Inter Press Service » Middle East & North Africa http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 20 Feb 2017 19:46:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

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

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

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

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

This is simply not accurate.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

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

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

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

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

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

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

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

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Largest Muslim Groups

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

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

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

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

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

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

5. Islamic “Traditions”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The “Religion” of Oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dubai Ruler Warns Against Economic Isolation at Summit Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-ruler-warns-against-economic-isolation-at-summit-meeting/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 14:50:36 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148932 By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 13 2017 (IPS)

Speaking at the opening of the two-day World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he told a gathering of nearly 4,000 global leaders and experts from 139 countries at the 5th annual World Government Summit.

“We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us. The GCC’s (Gulf Cooperation Council) achievements over the past four years are equal to achievements made by the GCC over the past 40 years, he added.

He said success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

“The GCC under the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, will have a major role and positive impact on the Arab level,” he added.

Referring to the rise of terrorism worldwide, he said: “We have those who kill others in the name of the Holy Quran, and they blow themselves up in the Arab, Europe and the US. But they have nothing to do with Islam, which is innocent and a religion of tolerance. Prior to Islam, tribes were fighting and invading each other. With the advent of Islam, a great civilisation was built, one that benefitted the entire world.”

Asked about the relationship with the United States and newly-elected President Donald Trump, Sheik Mohammad said: “Our relationship with the United States is a relationship between countries and governments, not with individuals. He went on to say that, “The UAE will continue to prioritize its interests to guide its foreign policy agenda.”

In his opening address, he also said the policy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is based on placing the interests of its people over any other considerations. The previous US administration committed a series of mistakes, such as the invasion of Iraq and supporting revolutions, he said.

“The UAE, like any other country, was subjected to plots, however this never prevented us from working hard and accomplishing achievements. I believe that there are conspiracies targeting countries, and this has existed for thousands of years. Each country works for their own interests, but this will not stop us,” Shaikh Mohammad added.

“Mankind creates civilisations, and the Arab people have the cultural fundamentals to rise again,” he added.

Among the keynote speakers on the opening day February 12 were the Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, who cautioned governments about the global ‘emotional turmoil’ saying, “If we want to go forward, we need a completely new system where the human-being is at the center, and societal advancement is the key.”

Speaking at a panel discussion, US economist and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, said the success of a government must be defined by its ability to facilitate the happiness and well-being of its citizens, and should replace old paradigms that focus overwhelmingly on economic performance.

Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Senegal’s Minister of Health & Social Interaction, was presented with the “2017 World’s Best Minister Award”.

The award was based on four parameters of excellence – innovation, leadership, impact, and reputation. She was honoured for her contributions towards the eradication of Ebola, reduction of child mortality rates and the prevention of malaria in Senegal.

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Dubai Global Centre of Green Economy in UAE’s Vision 2021http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/dubai-global-centre-of-green-economy-in-uaes-vision-2021/#comments Thu, 09 Feb 2017 13:01:03 +0000 Razeena Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148870 By Razeena Raheem
ROME, Feb 9 2017 (IPS)

When former UN Secretary-General Ban K-moon was in Abu Dhabi for the World Future Energy Summit last year, he singled out the key role played by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in “safeguarding the future of our planet” by showcasing clean, sustainable energy — a centre piece of the UN’s post-2015 development agenda.

wgs_As one of the countries leading a major campaign for both renewable energy and solar energy, the UAE will be hosting the World Government Summit 2017, scheduled to take place in Dubai on February 12-14, under the theme “Shaping Future Governments”.

Described as a global platform dedicated to shaping the future of governments worldwide, the fifth annual Summit sets the agenda for the next generation of governments with a focus on how they can harness innovation and technology to solve universal challenges facing humanity.

The Summit takes place under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Ahead of the Summit, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has been selected as its Sustainable Energy Partner.

Selecting DEWA as a partner to the summit reflects the vision of Sheikh Al Maktoum, to develop government services based on innovation to make customers happier and contribute to achieving the UAE Vision 2021.

“The partnership with the World Government Summit supports DEWA’s strategy and efforts to develop its services, by encouraging creativity and innovation in developing its services, initiatives and programmes. The summit has become a key knowledge platform, presented from the UAE to the world to foresee and shape the future, which emphasises the prominent position and effective role of the UAE to promote sustainable development to the world,” said Saeed Mohammad Al Tayer, MD & CEO of DEWA, during a press conference to announce the Summit’s partners.

“We are pleased to share our experiences and expertise in shaping the future of energy and in developing Disruptive Technologies and long-term plans to cope with the fourth industrial revolution. This supports our efforts to achieve the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who sees that the future holds opportunities, challenges, and knowledge, and that defining these opportunities and challenges as soon as possible is the most important way of dealing with them,” said Al Tayer.

“At DEWA, we realise that the early recognition of future opportunities and challenges and analysing them, while developing long-term proactive plans, are key enablers to ensure the success of the governments of the future, to enhance government services and achieve happiness of individuals and society as a whole”.

“We are working to achieve the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, to increase the share of clean energy to 75% by 2050 and transform Dubai into a global centre for clean energy and green economy”.

“We will also work to achieve the Demand Side Management Strategy to reduce consumption by 30% by 2030. At the World Government Summit 2017, we will highlight a number of key initiatives and programmes we are implementing to help provide world-class long-and-medium-term sustainable electricity and water services,” he added.

He also said: “We will announce a number of initiatives and mega projects that we are implementing to improve our electricity and water generation efficiency. We recorded a continuous and sustainable improvement in our electricity and water projects, and we have achieved an efficiency of 90% in fuel utilisation in our major power stations. Our projects will have positive environmental and economic outcomes and will contribute in reducing the carbon footprint and ensure the sustainability of our resources to achieve Dubai’s strategic goals. This in turn will achieve AED 60 billion in savings and reduce 201 million Tonnes of by 2030,” he noted.

“I would like to thank the World Government Summit and those involved in it, for their considerable efforts, and for providing us the opportunity to be part of the largest and most important event for shaping future governments,” concluded Al Tayer.

Participants from 150 countries are expected to attend the Summit, including government leaders, international experts and prominent speakers in key interactive sessions, bringing together leaders, decision makers, ministers, CEOs, thought leaders in government innovation, officials, and experts.

They will present their opinions, ideas, and views on the future of government services in 50 specialised sessions.

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Syrian Prison, a “Human Slaughterhouse” – Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/syrian-prison-a-human-slaughterhouse-amnesty-international/#comments Wed, 08 Feb 2017 12:19:42 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148860 Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

Prison beatings. © Amnesty International / Mohamad Hamdoun

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Feb 8 2017 (IPS)

At Saydnaya Military Prison, “the Syrian authorities have quietly and methodically organised the killing of thousands of people in their custody,” according to a new Amnesty International (AI) report.

The AI report says that “the murder, torture, enforced disappearance and extermination carried out at Saydnaya since 2011 have been perpetrated as part of an attack against the civilian population that has been widespread, as well as systematic, and carried out in furtherance of state policy.”

“We therefore conclude that the Syrian authorities’ violations at Saydnaya amount to crimes against humanity.” Amnesty International urgently called for an independent and impartial investigation into crimes committed at Saydnaya.

Every week, often twice per week, between 20 and 50 people are taken from their cells to be hanged, in the middle of the night, says AI, adding that as many as 13,000 people have been killed in Saydnaya since 2011, in utmost secrecy, between September 2011 and December 2015.

According to this global movement of more than 7 million people campaigning for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all, many other people at Saydnaya have been killed after being repeatedly tortured and systematically deprived of food, water, medicine and medical care.

“The bodies of those who are killed at Saydnaya are taken away by the truckload and buried in mass graves. It is inconceivable that these large-scale and systematic practices have not been authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.”

Before they are condemned to death, adds AI, victims face what the Syrian authorities call a “trial” at the Military Field Court. “In reality, this is a one or two-minute procedure in an office, in front of a military officer, where effectively the detainee’s name is logged into a death registry.”

On the day of the execution, which prison guards refer to as “the party”, they collect those who will be executed from their cells in the afternoon, says AI. “The authorities inform the detainees they will be transferred to one of the civilian prisons, which many believe have much better conditions. They are instead brought to a cell in the basement of the building, where they are severely beaten.’

Amnesty International reported that a former prison guard described how detainees are severely beaten throughout the night before being driven to an “execution room”: “The execution room at Saydnaya was expanded after June 2012, so that more people could be executed at once. Nooses line the wall. On entry to the room, the victims are blindfolded, and do not know that they are about to be killed.”

AI reported that they are then asked to place their fingerprints on statements documenting their death. Finally they are taken, still blindfolded, to concrete platforms, and hanged.

“They do not know how or when the execution will be carried out until the nooses are placed around their necks. Detainees held in the building in the floors above the execution room reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.”

To this day, “detainees are still being transferred to Saydnaya, and ‘trials’ at the Military Field Court in al-Qaboun continue. There is therefore no reason to believe that executions have stopped,” according to Amnesty International.

Middle East, Scenario of Torture

Like other major human rights organisations, Amnesty International also denounced cases of torture in other Middle East and the so-called “Greater Middle East” countries.

In addition to abuses in the U.S. military base Bagram near Afghanistan capital Kabul, Amnesty International focused on “human rights violations for which the US-led Multinational Force is directly responsible and those which are being committed by Iraqi security.”

In its Mar. 6, 2006 report “Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and torture in Iraq”, AI said: “since the invasion in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces without being charged.”

“Many cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees held in facilities controlled by the Iraqi authorities have been reported,” AI added. “Amnesty International is calling on the Iraqi, US and UK authorities to take urgent, concrete steps to ensure that the fundamental human rights of all detainees in Iraq are respected.”

For his part, Human Rights Watch’ senior legal adviser Clive Baldwin on Jan. 27, 2017 wrote: “Last week, the United Kingdom Supreme Court delivered several key rulings about the application of human rights protections to British military detention overseas and accountability for alleged involvement of British forces in torture in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. The rulings are mixed in terms of ensuring the rule of law and prevention of torture.”

A high number of cases of rights violations and torture have also been denounced by major international human rights organisations in other Middle East states, some of them considered close allies of Western countries.

