Inter Press ServiceNorth America – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 16 Dec 2017 15:00:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.4 The World is Losing the Battle Against Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-losing-battle-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/world-losing-battle-child-labour/#comments Fri, 17 Nov 2017 22:06:46 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153085 The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate. Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, […]

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The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour, held in the Argentine capital, concluded with an urgent call to accelerate efforts to eradicate this major problem by 2025, a goal of the international community that today does not appear to be feasible. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The IV Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour,  which drew nearly 2000 delegates from 190 countries to the Argentine capital, left many declarations of good intentions but nothing to celebrate.

Child labour is declining far too slowly, in the midst of unprecedented growth in migration and forced displacement that aggravate the situation, said representatives of governments, workers and employers in the Buenos Aires Declaration on Child Labour Forced Labour and Youth Employment.

The document, signed at the end of the Nov. 14-16 meeting, recognises that unless something changes, the goals set by the international community will not be met.

As a result, there is a pressing need to “Accelerate efforts to end child labour in all its forms by 2025,” the text states.

In the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), target seven of goal eight – which promotes decent work – states that child labour in all its forms is to be eradicated by 2025."The increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.” -- Junko Sazaki

“For the first time, this Conference recognised that child labour is mostly concentrated in agriculture and is growing,” said Bernd Seiffert, focal point on child labour, gender, equity and rural employment at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

“While the general numbers for child labour dwindled from 162 million to 152 million since 2013, in rural areas the number grew: from 98 to 108 million,” he explained in a conversation with IPS.

Seiffert said: “We heard a lot in this conference about the role played by child labour in global supply chains. But the majority of boys and girls work for the local value chains, in the production of food.”

The declared aim of the Conference, organised by the Argentine Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security with technical assistance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was to “take stock of the progress made” since the previous meeting, held in 2013 in Brasilia.

Guest of honour 2014 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Kailash Satyarthi said he was “confident that the young will be able to steer the situation that we are leaving them,” but warned that it would not make sense to hold a new conference in four years if the situation remains the same.

Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work in his country, India, in defence of children’s rights, and in particular for his fight against forced labour, from which he has saved thousands of children.

“We know that children are used because they are the cheapest labour force. But I ask how much longer we are going to keep coming to these conferences to go over the same things again. The next meeting should be held only if it is to celebrate achievements,” he said.

Junko Sasaki, director of the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division at FAO, said “the increase in child labour in the countryside has to do with informal employment. Most of the children work in family farming, without pay, in areas where the state does not reach.”

“We must promote the incorporation of technologies and good agricultural practices to allow many poor families to stop having to make their children work,” she told IPS.

According to the ILO, as reflected by the final declaration, 71 percent of child labour is concentrated in agriculture, and 42 percent of that work is hazardous and is carried out in informal and family enterprises.

“There are also gender differences. While it is common for children to be exposed to pesticides that can affect their health, girls usually have to work more on household chores. In India, for example, many girls receive less food than boys,” said Sazaki.

Children were notably absent from the crowded event, which brought together government officials and delegates of international organisations, the business community and trade unionists.

Their voice was only heard through the presentation of the document “It’s Time to Talk”, the result of research carried out by civil society organisations, which interviewed 1,822 children between the ages of five and 18 who work, in 36 countries.

The study revealed that children who work do so mainly to help support their families, and that their main concern is the conditions in which they work.

They feel good if their work allows them to continue studying, if they can learn from work and earn money; and they become frustrated when their education is hindered, when they do not develop any skills, or their health is affected.

“We understand that children who work have no other option and that we should not criminalise but protect them and make sure that the conditions in which they perform tasks do not put them at risk or prevent their education,” said Anne Jacob, of the Germany-based Kindernothilfe, one of the organisations that participated in the research.

For Jacob, “it is outrageous that the problem of child labour should be addressed without listening to children.”

“After talking with them, we understood that there is no global solution to this issue, but that the structural causes can only be resolved locally, depending on the economic, cultural and social circumstances of each place,” she told IPS.

The participants in the Conference warned in the final declaration that armed conflicts, which affect 250 million children, are aggravating the situation of child labour.

Virginia Gamba, special representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, explained that “modern armed conflicts use children as if they were disposable materials. Children are no longer in the periphery of conflicts but at the centre.”

