the Visegrad group, formed by Poland , Hungary, Czech and Slovakia, which are clearly challenging Europe and looking to Putin as a political model ( all the right wing does).

The only active European voice is Macron, who clearly is not a progressist guy either. The real progressist, Corbyn, is ambigous about Europe, because the Labour Party has a lot of eurosceptic.

The new German government has already made clear that many of it’s proposals for a stronger Europe are not on the agenda, and austerity remains the way. Unless a strong growth comes soon (and the IMF doubts that), social problems will increase. Nationalism never helped peace, development and cooperation. Probably , we need some populist movement to be in the government to show that they have no real answers to the problems. The victory of 5 stars in Italy will probably do that. But this was the theory also for Egypt. Let the Muslim Brotherhood take the government , and it will be a failure. Pity that the General El Sisi did not let this happen. Our hope is that we do not get any El Sisis in Europe.

If only young people went back to vote, this would change the situation in Europe…this is the real historical loss of the left in Europe.

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Global Interfaith LGBTIQ Leaders Convene at UN for Expert-level Dialoguehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/global-interfaith-lgbtiq-leaders-convene-un-expert-level-dialogue/#respond Fri, 20 Oct 2017 21:43:14 +0000 Patricia Ackerman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152638 Rev. Patricia Ackerman is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York, and the New York UN Representative for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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Rev. Patricia Ackerman is an Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of New York, and the New York UN Representative for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

By Rev. Patricia Ackerman
NEW YORK, Oct 20 2017 (IPS)

On September 29, 2017, Yvette Abrahams, an indigenous religious leader from Cape Town, South Africa who served as the country’s Commissioner For Gender Equality for five years, gasped when she learned that South Africa had just voted in favor of United Nations Human Rights Council resolution condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts. She could not believe that the United States had not.

Rev. Patricia Ackerman

Just the month before, waves of concern arose in her as she read the text of the Nashville Statement, an anti-LGBTIQ document authored by the conservative Christian Right in the US, with the aim of equipping pastors with a consolidated justification for excluding LGBTIQ people in both spiritual and civic life.

Abrahams herself has lived through the effects of US based anti-LGBTIQ efforts that are are exported to Africa, leading to deaths, rapes, and beatings. Working against anti-LGBTIQ violence in South Africa and across the continent has been her life’s work, so Abrahams immediately noted that many of the Nashville Statement signers had also funded anti-gay legislation across Africa.

This is why she plans to travel to the UN Headquarters in New York on October 26th for the Ethics of Reciprocity dialogue, to begin a meaningful and healing conversation with her religious opponents.

Abrahams is joined by LGBTIQ faith leaders around the world – including supporters of the Nashville Statement – for the first expert-level international discussion by interfaith LGBTIQ religious leaders at the UN about how to work together to end abuses, violence, beatings, and murders of LGBTIQ people, often because of religiously sanctioned beliefs.

Yvette Abrahams knows that this dialogue can save lives. She was a key player during End Hate Campaign in the South African West Cape, working to highlight hate violence against LBGTIQ people.

“As late as 2008 there were no monitoring mechanisms or reporting systems for such crimes, and political leaders did not even recognize this as a problem”. She recalls a conversation she had with a Ugandan activist:

“We realized we were both dealing with criminalization, and then police abuse, which made reporting almost impossible. In Uganda, the arrests of LBT/Kuchu people weren’t always recorded because the police were using sexuality to extort money instead of pressing charges – making it difficult to track police abuse.

She explained to me how if you’re arrested in Uganda, the police lock you up and intimidate you, and because they steal your money, they won’t report the arrest. This violence has been made invisible.

Abrahams is joined by an LGBTIQ Baptist minister from Uganda named Brian Byamukama, a Baptist minister from Uganda, who has seen first-hand how the efforts of the Christian Right at the UN have rippled out to his community. In Uganda, same-sex acts are punishable by death.