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Islamic Nations to Host Pledging Conference on Aid to Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/islamic-nations-to-host-pledging-conference-for-aid-to-yemen/#comments Thu, 29 Dec 2016 10:35:15 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148344 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 29 2016 (IPS)

While the international community remains intensely pre-occupied with the six-year-old civil war ravaging Syria, the ongoing military conflict in Yemen has triggered a relatively neglected humanitarian crises threatening to explode.

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef

Since the conflict began in March 2015, an estimated 21 million people in Yemen are reported to be in need of assistance, including 10.3 million in desperate straits, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Responding to the crisis, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is taking the lead in organizing a pledging conference for humanitarian assistance and development aid to one of the poorest countries in the Middle East devastated by a 22-month conflict which has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and caused considerable damage to homes, schools and medical facilities.

Addressing a preparatory meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on December 18, Rashid Khalikov, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Partnerships with Middle East, said only $150 million had been received so far out of the total of about $1.6 billion pledged by international donors in 2016.

The proposed conference is being backed by the United Nations, the World Bank, the Yemeni government, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and several international donors, including the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan and UK.

According to the OIC, UN findings in Yemen include: 21.2 million in need of humanitarian aid; 19.3 million with no access to safe drinking water; 14.1 million facing food shortages; and 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As of November, more than 7,000 people have been killed and over 43,000 injured, including more than 3,200 children killed or injured. Additionally, over 600 health facilities and 1,600 schools remain closed due to conflict-related damages, according to OCHA.

OIC Secretary General, General Yousuf Al-Othaimeen, said the aim of the conference “ is to find ways to support the Yemeni people” and the need to “bridge the huge gap in the required financing for humanitarian action in Yemen”.

The pledging conference is likely to take place in early 2017 but the venue is yet to be decided.

In an interview with IPS, OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, said the primary objective of the conference is to “convene the international community to help in addressing the needs of the people of Yemen, boost the capacity for urgent humanitarian response and address the medium-term developmental needs in Yemen.”

“However, other aspects will also be considered and we are currently discussing other issues that can be considered in side events on the margins of the Conference. We will also work on finding ways to coordinate aid effort more effectively“.

Excerpts from the interview:

Q: Is it largely a pledging conference seeking funds? Or does the proposed agenda also include negotiations for a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict?

Hesham Youssef: Yes, it is largely a pledging Conference. But it will also involve widening the scope of consultations the OIC has already begun with member states, civil society and international organizations in order to exchange information, enhance follow-up mechanisms and unify visions among partners on how to address the humanitarian and developmental needs of the people of Yemen.

Supporting the people of Yemen also means trying to find a resolution to the current crisis – something the OIC will continue to urge – but this is not the objective of this Conference.

That means calling for a comprehensive national reconciliation through the resumption of the political process within the framework of the Gulf Initiative, the outcomes of the 2014 Comprehensive National Dialogue conference, the 2015 Riyadh Declaration and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 (2015).

Q: Do you have a proposed target in terms of funding? And how confident are you that the conference will meet that target?

Hesham Youssef: Any target for funding depends very much on a thorough needs assessment. A UN detailed report will be ready in early January that will identify the needs on-the-ground.

Q: The UN has already complained that only $150 million has been received although international donors had pledged as much as $1.6 billion as humanitarian assistance to Yemen. Do you think the wide gap between pledges and deliveries may be due to the global economic recession?

Hesham Youssef: While domestic economic obstacles may well contribute to delays in delivery of donor pledges, it is imperative international donors appreciate that the cost of crises like that in Yemen could prove far costlier in the medium term.

Just as the Syria conflict has led to millions of refugees and regional instability, so too could the spill-over from the Yemen conflict adversely affect the international community in ways that costs it far more in future then it would to prevent such fallout now.

We also do not see huge complaints about how the global recession is affecting the massive military spending that supports military action on a global level, so the global downturn must not be used an excuse to not help those in need.

Q: Are there any countries that have already made pledges in advance of the conference?

Hesham Youssef: This is an ongoing process. Many donors have already supported the humanitarian relief efforts in Yemen and indicated a willingness to provide financial support. For example, at a bilateral level, the UAE has already provided around $1.6 billion to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has provided $274 million, plus one billion Saudi riyals, Kuwait is providing $100 million, along with assistance from the US, the European Union and U.K.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Heads for 50 Years of UN Failurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/israeli-palestinian-conflict-heads-for-50-years-of-un-failure/#comments Thu, 15 Dec 2016 15:03:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148220 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15 2016 (IPS)

Come 2017, the United Nations will mark the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s longstanding unresolved political problems firmly entrenched on the UN agenda: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dating back to the Six Day War in June 1967.

When Antonio Guterres takes over as the new UN Secretary-General on January 1, he will inherit a rash of ongoing political and military conflicts, including the six-year-old civil war in Syria, the devastating bombings in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni killings in Iraq, the widespread political chaos in Libya, renewed violence in the Central African Republic, the continued atrocities in Darfur and South Sudan and the rise of global terrorism.

But one of the most elusive problems — crying out for a solution despite half a century of negotiations and unimplemented Security Council resolutions —will be the demand for a Palestinian homeland.

As Guterres told reporters December 12: “We need a surge in diplomacy for peace when we see this multiplication of new conflicts — and old conflicts that seem never to die”.

Perhaps the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems destined to live forever—and has never shown signs of dying in 50 long years.

Mouin Rabbani, Senior Fellow with the Institute for Palestine Studies and Contributing Editor at Middle East Report, told IPS: “As the UN commemorates the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, we need to recognize that the world body is in many respects but a shadow of the organization it was in 1947, when the General Assembly adopted a recommendation to partition Palestine, or even 1967 when the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip commenced.”

What capacity it does retain to act effectively has, when it comes to Palestine, been deliberately and completely paralyzed by the United States, acting on Israel’s behalf, he declared.

Indeed, it has in this respect been somewhat ironic to watch (US Ambassador to the UN) Samantha Power and other US diplomats incessantly whine about Russia shielding the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council these past several years, said Rabbani, who is an Associate Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka – The Palestinian Policy Network.

“Will Palestinians be condemned to another half century of military occupation?”, he asked. “If they have to rely on the United Nations for salvation from Israel the answer would be “almost certainly”, but fortunately this is not the case.”

Asked specifically of the UN’s role, Rabbani said among recent Secretaries-Generals none have been more timid in their dealings with Israel and the US, and more solicitous of US and Israeli policy, including on the Question of Palestine, than outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“His tenure has been a disaster for Palestinian rights. Full stop. So the mere fact of his departure and replacement is welcome news”, said Rabbani.

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, told IPS it seems that the partition plan and two state solution has been destroyed by Israeli settlements.

The UN policy is out of step with this reality. The new Secretary-General will have to confront this position, viz the virtual impossibility of a two state solution.

What remains? What kind of Palestinian future is possible? These kinds of questions need to be asked, said Prashad, who has written extensively on Middle East Politics and is the author of “The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution”.

Israel will refuse both one state and two state solutions. It wants to annihilate the Palestinian Question, he noted.

“The Palestinians are playing defense. What kind of positive strategy is possible for Palestine and will the new Secretary-General enable such a discussion? I hope so,” said Prashad, co-editor of the recently-released “Land of Blue Helmets: the United Nations in the Arab World”.

Asked what his message would be, if and when he meets with US President-elect Donald Trump, Guterres, avoided a direct answer.

“Well, to restore confidence, I think the first thing that is important is to tell the truth. Sometimes the truth is ignored in political relations around the world. And when people talk to each other, the truth is that many times there are different perceptions about each other.’

“And I believe it is with truth that I need to engage with all governments in the world and, of course, also with the next Government of the United States, showing a clear will to cooperate in relation to the enormous challenges that we’ll be facing together,” Guterres declared.

Rabbani told IPS predicting about how a Trump administration will approach the Question of Palestine is a difficult task, primarily because Trump is an empty vessel with multiple – and therefore essentially no – views of his own.

“But as is generally the case with empty vessels, they tend to be filled by those with privileged access. And in this case the indications are not good.”

Regarding Guterres, Rabbani pointed out the new Secretary-General (SG) will be operating under the same constraints any other SG would encounter, but has the advantage that the UN is no longer as fully dominated by the US as it has been in recent decades.

It also seems reasonable to presume his ambitions exceed being an errand boy for Washington like his predecessor, Rabbani noted.

“I know little regarding his personal views on the Israel-Palestine conflict, though given the fact that he is a former European social democrat premier his views presumably fall within the European/EU mainstream. “

But the more important point is that this will be less about his personal views and more about the environment in which he operates and his willingness (or otherwise) to use his political clout.

“Will he want to expend political capital on Palestine when he may prefer to or feel he needs to spend it on other files such as Syria? This is difficult to divine.”

And it will depend not just on his priorities and preferences, but crucially upon how energetically this matter is promoted by member states and international public opinion.

“So I would see his tenure as an opportunity that I very much hope the Palestinians manage to utilise. But once again, I would advise to spend less time examining his personal views and preferences, and more on the environment in which he operates,” said Rabbani, a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said Guterres, whose appointment is arguably one of most challenging jobs on the planet, brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the role to guide the UN in the years to come.

“The new Secretary-General must face up to a world of numerous protracted conflicts, reprehensible breaches of the rules of war and a massive global displacement crisis,” she said.

But besides the ongoing political problems, he must also readily confront the extreme economic inequality crisis that is trapping people in poverty, undermining economic growth and threatening instability around the world.

Referring to the gender gap at the UN, Byanyima said: “Governments in seventy years have picked only men to lead the UN; the journey to find a woman, feminist Secretary-General goes on. We do however fully expect that the new Secretary-General will be a feminist Secretary-General who puts women’s rights and gender equality at the very core of the international agenda.

“And for the UN to be relevant, effective and accountable – in a world so different from the times when it was founded in 1945 – Mr. Guterres must spearhead essential reforms to the UN.”

She also congratulated Ban Ki-moon for his outstanding, dignified leadership.