In this respect, she pointed out that hundreds of thousands of children are left without the possibility of access to formal education every year in different parts of the world. Her office counted 750 attacks on schools in the midst of armed conflict in 2016, while this year it registered 175 in just one month.

“To fight child labour and help children, we have to think about mobile learning and home-based education. Education must be provided even in the most fragile situations, even in refugee camps, since that is the only means of providing normality for a child in the midst of a conflict,” said Gamba.

In the end, the Conference left the bitter sensation that solutions are still far away.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder warned that the concentration of child labour in rural work indicates that it often has nothing to do with employers, but with families.

It is easy for some to blame transnational corporations or governments. But the truth is that it is everyone’s fault, he concluded.

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Back-to-Back Hurricanes Take Heavy Toll on the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/back-back-hurricanes-take-heavy-roll-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=back-back-hurricanes-take-heavy-roll-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/back-back-hurricanes-take-heavy-roll-caribbean/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 16:58:24 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152351 António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

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A seven-year old boy stands in front of debris as Hurricane Irma moves off from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Credit: UNICEF/UN0119399

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

As you know, we are coming off a jam-packed High-level week and opening of the General Assembly. Some of the most important speeches during that period came from leaders of Caribbean nations reeling from back-to-back hurricanes.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda reported that the entire population of Barbuda had been left homeless. The Prime Minister of Dominica declared that he had come to the United Nations “straight from the front line of the war on climate change”.

Today I am announcing that I will travel on Saturday (October 7) to Antigua, Barbuda and Dominica to survey the damage and to assess what more the United Nations can do to help people recover, visiting of course also the operations that are taking place there.

When I met them last month, I was struck most of all by a prevailing message from all the Caribbean leaders – including from the hardest hit countries. Yes, they said, we urgently need support today. But even in the wake of utter devastation, they urged the world to act for tomorrow.

As I said in my address to the General Assembly, we should not link any single weather event with climate change. But scientists are clear that such extreme weather is precisely what their models predict, and they predict it will be the new normal of a warming world. I would like to share some relevant data about what we are seeing.

First, some facts about this year’s Atlantic hurricane season. Hurricane Irma, which devastated Barbuda, was a Category 5 hurricane for three consecutive days – this is the longest on satellite record. Irma’s winds reached 300 kilometers per hour for 37 hours — the longest on record at that intensity.

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma marked the first time that two Category 4 storms made landfall in the United States in the same year. And, of course, they were followed by Hurricane Maria, which decimated Dominica and had severe impacts across Puerto Rico.

It is rare to see so many storms of such strength so early in the season.

Second, some facts about the changes in major climate systems. Sea levels have risen more than 10 inches since 1870. Over the past 30 years, the number of annual weather-related disasters has nearly tripled, and economic losses have quintupled.

Scientists are learning more and more about the links between climate change and extreme weather. Climate change is warming the seas. This, in turn, means more water vapor in the atmosphere. When storms come, they bring more rain.

A warmer climate turbocharges the intensity of hurricanes. Instead of dissipating, they pick up fuel as they move across the ocean. The melting of glaciers, and the thermal expansion of the seas, means bigger storm surges. With more and more people living on coastlines, the damage is, and will be that much greater.

Scientific models have long predicted an increase in the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes. This is precisely what is happening – and even sooner than expected. To date, the United Nations and its partners have provided a variety of humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean region by air and by sea: 18 tons of food; 3 million water purification tablets; 3,000 water tanks; 2,500 tents; 2,000 mosquito nets and school kits; 500 debit cards for cash assistance; and much else.

We have launched appeals for $113.9 million to cover humanitarian needs for the immediate period ahead. I commend those countries that are showing solidarity with the Caribbean countries at this time of dire need, including those doing so through South-South cooperation.

But on the whole, I regret to report, the response has been poor. I urge donors to respond more generously in the weeks to come. The United Nations will continue to help countries in the Caribbean to strengthen disaster preparedness, working closely with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

We are strongly committed to helping small island states and, indeed, all countries to adapt to inevitable climate impacts, to increase the pace of recovery and to strengthen resilience overall. Innovative financing mechanisms will be crucial in enabling countries, like the Caribbean ones, to cope with external shocks of such significant magnitude.

