Inter Press Service » Africa Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Q&A: ‘We Need to do Development Differently in the Post-2015 Era’ Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 Ramesh Jaura
Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes of Guyana was elected the Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) at the 100th Session of the Group’s Council of Ministers, held at ACP Headquarters in Brussels on Dec.10, 2014.]]>
ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

ACP Secretary General Dr Patrick Ignatius Gomes addresses the
UN Summit on Sustainable Development at 70th UNGA

By Ramesh Jaura
BRUSSELS, Oct 2 2015 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders at the U.N. headquarters in New York on Sep. 25, reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena, says the 79-nation bloc’s head Dr Patrick Gomes.

These domains include: rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development, he said in an email interview with IPS, adding that South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs the Group’s approach to all these domains.

Following is the full text of the interview:

IPS: The ACP Group is composed of 48 countries from Sub-Saharan Africa, 16 from the Caribbean and 15 from the Pacific. How far has it been possible for the ACP Group to evolve a joint strategy?

Dr Gomes: From the outset, the Committee of African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors in Brussels recognised the importance of the post-2015 development agenda as a platform for global action to address the enormous needs of developing countries.

In 2014 the ACP Group set up an ad-hoc Ambassadorial Working Group to focus solely on crafting a joint position on the matter, highlighting key areas which are important to our Member States – climate change, financing for development, technology transfer, for example. At the heart of it all, is the desire to create conditions for our countries to succeed in development and industrialise in a sustainable manner, in order to raise the standards of living of our peoples.

This work fed into the joint declaration with the European Union on the post-2015 agenda, which was adopted by the ACP-EU Joint Council of Ministers in June 2014. That was a true milestone and it highlighted very clearly our joint interests while providing a guide for our future cooperation.

The ACP Group of States also more recently agreed on a position on the U.N.’s international conference on Financing for Development in July, and we are working on one for the Climate Change Conference COP21 in Paris in December. Through a number of different platforms, the ACP Group has been able to articulate a common position on issues of direct relevance in our countries’ prospects for sustainable development.

IPS: How far do the 17 SDGs address, in your view, the problems and aspirations of such a diverse group as the ACP?

Dr Gomes: The ACP Group is indeed a diverse group. All are developing, but each has specific conditions – amongst the membership, there are 40 Least Developed Countries, 37 Small Island Developing States (some are both), and 15 landlocked developing states. This is also captured at the regional level, whereby the ACP is organised in six regions (East, West, Southern and Central Africa, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific). The concept of national ownership and country-driven policies becomes very important.

Furthermore, the ACP Group has called for the establishment of a vulnerability index that takes into consideration the specific challenges that affect a country’s ability to develop. This doesn’t mean that member states cannot stand together on common issues, or support each other’s causes in the name of solidarity. We also follow a principle of subsidiarity and complementarity.

The SDGs reflect the five strategic domains the ACP Group is gearing to focus on, as it repositions itself as a more effective organisation in the global arena. These domains include rule of law and good governance; global justice and human security; intra-ACP trade, industrialization and regional integration; building sustainable, resilient and creative economies; as well as financing for development. South-South and Triangular Cooperation informs our approach to all these domains.

IPS: The Addis Ababa Financing for Development Conference in July, the Sustainable Development Summit and the Paris Climate Change Conference end of November through December have the semblance of a triumvirate determining the fate of the world in the coming years. At its core lies financing. How do you expect the financing problem to be solved? Does the European Development Fund provide adequate framework? Does it suffice?

Dr Gomes: We need to do development differently in the post-2015 era. It is clear that traditional Official Development Assistance (ODA) is, quantitatively, simply not enough to address the development demands of our countries. In fact, ODA now accounts for far less than Foreign Direct Investment, equity participation and remittances from diasporic communities investing in their countries of origin. In terms of long-term sustainable financing, we must look at mobilising domestic resources in our own developing countries. This means refining our tax laws, tackling tax evasion and curbing corruption in order to curtail the billions of dollars haemorrhaging through illicit financial flows.

To add to that, private funding to finance investments, improved public debt management, boosting trade – all these avenues need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. The ACP Group also takes particular interest in South-South and Triangular Cooperation to complement the traditional North-South models of development finance.

Notwithstanding, ODA will remain an essential part of post-2015 development finance. Developed countries must still honour their previous pledges to allocate 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) to development aid. So far, only a few European countries have achieved and surpassed this level of ODA – imagine if all the industrialised countries did so. Moreover, since developed nations recommitted to the 0.7 percent GNI goal for ODA in Addis Ababa in July, we have to look now at implementing this in the ACP-EU framework.

The European Development Fund for ACP countries is significant, but obviously not enough to achieve the SDGs. However, what is unique about the EDF is that it is part of a legally binding agreement between two sets of sovereign states. In the framework of our partnership, the EU provides a predictable source of finance and the ACP Group co-manages the funds. At the same time, issues of flexibility in the EDF regulations and better planning in ACP countries, mean that actual absorption rates by ACP countries can still be improved.

IPS: How far does the Sustainable Development Summit mark a watershed in global development cooperation? Do you expect it to turn out more of a success than its precursor, the MDG?

Dr Gomes: The attainment of SDG’s will be as successful as we make it. That is, these goals need have sufficient resources for work to be implemented and results delivered. Contrary to the momentum and hope generated by enormous pledges made by developed countries in international fora, the reality is that the state of financing for development is currently handicapped. In fact, amongst the challenges faced by the MDGs, were the inadequate implementation of commitments listed in Goal 8 (Global Partnership for Development), the global financial crisis of 2008, as well as issues of mutual accountability.

However, I remain positive. There is a growing awareness across the globe about development issues. There is also an interest in reviewing current systems to better deliver on development goals, as seen in the reforms currently being pursued at the UN and ACP Group. There is no doubt that the resources and means to achieve the Post-2015 Development Agenda do exist – it is a matter of collective will to wield them in the right direction. (END)

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Human Rights Activists Condemn Houthi Militia’s Atrocities Against Women in Yemen Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:04:16 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
Geneva, Sep 30 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) — Arab and Yemeni human rights activist monitoring the civil war in Yemen say that women have been subjected to grave human right violations at the hands of the rebel Houthi militia and an allied insurgent group under the command of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The human rights defenders were speaking at a landmark event organised by the Arab Federation for Human Rights (AFHR) on the sidelines of the 30th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Dr. Mona Hejres, a member of the AFHR and head of “Together for Human Rights,” noted in her presentation at the event that that women were active participants in the revolution that drove Saleh out of power and that many had faced human rights crimes including killing, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, and use of excessive force during that struggle. She said that today, in rebel-held areas, women suffer greatly at the hands of the Houthi militia and Saleh group, with widespread murders, forced disappearances, kidnappings, deprivation of basic educational and health services, bombardment of residential districts, and other atrocities targeting them in the capital Sana’a, Aden and other cities.