“Among his achievements were ushering in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement: both will be remembered in history for charting a better

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Mideast: ‘Climate Change Will Make a Difficult Situation Much Worse’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/mideast-climate-change-will-make-a-difficult-situation-much-worse/#comments Thu, 17 Nov 2016 13:56:31 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147822 Men from the Koloma IDP camp in Goz Beida, Eastern Chad, build a shelter for a generator that the community has purchased in order to pump water through a water system built by Oxfam and handed over to the IDP committee in 2012. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

Men from the Koloma IDP camp in Goz Beida, Eastern Chad, build a shelter for a generator that the community has purchased in order to pump water through a water system built by Oxfam and handed over to the IDP committee in 2012. Credit: OCHA/Pierre Peron

By IPS Correspondents
MARRAKECH, Morocco, Nov 17 2016 (IPS)

“Climate change will make a difficult situation much worse, and will affect millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa region,” World Bank MENA Vice-President Hafez Ghanem stated at the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco on 7-18 November.

Aware of their vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change, countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have begun taking action to confront the phenomenon and today, several highlighted their initiatives at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco, known as COP 22.

Agriculture in the MENA region is especially vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. As global temperatures rise, they will rise even faster in MENA, causing more frequent and severe droughts.

The 2015 drought in Morocco destroyed more than half the wheat harvest and led to a 1.5 per cent drop in the country’s Gross Domestic Output.

During a panel discussion on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Initiative on Climate Resilience at COP 22 on November 11, Saudi Arabia’s Chief Climate Negotiator, Khalid Abuleif, said that the region “is going to see a lot of challenges from an ecosystem point of view and from a socio-economic point of view.” The challenge is not only about reducing gas emissions but also about raising “our resilience.”

Abuleif stressed that as Saudi Arabia is diversifying its economy, any new sector will be put under regulations that will address sustainability and climate resilience.

He added that his country is focusing especially on water management, “making sure we are using water in a sustainable manner,” and on the protection of coastal zones.

Tunisia has announced a 41 per cent emission reduction by 2030. Most importantly, 13 per cent will be based on national efforts, while the rest will come from support provided by the international community.

Country Flags outside the UN COP22 venue in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: UNFCCC

Country Flags outside the UN COP22 venue in Marrakech, Morocco. Photo: UNFCCC


A week after COP 22 concludes, Tunisia will host an international investment conference (29-30 November) to mobilize 2.4 billion dollars, 40 per cent of which will be allocated to projects pertaining to the ‘green economy,’ with a focus on renewable energy.

In Morocco, to meet the country’s commitments on climate action, the “Bank Al Maghrib” (Central Bank of Morocco) recently unveiled the road map of the Moroccan financial sector in climate financing.

The country has also taken steps to adapt its agriculture, with better water management and more climate-resistant crops, while also lowering its emissions by eliminating most energy subsidies and with the construction of the large solar plant in Ouarzazate, World Bank senior official Hafez Ghanem noted.

“This is the kind of comprehensive climate action we will support across the region, with a special focus on the poorest and most vulnerable,” he added.

The World Bank Group announced on November 15 a new plan to ramp up support for countries in the MENA region by nearly doubling the portion of Bank financing dedicated to climate action, taking it to around 1.5 billion dollars per year by 2020.

The plan focuses on four priorities: food and water security; sustainable cities adapted to new climate conditions; the transition to low-carbon energy; and the protection of the poorest that are most exposed to the impacts of climate change.

The Marrakech Conference follows the adoption by 196 UNFCCC States Parties last December, of the Paris Agreement, so-named after the French capital where it was approved, which aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Agreement entered into force in time for COP 22, which has been under way since 7 November. Before the meeting wraps up on18 November, parties hope to define the rules of implementation of the Paris Agreement and establish a viable plan to provide financial support to developing countries to support climate action.

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International Women’s Boat to Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-womens-boat-to-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/international-womens-boat-to-gaza/#comments Tue, 01 Nov 2016 15:25:01 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147588 Mairead Corrigan Maguire, co-founder of Peace People, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from www.wipfandstock.com. She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. ]]> “I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,”  Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

“I was a participant onboard the Zaytouna-Oliva boat | 29 Sep-5 Oct 2016,” Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

By Mairead Maguire
ROME, Nov 1 2016 (IPS)

A few weeks ago, the US government agreed to give Israel $38 billion dollars, the largest military funding package the U.S. has given any nation.

This $38 billion in military and other type of Aid will be used to imprison the Palestinians of Gaza, and continue Israel’s military occupation, and imposition of an apartheid state, upon the Palestinian people.

This money will be used in the training fields of Israeli military, which are in Gaza, where military experiments are done, using US military weaponry, by the Israeli Occupation Forces.

The U.S. military and government is complicit in the crimes against the people of Gaza and the Palestinian occupied territory by the use of military hardware given by USA and by the training that Israelis give to Americans and USA gives to Israel. It is also estimated that some 70% of European humanitarian aid to Palestine ends up in Israeli pockets.

Gaza continues to suffer from the continuing Israeli blockade, naval and land, and this 25-mile-long tiny strip, 5 miles wide, with l.9 million people, living in it, is a brutal blockade and Israel controls everything including electricity, food, etc.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Indeed, everything that comes into Gaza comes through Israeli hands. Gaza’s only airport was completely destroyed in 2002 by Israeli jets and ground forces.

Egypt continues to be a part of this blockade as they have blocked Gaza’s southern border; and Egypt continues to receive USA military funding.

Medical authorities have reported that the time for operations in Gaza now goes up to 2025 as so many are awaiting health care, and the increasing issues around food, water, sewage, electricity, all of these mounting problems have led the U.N. to declare in their latest Report, that by the year 2020 Gaza will be uninhabitable.

What hope is there for the Palestinians of Gaza, the vast majority of whom are young people?

In order to give hope to the people of Gaza by showing solidarity and support the Women’s Boat to Gaza sailed in September 2016.

Also we sailed in order to challenge this illegal and immoral blockade and occupation of Palestine by Israel, and draw international attention to the fact that under Geneva Conventions it is illegal to punish civilians, which is what Israeli government policies continues to do.

The Women’s Boat to Gaza set sail from the Spanish Port city of Barcelona (Barcelona is twinned with Gaza) in mid- September 2016.

The three legs of the trip were 1715 miles from Barcelona to Ajaccio, Corsica, France and then down to Messina in Sicily, Italy. It was hoped to have two boats but when one developed engine trouble in Barcelona, the other 50’ sailing boat, Zaytouna-Oliva, continued alone.

At all Ports the women were greeted and hosted by mayors, officials, and supporters of the Free Palestine Movement. Over 40 women from around the world flew to Messina in hopes of being able to sail to Gaza.

I joined the boat in Messina, and was grateful to be chosen as one of the 13 women from thirteen countries, being finally chosen to sail to Gaza. It was sad for those of us sailing to leave behind so many wonderful women due to not enough boats to sail, but it is hoped the Palestinian Coalition will be able to get more sailings to accommodate those wishing to go on a future occasion.

The 13 chosen participants included Ann Wright, (boat leader) the captain and two crew, two Al Jazeera journalists, and women from USA, Ireland, Russia, UK, Spain, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden/Chile, Malaysia, South Africa, Australia, and Algeria.

The third leg of the journey from Messina to Gaza was almost 1000 miles and a nine-day journey. On 29th September 2016, we set sail from Messina, Sicily, after a wonderful reception from the mayor, the Muslim community, and many Palestinian friends in Messina.

The first few days sailing the weather was rough and many of us were seasick, but several days into the journey we had got our sea-legs and busied ourselves helping with the tasks to be done such as cooking, reporting, night watches with the crew, etc.

We shared our stories and held nonviolence training. It was a wonderful experience getting to know the women whose courage was inspiring. Their love for the Palestinian people and their freedom was very deep.

Unfortunately, some 400 miles from Messina, with some 600 miles to go, we had problems with the boats rigging. An appeal to friends in Crete resulted in a boatful of people coming out to meet us, bringing many gifts of food, and four men to fix the rigging!

This was for me one of the most moving experiences of the journey, and it proved yet again, the magnificence of the human spirit.

Around 20 men and women answered our call for help and came to our aid, and all for the people of Gaza. After the men fixed our boat rigging, we passed greetings to our rescuers from Crete and sailed in a happy and hope filled mood towards Gaza.

On Wednesday 5th October, we were contacted by the Israeli navy by phone. A few hours earlier all communications via our own phones were cut off. The Israeli navy communicator told Captain Madeleine that we were nearing the 20-mile military Israeli security zone and were breaking Israeli law. They said if we did not turn back or agree to be escorted to Ashdod, they would confiscate our boat and take us to Israel.

However, we kept sailing towards Gaza. We saw several Navy military ships on the horizon. At 6 p.m., a Zodiac boat came alongside our boat.

There were 30 Israeli sailors including Israeli women sailors who were the first to come on board our boat. They were not in combat gear. They wore baseball caps, and long sleeved jerseys. In 2010, I had been on the Rachel Corrie Irish/Malaysian boat, which was part of the Freedom Flotilla and when we were boarded by Israeli sailors, they were in combat gear, with rifles, and sniffer dogs, and we were handcuffed and forcibly taken to Israel.

I was surprised when this different approach was used to confiscate our boat, the Zaytouna. In 2010, on the Mavi Marmara, the Israelis murdered nine people, and subsequently a 10th person died as 50 people were wounded. Therefore, the treatment of our women’s boat to Gaza participants was very different from what happened on previous ones where I had travelled.

On the Zaytouna, when the Israeli navy sailors confiscated our boat, took us under protest against our will to Israel, arrested, held us for several days without contact with our families, and deported us for ten years, it was all completely illegal under international law. However, it is sad to report that no governments or international bodies have taken up our case for being hijacked, and again the Israeli government has been allowed to break international laws.

All the women were deeply saddened as we knew many people in Gaza were preparing for our visit, and yet again Israel was denying our entry into Gaza. So as we watched the coastline of Gaza in complete darkness and then the coastline of Israel fully lit up against the night sky, we were again witnessing the injustice and unfairness of the Israeli policies against the Palestinians. With this experience, many of us committed in our hearts to continue our support for the Palestinian people’s ongoing work to break the blockade and end the occupation.

We also saw just off the coast of Gaza two huge gas rigs fully lit up and whose gas is piped to Israel. Yet Gaza has only a few hours of light, as Israeli bombings have destroyed most of its electricity and sewage infrastructures.

When we reached Ashdod, Israel, after six hours sailing, we were processed by Israeli security and searched, taken to Prison and released two days later. All the women on board the Zaytouna, now have a ten-year deportation order. As this is my 4th time being given a 10-year deportation order, it will be 40 years before I can return to Israel or get into Palestine.

