Inter Press ServiceReligion – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 16 Oct 2017 21:29:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 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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Aung San Suu Kyi: A Leader in Denial?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-leader-denial/#comments Wed, 20 Sep 2017 06:23:09 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152150 After finally breaking silence with a much anticipated address on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world as she refuses to acknowledge the plight of her country’s Rohingya community. In a 30-minute televised address, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

After finally breaking silence with a much anticipated address on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world as she refuses to acknowledge the plight of her country’s Rohingya community.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In a 30-minute televised address, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her government does not fear “international scrutiny” over its management of the crisis in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi, who decided not to attend the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York, said she nevertheless wanted the international community to know what her government was doing.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said in her first public address since violence reignited after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts on 25 August.

“We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

However, her speech was filled with claims considered dubious by many worldwide as she refused to address the reality on the ground in Rakhine including the military’s alleged campaign of killing and burning villages.

“Her speech was disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst,” founder of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith told IPS, adding that some of her claims were “grotesquely untrue.”

A Denial of Atrocities

Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Suu Kyi said that security forces are exercising “all due restraint” and that there have not been any “clearance operations” since 5 September.

However, Human Rights Watch released new satellite imagery showing that at least 62 villages in northern Rakhine were burned between August 25 and September 14, some of which can even be seen hundreds of kilometers away at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Numerous global figures have reiterated the urgent scale of the crisis, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Suu Kyi that she has a “last chance” to reverse the army’s offensive and if she doesn’t, the crisis will be “absolutely horrible” and may not be reversible in the future.

The spike in refugees fleeing the conflict since 5 September indicate ongoing violence, which Suu Kyi also denied, stating that most Muslims have stayed in Rakhine and that the crisis is not as severe as the international community thinks.

“It’s incredulous,” said head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros to IPS about Suu Kyi’s statement.

Rakhine State has a population of approximately three million, one million of whom are Rohingya Muslims.

The UN has estimated that over 400,000 Rohingya have already fled to Bangladesh in just three weeks. They have warned 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.

“She has the responsibility to speak out, and at the very least we would expect for her to acknowledge what is going on in the ground in her own country,” Tadros said.

Balancing a Political Tightrope

Though it is unclear why she continues to support a military that placed her under house arrest for 15 years and has prevented her from becoming the President, some say Suu Kyi is walking a tightrope in protecting her own political interests.

This includes keeping the Myanmar’s powerful military, known as the Tatmadaw, happy.

After winning the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, entered a power-sharing agreement with the Tatmadaw which includes control over a quarter of all seats in parliament.

The military also retains control over its own budget and key ministries including home affairs, defense, and borders, making it the real power in northern Rakhine.

And the head of Tatmadaw General Min Aung Hlaing has explicitly and consistently spoken out against the Rohingya community, claiming that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar cannot “accept and recognize” them.

“Rakhine ethnics [Buddhists] are our indigenous people who had long been living there since the time of their forefathers,” he said in a Facebook post.

Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population have also had little sympathy for the Rohingya since 2012, when deadly violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left at least 200 dead and displaced 90,000.

It seems that Suu Kyi may be between a rock and a hard place. However, many believe that she does not only have the responsibility, but also the power to advance human rights in the country.

“As the moral leader of the country and as the senior most political leader, she is certainly in a position to shape the way that people in the country think about human rights, the way they think about the situation in Rakhine state,” Smith told IPS.

Tadros echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Even if you don’t have much power over the military, you don’t have to be an apologist for them.”

“She has political concerns and that is a normal thing for any leader, but the fact that the political concerns are taking precedence over the killing and injuring of thousands of people…it’s just beyond words,” she continued.

Suu Kyi also reminded the international community in her speech that Myanmar is a newly democratic country that is still learning its way, stating: “After half a century or more of authoritarian rule, now we are in the process of nurturing our nation.”

“We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all… we cannot just concentrate on the few,” she continued.

Tadros said that excuse is not good enough and that she can show leadership without the state collapsing.

“Myanmar has had decades to deal with the issue and has never done it in an effective way and the Suu Kyi administration is no different,” Smith said.

A History of Violence

Though Suu Kyi claimed that her government has made efforts in recent years to improve living conditions for Muslims living in Rakhine without discrimination, Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as citizens.

Since 1982 when they adopted the biased citizenship law, the country has enacted a series of discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

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

However, Suu Kyi has consistently remained silent on the plight of the Rohingya and has instead perpetuated their discrimination and exclusion.

In her address, Suu Kyi refused to use the “Rohingya” by name, only referencing it when she spoke of ARSA which she said are responsible for “acts of terrorism.”

When asked if this continues to perpetuate the narrative that Rohingyas are terrorists, Smith said yes.

“She is in a position now to actually save lives, she is in a position now to stop atrocities. Not only is she failing to do that, but she is making matters worse,” he told IPS.

He added that she is contributing to a narrative that may push more civilians to attack Muslim populations in the country.

Suu Kyi said all those who have fled to Bangladesh will be able to return after a process of verification, and added that she wants to find out what the “real problems” are in Rakhine.

“We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We’d like to talk to those who have fled, as well as those who have stayed,” she said.

Though there is no end in sight to the country’s crisis, Smith expressed concern that her promised actions may coerce the population to disavow their ethnic identity.

“That is not a [verification] process to allow the population to self identify as Rohingya, it’s a process to try to systematize and document this population as Bengali and it’s not a pathway to full citizenship.”

Tadros questioned the fate of Rohingya that do return, stating: “The people who have fled have the right to return. But return to what? Return to what sort of conditions? Return to a country where they have no rights and for this cycle of violence to happen again?”

“This isn’t about being able to physically cross the border to go back to your house anymore, this is about using this moment to actually get the Rohingya the rights that they deserve,” she added.

She urged for Suu Kyi and the international community to do everything in their power to stop the violence, while Smith called on the Security Council to declare the crisis as a threat to international peace and security.

“What is needed right now is action. The Security Council needs to start preparing itself to act towards international justice,” he concluded.

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Out of Africa: Understanding Economic Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/africa-understanding-economic-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-understanding-economic-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/africa-understanding-economic-refugees/#comments Tue, 19 Sep 2017 15:19:45 +0000 Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152132 Anis Chowdhury, a former professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney, held senior United Nations positions during 2008–2015 in New York and Bangkok.
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, a former economics professor, was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.

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Young African migrants seek opportunities abroad as the World Bank projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

Not a single month has passed without dreadful disasters triggering desperate migrants to seek refuge in Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to enter Europe via Spain, Italy or Greece in the first half of this year. Last year, 5,096 deaths were recorded.

The majority – including ‘economic migrants’, victims of ‘people smugglers’, and so on – were young Africans aged between 17 and 25. The former head of the British mission in Benghazi (Libya) claimed in April that as many as a million more were already on their way to Libya, and then Europe, from across Africa.

Why flee Africa?
Why are so many young Africans trying to leave the continent of their birth? Why are they risking their lives to flee Africa?

Part of the answer lies in the failure of earlier economic policies of liberalization and privatization, typically introduced as part of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) that many countries in Africa were subjected to from the 1980s and onwards. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and most Western donors supported the SAPs, despite United Nations’ warnings about their adverse social consequences.

SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow, bringing growth and prosperity. Now, a few representatives from the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions admit that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, condemning the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’.

