Inter Press Service » Religion http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sun, 26 Mar 2017 16:20:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.16 Women and Tribal Leaders Call for “Balanced” Libyan Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/03/women-and-tribal-leaders-call-for-balanced-libyan-peace-process/#comments Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:42:42 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149611 "Women attend a workshop on advantages of reconciliation and peace-making in Sabha City."  Credit: MAFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rising Populism and Extremism

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

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

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

World, More Dangerous Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Telling our story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope persists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Equal, Inclusive Citizenship Rights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

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

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:17:59 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148944 Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

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Mistrust Hindering Global Solutions, says Secretary Generalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/mistrust-hindering-global-solutions-says-secretary-general/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 23:55:31 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148935 By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

The global lack of confidence and trust is undermining the ability to solve the world’s complex problems, said UN Secretary-General during an international conference.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

The 5th Annual World Government Summit (WGS), hosted by Dubai from February 12-14, has brought together over 4000 participants from more than 130 countries.

Speaking at the second day of the conference, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted the growing lack of confidence in institutions, as many people feel left behind from progress.

“It is clear that globalisation has been an enormous progress…but globalisation had its losers,” Guterres said, pointing to the example of frustrated youth in countries unable to find jobs or “hope.”

“Lots of people [feel] they were left behind and that the political establishments of their countries have not taken care of them,” he continued.

The former High Commissioner for Refugees cited the migration crisis in Europe, stating that countries’ inability to implement a fair and coordinated response spurred a sense of abandonment, fear and frustration among the public.

“This is the best ground for populists, for xenophobes, for those that develop forms of anti-Muslim hatred, or anti-Semitism…to play a role in our societies. And I think that it is not enough to condemn xenophobia, it is not enough to condemn populism, I think we need to be able to engage in addressing the root causes that lead to the fact that to be populist is so simple in today’s world,” Guterres told delegates, urging for reform to reconcile people with political institutions and to empower citizens and young people.

He also noted that the deep mistrust between countries is contributing to the multiplication of conflicts and the difficulties in solving them.

Most recently, the U.S. blocked the Secretary General’s appointment of former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new UN peace envoy in Libya after U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the UN has been “unfairly biased” for too long in favor of the Palestinian Authority.

Though he highlighted the need for impartiality, Guterres said that there was no valid reason to have rejected the nomination.

“[Fayyad] is the right person for the right job at the right moment…he has a competence that nobody denies and Libya requires the kind of capacity that he has and I think it’s a loss for the Libyan peace process and for the Libyan people that I am not able to appoint him,” he stated, adding that bringing an end to the conflict in Libya is in everybody’s interest.

When moderator and CNN anchor Becky Anderson asked about the new U.S. administration’s “America First” principle, Guterres noted the need for the UN to respect its values but also stressed the importance of multilateral solutions to global problems.

“In a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves. We need global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role,” Guterres stated.

“That is where the other gap of confidence becomes extremely important,” he continued, proposing reforms in the UN system to help build trust in such institutions.

Despite 2016 being a “chaotic” year, Guterres followed after French diplomat Jean Monnet in expressing his hope for the future.

“I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I am just determined,” he concluded.

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A Dire Vacuum in a World in Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/a-dire-vacuum-in-a-world-in-crisis/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:21:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148875 Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

Courtesy of the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue.

By Baher Kamal
ROME/GENEVA, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

“The world is in a crisis, not least because governing élites have estranged themselves from the needs and aspirations of ordinary people. This sense of being left behind has lead the latter to rebel against their country’s stratified governance,” warns a Geneva-based human rights and dialogue centre.

“At the same time, complaints about the unfairness of globalisation were hushed up or ignored when they hit the poor in the Global South but now that people in the Global North are feeling the pinch as well, the issue’s priority is moving up in media reports”, says the Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue(GCHRAGD).

All these trends have exacerbated populist movements rejecting citizenship in favour of narrower concepts of identity related to dominant races or religions, the Centre continues, adding that on the other hand foreign military invasions in the Middle East, with the resultant casualties and exclusions, have created bitterness and have destroyed social mechanisms for conflict resolution.

