Inter Press Service » Europe News and Views from the Global South Fri, 29 Apr 2016 13:52:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Choose Humanity: Make the Impossible Choice Possible! Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:03:47 +0000 Herve Verhoosel Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.]]>

Herve Verhoosel is the Spokesperson of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to be hosted in Istanbul on May 23-24. He was previously leading the Roll Back Malaria office at the UN in New York and was also Head of External Relations, Advocacy and Communication. In this Op-Ed Verhoosel introduces this major event, the first ever of its kind, which will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions.

By Herve Verhoosel
UN, New York, Apr 27 2016 (IPS)

We have arrived at the point of no return. At this very moment the world is witnessing the highest level of humanitarian needs since World War Two. We are experiencing a human catastrophe on a titanic scale: 125 million in dire need of assistance, over 60 million people forcibly displaced, and 218 million people affected by disasters each year for the past two decades.

Herve Verhoosel

Herve Verhoosel

More than $20 billion is needed to aid the 37 countries currently affected by disasters and conflicts. Unless immediate action is taken, 62 percent of the global population– nearly two-thirds of all of us- could be living in what is classified as fragile situations by 2030. Time and time again we heard that our world is at a tipping point. Today these words are truer than ever before.

The situation has hit home. We are slowly understanding that none of us is immune to the ripple effects of armed conflicts and natural disasters. We’re coming face to face with refugees from war-torn nations and witnessing first-hand the consequences of global warming in our own backyards. We see it, we live it, and we can no longer deny it.

These are desperate times. With so much at stake, we have only one choice to make: humanity. Now is the time to stand together and reverse the rising trend of humanitarian needs. Now is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.

This is why the United Nations Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to reinforce our collective responsibility to guard humanity by attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit.

From May 23rd to the 24th, our leaders are being asked to come together in Istanbul, Turkey, to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This foundation for change was not born overnight. It was a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries.

On the basis of the consultation process, the United Nations Secretary-General launched his report for the World Humanitarian Summit titled “One Humanity, Shared responsibility. As a roadmap to guide the Summit, the report outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.

Aptly referred to as an “Agenda for Humanity,” the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale.

The Agenda is also linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which specifically maps out a timeline for the future and health of our world. Imagine the end of poverty, inequality and civil war by 2030. Is it possible? Undoubtedly so. Most importantly, the Secretary-General has called for measurable progress within the next three years following the Summit.

As such, the Summit is not an endpoint, but a kick-off towards making a real difference in the lives of millions of women, men and children. It’s an unprecedented opportunity for global leaders to mobilize the political will to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. So, how to take action?

The Agenda specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large. Once implemented, change will inevitably follow.

1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises, but also to prevent them. They must analyse conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities – youth, women and faith-based groups – to find the ones that work.

The Summit presents a unique opportunity to gain political momentum and commitment from leaders to promote and invest in conflict prevention and mediation in order to reduce the impacts of conflicts, which generate 80 percent of humanitarian needs.

2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict – roughly 90 percent. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.

The Summit allows a forum for which leadership can promote the protection of civilians and respect for basic human rights.

3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world’s poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children – whether in conflict zones or not – are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.

At the Summit, the Secretary-General will call on world leaders to commit to reducing internal displacement by 50 percent before 2030.

4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.

The Summit will provide the necessary platform for commitment to new ways of working together toward a common goal – humanity.

5. Invest in Humanity:
If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts.

It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations – using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms.

It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.

Our world is at a tipping point. The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are more necessary today than ever before. We, as global citizens, must urge our leaders to come together at the Summit and commit to the necessary action to reduce human suffering. Humanity must be the ultimate choice.

Join us at and find more information on the Summit at

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Any Ways to Combat Extremism? Mon, 25 Apr 2016 13:45:16 +0000 Baher Kamal Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Apr 25 2016 (IPS)

“The objective of extremists is for us to turn on each other [and] our unity is the ultimate rebuke for that bankrupt strategy.”

This is what the UN chief Ban Ki-moon has recently said. “While it may be inevitable to draw on examples, such as Da’esh [also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] or Boko Haram, “the phenomenon of violent extremism conducive to terrorism is not rooted or confined to any religion, region, nationality or ethnic group.”

“Let us also recognize that today, the vast majority of victims worldwide are Muslims,” Ban on April 8 stressed while addressing the Geneva Conference on Preventing Violent Extremism – The Way Forward.

There, Ban stressed, “violent extremism is clearly a transnational threat that requires urgent international cooperation.” Then he explained that his Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism puts forward a comprehensive and balanced approach for concerted action at the global, regional and national levels.

Such Plan was first submitted to the General Assembly on 15 January. Then, on 12 February, the 193-nation body adopted a resolution that welcome Ban’s initiative, pledging to give further consideration to the Plan, including in the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy review in June 2016, as well as in other relevant forums.

So far, so good.

Barely six days after the UN chief’s assertion that the vast majority of victims of extremism are Muslims, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—which was founded in 1969 being the second largest inter-governmental body after the UN, grouping 57 member states – held its 13th Islamic Summit in Istanbul on 14-15 April to discuss ways on how to combat the escalation of extremism and terrorism and the resulting growing Islamophobia.

How to do this? IPS posed this question in an interview to Mehla Ahmed Talebna, Director General of Cultural, Social and Family Affairs of the OIC.

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

OIC summit in Istanbul. Credit: Courtesy of the OIC

“The OIC summit agreed on a set of measures to counter Islamophobia. And member states have been also be urged to establish stronger dialogue with the international community at the bilateral and multilateral levels and engage with the West in order to establish stronger cross-cultural and religious ties as a counterweight to polarising sentiment against religious minorities.”

Talebna explained that the Istanbul summit discussed “the need to reinforce the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, which sometimes fuel Islamophobia, by encouraging the principles of tolerance, moderation, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”

Asked what are the key reasons behind on-going wave of Islamophobia in Western countries in general and in Europe in particular, Talebna said “despite the growing social ethics, the Economy in Europe has gone towards the opposite direction, hand-in-hand with populist rhetoric and a resurgence in far-right politics.”

“Negative Stereotypes Against all Muslims”

This coupled with the extremist acts of a few Muslims that have made it easier to generalise negative stereotypes and discrimination against all Muslims to take place, she said.

“Such circumstances inter-mingled with the rising intolerance against Islam and Muslims in western countries, which to a large extent was proliferated by widespread reporting, writings, articles, interviews, commentaries, and editorials in some western print and visual media, including social media and cinema that has resulted in negative stereotyping and racial discrimination and victimization directed against Muslims and distortion of the Islamic faith.”

According to the OIC senior official, “ironically, terrorist groups like DAESH and right-wing extremist groups in the west, and the negative media campaigns feed off each other. Here at the OIC, we are committed to oppose right wing extremists and to combat terrorist groups like DAESH.”

“We also encouraged all OIC Member States to work with the media to promote the understanding of responsible use of freedom of speech, to hold the media accountable for perpetuating hate speech and extremism, and to speed up the implementation of the OIC Media Strategy in Countering Islamophobia, adopted at the Ninth Islamic Conference of Information Ministers held in Libreville, Republic of Gabon, in 2012.”

This requires partnership and mutual trust with the West, and notably advancing cultural rapprochement something the OIC is committed to, Talebna added.

Asked about the role of religious and social leaders in halting tendencies towards extremism, Talebna said “We are setting up an anti-extremism messaging centre that uses leading Islamic clerics, through the International Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence) Academy, to create religiously sound counter-narratives against extremist propaganda.”

“We will also collaborate with various NGOs and institutions and community leaders advocating and promoting tolerance, moderation and mutual respect and countering extremist rhetoric.”

Empowering Women to Restrain Extremism

The OIC is also making efforts to restrain extremism by taking actions such as empowering women as well as building capacity among the youth in order to promote peace and development in the Muslim world. We expect that such an approach will help easing the problem of extremism in the long run, she said.

Asked how could she explain to lay people the reasons behind the growing trend of Muslim societies, especially in the Middle East, to seek refuge in religion, Talebna said, “If such a trend is indeed taking place, then this is not a trend confined to Muslim societies. Religion is generally on the rise across the developing world.”

She explained that countless surveys have shown that religious people are more law-abiding happier and generally not prone to extremism. “If it makes people happier then more religion and religious practice should be welcomed. Even many people believe that religion could bring about, not only happier, but also healthier life.“

“Religion can play a positive social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual role in society. After all, it has done so for centuries across the Islamic world and led the world in scientific discovery, education, governance and proven conducive to building strong multicultural societies. There is no reason any increased observance of religion in the Islamic world cannot, with the right institutions and intellectual leadership, lead to similarly positive results.”

The OIC Summit planned to adopt a set of “practical” measures “to counter mounting anti-Muslim sentiment, both in Western countries and other regions of the world. How?

“The official communiqué of the Islamic Summit calls on all Member States to increase the role of religious and community leaders to curb tendencies of extremism, and to diminish Islamophobia, which is in fact main factors of extremism,” Talebna said to IPS.

“The conference encouraged all Member States to promote inter-faith and inter-religious dialogues within the OIC Member States to raise awareness about religious interpretations and beliefs, and open space for further discussion about Islam and faith and to initiate relevant projects at the level of United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.”

The OIC also encouraged all Member States to make further efforts to effectively implement of the Action Plan contained in Res. 16/18 of the Human Rights Council that focuses on combatting anti-religious hatred without double standards

“In an attempt to address the root causes of factors giving rise to the resurgence of racism and xenophobia more generally, of which Islamophobia is a part, the OIC expressed support for efforts to galvanize the international community towards re-engaging with the on-going discourse on the negative historic legacies of trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonialism.”

According to the OIC high official, such a discourse would include the reference to the looting of cultural heritage and artifacts and the related issues of restitution, reparations and atonement for these wrongs, including the need for an agreement on strategies for achieving them.

In this regards, the Istanbul summit further mandated the OIC to support the convening of an international conference to comprehensively discuss the issue of the slave trade, slavery, colonialism, restitution and reparations.


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Opinion: Unnoticed, We Are Close to Destruction of Our Planet Thu, 21 Apr 2016 07:45:25 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 21 2016 (IPS)

On the 17th of April, Italians were called to vote in a national referendum, on the extension of licenses to extract petrol and gas from the seas. The government, the media and those in the economic circles, all took a position against the referendum, claiming that 2000 jobs were at a stake. The proponents of the referendum (among them five regions), lost. Italy is following a consistent trend, after the Summit on Climate Change (Paris December 2015), in which all countries (Italy included) took a solemn engagement to reduce emissions.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Two weeks after the Summit, the British Prime Minister took the initiative to extend the licenses to extract coal, explaining that 10.000 jobs were at stake. Then it was India’s turn, to declare that licenses for coal powered stations would be increased, as the development of the country comes before protection of the environment.

On this, the Polish government declared that it had no intentions to reduce the use of Polish coal, in the short term. Then Hungary made a similar statement about its use of fossil energy.

Meanwhile, no significant initiative for emission’s control has been announced after Paris. And all the Republican candidates have announced that, once installed in the White House, they will declare null and void the agreements reached in Paris, where Obama played a crucial role. In fact, several Republican initiatives are seeking Supreme Court cancellation of measures taken by the administration to limit pollutions. And with different accents, all the xenophobe and right wing parties which are emerging everywhere in Europe, have indicated that they do not consider the Paris agreement as a priority in their agenda.