She called upon the international community to live up to its responsibilities in protecting the Yemeni people, especially women, and to back the Arab Coalition’s operations seeking to protect the Yemeni people. She also appealed to the UN Security Council to enforce its resolutions on Yemen and ensure protection, safety and security for its people, and particularly women.

During the event, a number of heads of Yemeni human rights associations and organisations pointed to a recent report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV) as further evidence of the suffering caused by the Houthi militia and Saleh group in Yemen, particularly with regard to women.

Representatives of the AFHR and the YCMHRV also reiterated their rejection of the western countries’ request to establish a fact finding committee, which they said would dilute and ignore what they termed a human tragedy fomented by the rebel militias. Instead, they said, the international community should focus on prosecuting war criminals in the conflict, and to uphold its responsibilities to protect women during armed and military conflicts and disputes.

Maryam bin Tawq, Coordinator at the AFHR, spoke about the importance of establishing the international coalition “Operation Restoring Hope” aimed at protecting the Yemeni people from violations and crimes against humanity being carried out by al-Houthi group and the Saleh Militia. She said that the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Human Rights had found that the rebel militias had committed more than 4,500 human rights violations within the course of just one month of their control of Sana’a. (END)

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Anti-gay Sentiment Arises During the U.N. General Assembly Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:28:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. UN Photo/Lou Rouse

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights during a High-Level Core Group event on Sep. 29, noting his experiences in working with governments to eliminate LGBTI-discriminatory policies.

“Sometimes I am successful and other times I am not but I will continue to fight until all LGBT people can live freely without suffering any intimidation or discrimination,” Ban said.

The politically-sensitive issue also came up during the high-level segment of the General Assembly, when President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe highlighted the need to respect and uphold human rights while rejecting LGBTI rights.

Speaking during the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly, he pointedly said: “We…reject attempts to prescribe ‘new rights’ that are contrary to our values, norms, traditions and beliefs.”

“We are not gays,” Mugabe continued.

The statement was met with some laughter and little applause during the General Assembly session whose theme is the “United Nations at 70: The road ahead for peace, security, and human rights.”

Mugabe’s rejection of rights for the LGBTI community remains in line with the country’s policies.

In Zimbabwe, those found guilty of performing any homosexual acts can be imprisoned or fined. For instance, in 2006, the government made it a criminal offence for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss.

President Mugabe has been vocal about the country’s anti-LGBT stance, describing LGBTI individuals as “worse than pigs, goats and birds” during a rally on July 23, 2013.

The government of Saudi Arabia also rejected any references to homosexuality during the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the U.N. Sustainable Development Summit Sep. 25 to 27.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told world leaders that “mentioning sex in the text, to us, means exactly male and female. Mentioning family means consisting of a married man and woman.”

Similar reservations regarding LGBTI rights were expressed by several member States during the creation of the SDGs.

For instance, in the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, Cameroon rejected any policies or reporting for SDG 5.6, which “will include or tend to include, explicitly or implicitly, the concepts of sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex couples.”

Target 5.6 states the need to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning, and to ensure reproductive rights.

As a result, Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning Amina Mohammed publicly declared last year that gay rights were “off the table” in the SDG agenda.

The SDGs currently make no mention of sexual orientation or LGBT rights.

However, a joint statement released on Sep. 29 by 12 U.N. entities including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has called on States to end violence and discrimination against the LGBTI community.

“International human rights law establishes legal obligations on States to ensure that every person, without distinction, can enjoy these rights,” the statement says.

U.N. agencies specifically urge governments to repeal discriminatory laws, strengthen efforts to prevent, monitor and report violence against LGBTI individuals, and ensure the inclusion of LGBTI individuals in development.

“Failure to uphold the human rights of LGBTI people and protect them…constitute serious violations of international human rights law and have a far-reaching impact on society…and progress towards achievement of the future Sustainable Development Goals,” declared the U.N. agencies.

In Zimbabwe, anti-gay legislation had already hindered LGBTI-related efforts including the eradication of HIV/AIDS under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Zimbabwe has one of the largest HIV rates in the world, with an estimated 15 percent of residents living with HIV.

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Africa Must Depend Less on Development Aid, Says New Study Tue, 29 Sep 2015 20:48:53 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

As the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) reach their targeted date by the end of December, one of the lingering questions has long remained unanswered – at least, until now.

industry_0Why did most African nations make progress in some, but failed to reach their targets in most others?

A new study, titled “Assessing Progress in Africa Toward the Millennium Development Goals” released here, points out that poor implementation mechanisms and excessive reliance on development aid undermined the economic sustainability of several of the eight MDGs, including the elimination or reduction of extreme poverty and hunger.

The report, produced jointly by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), says: “Having made encouraging progress on MDGs, African countries have the opportunity to use the newly launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to tackle remaining challenges and achieve a development breakthrough.”

The 17 SDGs, adopted at a summit meeting of world leaders last week, targets the year 2030 for the total elimination of poverty and hunger worldwide.

With official development assistance (ODA) to Africa projected to remain low over the period 2015-2018, at an average of around 47 billion dollars annually, the focus should be on boosting and diversifying economies, mobilizing domestic resources and new partners, unleashing the economic potential of women and fighting illicit financial flows, says the report.

Asked about the slow progress made by African nations in implementing the MDGs, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, told IPS lack of adequate financial resources has been one of the biggest constraints in meeting the MDGs.

And ODA seems to be reaching a plateau, he said.

“Therefore, there is a need for countries to make concerted efforts to mobilize domestic resources, build up financial infrastructure, and ensure appropriate regulatory measures and institutions are put in place.”

Still, he pointed out, mobilizing resources is not enough; this must be accompanied by appropriate policies for effective utilization of the resources for the purpose intended.

He also said: “We must design strategies for overcoming the funding challenge. ODA should serve as a catalyst.”

For instance, a substantial proportion of ODA should be used to development institutional capacity for domestic resource mobilization in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

In addition, other sources of funding need to be mobilized, such as remittances, the private sector, South-South cooperation, financing from extractives and other sectors, he added.

Although overall poverty rates are still hovering around 48 percent, according to the most recent estimates, most countries have made progress on at least one goal.

The Gambia reduced poverty by 32 percent between 1990 and 2010, while Ethiopia decreased its poverty rate by one third, focusing on agriculture and rural livelihoods.

Some policies and initiatives have been groundbreaking, says the report, pointing out Niger’s School for Husbands, which has been successful in transforming men into allies in promoting women’s reproductive health, family planning and behavioral change towards gender equality.

Cabo Verde increased its forest cover by more than 6.0 percentage points, with millions of trees planted in recent years.

Still, the study says much more work lies ahead to ensure living standards improve for all African women and men.