“These developments have brought about a vacuum, which has been occupied by terrorist groups seeking legitimacy in a perverted interpretation of Islam… Thus for different reasons, the two main world religions have become embroiled in the rise of extremist ideologies and are increasingly being perceived as part of the problems underlying this world crisis.”

Now the GCHRAGD is in the process of launching a new initiative during the current session of the UN Human Rights Council (Feb. 27 to Mar. 24, 2017)—a side-event on March 15th a panel discussion around the theme “Islam and Christianity, The Great Convergence: Working jointly towards equal citizenship.”

According to the Centre, this initiative is aimed at creating a grand coalition to let these major world religions become part of the solution to the current crisis by unleashing their joint potential for peace at the service of equality in citizenship which implies a definition of identity based on citizenship rather than on religious, ethnic or other affiliations.

Thus could be addressed the issue of minorities, both Muslim ones in the West and Christian ones in the Middle East, let alone the parlous situation of Muslim minorities in parts of Asia or religious tension between Muslims and Christians in some parts of Africa as well as contemporary phobic language which tends to create more social tension, explains GCHRAGD.

“A side-event is only a first awareness raising opportunity which should be followed by other initiatives, hopefully in the Human Rights Council itself and beyond.”

The panel discussion will build on a series of events organised by the Geneva Centre in collaboration with various partners working on the promotion and protection of human rights in the Arab region and in Europe, as well as on extremist violence and Islamophobia.

In this context, the Geneva Centre organised in 2016 a number of conferences on four related themes: The Advancement of the Status of Women in the Arab World; Islamophobia and the Implementation of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18: Reaching out; De-radicalisation or the Roll-Back of Extremist Violence; and Muslims in Europe: The Road to Social Harmony.

According to its organisers, the side event seeks to ascertain religious diversity and consolidate the view of the Christian and Muslim religions as vectors of peace, by focusing on the great convergences between Islam and Christianity based on the commonalities of their basic values.

The Rationale Behind

The Geneva Centre for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue explains the rationale behind the March 15th side event:

“Over the past few years, on-going armed conflict and indiscriminate terrorist attacks bringing bereavement principally to the Arab region and to parts of Africa, and spilling over to the Western world, have contributed to an exacerbation of human rights violations with a worldwide worsening human rights impact of unprecedented proportions not witnessed since the end of World War II.

“This can take form through the violation of human rights encompassing the freedom of worship, the freedom of expression, the freedom of movement, the restriction of education, the repression of women, and the violations of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“Against this dire background, the world is witnessing a rise of right wing populism and extremist ideologies, resulting from increasing remoteness of the State from the electorate.

“Feeding on violence and dormant biases, Islamophobia has been increasing steadily and worryingly over the past years. For instance, only in the United States alone, hate crimes against Muslims rose by a staggering 67 per cent since 2015.

“The Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar has also witnessed ethnic cleansing and religious persecution by Buddhist extremists in the state of Rakhine that has largely been neglected and ignored by the world community.

“Other relevant examples of religious persecution can be extended to include the genocide committed by the Bosnian Serbs on the Bosniaks of Bosnia-Herzegovina in which the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, largest massacre in Europe after the end of the Second World War, was carried out in the town of Srebrenica resulting in the killing of more than 8,000 Muslims.

“During the late 1980s, the Bulgarian Turks experienced widespread human rights violations by the Bulgarian government that launched a campaign to erase the ethnic and religious identities of the Bulgarian Turks.

“Moreover, the demolition of the Baburi mosque by Hindu extremists in 1992 gave rise to heightened Muslim-Hindu tensions in India. Likewise, the distorted representation of Muslim communities as well as of Islam itself in the media has been playing a malevolent role in strengthening xenophobic trends around the world, by perpetuating stereotypes and negative portrayals of Muslims.