The main criticism of the scientific community, on the Paris agreements, was that while the accepted goal was to limit the increase of the global temperature to 2 degrees, compared with that of the beginning of the industrial revolution (while accepting that 1.5 degrees would have been an adequate target), in reality the sum total of all individual targets freely established by the countries, was coming to at least 3.5 degrees.

The idea was that with further negotiations, the target of 2 degrees would finally emerge, also thanks to new technologies. Now, an equally crucial flaw is emerging. No control of implementation of the agreement will take place before 2030. Until then, each country is responsible for implementing its target, and also for checking the implementation of its commitment.

It would have been interesting to see a similar philosophy, adopted on tax levels. Every citizen could decide how much tax he or she pledges to pay, and be responsible until 2030 to check that this engagement or commitment is met. Then only in 2030, mechanisms of verification would fall in place. And those mechanisms would bear no enforcements or penalties. They would only indicate public shaming of those who did not keep their engagements.

Of course, the fact that industrialized countries, like Italy and United Kingdom, far from reducing sources of pollution, is not a good example for developing countries, who are now coming into industrialization, and have to limit their emissions because since early 19th century industrialized countries have been polluting the world.

In fact, subsidies to the fossil industries, according to the World Bank, run now at 88 billion dollars per year. According to a report from the Overseas Development Institute G20 countries spend more than twice of what the top 20 private companies are spending on finding new reserves of oil, gas and coal, and do so with public money. Meanwhile, the Fund for helping underdeveloped countries to adopt new technologies, established at 100 billion in Paris, has yet to be completed. Of course a check up is due by 2030.

Well, every week we receive alarming data on how the climate is deteriorating much faster than we thought. I am not talking about the uninterrupted news on natural catastrophes. I am talking about the alarming cries by the scientific community from all over the world.

The National Centre for Climate Restoration from Australia has published a sort of summary about all those calls, in an alarming report by Prof. Kevin Andersen of the UK Tyndall Centre for Climate Change in which it says:

…According to new data released by the US National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, measurements taken at the Marina Loa Observatory in Hawaii show that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration jumped by 3.08 parts per million (ppm) during 2015, the largest year-to- year increase in 56 years of research. 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2ppm.Scientist say that they are shocked and stunned by the “unprecedented NASA temperature figures for February 2016, which are 1.65”C higher than the beginning of the nineteen century and around 1.9”C warmer than the pre-industrial level…..

This means, according to Prof. Michael Mann “we have no carbon budget left for the 1.5 degrees target and the opportunity for holding the 2 degrees is rapidly fading unless the world starts cutting emissions rapidly and right now. The current el Niño conditions have contributed to the record figures, but compared to previous big El Niños, we are experimenting blowout temperatures.” For a glimpse into what lies in our future, we have only to look at Venezuela, where now public offices work three days per week to cut water and power usage.

Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Research says “In 2012, the US National Academy of Science analyzed in detail how a major drought in Syria – from 2007 to 2010 – was a crucial factor in the civll war that began in 2011. More than a million people left their farms to go to crowded and unprepared cities, where they were inspired by the Arab Spring to rise against a dictatorial regime which was not providing any help.

Journalist Baher Kamal, who is the Inter Press Service IPS Advisor for Africa and Middle, East did publish a two part series on the impact of Climate Change on the Middle East and North of Africa region, which makes clear the region, could become largely uninhabitable by the year 2040. Just to give an example, the Nile could lose up to 80% of its flow. Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are all at very high risk. But so are also Algeria, Iraq, Jordan Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Dr. Moslem Shathout, deputy chairman of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space, considers that Arab North African countries are the most affected, by large, by the climate change impact.

In other words, we have to expect a mass of displaced people, on the shores of the Mediterranean, and therefore of Europe. The category of climate refugees does not exist in any legislation.

While it is a fact that Europe’s population was 24% at the beginning of the nineteen-century, it will be 4% at the end of the present one. Europe will lose 40 million people that will need to be replaced by immigrants, to keep productivity and pensions running.

The arrival of 1.3 million people, two thirds young and educated, has created a massive political crisis, and the unravelling of Europe.

The climate refugees will be of all ages, and many from the agricultural sector, the most conservative and uneducated in the Arab world.

Do Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and British Prime Minister David Cameron – who for electoral reasons play the chord of a few lost jobs from the fossil industry – have any idea on how to face this imminent future?

Probably not, but they do not care. This problem will not be during their tenure. So climate change is not in the political agenda as a very top priority. And media follows events, not processes, so no cries of alarm; yet, from one to the next, a continuation of disasters lead to catastrophes…

When, everybody will realize as the saying goes, God pardons, man does sometimes, but nature never.


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OPINION: Wake Up! We Need Statesman and Values but We Get Selfish Politicians and Cynicism… Fri, 15 Apr 2016 14:14:01 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, IPS news agency founder and president emeritus and publisher of Other News]]>

Roberto Savio, IPS news agency founder and president emeritus and publisher of Other News

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 15 2016 (IPS)

A total indifference has accompanied the number of refugees injured by Macedonian police in Idomeni, where more than 12 000 people, including 4 000 children have been trapped, since Austria asked Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, to prevent the continuing passage of refugees. Austria has now informed the Italian government that it will send several hundred troops to its border with Italy.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

The illegal agreement with Turkey, that Angela Merkel pushed to defuse her growing unpopularity in Germany, is conducted in a way that has obliged both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Doctors without Borders, to refuse to participate in a brutal operation that effectively violates the UN Charter and the European Treaty by bribing the Turkish government.

The use of tear gas and rubber bullets against refugees in Idomeni is deplorable and plays into the hands of growing support among Europe’s right wing parties and even ISIS, which supposedly calls for the dignity and freedom of the Arab world and supports the creation of a war of religions.

What many seem to have forgotten is that the Austrian police actually carried out a survey of refugees and discovered that they were better educated than the Austrians.

Now the group of experts and academicians who monitors migration has published a study entitled Unpacking a Rapidly Changing Scenario, which proves the obvious. The million people , who risked their lives to come to Europe in 2015, are in large measure middle class, uprooted due to conflicts. Two-thirds of the refugees have college or university level education, and those with a university degree are one-third of all refugees. Two-thirds had a stable job before leaving their country.

Merkel originally accepted the refugees because Germany is in a dire need of workers. She had not however anticipated that the right wing parties would so effectively use the present climate of uncertainty and frustration. Now in Germany there are 2 000 racial incidents a month, and Alternative for Germany (AFD), the new right wing party, looks poised to become the third German party.

Unfortunately, no statesman is currently in the offing. That is someone who would risk votes, to educate electors to unpopular truths, like the simple fact that Europe is not viable without a large immigration. The statistics are clear. This vast tide of refugees, the largest since World War two, are on average 23 years old – half the European average – 82 percent are younger than 34, and two-thirds have a high level of education.

The European Commission, in 2015, projected that Europe would need to support an increasingly elderly population. There will be an uninterrupted decline in jobs between 2010 and 2060. The population at working age (20-64) has been declining steadily since 2010, and in 2060 will have fallen by 50 million from 310 million in 2010, to 260 million in 2060, likely to result in a probable bankruptcy of the pension system. The total number of those in the employable age bracket of 20 to 64 will shrink from 210 million in 2010, to 200 million in 2060. The issue is,who is going to replace the missing 10 million people needed to keep Europe at its present stage of global competitiveness. Who is going to pay the contributions of those who have gone into retirement?

The lack of jobs and the probable bankruptcy of the pensions systems will occur in a considerably older population. While we need 2.1 children per couple, to keep the population stable, present projections indicate that it will fall to 1.22 children per couple.

The average age of maternity, currently 31.7 years, will increase to 33 years in 2064, and the number of woman of childbearing age (between 15 and 49 years) will fall by 4.3 million.
Finally, life expectancy, currently 80 years of age for men and 85.7 for woman, will reach 91 by 2064 for men and 94.3 years for woman. It is estimated that those aged over 100 years will represent about 10% of the population.

In other words, the world we know today, will no longer exist. We are debating whether the retirement age should be 65 years. Children born today have a life expectancy of 82 years, and according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), those who are now between 18 and 25 years will go into retirement with an average pension of around Euro 630 per month, because many will be precariously employed, will not be able to meet their pension contributions, and even fewer will be able to buy property.

The ILO also found that while today parents and grandparents provide a safety social net that alleviates the pain of unemployment, the current generation that can look forward to a relatively decent pension will have disappeared in three decades, and those who will be parents will not able to help their children in the same way that their parents were able to help them. It means that we will live in a world of old people, where young people will face a much harsher destiny.

And yet today, few talk about that future. On the contrary, we listen to the xenophobes and right wing parties, which in every European country keep growing in every election, riding on the tide of frustration and fear. What they do is to call for a return to a better yesterday, for a pure Europe, where others will be deported thus leaving jobs free for Europeans. At the same time, the politicians play their game, instead of discussing a serious immigration policy.

The difference between past European statesmen, the likes of Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, with a clear vision and ability to communicate to their citizens (like abandoning nationalism for a European dream), are dramatically absent today. The Dutch referendum against Ukraine (an unexpected gift for Putin, who beside being a smart player is also a lucky one), will hasten the decay of Europe.

The scandals associated with the massive participation of political leaders in the Panama Funds will also hasten the decline of legitimacy of the political class, and therefore of democracy. The
American elections are also proceeding in this direction. That Ted Cruz, who is a modern incarnation of the Great Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada, an ISIS dream, has become the solution to Donald Trump. And in a campaign that will cost over $4 billion, few contributors will cover the costs. The Koch brothers, the king of coal, have announced an investment of 900 million dollars.

If a republican wins, we can forget any real attempt to control climate change, which is already forgotten, in spite of the alarming evidence of future disaster. In a normal world, a statesman would attempt to motivate young people, to consider their future. He would create new alliances, transcend traditional politics, which look to the past, and attempt to shape a debate about the future.

The tragedy of Idomeni is not only a crime against humankind and the values of justice and solidarity: it is a crime of stupidity and cynicism, a crime committed against young Europeans, who are not aware of their future world. And Federico Mayor is right, when he says that the European Central Bank has no problem adding $20 billion a month to the $60 billion already going to the financial system, indicating clearly where priorities lie. The generational betrayal is going ahead, amidst generalized indifference.

Only history will speak of the Angela Merkels, the François Hollandes, the David Camerons, the Mariano Rajoys, the Matteo Renzis, and the Mark Ruttes, as those who looked to politics as a crutch for their survival instead of a tool for a better world, but it will be too late.


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The Panama Papers: A Global Report Card Mon, 11 Apr 2016 14:59:10 +0000 Maddie Felts Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Maddie Felts
ROME, Apr 11 2016 (IPS)

On Sunday, 3 April, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists released an unprecedented leak of documents exposing the secretive financial dealings of some of the world’s richest and most powerful. Few countries are safe from the findings; twelve current or former heads of state are implicated among 143 politicians, their relatives and associates for using offshore tax havens.