We know that the world has the tools, the technologies and the wealth to address climate change. But we must show more determination in moving towards a green, clean, sustainable energy future. Once again, I urge countries to implement the Paris Agreement, and with greater ambition.

That is why I will convene a Climate Summit in 2019, as you know. But today and every day, I am determined to ensure that the United Nations works to protect our common future and to seize the opportunities of climate action.

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Making an Economic Case for Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=making-economic-case-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/making-economic-case-climate-action/#comments Mon, 02 Oct 2017 15:16:58 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152311 Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report. Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 2 2017 (IPS)

Having faced a year of record temperatures and devastating hurricanes, the United States stands more to lose if it doesn’t take steps to reduce the risk and impact of climate change, according to a new report.

Launched by the Universal Ecological Fund, it details the costs of the U.S.’ climate inaction to the national economy and public health and urges for policies to move the country towards a sustainable future.

“It’s not about ideology, it’s about good business sense,” the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the report’s co-author James McCarthy told IPS.

“Many people say that they will not have the discussion because they are not convinced of the science—well then, let’s just look at the economics, let’s look at what it is costing to not have that discussion,” he continued.

A Wake of Destruction

The U.S. is still reeling from an unprecedented month of three hurricanes and 76 wildfires, devastating landscapes from Puerto Rico to Washington.

Hurricane Maria alone left Puerto Rican residents without food, water, or electricity. Approximately 44 percent of the population lacks clean drinking water and just 11 out of 69 hospitals have fuel or power, pushing the island to the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

“This year was nothing like we’ve seen,” said McCarthy.

Though aid delivery is underway, the economic losses from not only Hurricane Maria, but also Hurricanes Harvey and Irma along with the wildfires that swept through the Western coast, are estimated to be the costliest weather events in U.S. history.

The report estimates a price-tag of nearly 300 billion dollars in damage, representing 70 percent of the costs of all 92 weather events in the last decade.

Since hurricane season is yet to end, more expensive and damaging storms may still be in the forecast.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Centers for Environmental Information, the number of extreme weather events that incurred at least one billion dollars in economic losses and damages have increased in the last decade by almost two and a half times.

Such losses will only rise as human-induced climate change continues, contributing to dry conditions favorable for more wildfires and warm oceans which lead to more intense storms and higher sea levels.

McCarthy, who is also an Oceanography Professor at Harvard University, told IPS that investments beyond creating hurricane-proof infrastructure are needed to counter such damage.

“Infrastructure is important, but everything we can do to reduce the intensity of these events, by slowing the rate of global warming, will make future infrastructure more likely to be effective,” he said.

An Unhealthy Dependence

Among the major drivers of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels which the U.S. continues to rely on to produce energy.

Coal, oil and natural gas—all of which are fossil fuels— currently account for over 80 percent of the primary energy generated and used in the North American nation. When such fossil fuels are burned, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released to the atmosphere, contributing to rapid changes in the climate.

Though emissions regulations have reduced air pollution health damages by 35 percent, or nearly 67 billion dollars per year, burning fossil fuels still produces health costs that average 240 billion dollars every year.

If fossil fuels continue to be used, both economic losses and health costs are estimated to reach at least 360 billion dollars annually, or 55 percent of U.S.’ growth, over the next decade.

And the government won’t be footing the expensive bill, the report notes.

“Time after time, we are going to see the public bearing the costs…it becomes a personal burden for them,” McCarthy told IPS.

He highlighted the importance of the U.S. taking steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“To move people, literally and figuratively, into the future to be more healthy and more sustainable and a less expensive way of doing business just makes sense,” McCarthy said.

Not only will it provide sustainable clean electricity and reduce the rate of global warming, renewable energy also can add to the economy by producing jobs.

Clean energy already employs almost 2 million workers, and doubling solar and wind generation can create another 500,000 jobs.

In order to successfully transition to a low-carbon economy, investments are essential, some of which can potentially come from taxing carbon emissions, the report states. A carbon tax aims to reduce emissions and promote a more efficient use of energy, including the transition to electric cars.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a tax on carbon emissions can potentially produce revenues of up to 200 billion dollars in the U.S. within the next decade.