Abrahams and Byamukama recount the story of a Ugandan lesbian woman who was raped: “So many people – church people and members of my own family – told me that this was God’s way of punishing me for being a lesbian. Because I was unwilling to ‘change’, they said, God was using this method to teach me a very hard lesson…I was hurt in two ways; firstly I was dealing with the pain and humiliation of the rape, and secondly I suffered because of my people’s judgement.”

Both leaders say that rape as an ‘instrument of God’ is common in South Africa and Uganda. A number of conservative, moderate, and progressive religious organizations such as C-Fam, The Salvation Army, The Lutheran Church, numerous Catholic religious orders in consultation with the UN including Sisters of Mercy, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Big Ocean Women, many other are attending.

Noticeably absent from the consultation will be the Office of the Holy See at the UN, the Vatican. Father Roger Landry, Attaché, has stated he “doubts they will attend.” About their participation in the UN event, Byamukama said: “This is where we stand together or fall apart. We cannot afford to waste energy fighting each other. The UN is the closest thing we have to a world government. It is where conversations about love and justice should happen on a planetary scale.”

Religious leaders participating at the Ethics of Reciprocity dialogue hail from Uganda, Malawi, Tajikistan, Hong Kong, Australia, Samoa, South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil. This is the first time LGBTIQ faith leaders will be formally addressing communities at the UN, where international leaders will hear these stories from Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Indigenous, and Buddhist faith traditions.

There was also the US’s recent affirmative vote in the UN resolution on a ban on the death penalty for homosexuality as a renewed call for religious leaders to commit to end to criminalization and violence of LGBTIQ people. “The death penalty for consensual same-sex acts currently exists in 13 countries, but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear that all of us are born free and equal. It’s time for faith leaders to come together where we agree, which is to treat others the way we would like to be treated – free from violence. The golden rule of do unto others is something we can all agree on.”

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Women and Girls: The Hardest Hit Rohingya Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-girls-hardest-hit-rohingya-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-girls-hardest-hit-rohingya-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/women-girls-hardest-hit-rohingya-refugees/#respond Tue, 03 Oct 2017 06:52:11 +0000 Paolo Lubrano http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152329 Paolo Lubrano is Oxfam’s Regional Humanitarian Manager for Asia

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Women and Girls: The Hardest Hit Rohingya Refugees

A group of young Rohingya girls collect drinking water for their families from a local pump in Balhukali settlement, Bangladesh. Credit: Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

By Paolo Lubrano
BANGLADESH, Oct 3 2017 (IPS)

Of the nearly half a million Rohingya refugees who’ve fled across the border and have sought refuge in Bangladesh, women and girls are the most at risk, sleeping under open skies, roadsides, and forest areas with little or no protection.

More than two-thirds have no shelter, half have no drinking water, and with the existing camps and host communities underequipped to deal with such a large influx, the ground situation is chaotic and volatile. We at Oxfam are seriously concerned about abuse and exploitation of women and children.

The majority of Rohingya refugees are women and children. Initial assessments suggest that 53% are female, 58% percent are under the age of 18, and 10% are either pregnant or lactating mothers. Many have lost their families, communities, and all their possessions, and after an emotionally and physically grueling journey across the border, they are left with little hope.

They are greeted with overburdened camps and impoverished communities. The already appalling ground conditions have only been made worse by the recent torrential downpours which have also slowed delivery of aid and construction of facilities like wells, toilets, and shelter. There are reports of outbreaks of fevers, respiratory infections, dysentery, and diarrhea.

The scale of the needs is enormous with a majority struggling for life-saving essentials like clean drinking water, food, medical supplies and essential facilities. In early September, the humanitarian partners estimated that 58 million liters of water is needed daily, 1.5 million kilos of rice is needed every month, and that 60,000 shelters, 20,000 toilets, and identifying land for more camps are among the most pressing needs. As the influx grows, so do the needs, and those of women, girls, and young children must be more carefully assessed and elaborated.