The Panama Papers have revealed the real victims in our global financial system, and they aren’t the prime minister’s buddies. Economic inequality continues to undermine progress and social cohesion. Oxfam calculated that in 2015, a mere 62 individuals held as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.6 billion people. To combat income inequality, the World Economic Forum has identified solutions including improved education, reformed tax policies, redistribution, social welfare policies, and workforce development. These solutions are very much attainable and increasingly crucial to billions worldwide.

To bridge the dichotomy between the haves and have-nots, the global elite must settle some long-overdue debts to society. The Tax Justice Network estimates that the world’s richest hold between 21 and 32 trillion dollars of untaxed assets. The startling extent of world leaders involved in the Panama Papers leak reflects the scope of corruption in national and local governments.

These trillions of dollars stolen by politicians or shielded from taxation (or sometimes both) mean less funding for roads, schools, and public healthcare. Not only are the rich becoming richer; the poor also remain systematically oppressed.

When the state cannot or will not provide basic needs to its most vulnerable populations, crime can flourish. Criminal groups serve as the primary provider of social services and therefore become so deeply entrenched in communities that they earn the trust of the people and infiltrate local government. Underpaid government officials are more easily lured into corruption since their underfunded state cannot provide what bribery can. The World Bank estimates over $1 trillion are paid in bribes each year. We can no longer afford to ignore corruption that makes up an estimated 5% of annual GDP – roughly $2.6 trillion, almost twenty times greater than the $134.8 billion spent on official development assistance.

The audience reading this article may not consist of the 62 richest of the rich, but access to an education, the Internet, and free press is more than billions of people will ever receive. We must acknowledge and defend journalism that can expose gross injustice and inequality. We cannot take for granted the freedoms and opportunities available to us. And we must fight for what we all do not yet have but deserve, beginning with “honesty, transparency and integrity from our leaders,” which compelled Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a protester in Iceland, to call for change.

Jónsdóttir is not alone in her discontent. Protests continue in Iceland, even after the Prime Minister stepped down two days after the Papers revealed his involvement in offshore investment with claims on Iceland’s failed banks. South Africans continue to protest the dealings of their political leaders and their families – and now that the leak revealed Jacob Zuma’s nephew’s involvement in oil contracts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the protests will likely continue. Those who hold the freedom to peaceful protest must fight for transparency for the billions whose voices are not heard.

A political event characterized by discontent, the upcoming United States presidential election should be viewed from a new perspective informed by the Panama Papers. Candidates have sought to distance themselves from Washington and its institutional entanglements. Voters must begin to demand that candidates distance themselves from dubious campaign financing. The United States campaign finance system provides loopholes in which corporations and foundations can hide millions of dollars, not completely unlike the offshore tax systems that hide billions of dollars for political and business leaders worldwide.

Even in a nation as wealthy as the United States, 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. The cost of social services that are often called unfeasible seem small in the face of the trillions of dollars tucked away through tax evasion. Though no American politician has yet been implicated in the Panama Papers, at the least, the leak provides a much-needed lens to voters as they reevaluate the American economic and political system.

For those of us without a billion dollars in our pocket, we hold a priceless tool: our voices. We must speak out, through the press and through the electoral process, to ensure transparency in our governments. The Panama Papers serve as a global report card, and far too many of our political leaders and institutions are failing. Let this information inspire us all to relentlessly advocate for just and transparent political processes everywhere.


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Terrorism: End the Duplicity Tue, 29 Mar 2016 17:30:20 +0000 sunday times2 By The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
Mar 29 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Europe is reeling under yet another terrorist attack on one of its capitals; its cities are locked down and on high alert. All Sri Lanka can say is “we’ve been there before; we’ve seen it all”. We know the pain and anguish law-abiding peace-loving citizens are going through in those countries.

Even across the Atlantic, in the US, all major cities are calling their security services out of their barracks to patrol the streets. As any terrorist organisation gets a pounding on the ground, that they resort to cowardly attacks on civilian targets as happened in Brussels on Tuesday is as certain as night follows day.

Ask the Sri Lankan Intelligence service and they will tell their European counterparts this. It was a lesson learned the hard way here in Sri Lanka and European Intelligence networks are only learning now that the terrorists suffering military setbacks in West Asia would bite back on soft targets. That was a ‘dead cert’. No wonder these spy agencies in the West are at the receiving end of public criticism. There was a time when Sri Lankan Intelligence had a thing or two to learn from the West. It is now time, for the West to swallow their pride and learn a trick or two from here.

It was heartening to hear what the US President said in Havana where he was at the time of the coordinated attacks in Brussels. He said it was time for the whole world to unite to defeat the ‘scourge of terrorism’. When Sri Lanka long advocated this same message, it was a different reception and response we received from Europe and the US. They just didn’t listen, had their own theories on how to combat terrorism and continue to still prod the duplicitous human rights line even compromising on the call to defeat the ‘scourge of terrorism’. In Havana, the US President did get an earful from his host when he spoke of human rights in Cuba. He was reminded of the continuing violations of human rights on Cuban soil by the US Administration at the Guantanamo detention centre.

As long as one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, this ‘scourge of terrorism’ will never end. The UN ad hoc Committee on International Terrorism – a body chaired by Sri Lanka — has been unable to come up with an acceptable definition for “terrorism” for the past several years. Until the duplicitous political cum diplomatic element is taken out of the ‘scourge of terrorism’ and a universal agreement is reached that terrorism means simply the use of terror for political goals, by whomsoever, the ‘scourge of terrorism’ will keep raising its ugly head around the world.

It is when you begin theorising on ‘what is terrorism’, or ‘what is ‘state terrorism’ and so on that one gets into difficulties and cannot reach compromise. The partisan nature of the big powers that look at the world from their own prisms and national interests rather than in a holistic manner is at the root of this log-jam in seeking a solution. And there is some justification in the argument that invasions of other countries by the big powers, drone attacks and so-called ‘collateral damage’ of civilians are the incubators for breeding ‘terrorism’ that has now enveloped the West.

These infamous double standards of the big powers extend to the economic arena aslo, and it is the West that exploits the issue best — or worst, depending on how one looks at it. Embargoes, and trade sanctions are modern weapons of war to cow down nations not toeing their line. In Sri Lanka, the European Union’s (EU) suspension of the GSP plus preferential tariffs system and the ban on fish imports are textbook cases of duplicity.

It is time they turned the searchlight inward and found out where they have gone wrong. It is their inconsistency in handling the ‘scourge of terrorism’.

RTI: Do not water it down
At last, the Right to Information (RTI) Bill has been tabled in Parliament nearly 365 days after it was promised in the 100-day programme of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ Government and 12 years after it was first presented as a bill by the Ranil Wickremesinghe Government of 2004.

From earning what would have been the distinction as the first to enact such a progressive law in South Asia, Sri Lanka has become the last and the one hundred and whatever country to do so in the world. The bill has only been tabled in the House. It has been presented by the Media Minister but the proposed law to provide access to official information (subject to certain exemptions) is not a law exclusively for the media. It is one for every citizen of this country; from the farmer to the scholar, the parents seeking admission for their child to a school, to the building contractor who has lost a tender, and to every taxpayer, this is truly a revolutionary piece of legislation – if and when passed into law.

The present bill has gone through a fairly comprehensive study. The 2004 bill was the basic working paper. Then, a working group at the Media Ministry put the finishing touches for an updated law. However, it got lost in the process of going to the Attorney General’s Department and what is before Parliament is not entirely the ideal piece of draft legislation. The bill is now in the hands of the parliamentarians. When it will see the light of day as law, we do not know. But if it is passed into law further emasculated and watered down, it would be an exercise in futility where the law will not be worth the paper it is written on; a laughing stock among the comity of modern democracies that this new Government in Sri Lanka is hoping to join.

Water and the Weather

The heat is on; a doctor has written (on Page 10) of heatstrokes. Schools have cancelled their sports meets and power cuts have made a bad situation worse.

These are all signs of Climate Change that is gripping the whole world. An Oscar winner revealed how they had to go looking for snow to make their film. In the nearby state of Kerala in southern India, the population is undergoing a severe water shortage and the Elections Commissioner says that the Government offering water to the voters constitutes a bribe.

World Water Day was marked this week. It is a welcome sign that the Government is following up on the Climate Change Conference of Paris late last year (COP21) and that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a dedicated desk to this subject.

Water, or the lack of it, has seen wars in ancient times and the scarcity of it in the future presents a frightening prospect of wars over it. In Sri Lanka, a UNICEF head spoke of water being threatened by industrial waste and poor solid waste management in schools, hospitals, homes and workplaces. Some 1,299 schools in Sri Lanka do not have any functional sanitation facilities and 11 percent do not have any form of water. Considerable disparities remain between rural and urban areas and the water quality remains an issue. That is why one must appreciate the little mercies one has by having access to clean water.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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OPINION: A Decalogue to Understand Terrorism and Its Consequences Mon, 28 Mar 2016 18:03:19 +0000 Roberto Savio Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News]]>

Roberto Savio, is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 28 2016 (IPS)

The recent Brussels massacre has created a short term reaction, which ignores a long term projection. All the debate is now about security, police reinforcement, new military strategies, as if terrorism can be solved just as a matter of public order.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

It is of critical importance to take a more global and comprehensive approach, and accept that we are facing a problem that needs to be approached from various angles. Given the usual restrictions on length of articles in media outlets, a real analytical piece must wait for another occasion. I therefore request readers to refer to the links to some of my previous, in order to have detailed information on points that I am not able to address adequately in this article.

1) Lack of a political debate. We see the European political leadership mobilized after every incident, making rhetorical declaration of solidarity and expression of horror, but without any effort for a unified, specific response. It is astonishing to see that the French and Belgian authorities have not even tried to link the actions of the terrorists with their backgrounds and previous actions, when clearly a sociological and cultural analysis is fundamental beyond just police’s measures. While this is of critical importance, it is nowhere in the political debate.

2) No effort is made to explain that Muslim terrorism is, before anything, an internal battle in the Muslim world, and Europe is just conveniently used as the playground. Some 88%, of Muslims are Sunnis, the main branch of Islam. But no terrorist has been found beside the so called Wahabism or Salafite branch, born in Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has constructed more than 1.600 mosques, staffing them with Salafist Imams, and every year more than 80 million dollars is spent to support Sunnis. For Salafis, the other groups in Islam are infidels, like Sufi or Yadhzites. And the Shias are the main enemy. So Iran, where the majority of Shias live, is the main enemy of Saudi Arabia, and they fight each other through proxy’s wars, from Syria to Yemen, with the number of victims much larger than all the Europeans victims of attentates. To make Islam as the promoter of all terrorism, is therefore a dramatic mistake.

3) The fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran, until and unless controlled by Russia and United States, will continue, until the time when Saudi Arabia enters into a serious crisis, due to the fact that its present level of expenditure is not any longer supported by the price of petrol. The International Monetary Fund has already indicated to Riyadh that bankruptcy is imminent within a decade, unless expenditure leveles are brought down. Until now, Saudi Arabia has been supported by all the Western powers, especially the United States of America, for its position of importance as the main oil exporter.

The United Nations panel of experts on Yemen has documented “119 coalition sorties relating to violations of the laws of war”, reported Human Rights Watch, which along with the Amnesty International and other organizations are asking for an arm’s embargo. But Saudi Arabia is the world’s second largest arms importer of the world.