While SAPs were officially abandoned in the late 1990s, their replacements were little better. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) of the World Bank and IMF promised to reduce poverty with some modified policy conditionalities and prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the G8 countries reneged on their 2005 Gleneagles pledge to provide an extra US$25 billion a year for Africa as part of a US$50 billion increase in financial assistance to “make poverty history”.

Poor Africa

Thanks to the SAPs, PRSPs and complementary policies, Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century and during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

According to the World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa, the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

The continent has also been experiencing rising economic inequality, with higher inequality than in the rest of the developing world, even overtaking Latin America. National Gini coefficients – the most common measure of inequality – average around 0.45 for the continent, rising above 0.60 in some countries, and increasing in recent years.

While the continent is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’, with more young people (aged 15-24) in its population, it has failed to generate sufficient decent jobs. South Africa, the most developed economy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), has a youth unemployment rate of 54%.

The real situation could be even worse. Discouraged youth, unable to find decent jobs, drop out of the labour force, and consequently, are simply not counted.

Surviving in Africa
Most poor people simply cannot afford to remain unemployed in the absence of a decent social protection system. To survive, they have to accept whatever is available. Hence, Africa’s ‘working poor’ and underemployment ratios are much higher. In Ghana, for example, the official unemployment rate is 5.2%, while the underemployment rate is 47.0%!

Annual growth rates have often exceeded 5% in many African countries in the new century. SAP and PRSP advocates were quick to claim credit for the end of Africa’s ‘lost quarter century’, arguing that their harsh policy prescriptions were finally bearing fruit. After the commodity price collapse since 2014, the proponents have gone quiet.

With trade liberalization and consequently, greater specialization, many African countries are now even more dependent on fewer export commodities. The top five exports of SSA are all non-renewable natural resources, accounting for 60% of exports in 2013.

The linkages of extractive activities with the rest of national economies are now lower than ever. Thus, despite impressive economic growth rates, the nature of structural change in many African economies have made them more vulnerable to external shocks.

False start again?
Africa possesses about half the uncultivated arable land in the world. Sixty percent of SSA’s population work in jobs related to agriculture. However, agricultural productivity has mostly remained stagnant since 1980.

With agriculture stagnant, people moved from rural to urban areas, only to find life little improved. Thus, Africa has been experiencing rapid urbanization and slum growth. According to UN Habitat, 60% of SSA’s urban population live in slums, with poor access to basic services, let alone new technologies.

Powerful outside interests, including the BWIs and donors, have been advocating large farm production, claiming it to be the only way to boost productivity. Several governments have already leased out land to international agribusiness, often displacing settled local communities.

Meanwhile, Africa’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about 3% in 1970 to less than 2% in 2013. Manufacturing’s share of total African GDP has decreased from 16% in 1974 to around 13% in 2013. At around a tenth, manufacturing’s share of SSA’s output in 2013 is much lower than in other developing regions. Unsurprisingly, Africa has deindustrialized over the past four decades!

One cannot help but doubt how the G20’s new ‘compact with Africa’, showcased at Hamburg, can combat poverty and climate change effects, in addition to deterring the exodus out of Africa, without fundamental policy changes.

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Islamic Organization Promotes Cultural Rapprochement Between US & Muslim Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/islamic-organization-promotes-cultural-rapprochement-us-muslim-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-organization-promotes-cultural-rapprochement-us-muslim-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/islamic-organization-promotes-cultural-rapprochement-us-muslim-world/#respond Mon, 18 Sep 2017 11:44:28 +0000 Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152117 Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen is Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

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Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen. Credit: OIC

By Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen
NEW YORK, Sep 18 2017 (IPS)

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), by virtue of its position of being the second largest international organization outside the UN system with 57 member countries comprising one fifth of the world population and covering Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, is indeed an important actor in dealing with rapprochement between cultures, in particular rapprochement between the Muslim World and its international partners like the USA.

Rapprochement between cultures through dialogue among civilizations and diverse faiths as an agenda item was pioneered by the OIC at the international level as early as 1998.

The OIC believes in dialogue and communication in order to foster mutual respect and understanding. Its focus continues to be one of outreach and engagement with the international stakeholders like the USA to form a meaningful and functional partnership to work together in engendering a culture of peaceful coexistence and upholding human dignity.

Communication makes people more connected and raises awareness among them on the implications of hatred and discrimination based on their faith, culture and religion. Based on these premises, the OIC has established a separate full-fledged Department of Dialogue and Outreach in its General Secretariat. The main objective of this Department is to reach out to different cultures with an aim to reduce misunderstanding and cultural gap between them and the Muslim World.

With this in mind, the Department has established a close relationship of collaboration and cooperation with the King Abdullah International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), an Intergovernmental setup established at the initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia along with Austria and Spain to highlight the efficacy of cultural rapprochement as an effective tool to reduce conflict through building bridges between cultures.

We all want to live in dignity, in peace, in security, to raise our children, to protect our families. Muslims are not exception to that. Islam like any other religion advocate for the same values of humanity, mercy, solidarity, peace.

To this end, contemporary challenges like xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination, and hatred must be tackled through inclusive dialogue and tolerance. For this, uniting our efforts is what the world needs today.

Much has been achieved in this regard, nevertheless, as the challenges around us continue to grow and expand, much more is yet to be done. We believe that there is more to unite us than to divide. As such, in order to focus on the factors that bring us together, cultural rapprochement through communication, dialogue and inclusiveness needs to be nurtured and demonstrated in our everyday life.

Meanwhile, an OIC press release says the Organization will hold several meetings on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York starting Monday, 18 September 2017.

The foreign ministers of the OIC Member States are expected to hold a coordination meeting to discuss the issues of interest to the OIC that are on the agenda of the current session of the UNGA.

Also, the Special Ministerial Committee on Palestine will hold a meeting to discuss the developments regarding the Palestinian issue, and the Secretary General Dr. Yousef Al Othaimeen will chair an international high-level meeting to support the Palestinian refugees.

There will also be a ministerial meeting of the Contact Group on the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, who are being subjected to persecution, displacement and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar for years. The situation has exacerbated in the past weeks, which caused more than 300,000 of the Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.

Other contact group meetings will also be held on Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Yemen, Jammu and Kashmir, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the aggression of Armenia on Azerbaijan to discuss the situations and developments in these countries and regions.

In addition, the second meeting of the Contact Group on Muslims in Europe will be held, which aims to promote understanding and respect between Muslims living in the West and their communities and protecting their rights in light of heightened Islamophobia across Europe.

The recent terrorist attacks combined with the current economic crisis and high unemployment rates have increasingly strained relations between immigrant Muslim communities and the larger societies in which they live, a situation that has been used by the far right groups to exacerbate tensions.

The OIC Secretary General is expected to have bilateral meetings with a number of presidents, foreign ministers and high officials from the member states and non-member states during the UNGA to discuss issues of mutual interest.

Furthermore, Al-Othaimeen and his accompanying delegation of senior officials will participate in the opening of the UNGA session and several meetings and activities that are to be held on its sidelines on important regional and international issues.