As of 25th September 2017, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), identified 180 cases of sexual violence against women and girls. Given the lack of safe spaces and reporting mechanisms, this figure can only be seen as the tip of the iceberg. Further, as William Lacy Swing, the Director General of the UN Migration Agency rightly puts it in his media statement, it is impossible to understand the scale of violence just by the number of reported cases.

Women and Girls: The Hardest Hit Rohingya Refugees

Razida, 35 carries her ten month old son Anisul through Unchiprang Camp in Bangladesh. Razida arrived in Bangladesh 20 days ago after walking for six days with her eight children. She brought nothing with her when she fled Myanmar and had to ask for food from people on the way. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

The forms of violence include, and is not limited to, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, and emotional abuse. A significant number of teenage girls are married, many are with children and pregnant, which makes the challenge of supporting them even more urgent.

Oxfam has so far supported nearly 140,000 people by providing clean drinking water and emergency food supplies, and by building facilities like tube wells and toilets in camps. Our dignity kits will include hygiene items for women, girls, and children.

We are also supporting local government and partners to design and build camps that are better equipped to meet the needs of the refugee population, especially women and girls. We advocate for adequate facilities to ensure that their safety and wellbeing are protected. For example, separate toilets, bathing areas, social spaces, and well-lit and safe access paths are essential to ensure protection of women and children. When there is a lack of child and women-friendly spaces, the risk of exploitation and violence is much higher.

Prevention of and support to the survivors of sexual and gender-based violence must be increased significantly. We underline the need for psycho-social support for all women, girls, and children, and especially those who’ve survived acts of violence.

We commend the efforts of the Bangladesh government, humanitarian partners, and local communities in providing life-saving assistance for the nearly half a million refugees. However, less than half the funding for the $77 million USD appeal launched by the humanitarian community a month ago has been committed so far.

Since then, the number of refugees has nearly doubled, the influx continues, and the needs of the more vulnerable populations such as women, girls, and children are yet to be fully responded to. Oxfam asks the governments, donors, and individuals to act now so that we can provide life-saving support immediately.

To learn more and support Oxfam’s response, please visit: oxf.am/Rohingya-Crisis

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Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the Arab Region: Where Do We Stand?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/gender-equality-womens-empowerment-arab-region-stand/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-womens-empowerment-arab-region-stand http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/gender-equality-womens-empowerment-arab-region-stand/#respond Fri, 29 Sep 2017 14:18:44 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152286 Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, Ambassador Idriss Jazairy Executive Director of the Geneva Centre and H. E. Ms. Naela Mohamed Gabr member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

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From left to right, H. E. Mr. Amr Ramadan, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt ; Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director of the Geneva Centre, H. E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim, Chairman of the Board of Management of the Geneva Centre, H. E. Ms. Hoda Al-Helaissi, Member of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council and Dr. Susan Carland, Director of Monash University's Bachelor of Global Studies in Australia, during the panel discussion on “Women’s rights in the Arab world: between myth and reality” organized by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on 15 September 2017, at the UN Geneva.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim and Ambassador Idriss Jazairy and H. E. Ms. Naela Mohamed
GENEVA, Sep 29 2017 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and gender equality should remain a central objective of the world community. The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes specific provisions to member States of the United Nations – notably through SDG 5 – to commit to enhancing gender equality and to give women a stronger voice in the fight for equality. The Preamble of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for “equal rights” to be enjoyed by “men and women”: 69 years later, gender equality has not only been recognised for what it is: a fundamental human right, it is also becoming a guiding principle in the efforts of States to attain the highest ideals of a just and inclusive society and the highest rate of growth.

No society in the world can claim to have a society exempt from discrimination against women and girls. All regions of the world face their specific challenges related to the promotion and advancement of women’s rights. In the Arab region as in the West, the enhancement of the social status of women is of high importance. The barriers and the challenges which stand in the way of making impeding gender equality a reality cannot be seen as attributable solely to one region; charting a more inclusive agenda to enhance gender equality requires all regions to identify a suitable framework responding to its specific needs.