The carbon tax has been a controversial policy, with some expressing concern that companies will simply shift the cost to the consumer by way of increasing the prices of gasoline and electricity.

However, McCarthy noted that the public already currently bears the burden in terms of damages from extreme weather events and unhealthy air expenses.

A Government Denial

Despite the evidence for climate change and the role of fossil fuels in driving such change, U.S. President Donald Trump has begun to unravel many essential environmental protections.

Not only did his administration announce the U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Paris Agreement, but it is currently working to dismantle the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants across the country.

The move is tied to President Trump’s repeated calls to renew investments in the coal industry, claiming that it will bring back jobs.

McCarthy said that these actions are not “borne out by the facts.”

“The notion that you will be able to return the U.S. to a coal economy—there is no evidence for that. And secondly, if you are going to create jobs, the sensible way to create them is in a forward-looking area such as renewable energy rather than the highly risky and repeated exposure of coal,” he told IPS.

In spite of a national strategy that may exacerbate climate change, McCarthy said that cities and states are taking the lead and will continue to move in the right direction regardless of bipartisan politics.

Iowa is the leading U.S. state in wind power with over 35 percent of its electricity generated from wind energy.

In Oklahoma, where U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt hails from, 25 percent of electricity comes from wind energy.

“When you look at a state like Iowa and see [their] electricity is coming from wind energy, it doesn’t say anything about the politics of Iowa—it says something about people being sensible about how they spend their money and what they invest in to get a particular product,” McCarthy said.

The U.S.’ reluctance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only impacts Americans, but also people around the world. Since the process of withdrawing from the Paris Agreement will take time, McCarthy expressed hope that the U.S. will change its course.

“We hope over that period of time that [President Trump] will see that this partnership has enormous value and not only what the U.S. is doing that affects the rest of the world but vice versa,” he said.

“We should find reason to join efforts with the community of nations that have recognized, much like what we try to say in this report, that if we don’t do something, these are going to be very expensive and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences of this sort of neglect,” McCarthy concluded.

The EPA is expected to release a revised version of the CPP in the coming weeks, and it is expected to be significantly weaker than the original.

Governments will be convening in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s Annual Climate Change Conference (COP23) in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The focus will be on how to implement issues including emissions reductions, provision of finance, and technology.

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Caribbean Picks Up the Pieces After Monster Stormhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/caribbean-picks-pieces-monster-storm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=caribbean-picks-pieces-monster-storm http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/caribbean-picks-pieces-monster-storm/#respond Fri, 15 Sep 2017 11:27:31 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152090 When Hurricane Irma ripped through the British Virgins Islands on Sept. 6, claiming seven lives, injuring an unknown number of people and destroying built infrastructure as well as significantly damaging the natural environment, the ferocity of the storm shocked many of the islands’ residents, including 72-year-old Egbert Smith, who has lived through plenty of severe […]

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Hurricane Irma left significant damage to public infrastructure, housing, tourism, commerce, and the natural environment in the British Virgin Islands. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Hurricane Irma left significant damage to public infrastructure, housing, tourism, commerce, and the natural environment in the British Virgin Islands. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
ROAD TOWN, British Virgin Islands, Sep 15 2017 (IPS)

When Hurricane Irma ripped through the British Virgins Islands on Sept. 6, claiming seven lives, injuring an unknown number of people and destroying built infrastructure as well as significantly damaging the natural environment, the ferocity of the storm shocked many of the islands’ residents, including 72-year-old Egbert Smith, who has lived through plenty of severe storms.

“I seen a lot of hurricanes pass through here, but I never seen none like this. Never!” he told IPS from what was left of his home in Sophers Hole, a resort community toward the western end of Tortola, the largest and main island in the BVI.“If you read the climate change literature, as shocking as it is to experience this sort of disaster, there is nothing here that is a surprise." --Camillo Gonsalves, minister of sustainable development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Across from Smith’s beachfront patio, the storm deposited a large catamaran onto the roof of a one-storey building, shredding a large part of the pleasure craft.

On the other end of the bay, the Jost Van Dyke ferry terminal lay in ruins, its roof ripped off, and a large SUV pinned on top of raised a metal platform, the mangled vehicle having been deposited there by the storm surge.