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Why Aung San Suu Kyi Chooses Silencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-chooses-silence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aung-san-suu-kyi-chooses-silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/aung-san-suu-kyi-chooses-silence/#respond Fri, 15 Sep 2017 08:46:03 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152086 On 23rd August, just days before thousands of Rohingyas began fleeing their homes from Rakhine State, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recently appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission, established in 2016, submitted its final report. The engaging of an independent Commission, tasked with recommending newer ways of improving the lives of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s most deeply persecuted minority […]

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The photo was taken at Thae Chaung camp in Rakhine state. Credit: UNHCR/Stephen Kelly/2013

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2017 (IPS)

On 23rd August, just days before thousands of Rohingyas began fleeing their homes from Rakhine State, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recently appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission, established in 2016, submitted its final report. The engaging of an independent Commission, tasked with recommending newer ways of improving the lives of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s most deeply persecuted minority group, carried some weight of diplomacy.

In that week, when clashes broke out between Rohingya militants and security forces, Myanmar’s Army responded by doubling down on its attacks against Rohingyas in Rakhine State, killing at least 400 people, only 29 of whom were militants. What appeared as a window of opportunity to test the findings of the report, which recommended reviewing a citizenship law that revoked the rights of Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar in 1982, collapsed at its feet. Instead, a record numbers of Rohingyas, more than 300,000, were forced to flee to Bangladesh.

Recently, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, shed light on harrowing details of the conflict. He denounced the government’s “cynical ploy” to only allow refugees who could produce “proof of nationality” back into the country, and condemned the State’s strategy to lay landmines along the borders of Bangladesh. He even warned that the government should “stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages.”

This recent wave of violence, is in many ways, both old and new. In 1977, when Burmese authorities conducted a set of screenings, called Operation Nagamin (Dragon King), to register its citizens for a national census, almost 200,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee. Although authorities claimed that it was simply screening out foreigners, refugees who primarily fled to Bangladesh, and who were largely Rohingya Muslims, disputed the claims and alleged widespread police brutality.

Similarly, this February, four months after a group of Rohingya militants broke into prominence by killing nine police officers in October 2016, the UN released its first findings of the long standing conflict, laying bear the horrific killings, gang rapes, and “crimes against humanity” committed by the State’s military in it’s retaliation to the attack.

IPS spoke to Matthew Smith, an expert on the topic, and the co-founder of Fortify Rights, an NGO that vigilantly documents human rights violations in Southeast Asia, about the rise of armed insurgencies staged by a group of Rohingya militants.

The group, called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), is relatively small. Believed to have been backed by donors in the Middle East, the group wields its sense of power from the support of its community. When Matthew spoke with fighters of ARSA; he explained that, militants who have carried out its most recent attacks by using knives and home-made bombs, were acting on the promise of being aided with more automatic weapons, and newer fighters. However, when that plan failed, Myanmar fell into the hands of the Army. ARSA was no match to the military’s prowess.

ARSA fighters, many of whom partially blame themselves for the cataclysmic turn of events, first picked up ammunition to break away from this very sense of helplessness. For them, there was simply no other option. Inadvertently, a combination of threats posed by ARSA and a public maneuvering by a government long prejudiced against Rohingyas, gave way to support for the military among Burmese citizens. Most citizens, who otherwise remain very skeptical about the military’s role in domestic politics, found new ground with the army to quash any militant threats.

A renewed sense of public consensus that backed the government’s strategy of driving out Rohingya from the country pushed into maximum effect in the last few weeks. In spite of international pressure to rein in violence, Aung San Suu Kyi is walking on a tightrope, and is keeping silent, for now.

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Secretary-General Talks Myanmar, Trump Ahead of General Assemblyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/secretary-general-talks-myanmar-trump-ahead-general-assembly/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:47:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152070 In an environment full of major threats, countries must work together towards peace and stability, the Secretary-General said ahead of the General Assembly. As the UN gears up for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, when leaders from around the world will convene, the Secretary-General pointed to pressing issues and actions to be discussed […]

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Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a press conference ahead of the 72nd session of the General Assembly, which begins on 19 September. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

In an environment full of major threats, countries must work together towards peace and stability, the Secretary-General said ahead of the General Assembly.

As the UN gears up for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly, when leaders from around the world will convene, the Secretary-General pointed to pressing issues and actions to be discussed over the course of the week.

“Global leaders will gather here next week at a time where our world faces major threats—from nuclear peril to global terrorism, from inequality to cyber crime,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said of his first General Assembly session since assuming office in January 2017.

“No country can meet these tests alone. But if we work together, we can chart a safer, more stable course, and that is why the General Assembly meeting is so important,” he continued.

Among the most pressing issues that is expected to be discussed during the annual meeting is the humanitarian crisis and escalation of violence in Myanmar, which Guterres described as “catastrophic” and “unacceptable.”

“I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law, and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country,” Guterres said, recommending that Rohingya Muslims be granted citizenship or at least a legal status that allows them to leave a productive life.

Sparked after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked a security post on August 25, Myanmar’s military has launched “clearance operations” which has left a path of destruction in its wake.

Security forces have reportedly systematically targeted Rohingya communities, including by burning their homes and indiscriminately shooting at villagers.

Over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have since fled into neighboring Bangladesh, a figure that tripled in just one week.

In response to the violent outbreak, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

When asked if he agrees that the Rohingya population is facing ethnic cleansing, Guterres stated: “When one-third of the Rohingya population have to flee a country, can you find a better word to describe it?”

However, he stopped short of describing the atrocities as genocide, instead calling it a “dramatic tragedy.”

“The question here is not to establish a dialogue on the different kinds of technical words…people are dying and suffering at horrible numbers and we need to stop it. That is my main concern.”

Amid mounting criticism over her response to the latest iteration of the crisis, Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi recently cancelled her trip to the UN meeting this year.

In her address to the General Assembly in 2016, Suu Kyi said that her government did not fear international scrutiny over its treatment of the Rohingya population.

“We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities within the State,” she said.

Myanmar is reportedly sending its Second Vice President Henry Van Thio in Suu Kyi’s place.

The Security Council (UNSC) has also faced criticism for its silence and lack of action on the situation in Myanmar.

The group last met behind closed doors at the end of August but issued no formal statement or proposal to end the crisis.

The Secretary-General wrote a letter to the 15-member council asking it to “undertake concerted efforts to prevent further escalation of the crisis.”

During a press conference, Guterres highlighted his personal commitment to the issue, stating: “This is a matter that I feel very deeply in my heart…the suffering of the people is something I feel very strongly about.”

UNSC held another closed-door meeting on Wednesday which many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are saying is insufficient and are urging for a public meeting.

“[UNSC] needs to take control of the issue and show that they are really concerned about it,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau at a press conference on the Myanmar crisis.

“The Security Council is supposed to be the guardian of international peace and security. This is an international peace and security crisis. It is a nightmare—people are dying, there is destruction, there is no excuse for them to keep sitting on their hands,” he continued.

In an effort to advance the UN’s work on peace and security, Guterres also announced a new High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation.

The 18-member group, which includes personalities such as President of Chile Michelle Bachelet and President of the International Crisis Group Jean-Marie Guéhenno, will advise the Secretary-General on mediation efforts and challenges.

Guterres also said that he aims to discuss the Myanmar crisis along with other challenges such as climate change with the United States’ President Donald Trump who is due to attend and speak at the general debate on 19 September.

Since taking office, President Trump has butted heads with the UN, threatening to significantly cut funds to UN programs and even eliminating all funds to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) after citing concerns that the agency conducts “coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” in China.

Earlier this year, Trump also announced the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a landmark commitment made by 195 countries to address and combat climate change.