Amidst growing instability and social unrest as currently witnessed in the Middle East and North Africa region, encouraging developments are taking place in the Arab region. Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan have recently decided to repeal discriminatory laws enabling rape perpetrators to escape justice if they would opt for marrying their female victims. Tunisia has just initiated ground-breaking measures in favour of women. In the national parliaments of Algeria, Tunisia and Iraq, women occupy more than 20% of the proportion of seats for parliamentarians. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have likewise introduced legislation enabling women to benefit from equal rights and opportunities as their male compatriots. Other countries in the Arab region have likewise taken similar initiatives to advance the status of women. These developments show that the promotion and the enhancement of women’s rights in the Arab region have gained strong social acceptance within Arab societies.

Despite these encouraging signs, misperceptions and stereotyping of Arab women have become prolific news sources for mainstream media in depicting and offering a misleading picture of Arab women. The rise of extremism, Islamophobia and right-wing populism have further contributed to exacerbate the popular stereotyping of women as weak and voiceless. Societies as a whole are held further “guilty” for the alleged failures of Arab countries in advancing women’s rights. Hence the need to correct “orientalist” misperceptions.

The relations between Islam and women’s rights have also been the subject of widespread debate among women’s rights experts. Some people lacking perceptiveness consider that Islam is incompatible with women’s rights and gender equality, and that Islamic principles are hostile and discriminatory towards women. Generating simplistic solutions to challenges deriving from societal and cultural challenges – with no root in the teachings of Islam – will not solve “the mystery of Islam as a hostile religion to women.” We need to ask Arab women themselves whether they consider Islam as an emancipating factor in their efforts to achieve gender equality. According to the findings of the book “Fighting Hislam: Women, Faith and Sexism” written by Dr. Susan Carland in 2017, Arab women do not see Islam as an obstacle to fight sexism, discrimination and marginalization of women. Indeed Islam’s egalitarian spirit guides women in their efforts and commitments to advance their own rights. The fact that Islam has played an important role in redefining women’s rights in modern societies is hardly given any recognition in mainstream media. This shows that we have an uphill task ahead of us.

The deconstruction of existing myths regarding the status of Arab women will enable decision-makers and women’s rights experts to identify a common agenda to promote gender equality at a global level. It will enable women’s rights experts from the Arab region and the West to shift from “naming and shaming” and proclamations of moral superiority to the enhancement of women’s rights through constructive dialogue and the identification of joint solutions. Advancing the status of women requires a unified attempt by the Arab region and the West to safeguard women’s rights from adverse policies impeding the realization of gender equality. This idea was explored during the “Women’s rights in the Arab region: between myth and reality” panel debate held on 15 September at the United Nations Office in Geneva. Now is the time to join forces and work together to make this a reality.

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Gov’t Actions, Not Religion, ‘Tipping Point’ for African Youths Joining Violent Extremismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/govt-actions-not-religion-tipping-point-african-youths-joining-violent-extremism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=govt-actions-not-religion-tipping-point-african-youths-joining-violent-extremism http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/govt-actions-not-religion-tipping-point-african-youths-joining-violent-extremism/#respond Mon, 25 Sep 2017 07:45:13 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152216 Government action, rather than religious ideology, is a stronger predictor for radicalization in Africa, according to a two-year landmark study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). A comprehensive report on the study, recently launched at the UN, highlights crucial aspects in the journey towards extremism in Africa. Far less is known about the causes […]

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Credit: UNDP

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

Government action, rather than religious ideology, is a stronger predictor for radicalization in Africa, according to a two-year landmark study by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

A comprehensive report on the study, recently launched at the UN, highlights crucial aspects in the journey towards extremism in Africa.