“While economic growth has been relatively strong, it has not been rapid or inclusive enough to create jobs. Similarly, many countries have managed to achieve access to primary schooling however considerable issues of quality and equity need to be addressed. “

Projecting into the future, the study says achieving sustainable development will also be impossible unless African nations and communities are resilient, able to anticipate, shape and adapt to the many shocks and challenges they face, including climate-related disasters, health crises such as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa and conflict and instability. Investments now in prevention and preparedness will minimize risk and future costs.

Africa has seen an acceleration in economic growth, established ambitious social safety nets and designed policies for boosting education and tackling HIV and other diseases.

Africa has also introduced women’s quotas in parliament, leading the way internationally on gender equality, and increased gender parity in primary schools.

The continent’s new development priorities, as embodied in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, are both comprehensive and universal, while their implementation will entail mobilizing additional resources and partners, and putting in place more robust monitoring systems.

The writer can be contacted at

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Solar Power Slowly Making Inroads into Mideast and Africa Tue, 29 Sep 2015 19:38:05 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent Mohammed-Park

By a Global Information Network correspondent
DUBAI, Sep 29 2015 (IPS)

To the ordinary eye, it looks like an empty desert but from this spit of endless sand is rising the largest photovoltaic solar project in the Middle East.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, located 30 miles south of Dubai, was launched with 13 megawatts of capacity. It could be producing 3,000 megawatts by 2030.

A similar project is rising in Morocco, future home of what may be the world’s largest concentrated solar power complex. Built in Quarzazate province, it is the kingdom’s answer to costly fossil fuel imports and climate change.

These two projects, along with other solar developments in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, are demonstrating that the Middle East and North Africa will have a Plan B if oil prices continue to fall.

By contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has some of the world’s most abundant and least exploited renewable energy sources, especially solar power.

The need is undeniable. Today in Africa, 621 million people – two-thirds of the population – live without electricity. The problem is most acute in East Africa, where only 23 percent of Kenyans; 10.8 percent of Rwandans; and 14.8 percent of Tanzanians have access to an electricity supply, according to the World Bank.

But a new breed of “solar-preneurs” is emerging, increasing access to power and generating revenues at the same time.

“Solar is a valuable source of distributed energy,” says Sachi DeCou, co-founder of Juabar, a company running a network of solar charging kiosks in Tanzania.

“Here in Africa, populations are quite dispersed. Solar is modular so it can be sized to fit the needs of anywhere, from a light to a business, household to an entire village.”

Jesse Moore, managing director at M-Kopa Solar, which provides “pay-as-you-go” renewable energy for off-grid households in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, agrees.

M-Kopa Solar provides power to more than 140,000 households in East Africa for 0.45 dollar per day, and is adding over 4,000 homes each week. Revenues are nearing 20 million dollars per year, and the company is starting to license its technology in other markets, such as Ghana.

“Solar is a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors alike,” Moore says.

In Rwanda, Henri Nyakarundi developed a mobile solar charging kiosk, operated under a franchise model that offers Rwandans the chance to run income-generating businesses by providing services such as charging of electronics and sales of electronic vouchers.

Opportunities to create solar businesses in Africa are huge, he says, but they only exist at the micro level. The next step is to produce power for the grid through solar, he adds, but this requires large investment and local banks are not yet willing to finance such projects unless you are a big company. (END)

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Report Condemns Atrocities of Houthi Rebels in Yemen Mon, 28 Sep 2015 16:49:06 +0000 Emirates News Agency By Emirates News Agency (WAM)
ABU DHABI, Sep 28 2015 (IPS)

(WAM) – A new report from a human rights group operating in Yemen says that human rights violations have reached unprecedented levels, with more than 3,000 people murdered by the insurgent Houthi militia and its allies in Yemen.

The report by the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV), prepared from
reports by the organisation’s field monitors in Yemen, outlines a series of atrocities committed over the
past year in Sana’a, the capital, Aden, Taiz, Lahej, Hodiedah, Addali’e, Abyan, Dhamar and Shabwa,
governorates (see full report in report.

The report tied the Houthi militia and an allied group operating under the command of former Yemeni
president Ali Abdullah Saleh with unconstitutional overthrow of the legitimate government that has
resulted in human rights violations that have afflicted men, women, children, property and the

The findings show that between September 2014 and August 2015, 3,074 people were murdered, about
20 percent of whom were women and children, and 7,347 civilians were wounded due to random
shelling, at least 25 percent of whom were women and children. A total of 5,894 people were arbitrarily
detained during the monitoring period – 4,640 of them were released and 1,254 people remain in

The report also focuses on arbitrary detention, forcible disappearances and hostage taking violations,
which the monitors said have been carried out regularly by the rebel militia against politicians,
journalists, and human rights and political activists. It said detainees are frequently mistreated and
deprived of basic needs such as food, water and proper hygiene and sanitation. Monitors also reported
that some detainees are used as human shields at military sites that have been targeted by the Coalition

“This is a clear violation of both national and international legislation,” said the report. “The de facto
forces, the Houthis, failed to observe their commitment towards human rights and humanitarian law,
being the power in control that practices the state’s functions. Rather, the Houthis-Saleh showed total
recklessness towards human rights and human suffering.”

The report concludes with recommendations, calling on the Houthi-Saleh militia, Yemeni government
and the international community to implement relevant UN Security Council resolutions. It also calls on
the international community to support the newly established National Commission to investigate
alleged human rights Violations with all needed technical assistance. (END)

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Opinion: Recognize the Aspirations of ACP Group of Developing Countries Thu, 24 Sep 2015 21:36:09 +0000 Ousmane Sylla Dr. Ousmane Sylla

Dr. Ousmane Sylla

By Dr. Ousmane Sylla
BRUSSELS, Sep 24 2015 (IPS)

The significance of the issues covered in the post-2015 development agenda, to be adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25-27 September, cannot be over-emphasized.

For the 79 countries that make up the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP Group), the post-2015 agenda not only recognizes the reality faced by hundreds of millions amongst its populations who live in poverty, but also takes into account the aspirations of these nations to innovate and industrialize, to be energy-efficient, and to attain sustainable economic development while protecting the environment and natural resources for generations to come.

For the first six months in 2014, I had the pleasure of chairing the ACP Group’s Ad-hoc Ambassadorial Working Group on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Our mandate at that time was to work closely with the European Commission to develop a Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

It was indeed a milestone that after many informal and formal meetings with our EU colleagues, at the technical and ambassadorial levels, the ACP-EU Council of Ministers adopted a Joint Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda last June – representing the views of 107 countries of the world.

This joint document underlined the persistent and unique vulnerabilities of ACP countries, including amongst its membership 37 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), 40 Least Development Countries (LDCs), 15 Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs) as well as those recovering from conflict and political instability.

While many countries have made significant progress in the achievement of the Millennium Development goals, others have not been so fortunate. It is for this reason, and many others, that the development agenda will have to be ambitious and transformative.