This thought reminds me that there are over 7 million Palestinian people who cannot return to their country, and this is why it is so important to campaign for the right to return for the Palestinian people.

I would like to thank the Freedom Flotilla Coalition who gave us the opportunity to participate on the journey to Gaza. Their work of joining in solidarity with the people of Gaza is so important and I thank them for all they do.

To the Palestinian people of Gaza, please keep your hopes high and believe that freedom and peace will come. Thank you for your perseverance and ongoing inspiration to us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 31 October 2016: TMS: International Women’s Boat to Gaza

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/life-goes-on-barely-after-50-years-of-occupation/#comments Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147293 An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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Community Conversations in Ethiopia Prevents Exploitative Migrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/community-conversations-in-ethiopia-prevents-exploitative-migration/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2016 13:30:44 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147048 Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.]]>

Lack of economic resources and opportunities are driving Ethiopia’s young women to migrate, often through illegal brokers, as domestic workers in the Gulf countries. They face risks of exploitation, trafficking, poor working conditions and sexual harassment in the destination countries. A programme by UN Women and ILO has initiated ‘Community Conversations’ to ensure safe migration, and raise awareness about the Domestic Workers Convention.

By UN Women
Sep 22 2016 (IPS)

Five years ago, when Meliya Gumi’s two daughters, Gifty* and Chaltu,* aged 16 and 18, migrated to Dubai and Qatar respectively, as domestic workers, everyone thought they were moving towards a better future. As a widowed mother of eight with little resources, living in the village of Haro Kunta in the Oromia region of Ethiopia, Gumi had a difficult time making ends meet.

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Meliya Gumi (front left) contributes ideas on how to prevent irregular migration at one of the Community Conversation sessions in her village. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Gumi’s daughters made it to their destination countries through illegal brokers, but found themselves trapped in poor working conditions with no benefits or protection. They send some money to Gumi every now and then, which supplements her meagre income.

“My wish is to see my daughters come back home safe and I would never want them to leave again, as long as they have some income to survive on,” says Gumi, who is now one of the 22 active participants of the “Community Conversations” initiative in her village, supported by UN Women and International Labour Organization (ILO). The Community Conversations aim to prevent “irregular migration”—exploitative or illegal migration, including smuggling and trafficking of workers, mainly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries [1]—by providing information and making the community aware of the risks. The initiative also raises awareness about the ILO Convention 189, namely the Domestic Workers Convention, which went into force globally in 2013 and has 22 ratifications to date. Ethiopia has yet to ratify the Convention and raising awareness about protecting the rights of migrant domestic workers is a critical step forward.

Among the nine administrative regional states in Ethiopia, the Oromia region, where Gumi’s village is located, is most prone to migration and a popular source for illegal brokers. Some 161,490 domestic workers from this region have migrated overseas between 2009 and 2014, of which an estimated 155,860—96 per cent—were women [2].

“One of the key interventions of the Project is to also address safe migration for women,” says UN Women Deputy Representative in Ethiopia, Funmi Balogun. “UN Women recognizes the rights of women to safe migration to seek better opportunities and to improve their livelihoods. To enable this, the project strengthens the capacities of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and its affiliates to provide gender-sensitive information as part of pre-departure training for potential migrant women domestic workers, so that they understand their rights, know how to access support and how to save and protect their earnings. This training and support were designed to assist potential female migrants understand their rights, whether in Ethiopia or in their receiving countries, know where support systems for them are located and strengthen their ability to effectively save and protect their earnings. The institutions were also supported to understand the rights of migrant workers as stated in ILO Convention 189, and to institutionalize processes and systems for reintegrating returnee women migrant workers into their communities.”

Coordinated by trained facilitators, the Community Conversations take place twice a month and engage men and women of different age groups, returnee migrant workers, families of migrant workers and prospective migrants, religious leaders and community influencers. The initiative is active in three regions of Ethiopia—Amhara, Oromia and Tigray—and in the Addis Ababa city administration since 2015, and have been successful in changing attitudes and practices of the communities regarding irregular migration. For example, in the Adaba district alone, within four months of implementation, the conversations led to significant reduction of irregular migration. The Government of Ethiopia is now institutionalizing the practice of Community Conversations at the village level throughout the country.

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha (left), Adaba district’s Labor and Social Affairs Office Head, explains on results of the Community Conversations while the village chairman, Amano Aliya (right) goes through the documented agendas discussed by the participants. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Kebede Tolcha, Adaba district’s Head of the Labour and Social Affairs Office, notes that the initiative is not only helping the villagers in making informed decisions about migration, it is also empowering them to identify the root causes of migration and take their ideas for solutions to policy makers. “In past four months, we have prevented 19 individuals—13 women and 6 men— from taking up irregular migration, and enabled 31 school drop outs who were preparing to migrate illegally, to get back to school in this community,” he added.

As Gumi shares the experiences of her daughters as a cautionary tale for others, she stresses, “If enough resources, including land and employment, is provided to the younger ones, there will be no need for them to migrate.” As a result of the discussions and with the support from the government, some parents have started investing in their children’s education and income generating activities, rather than financing irregular migration.

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

Ashewal Kemal, 17, changed her mind about migrating as a domestic worker using unsafe means as a result of the Community Conversation initiative in the Oromia district. She went back to school, completed 10th grade and now works as an Office Assistant in her village administration. Photo: UN Women/Fikerte Abebe

The Community Conversations in Adaba District are part of a joint project, ‘Development of a Tripartite Framework for the Support and Protection of Ethiopian and Somali Women Domestic Migrant Workers to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) States, Lebanon and Sudan’ by ILO and UN Women and funded by the European Union. Over 140,000 women and 85,000 men have participated in the Community Conversation initiative as part of the project.

* Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals

Notes
[1] The GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
[2] UN Women (2015). Unpublished study on the Nature, Trend and Magnitude of Migration of Female Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) from Ethiopia to GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) States, Lebanon and Sudan. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Migrant Workers in the Gulf Feel Pinch of Falling Oil Priceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/migrant-workers-in-the-gulf-feel-pinch-of-falling-oil-prices/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2016 12:54:18 +0000 Irfan Ahmed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147011 Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Pakistani migrant workers on a construction site in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By Irfan Ahmed
DUBAI, Sep 21 2016 (IPS)

In the Al Quoz industrial area of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a number of medium and large-sized buses can be spotted transporting workers clad in company uniforms to distant worksites early in the morning. In the evening or, in certain cases, late at night, these workers are brought back to labour camps in the same buses.

At the camps, the migrant workers barely have time to rest before the next workday. They huddle inside small, dingy quarters and the number of occupants may rise up to eight per room. With their belongings stuffed into every corner, they hardly have space to move and are vulnerable to catch infections from each other. Their day starts too early as they have to cook their food to carry to the site and ends late due to long journeys amid frequent traffic jams.“The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in the Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.” -- Khalid Mahmood of the Lahore-based Labour Education Foundation

The workers at a typical camp hail from different countries, so the common practice is to allocate shared rooms according to their nationalities. At a typical labour camp there can be a Pakistani block, Indian block, Nepali block or Bangladeshi block.

Javed Iqbal, 29, lives in one such labour camp. He has come to Dubai from Pakistan through a middleman who sold a work visa to his family for Rs 300,000 (about 3,000 dollars). The family borrowed money from relatives to complete this transaction. Having not attended school beyond grade 4, Javed cannot read and write and couldn’t find a job in his home country. The same lack of education and any proper skill set makes him ineligible for regular recruitment abroad as well.

The only option he had was to come to Dubai on whatever salary he could get and gradually build his fortune there. But things did not work out well and he is stuck in a construction sector job that pays a paltry 240 dollars per month. He says it’s hard for him to cover his personal expenses, let alone send anything back home. Meanwhile, he is under immense pressure from his family to pay back the loan that bought his visa.

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be to six to eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

A labour camp in Dubai. Workers are allocated sleeping quarters based on nationality, and the number of occupants may be as high as eight per room. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

Javed is not the only one in this situation. There are thousands of Pakistanis like him who are told fairytales about career growth prospects in UAE but once there, nightmares await them. These workers are mostly unskilled and employed in the construction sector, which is not performing well in the oil-rich countries of the Gulf region. With oil prices down in the global market, the government is facing difficulty clearing payments of construction companies.

“I was inspired by the story of a village fellow who went to Dubai as a mason three decades ago. Now he owns two houses and several acres of land in the village,” Muhammad Iqbal, a migrant worker from Gujranwala district, told IPS. Everybody in the village wants to emulate him regardless of the situation that exists in the Gulf region, he adds.

Dependence on remittances

Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to build on its foreign reserves and they constitute around 6.9 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to a World Bank report. More than half of the remittances come from two countries – Saudi Arabia and Dubai. There are around 1.3 million Pakistani workers in the UAE and close to 4.3 million in Saudi Arabia.

In the last fiscal year, the country received remittances worth 19.9 billion dollars, but in July they dropped by 20 per cent as compared to the figure of the same month last year. There are speculations that layoffs and non-payment of salaries to migrant workers in this region are the cause of this drop in volume. Some fear there is more to come as a large number of Pakistani workers could face job losses due to the slump in the construction sector where they are mostly employed.

But Ashraf Mehmood Wathra, governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, argues it is a temporary phenomenon and things will improve as these countries are revising their economic policies to offset the impact of the crash in oil prices.

Skills matter

A major problem with Pakistani migrant labour in Gulf region is that it is not diversified and has remained confined to mostly one or two sectors. The Pakistani government has long ignored this aspect and left the shaping of international labour migration trends at the mercy of the private sector. Of late, following the layoffs of around 9,000 Pakistani workers by construction companies in Saudi Arabia, there is a realization that an overwhelming dependence on this sector will not be a safe bet in the future.

Zahid Mahmood, General Manager at Material Lab, a leading material testing company in Dubai, says Pakistani labourers are considered matchless for working in the construction sector. “They can survive in the worst possible working conditions and endure extreme heat,” he told IPS.

He said that Pashtuns from the northwestern part of the country are high in demand for this very reason. But this, he says, has a negative side as well because little has been done to capture share in other sectors. These workers may be employed for as low as 210 dollars per month, although masons, carpenters, fabricators, supervisors, welders and other skilled workers can earn more.