Far less is known about the causes and consequences surrounding violent extremism in Africa, when compared to other regions – a fact that necessitated the study.

Drawing from interviews with 718 people aged between 17 and 26, 495 of whom were voluntary recruits in some of Africa’s most infamous extremist groups such as Al Shabaab and Boko Haram, the study revealed that 71 percent of the recruits attributed their final decisions to join the extremist groups to some form of government action.

Examples of these ‘tipping point’ government actions include the killing or arbitrary detention of a family member or friend, according to the study.

Asked about African government actions as drivers to extremism, Cheryl Frank, the head of the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Transnational Threats and International Crime Programme, told IPS that, “factors such as weak access to political and economic participation and corruption drive individuals to join extremist groups.”

Significantly, a majority of the interviewed recruits believe that their governments only cater to the interests of a few, and over 75 percent generally distrust the politicians and public security systems in their countries.

Other key findings from the study, which focuses on the incentives for recruitment into extremist groups, indicate that deprivation and marginalization, bolstered by weak governance and corruption, are the main factors pushing many African youths into violent extremism.

“A majority of the recruits are from borderlands and peripheral areas that are largely isolated…more than half the population living below the poverty line including many chronically under-employed youth,” said UNDP’s Africa Director, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, at the launch of the report at the UN.

Facing a shortage of economic prospects and lack of civic engagement in these areas, several of the marginalized youth, who are also prone to less parental involvement, are constantly lured into violent extremism.

Employment is ‘the most acute need’ at the time of joining an extremist group, according to the study’s researchers.

Despite a hardened discontent for their governments, hope or excitement was recorded as the most common emotion among recruits when they joined extremist groups, based on the study.

Anger or vengeance came in third or fourth place.

Asked about this significant finding, Mohamed Yahya, UNDP’s Africa Regional Programme Coordinator, told IPS that “recruits see the extremist groups as a ladder towards transformation…by joining these groups, they are eager to improve their impoverished and frustrating situations and only later do they realize the reality and turn to anger.”

UNDP urges for a stronger development focus to security challenges in Africa. “Delivering services, strengthening institutions, creating pathways to economic empowerment – these are development issues,” said Dieye.

Although more than half of the recruits cited religion as the reason for joining an extremist group, 57 percent of the same recruits also admitted to having little to no understanding of the group’s religious doctrine.

Additionally, the study indicates that six years of religious schooling lowered the likelihood of a person joining an extremist group by about 32 percent. This suggests that an actual understanding of one’s religion can be a pull factor from, rather than a push factor towards, extremism.

“Religious education, in conjunction with secular education, tends to provide resilience towards joining these groups,” said Yahya.

Another driver of extremism in Africa, aside from government disaffection, marginalization, deprivation, unemployment and religion, is the lack of identification with one’s country- a common trait among the interviewed recruits.

The journey to extremism is significantly marked by a fractured relationship between the state and its citizens, according to the study.

Notably, recruitment processes in Africa mainly occur on a local and word-of-mouth level rather than via the internet, as is common in other regions. However, this may be subject to change as connectivity expands.

“This study sounds the alarm that as a region, Africa’s vulnerability to violent extremism is deepening,” said Dieye.

There is a need for intervention at a local level, the report indicates. This involves supporting community-led initiatives and amplifying the voices of trusted local actors, with the singular goal of social cohesion.

“What we know for sure is that in the African context, the counter-extremist messenger is as important as the counter-extremist message…the trusted local voice is also essential to reducing the sense of marginalization that can increase vulnerability to recruitment,” said Dieye.

Further, concerning a commitment to human rights law, the report appeals to African governments to reevaluate excessive militarized responses to extremism.

“Government responses that do not adhere to the rule of law or due process may accelerate violent extremism,” said Yahya. Such responses risk joining the ‘tipping point’ government actions that push youths towards these groups.