In response to such challenges, Guterres highlighted the efforts being made to make the U.S.-UN relationship a constructive one and hopes that it will be a message that the President will also convey in his address.

“It is my deep belief that to preserve the American interests is to engage positively in global affairs and to engage positively in support to multilateral organizations like the UN,” Guterres said.

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Civilians ‘Direct Targets’ as Conflict Spreads in Central African Republichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/civilians-direct-targets-conflict-spreads-central-african-republic/#respond Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:18:08 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152066 Rape, torture, pillage, murder and forced displacement by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) rebel forces are the new horrifying realities faced by communities in Basse-Kotto, Central African Republic, according to the prominent London-based human rights group Amnesty International. The UN peacekeeping force in the region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission […]

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A UN peacekeeper on patrol in Bria, Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

A UN peacekeeper on patrol in Bria, Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Nektarios Markogiannis

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

Rape, torture, pillage, murder and forced displacement by the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC) rebel forces are the new horrifying realities faced by communities in Basse-Kotto, Central African Republic, according to the prominent London-based human rights group Amnesty International.

The UN peacekeeping force in the region, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), tasked with civilian protection, has been unable to curb these systematic abuses, Amnesty says.

“Civilians are not accidental victims in this conflict, they are direct targets…if the UN’s mandate in the Central African Republic is to mean anything, civilians must be better protected,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser, Joanne Mariner.

Many Central Africans are increasingly cynical about MINUSCA’s capacity to conform to even a limited civilian protection mandate, according to Mariner.

Referring to MINUSCA’s mandate, Mariner told IPS that the UN should review troop capacity, training, resource allocation and use of rapid reaction forces in hot-spots all over the country.

Notably, MINUSCA has saved the lives of many Central Africans, according to Amnesty International. However, with troops stretched thin and public confidence in the mission thinning, “MINUSCA’s failures are putting thousands of people in danger,” said Mariner.

The Basse-Kotto prefecture, one of the 14 prefectures in the landlocked African nation, has witnessed a surge in atrocities since early May 2017, when the UPC brutally attacked civilians in Alindao town resulting in at least 130 suspected dead.

In the four months since, the death toll is estimated to have climbed to several hundred, according to credible sources, says Amnesty International.

With tens of thousands having fled the violence and more than 100,000 displaced since the conflict exploded in April 2017, Basse-Kotto is reportedly characterized by ghost towns and nearly empty villages.

Significantly, the Basse-Kotto region had remained largely unaffected by the country’s fragile security situation up until the string of attacks in May in the towns of Alindao, Nzangba and Mobaye.

Asked about the spread of major fighting into this region of the country, Mariner told IPS, “The government maintains little to no control in most areas outside Bangui, the country’s capital, giving rival de facto armed groups leeway to expand their power and territory.”

Skirmishes between the predominantly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance and predominantly Christian anti-balaka militias plunged the nation into a civil war when Séléka forces overthrew former President François Bozizé in March 2013. His successor, Michel Djotodia, the country’s first ever Muslim president, assumed power for a year before stepping down in January 2014.

As a result, the Séléka rebel alliance split into various factions, such as the UPC, and each faction began a de facto terror campaign in different regions of the country- targeting civilians.

Successive ceasefire agreements since 2014 have failed to stabilize the country, which has a population of about 4.5 million people.

Muslim UPC forces target Christian civilians perceived of supporting opposing armed groups, while Christian anti-balaka militias target Muslim civilians under the guise of ‘self-defense’, according to Amnesty.

Mariner told IPS that both Muslim and Christian communities are “lumping together the atrocities committed by armed groups with the civilian population.”

“The problem is now the Muslim population versus the Christian population…we don’t want a religious conflict; we absolutely refuse it, but there’s very clearly an inter-communal conflict,” one of Alindao town’s religious figures told Amnesty.

Asked about the religious nature of the conflict, Mariner told IPS that the conflict is sectarian-based rather than religious-based.

“The armed groups attack civilians because they see them as supporters of a rival armed group and not based on any religious doctrine or ideology…religion is merely a dividing line between the different groups,” said Mariner to IPS.

The increasingly sectarian nature of the violence is perhaps the most worrying aspect of the current crisis, according to Amnesty International’s Central Africa Researcher- Balkissa Ide Siddo.

The level of anger and hatred as well as the desire to humiliate and degrade has reached unprecedented levels in the country, as witnessed by the UPC’s use of rape as a systematic weapon of war in Basse-Kotto.

At least 600,000 people are currently displaced within the country, the highest number since August 2014, and another 438,700 are refugees in the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to Amnesty.

Emergency action is needed in Central African Republic to prevent further imminent atrocities, Mariner told IPS.

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Dear Nobel Laureate, 19 September is 144 hours too latehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/dear-nobel-laureate-19-september-144-hours-late/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dear-nobel-laureate-19-september-144-hours-late http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/dear-nobel-laureate-19-september-144-hours-late/#comments Wed, 13 Sep 2017 20:12:41 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152061   Dear Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, We learned today that you will address the Rohingya issue via television in Myanmar on 19 September – over 144 hours from now. We also learned that you will not attend the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, a world body that listened to you […]

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Rohingya refugees trudge through the rain and mud as they arrive at Kutupalong camp in Bangladesh after days on foot. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

By Farhana Haque Rahman
DHAKA, Sep 13 2017 (IPS)

 

Dear Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,

We learned today that you will address the Rohingya issue via television in Myanmar on 19 September – over 144 hours from now.

We also learned that you will not attend the upcoming UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, a world body that listened to you in rapt attention only a year ago, marvelling at your words when you spoke of peace and “our planet as a place to be shared by all.”

While your presence in Myanmar is critically important at such tragic times when the UN estimates over 1000 killed and over 400,000 dispossessed and homeless people have fled across the border in Bangladesh, the General Assembly will have the same powerful people who worked not only for your freedom but also applauded when you were honoured with the Nobel Peace Prize.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Those very people are now calling for you to join in the effort to stop what the UN has described as a text book example of ethnic cleansing. Fellow Nobel laureates have done the same, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who despite his advanced age and withdrawal from public life felt he had to speak to you as a sister, solely for humanitarian reasons, and the young Malala Yusufzai, who has repeatedly called for you to step in and protect the persecuted. Ramos Horta joined Mohammed Yunus urging you to start a peace process in Rakhine State or for the UN Security Council to take action.

Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguire, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman signed a letter asking “How many Rohingya have to die; how many Rohingya women will be raped; how many communities will be razed before you raise your voice in defence of those who have no voice?”

Perhaps some personal encounters with the many who believed in you – and who will be at the UNGA – might help you to comprehend their disbelief and deep concern of what is happening to the Rohingya. Recent images from the Rakhine region are heart breaking. Amongst the innumerable horrific images of violence against the Rohingya, one shows how one-day old twins are being transported to safety in a coir basket while in another image a rickety son carries in baskets hanging at two ends of a bamboo pole his too-frail-to-walk parents. He had fear in his eyes but he did not abandon his parents to protect only himself; he is a hero.

You, too, were a hero.

Call to stop the killings now, not 144 hours later; speak for humanity, even if this means standing at the gate of your house in Yangon, an image that became a symbol of freedom when you were not free. If this leads you to being relegated again to confinement in your compound, remember the same people attending the UNGA will speak and work for your freedom.