Zahid says there are very few Pakistanis in the services sector, which is dominated by Indians due to their skills and better educational status. There are very few Pakistani security guards or hospitality sector workers despite the existence of a heavy demand for these professions.

The country will have to devise a proper human resource development strategy to stay in the highly competitive and evolving labour market of the Gulf region, he adds. He is also worried about the low wages paid to Pakistani workers and says there should be official efforts to set a minimum benchmark, for example, 300 dollars per month.

Dilip Ratha, a World Bank economist who recently authored a Migration and Development brief, points out that the Gulf region construction boom funded by oil-based revenue is over and now there is less need for unskilled migrant labour. These economies are also trying to create space to employ their own nationals – something that will further shrink the job market for foreign nationals.

Government initiatives

Though there is a lot to be done, the government of Pakistan has announced certain initiatives that it claims will promote safe and decent employment for its migrant workers. These include production of trained, skilled and certified workforce with enhanced employability.

Irfan Qaisar, chairman of the Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority (TEVTA) of the most populous Punjab province, told IPS that they have a developed a Labour Management Information System (LMIS) that maintains the latest information about local and foreign job markets. He says the focus of this government-run institution is on producing demand-based labour and doing away with the unplanned policies of the past.

TEVTA is training people for the hospitality industry, drivers with the help of national Motorway Police and security guards. “Recently, we have announced training of 50,000 security guards on modern lines and with the support country’s law enforcing authorities,” he said. “I am quite hopeful they will be high in demand in international markets once trained on these lines.”

Way forward

Government efforts notwithstanding, there are calls for active engagement between labour-sending and receiving countries to improve the lives of migrant workers. Expecting desired results without government-to-government level negotiations is asking for too much, especially in monarchies.

Khalid Mahmood, director of the Labour Education Foundation (LEF), a Lahore-based labour rights group, put it this way: “The role of the state becomes important here as migrant workers in Gulf are voiceless. Without the right to associate and demand rights, they are as helpless as one can think of.”

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In Host Country Lebanon, Refugee and Rural Women Build Entrepreneurship, Cohesion and Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/in-host-country-lebanon-refugee-and-rural-women-build-entrepreneurship-cohesion-and-future/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 16:44:32 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146967 Women entrepreneurs from refugee and host communities in Lebanon are using their unique skills and creativity to build their own model of social stability in Lebanon while launching economically viable businesses.]]> Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Refugee and rural women in host country, Lebanon, learn to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, organic and agro-food products as part of the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality project. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By UN Women
Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

“When we were forced to leave our country, I never thought that a community in Lebanon would accept and treat me as an active member, the way I have been at the Kfeir Women’s Working Group,” says Hiba Kamal, an 18-year-old refugee from Syria who travelled to Lebanon with her family five years ago fleeing instability in her own country.

Kamal is among more than 1.5 million refugees from Syria and its neighbouring countries, hosted by Lebanon. The massive influx of refugees accounts for 25 per cent of the total population in Lebanon and puts unprecedented pressure on the Lebanese economy. There is an ever-increasing demand for public services and significantly stronger competition for limited resources and employment.

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

Hiba Kamal, a Syrian refugee, learns needlework technique from a Lebanese woman at a workshop by Amel Association, supported by UN Women Fund for Gender Equality. Photo courtesy of Amel Association

The protracted refugee and migrant crisis has led to increased tensions between host and refugee populations, especially in the poorest areas, where refugees tend to concentrate. There is a higher risk of insecurity, sexual and gender-based violence [1].

Women, both Lebanese citizens and refugees, often suffer more discrimination due to the prevalence of prejudiced laws and cultural stereotypes. They are frequently either restricted at home, or relegated to finding low and unstable income within the informal sector without social protection.

To improve women’s access to employment and markets, the Amel Association, a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, implemented a three-year project from 2012 – 2015 in the south of Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut. The project has impacted over 1,000 rural and refugee women, who have learned how to create, brand and commercialize high-quality handicrafts, such as embroidery and accessories, organic and agro-food products, following the highest quality and sanitation standards.

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, the participants of the MENNA project create unique and marketable products under the MENNA brand. The interactive workshops where refugee and Lebanese women learn and work together has also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Through interactive sessions, where refugee and Lebanese women learned and worked together, the programme also created spaces for dialogue and coexistence to build social stability. “The [Lebanese] women started teaching me their traditional needle work and I was genuinely happy to share with them all the traditional practices that I had learned from my mother and grandmother in loom work,” shares Kamal. By mixing traditional techniques, materials and designs, participants link their cultural heritage and history with the products, making them unique and highly marketable.

“We started seeing real results of our work when some of the women started creating their own products and started exhibiting them. They grew stronger, more confident and set inspiring examples for other women in the area,” says Safaa Al Ali, Programme Manager at the Amel Association.

The organization facilitated an alliance with 13 other civil society organizations and cooperatives doing similar work to create the first economic network for women in Lebanon, called “MENNA” (meaning “from us” in Arabic language). Today, more than 300 refugee and rural Lebanese women producers sell soaps, candles, accessories and handicrafts directly to the public in a shop in Beirut also named MENNA.

“I came to Lebanon as the crisis began in Syria five years ago…it was hard to find a suitable job as a refugee and I could not access the formal business sector,” shares Mona Hamid, a 51-year-old Syrian refugee living in the suburbs of Beirut. “By joining the MENNA network at Amel, I gained skills to sell and promote my items at local businesses and also showed them at exhibitions.”

The success of the initiative prompted Amel to create a MENNA catering service in February 2016, opening up more income-generating opportunities for women.

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade

Over 1,000 rural and refugee women have learned to create, brand and commercialize their products. Photo: UN Women/Joe Saade


The MENNA brand has brought together Lebanese and refugee women in a way that has benefited entire communities. “The importance of this project is that it respects the culture and skills of refugee women and assists them in integrating into the host community. It is a model that works, not only to make women agents of their own economic empowerment in a fragile context, but also as a way that brings them together to work for a common goal, thus building social stability and sustainable peace,” notes Rana El-Houjeiri, Programme Specialist for UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality in Lebanon. The Fund is now building upon the success of this project by supporting similar initiatives in Lebanon and other countries in the Arab States region.

Notes
[1] Amel Association International (2013). Unpublished study on “Gender analysis of Host Communities affected by Syrian Refugee Crisis”

This story was replicated from the UN Women website <http://www.unwomen.org/>. IPS is an official
partner of UN Women’s Step It Up! Media Compact.

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Building Bridges: Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed of the Emirates at the Vaticanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/building-bridges-sheikh-mohamed-bin-zayed-of-the-emirates-at-the-vatican/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2016 19:32:13 +0000 Rubya Delarose http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146947 Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Pope Francis exchange gifts in the papal library at the apostolic palace. Credit: WAM

By Rubya Delarose
ROME, Sep 15 2016 (IPS)

As the rise of religious racism and Islamophobia sweeps across Europe, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E) is increasing their emphasis on the message for peaceful tolerance across all nations.

The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Zayed met with Pope Francis in Rome recently. The meeting held at the headquarters of the papacy was also attended by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Cardinal Pietro Parolin Vatican Secretary of State. The focus of their meeting was on global development and social and humanitarian issues, including initiatives in the educational and health areas in underprivileged communities.

Pope Francis commented at the meeting that the U.A.E’s adoption and deployment of sustainable sources of energy and support of countries and communities in need act as outstanding contributions to international development.

“Sheikh Mohamed’s visit to the Pope is part of his continuous meetings aimed at promoting the values of tolerance, peace and co-existence in all societies” Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, Minister of State for Tolerance told Emirates News Agency WAM.

As terrorism destabilizes Europe, Sheikh Zayed’s meeting at the papacy was an opportunity to confirm the U.A.E’s condemnation of all forms of violent extremism and his country’s position as a united force against intolerance.

WAM reported that the U.A.E stands with Pope Francis on his universal rejection of extremism. The Vatican and the U.A.E recognize that the ideology and actions of extremists do not represent the core ethos of Islam.

As the consequences of Islamophobia threaten Muslims worldwide, the need to spread a message of tolerance across all religions is vital. Any form of extremism must be denounced.

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U.A.E Stands By Conflicted Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/u-a-e-stands-by-conflicted-yemen/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 11:34:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146827 By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By providing military assistance for the ultimate eradication of extremist groups in Southern Yemen, the U.A.E have played a significant role in the rebuilding of peace and security in Yemen. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

As unrest and chaos plague Yemen, the U.A.E is not waiting in silence. Recognising that in spite of being impoverished Yemen has always been strategically important for U.A.E and the region, the warfare and conflict will not only gravely affect the region itself but could also obstruct the future security of the Middle East as a whole.

Extremist forces continue to hinder Yemen’s development and block any path to peace for the strife-torn nation. However, the U.A.E is determined to put the threat radical armed groups pose to a halt.

According to a recent report issued by Emirates News Agency, WAM, the U.A.E has played a crucial role in the growing success in the fight against Al Qaida in Southern Yemen.

Recently, the U.A.E supported Yemen’s significant military advancement. After five years of lawlessness and terrorist control in the province of Abyan, the Yemeni army managed to liberate the region and wipe out the deathly threat of terror posed by Al Qaida and its allies in Daesh. (ISIL) The U.A.E played a fundamental role in this military triumph through the extensive aerial cover provided whilst the Yemeni army advanced on the militants.

However, once secure in the knowledge of having gained back control over the conflict-ridden territory, the U.A.E did not stop there. The Emirati volunteer organization, the Emirates Red Crescent, successfully launched several humanitarian missions and provided vital food and water supplies to civilians most affected in the province.

The U.A.E’s forces have not only been victorious in their attempts to eradicate the chaos inflicted by extremist groups, they have also placed a strong emphasis on providing aid to all civilians, including those considered “unreachable”. They are committed to their pledge to provide sustainable development and long-term aid in a bid to rebuild Yemen’s civil society.

The recent military success in Abyan follows the recapturing of a major port in addition to an airport and surrounding territory in the coastal city of Al Mukalla, once seized by Al Quaida.