“We can explore ways in which the media can mitigate their role in presenting a distorted picture of religious minorities, and more fully contribute to increased tolerance and inter-religious understanding by promoting peaceful messages to the public.”

The primary outcome of the side event could be the adoption of a draft agenda for an international conference to be held on the same subject for which a first draft is attached as an annex to the concept note.

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Human Rights For Rohingya Worsening, Warns Special Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/human-rights-for-rohingya-worsening-warns-special-rapporteur/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:59:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148862 Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

Refugees Rohingya from Myanmar. Credit: IPS

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

A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

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

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

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

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

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

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.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban a Test for Unity and Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trumps-muslim-ban-a-test-for-unity-and-solidarity/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2017 16:14:30 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148766 Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Outgoing African Union Chair described the Muslim ban as a test for unity and solidarity. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

By Lyndal Rowlands
NEW YORK / UNITED NATIONS, Feb 1 2017 (IPS)

Outgoing African Union Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has described the United States ban on refugees and immigrants from seven countries as “one of the greatest challenges and tests to our unity and solidarity.”

Speaking to African leaders on Monday Zuma asked why “the very country to whom our people were taken as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, have now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.”

On Friday 27 January United States President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily ceasing entry to the United States for nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The order also suspended the entire U.S. refugee program for 120 days and indefinitely blocked all refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

African leaders are not the only ones who see the ban as a test of unity and solidarity.

Others see growing anti-Muslim sentiment as a rallying point for solidarity between different religious groups, with American Jews questioning the “terrible irony” of the bill being signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

IPS spoke with Fadi Hallisso, a former Jesuit from Syria and Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and is involved in interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” -- Fadi Hallisso

Hallisso, is the co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh a Syrian NGO, whose five founders include three Christians.

“Our work in Turkey and Lebanon is almost 100 percent with Muslim Syrians,” Hallisso told IPS. “I think working hand-in-hand with different people from different religious backgrounds is what we need right now.”

“Religion is a powerful tool, but instead of using it for destruction and hatred, we are going to use it to build bridges between different communities to pave the way towards a better community for our kids,” he said.

Trump’s order also states that once the U.S. refugee program resumes it will prioritise claims from religious minorities – prompting some to believe that Christian refugees from these Muslim majority countries will be prioritised.

However Hallisso, himself a Syrian Christian, disagreed that in the case of Syria Christians are more persecuted than Muslims.

“We are all human beings suffering from an impossible situation that we wish to have an end to soon,” he said.

Hallisso described the women’s marches that occurred the day after Trump’s inauguration as an important act of solidarity.

“I wish we can in the coming few months and years to expand this solidarity to become global solidarity movement,” he said. “If the people of goodwill do not work together and the bad guys would have the last say.”

Said Sabir Ibrahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and now lives in New York told IPS that he has seen a growing movement of people of different background in the United States bridging divides.

Ibrahimi is part of a group which organises interfaith solidarity events between Jewish and Muslim people living in New York.

“We sense open Islamaphobia and subtle anti-semitism – not to mention the anti-women rhetoric and more,” Ibrahimi told IPS.

“The good news is that some Muslim-Jewish and other faith or non-faith groups have come together to voice their concerns about this whole chaotic policy shift and we have witnessed these groups showing up in protests in large crowds, across the country, in unprecedented ways probably since the 1960s during the Vietnam war.”

Meanwhile, the White House has also been criticised for failing to mention Jewish people in its statement issued on Holocaust Memorial Day.

“I think it’s so bizarre to talk about the Holocaust and not mention Jewish people,” said Ibrahimi. “It was the Jewish people who had suffered the most during those horrific times of World War Two.”

He said that people are drawing connections and associating significance with the marginalisation of minorities in Nazi Germany and the events unfolding in the United States.