Asked about alternative government strategies to curb extremism, Frank told IPS that “governments should focus on criminal justice approaches…the suspects should be pursued, investigated, prosecuted and punished appropriately rather than being killed or captured, often in secret operations.”

“This brings the rule of law to the core of actions,” said Frank.

Demonstrating justice in relation to extremist groups helps prevent its members from portraying themselves as soldiers and martyrs, a potentially admirable quality to recruits, rather than criminals.

An estimated 33,300 people in Africa have lost their lives to violent extremist attacks between 2011 and early 2016, according to UNDP.

Sustained action to prevent and respond to violent extremism is urgently needed.

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Torturing Detainees Is Immoral and Ineffective, Says UN Human Rights Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/torturing-detainees-immoral-ineffective-says-un-human-rights-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=torturing-detainees-immoral-ineffective-says-un-human-rights-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/torturing-detainees-immoral-ineffective-says-un-human-rights-chief/#respond Mon, 25 Sep 2017 07:00:17 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152213 A Manual for Investigative Interviewing to abolish torture among detainees suspected of crime is in the pipeline, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today. At an event held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Al Hussein slammed the practice of torture and called upon countries to abolish it entirely. […]

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Eritreans protesting in Tel Aviv. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 25 2017 (IPS)

A Manual for Investigative Interviewing to abolish torture among detainees suspected of crime is in the pipeline, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said today.

At an event held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Al Hussein slammed the practice of torture and called upon countries to abolish it entirely. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that information obtained through torture is not reliable, and from the interrogator’s perspective, even counterproductive. This is in part because flagrant abuse of human rights provokes anger among communities.

“This destruction of public trust is profoundly damaging. When added to the perception that police abuses and humiliation of specific communities is tolerated – based on economic, geographic, ethnic, religious or other distinctions – it will certainly exacerbate tensions and may lead to serious violence,” Al Hussein said.

Al Hussein did not shy away from mentioning psychological abuse and waterboarding, which had been practised by many countries, including the United States, in its “war on terror”.

Citing an example of a recent case he reviewed, in which a detainee had died from dehydration before his trial, the chief human rights commissioner cited the gaps between police actions and legal principles.

“Officials required to enforce the law should not undermine the rule of law,” he added. “If police break the law in pursuit of law enforcement, the message is one of capricious and abusive power. The institution which should protect the people becomes unmoored from principle; unresponsive to the law, it is a loose cannon.”

This is why a manual, which will be used by UN police officers, is necessary, he said. The Convention against Torture Initiative and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights are also preparing similar guidance.

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The Crisis of Refugees and Their Sufferings Call for a Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-refugees-sufferings-call-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-refugees-sufferings-call-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-refugees-sufferings-call-solution/#respond Thu, 21 Sep 2017 16:06:02 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152191 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, is Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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

The pursuit of international peace and security has been on the agenda of international decision-makers ever since the establishment of the League of Nations on 10 January 1920. There has been a constant ambiguity about the way this commitment has been translated to practice. The Covenant of the League of Nations committed itself “to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security”: nevertheless, the eruption of violence and geopolitical confrontations lead to another major confrontation two decades later. This reinforced the determination of the world community to redouble its efforts to promote peace and security. The Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue said that the UN Charter – adopted on 26 June 1945 – did not prevent the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and of Nagasaki less than two months later. The disastrous consequences of the Second World War was a terrible reminder of humanity’s ability to bring the world close to apocalypse. Partly for such reasons more than 60 million people continue to be forcibly displaced today and peace continues to be so elusive.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

This year’s annual theme for the 2017 International Day of Peace “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All” draws the attention of the need of the world community to unite its forces in support of people up-rooted and separated from their kith and kin. Dr. Al Qassim noted that the refugee and migrant crisis have become the symbol of the world’s inability to live up to the ideals of the Founders of the UN to promote peace and justice worldwide. Foreign invasions exacerbating resort to terrorist violence keep peace in jeopardy. So does the simultaneous rise of right-wing populist parties in the West which has become the driving force of xenophobia, bigotry, racism and marginalization of the Other. The combination of these elements once the symbol of a world undermining the peace that its peoples yearn for.