Anyhow, it is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia and it’s allies from the Gulf countries will be able to take on the leadership of the Sunni world, because of its intolerance of a branch of Islam, and in the long run compete with a much larger and developed Iran. But for the moment everybody has been turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s role in spreading Salafism.

4) Salafism brings us to ISIS, which follows this branch of Islam as the official religion, even radicalizing it more. However, there is a growing consensus that ISIS is using religion as a tool for enrolment, and pull together all those who are frustrated by secularism and modernization. ISIS, as a tangible entity, according to military experts could be defeated in a couple of weeks, by two mechanized brigades. But it would affect the 600.000 people which are in its territory, and escalate the theory propagated by them that Muslims have always been subjected to the Christian crusaders, who installed the monarchs and Emirs on their thrones, and have effectively run the Arab world in their own interest. The crusaders will never allow a real Arab entity, and will continue to govern through their puppets. This vision and the call for a holy war against the invaders and the Arab governments will continue after the death of ISIS as a territorial entity, and get a responsive chord in the entire Arab world, because it is based on historical facts. So, the ISIS call will survive the Caliphate.

5) Europe’s reaction has been not to intervene seriously against ISIS (and Russia even less), but continue supporting factions in the Syrian war. The continent’s responsibilities in the wave of refugees fleeing Syria and Libya are clear, but of no consequence. Besides, by taking a totally illegal decision on how to deal with refugees, Europe entered in a Faustian pact with Turkey, a country which has turned a blind eye to ISIS, and is clearly against the principles of democracy that Europe advances. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Doctors without Borders have withdrawn from Greece, declaring the plan illegal. Of course, in the Arab world, this does not go unnoticed, and the gap with the West is steadily increasing. In the rhetoric of the right wing countries of Europe (Poland Hungary, Slovakia), and of the right wing parties, refugees have become the bearer of terrorism in Europe. Europe has not even been able to implement obvious measures of coordination on terrorism because of the growing jealousy of the governments, and there is no strategy on this issue, beside rhetoric which plays well into the hands of ISIS.

6) The right wing and xenophobic parties are therefore allied with ISIS. It is evident that, without a strategy of awareness and information, discrimination against Arabs will increase, and this is exactly what ISIS is waiting for, asking Arabs who live in Europe to decide on whether to integrate with the West, and become apostates, or help ISIS, by striking everywhere.

7) No terrorists have come from the Arab world. All those involved until now, were Europeans, born and raised in Europe. Most were petty criminals or marginalized people, not at all observant, who become indoctrinated while serving prison terms for their crimes or through social networking. They were in fact nihilist, who found in ISIS dignity and escape from a life without work and a future. Europe has found 6 billion euros to keep the refugees at bay, after spending more than 7 billion in military expenses in the Middle East. If that money would have been invested in the ghettos were Muslims live in Belgium, France and Great Britain, probably terrorism today would have been far less.

8) It is a fact that Europe cannot compete internationally and keep social stability, without immigrants. The working population has been in decline since 2010. Germany needs 800.000 people. In 2060, there will be 50 million people less in Europe, and the pension system, with a much older population, will go broke. At that time, life expectancy will be of 91 for men and 94.3 for women as against today’s 80 for men and 85.7 for women. The average age of the 82% of Syrian refugees is under 34 years, and a study by the Ministry of Interior of Austria found that they are generally more educated that Austrian citizens. The European citizen should therefore look to immigrants as a resource and support. No campaign of awareness on this issue is in place, because it would be politically difficult to say the least.

9) The trend is the opposite. And xenophobic parties are on growth in every election, and they ask for expulsion of immigrants, like Donald Trump is doing in the US. This, beside being an impossible act, is also a gross political error. The animosity against Muslims, without any effort of understanding the complex reality, is playing into the hands of terrorism, and radicalizing immigrants who come to Europe in search of work and live in dignity.

10) The final conclusion is that we are getting into the trap of a clash of civilizations, where we defend a Christian Europe against a hostile Muslim world. This is the worst possible error. It plays well into the hands of the ISIS rhetoric, and like any clash, calls for polarization. It helps the right wing and xenophobe parties to take over Europe, with an increase of fear and insecurity.

Polarization is never helpful for democracy and tolerance. A group of 50.000 militants (in a world of 1.3 billion Muslims), is able to change our lives, reduce our individual privacy and freedom, and increase militarism and surveillance. If we do not get out of this trap of a clash of civilizations, Europe will change deeply and forever, because the phenomenon of terrorism is here to stay with us for generations… It took nearly two centuries for Europe to get rid of the wars of religion. In the 30 years war (1618-1648), 8 million out of a total population of 110 million, the majority of them civilians lost their lives.

Will history help us to face the present?


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OPINION: Terrorism: the Answer Is More Europe, Not Less Thu, 24 Mar 2016 16:31:17 +0000 Joaquin Roy

In this column Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, says the recent terrorist attacks in Belgium indicate the need to strengthen, not weaken, European unity.

By Joaquín Roy
MIAMI, Mar 24 2016 (IPS)

The enemy isn’t Brussels: it’s Europe. The so-called Islamic State clearly signaled this by attacking, even more than the airport, a metro station. Maelbeek is not just another subway stop in the Belgian capital. Although the symbolism could have been more dramatic if the terrorists had chosen the neighouring station named after Robert Schuman…but perhaps the tighter security there dissuaded them.

The fact is that it is the symbolic heart of the European Union. Thousands of officials from the three EU institutions – the Council, the Parliament and the Commission – pass through that stop every day.

The Council, the highest EU body, represents the sacrosanct interests of the member states, which since the outbreak of terrorism and the refugee crisis have monopolised decision-making in the bloc. The Parliament, which defends the values of the citizens, feels that its voice is being ignored. The Commission, which defends the essence of the EU treaties, has submitted to the will of the member states.

In contrast with the gratuitous accusations about the EU’s supposed inefficacy, the fact remains that historically it has been a spectacular success which has guaranteed for decades what did not exist in Europe for centuries: stability, peace, progress, justice.

Joaquin Roy

Joaquin Roy

That has been demonstrated by the actions of thousands of immigrants and refugees who have chosen, against all obstacles, to seek refuge in Europe and the EU. They are thousands of people willing to face any risk and pay any price (monetary or personal) to place themselves under the protection of one of the few systems on the planet that can give them what they long for.

This detail has been noticed by the terrorists who have finally identified the ultimate enemy of their actions. It isn’t the states, national societies, governments, or individual capital cities that have already been the victims of their hate, but an entity that tenaciously demands recognition.

The EU still has the potential to become an effective shield, not only to guarantee Europe’s survival as a civilisation, but to be an effective agent of the practical efficacy to fulfill the needs of its citizens. At the same time, it shows that people overseas who desperately want to be under Europe’s protection are right.

Up to now, the terrorists’ targets have been mainly national, in order to trigger, so far without success, a nationalistic and self-protecting reaction by governments fearful of losing their purported national sovereignty.

The attack on the emblematic subway station, the belly-button of the EU institutions, sent a crystal-clear message: the enemy is not the state. It is the collective entity that still manages to safeguard the achievements which, since nearly the end of World War II, still capture the admiration of the rest of the world.

The governments, through faint-hearted decisions in the Council of Europe itself, have on various occasions responded fearfully to terrorist attacks by curbing collective decisions. For example, in a misguided response to last November’s attacks in Paris, the French government eschewed the EU solidarity clause contained in article 222 of the EU treaty, and chose instead to invoke article 42.7 (similar to NATO’s article 5), triggering mutual defence among the member states.

Like other European countries, France decided to reduce European sovereignty, dangerously putting aside the Schengen agreement for border-free travel.

Instead of reinforcing the powers of the institutions, there was a move to strengthen national sovereignty. To obtain the cooperation of the alternative guardians of Europe’s collective authority, Turkey’s complicity in creating a barrier to the invasion of refugees was “bought” under the promise of facilitating its admission to the EU. The idea was that Brussels did not have the necessary power, which bolstered the arguments of the nationalists and of the terrorists themselves.

The attack on the Brussels metro station reminds us that terror itself recognises that the enemy is precisely the entity that the Europeans themselves want to weaken. Perhaps the time has come to return to the origins and assume, once and for all, that it was the national state that was guilty of the holocaust represented by the two European wars which nearly destroyed civilisation on the old continent. What is needed is not what numerous governments and citizen groups are demanding: less Europe. What is urgently necessary is to salvage Maelbeek station.

Instead of dismantling Schengen, what is needed is a treaty that is solid, inside and out, and that guarantees the free traffic of citizens and visitors. To bolster this argument, a supranational force should be created to oversee the borders in a collective manner, not subject to the whims of the states. What is needed is more Europe, not less.

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Corruption Swallows a Huge Dose of Water Tue, 22 Mar 2016 23:51:46 +0000 Jeff Williams A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

By Jeff Williams
MOMBASA, Kenya, Mar 22 2016 (IPS)

While the United Nations marked this year’s World Water Day on March 22 focusing on the connection between water and jobs, a new report has rung loud alarm bells about the heavy impact of corruption on the massive investments being made in the water sector.

Each year, between 770 billion and 1,760 billion dollars are needed to develop water resources and services worldwide — yet the number of people without “safe” drinking water is about as large as those who lack access to basic sanitation: around 32 per cent of the world’s population in 2015, Transparency International on March 22 reported.

And asked how can so much be spent and yet such massive shortfalls still exist?

“One answer: About 10 per cent of water sector investment is lost to corruption.”

This striking information came out on the occasion of World Water Day 2016, as the Water Integrity Network (WIN) released a new report that documents the legacy of corruption in the water sector.

The WIN report reveals corruption’s costly impact on the world’s water resources. It also shows the degree to which poor water governance negatively affects the world’s most vulnerable populations – specifically women, children, and the landless.

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

While access to water and sanitation were formally recognised as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010, the reality is far from this goal, says WIN, a network of organisations and individuals promoting water integrity to reduce corruption and improve water sector performance.

“According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, some 663 million people lack access to so-called “improved” drinking water sources globally… this contributes to 1.6 million deaths annually, most of whom are children under 5 years old.”

Although the UN’s new 2030 Agenda includes a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) on water and sanitation as well as a mandate for accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16), action is needed so that pervasive and systemic corruption do not continue to seep from the water sector, according to the report.

The study cites some specific cases. In 2013, Malawi’s reformed public financial management system was misused to divert 5 million dollars in public funds to the private accounts of officials.

Another case: in 2015, an audit of the 70 million euro phase II national water programme in Benin, which included 50 million euro from the Netherlands, revealed that 4 million euro had vanished. Dutch development cooperation with the Benin government was suspended thereafter to safeguard additional funds.

Corruption is, however, not limited to developing countries. In fact, WING cites an example from the United States. “In California, a member of the State Senate in 2015 declared a system of permits that allowed oil companies to discharge wastewater into underground aquifers to be corrupt.”

Further more, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2016 (WIGO) shares examples of both corruption and good practices at all levels worldwide.

In this sense, WIGO demonstrates how improved governance and anti-corruption measures can win back an estimated 75 billion dollars for global investment in water services and infrastructure annually.

It therefore highlights and draws lessons from those examples of where governments, companies, and community groups have won gains for water consumers and environmental protection.