For some American Jews, it was no coincidence that the dramatic change in US immigration policy was announced on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of Liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street said that it was a “terrible irony” that Trump signed the order on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“The fact that President Trump’s order appears designed to specifically limit the entry of Muslims evokes horrible memories among American Jews of the shameful period leading up to World War Two, when the United States failed to provide a safe haven for the vast majority of Jews in Europe trying to escape Nazi persecution,” said Ben-Ami.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that she was ready to register as a Muslim in response to Trump’s proposed Muslim Registry – which as yet has not been enacted:

“I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity,” said Albright who came to the United States from Czechoslovakia as a refugee.

Hallisso expressed dismay that the United States a country “built on immigration,” and “built by immigrants escaping religious persecution in Europe” has begun “portraying all immigrants and refugees as potential terrorists.”

“To see this coming from Americans now, some American leaders, is for me devastating because it is like someone ignoring all of the history of his own country,” he said.

“But also it is problematic for us in the Middle East for a number of reasons, because for God’s sake, how do you expect countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Turkey to continue to receive more than a million refugees if 10,000 Syrian refugees coming to the United States are a problem?”

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The US War on Muslim Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/the-us-war-on-muslim-refugees/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2017 16:23:00 +0000 Salil Shetty http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148723 Salil Shetty is Secretary General of Amnesty International]]> People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

People from seven Muslim-majority countries have been banned from coming to the United States. Credit: Rebecca Murray / IPS

By Salil Shetty
LONDON, Jan 30 2017 (IPS)

The gloves are off. With today’s Executive Order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” President Donald J. Trump has declared war on Muslim refugees around the world.

With the stroke of a pen, the President has – among other actions – banned Syrian refugees from the USA and has also effectively prevented anyone (including refugees) from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the USA. These seven countries have two main things in common: they are predominantly Muslim, and they are the countries from where the majority of people seeking asylum from serious human rights violations like persecution or torture are trying to escape.

Were it not so disturbing and dangerous, this Executive Order would be pathetic in its absurdity.

It is ludicrous because there is no data to support the view that refugees – Muslim or otherwise – pose more risk of committing acts of terrorism than citizens. A refugee is not a person who commits acts of terrorism. It is someone fleeing people who commit acts of terrorism. Under international law, perpetrators of these crimes are automatically disqualified from refugee status. Additionally, the US Refugee Admissions Program puts refugees through the most rigorous and detailed security screenings of any category of persons – immigrant or visitor – to enter the USA.

The Executive Order is preposterous in its irrationality. But no one should be laughing about it.

This is a deeply frightening document. Faced with a global emergency in which 21 million people have been forced to flee their homes, one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries on earth responds by obliterating one of their only avenues for hope: “resettlement.” This is a process whereby vulnerable people (such as survivors of torture, or women and girls at risk) trapped in dire circumstances in countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Kenya, and Pakistan, are allowed to move to a country such as the USA. In sum, this Executive Order abandons host countries and punishes the most vulnerable among an already vulnerable group.

Does the Executive Order explicitly ban Muslim refugees? No. But the anti-Muslim rationale is brazen. All the countries subject to these severe restrictions are predominantly Muslim. With this action, President Trump has sent a clear message that the USA needs to be protected from Muslim people, and that they are inherently dangerous.

Also, the text identifies one of the exceptions to the new restrictions as people with religious persecution claims, but only if they are part of a religious minority. A plain reading of this provision is that the Trump administration will resettle Christians fleeing predominantly Muslim countries. This provision cloaks religious discrimination in the language of religious persecution. It is even conceivable that this favoured treatment could accentuate a risk to Christian minorities in some countries where they face discrimination and violence on grounds of allegedly belonging to a foreign or American religion.

All in all, this Executive Order would function admirably as a recruitment tool for armed groups such as the Islamic State – groups keen to show that countries like the USA are inherently hostile to Muslim people.

Make no mistake: people will lose their lives because of this Executive Order. Countries hosting large numbers of refugees, feeling aggrieved and abandoned by the international community, will begin or increase their forcible expulsions of refugees. Vulnerable women, men and children who would otherwise be able to move to the USA, and who are trapped in unbearable situations, will “choose” to return home to a risk of torture or death.