The UNGA could be the best opportunity for you to hear all those like the Indonesians, Malaysians, Maldivians, Turks and so many others from distant parts of the world on why they are distraught and disturbed about the violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar, and in turn for them to hear from you how you are working to end the violence against innocent men, women and children and what you are doing to help them live with dignity.

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Myanmar Rohingya Face “Textbook Example of Ethnic Cleansing”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/myanmar-rohingyaface-textbook-example-ethnic-cleansing/#respond Wed, 13 Sep 2017 06:15:47 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152044 As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, thousands that remain in the country face mass atrocities at a scale never seen before. Since the renewal of violence on August 25, sparked after an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts, over 370,000 Rohingya […]

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Rohingya refugees arriving on a beach in the Teknaf area on fishing boats. The voyage from northern Rakhine state took five hours in rough waters in the Bay of Bengal during the monsoon season. Most were exhausted after the journey and several collapsed on the beach. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

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

As hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, thousands that remain in the country face mass atrocities at a scale never seen before.

Since the renewal of violence on August 25, sparked after an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts, over 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and thousands more remain trapped at the border.

“This is the worst situation ever that I’ve seen and I’m afraid it’s going to be the worst situation that the international community will witness in such a short period of time,” UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee told IPS.

As thousands flee violence and persecution, Lee expressed particular concern for the fate of Rohingya that still remain within the country.

Villages on Fire

Though Myanmar has repeatedly denied abuses since it launched its counterinsurgency operation against “extremist terrorists”, many say that the Rohingya community have been systematically targeted as security forces raid, attack, and burn villages.

Momena, 32, told Human Rights Watch that she fled after seeing security forces enter her village. Returning after the soldiers had left, she saw up to 50 villagers dead including some children and elderly with knife or bullet wounds.

“My father was among the dead; his neck had been cut open. I was unable to do last rites for my father—I just fled,” Momena said.

Yasin Ali, 25, said that security forces similarly attacked his village, shooting indiscriminately and forcing residents to flee. He told the organization that a helicopter which circled the village dropped an object after which houses caught fire.

Using satellite imagery, Human Rights Watch has identified 21 separate sites spanning 100 kilometers across northern Rakhine where fires have taken place.

New arrivals struggle to find space in the already-overcrowded Kutupalong camp, which saw over 16,000 new arrivals within a week of the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August, 2017. Bangladeshi officials are warning of a humanitarian crisis in the strained refugee camps. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan


One such image shows the destruction of 450 buildings in predominantly Rohingya-inhabited areas in Maungdaw while other parts of town remain unharmed. The Rohingya Muslim village of Chein Khar Li in Rathedaung township was also found to be almost completely destroyed with 700 buildings burned.

Lee told IPS that she came across similar accounts during a fact-finding mission after the October 2016 violence when Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation in response to attacks on border posts.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages, and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

They stated that the attacks very likely indicate “crimes against humanity.”

The government rejected these allegations then, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses, an explanation that the government continues to use for the current burnings.

With bellowing smoke from burning villages that can even be seen from across the border in Bangladesh, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy UN Director Akshaya Kumar told IPS that the scale of this year’s violence is much more expansive, noting that the area being burned is five times longer than the area previously and similarly affected by burnings during the violence in October 2016.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that the treatment of Rohingya Muslims seems to be a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” He called on Myanmar’s government to end its “cruel” and “disproportionate” military operations and to “reverse the pattern” of discrimination against the Rohingya population.

An Unfolding Humanitarian Crisis

While facing the direct threat of violence, many who remain are also facing a severe food and health crisis.

Prior to the eruption of violence, Myanmar’s government blocked international aid agencies and cut off all assistance to Rakhine, restricting access to residents.

World Food Programme (WFP) reported in early September that it has not been able to distribute food to a number of locations in northern Rakhine since mid-July, leaving a total of 250,000 displaced and vulnerable populations without regular food assistance.

“Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, may be trapped in remote areas far from the border with limited food and medical supplies and are unable to reach safety,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ (OCHA) Myanmar Spokesperson Pierre Peron told IPS.

Rohingya in Rakhine State had already long faced food insecurity before violence broke out with child malnutrition rates above emergency thresholds.

According to a WFP assessment in July, one-third of Rakhine’s population was severely food insecure and in need of humanitarian assistance after the October 2016 violence. Over 80,000 children were expected to be in need of treatment for acute malnutrition within 12 months.

The current lack of humanitarian assistance has therefore only served to compound an already dire situation.

“Without regular access to aid and with severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of thousands of people, any disruption in humanitarian aid has a very real human impact,” Peron said.

“For the sake of vulnerable people in all communities in Rakhine State, urgent measures must be taken to allow vital humanitarian activities to resume,” he added.

In Central Rakhine, where there have been no major violent outbreaks, heightened tensions have impeded life-saving activities.

Contractors have refused to carry food and other services to displacement camps for fear of retaliation from the wider community for helping the Rohingya population and aid agencies.

Kumar said that the reports are not surprising, especially after State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office accused international organizations of assisting militants.

“We have seen a huge and incredibly irresponsible push by the government including from Aung San Suu Kyi’s office saying any aid workers that provide support to this community as indirectly supporting terrorism. And that of course treats everyone who happens to be of this ethnic group as a terrorist,” she told IPS.

“As politicians fan the flames of xenophobia and mobilize communities against the Rohingya population with rhetoric about terrorism, these displaced Rohingya are at special risk—they have no one to protect them,” Kumar added.

Lee said that the accusation was “unfounded” and that ARSA’s attack further fed into the anti-muslim and anti-rohingya narrative that “Rohingya are not welcome.”

No End in Sight

Lee urged the military and ARSA to restrain from this cycle of violence as it is the innocent civilian population that end up suffering the most.

“This is a crisis that could have been prevented and should never have happened,” she told IPS.

Lee highlighted the need for a political solution, including the provision of citizenship to the stateless population.

“This group has been systematically discriminated by law, policy, and practice for too many years.”

However, there seems to be no end in sight yet in the crisis as the Southeast Asian nation rejected a temporary ceasefire proposal from ARSA.

Kumar called on the Security Council, which has so far remained silent, to send a clear message and an unequivocal condemnation of the government’s actions.

The group met behind closed doors in late August to discuss the crisis but did not issue a formal statement. Another closed-door meeting will be held on Wednesday.

Kumar stressed the need for an open meeting to demand actions and threaten measures such as sanctions so as to hold Myanmar’s government accountable.

“If we continue to have silence, inaction or mealy-mouthed statements, then unfortunately this crisis could continue maybe until we are in a position where there aren’t any perceived threat or Rohingya left in the country,” she told IPS.

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Dear Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi,http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/dear-nobel-laureate-aung-san-suu-kyi/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dear-nobel-laureate-aung-san-suu-kyi http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/dear-nobel-laureate-aung-san-suu-kyi/#comments Mon, 11 Sep 2017 12:36:25 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152008 When you were finally able to accept your Nobel Peace Prize, you spoke eloquently of the ultimate aim of a world in which “every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.” And you noted that “every thought, every word, and every action” that […]

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By Farhana Haque Rahman
DHAKA, Sep 11 2017 (IPS)

When you were finally able to accept your Nobel Peace Prize, you spoke eloquently of the ultimate aim of a world in which “every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace.”

And you noted that “every thought, every word, and every action” that adds to this desire is a contribution to peace.

Surely now is a time for a word on the plight of the Rohingya people in western Myanmar who the United Nations has described as one of the world’s most persecuted people.