“The report proposes to build ‘integrity walls’ from building blocks of transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption measures,” says Frank van der Valk, the Water Integrity Network’s executive director. “Urgent action by all stakeholders is required.”

WIN works to raise awareness on the impact of corruption especially on the poor and disenfranchised assesses risk and promotes practical responses. Its vision is a world with equitable and sustained access to water and a clean environment, which is no longer, threatened by corruption, greed, dishonesty and willful malpractice.

Formerly hosted by Transparency International, the WIN global network is formally led by the WIN association and supported by the WIN Secretariat in Berlin.


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World Water Day: Water Scarcity Is a Clear and Present Danger Mon, 21 Mar 2016 16:29:54 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

Water scarcity is already a clear and present danger, and it is the innocent, particularly women and children, who are harmed most. When we are inundated with information about water it’s easy to become desensitized. World Water Day on March 22nd gives us an opportunity to reflect on the one simple truth: water is life.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

85 percent of the world’s population lives in the driest half of the planet; almost as many do not have access to adequate sanitation. Every year, 6 to 8 million of our fellow humans die due to water-related diseases and disasters. One in seven people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. Increasingly intense and frequent El Ninos and La Ninas are intensifying droughts and flooding on opposite corners of the earth.

Where water is scarce, and where poverty is clear, women and children bare the primary responsibility for water collection to accomplish the most basic of family needs. On average, in Africa and Asia, they walk 3.7 miles a day just to collect water. In some parts of the world, water collection takes 6 hours a day – globally, women spend 125 million hours a day collecting. If they do not, their probability of survival begins to fade – water is the foundation of all of their needs.

Globally, fresh water resources are diminishing, but our demands for water continue to rise, putting added pressures on governments to find ways to continue to provide for their people.

Through a wider lens, these facts show the impact of fresh water scarcity on larger groups of people. 70 percent of fresh water consumption is currently attributed to agricultural demands; in faster growing economies, it accounts for almost 90 percent. Fresh water resources, often shared between national borders, are diminishing, and their value has a political impact of Machiavellian intrigue. As recently as 2015, in the arid landscape of the Middle East, Syria, Yemen and Iraq, to cite a few have militarily targeted water supply facilities in order to advance their agendas.

In the northern city of Aleppo, Syria, where fighting has crippled the main pumping station for months at a time, UNICEF has recorded 18 deliberate water cuts this year alone. Taps in some communities were left dry for up to 17 days in a row – and for over a month in some areas of the city. In the same time-frame, we have seen conflict over water between the Ukraine and Russia, Iran and Afghanistan, and witnessed fatal disputes in Columbia, Somalia and Mexico.

Between refugee camps on borders and peoples isolated by military campaigns, women and children continue to look for and collect water. It is more and more difficult for them to do so in alarmingly un-secure environments. Jordan, one of the driest countries in the world, is running out of water. With 600,000 Syrian refugees camped in the northern part of the country, pressure on its already over-stretched resources is immense. And as these conflicts continue to spread, the innocent will always continue to suffer. Their coming lives will be dictated by the erosion of our environment, population growth, rapid urbanization, and the decisions made by those in ivory towers. For them, it is time for all of us to act. (Ends)

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Europe`s Crisis Sat, 19 Mar 2016 08:02:10 +0000 Mahir Ali By Mahir Ali
Mar 19 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

It is wise of Angela Merkel not to have panicked in the wake of setbacks for her Christian Democrats (CDU) in Sunday`s three regional elections. The German chancellor acknowledged the blow, but discounted the likelihood of abrupt changes to her government`s policy on refugees.

That very policy has accounted for a surge in support for the anti-immigrant Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a recently formed party with links to the far-right Pegida movement. But that is only part of the picture.

Whereas the AfD`s seats in regional assemblies are based to a large extent on the backing of Germans who previously did not bother to vote, a fairly substantial number of CDU appear to have drif ted to the Green party and the Social-Democrats, notably in situations where CDU candidates sought to distance themselves from Merkel`s generosity.

In Baden-Württemburg, for instance, 30pc of the voters who switched from the CDU to the Greens said their decision was based on the refugee issue. The state`s Green premier has been quoted as saying that he was `praying ever day` for Merkel`s well-being.

Germany`s divisions on this issue were inevitably exacerbated after the appalling sexual assaults and coercive thef ts in Cologne on New Year`s Eve, even though only a tiny proportion of the assailants turned out to be components of the latest wave of refugees that brought more than a million people to Germany last year.

Merkel`s open-borders policy has been held responsible for precipitating a Europewide crisis, with those who are able to make their way from Turkey to Greece and beyond opting for relatively welcoming countries such as Germany. The alternative, though, was to deny entry to Europe to the clearly desperate victims of the strife in Syria in particular.

In some ways, that scenario has lately come to pass, with Macedonia seeking to seal its border with Greece and all too many of its neighbours pursuing similar policies in blatant disregard of the international rules put in place in the wake of the Second World War. Back then, it was Jewish refugees from Germany and Nazi-occupied territories who suffered the consequences of reactionary bigotry.

Not many European countries other than Germany have flung open their doors to the wretched of the earth, with some letting in refugees from Syria and Iraq but refusing access to others from various African countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh. That may seem fair enough in some respects, given Europe cannot be expected to accommodate the all too many economic refugees that international capitalism has spawned.

Levels of desperation are hard to judge, though.Greece`s fear, meanwhile, of turning into what its prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has poetically characterised as a `warehouse of souls` is perfectly legitimate. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Turkey keep on turning up In Greece, with no intention of remaining there, but find their pathway to elsewhere in Europe blocked.

The European Union, meanwhile, has reached an agreement with Turkey whereby all refugees who make it to Greek shores will be returned to Turkish soil, but Europe will accommodate one Turkey-based Syrian for each one sent back. The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, and various other human rights organisations have pointed out that such a policy would violate international law.

Whether the agreement will bear fruit remains to be seen. Europe`s handling of the unprecedented crisis thus far has provided plenty of cause for consternation. And former members of the Soviet bloc have been by far the least inclined to adopt a humanitarian approach.The Russian president, meanwhile, has been accused of actively striving to whip up tensions in Europe by funding the anti-immigrant backlash. It`s hard to tell, though, whether that is indeed the case, given thatthe charge has been made by a Latvian official associated with Nato who has an axe to grind vis-à-vis Russia.

That doesn`t necessarily mean he is lying,although Vladimir Putin`s announcement on Monday that most Russian forces will be pulled out of Syria militates against the notion that his intervention was intended primarily to exacerbate Europe`s refugee woes.

Not much hope was held out for the talks on Syria`s future taking place in Europe this week, but it would be folly to completely write off the prospect of some sort of agreement. After all, the ceasefire put in place three weeks or so ago has largely held, contrary to expectations.

It would be unduly optimistic, though, to read into that an indication that the awful conflict in Syria is approaching its conclusion. It would be amazing if that were indeed the case. In the interim, though, the `warehouse of souls` remains in place, and it could very well return to haunt Europe for decades hence unless Merkel`s plea for a Europe-wide humanitarian solution finds at least a few more takers.


This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Will the EU Become a Criminal Union Tomorrow? Thu, 17 Mar 2016 11:26:16 +0000 Jan Oberg Jan Oberg is TFF Director & Co-founder, peace studies professor. PhD in sociology, peace and future researcher. Associate professor (Docent) at Lund University, thereafter visiting or guest professor at various universities. Former director of the Lund University Peace Research Institute (LUPRI); former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation; former member of the Danish government’s Committee on security and disarmament.]]>

Jan Oberg is TFF Director & Co-founder, peace studies professor. PhD in sociology, peace and future researcher. Associate professor (Docent) at Lund University, thereafter visiting or guest professor at various universities. Former director of the Lund University Peace Research Institute (LUPRI); former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation; former member of the Danish government’s Committee on security and disarmament.

By Jan Oberg
Lund, Sweden, Mar 17 2016 (IPS)

The EUropean Union – a criminal?

The EU that has peace as its top goal and received Nobel’s Peace Prize?

The EU with Schengen and Dublin?

Jan Oberg

Jan Oberg

The EU with “European” values, humanism and mission civilisatrice that tells others how to live in accordance with international law and in respect for human rights?

We live in times where little shall surprise us anymore. The answer to the question – will EU become a criminal in international law terms? – will be answered on March 17 and 18 when the EU Council meets to decide whether or not to carry through the agreement with Turkey about how to handle refugees.

Amnesty International knows what it is all about. AI uses words such as “alarmingly shortsighted”, “inhumane”, “dehumanising”, “moral and legally flawed” and “EU and Turkish leaders have today sunk to a new low, effectively horse trading away the rights and dignity of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”

And “By no stretch of imagination can Turkey be considered a ‘safe third country’ that the EU can cosily outsource its obligations to,” says Iverna McGowan, Head of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

When Amnesty International expresses itself this way, we should listen very very carefully. I do and I’ve signed Amnesty’s Open Letter to Swedish prime minister Löfvén protesting that Sweden too may join this inhuman and law-violating agreement with Turkey.

Hurry up, it is tomorrow!

Behind every refugee stands an arms trade, stands militarism.

A huge majority of the refugees have fled the wars conducted by irresponsible and narrow-minded EU leaders who, thereby, have already violated international law.

They continue to do so – Denmark being the latest to join the tragedy.

EU countries combined make up the largest economy in the world.

How bizarre that the EU has the resources to fight one war after the other, has huge military budgets and nuclear weapons and puts unlimited resources into wars against terror (that is, to a large extent, a response to U.S./NATO/EU foreign policies) but cowardly believes it can’t find the resources to care for 1,2 million seeking refuge among its 500 million, i.e. 0,24%!

Precisely because EU countries have caused a major part of the refugees to flee, we have a special moral obligation to a) receive them and b) learn to not start wars just like that on somebody else’s territory.

Where there is a will, there is a way. Will the EU anything good, the time is now.

There is no refugee crisis in the EU. There are several other crises:

1) A crisis caused by years of militarism;

2) A crisis of crisis management;

3) A crisis of leadership – or, with the exception of Chancellor Merkel – no leadership for common policies at all; and

4) A crisis of solidarity, humanity and ethics.

You may add a 5) the Euro-racism expressed as Islamophobia.

I am pretty sure that the EU would have acted differently if there had been a huge natural catastrophe or a nuclear power plant meltdown in Israel and 1,2 million Jews had come to Europe or if an EU country had experienced something like that in its own midst.

If on March 16-17, 2016, the EU decides to implement this immoral and law-violating agreement with increasingly authoritarian, war-fighting, terror-supporting and refugee-unsafe country Turkey, the moral decay of the Western world will be obvious.

If not to itself, then to the 92% of the world’s people living outside it.

And the EU will deserve nothing better than it own dissolution. Because it wasn’t for a better but for a worse world.

And technically – what is left when the asylum right, the Schengen and Dublin conventions etc. will be violated by the Council itself?

Either the EU is for a better world or it’s time for another Europe after it!

Jan Oberg’s article was published on 16 March 2016 in: TFF – Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. Go to Original.