As the ACP Group, we expect that the development agenda will address, among other issues: 1) basic living standards and a life of dignity for all; 2) inclusive and sustainable economic growth; 3) the sustainable use, management and protection of natural resources; 4) good governance, equality and equity; and 5) peaceful and stable societies which are from violence.

Moreover, the adverse impacts of climate change poses immediate and long-term significant risks to the efforts of all developing countries, however this threat is particularly acute for SIDS, as evidenced by the devastation to the Commonwealth of Dominica, a small island in the Caribbean, after the passage of tropical storm Erika just last August. Any post-2015 framework must, therefore, take into consideration the SAMOA Pathway (concluded at the Third International Conference on SIDS) to ensure that specific attention is given to the most vulnerable, in this respect.

In addition, the post-2015 development agenda must address issues related to science, technology and innovation. Technology development, the transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms and capacity building must be addressed.

It is my belief that, in order to ensure that the development agenda is implemented by developing countries, especially those of the ACP Group, adequate and predictable financing from a variety of sources is critical and must be forthcoming.

There is need to address in a comprehensive manner avenues for financing such as domestic and international public resource mobilization, debt sustainability, innovative financing and mobilization of private financial and investment flows.

It is also a fact that, for many ACP countries, official development assistance will remain an important source of financing and in that sense developed countries must fulfill their commitments of providing 0.7 percent of Gross National Income as Official Development Assistance.

At the same time, we must also be willing to think out of the box and engage in non-traditional ways of approaching development strategies, which can complement the North to South flow of development assistance.

In this regard, South-South Cooperation – which refers to the exchange of resources, knowledge, technology and experience between or amongst developing countries – is gaining increasing interest in global discussions on fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development. In the same vein, Triangular Cooperation engages a third party – usually a developed country – which also enters the partnership by sharing its own resources and expertise.

The ACP expects a successful and ambitious outcome at the Summit, and we call for an inclusive and effective global partnership to underpin the post-2015 development agenda. This is integral for the international community to be able to address in a coherent, integrated and balanced manner, the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.

We stand ready to work in collaboration with relevant stakeholders at the national, regional and international levels, including inter alia, civil society and the private sector, to ensure the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda with the aim of improving the lives and livelihood of our peoples.

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

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Report Accuses Sudan’s ‘Merciless Men’ Going on a Rampage in Darfur Mon, 21 Sep 2015 14:14:05 +0000 Britta Schmitz Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

Credit: Adriane Ohanesian

By Britta Schmitz

The Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a Sudanese government force formed in mid-2013 and aimed at fighting rebel factions across Sudan, has allegedly not only committed war crimes, but serious crimes against humanity in Darfur.

A comprehensive report on the true magnitude of RSF attacks can hardly be provided, due to the inaccessibility of the region and lack of reliable data. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has managed to interview 212 eyewitnesses who were either victims of RSF attacks or could otherwise testify the brutality of this government force.

“When an attack happens I call the people I know in that area and see if they can help locate people who were displaced by that attack and then try to get a phone to them or, how we got most of the people, was going and talking to the people in refugee camps,” Jonathan Loeb, Fellow at the Africa Division of HRW, told IPS.

In ‘Men With No Mercy’, HRW provides evidence that RSF attacks against civilians carried out between May 2014 and July 2015 were widespread and systematic, resulting in forced displacements, torture, extra-juridical killings, mass rapes and destruction of infrastructure crimes of universal jurisdiction, for which all states are responsible.

A mother from Bardani describes how she was raped by RSF soldiers: “They separated out the girls. When they finished raping the girls they raped all of us. [Each of us was raped] by two people. About 100 of us were raped. My daughters are 18, 12 and 8. They beat all the men.”

“Everything was destroyed. There were just bodies and burned houses left. We, the women, we started burying the bodies. Sometimes we found one arm or one leg. We just buried them. I buried five complete bodies and many incomplete bodies. […] After the burial we gathered children and we left in groups. We put the children on donkeys and walked for five days to [the town of] Um Baru,” Zeinab, a 25-year-old woman from Birdik, told HRW.

According to the report, the vast majority of attacked villages had no rebel presence before the RSF arrived.

Omar, a defector from a Sudanese state force, told HRW: “What I saw the army doing, I did not accept it. They raped women and killed civilians. They said that we were fighting the movements but we never went to the movement areas.”

RSF members told HRW that they were ordered to commit crimes like mass rapes and Sudan’s vice president Hassabo Mohammed Abdel Rahman ordered RSF personnel to kill everyone living in the rebel areas near Jebel Marra.

“They asked us where the rebels were. We said we didn’t know. [I saw two men get] killed. They were shot by small boys,” a herder from Um Daraba told HRW: “

Most RSF members are Darfurians recruited by Hemeti, a former Border Guard commander and Janjaweed militia leader. Many soldiers were drawn from the Border Guards. The RSF is considered a well-equipped force of at least 5,000 to 6,000 troops with 600 to 750 vehicles. Eyewitnesses told HRW that RSF troops can be recognized by the colour of their vehicles and RSF logos.

Collective Responsibility

The conflict in Sudan has been going on for 12 years and is one of the most serious of its kind the world over. Darfur, located in Western Sudan near the border to Chad, is among the poorest and most inaccessible regions in the world. The denial of access through the Sudanese government makes it difficult for U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers to reach affected villages in Darfur.

“The Mission has repeatedly called to grant immediate and unfettered access in areas of on-going or recently concluded hostilities between government forces and rebel factions, including to the Jebel Marra area,” U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement with regard to the UNAMID mission.

“The work of UNAMID’s human rights component has also been seriously curtailed ever since the Mission called on the Government of Sudan to grant it access to Thabit, in North Darfur, to investigate allegations of rape.”

4.4 million people in Darfur need humanitarian assistance, while inaccessibility makes it hard to monitor the conflict and to prevent further attacks.

“From January 2015 till the present, the Mission has attempted to reach troubled areas in Central Darfur, including Golo, nine times – eight access denials and one patrol restriction were imposed by both parties [government forces and rebel factions] to the on-going conflict. As of now, UNAMID has not been able to obtain access to Golo and, therefore, is unable to verify, first-hand, the content of any such reports on the area,” UNAMID Spokesperson Ashraf Eissa told IPS.

Due to the systematic nature of attacks against civilians, governments and institutions that fail to take action have a responsibility when it comes to solving the conflict. HRW provides specific recommendations on how to prevent new abuses by the RSF during the upcoming dry period, which will start around the turn of the year 2015/16 to the Sudanese government, the U.N., UNAMID, the EU and its member states, as well as other institutions.

“This force is a creation of the government of Sudan, they have been armed, they have been trained, they are fully part of the Sudanese military. And like any part of the military, they can be disarmed and disbanded, if senior government and military officials decide to do so,” Loeb said.