Farhana Haque Rahman


So far, you have warned against “fake information” and “terrorists”. We have not, however, heard a word of support or even comfort for the people that, as amply documented by international organizations and media, are subject to a campaign leading to death, widespread suffering and desperate escapes over the border.

The 1991 Nobel Prize was given to honor your heroic and unflagging efforts for peace and prosperity in your country and, let’s remember, to support efforts to achieve “ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”

You have mentioned that there is violence instigated on “both sides”. There may be some truth in that statement, but – it appears entirely lacking in a sense of scale and proportion.

We are aware you do not have uncontested power in Myanmar to order a new approach to peace in Rakhine state. However, a humanitarian catastrophe requires setting politics aside.

As you yourself noted, thoughts and words can make a difference. Please let yours be known.
 

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Open Letter from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to Ms Aung San Suu Kyi

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Refugee Camps “bursting at the seams” in Bangladeshhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/refugee-camps-bursting-seams-bangladesh/#respond Sat, 09 Sep 2017 06:26:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152002 A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar is placing a huge strain on already very limited resources in Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said. In the last two weeks alone, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh amid escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. “The situation is very […]

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New arrivals struggle to find space in the already-overcrowded Kutupalong camp, which saw over 16,000 new arrivals within a week of the outbreak of violence in Myanmar on 25 August 2017. Credit: UNHCR/Vivian Tan

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2017 (IPS)

A dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing Myanmar is placing a huge strain on already very limited resources in Bangladesh, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said.

In the last two weeks alone, an estimated 270,000 Rohingya refugees had sought safety in Bangladesh amid escalating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

“The situation is very grave,” said UNCHR Bangladesh’s spokesperson Joseph Tripura to IPS.

“There are people everywhere and refugees are scattered…[the camps] are at a point of saturation,” he continued.

Two refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in south-east Bangladesh has seen its population more than double, from nearly 34,000 to over 70,000 Rohingya refugees.

“These are people that have been walking for days, many of them are tired and hungry and many are traumatized,” Tripura said.

Though many arrive on foot, refugees are now seeking alternative and risky routes including a five-hour boat ride across the Bay of Bengal.

One family of seven, one of whom was born just nine days ago, told UNHCR that they walked three days through the jungle to Myanmar’s border before taking a fishing boat to neighboring Bangladesh.

At least 300 boats carrying refugees arrived at Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration reported.

“There are many more waiting for boats,” another family told UNHCR.

“It would take a month to bring them all.”

Though both families reached Bangladesh’s shores safely, others are not so lucky.

A boat carrying at least five children sank on Wednesday and Bangladeshi border guards have reportedly pulled out the bodies of up to 40 Rohingya Muslims last week.

Humanitarian agencies have also reported that many refugees are arriving with serious medical needs including some that have been injured by gunshots and bomb blasts.

Myanmar’s military has repeatedly denied targeting Rohingya Muslims.

With refugee camps already “bursting at the seams”, many new arrivals have no shelter, food or water and limited access to health services.

UNHCR said that refugees are now squatting in makeshift shelters along the road and on available land in the border areas of Ukhiya and Teknaf.

The agency estimated that up to 300,000 Rohingya Muslims may cross the border into Bangladesh.

Tripura told IPS that there is an urgent need for more life-saving resources including more land and shelters. “We are not able to reach everyone and it is growing faster,” he said.

The agency also called for swift action to end the conflict in Myanmar.

“[The Government of Myanmar] needs to understand the underlying root causes of this problem and they should create a conducive environment so these refugees can feel safe to go back—it is a political decision that needs to be made as early as possible,” Tripura said.

“We have been dealing with this situation for a long time, but we are not seeing any improvement…it is getting worse,” he concluded.

The Rohingya Muslim community has faced a long history of repression in Myanmar where their status as citizens is disputed and their movement and access to social services is restricted, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

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

Prior to the most recent exodus, Bangladesh had already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya Muslims for over three decades.

The influx began after Myanmar’s military launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Many have appealed to Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi including the Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

“For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people,” Tutu wrote in a letter.

He added that it was “incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country” that “is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people.”

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More Than 18,000 Rohingya Flee as Violence Renewshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/18000-rohingya-flee-violence-renews/#respond Fri, 01 Sep 2017 17:04:41 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151893 A surge in deadly violence in Myanmar has forced over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee in less than one week, a migration agency said. The movement began after the Southeast Asian nation’s government launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army […]

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Border guards in Bangladesh are refusing entry to Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2017 (IPS)

A surge in deadly violence in Myanmar has forced over 18,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee in less than one week, a migration agency said.

The movement began after the Southeast Asian nation’s government launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug. 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) which left almost 110 dead.

Security forces have since reportedly burned villages and conducted attacks on Rohingya Muslims.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an estimated 18,500 have since crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state and thousands more are trapped in the no-man’s land in between the two countries.

Some have reportedly fled by crossing the bordering Nauf river where Bangladeshi border guards have already pulled out the bodies of up to 20 Rohingya Muslims.

“I utterly condemn the violent attacks on security personnel, which have led to the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of people,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, but highlighted the need for government forces to employ a proportionate response.

“Unfortunately, what we feared appears to be occurring. Decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing,” he continued.

In October 2016, Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked border posts, forcing almost 90,000 to flee.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that attacks against Rohingya civilians during those operations may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity.

Myanmar authorities however have repeatedly denied the allegations.

A Long History

The government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and has restricted their movement and excluded them from social services, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

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

Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim urged the government to prevent human rights violations from being inflicted on the civilian population in the current escalation of military conflict.

“The disturbing testimonies of the Rohingyans fleeing Myanmar confirm that serious human rights violations are being carried out against the civilian population. The world society cannot turn a blind eye to the disturbing situation in Myanmar. The Geneva Centre appeals for an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingyans,” Al Qassim added.

The UN Responds

In response to the violence, the UN Security Council held a closed door discussion.

Though no formal statement was made, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft called on all parties to de-escalate and to look to the long-term during a press conference.

Rycroft added that the council still supports Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s State Counsellor.

“We look to her to set the right tone and to find the compromises and the de-escalation necessary in order to resolve the conflict for the good of all the people in Burma,” he said.

Fresh violence erupted just two days after a long-awaited report investigating the situation in Rakhine State by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

“Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse. Violence will not bring lasting solutions to the acute problems that afflict Rakhine State,” said Chair of the Commission Kofi Annan.

“Nevertheless, the status quo cannot continue,” he added.

Among the recommendations in the 63-page report is for Myanmar’s government to revisit its citizenship law, grant freedom of movement for Rohingya Muslims, and invest in the socio-economic development of Rakhine.

Annan warned that failure to implement its recommendations will only lead to another cycle of violence and radicalization which will further deepen chronic poverty in the state.

Zeid similarly called on the Myanmar Government to follow the recommendations in order to “address rather than sacrifice human rights concerns in the interests of maintaining peace and order.”

Calling for and Criticizing International Support

IOM’s Director-General William Swing called for more international support for civilians fleeing into neighboring Bangladesh.

The South Asian nation has already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya Muslims for over three decades.

Swing appealed to Bangladesh to either admit people fleeing violence, many of whom are women, children, and the elderly, or facilitate better access for humanitarian aid to reach them.