“They say it was a category 5 but I think it was more than that. It might have been more than that,” Smith said of the monster storm, which lashed the island with 185 mph winds.

Before enduring Irma, Smith considered Hurricane Marilyn of 1995 to have been a terrible hurricane. But not anymore.

“This one was bad,” he tells IPS of the storm, which trashed his bedroom and its contents as his wife hid inside a closet and he just put his feet up on a chair and relaxed, having given up on trying to pick up items that were falling in his house during the passage of the hurricane.

On Sept. 14, a full week after the storm, the British Virgin Islands was still struggling to get basic systems back on track, with disaster managers forced to seek refuge in the recently constructed New Peebles Hospital after Irma destroyed their headquarters.

In addition to the dead and injured, the storm left widespread damage to the road infrastructure, housing stock, ports, telecommunications, electrical infrastructure and critical facilities.

Hurricane Irma had the most devastating impact on Sophers Hole, according to 72-year-old resident, Egbert Smith. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

Governor of the British Overseas Territory, Augustus Jaspert, declared a state of emergency on Sept. 7 and on Sept. 11, he extended by three hours the curfew put in place three days earlier, ordering citizens to remain indoors between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. to give disaster responders an opportunity to respond to the mammoth clean-up and recovery.

Disaster officials say a preliminary assessment indicated that 60 to 80 per cent of the buildings throughout the territory are damaged or destroyed, with a large percentage of the roofs severely compromised.

Approximately 351 persons are being accommodated in 10 temporary shelters and 106 persons were evacuated from Anegada, another of the islands, prior to impact.

One week after the storm, disaster managers were still considering options for housing the large number of displaced persons.

The municipal supply of water supply is not functional due to the lack of electricity and there was a limited stock of potable water available, with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Mounts Bay providing a limited supply to Virgin Gorda and Jost Van Dyke, two of the smaller islands in the territory.

Both of the desalination plants on Virgin Gorda, which has a population of 3,500, were destroyed.

The electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure across the islands has been severely damaged and electricity is only being provided through generators.

Caribbean Cellular Telephone Ltd., the leading wireless provider in the BVI is not functioning and Digicel has coverage only in Road Town, the main city, while Flow has sporadic coverage throughout the territory.

The road infrastructure has been severely damaged and heavy equipment operators have been deployed to all districts and have been working to clear roads to at least single lane traffic.

The hurricane cut a similar swathe of destruction across other islands in the northeastern Caribbean before slamming into Florida last weekend, leaving more than six million people without power and many thousands in shelters. Overall, the storm claimed at least 14 lives in the so-called Sunshine State, six in the coastal U.S. states of South Carolina and Georgia, and 38 across the Caribbean, though some estimates are even higher.

It also came on the heels of yet another devastating hurricane – Harvey – which sideswiped Barbados and caused catastrophic flooding in the U.S. Gulf state of Texas, where 82 people died and more than 30,000 were displaced.

Camillo Gonsalves, minister of sustainable development in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, was among the officials from the Caribbean Community — a regional bloc of nations of which the BVI is an associate member — who visited the BVI in the aftermath of Irma.

Gonsalves visited to assess the situation in the territory and to ascertain what help Kingstown could provide, as well as to inquire into the welfare of Vincentian nationals, who make up 10 per cent of the population of the BVI.

The minister, who, as a diplomat, had helped was among the team of negotiators who ensured the interest of small island development states was captured in the 2015 Paris climate accord, said that those who have been paying close enough attention should not be surprised by the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma.

“If you read the climate change literature, as shocking as it is to experience this sort of disaster, there is nothing here that is a surprise,” he told IPS, adding that forecasters have long warned that with there would be more frequent and intense tropical cyclones as a result of climate change.

“You can’t point to any one storm and say this storm here was created by climate change but any casual reading of the scientific literature tells you this is going to happen in this area and it is going to affect livelihoods, it is going to affect infrastructure, it is going to affect just the way these countries exist and it is going to happen more and more in the future,” Gonsalves said.