The operation had been planned six months in advance in order to ensure its success . More than 20,000 soldiers engaged in the warfare which lead to victory and a weakening of the Al Quaida threat. Subsequent operations focused on sustainable development for the city including the rebuilding of demolished buildings and the restoration of security at the city’s airport and port.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, emphasises that “”it is just as important to root out the terrorists from their bases and bring Yemen’s coastal territories back to orderly government so that some measure of calm, normal business and social life can restart.” The U.A.E’s commitment to restore stability, security and order in Yemen is admirable. Through the donation of roughly 1.17 billion USD in the past 16 months to the crucial military assistance to eradicate the threat extremist armed groups pose, the future prospect of peace brings more hope to strife-torn Yemen.

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Islam Right Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=islam-right-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/islam-right-now/#comments Tue, 06 Sep 2016 13:26:35 +0000 Johan Galtung http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146798 The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.]]>

The author is professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

By Johan Galtung
ALICANTE, Spain, Sep 6 2016 (IPS)

Watching Christianity nearly a century–fundamentalist Christians fighting ritualistic Christians fighting secularism, generally moving fundamentalism–>ritualism–>secularism–maybe the same for Islam? Their similarities make “Islam right now” a repetition of Christianity; their differences shout, Watch Out! Let us see where this leads us.

Johan Galtung

Johan Galtung

Violence-prone fundamentalist evangelical Christians are still on top of the USA and some Nordic countries; but much less in ritualistic Catholic-Orthodox Christianity, meaning by far most of Europe.

Beauty of worship, the psychology of confession, less verbalism; all help.

Secularism makes faith so metaphorical for many that Christianity becomes only a ritual for Christmas-Easter, baptism-marriage-funeral (if there are no secular alternatives). Result: empty churches.

Our secular age makes literal faith in dogmas difficult, and that tears at the faith. But this is where two major differences enter:
• Islam is much less dogmatic, there is much less to tear at, only the readily acceptable shahada, faith in one Alla’h and his prophet Muhammad;
• If that faith turns metaphorical, Islam has the other four pillars of Islam to fall back upon: prayer together, sharing, fasting, pilgrimage, every day, a whole month every year, once a life.

The point of gravity in Islam moves more easily from faith to practice; and may stop there. There is much built-in outer practice that will survive a decrease in inner faith. Result: full mosques.

Moreover, the four pillars are compatible with key secular values:
• prayer together: with more we-, less I-culture less loneliness;
• sharing: with more altruism, less egoism;
• fasting: with more solidarity for those in misery and self-control;
• pilgrimage, with the sharing of something sacred, above our selves.

A “good Muslim” does all that; what does a “good Christian” do? Going to mass and to the confession booth are church, not social, answers. The clear social answer is monastic orders, monks and nuns dressing, living apart from others, doing Samaritan work. Others are invited to do the same, but where-when-how? Easier leaving it to the state.

The West should stop talking about jihad and jihadism as “holy war”, even if also abused by some Muslims, and try to understand[i]. Jihad means “to strive, exert oneself in the path of God”[ii].

There are four aspects: inner, greater jihad fighting the evil in oneself; spreading Islam by the word; by good deeds, like honest business; and defensive jihad if Islam is trampled upon with moderate retribution. No aggression: “Fight in the way of God against those who fight you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggression.” (Qur’an 2:190).

Jihad accommodates honest business a religious duty. Like chosen people, promised land (Genesis 15:18) in Judaism makes fighting for Israel from Nile to Euphrates a religious duty. Like warfare to protect the West is a Christian duty, for God, King and Fatherland.

God is divine, King semi-divine as rex gratia dei, Fatherland not. The gap between Christianity and secular Fatherland has been bridged by preventive war as sacrament[iii]; reactive war against attack not needed. In EU, however, there is a mix of Fatherlands with no King and no God. Hence Br-exit for her to continue to Rule the Waves, for God or not.

Imagine Muslims abusing a Western sacred word, democracy, calling Western wars “democratism”.

They would be right because people who profess democracy also often go to war. And they would be wrong by missing the whole idea. Like “jihadism”, “democratism” would locate the cause of war on the other side, and not in the relation between them; making the relation even worse instead of appreciating the profundity.

Christians give to Caesar that of Caesar and to God that of God, opening for secularism. Islam does not, but moves from fundamentalist true faith to ritualistic true practice are compatible with secularisms.

Such as democracy, in Muslim Egypt and Turkey; Islam embracing “all equal under the law” as a special case of “all equal under Alla’h”. USA did not like it but preferred a military coup. To Washington, national evangelist, “true” democracy means “pro-USA” democracy.

How about IS, is it more I for Islamic faith, or more S for State with institutions for the other four pillars? It could be both, making transitions from true believers to true ritualistic practitioners easy. The problematic word is not “Islamic” but “State”. Pitted against USA and EU IS may take on their attributes; after Brexit more USA than EU.

The historical record is terrifying and long-lasting, including:
• Islam expanding East-West to the Iberian peninsula 711-1492, north but beaten at Tours (732), Lepanto (1571), Vienna (1683); stopped in the Balkans;
• The Catholic Christian Crusades 1095-1291 against Muslims but also against Orthodox Christians and Jews;
• Three centuries across the Mediterranean to Barcelona-Genoa-Napoli to catch Christian slaves for heavy road work[iv];
• West colonizing Islam (except Iran) 1830-1960, starting with Algeria;
• The massive US-led coalitions attacking in Afghanistan from 2001 and in Iraq from 2003 with 9/11 as a pretext, killing, displacing millions;
• IS now killing a small fraction, as retribution with moderation[v].

Six violences, three by each. The first four lasted centuries, a bad omen for the last two. But have a second look. In the first two the two religions played major roles; in the last two the state system, United States vs Islamic State[vi].

State wars are shorter; decades, not centuries. However, the wisdom of challenging US as an Islamic state rather than as an invincible ummah with provinces can be disputed[vii].

We have given reasons that Islam will survive secularization better than Christianity, having much to fall back upon; how about IS vs US?

We might argue that both will lose because the state system itself is yielding to regionalism and localism. Islam is ready, with ummah regionalism and imam localism.

Christianity, however, is split between Latin and Anglo America, US and EU, Catholic-Protestant and Orthodox Europe–much more than Sunni vs Shia and Arab vs non-Arab. And local churches are more for spiritual, not also for mundane affairs[viii].

On top of that: the world, even USA, is tired of endless warfare. Let Islam settle. The West and Christianity have serious work to do.

NOTES:

[i]. Gary Wills, the famous columnist, took the trouble to understand: “My Koran problem”, NYRB, 24 March 2016. His Koran problem was that he knew nothing: “–we Christians begin with the greatest deficit of knowledge /whereas/those who know the Koran have quite a lot of knowledge about Torah and Gospel, since Allah sent them both to earth before he sent the Koran.–we Westerners cannot even remember it unless we learn something about the Koran. It’s about time”. Indeed.

[ii].Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali, chairman of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia, in a lecture and in articles like “Concept of ‘jihad’ misunderstood”, New Straits Times 14 July 2014.

[iii]. Look at who comes to the funerals of Norwegian soldiers with mandate to kill in Afghanistan: the King, top bishops.

[iv]. Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters. White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800, Palgrave Macmillan.

[v]. Sarah Birke, “How ISIS Rules”, NYRB, 5 Feb 2015: armed resistance being difficult, the alternative from the inside was silent resistance, or migration. Or what we have now, open US/IS warfare.

[vi]. But religious discourse did not wither away, here are two:
* George Bush 10 Feb 2003, on a possible attack on Iraq: “Liberty is God’s gift to every human being in the world”. (Washington Post, 10 Feb 2003);
* Osama bin Laden 11 Feb 2003: “victory comes only from God, all we have to do is to prepare and motivate for jihad”. Audio message conveyed by jorgenj@peace.uit.no.

[vii]. For a deep analysis of the present situation, see Abbas Aroua, “The Salafiscape in the Wake of the Arab Spring”, www.cordoue.ch.

[viii]. In a play, Maria og Magdalena; Lidelseshistorien og kristen=dommen (the Passion Story and Christianity) Oslo: Kolofon 2016, this author tries to liberate Crist, driven by conscience and compassion, from the Church as Mary’s son, not God’s begotten by the Holy Spirit–as inspiration for us all.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 September 2016: TMS: Islam Right Now

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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Ships Bring Your Coffee, Snack and TV Set, But Also Pests and Diseaseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/ships-bring-your-coffee-snack-and-tv-set-but-also-pests-and-diseases/#comments Tue, 23 Aug 2016 13:22:26 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146649 Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

Containers pile up in the Italian port of Salerno. Photo: FAO

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 23 2016 (IPS)

“Every evening, millions of people all over the world will settle into their armchairs to watch some TV after a hard day at work. Many will have a snack or something to drink…

… That TV probably arrived in a containership; the grain that made the bread in that sandwich came in a bulk carrier; the coffee probably came by sea, too. Even the electricity powering the TV set and lighting up the room was probably generated using fuel that came in a giant oil tanker.”

This is what the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)  wants everybody to keep in mind ahead of this year’s World Maritime Day. “The truth is, shipping affects us all… No matter where you may be in the world, if you look around you, you are almost certain to see something that either has been or will be transported by sea, whether in the form of raw materials, components or the finished article.”

Yet few people have any idea just how much they rely on shipping. For the vast majority, shipping is out of sight and out of mind, IMO comments. “This is a story that needs to be told… And this is why the theme that has been chosen for the World Maritime Day 2016 is “Shipping: indispensable to the world.” The Day is marked every year on 29 September.


Over 80 Per Cent of Global Trade Carried by Sea

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Some $1.1 trillion worth of agricultural products are traded internationally each year. Photo: FAO

Meanwhile, another UN organisation–the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), informs that around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide.

These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries, says UNCTAD.

“There are more than 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations and manned by more than a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.”

A Floating Threat

All this is fine. But as another major United Nations organisation also reminds that not all is great about sea-born trade. See what happens.

A Floating Threat: Sea Containers Spread Pests and Diseases’  is the title of an information note issued on August 17 by the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO highlights  that that while oil spills garner much public attention and anguish, the so-called “biological spills” represent a greater long-term threat and do not have the same high public profile. And gives some good examples.