He also called on Myanmar authorities in Rakhine State to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies and provide unfettered humanitarian access to help stabilize the situation and reduce the number of people trying to flee the country.

However, the office of Aung San Suu Kyi has accused international organizations of helping “terrorists,” prompting fears for the safety of aid workers and continued violence.

“I am extremely concerned that the unsupported allegations against international aid organizations place their staff in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid,” Zeid said.

“Such statements are irresponsible and only serve to increase fears and the potential for further violence,” he continued.

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Is Religion the New Colonial Frontier in International Development?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/religion-new-colonial-frontier-international-development/#respond Tue, 04 Jul 2017 06:30:40 +0000 Azza Karam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151158 Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

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Azza Karam is Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

By Azza Karam
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A decade ago, it was difficult to get Western policy makers in governments to be interested in the role of religious organizations in human development. The secular mind-set was such that religion was perceived, at best, as a private affair. At worst, religion was deemed the cause of harmful social practices, an obstacle to the “sacred” nature of universal human rights, and/or the root cause of terrorism. In short, religion belonged in the ‘basket of deplorables’.

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Azza Karam, Senior Advisor, UNFPA and Coordinator, UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development

Yet, starting in the mid-1990s with then President of the World Bank, James Wolfenson, and celebrated in 2000 under then UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan when the Millenium Development Goals were agreed to, a number of religiously-inspired initiatives coalesced, all trying to move ‘religion’ to international development’s ‘basket of desirables’.

The arguments used to begin to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliche: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to human kind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today, are administered or influenced to some extent, by religious entities.

So if we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries. Facts and figures as to how many social services are provided by/through religious institutions continue to be provided and roundly disputed.

The number of initiatives within the secular multilaterals – like the UN – which focused on ‘religion and development’ began to slowly attract the attention (and the money) of some western donor governments such as Switzerland and Norway, both of whom were keen on mobilising religious support for women’s rights in particular. Some governments (such as the USA and the UK) dabbled in engaging with religious NGOs both at home in their own countries, and supporting some of them in their development and humanitarian work abroad.

Nevertheless, from a multilateral perspective, the larger tapestry of western donor support to efforts around religion, tended to be marginal – dipping toes in the water rather than taking a plunge.

With the increasing presence of al-Qaeda on the world stage in 2001, and the subsequent war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the world witnessed the emerging gruesome hydras of religious extremism, at once fueling, and being fueled by, the phenomena of ultra nationalism, racism, xenophobia and misogyny. Some western governments spoke openly of engaging religious actors in counter-terrorism, but this narrative was fraught with political tensions.

It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.

For the UN developmental entities who had invested significantly to generate the interest of their largest western donors in the relevance of religions to development, spurred by the learning from the MDGs and with a view to realizing Agenda 2030, there was a noticeable volte face which was taking place right under their noses.

Almost overnight, UN-steered initiatives to engage with religious actors and enhance partnerships around health, education, environment, women’s rights, humanitarian work, all of which had been painstakingly prepared and backed by years of research, consultations, networking and shared practice (as the work of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development testifies) became the object of desire by some governments.

Rather than seek to support the UN in continuing to engage with this work and the critical partnerships developed and labored over for years, however, the objective of these governments is to seek to directly manage the convening, networking and funding roles of faith-based entities, ostensibly with the same objectives of achieving the SDGs.

But there is a critical difference between the UN convening and working with faith-based organizations and religious leaders, and one or a handful of governments doing so. To survive, to thrive, and to protect human rights, the agenda of multilateral entities has to remain distinct from the national self-interest of any one government – or a handful thereof – no matter how powerful this government (or these governments), may be.

This applies to all issues, constituencies and types of partnerships outlined in SDG 17. But the argument here is even more powerful: that where religions are concerned, the need for unbiased and non-partisan engagement with religious actors, distinct from any one nation’s self-interest, is crucial.

If there is suspicion about the role of a non-western government in supporting religious actors in countries outside of its own, then why do we not also suspect western governments of involving themselves in supporting religious efforts in countries other than their own?

This question becomes especially pertinent when we begin to look at the religious composition of the western governments now keen on ‘supporting religion and development’ abroad – they are mostly Christian. And if we look at the governments viewed with much suspicion who have long been supporting religious engagement overseas (also for development and humanitarian purposes, one might add), they tend to be Muslim. A coincidence perhaps?

To avoid these kinds of questions, it would behoove all concerned parties interested in achieving the significant targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, and with a view to endorsing the United Nations’ mandate of safeguarding peace and security and protecting human rights, to support the efforts of the UN system in engaging the whole of civil society.

Rather than efforts driven by some governments, to work with select religious actors, in some countries, the challenge (which is fully achievable) is to strengthen the multi-faith and broad-based civic coalitions of legally registered, bona fide NGOs, working with and known to their governments and to the UN entities, at national, regional and global levels, to deliver for the world.

Otherwise, the danger is that such efforts will be misconstrued as the new colonial enterprise in international development, playing into rising religious tensions globally. History is replete with examples where mobilizing religious actors in other countries, no matter how well-intentioned, can create some rather unholy alliances.

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The “Shocking” Reality of Child Marriage in the U.S.http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/the-shocking-reality-of-child-marriage-in-the-u-s/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 16:44:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150823 While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States. Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained […]

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

While stories of child marriage are commonly associated with the Global South, lesser known are the cases closer to home: in the United States.

Across the world, child marriage has persisted and the United States is no exception. Across all 50 states in the North American nation, marriage before the age of 18 has remained legal.

“These are old laws that were just never changed because people didn’t realize this was happening,” said Fraidy Reiss, the Executive Director of Unchained at Last, an organization fighting to end child marriage in the U.S.

Based on available data, Unchained at Last estimates that over quarter of a million children were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010. Data shows girls as young as 12 years old married in states like Alaska, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which helps protect women and girls from gender-based violence, found that Texas has the second highest rates of child marriages in the nation, as nearly 40,000 children under the age of 18 were married between 2000 and 2014.

The majority of those wedded at a young age are girls, and approximately 77 percent of U.S. children who were wed were married to adult men, often with significant age differences.

Such cases often cut across various religions, ethnic backgrounds, and circumstances, from one 15-year-old whose Muslim family forced her to marry a 23-year-old man because she was found dating someone of a different background in Nevada to a girl’s Christian community in Colorado pressuring her to get married because she was pregnant.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking,” Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher in the Women’s Rights Division Heather Barr told IPS, noting that child marriage is an issue on every continent with similar consequences.

“The harm that happens to a child that gets married in New York state is not that different from the harm that happens to a child getting married in the Central African Republic,” she said.

Child marriage is strongly linked to high rates of school dropouts and poverty, and those married before the age of 18 are three times more likely to experience domestic violence than those married at 21 or older.

Women and girls married at a young age also often experience physical and mental health problems, including higher rates of maternal mortality and sexually transmitted infections.

Reiss told IPS how forced marriage takes a toll on the mental health of girls as many turn to suicide. Others just give up and continue with the marriage because of the lack of options.

“They know that going along with a marriage means that they are going to be raped on their wedding night and raped thereafter, they are going to pulled out of school—all their dreams for their future are gone,” she said.

Though the minimum age is 18, most states allow those younger than 18 to marry with parental or judicial consent. However, both Reiss and Barr told IPS that such ideas of consent are problematic and “ridiculous.”

“Child marriages are very often arranged or forced by parents, so in a situation where it is actually the parents who are forcing a child to get married, parental consent is completely meaningless,” said Barr.