It is important to remind ourselves who these people are. In 2016, 72% of the refugees resettled to the US were women and children. In my view, the term “refugee” doesn’t do justice to the people who have braved deadly seas, deserts, and human-caused dangers, in the hopes of restarting their lives in peace. I have had the privilege of meeting some of these people, and have always been humbled by their resilience in the face of almost unimaginable adversity. Any country, including the US, would benefit from welcoming them.

Your gloves may be off, Mr. President. But – in solidarity with the 21 million refugees in the world today, and the countless people and organizations who work alongside and for people seeking protection – so are ours.

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UN Meeting Says No to Anti-Muslim Hatredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/01/un-meeting-says-no-to-anti-muslim-hatred/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 23:49:48 +0000 Andy Hazel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148538 Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit:  UN Photo/Tobin Jones

Anti-muslim hatred has been particularly targeted at women. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Andy Hazel
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2017 (IPS)

The rise in anti-muslim attitudes around the world prompted a special UN meeting Tuesday, just days before the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump whose controversial policies have drawn on anti-Muslim sentiments.

As if to illustrate just how easily noble intentions are misinterpreted, co-opted and misused, the event’s hashtag #No2Hatred was quickly taken over by nefarious social media actors and became an outlet for angry political diatribe.

“Anti-muslim hatred does not occur in a vacuum,” said David Saperstein, American Ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom at the event. “The rise of xenophobia across the world creates challenges that focus our attention and the data leaves us no doubt that this is happening.”

Saperstein quoted studies showing a massive rise in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, France has seen a 223 percent increase in attacks on Muslims between 2014 and 2015, the British investigative group TELL MAMA reported a 326 percent increase in abuse and public attacks on Muslims in the UK over the same period. A 2016 study found 72 percent of  Hungarians admit to a negative view of Muslims.
"Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence," -- Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada.

“Underreporting is a very serious structural problem that obscures these numbers. The silencing effect is enormous and we must resolve to confront this,” Saperstein said.

“I sincerely regret just how necessary these deliberations have become,” said Richard Arbeiter, the Director-General, Office of Human Rights, Freedoms and Inclusion, Global Affairs Canada. “Most Muslim hate crime is against women and I would encourage everyone to consider the gender-specific aspects to this violence.”

Panels looked at civil society building how governments could best combat anti-Muslim discrimination, and positive narratives to promote inclusion. Several topics recurred for discussion; how best to engage with political actors and organisations of different beliefs, and how to counter misinformation online.

The American Jewish Committee’s Muslim-Jewish relations director, Mr Robert Silverman reinforced the idea of creating powerful messages by finding alliances and shared priorities with unlikely groups.

“Too often initiatives result in people speaking within bubbles to each other. In a country like the United States or in a place like Europe, we need to get out of our bubbles and reach out to the unlikely and unorthodox partners.”

“You should focus on the common ground,” he continued. “Don’t try to bring in an issue like climate change. Just focus narrowly on the common grounds.”

European Commission Coordinator on Combating anti-Muslim hatred David Friggieri outlined his meeting with the heads of Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google where “open and frank discussion” lead to the enforcement of the European Union’s free speech laws in an effort to counter anti-Muslim sentiment. The ‘red line’ agreed to by the companies and the European law, he told IPS, was one of incitement.

“We have a law prohibiting incitement to violence or hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity or nationality,” said Friggieri. “We are monitoring the situation with them every few months. We have had our first monitoring and there are some improvements but we look forward to seeing more.”

“In terms of the really bad type of hate speech such as incitement to violence, we look at: how are they taking it down? How long before they take it down? What responses does the company give to individuals who notify and to trusted flaggers? Ultimately the aim is to take down (from the internet) the worst type of incitement to violence.”