The Sudanese ambassador on the other hand criticizes HRW for accusing the RSF, which is considered as one of the best tools to fight rebels from Sudan’s point of view.

China and Russia have blocked possible action on this issue at the Security Council so far, but knowledgeable sources consider a unified Security Council essential for solving this conflict and building political pressure on the government of Sudan. Governments and international organizations, they say, should be more vocal about convincing the two countries to enable action, push Sudan to conduct the important step of banning the RSF and to investigate any form of abuse pro-actively.

The Sudanese government, they say, has the power to disband this force, which was created by them in the first place. However, there is a collective responsibility when it comes to solving this conflict.

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Tunisia Digs a 100-Mile Moat to Keep Refugees at Bay Tue, 15 Sep 2015 11:25:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent Credit: UNHCR

Credit: UNHCR

By a Global Information Network correspondent
TUNIS, Sep 15 2015 (IPS)

Once surrounding castles of old, a moat stretching 100 miles is being dug by Tunisia against alleged terror threats from nearby Libya. Reporters are kept at bay from the digging in what officials have dubbed “a closed military area.”

Saltwater will fill the massive trench to be topped with sand dunes. Alligators are not mentioned in the moat’s prospectus.

“Why erect this wall when one was brought down between the two Germanies?” asked Salim Grira Mzioui, a local council representative of Wazen, a Libyan village along the border in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde. “This will pose insurmountable problems. There are farmers cultivating land on both sides. There are also camel herds coming and going.”

The wall will put an end to ancestral traditions of border communities that have long ignored the state line artificially dividing entire tribes, he said. “We’re going to divide a people,” Adel Arjoun, a Tunisian hotel owner from Medenine, told Le Monde.

According to Tunisian officials, incursions by terrorists who target tourists prompted the decision to dig the barrier. Last June, for example, 38 foreign tourists were killed by a Tunisian said to be trained at a Libyan camp. Earlier, two attackers killed 21 foreign visitors at the Bardo Museum in Tunis.

But the small number of attacks suggests that Tunisia may be joining the anti-immigrant fever that has gripped some northern European countries.

And as the walls go up, the number of lives lost among desperate refugees is growing. Last month over 500 people leaving Libya were tossed into the seas when their vessels capsized.

Tunisia’s moat is only one of several misguided solutions to the swelling number of refugees fleeing war and extreme poverty. Hungary, Bulgaria and Greece are building walls. Ukraine plans to seal its 1200 mile border with Russia, and Estonia has a 70 mile wall in the works against the former Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Tunisians turned out last weekend to march against a draft bill for amnesty to those accused of corruption.

The draft bill is the centerpiece of the new government, which seeks to boost the economy by clearing away cases against businessmen and civil servants charged with corruption crimes.

Opponents of the law, however, call it as an attempt to whitewash the misdeeds of the old regime and ignore an ongoing process of transitional justice through the Truth and Dignity committee.

“We’re against the draft law because it is unfair and unconstitutional,” Sami Tahri, an official with the Union for Tunisian Workers, said at the protest. “It doesn’t fight corruption, it encourages it.”

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Africa Sees U.N. Climate Conference as “Court Case” for the Continent Thu, 10 Sep 2015 15:57:08 +0000 Isaiah Esipisu Section of a geothermal power plant in Kenya. Some African countries have invested heavily in green energy, showcasing what  Africa can do, given resources. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Section of a geothermal power plant in Kenya. Some African countries have invested heavily in green energy, showcasing what Africa can do, given resources. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Isaiah Esipisu
DAR ES SALAAM, Sep 10 2015 (IPS)

As the clock ticks towards the United Nations climate change conference (COP21) in Paris in December, African experts, policy-makers and civil society groups plan to come to the negotiation table prepared for a legal approach to avoid mistakes made during formulation of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty which extends the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, based on the premise that global warming exists and that man-made CO2 emissions have caused it.

“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is a legal instrument, and therefore we need legal experts to argue the case for Africa, using available evidence instead of having only scientists and politicians at the negotiation table,” according to Dr Oliver C. Ruppel, a professor of law at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.“We must stop complaining and look at how much we have done ourselves with and without support, look at our success stories and build a case of what Africa can do instead of shouting for resources” – John Salehe, Africa Wildlife Foundation

“It is a court case for Africa, and Africa must argue it out, and not keep looking for scientific evidence,” Ruppel told an Africa Climate Talks (ACT!) forum on ‘Democratising Global Climate Change Governance and Building an African Consensus toward COP 21 and Beyond’ last week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The forum, which was organised by the Climate for Development in Africa (ClimDev-Africa) Programme, was part of the preparatory process for Africa’s contribution to COP 21 in Paris.

Africa has always based its climate argument on geopolitics and science. However, in Paris, experts say that Africa will have to include a good number of lawyers who will table existing evidence of what climate change has caused, what Africans have done about it, and what they can do given appropriate financial and technological support.

“We must stop complaining and look at how much we have done ourselves with and without support, look at our success stories and build a case of what Africa can do instead of shouting for resources,” said John Salehe of the Africa Wildlife Foundation. “We need to show evidence of what we can do, then approach the negotiations positively,” added Ruppel.

Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, Vice-President of Tanzania, observed that Africa has suffered under the Kyoto Protocol because there were unforeseen gaps. “Since we are negotiating a new agreement, nobody in Africa will benefit if we make the same mistakes that were made in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations,” he told the forum.

According to experts, the Kyoto Protocol was formulated in a way that was designed to address mitigation of climate change, rather than adaptation to its impacts.

“The agreement also failed to recognise some countries which have since emerged as major greenhouse gas emitters, a fact that has complicated implementation of the agreement’s mechanisms,” observed Mithika Mwenda, executive secretary of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

He also noted that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the protocol was based on markets, and therefore failed completely to address climate change in countries with negligible emissions.

Such gaps must be sealed in Paris and a new agreement reached or else the world’s sustainable development path will be jeopardised, warned Bilal.

Nevertheless, the Tanzanian Vice-President recognised that sometimes Africa expects too much from the developed countries. “We need to change and change has to start from within,” he said.” The vision has to be crafted from within and we have to go to Paris to champion a narrative and cause that is consistent with our own development aspirations.”

So far, in response to changing climatic conditions, African countries have proactively put in place climate change policies with tools geared towards mitigating and adapting to their impacts. Some have invested heavily in clean energy, some have adopted climate-smart farming techniques, and others have invested in tree growing.

“Africa has lots of capacities but they differ,” said John Kioli, chairman of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group. “We need to take stock of what we have, and negotiate for enhancement of what we do not have.”

Dr Joseph Mutemi, a climate scientist and executive director of the Africa Centre for Technology Studies, noted that the playing field has always been tilted to support pro-mitigation. “As Africa, we need to be strategic enough to understand where mitigation supports adaptation and take advantage of it,” he said.” We should start from the known, then venture into the unknown.”