As for judicial consent, the law does not specify any criteria that a judge is required to consider before approving a marriage.

In 27 states, laws do not specify any age below which a child cannot marry.

“The minimum age for marriage is effectively lowered to zero,” said Reiss.

There has been a push in recent years to end child marriage domestically.

In May, Texas’ legislature passed a bill that identifies 18 as the legal age to marriage. Though it allows those younger than 18 to marry, they can only do so if a judge has found that they live on their own and are no longer dependent on guardians to support themselves. It is currently awaiting signature from the state’s governor Greg Abbott in order to go into full effect.

In New York, the Senate passed a bill on child marriage which must now be approved by the state’s Assembly. The bill, which is expected to pass, raises the minimum marriage age from 14 to 17.

While Barr was hopeful that it will pass, Reiss criticised the bill noting that 17-year-olds are still children.

“This notion of allowing 17-year-olds to marry because legislators assuming that it is somehow less reprehensible than a 7-year-old getting married—it’s not,” she told IPS.

Such issues with legislatures are also happening elsewhere as states continue to push back on ending child marriage.

In March, New Hampshire rejected a bill to increase the age of marriage to 18 on the grounds that it would hurt pregnant teenagers and young military members, leaving the minimum age at 13.

In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie conditionally vetoed a bill that banned marriage under the age of 18 on the ground that it “does not comport with the sensibilities and, in some cases, the religious customs, of the people of this state.”

Both Reiss and Barr condemned the move, noting that child marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“This isn’t an issue about tradition, it’s an issue about human rights,” Barr told IPS.

She added that it is hypocritical that the U.S. as a donor nation criticises other countries when they themselves have weak protections against child marriage.

“It really undermines their credibility…we think that reform on this issue in the U.S. and other countries in the West that are donor countries can help support the global effort as well,” Barr said.

In 2016, The U.S Department of State called child marriage a “human rights abuse” that “produces devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood.”

“It’s an uphill battle,” Reiss added, highlighting the urgency for states to end child marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, 1.5 million girls are married before the age of 18 every year. If such trends continue, the number of women married as children will reach 1.2 billion by 2050.

Among the targets of the internationally agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to eliminate all harmful practices including child, early, and forced marriage.

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In Volatile Times, the U.A.E. calls for Tolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/in-volatile-times-the-u-a-e-calls-for-tolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-volatile-times-the-u-a-e-calls-for-tolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/in-volatile-times-the-u-a-e-calls-for-tolerance/#respond Thu, 08 Jun 2017 06:23:08 +0000 Rose Delaney http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150804 With terror attacks on the increase worldwide, there are more people today who believe that it has something to do with the religion of Islam. Seeds of misinformation are taking root and the divide between peoples and cultures is ever increasing. The promotion of tolerance is critically important now more than ever. Undoubtedly, bigotry has […]

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By Rose Delaney
MIAMI, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

With terror attacks on the increase worldwide, there are more people today who believe that it has something to do with the religion of Islam.

Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi

Seeds of misinformation are taking root and the divide between peoples and cultures is ever increasing. The promotion of tolerance is critically important now more than ever.

Undoubtedly, bigotry has increased worldwide and violent hate crimes have risen exponentially. The recent epidemic of “fake news” utilized by major media outlets and the outbreak of anti-Islamic sensationalism have only worsened the situation and fueled further conflict and division.

The United Arab Emirates (U.A.E..) is widely considered to be a multicultural “marvel” of the Middle East. The country proudly hosts an ethnically diverse population with over 200 nationalities living in harmony.

The U.A.E.’s leadership promotes a positive image of Islam but also sets an example of peace and tolerance of all world religions in the country.

The U.A.E. and its multi-ethnic population aim to be an international role model for “acceptance, coexistence, and understanding.”

The U.A.E. today is considered a globalized symbol of acceptance and progression. Recently, an anti-discriminatory law was passed which forbids citizens and residents alike from discriminating against anyone on the grounds of caste, creed, culture or religion.

In 2016, U.A.E.’s first Ministry of Tolerance was officially established with Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi as its minister. Al-Qasimi believes that the Arab world has a great responsibility when it comes to ensuring the universal spread of tolerance and acceptance. She emphasizes the pivotal role youth and the global media play in the understanding and celebration of religious and ethnic diversity.

To instill values of cultural and religious acceptance everywhere, the government of the U.A.E. believes institutions of tolerance should be established on a global scale, especially in volatile times of terror and extremism.

The proliferation of these institutions would act as symbols of peace and co-existence, ensuring global societies that universal tolerance is achievable and can become a tangible reality.

Al-Qasimi recognizes that transparency in the media is vital during periods of fear and instability and emphasizes that the global dissemination of positive and tolerant news content is a critical form of “protection against extremism”.

At the 16th Arab Media Forum (AMF) held in Dubai last month, Al Qasimi highlighted that the media played a key role in the universal perception of Islam. The rise of “fake news” has proven detrimental to the promotion of universal tolerance. The media has a duty to “correct misconceptions about the image of the Arab world,” Al Qasimi said.

This ties in with the fact that global media content has lately been used as a weapon of divisive manipulation, rather than a method of progressing and sustaining universal harmony and acceptance.

The U.A.E.’s President, Sheikha Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also considers the media to be a key player in the advancement of universal tolerance.

For this reason, Al Nahyan has committed to providing full support for the development of transparent media in his home nation. The U.A.E. encourages its media to disseminate, along with other institutions, the values of acceptance and open dialogue across all walks of society.

“Responsible media that fully understands its role and mission is a fundamental tool in countering extremist and terrorist ideology amid the widespread digital media that has a powerful influence on people’s thoughts and orientations,” Al Nahyan says.

Al Nahyan recognizes that the future development of tolerance rests largely on the perceptions and messages spread by the global media. “The media is not just a profession“, Al Nahyan stated. It is rather, in his belief, a vital means to spread the message of global justice and truth. In other words, it is high time the media stop being used a sensationalized tool to stir divisive controversy and “boost ratings” based on the plight of the stigmatized.

Al Nahyan highlighted the fact that the proliferation of positive media could only lead to effective nation-building and progress. Furthermore, it can help break down the negative perceptions surrounding Islam and the Middle East itself by drawing back to the multicultural and accepting values, ethics and traditions of Emirati society.

In an increasingly globalized world dominated by the trends of social media, the voice of youth undoubtedly holds a tremendous degree of power. The multicultural array of young professionals and students that make up U.A.E.’s fast growing population are actively encouraged to act as tomorrow’s leading voices in the pursuit of universal tolerance.

In the U.A.E., “the sky really appears to be the limit” for its young adult population. Its ministry of youth is led by the youngest minister in the world, 23-year-old Shamma bint Suhail Faris Al Mazrui. For many Emirati youths, spreading the principles of harmonious unity and actively condemning all forms of divisive extremism are a core objective, especially for the protection and benefit of upcoming generations.

As the rise of extremism threatens global security, the U.A.E. aims to encourage all forms of tolerance with the belief that through open dialogue and a strong sense of unity, the global community could overcome adversity.

However, the question remains, are other countries willing to follow the U.A.E.’s model of peaceful co-existence, or will ongoing extremism and divisive Islamophobic media campaigns hinder the U.A.E.’s idealistic vision of universal tolerance? Only time will tell.

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