In a similar effort to address the recent increase in hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric, Moiz Bokhari, advisor to the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation spoke of the Center for Dialogue, Peace and Understanding a newly established website that provides foundations to deconstruct dangerous narratives. The site is aimed at addressing the potential for crimes, radicalisation and to “counter all types of radical extremist discourse in order to delegitimise the violent and manipulative acts committed in the name of religion, ideology or claims of cultural superiority.”

 The High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred was dominated by discussion of how to address anti-Muslim sentiment and increase the  message of tolerance and inclusion. The forum was convened by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the Permanent Missions of the United States and Canada.

UN Secretary General Antònio Guterres used his introductory address to reaffirm the recently-launched initiative Together – Respect, Safety and Dignity for All. An outcome from the Summit for Refugees, the strategy is designed to strengthen the bonds between refugees migrants and host countries and communities.

Speakers throughout the day highlighted bipartisan interfaith success stories: the Canadian town that raised money to rebuild a mosque that had been burned down following the Paris terror attacks, the Norwegian mosque that was protected from attack by Oslo’s Jewish community, the power of positive stories of Muslims in the news and popular culture, and the success of Sadiq Khan who overcame a campaign rife with xenophobic rhetoric to become the first Muslim Mayor of London.

“Politics is moving against us, but local politics not so much,” said Catherine Orsborn, director of interfaith anti-Islamophobia campaign group Shoulder to Shoulder.

Several panellists highlighted the importance of establishing relationships with local political and law enforcement agencies so that any future instances Islamophobia could be dealt with more effectively.

Friends of Europe’s Director Europe and Geopolitics Alfiaz Vaiya ended the discussion on civil society and coalition building with an optimistic note: “The political climate is very toxic, but it’s about politicians being able to sell and be confident in selling a strong narrative on inclusion and diversity. I think youth are the way forward, we see how they vote we see how they follow progressive trends and we should encourage more youth to get involved in conversations like this.”

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Release of Chibok Girls Rekindles Pressure to Free Last 196http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/release-of-chibok-girls-rekindles-pressure-to-free-last-196/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 12:50:36 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147721 Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

Hundreds of people gathered at Union Square in New York City in May 2014 to demand the release of some 230 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. International pressure helped lead to the release of 23, but most remain in captivity. Credit: Michael Fleshman/cc by 2.0

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, Nov 11 2016 (IPS)

The Nigerian military announced the rescue of a missing Chibok schoolgirl Saturday, bringing to 23 the number freed since Boko Haram seized 219 girls from a secondary school in the country’s northeast in April 2014.

The latest rescue came about a month after the Islamist group released 21 girls in a deal with the government. Earlier in May, Amina Ali became the first amongst the missing girls to be rescued.Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The releases riveted people around the world, and the government has flaunted them as political coups. But they have also rekindled demands from activists campaigning for greater government action for the release of nearly 200 girls still in captivity.

“It’s day 933 of abduction; 197 girls (are) still in captivity under your watch Mr. President @MBuhari. Time to bring them home,” Maureen Kabrik, a member of the BringBackOurGirls group, tweeted to President Muhammadu Buhari days after 21 of the girls were released early October.

The BringBackOurGirls group, set up to publicise the plight of the girls amidst international outrage in 2014, announced it would release on November 14 a report of a six-week monitoring of the government’s effort to rescue the girls.

The group accuses President Muhammadu Buhari of not doing enough to rescue the girls despite his electoral promise a year ago. Alongside other campaigners, the group has held protest marches in the capital Abuja for months.

Between August and September, it staged 78-hourly marches on the presidential villa and threatened to increase the pace to 48-hours in November. Now, it is promising to do even more to press for the girls’ release.

“Our obligation to demand (the) rescue of the rest 197 of our Chibok Girls is ever stronger,” said former Education Minister and World Bank executive Oby Ezekwesili, who co-founded the group.

Boko Haram, which has waged a seven-year insurgency aimed at carving out an Islamic caliphate in the northeast, seized more than 276 girls from their school in April 2014. The group opposes Western education and has killed over 20,000 people, among them teachers.