ACT! seeks to crystallise a conceptual framework umbrella for Africa’s role in the global governance of climate change, and to position climate change as both a constraint on Africa’s development potential as well as an opportunity for structural transformation of African economies.

The objective is to mobilise the engagement of Africans from all spheres of life in the run-up to the Paris negotiations, increase public awareness of climate change and the roles people can play in the global governance of climate change, and elicit critical reflection on the UNFCCC process among Africans.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Migrants Waiting Their Moment in the Moroccan Mountains Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:22:35 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

In the middle of the mountains behind the border fence of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, and eight kilometres from the nearest Moroccan village of Fnideq, an uncertain number of migrants live in the woods. No one knows exactly how many they are but charity workers in Melilla, Spain’s other enclave in Morocco, say they could be in their thousands.

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build a tripe six-metre fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the whole enclave, as in Melilla.

In the past, those waiting in the mountains for their turn to try to reach Spain had been able to build something resembling a normal life. They put up tents and at least were able to sleep relatively peacefully at night.Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities

That all ended after 2012, when the Moroccan police started to burn down the camps and periodically sweep the mountainside, arresting any migrants they found, charged with having illegally entered the country.

These actions were the result of agreements between the Moroccan and Spanish governments, after Spain had asked Morocco to control migration flows.

The most tragic raid so far by the Moroccan police took place last year on Gurugu Mountain which looks down on Melilla. Five migrants were killed, 40 wounded and 400 removed to a desert area on the border with Algeria. According to the migrants, the wounded were not cured and were left to their own destiny.

Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities.

They live, in their words, “like animals” and when speaking with outsiders are clearly ashamed by their condition, apologising for being dirty and badly-dressed.

The first thing many of them tell you in French is that they are students and that before having to leave their countries they were studying mathematics, economics or engineering at university.

Many of them are from Guinea, one of the countries most seriously affected by the Ebola epidemic, others come from Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, all countries characterised by political turmoil of various types.

All of them have been forced to live in these woods for months or even years, waiting for their chance to pass the border fence.

The statistics show that some of them will certainly die in their attempts to reach Spain – either on the heavily fortified fences which encircle the enclaves or out at sea in a small boat or trying to swim to a Spanish beach.

Some of them will finally make it to Spain, perhaps after five or six failed attempts. In that case they will have overcome the first hurdle, escaping the “push-back operations” by the Spanish Guardia Civil, but they will still face the possibility of forced repatriation, particularly if they come from countries with which Spain has a repatriation agreement.

Many of them, however, will finally give up and decide to remain somewhere in Morocco, destined to a life of continuous uncertainty due to their irregular position in the country. You can meet them and listen to their stories in the main Moroccan cities, especially in the north. In most cases, they had escaped death in their attempts to reach Spain and do not want to risk their lives any longer.

Meanwhile a report on ‘Refugee Persons in Spain and Europe” published at the end of May by the non-governmental Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), denounces how sub-Saharan migrants are dissuaded from seeking asylum in Spain, even if coming from countries in conflict such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia, once they realise that they are likely to be forced to remain for months in a Centre for Temporary Residence of Immigrants (CETI) in Ceuta or Melilla.

In Melilla, for example, those who apply for asylum cannot leave the enclave until a decision has been taken on their application. Unlike Syrian refugees whose application takes no more than two months, CEAR said the average time to reach a decision for sub-Saharan Africans is one and a half years.

The CEAR report is only one of a long list of recent criticisms of the Spanish government’s migration policies from numerous NGOs and international organisations.

The main target of these criticisms has been the Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) passed this year by the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The aim was to give legal cover to the so called devoluciones en caliente, the “push-back operations” against migrants carried out by the Spanish frontier authorities in Ceuta and Melilla in violation of international and European law.

On the Spanish mainland, said the CEAR report, migrant’s right of asylum is seriously undermined by the bureaucratic lengths of application procedures and the political choices of the Spanish authorities.

Calls from CEAR and other NGOs to end “push-back operations” seem very unlikely to be taken into consideration soon by the Spanish government and Parliament, in view of the general elections later this year.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugees Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sustainable Settlements to Combat Urban Slums in Africa Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:19:36 +0000 Busani Bafana Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Busani Bafana
LUANDA, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Slums are a curse and blessing in fast urbanising Africa. They have challenged Africa’s progress towards better living and working spaces but they also provide shelter for the swelling populations seeking a life in cities.

Rural Africans are pouring into towns and cities in search of jobs and other opportunities, but African cities – 25 of which are among the 100 fastest growing cities in the world – are not delivering the much needed support services, including housing, at the same rate as people are demanding them.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) projects that nearly 1.3 billion people – more than the current population of China – will be living in cities in Africa in the next 15 years."We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture" – Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association

Africa’s urbanisation rate of four percent a year is already over-stretching the capacity of its cities to provide adequate shelter, water, sanitation, energy and even food for its growing population.

Safe and resilient cities and human settlements is one of the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed on in New York next month. As the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in September 2000, UN-Habitat has largely succeeded in meeting the target of taking 100 million people out of slums by the time the MDGs expired in Asia, China and part of India … but not in Africa.

However, Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association, believes that Africa can solve its slums situation by planning and developing towns and cities that strike a balance in the provision of housing, water sanitation, energy and transport while luring investments to create jobs.

According to Omisore, the problem lies in the fact that so far settlements have been developed for people but not with people, and he asks if Africa wants the humane aspects of its cultural values and heritage reflected in its cities or has to replicate the cities of developed nations to become classified as developed.

“Slums and sprawls demand understanding the reasons and problems resulting in their existence and identifying the class of people living there,” says Omisore.

“African governments focus on the infrastructural development of developed nations without consideration for the human development of our different communities and ensuring creation of employment opportunities which is key to the sustainability of our cities. People make the cities, not the other way around.”

By redefining slums, policy-makers in Africa can work more on understanding the rural-urban links to arrive at African solutions for African problems, he argues, calling for a “campaign of marketing Africa and appreciating what is African.”

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture.”

At a time Africa is grappling with the issue of land tenure, particularly in agriculture, limited and often expensive land in urban settlements is posing the question of whether Africa should build up or build across, and there are those who argue that densification is the answer to Africa’s housing woes.

At the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum hosted by United Cities and Local Government-Africa (UCLG-A) and the government of Angola in Luanda in April,  Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat argued that densification is an avenue for the transformation of Africa and its cities.

“If urbanisation should be possible and if we are going to build landed housing without going up, it simply means it will be expensive, but if we have to densify then we need to go up,” said Kacyira.

“Yes, let us stick to our identity and culture, but let us stick to principles that make economic sense. We are not going to have vibrant cities by running away from the problem and spreading and sprawling.”

Kacyira also argued that by planning, reducing desertification and recycling waste, African cities can help reduce their carbon footprint, a key issue on the post-MDG agenda.