The Chairman has also concluded that the Arab region has been adversely affected by the rise of violent extremism and the proliferation of local and international conflicts. The civil wars and/or internal upheavals in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Iraq have resulted in the forced displacement of millions of people. In total, more than 13 million people have been forced to leave their home societies owing to the lack of security and the surge of violence. Millions of people have embarked on perilous and hazardous journeys over the unpredictable Balkan route. As the latter is being sealed off, they engage on the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa. Walls and fences have been built – and even detention camps – to respond to the unprecedented rise of people on the move. These liberal societies which cursed the Berlin Wall cordoning off the free flow of ideas now advocate new walls to cordon off the free flow of people in distress. He asked: How come that Europe cannot accommodate displaced people counting for less than 1% of Europe’s total population when certain countries in the Middle East provide protection to refugees and migrants accounting for more than 20% of their own populations? Making matters worse, Islamophobia is also on the rise in Southeast Asia where the ominous policy of ethnic cleansing has reared its head once again.

Guided by the vision of promoting peaceful societies and addressing the plight of people on the move, the Geneva Centre will be organizing a panel debate on 15 December 2017 entitled “Migration and human solidarity, a challenge and an opportunity for Europe and the MENA region.” He hoped that the debate will further promote a joint response of stakeholders from the Global North and the Global South responding with one voice to the injustice that is targeting people on the move in the Arab region and in other regions of the world. He called upon decision-makers should remain guided by the principles of international solidarity and justice in addressing the plight of refugees and migrants. We can no longer remain indifferent to a crisis that has become the symbol of the world’s inability to promote peace and justice.

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Macron Defends Globalist Approach at UN General Assemblyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/macron-defends-globalist-approach-un-general-assembly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=macron-defends-globalist-approach-un-general-assembly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/macron-defends-globalist-approach-un-general-assembly/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:59:33 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152160 French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a sombre speech at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, denouncing Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing,” and calling for better protection of refugees in the world. His decisive speech at the lectern took a sharp turn from the U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech earlier that morning, who focused on a nationalist agenda, […]

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By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a sombre speech at the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, denouncing Myanmar’s “ethnic cleansing,” and calling for better protection of refugees in the world.

Emmanuel Macron. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

His decisive speech at the lectern took a sharp turn from the U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech earlier that morning, who focused on a nationalist agenda, urging leaders to put their countries first as he invoked his “America First” vision. Macron led his speech with a multilateral approach, and vowed instead, to fight climate change with all member countries. In a press conference later, he added that he would try to persuade Trump to reconsider his decision to pull out of the Paris agreement.

Macron, a centrist who ran his recent presidential campaign on open borders, kept in line with his advocacy for protecting refugees as a “moral duty.” He addressed human trafficking along the Mediterranean route, and said that greater checks and a “humanitarian infrastructure” should be put in place to stem blatant flouting of “fundamental human rights” by traffickers.

While Trump touted topics that invoked a mainstream media frenzy—but are nevertheless important national security issues—such as threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea, and reiterating his critical views of the 2015 Iran deal by slamming it as an “embarrassment,” Macron led the speech in a more conventional way, as is convention, in essentially the headquarters of world diplomacy.

Macron said that he was willing to open dialogues with the North Korea’s leader, and added that migration and terrorism, which are political challenges, couldn’t simply be addressed by “short-term” strategies. Similarly, he committed to contribute to developmental aid, and said that the process, for him, began with investing in education. “We must give the opportunity to young boys and girl to obtain an education to choose their own future, not the future that is imposed on them by need but the future that they should choose for themselves,” he said.

In the end, in spite of criticising the world body as a “club for people to get together, talk and have a good time” before, Trump praised the UN body for its immense potential to bring deliberations at the world stage.

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