“It was an exotic fungus that wiped out billions of American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, dramatically altering the landscape and ecosystem, while today the emerald ash borer – another pest that hitch-hiked along global trade routes to new habitats – threatens to do the same with a valuable tree long used by humans to make tool handles, guitars and office furniture.”

FAO explains that perhaps the biggest “biological spill” of all was when a fungus-like eukaryotic microorganism called Phytophthora infestans – the name of the genus comes from Greek for “plant destroyer” – sailed from the Americas to Belgium. Within months it arrived in Ireland, triggering a potato blight that led to famine, death and mass migration.

“The list goes on and on. A relative of the toxic cane toad that has run rampant in Australia recently disembarked from a container carrying freight to Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot, and the ability of females to lay up to 40,000 eggs a year make it a catastrophic threat for local lemurs and birds, while also threatening the habitat of a host of animals and plants.”

In Rome, FAO informs, municipal authorities are ramping up their annual campaign against the tiger mosquito, an invasive species that arrived by ship in Albania in the 1970s. Aedes albopictus, famous for its aggressive biting, is now prolific across Italy and global warming will make swathes of northern Europe ripe for colonisation.

“This is why the nations of the world came together some six decades ago to establish the  International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) as a means to help stem the spread of plant pests and diseases across borders boundaries via international trade and to protect farmers, foresters, biodiversity, the environment, and consumers.”

“The crop losses and control costs triggered by exotic pests amount to a hefty tax on food, fibre and forage production,” says Craig Fedchock, coordinator of the FAO-based IPPC Secretariat. “All told, fruit flies, beetles, fungi and their kin reduce global crop yields by between 20 and 40 per cent.”

Credit: IMO

Credit: IMO

Trade as a Vector, Containers as a Vehicle

Invasive species arrive in new habitats through various channels, but shipping, is the main one, FAO reports.

“And shipping today means sea containers: Globally, around 527 million sea container trips are made each year – China alone deals with over 133 million sea containers annually. It is not only their cargo, but the steel contraptions themselves, that can serve as vectors for the spread of exotic species capable of wreaking ecological and agricultural havoc.”

For example, an analysis of 116,701 empty sea containers arriving in New Zealand over the past five years showed that one in 10 was contaminated on the outside, twice the rate of interior contamination.

“Unwelcome pests included the gypsy moth, the Giant African snail, Argentine ants and the brown marmorated stink bug, each of which threaten crops, forests and urban environments. Soil residues, meanwhile, can contain the seeds of invasive plants, nematodes and plant pathogens,” FAO informs.

“Inspection records from the United States, Australia, China and New Zealand indicate that thousands of organisms from a wide range of taxa are being moved unintentionally with sea containers,” the study’s lead scientist, Eckehard Brockerhoff of the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, told a recent meeting at FAO of the Commission on Phytosanitary Measures (CPM), IPPC’s governing body.

These phytosanitary (the health of plants) measures are intended to ensure that imported plants are free of specified pests.

Here, FAO warns that damage exceeds well beyond agriculture and human health issues. Invasive species can cause clogged waterways and power plant shutdowns.

Biological invasions inflict damages amounting to around five per cent of annual global economic activity, equivalent to about a decade’s worth of natural disasters, according to one study, Brockerhoff said, adding that factoring in harder-to-measure impacts may double that.

Around 90 per cent of world trade is carried by sea today, with vast panoply of differing logistics, making agreement on an inspection method elusive. Some 12 million containers entered the U.S. last year, using no fewer than 77 ports of entry.

“Moreover, many cargoes quickly move inland to enter just-in-time supply chains. That’s how the dreaded brown marmorated stink bug – which chews quickly through high-value fruit and crops – began its European tour a few years ago in Zurich.”

This animal actively prefers steel nooks and crannies for long-distance travel, and once established likes to set up winter hibernation niches inside people’s houses.

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The Time is Ripe to Act against Droughthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-time-is-ripe-to-act-against-drought/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 14:13:32 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146601

The author is the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which co-organized with the Namibian government the Africa Drought Conference on 15-19 August in Windhoek. This Op-Ed is based on Barbut’s opening speech to the Conference High –level Segment.

By Monique Barbut
WINDHOEK, Aug 18 2016 (IPS)

Let us start with some good news.  Sort of.  The strongest El Niño in 35 years is coming to an end. [1]

In 2015/2016 this “El Niño effect” led to drought in over 20 countries [2].  There were scorching temperatures, water shortages and flooding around the world.  Worst hit were eastern and southern Africa[3]

Monique Barbut

Monique Barbut

To understand what that means for people, you just have to look at the numbers about food insecurity[4].  32 million people in southern Africa were affected by food insecurity as a result.  Across Africa, 1 million children required treatment for severe acute malnutrition.

And though the worst of the drought is coming to an end, predictions are high (at about 75%) that La-Nina will arrive later in 2016. La Nina – El Niño’s opposite number – is known for the flooding it brings.

There may not be much relief for policy makers and people across Africa before the end of the year.

But then, if will be over, we can breathe again.  We can go back to business as usual – right?

Well…if you will allow me…for Albert Einstein…one of the definitions of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

Going back to business as usual fits this definition of insanity very well.

  • We know the next El Niño droughts are likely to return regularly.  Probably as often as every two to seven years.
  • We know that the extent and severity of droughts will increase.  This is because of climate change and unsustainable land use.   Scientists have estimated that the fraction of the land’s surface regularly experiencing drought conditions is predicted to increase from less than 5 percent today to more than 30 percent by the 2090s[5].
  • We know we will miss our targets on water scarcity (6.4, 6.5 and 6.6) under the sustainable development goals[6].
  • We know poor people, who tend to be wholly dependent on natural resources like water and land to provide for their families, will suffer.

Unless we change our approach, when drought comes and the rains fail, the future of the 400 million African farmers who rely on rain fed subsistence agriculture, for example, is put in jeopardy.

Rain-fed agriculture accounts for more than 95 percent of farmed land in sub-Saharan Africa. And water scarcity alone could cost some regions 6 percent of their Gross Domestic Product.

Unless we change our approach, people are going to be increasingly forced to decide whether to ride out a drought disaster and then rebuild.  Or simply leave.

It is a form of madness that we force our people to make these difficult choices.

 

Especially if the cycle of drought disaster and recovery could be broken. 

Progress is starting to happen. Mexico, Brazil, Vietnam and Morocco, to name just a few countries, are now implementing drought plans with a strong emphasis on risk mitigation and preparedness.

And in the areas where land has been restored in Central and Eastern Tigray in Ethiopia, ecosystems and people seem to have fared better in recent El Nino related droughts than areas where no restoration has been undertaken.

But because by 2050, one in four people – up to 2.5 billion people – will be living in a country at risk of water scarcity, more needs to be done. Everywhere.  We must prepare better and manage drought risks proactively.

Africa has already done a lot[7] but needs to stay on its toes.

UNCCD is proposing three important pillars for your consideration.

 

Firstly, Early Warning Systems. 

Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought, it can often be very subjective and highly political.

Africa would benefit from an effective Early Warning System (EWS) in all countries. The system would need good data and – equally important – local and traditional knowledge. It would guide you by providing timely information that you can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.

 

Secondly, vulnerability and risk assessment.

Of course, no amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable.

Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. So it is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain.

Which communities and ecosystems are most at risk? Why are important sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, health vulnerable?

Then turn that knowledge into early intervention.

We can assure it would be highly cost effective.  Before the cost of a single late response is reached, you can “overreact” up to six times.

In Niger and Mozambique for example, the cost of an early intervention and resilience building efforts would lead to a cost reduction of 375 million US dollars in Mozambique and 844 million US dollars in Niger when compared to late humanitarian response to drought.[8]

 

Finally, drought risk mitigation measures.

We can identify measures to address these risks head on.  There are things that can be done at a very practical level to reduce drought risk, which if started right away, can deliver real and tangible benefits to your communities.

African countries could consider the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes or the recycling and reuse of water. They can explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.

Investing in improved land management, for example, can improve on-farm water security by between 70 and 100%[9].

This would result in higher yields and more food security.   In Zimbabwe, water harvesting combined with conservation agriculture increased farmers gross margins by 4 to 7 times and increased returns on labour by 2 to 3 times. [10]

This is the type of proactive drought risk management, which could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people, is something that we all should aspire to.

 

The Africa Drought Conference is a rare window of opportunity.

An opportunity for the continent to recognize that the traditional approach of “responding” to drought is no longer viable. It has proved to be ineffective far too often. Instead, Africa could lead a proactive drought revolution.

By investing in early warning systems and addressing their vulnerabilities head on, well-planned and coordinated drought action will have a positive ripple effect across sectors and across borders.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We must use time wisely and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right”.

The time is ripe. Taking proactive action against drought is the right thing to do.

 

Footnotes

[1] http://media.bom.gov.au/releases/267/el-nino-ends-as-tropical-pacific-ocean-returns-to-neutral/

[2] List compiled from: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/southern-africa-worst-global-food-crisis-25-years and https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/30/el-nino-is-over-but-it-leaves-nearly-100-million-people-short-of-food.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/22/africa-worst-famine-since-1985-looms-for-50-million

[4] https://docs.unocha.org/sites/dms/Documents/OCHA_ElNino_Overview_13Apr2016.pdf

[5]  WMO( 2011): Towards a Compendium on National Drought Policy, p. 9.

[6] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[7] i.e. The Sahel and Sahara Observatory (OSS), IGAD’s Drought Resilience Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI), the Southern Africa Development Community – Community Climate Service Center (SADC-CSC) or the African Drought Risk and Development Network (ADDN).

[8] Department for international development : The Economics of Early Response and Resilience Series, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/226255/TEERR_Two_Pager_July_22.pdf

[9] Bossio, Deborah et al( 2010): Managing water by managing land: Addressing land degradation to improve water productivity and rural livelihoods, p. 540.

[10] Winterbottom, R. (et al.): Improving Land and Water Management. Working Paper, Installment 4 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. World Resources Institute, 2013, p. 18.

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Humanitarian Crises: Business Called to Take a Leadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/humanitarian-crises-business-called-to-take-a-lead/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 17:03:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146592 Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

With more than 65 million people forced to flee their homes due to violence and armed conflicts, this year’s Wold Humanitarian Day on August 19 will call on all governments and social sectors to work together to tackle this unprecedented human crisis.