Meanwhile, a Kenya housing project could represent a model for the future of

Housing in Africa. Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, a federation of slum dwellers, has partnered with Shack/Slum Dwellers International to provide decent shelter for people living in slums by creating a low cost three-level house called  ‘The Footprint’, which costs 1,000 dollars.

The project has built 300 houses in two settlements this year. Dwellers pay 20 percent towards the structure and are given support to access a microloan covering 80 percent of the cost.

The UCLG-A network which represents over 1,000 cities in Africa, estimates that Africa needs to mobilise investments of 80 billion dollars a year for upgrading urban infrastructure to meet the needs of urban residents.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Urban Farming Mushrooms in Africa Amid Food Deficits Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:28:42 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

There is a scramble for unoccupied land in Africa, but this time it is not British, Portuguese, French or other colonialists racing to occupy the continent’s vacant land – it is the continent’s urban dwellers fast turning to urban farming amid the rampant food shortages that have not spared them.

Inadequate wages have aggravated the situation of many, like Agness Samwenje who lives in Harare’s high density Mufakose suburb, and they have found that turning to urban farming is one way of supplementing their supply of food.

Samwenje, a pre-school teacher who took over an open piece of land to cultivate in vicinity to a farm, told IPS that “this mini-farming here is a back-up means to feed my family because the 200 dollars I earn monthly is not enough to support my family after becoming the breadwinner following the death of my husband four years ago, leaving me to care for our three school-going children.”“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs” –Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga

“I now spend very little money buying food because crops from my small field here in the city supplement my food,” she added.

For others, like jobless 34-year-old Silveira Sinorita from Mozambique who now lives in the Zimbabwean town of Mutare, urban farming has become their job as they battle to feed their families.

“Without employment, I have found that farming here in town is an answer to my food woes at home because I grow my own potatoes, beans, vegetables and fresh maize cobs, whose surplus I then sell,” Sinorita told IPS.

Pushed to the edge by mounting food deficits, urban farmers in other African countries have even gone beyond mere crop farming. In cities such as Kampala in Uganda and Yaoundé in Cameroon, many urban households are raising livestock, including poultry, dairy cattle and pigs.

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa’s towns and cities at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 800 million people around the world practise urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity, although the U.N. agency also warns that the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion globally, with the “urban poor being particularly vulnerable.”

However, urban farming in Africa is often met with opposition from the authorities where land is owned by local municipalities and agricultural experts say that opposing it makes no sense in the face of growing food insecurity.

“Poverty is not sparing even people living in the cities because jobs are getting scarce on the continent and as a result, farming in cities is fast becoming a common trend as people battle to supplement their foods, this despite urban farming being prohibited in towns and cities here,” government agricultural officer Norman Hwengwere told IPS. Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

FAO has also reported that Africa’s market gardens are the most threatened by the continent’s growth spurt because they are typically not regulated or supported by governments, and a recent study has called for governments to become more involved.

In a 2011 research study titled ‘Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers’, Anna Plyushteva, a PhD student at University College London, argues that greater government involvement is needed for urban agriculture to emerge out of marginality and illegality and deliver greater environmental and social benefits.

“Without official regulation, urban farming can create some serious problems. At present, informal farmers and their produce are exposed to contamination with organic and non-organic pollutants, which is a serious threat to public health,” said Plyushteva.

For independent Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga, the more people flock to cities, the more pressure they add to the limited resources there.

“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs,” Nakalonga told IPS.

“Often when people migrate from rural areas anywhere here in Africa, they cling to their agricultural heritage of practices through urban agriculture which you see many practising in towns today to evade hunger,” Nakalonga added.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, for example, urban gardens in some communities resemble those found in the country’s rural areas from which people migrated.

Despite the opposition elsewhere, some African cities are nevertheless supporting the urban farming trend. The Cape Town local authority in South Africa, for example, introduced its first urban agriculture policy document in 2007, focusing on the importance of urban agriculture for poverty alleviation and job creation.

As FAO projects that there will be 35 million urban farmers in Africa by 2020, it is supporting programmes in some countries to capitalise on the benefits. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, FAO’s Urban Horticulture Programme is building on the skills of rural farmers who have come to the cities.

The FAO programme in DRC started in response to the country’s massive rural-to-urban exodus following a five-year conflict and now helps local urban farmers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables each year, while providing employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners in the country’s towns and cities.

The country’s urban farmers sell 90 percent of what they produce in urban markets and supermarkets, according to FAO, helping to feed a swelling urban population as Congolese flee the countryside in search of security.

Meanwhile, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, various groups and agencies have helped popularise the “vertical farm in a bag” concept in which city dwellers create their own gardens using tall sacks filled with soil from which plant life grows.

With hunger hitting both rural and urban African dwellers hard, an increasing number of them believe that urban farming is the way to go.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Impeachment Motion Stirs Political Waters in Somalia Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:16:05 +0000 Nora Happel Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Nora Happel

The impeachment motion Somali parliamentarians filed against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Aug. 12 has created a political standoff that might further threaten the country’s stability shortly ahead of planned elections in 2016.

Last week, the envoys of the United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement, calling for a rapid resolution of the crisis and expressing their concern that the motion “will impede progress on Somalia’s peace and state building goals”.

"The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome." -- Ahmed Ismail Samatar, former member of the Somali Federal Parliament
“While we fully respect the right of the Federal Parliament to hold institutions to account and to fulfill its constitutional duties, the submission of any such motion requires a high standard of transparency and integrity in the process and will consume extremely valuable time, not least in the absence of essential legal bodies.”

“Emerging institutions are still fragile. They require a period of stability and continuity to allow Somalia to benefit from the New Deal Somali Compact and to prepare for a peaceful and legitimate transfer of public office in 2016,” the text added.

As a matter of fact, there are important procedural irregularities as well as legal obstacles arising from insufficiently developed institutions that stand in the way of a smooth running of the impeachment process and might indeed cause further political turmoil.

In accordance with article 92 of the Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) provisional constitution, the impeachment motion has been submitted by one-third of the members of parliament.

However, as reported by the Somali Current, at least 25 members of parliament out of a total of 93 deputies endorsing the motion claimed their names were used without their consent.

After the submission of the impeachment motion, the following step provided for under articles 92 and 135 of the provisional constitution will be a decision by the Constitutional Court, within 60 days, on the legal grounds of the motion, followed by a two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament.

However, at the time of writing, no Constitutional Court exists in the country – a major obvious hindrance, even though some analysts invoke the possibility of a decision by the Supreme Court acting on the matter instead, following the legal precedent of former article 99 of the 1960 Somali Constitution.

Another major question of debate concerns the charges against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. As outlined in a press statement by the Somali Federal Parliament, the impeachment motion lists a total of 16 charges against President Hassan, including abuse of power, corruption, looting of public resources, failure to address insecurity, human rights abuses, detentions of political dissidents, interference with the independence of the judiciary and intentional failure to meet the requirements for elections in 2016.