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A “Colombian Triangle” for Daesh in Libya? Wed, 16 Mar 2016 19:23:16 +0000 Baher Kamal By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Mar 16 2016 (IPS)

Besieged by US, UK, French, Russian and Syrian war crafts and ground intelligence, both in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Daesh from its original acronym in Arabic) has reportedly been searching for a new base in the North of Africa, specifically in Libya, in what has been called the “Colombian Triangle.”

A map of Libya with major cities and settlements.  Credit: United Nations

A map of Libya with major cities and settlements. Credit: United Nations

Located in the South-Western region, the new base would be installed on the borders of Algeria, Niger and Libya itself.

The area is currently controlled by extremist groups, drug dealers and weapons traffickers. This kind of operations represents a strong source of funding for Daesh, but not the only one — oil would be another huge source.

According to Libyan sources, the “Colombian Triangle” was not, however, Daesh’ first choice. In fact, the story began last year, with Daesh expanding its influence in the Northern Libyan region of Sirte, which hosts the largest oil reserves in the country.

There, Daesh carried out several military attacks and even occupied and controlled refineries and huge oil deposits, there and in other producing areas.

Daesh had, nevertheless, to re-think its initial plans which aimed at installing its new base in the Northern oil rich regions in Libya, due to a series of rapid developments, such as the efforts carried out by the UN former Special Envoy, Bernardino Leon, and continued later on by the new one, Martin Kobler, to form a new, national unity government headed by Libyan businessman Fayyez al Sarraj.

This new unity government has been in fact formed as a result of a UN sponsored agreement in Skhirat (Morocco) on mid December 2015.

Daesh’s fears that the new national unity government would be strongly supported, intelligence and militarily wise, by foreign powers, mainly the US-led NATO, especially in Derna, Sirte, Tripoli and Sabratha areas, forced the terrorist group to change plans.

The skies in these regions have been monitored by drones. Local sources could not confirm whether these surveillance operations are controlled the Libyan Armed Forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, or by other states monitoring the activity of extremists in the country.

Some voices spoke also of subsidiary control operations by the United Nations.

Libyan oil fields, pipelines, refineries and storage. Credit: NordNordWest, Yug | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Libyan oil fields, pipelines, refineries and storage. Credit: NordNordWest, Yug | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Anyway, since the end of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the successive new rulers failed to form a strong, stable central authority. Consequently the country was split between the army and several militias.

Sources of the first Libyan government installed in Tripoli after the 2011 military intervention led by NATO forces, estimated that there would be up to 25 million weapons out of state control in the country.

The increasing fragility of Libyan central authorities allowed extremist organizations, including Daesh, to seize control in several cities.

According to a Libyan retired military commander, the Southern town of Traghan already serves as the centre for the «Colombian Triangle”, being surrounded by mountains and sand dunes from almost all sides.

The area has been chosen by the smugglers because of the ease drug shipments across the border, according to this source, away from the eyes of neighbouring countries’ authorities, whether these are Algeria or Niger, with Mali as a first destination.

Mali itself became in recent years a safe haven for extremist groups, including the reportedly pro- Daesh Boko Haram in Nigeria. That area became an arsenal of military equipment, weapons and missiles that had been looted from Gaddafi’s regime military stores.

The retired military commander explained that this mountainous and rugged region, and is now the new headquarters for the pool of extremist groups from Libya and Africa.

Meanwhile, different well-informed sources have been speculating with the expected developments that should come from now on.

Some talk insistingly about an US-NATO-led military coalition’s intervention in Libya against Daesh. Others speak instead of “surgical” military operations against specific targets.

In the last days, a new version has circulated, citing “reports of Libyan intelligence services confirm the presence of intelligence officers from some countries supporting militias and liaising with terrorism in Libya.” In this sense, Dominique Sinclair on March 15, 2016 wrote the French paper Le Monde, a post in which the author asks: “What hides the UN proposal for the establishment of safe corridors to Benghazi?”

According to Sinclair’s post, the UN envoy to Libya [Martin Kobler] had called several times to take into account the need to put an end to military operations in Benghazi with the aim to create safe corridors to allow the exit of the families [trapped] in the fighting zones.

The UN has also spoken in the same direction since combat zones and military operations have been abandoned by all their inhabitants and their families from the beginning of military operations in May 2014, Sinclair adds.

And asks why then Kobler and the Nations United were interested in this question recently by multiplying calls to open safe corridors for the departure of family [trapped] in conflict zones?

According to these versions, other objectives motivate such requirements “such as the existence of reports by Libyan intelligence indicating the presence of intelligence officers from some countries supporting the militias and are in liaison with terrorism in Libya. There would probably be other Western states involved in this case.”

Anyway, should Daesh manage to install its base in the “Colombian Triangle” in Libya, who could ever prevent it from further liaising with Boko Haram in Nigeria and other terrorist groups?


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‘Worse Than World War I’ Mon, 14 Mar 2016 19:28:40 +0000 Baher Kamal A boy clutches and looks through a chain-link fence, on a rainy day near the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia town of Gevgelija, on the border with Greece. September 2015 . Credit: UNICEF/UNI196199/Georgiev

A boy clutches and looks through a chain-link fence, on a rainy day near the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia town of Gevgelija, on the border with Greece. September 2015 . Credit: UNICEF/UNI196199/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Mar 14 2016 (IPS)

When the leaders of 28 European states enjoy again this week their exclusive flights, luxurious suites and official limousines, to meet for a new summit in Brussels to adopt a final decision on their proposed plan of using refugees as bargaining chips, 20.000 Syrians will most probably be still starving in the Idomeni camp in Greece, in a situation that has been described as “worse than World War I.”

Meanwhile, European top diplomatic, legal and juridical experts have been working round the clock to find the best possible ‘politically-correct’ make-up to covert a new draft, camouflaging the one that the European Union leaders reached with Turkey during their March 7 summit in the Belgium capital.

But regardless of any “official” formula that may come out of the new summit, the fact is that the EU plan aims at getting rid of asylum seekers, refugees (and by the way also migrants) in a flagrant violation of all international treaties and conventions that they all signed.

For this purpose, Europe wants all refugees arriving from Turkey to be returned back on the spot, against a payment to Ankara of three billion dollars to be added to the other three billions promised last November—six billion dollars in total.

Once the refugees have been sent back to Turkey, the EU may then select among them those who the EU may wish to take as asylum seekers.

The European formal argument is that the successive refugee waves may have included some human beings coming from Iraq and Afghanistan—two countries that were invaded by US-European-led military alliances, and therefore may be classified as just “migrants”

In the meantime, images from Idomeni refugee camp in Greece are dramatically self-explanatory: flooded small tents, muddy grounds, heavy rains, storms, barefooted children, more and more cases of pneumonia and gangrene, parents crying for help, no drinking water, no milk… and babies born in the open air.

A humanitarian worker with Doctors Without Border/Medicins Sans Frontieres told Spanish TV networks La Sexta: “the situation is worse than World War I.” (1914-1918).

The Greek authorities are currently making huge efforts to “re-distribute” the more than 20.000 refugees stranded in the Idomeni camp—which has capacity to host A mere 1.500—in other so-called improved locations.

Is Turkey Really the Big Winner?

Strangely enough, the European plan has been promoted by many European media as a result of Turkish heavy pressure on the EU.

Also by some politicians like Philippe Lamberts, Belgian MEP and co-chair of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, who said “Europe’s governmentshave shown ‘unconscionable cowardice’ over migration crisis”.

Or like international affairs analyst Finian Cunningham, who for over 20 years worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent, and who wrote: “Smelling EU fear, Turkey moves in for $6.6 billion kill”.

Otherwise, UN officials, human rights defenders and civil society organisations have strongly criticised the European plan. See some examples:

— The United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR expresseds “concern” over EU-Turkey plan.

— United Nations human rights chief calls on EU to adopt more ‘humane’measures on migration.

— Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres wrote: “European Union and Turkey Reach Inhumane Agreement on Refugees”.

— Amnesty International wrote: “EU and Turkish leaders deal death blow to the right to seek asylum”.

— Human Rights Watch considered that “EU/Turkey:Mass, Fast-Track Returns Threaten Rights“.

— “Turkey can always resort to ‘weapon of massmigration’ against Europe” – Dr. Rainer Rothfuss, Geopolitical Analyst and Consultant.

Anyway, in addition to the growing, inhumane suffering, the plan may well mark the beginning of the end of Europe, as we know it. Robert Savio, founder of IPS-International News Agency, and of Other News, summarised this evident risk in his lucid analysis “Can Europe Survive – Back to a Better Yesterday?”.

And the Winners Are… The Human Traffickers!

The European plan is expected to end up in a loose-loose game, with growing waves of xenophobia and extreme right movements, like what has just happened in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party suffering major setback in key regional elections on 13 March over her liberal refugee policy.

Let alone the clear erosion of human rights in Europe as a consequence of violating international laws by repatriating asylum seekers to such an unsafe country, Turkey, that more and more crack down on social protests and the media.

The big winners of this EU-Turkish refugee “bazaar” are obviously the criminal groups who obtain multi-millionaire benefits from desperate humans, and who are now looking for new routes, including sending them to Russia and from there to the Baltic states, or take them from Turkey to Libya and from there to Italy or otherwise move them to Morocco to dump them in Spain.


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“Take My Iraqis and Give Me Some Syrians” – Europe to Turkey Tue, 08 Mar 2016 16:13:57 +0000 Baher Kamal A group of seven Syrian refugee families, once strangers, arrived on the Greek islands together and are still together. Credit: T.Karas/UNHCR

A group of seven Syrian refugee families, once strangers, arrived on the Greek islands together and are still together. Credit: T.Karas/UNHCR

By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Mar 8 2016 (IPS)

In a yet another violation of international laws and their own human values, 28 European countries have just agreed with Turkey to open a new “bazaar” of refugees, this time using the old barter system. i.e. Iraqis and Afghans in exchange of Syrians.

See what happened: the leaders of the 28 member states of the European Union met on 7 March in Brussels with Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, to bargain a new refugees deal.

According to the summit’s draft agreement, the EU will send back to Turkey all Iraqi and Afghan refugees who came and may come to its territories from Turkish camps, in exchange for taking some of the hundreds of thousands Syrians refugees that are stuck there.

This exchange of human beings includes the payment to Ankara of three billion euro over three years—to be added to other 3,000 billion euro offered to Turkey last November–, and a EU promise to facilitate the entry of Turkish citizens to Europe, let alone the usual rhetoric of thinking of an eventual membership of Turkey in the European club.

Apparently happy with the new deal, Davutoğlu promised to tackle the drama of human smuggling.

“With these new proposals –he said– we aim to rescue refugees, discourage those who misuse and exploit their situation and find a new era in Turkey-EU relations.”

Not a bad deal has it not been of the flagrant absence of the human rights factor.

Nowhere to Go

Currently, refugees fleeing decades-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—two countries that have been invaded by US-Europe led military coalitions, are estimated to account for less than one third of all those heading to Europe escaping wars in the so-called “Greater Middle East.”

IPS talked to a former official at the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, which depends on the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Europe has been betraying its own fundamental values by handling the human drama of refugees in such a mercantilist style,” she said on condition of anonymity.

“We (the Europeans) go everywhere criticising and denouncing lack of democracy and human rights in so many other countries… now these can perfectly blame us for our flagrant hypocrisy… all this is just shameful,” added the former official.