The Caribbean and other countries in the region, including the United States, are losing lives and suffering tens of billions of dollars in damages from severe hurricanes such as Irma and other weather events – at a time when Washington seems to want to reopen the debate about the role of human activity in the well-documented warming of planet and what must be done to prevent it from getting even worse.

But Gonsalves is convinced that there is no debate about the causes of climate change and what must be done to mitigate against and adapt to it.

“We didn’t create this problem,” he said, adding that Caribbean nations, as small islands, have to assist one another and to band together in solidarity even as they are among the worst affected by climate change, notwithstanding their negligible contribution to it.

“Those who created this problem have a special responsibility to satisfy their debt to humanity and to assist countries like this not only recover from storms but adapt to the already changing circumstances and climate,” Gonsalves told IPS.

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US Pressure Keeps Palestinians Blacklisted at UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/us-pressure-keeps-palestinians-blacklisted-un/#comments Fri, 01 Sep 2017 16:40:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151890 When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya back in February, the proposal was shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian. And speaking before the US House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee in June, Haley […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2017 (IPS)

When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed the appointment of former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as UN’s Special Representative in Libya back in February, the proposal was shot down by US Ambassador Nikki Haley, purely because he was a Palestinian.

Credit: Institute for Palestine Studies

And speaking before the US House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee in June, Haley went even further down the road when she indicated she would block any appointment of a Palestinian official to a senior role at the UN because Washington “does not recognize Palestine” as an independent state.

Suddenly, the Palestinians, for the first time, seem blacklisted– and declared political outcasts– in a world body where some of them held key posts in a bygone era.

Nadia Hijab, Executive Director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS: “ As the US Administration appears to be steering a breakneck course towards a nuclear war with North Korea, it is little short of remarkable that its representative at the UN can find time to continue her vendetta against the Palestinian people while Israel, a serial violator of the international law the UN was created to uphold, is able not only to sit at the UN but to serve on key committees”.

Instead of blocking Palestinians from their rightful place in the community of nations, Ambassador Haley would do better to push for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land conquered in 1967 and welcome a fully sovereign State of Palestine to the UN, said Hijab, who is of Palestinian origin, and once served as a senior staff member of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“I wonder if Ambassador Haley is aware that, because Israel has colonized their country, Palestinians carry the nationality of many other countries around the world, including the United States. How far will she take her crusade against this beleaguered people?,” she asked.

In most instances, Palestinians working at the United Nations have been nationals of UN member states, acquiring citizenships in countries such as UK, US, Jordan, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, among others.

Since 2012, Palestine has been a “non-member observer state” at the UN—as is the Holy See (Vatican).

As one Arab diplomat speculated: “If Fayyad, who was educated at the University of Texas, was in fact also a US citizen, Haley may have blocked the appointment of an American, not a Palestinian.”

“But that’s a question only Fayyad can answer. If true, it will be an irony of ironies”, he added.

Guterres, who apparently relented to US pressure by stepping back on Fayyad’s appointment plucked up courage to tell reporters: “I think it was a serious mistake. I think that Mr. Fayyad was the right person in the right place at the right time, and I think that those who will lose will be the Libyan people and the Libyan peace process.”

And, he rightly added: ““I believe that it is essential for everybody to understand that people serving the UN are serving in their personal capacities. They don’t represent a country or a government – they are citizens of the world representing the UN Charter and abiding by the UN Charter,” he said, pointedly directing his answer at Haley

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General who headed the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS that “traditionally, U.N. staffers need not renounce their loyalty to their home country, but they will have to take an oath of exclusive loyalty to the U.N. Secretary-General which in effect places them as international civil servants- a once unique category recently, and systematically eroded.”

He pointed out that a number of Palestinians had served in the UN Secretariat since its early days, like Ismail Khalidi, a Saudi citizen of Palestinian origin and father of Columbia University Professor Rashid Khalidi, and Shukri Salameh, who was of Palestinian origin and Chief of Staff Services in the Office of Personnel in the UN’s Department of Public Information.

Other senior officials later served with Jordanian, Lebanese, Saudi, Syrian and other papers in addition to those like Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Yassir, who headed the audit department of UNDP and who apparently carried a Palestinian “Stateless” card at the time, said Sanbar, who served under five different UN secretaries-general.