Article 92 (1) states that a deposition of the Somali president can only occur if there are allegations of “treason or gross violations of the constitution”. There is ongoing discussion whether the charges put forth by the parliamentarians present enough legal grounds for the motion to pass.

In a press conference last week, President Mohamud dismissed the charges against him, adding it was not the right moment for an impeachment procedure and accusing individuals of having “special interests” – a possible allusion to deputies seeking term extensions.

This suspicion has also been brought up, in an indirect way, in the above-mentioned joint press statement by the international community:

“We also recall that Somalia and all member states are bound by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2232, which sets out the expectations of the international community on the security and political progress needed in Somalia, and the need for an electoral process in 2016 without extension of either the legislative or executive branch,” the statement said.

In an interview with Voice of America, U.N. Envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay repeated the international criticism of the impeachment motion.

He said, in the context of the upcoming election and ongoing attacks by al-Shabaab militants, Somalia shouldn’t “lose time [on] the political bickering that has brought down governments in the past.”

While some voices are more concerned about the impeachment motion itself as it will likely create further chaos and instability, others emphasise the validity of the charges and the need to hold the President and national institutions accountable.

Ahmed Ismail Samatar is former member of the Somali Federal Parliament. A candidate for the 2012 elections in Somalia, he is now working as professor and chair of International Studies at Macalester College.

Speaking to IPS, he said, “The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome.”

Unlike most international observers, Samatar does not necessarily see the elections in 2016 threatened by the motion: “If carried expeditiously and firmly, the proceedings need not thwart the mounting of the elections in September 2016.”

Last month, President Mohamud declared that he does not expect “one person, one vote” elections to be possible in 2016 due to persisting security challenges. However, he said in an interview with Voice of America, he is “aiming for the next best option” regarding transition of power in 2016.

Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the president’s statement, claiming that he uses the insecurity argument as a pretence to extend his mandate.

President Mohamud was elected in 2012 by a parliament made up of 135 clan elders in what the BBC described as a “U.N.-backed bid to restore normality to the country”.

However, instability, severe economic problems and continuing al-Shabaab attacks as well as the current political crisis seem to suggest that the country still has a long way to go to achieve normality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Treaty, Conventional Arms Fuel Ongoing Conflicts Tue, 01 Sep 2015 20:36:26 +0000 Thalif Deen SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen

Despite last year’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the proliferation of conventional weapons, both legally and illegally, continues to help fuel military conflicts in several countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Described as the first international, legally binding agreement to regulate the trade in conventional arms, the ATT was also aimed at preventing the illicit trade in weapons.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment." -- Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
But the first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) to the ATT, held in Cancun, Mexico last week, was the first meeting to assess the political credibility of the treaty, which came into force in December 2014.

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the failure of CSP1 to adopt robust, comprehensive reporting templates that meet the needs of effective Treaty implementation is disappointing and must be corrected at CSP2, which is to be held in Geneva in 2016.

She said the working group process leading up to CSP2 must be more transparent and inclusive with regards to civil society participation than the process that lead to the provisional reporting templates.

“CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning,” she said.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment,” said Acheson who participated in the Cancun meeting.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who also attended the Cancun conference, told IPS that CSP1 was intended to provide the administrative backbone for the implementation of the ATT.

States Parties (the countries that have completed the ratification or accession process) largely succeeded in this effort, she said.

Goldring said CSP1 accomplished a great deal, but the real tests still lie ahead.

The Conference agreed on the basic structures for the new Secretariat to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, but that’s simply a first step.

She said full implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty requires action at the national, regional, and global levels.

One indication of countries’ commitment to the ATT will be the extent to which the countries with substantive and budgetary resources help the countries that lack those capacities, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Some of the world’s key arms suppliers are either non-signatories, or have signed but not ratified the treaty. The ATT has been signed by 130 states and ratified by 72.

The United States, Ukraine and Israel have signed but not ratified while China and Russia abstained on the General Assembly vote on the treaty – and neither has signed it.

The major arms suppliers to sign and ratify the treaty include France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

The ATT Monitor, published by WILPF, quotes a U.N. report, which says South Sudan spent almost 30 million dollars last year on machine guns, grenade launchers, and other weapons from China, along with Russian armoured vehicles and Israeli rifles and attack helicopters.

The conflict in South Sudan has been triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: a conflict “which has been fueled with arms from many exporters,” according to the Monitor.

China told the Cancun meeting it would never export weapons that do not relate to its three self-declared principles: that arms transfers must relate to self-defence; must not undermine security; and must not interfere with internal affairs of recipients.

Acheson said the ATT can and must be used as a tool to illuminate, stigmatise, and hopefully prevent arms transfers that are responsible for death and destruction.

By the end of the Conference, she said, States Parties had taken decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the secretariat; management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the inter-sessional period; and the bureau for CSP2.

The CSP1 voted for Geneva as home of the treaty’s permanent Secretariat – against two competing cities, namely Vienna, Austria; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – while Dumisani Dladla was selected to head the Secretariat.

Acheson said while most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward.

On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs, she added.

States parties also did not adopt the reporting templates that have been under development for the past year. But this is a relief, she added.

States that want to improve transparency around the international arms trade, and most civil society groups, are very concerned that the provisional templates are woefully inadequate and too closely tied to the voluntary and incomprehensive reporting practices of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms.

“As we conduct inter-sessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole,” she noted.

ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding.

Acheson also said the ATT could be useful for confronting and minimising the challenges associated with transparency and accountability.

“It could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind.”

Commenting on the prepared statements at the high level segment of the conference, Goldring told IPS the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies could save a great deal of time if countries submitted their opening statements electronically in advance of the relevant meetings instead of presenting them orally in plenary sessions.

States Parties were not successful in developing agreed procedures for countries to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements of the ATT.

The group was only able to agree on provisional reporting templates, deferring formal adoption to the second Conference of States parties. This is an extremely important omission.

Goldring said countries reporting on the weapons that were imported or exported or transited their territory is a critical transparency task.

She said reporting needs to be comprehensive and public, and the data need to be comparable from country to country and over time.

“The current templates do not meet these tests,” she said pointing out that another important task will be trying to convince leading suppliers and recipients to join the treaty.

In a pleasant contrast to many U.N. meetings, NGOs were included in both the formal plenary and informal working group sessions.

The Rules of Procedure focus on consensus, but provide sensible options if it’s impossible to achieve consensus. This is a welcome development, as it will make it much more difficult for a small number of countries to block progress, she said.

“But in the end, the most important measure of success will be whether the ATT helps reduce the human cost of armed violence. It’s simply too early to tell whether this will be the case,” Goldring declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Squabbles While Refugees Die Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida


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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Making Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Adrian Leversby

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeria Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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