In September, U.S.-based 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and the Stefanus Foundation said in a report that 611 teachers died as a result of the crisis since 2009. The report said 19,000 teachers had been displaced, 1,500 schools closed down, and 950,000 children denied the opportunity of accessing education.

Boko Haram has also abducted hundreds of men, women and children. But the abduction of the Chibok girls drew international attention, galvanized with the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

President Buhari campaigned on the promise of fighting corruption, defeating Boko Haram and rescuing the Chibok girls. But rights campaigners have long criticised the administration’s pace at getting the girls home.

In September, under pressure from activists, the government released details of its attempt to swap the girls with Boko Haram fighters. Information Minister Lai Mohammed said talks began barely two months after President Buhari took office in May 2015.

He said the swap deal failed to go through at the last hour even after Buhari assented to the “difficult decision” of freeing the militants. The president believed that “the overall release of these girls remains paramount and sacrosanct,” Mohammed said.

An attempt to restart the process in December 2015 also failed, in part due to a leadership crisis in Boko Haram’s ranks.

Cold comfort

After 21 girls were released in October in a deal brokered by the Red Cross and the Swiss government, the Nigerian government assured that some 83 more would be freed “soon”. Presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu said talks had reached an advanced stage.

But as weeks passed by with the girls still in captivity, the demands have intensified, and the initial euphoria has gradually given way to disenchantment.

“It is cold comfort that 197 of the girls are still in the den of their abductors more than 900 days after,” the country’s Guardian newspaper said in an editorial on Nov. 1. “No one can be fully relieved of the terrible bruises inflicted on the girls, their parents, this nation and its foreign friends, until all the girls return.”

The BringBackOurGirls group said while there has been some improvement, the government still must do more to rescue all the girls.

Daily, the group circulates on social media figures reminding the government how long the girls have been in captivity, and how long they have been held under the Buhari presidency.

“Day 939 of #ChibokGirls‘ abduction. 196 still in captivity. Day 529 under President Muhammadu Buhari’s watch,” it posted on Twitter on Nov. 7.

The government says it is not relenting. “Whatever it takes to get the Boko Haram situation under control, we will do it because there are still more girls in captivity,” Information Minister Mohammed said last week.

The government has also undertaken full responsibility for the girls rescued so far. “Aside from rescuing them, we are assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and ambitions in life,” President Buhari said while receiving the 21 girls. “These dear daughters of ours have seen the worst that the world has to offer.”

Experts warn that the girls face stigmatisation following their ordeal at the hands of Boko Haram.

“Frequently, returning to their families and communities is the beginning of a new ordeal for the girls, as the sexual violence they have suffered often results in stigmatization,” said a statement by the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

But the presidency denied the girls had been abused or raped during their during two-and-a-half years’ captivity.

On Wednesday, Thompson Reuters Foundation quoted a confidential report prepared based on interviews with the girls as saying that while they were all encouraged to marry the militants, they were neither forced into doing so or converting to Islam.

Reuters Foundation reported that 61 had married Boko Haram militants, while those of them who did not agree to marry were used as servants.

Security analysts have also warned about the possibility of the girls being indoctrinated.

“We are concerned by reports that dozens of the girls may have been indoctrinated and do not wish to return to Chibok,” said Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, which provides analysis of the Nigerian socio-political and economic situation. “We are optimistic the second batch of the release would provide more intelligence about the condition of the remaining girls.”

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Peace Fails to Bring Prosperity in Eastern Sri Lankahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/peace-fails-to-bring-prosperity-in-eastern-sri-lanka/#comments Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:07:34 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147667 Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Worshippers pray inside the Meera Mosque in Katankuddi, in front of the bullet-riddled wall dating back to an attack that killed over 100 people 25 years ago. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KATANKUDDI, Nov 7 2016 (IPS)

It is a Tuesday afternoon and only a handful of devotees have flocked to the Meera Grand Mosque in Katankuddi, about 300 kms east of the capital Colombo.