The EU decision to open this new “bazaar” of refugees crowns a series of contradictory measures since last summer.

At first, the European bloc opted for launching a sort of a humanitarian auction through which member states would host nearly one million refugees. Germany won the largest lot.

In fact, Last summer, apparently moved by the image of dead body of the three-year old Syrian child Aylan that the waves threw on the Turkish coast, the European countries announced their reediness to host around one million refugees.

Nevertheless, the 28 European Union’s member countries have accepted less than 500 refugees in their territories over the last six months.

Meanwhile, the flow of 4,5 million Syrians, most of them now starving in precarious, improvised camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, has been be joined by around one fourth of a million Iraqis and Afghans fleeing years of bloodsheds in these two military invaded countries.

Currently Turkey hosts around three million refugees. More than 360,000 Syrians claimed asylum in Europe last year.

In this context, nearly one million refugees have been sailing over the last nine months from Turkey to Greece by fragile boats at the mercy of human traffickers, with the hope of crossing from Greek islands to other European states.

It is estimated that up to 2,000 refugees are arriving on Greek shores every day, most of them from Syria, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

No need to comment further on the tragic scenes of refugees’ dead bodies floating in the Mediterranean waters, nor on the images of babies clinging to their mothers, crying in fear of the unknown, let alone those orphans abandoned on the shores after their parents drowned in their attempts to cross the rough waters. Everybody has been watching these tragedies everyday on their TV sets.

What happened to the innumerable international treaties and conventions on human rights, the rights of asylums seekers, refugees, migrants and children that the Europeans have been promoting and defending… just for the sake of public speeches?


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Border Restrictions Violate 1951 Refugee Convention Thu, 03 Mar 2016 17:13:50 +0000 Thalif Deen In recent days, some countries are building barriers to limit the flow of refugees to Europe. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

In recent days, some countries are building barriers to limit the flow of refugees to Europe. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Thalif Deen

When the United Nations commemorated “Zero Discrimination Day” on March 1, there was an implicit commitment by the 193 member states to abhor all forms of discrimination – including against women, minorities, indigenous people, gays and lesbians and those suffering from AIDS.

But apparently there seems to be one notable exception – refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe from war ravaged countries, largely from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

Despite a commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention, some of the European countries are building barriers against the flow of refugees in violation of an international treaty.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is greatly concerned about the increasing number of border restrictions along the Balkan land route, including in Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

“Such border restrictions are not in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention [relating to the Status of Refugees] and its 1967 protocol, because individual determination of refugee status and assessment of individual protection needs are not made possible,” he warned last week.

Ban said the number of asylum seekers entering Greece from Turkey continues unabated, and that the border closures are creating a difficult situation in Greece. Meanwhile, Turkey is already hosting in excess of 2.6 million refugees and asylum seekers.

Ban said he is fully aware of the pressure felt by many European countries. However, he calls on all countries to keep their borders open, and to act in a spirit of responsibility-sharing and solidarity, including through expanding legal pathways to access asylum.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 1.5 million people claimed asylum last year in Western countries, mostly members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

This was the highest number ever, and nearly twice the number of people recorded in 2014. The largest number of refugees and migrants – about one million – found their way to Germany.

The United Nations says one out of every two people who crossed the Mediterranean last year, or half a million people, were Syrians escaping the five-year-old military conflict there, while Afghans accounted for 20 percent and Iraqis about 7.0 percent.

Asked about the treaty commitment, Ambassador Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS: “It is disappointing that countries, given their recent history and proclaimed commitment to human rights, which could be expected to champion the principles reflected in the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, are now turning their backs on it for sheer expedience and on those fleeing persecution, rape, turmoil and death.”

They seem to be ready to blatantly and without embarrassment sacrifice their own principles, the human rights treaty framework and the moral high ground which they have occupied in other situations, he added.

Kohona pointed out that the 1951 Convention resulted from an international effort to deal with the millions crossing borders after the World War and those escaping religious, political and other forms of persecution in an orderly manner.

He said not much was thought while millions of refugees fled Asian or African turmoil into other Asian and African countries. But it has now become controversial given that these non-European refugees are fleeing into Europe.

Those fleeing to Europe had little or no role in the breakdown of their own societies largely caused by external interventions, he said.

“One wonders whether latent racism has dropped all pretences, and again raised its ugly head in Europe and sacrificed high principle in the process,” said Kohona, a former Sri Lankan Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

Last month, in another move against refugees and migrants, the Danish Government was planning to confiscate some of the belongings of refugees, including money and jewellery as a means to subsidise their living costs.

Asked for a comment, UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq said the Secretary General has spoken with Danish officials about his concerns and “we’ve had the head, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and Mr. [Peter] Sutherland, the Secretary General’s envoy dealing specifically with migration, have expressed their concerns to a number of countries about the recent restrictions.”

“Our bottom line is that all refugees need to be treated with respect for their dignity and we want to make sure that their basic rights are upheld,” he added.

“We are aware of different countries’ concerns about the rate of migration. You’ve seen the sort of events we are going to be holding over the course of this year to make sure that those concerns are expressed and are dealt with, but at the same time, these are people who are suffering already as they go on the move and their suffering should not be augmented by actions taken by potential receiving countries,” Haq said.

The Secretary-General, who was quick to point out that the vast majority of refugees are hosted by developing countries, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, said there is a real need for responsibility-sharing at the global level.

This will be one of the key issues in the General Assembly’s Summit on large movements of refugees and migrants — that will be held in New York on 19 September, he noted.

Asked about some European countries hinting at amending the Convention, in order to absolve themselves of the responsibility of welcoming refugees, Kohona told IPS: “Of course the Convention can be amended, but only by the parties to it and in accordance with its provisions. But not all members of the UN are parties to it.”

Therefore, he said, the UN can only be a facilitator in any effort at amending the Convention. It also permits parties to withdraw – also in accordance with its provisions. Withdrawal would inevitably raise questions about the high moral values championed by those countries in different circumstances, he declared.

The writer can be contacted at

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Big Question for the UK on the European Union Wed, 02 Mar 2016 16:39:15 +0000 Jonathan Power For 30 years a journalist, of which 17 as columnist for the International Herald Tribune 1974-1991; Jonathan Power he has been a regular guest columnist in New York Times and Encounter.]]>

For 30 years a journalist, of which 17 as columnist for the International Herald Tribune 1974-1991; Jonathan Power he has been a regular guest columnist in New York Times and Encounter.

By Jonathan Power
LUND, Sweden, Mar 2 2016 (IPS)

The British have a problem. A referendum on continuing membership of the European Union scheduled for June may lead to Brexit- Britain heading for the exit. Anybody with any knowledge of Europe’s war-like history knows this would be totally self-defeating.

Writing in 1751 Voltaire described Europe as “a kind of great republic, divided into several states, some monarchical, the others mixed but all corresponding with one another. They all have the same religious foundation, even if divided into several confessions. They all have the same principles of public law and politics unknown in other parts of the world.” But they also had a lot of war.

Fifty years ago in a way that Charlemagne, Voltaire, William Penn and William Gladstone, the early advocates of European unity, could only dream, a united Europe became a reality.

War, time and time again, has interrupted the pursuit of that objective. Continued civil war across the continent, across the centuries, has pitted French against Germans, British against talians, Czechs against Poles, Serbs against Austrians and Spaniards against Spaniards reaching its dreadful climax in World Wars 1 and 2. As Jan Morris has written in her “Fifty Years of Europe”, “great cities lay in ruin, bridges were broken, roads and railways were in chaos. Conquerors from East and West flew their ensigns above the seats of old authority, and proud populations would do almost anything for a pack of cigarettes or some nylon stockings. Europe was in shock, powerless, discredited and degraded”. Over the ages no other continent has been the scene of so much war.

Many, if not most, of that generation wondered in 1945 if they’d ever see Europe again in any state of grace or glory, much less unified.

The fact that the urge to bury the hatchet and forge common institutions has come so far in such a short time against such a background is arguably for the world as a whole the twentieth century’s greatest political achievement. (Following the Declaration of Independence it took the US nearly 90 years to establish a fully mature common currency; Europe has travelled the same course in 40 years.)

Yet this astonishing and triumphant success begs the question, what is the glue that holds it all together? After all what is Europe? Geographically, it is no more than a peninsula protruding from the landmass of Asia. Culturally, it has always been a potage of languages, peoples and traditions. Politically, it is a moveable feast- of the 35 sovereign states in post Iron Curtain Europe nine have been created or resurrected since World War 2.

Indeed it is religion, not politics nor the single market and monetary union that through the ages has made Europe one, held it together through its vicissitudes and bloody wars (many, tragically, of religious origin) and provided the common basic morality and common identity that made the EU, makes a single currency workable, the Schengen agreement making passport-free travel possible inside most of Europe today and political union a tangible, if still hotly debated, goal tomorrow.

Broadcasting to a defeated Germany in 1945, the poet T.S. Elliot reminded his audience that despite the war and* “the closing of Europe’s mental frontiers because of an excess of nationalism it is in Christianity that our arts have developed, it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe – until recently – have been rooted. An individual European may not believe the Christian faith is true; and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will depend on the Christian heritage for its meaning.”*

Of course, today one can ask what do the contemporary European cults of finance, sports, TV, pop culture, eroticism and Ryanair flying wherever it wants have to do with a Christian heritage? Nevertheless, the fact is through changing fashions, through wars big and small, the idea of Europe that persists is essentially Christian- unity of principles and peace in relationships. On its own, economic self-interest never would have created the EU and, more recently, monetary union. Economic, legal, social and monetary union have been driven all along by men and women who were essentially idealistic and visionary. From Jean Monnet, the founder of modern Europe, to Helmut Schmidt, Valery Giscard D’Estaing, Francois Mitterand and Helmut Kohl, the founders and creators of the EU and the Euro, the urge to remove the causes of belligerency and to form institutions that would further the development of a common democracy has been a central purpose.

Europe is not first and foremost a political concept or a financial convenience. It is an ideal. Thus it will never be complete. We will work at it all our lives, as will future generations.

For the British to decide not to pull out now can only happen if the university-trained elite together with the leadership of the pro European trade unions (most of them) educate the public on the history and the ideals of Europe.

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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Europe: The Schengen Agreement In Danger Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:45:20 +0000 Emma Bonino In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, refers to the European Commission’s threat to exclude Greece from the free travel Schengen area, unless it imposes stronger controls on the flow of migrants. According to the author, the European Union is adopting a stingy and shortsighted policy that presents the image of a continent of over 500 million people with the highest levels of wellbeing and life expectancy behaving as if it were threatened by the arrival of one million refugees and immigrants. ]]>

In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, refers to the European Commission’s threat to exclude Greece from the free travel Schengen area, unless it imposes stronger controls on the flow of migrants. According to the author, the European Union is adopting a stingy and shortsighted policy that presents the image of a continent of over 500 million people with the highest levels of wellbeing and life expectancy behaving as if it were threatened by the arrival of one million refugees and immigrants.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Feb 26 2016 (IPS)

Exclusion of Greece from the European free travel zone established by the Schengen Agreement is pending. The European Commission has ruled that the Athens government has “seriously neglected its obligations to control its own borders,” and if the deficiencies are not corrected within three months, the other member states of the Schengen area may exclude it from the agreement.