The IKEA Foundation believes that businesses and foundations have an important role to play in strengthening the global response to refugee crises worldwide.

On this, Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, says: “The corporate sector must come together to support those caught up in one of the biggest displacements of people in history. It’s not just up to governments and aid agencies. Businesses also have a responsibility to respond in their own way.”

“Financial support, through giving grants to organisations working directly with refugees, is certainly one way they can help. But we believe businesses have much more to offer. Their expertise and ability to innovate can help make life better for refugees, and they can use their influence to galvanise others to help,” Heggenes adds.

 

Focus on Innovation and Creativity

The Foundation supports refugee children and their families around the world through the UN Refugees agency (UNHCR) and other leading international organisations. The IKEA business makes good use of its creativity and problem-solving skills to find practical ways to help refugees.

Together with social enterprise Better Shelter and UNHCR, the Foundation has created a flat-pack shelter, which is safer and more durable than a tent.

UNHCR has already ordered thousands of shelters to house refugee families in Greece, Iraq, Serbia, Chad and Djibouti. The shelter will be on show at Insecurities:Tracing Displacement and Shelter, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1 October 2016 to 22 January 2017.

“This is a great example of how IKEA’s democratic design principles—of making good design available to the many people—have also influenced innovation in the humanitarian sector,” says Heggenes.

“The shelters are helping people who have been forced to flee their homes to live a better everyday life while in displacement.”

 

Build Unlikely Collaborations

The IKEA Foundation also recently teamed up with Amsterdam-based design platform What Design Can Do and UNHCR to harness the creative power of the design community.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge called on designers and creative thinkers to come up with new concepts to make life better for refugee families living in urban areas.

The challenge attracted more than 600 entries, with the five winners announced on 1 July. Winners received 10,000 euro and expert support to develop their ideas.

“The great participation in the Refugee Challenge showed that people in the design community really want to use their skills to create better everyday lives for refugee children and families,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Communications at the IKEA Foundation.

“Our role was to create a platform for them to showcase their ideas and provide funding to develop the best concepts. We believe that other professional communities may be equally motivated and that leading businesses can activate this desire to help.”

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

 

How Products Can Make a Difference

As well as looking for innovative design solutions, the Foundation provides financial support and donates IKEA products to partner organisations working in humanitarian crises.

“We’re really proud of how we are able to support our partners in times of disasters and conflict,” says Jonathan Spampinato. “On World Humanitarian Day, we’d like to say a huge thank you to our humanitarian partners, especially to their staff and volunteers who work on the frontline in emergencies.”

To support refugee children and families living in Iraq, the Foundation has donated 400,000 mattresses, quilts and blankets to UNHCR over three years.

Since 2013, it has also been donating IKEA children’s products to UNICEF for its Early Childhood Development Kits, which support the well-being of children, including those affected by conflicts and emergencies.

Earlier this year, the Foundation gave grants worth a total of 9.4 million euro to Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières. The money is supporting children and families affected by the Syrian conflict, in Syria and neighbouring countries.

It will pay for healthcare, education and child protection and help strengthen local organisations working within Syria. Moreover, the Foundation partnered up with War Child to provide quality education to 10,000 Syrian and Sudanese refugee children through the Can’t Wait to Learn e-learning programme.

 

Support Frontline Efforts

Using a similar approach, the IKEA Foundation is supporting a three-year programme run by Oxfam to strengthen local humanitarian organisations in Bangladesh and Uganda. The 7.3 million euro grant, which was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in May, marks a major shift in the way the international community views emergency response.

Per Heggenes said: “With vast numbers of people on the move due to conflict and disaster, there’s a lot of pressure on the humanitarian system. Local organisations are often best placed to provide immediate assistance because they are on the ground and understand the community and culture. We’re funding this programme because we believe that strengthening local actors will improve the humanitarian system as a whole, and help it work more efficiently.”

 

Engaging Customers and Co-workers

Another way businesses can help is by mobilising their staff and customers to support refugees. In 2014-15, IKEA and the IKEA Foundation ran a campaign called Brighter Lives for Refugees. For every lamp or bulb sold in IKEA stores during the three campaign periods, the IKEA Foundation donated 1 euro to UNHCR.

Per Heggenes said: “We’re delighted with the way IKEA co-workers got behind the campaign, and promoted it to customers in their stores. In total, we raised 30.8 million euro to bring light and renewable energy to refugee camps in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.:

As well as raising a lot of money, I think the campaign shows how businesses can be a powerful force for good by engaging all their audiences in this important issue,” Per Heggenes concluded.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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One Humanity? Millions of Children Tortured, Smuggled, Abused, Enslavedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/one-humanity-millions-of-children-tortured-smuggled-abused-enslaved/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2016 11:19:24 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146555 A boy carrying his belongings in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

A boy carrying his belongins in a large cloth bag over his shoulder is among people walking on railway tracks to cross from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia into Serbia. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2015-2203/Georgiev

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Aug 16 2016 (IPS)

Children are being smuggled, sexually abused, maimed, killed for their vital organs, recruited as soldiers or otherwise enslaved. Not only: 69 million children under five will die from mostly preventable causes, 167 million will live in poverty, and 263 million are out of school. And 750 million women will have been married as children by 2030.

These are just some of the dramatic figures that the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and other UN and international bodies released few weeks ahead of the World Humanitarian Day (WHD) marked every year on August 19.

Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general, summarized the world future generation situation: “Children continue to be tortured, maimed, imprisoned, starved, sexually abused and killed in armed conflict.”

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

A boy holds a large piece of exploded artillery shell, which landed in the village of Al Mahjar, a suburb of Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Photo: UNICEF/Mohamed Hamoud

“In places such as Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, children suffer through a living hell,” the UN chief said as he opened the Security Council’s debate on children and armed conflict on August 2.

Meanwhile, the future of humankind continues to be bleak, “unless the world focuses more on the plight of its most disadvantaged children,” alerts a United Nations report.

“Denying hundreds of millions of children a fair chance in life does more than threaten their futures – by fuelling inter-generational cycles of disadvantage, it imperils the future of their societies,” on 28 June said UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, on the release of The State of the World’s Children, the agency’s annual flagship report.

“We have a choice: Invest in these children now or allow our world to become still more unequal and divided.”

The UNICEF report notes that significant progress has been made in saving children’s lives, getting children into school and lifting people out of poverty. But this progress has been neither even nor fair, the report flags. “The poorest children are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday and to be chronically malnourished than the richest.”

Across much of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, children born to mothers with no education are almost three times more likely to die before they are five than those born to mothers with a secondary education, says UNICEF’s report. And “Girls from the poorest households are twice as likely to marry as children than girls from the wealthiest households.”

Worst in Sub-Saharan Africa

Nowhere is the outlook grimmer than in sub-Saharan Africa, where at least 247 million children – or 2 in 3 – live in multidimensional poverty, deprived of what they need to survive and develop, and where nearly 60 per cent of 20- to 24-year-olds from the poorest fifth of the population have had less than four years of schooling, the report warns.

At current trends, the report projects, by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will account for nearly half of the 69 million children who will die before their fifth birthday from mostly preventable causes; more than half of the 60 million children of primary school age who will still be out of school; and 9 out of 10 children living in extreme poverty.  her twin

The UNICEF report goes on to warn that about 124 million children today do not go to primary- and lower-secondary school, and almost two in five who do finish primary school have not learned how to read, write or do simple arithmetic.

Youth, The Other Lost Generation

Meanwhile, there is another lost generation—the youth. “Today, over 70 million youth are looking for jobs while nearly 160 million are working, yet living in poverty. These figures embody a massive waste of potential and a threat to social cohesion,” on August 12 wrote Azita Berar Awad, Director of Employment Policy Department at the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

More than half a billion children live in areas with extremely high flood occurrence, 160 million live in high drought severity areas. Of the 530 million children in the flood-prone zones, some 300 million live in countries where more than half the population lives in poverty – on less than $3.10 a day. Photo: UNICEF.

“Youth unemployment and decent work deficits depreciate human capital and have a significant negative influence on health, happiness, anti-social behaviour, and socio-political stability. They impact the present and future well-being of our societies,” she added.

Moreover, Berar stressed, conditions in youth labour markets are changing constantly and rapidly, so are the profiles and aspirations of young women and men who are entering the labour force every day.

“For most, expectations of decent work are not only about earning an income and making a livelihood. Youth see decent work as the cornerstone of their life project, the catalyst for their integration into society, and the pathway to their participation into the broader social and political arena.”

Anyway, this year’s WHD follows on one of the most pivotal moments in the history of humanitarian action: the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), which was held on May 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The WHS main objective was to mobilise world leaders to declare their collective support for the new Agenda for Humanity and commit to bold action to reduce suffering and deliver better for the millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance.

But while succeeding in attracting world’s attention to the current humanitarian emergency, the Istanbul Summit failed to mobilise the urgently needed funds to alleviate the sufferance of up to 160 million people and growing: as little and affordable 21 billion dollars.

Now, the WHD 2016 will continue communications around the Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. For instance, the #ShareHumanity campaign, which kicked off last year on 19 August, beginning a global countdown to drive awareness for the WHS.

“Impossible Choices”

Previously, the campaign ‘Impossible Choices’ was launched In April this year with a call to world leaders to attend the Summit and to ‘Commit to Action’.  The launch of final phase of this UN vast campaign coincides with the WHD on 19 August and will run up until the UN secretary-general presents the Wold Humanitarian Summit Report at the UN General Assembly in September.

Following on this ‘Impossible Choices’ campaign earlier this year, the WHD digital campaign ‘The World You’d Rather’ will launch on 19 August.

Featuring a quiz based on the popular game ‘Would you rather’, the digital campaign will bring to light the very real scenarios faced by people in crisis. After being confronted with challenging choices, users will be able to share a personalised graphic on social media, tweet their world leader and learn about the Agenda for Humanity.

But while the UN starves to raise awareness among political decision-makers and mobilise humanity to take speedy, bold actions to alleviate, end and hopefully prevent the on-going, unprecedented human sufferance, world’s biggest powers continue to spend over 1,7 trillion dollars a year on weapons production and trade.

One Humanity? Yes. But whose? And for Whom?

This story is part of special IPS coverage of World Humanitarian Day on August 19.

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