As they prostrate in prayer, the wall in front of them is anything but pious. It is pock-marked with hundreds of holes bored into it when attackers opened fire using automatic weapons on Aug. 3, 1990. Suspected Tamil Tiger separatists attacked the Meera Mosque and another smaller prayer center Husainiya Mosque close by. By the time the attackers fled, 103 people were dead.“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.” -- villager Wickrama Rajapaksa

The mosque committee and villagers have kept the bullet-riddled wall as a reminder of the regions bloody past. For over 30 years, Katankuddi was in throes of Sri Lanka’s bloody civil strife. A Muslim enclave surrounded by Tamil villages, Katankuddi suffered terribly. Its population felt besieged and was waiting for the first opportunity to flee. As in most of Sri Lanka’s North and East, where the war left over 100,000 dead, millions were displaced and the region suffered billions of dollars in damages and losses.

But the nightmare ended seven years back, when government won its war with the Tamil Tigers. Since then, towns like Katankuddi have adjusted to peace — and with it, to a whole new set of problems.

For starters, not many people want to leave Katankuddi, but hundreds want to somehow find a home there. It was never a village with much open space to spare. Because of its ethnic composition, Katankuddi was always jam-packed. Now it is bursting at the seams.

In a land area of 3.89 sq km, there are 53,000 residents and a population density of 13,664 per sq km, over 20 times the national average of between 300 to 400. According to M.M. Shafi, the secretary of the Katankuddi Urban Council, in the last five years alone, at least 500 families have returned or relocated to Katankuddi.

“People now don’t want to leave,” he said.

Peace has brought with it a huge, stinking garbage problem. Shafi and other public officials have to find ways to dispose of a daily garbage collection as high as 30,000 metric tonnes. They do have a small compost plant, but it is no match for the daily collection.

During wartime, the Urban Council began dumping the garbage in the lagoon. Nowadays, that dump is a massive man-made island extending 75 metres into the lagoon. The landfill has also provided a playground to a nearby school and with its exceptional growth rate, it can easily provide for more.

“The Muslim nature of this town can not be changed, it something that is very important. But we do have a land problem — a big problem,” said Mohamed Zubair, vice president of the Katankuddi Mosque Federation.

It such a massive problem that land value here is equal to some outlying areas near the capital Colombo. “When the war was on, the demand for land was manageable. Now it is going through the roof,” public official Shafi said.

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Children ride bicycles home from school in Welikanda, Sri Lanka, which has seen a large influx of settlers since the end of the war. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Even in poorer areas of the region, land and resources like water have become scarce. In Welikanda, about 70 kms west of Katankuddi, the villages are much more spread out and the green cover is more conspicuous — but so is the poverty.

Public official Harsha Bandara says that even the Welikanda division is facing a serious shortage of water and agricultural land. In the last six months, it has suffered a major dry spell. By end of October, over 35,000 people were reliant on transported water in the division.

“The problem is that since the war’s end, people are not leaving. They will plant crops throughout the year and look for new land as well. On top of that, the rain patterns have changed, so we have a situation here,” said Bandara, who is the divisional secretary for Welikanda.

For villagers like Wickrama Rajapaksa, the drought means double trouble. “Elephants, they keep coming into villages, because dry earth makes the electric fence faulty and they know that. They also know that there are no firearms in the villages since the end of the war, but that where there are humans, there is food and water.”

He said that thousands of cattle from other parts of the country have been relocated to Welikanda and adjoining areas since the end of the war by large dairy companies.

“During the war, we had less people here. Now there are more people, more cattle and more elephants fighting for the same water and the same land.”

The government is drafting a new constitution that it plans to finalise before the end of the year and put to a public vote in 2017. But Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe recently said that the draft will protect the special place accorded to Buddhism in the existing charter, leading to fears that the Tamil minority will continue to be second-class citizens.

“The political history of modern Sri Lanka is one of missed opportunities by the Tamils and broken promises by the Sinhalese,” Mano Ganesan, Minister of National Co-Existence and Official Languages, told the Indian Express this month.

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