In 2015, some 850,000 people seeking asylum and work in northern European countries passed through Greece, and the influx is continuing.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

However, excluding Greece from the Schengen area would be useless, as well as harmful to other countries such as Italy. The solution to the migrant crisis does not lie in isolated measures like this one, but in a community-wide policy that is long-term and broad in scope.

But the European Union continues to tackle its problems in isolation and without a comprehensive vision, as in the case of Greece.

Expelling Greece from the Schengen area makes no sense in the first place, because the country has no terrestrial borders with the Schengen area and so its land borders already operate as non-Schengen.

The effective isolation of Greece would result in migrants being concentrated in the country. They would try to travel onwards by sea or to reach Italy through Albania.

Doubts raised about free circulation in the Schengen area are not only affecting Greece. Austria, for example, has recently imposed controls on its border with Italy.

Therefore, with or without Greece, the Schengen Agreement is in danger. For Italy, the potential economic cost has been estimated at 6.5 billion euros a year.

Over and above the economic aspect – which is no small matter – one of the pillars of the European Union is being brought into question. The migrant crisis is a serious humanitarian problem, but it is being dealt with as if it were a political problem. That is to say, the mood of the electorate is given preeminence, instead of attempts being made to manage the problem.

The only exception appears to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is firmly maintaining her position of openness to migration, in spite of the facts that elections in her country are approaching, and therefore her leadership is on the line.

This is how real leaders behave. Merkel is the only government leader in Europe with a political vision. She is examining and analysing reality, instead of being carried away by the hysteria that would have us believe that waves of immigrants are preparing to flood the European Union to commit rape and many other crimes.

The truth is different. We must not forget that between 2008 and 2014, even in the worst stages of the financial crisis, the European Union granted 2.5 million residence permits every year. The majority of the public mistakenly thinks that these were mostly for Syrians and Iraqis.

The largest group was in fact Ukrainians, followed by U.S. citizens, Chinese and Indians. The United Kingdom, which takes a hard line on migrants, nevertheless admitted 568,000 in 2014 alone, according to Eurostat, which also indicates that the country receiving the greatest number of work permits was Poland.

Recalling these facts helps to destroy the stereotype of an invasion of Europe. There is no such thing: the European Union is capable of receiving immigrants and in fact is doing so. Furthermore, it needs an influx of immigrants to compensate for its demographic deficit.

However, a stingy and shortsighted policy presents the image of a continent of over 500 million people with the highest levels of wellbeing and life expectancy behaving as if it were threatened by the arrival of one million refugees and immigrants.

If Europeans are incapable of facing real facts and addressing them with an appropriate community policy, how will they cope in the year 2050, when Nigeria alone will have as many people as the euro zone and the total African population will reach four billion?

Translated by Valerie Dee

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EP worried over rights situation Mon, 15 Feb 2016 21:15:24 +0000 The Daily Star Delegation says European Parliament concerned about freedom of speech, urges 'agreed mechanism' for 2019 polls ]]>

Delegation says European Parliament concerned about freedom of speech, urges 'agreed mechanism' for 2019 polls

By The Daily Star- Bangladesh, Diplomatic Correspondent
Feb 15 2016 (IPS)

A European Parliament (EP) delegation has expressed concern over the human rights situation in Bangladesh, and called for an impartial investigation into all the cases of blogger killings.

Jean Lambert

Jean Lambert

Jean Lambert, who led a four-member EP delegation to Bangladesh, yesterday said they during a meeting with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday had raised four specific issues including human rights, murder of bloggers and rise of violent extremism at international level.

“We have serious concerns about the human rights situation in the country and raised the issue of the murder of bloggers,” said Lambert, the chair of the EP delegation on relations with the countries of South Asia, at a press conference in Dhaka.

“The life of every Bangladeshi citizen is important and we requested the full and impartial investigation of all the cases.”

She also urged the government to make an environment where bloggers and other free thinkers feel that their freedom of expression was “valued”.

European Union (EU) Ambassador in Dhaka Pierre Mayaudon was also present at the press conference yesterday afternoon before the four-member delegation concluded its three-day Bangladesh visit and left the country.

On the state of press freedom in Bangladesh, Lambert said they had “some concerns” about what was happening to some newspaper editors in the country.

“I think it is fair to say that we have some concerns about what is happening to a number of editors of the newspapers.”

Asked if her delegation had touched the issue during the meeting with the prime minister, Lambert replied in the negative.

She also said nothing related to elections had been discussed in the meeting either.

But “it is very clear that there is a need for some agreed mechanisms,” Lambert said, adding that such a mechanism was required in Bangladesh to ensure participation of “many parties” in the elections.

She also made it clear that neither the European Union nor the European Parliament will make any recommendation on the polls-time administration.

“Neither the EP nor anybody else would be coming and saying that ‘This is what you do’ … We will not make any recommendation.

“It’s something to be decided by the people of Bangladesh. It’s your decision,” Lambert added.

However, in a press statement distributed at the press conference, the EP said, “Concretely, the delegation expressed its desire for free and fair elections in 2019.”

Though the election issue was not discussed with Hasina, the delegation discussed the issue of “an independent and strong” Election Commission in meetings with different other stakeholders, according to Lambert.

She said the EP delegation welcomed Hasina’s commitment for further joint collaboration with the EU on better understanding the causes of radicalisation internationally, “bearing in mind the important role Bangladesh plays in the OIC (Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation)”.

During the February 10-12 visit, the delegation met Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed, Law Minister Anisul Huq, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali and State Minister for CHT Affairs Bir Bahadur Ushwe Sing.

It also had talks with BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, National Human Rights Commission Chairman Prof Mizanur Rahman, officials of Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, and representatives of different business and civil society platforms.

In the meetings, the EP delegation discussed several issues, including improvement of the workers’ rights and safety in the garment sector, promotion of European investment in Bangladesh and boosting economic cooperation.

This piece was originally published in The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Violence Is a Preventable Disease Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:55:00 +0000 mairead-maguire Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland is a 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate ]]>

Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland is a 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The World Health Organization has said that ‘Violence is a preventable disease’ and people are not born violent, rather we all live in cultures of violence. This can be changed through nonviolent peacemaking and the persuit of ‘just peace’ and nurturing of cultures of peace.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

In Northern Ireland for over thirty years we faced violence from all sides, as we lived in a deep ethnic/political conflict. This violence only ended when everyone acknowledged that militarism and paramilitarism could not solve our human problems, and only through unconditional, all inclusive dialogue and negotiations could we reach a political agreement based on nonviolence, forgiveness, compromise and cooperation. We spoke ‘to our enemies’ and made peace with them, because we recognized that without peace nothing is possible, and with peace, everything is possible. We also began to tackle the root causes of our violence, by painstakingly making policy changes. Today in Belfast, while it is good for all its citizens to live in a city at peace, we all acknowledge that our peace process is a work in progress and we must continue to work on justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

This is a time when, I believe, Europe is at cross-roads and hard choices regarding policies and priorities have to be made. Today’s refugees and migration challenge has shown the best and the worst of European values, often beamed via television onto our screens. The best have been the compassionates response of some spiritual leaders such as Pope Francis and the people of Italy, government and political leaders, such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and millions of ordinary citizens across Europe, moving to help in any way they can the refugees, and migrants who have arrived from war torn countries.

The worst has been the fearology fuelled by negative forces which has resulted in an increase in racism, islamophobia, hate crimes and speech, and fascism in some European cities, hitherto known as cities of cultural diversity and tolerance. The stream of refugees andmigrants from Africa, Middle East and Asia, will continue pouring in to Europe, and the question is: what is the role of Europe and its citizens? I hope that Europe will continue to demonstrate compassion and offer to host those who are so desperate they had to flee all they loved in order to save their lives, or for a better life elsewhere.

The consequences of NATO/US policies of invasions and occupation is the destruction of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, to name but a few. A real question now to be asked by Europeans is: Do you want to continue being part of the perpetual wars of US and its most belligerent states of UK and Israel, and the militarization and nuclearization of Europe to continue?

All across the European Union (UE) young Europeans are travelling to other EU countries and further afield, trying to find jobs, and many continue to immigrate overseas. Austerity cuts, imposed by many European Union (UE) governments, are driving people deeper into poverty. In spite of this lack of jobs and falling In to poverty for many families, political leaders insist on governments policies, supporting foreign wars instead of human security of EU citizens, health care, education and the environment.

The British government has implemented austerity cuts which have devastated social services for many poor families and it is currently promising the renewal of the UK nuclear trident missile (these nuclear weapons, although on European soil, are in the control of the US government). This is all done in the face of millions of citizens protesting nuclear weapons and calling for a nuclear weapons free Britain and World.

Many governments in Europe are in denial that they are in a crisis but unless courageous policy reversals are implemented and more funding put into human security by dealing with unemployment and poverty, things will not change for the better for our societies in the forseeable futre. But we do not need austerity cuts, we live in a very rich world it’s just that we have got our priorities wrong!

Billions of Euros spent by NATO and Europe hosting war exercises, increases fearology, prepares people mentally for enmity and war, and lines the pockets of the rich, of arms manufacturers and war profiteers. In November 2015, while the worlds political leaders, and media, focused on the refugee crisis and the violence of illegal groups of Daesh (Islamic state) and other fundamental Islamic extremists, almost unknown to the civil community, as it was little reported, one of the great threats to the survival of humanity was taking place in Northern Europe, across three European states. Some 36,000 military troops, 200 fighter aircrafts and more than 60 warships carried out NATO’s biggest war games in 13 years.The military troops were from over 30 states.

They were carrying out war exercises preparing to fight together in battle groups if necessary in a war, which should it come to pass, would be a horror of horrors and one of the greatest crimes against humanity, a nuclear/conventional war on European soil, and spreading quickly across the world. The NATO (led by the US) has fought many illegal wars. They argue that it is necessary to fight terrorism and that it must defend its members from threats from the Middle East and North Africa.

The cold war propaganda against Russia continues and NATO by its expansionist and aggressive strategy has brought Europe to a situation similar to that of the Cold War causing a new dangerous confrontation with Russia.

I believe Europe (and indeed the world) must now ask the tough questions and make hard, brave and courageous choices: ‘Do we continue down the road of re-arming Europe and the World, and building a culture of militarism and war, creating enemy images and demonizing other countries and their leaders, implementing ‘regime change’ through bogus ‘right to protect’ military intervention, or do we choose to start disarming our conscience, hearts and minds, dismantling our weapons, ending militarism and war and implementing International law?’

Europe and the world needs a New Vision of Unity and Demilitarization of Regions, with power devolved to communities where people feel empowered and true democracy can be established. A demilitarized world is something we can all work together to build.

It is not an impossible dream, but begins with each one of us, choosing to live lives of nonkilling and nonviolence and building friendships between peoples and regions in order to cooperate as the human family on the problems we all need to deal with such as environment and poverty. We have imagination and genius and with confidence and trust in ourselves and each other, we can move away from nationalism and war, towards regional solutions built on demilitarized societies of peaceful co-existence ¬ we can and we must learn to live together in all our diversity. Peace Demilitarized and Devolved Democracy is possible and is a human right for all.


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