He said a number of U.S. /U.N. officials were flexible on their own government’s position on politically-sensitive issues such as Under-Secretary General Joseph Vernon Reed — former Protocol Chief of U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush—when he attended a General Assembly meeting in Geneva with the participation of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat when he was rebuffed in New York.

As to the approach of Secretary-General Guterres, Sanbar said: “I am not on the inside to comment; yet it seems not yet clear whether he is bowing to pressure or exercising extra care, while undertaking extensive travel, in making consensus senior appointments, including those for heads of Departments, some of whom were given short term extensions and others who are yet to be firmly designated.”

“Perhaps by the middle of next year, an informed perception will be clearer .Inshallah!”,he declared.

Admittedly, to be frank, he said, there were occasional cases where certain individuals tried to exploit the rightful plight of the Palestinian people to their personal advantage. Yet, generally, most international civil servants, made a special effort to demonstrate impressive performance,” said Sanbar.

Meanwhile, after a visit to Lebanon last week, Haley was gunning for the head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Force Commander and Irish Major-General Michael Beary, and expressing regrets that he is not pursuing his mission of aggressively moving against the militant group, Hezbollah.

Asked for his comments, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “First of all, I would say that we obviously stand by the Force Commander in UNIFIL and we have full confidence in his work. I think the men and women of UNIFIL are doing work in a very delicate area. They report regularly and faithfully on what they, on what they see and on what they observe.”

“I understand there is a debate ongoing within Member States regarding the renewal of the mandate of UNIFIL. We will let that debate play out. It’s in the hands of the Security Council. It’s done under their authority,” he added

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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UN Rights Chief: Trump’s Attack on Press is “Dangerous”http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/un-rights-chief-trumps-attack-press-dangerous/#comments Thu, 31 Aug 2017 21:57:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151872 Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official. During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric. “It’s really quite […]

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 31 2017 (IPS)

Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a UN official.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

During a press conference, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised U.S. President Trump for attacking news organisations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric.

“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself,” Zeid said.

“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he continued.

Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organisations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”

Most recently during a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticised their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville when he said violence was caused by “many sides.”

“To call these news organisations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way—I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” Zeid asked.

“I think at an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very bad people, you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”

The High Commissioner cited the case of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who was recently assaulted by Montana Republican Greg Gianforte.

He also pointed to the poisonous repercussions of such “demonisation” of the press around the world.

In Cambodia, spokesperson Phay Siphan has threatened to take action against media outlets that are perceived to be endangering “peace and security” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organisations from a White House briefing earlier this year

“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” he said.

“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace,” Siphan added.

Such cases will only expand, the High Commissioner said.

“I almost feel that the President [Trump] is driving the bus of humanity and we are careening down a mountain path,” Zeid said.

“From a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving,” he concluded.

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“New Normal” for the U.S., All Too Familiar for the Caribbeanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-normal-u-s-familiar-caribbean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-normal-u-s-familiar-caribbean http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-normal-u-s-familiar-caribbean/#respond Thu, 31 Aug 2017 11:33:24 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151854 The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines says it hopes that the devastating loss and damage that Hurricane Harvey has wrought in Texas might inspire the government of President Donald Trump to rethink its position on climate change. Hurricane Harvey, the strongest storm to hit the United States since 2005 and the costliest in […]

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Pearland, Texas after Hurricane Harvey made landfall. Credit: Brant Kelly/cc by 2.0

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Aug 31 2017 (IPS)

The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines says it hopes that the devastating loss and damage that Hurricane Harvey has wrought in Texas might inspire the government of President Donald Trump to rethink its position on climate change.

Hurricane Harvey, the strongest storm to hit the United States since 2005 and the costliest in U.S. history in terms of damage, made landfall in Texas on Aug. 25 and left much of Houston and other parts of the state under feet of floodwater."We must be touched with the feeling of their distress and their loss and their grief and their anguish, because we are subject to the same." --Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Straker

Harvey made its way to the United States about a week after it passed near St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other countries in the Caribbean.

Residents of this eastern Caribbean nation breathed a sign of relief after the only lasting sign of the passage of the storm was some flooding in Bequia, the largest and northern-most of the Grenadine islands.

Harvey made landfall in Texas for a second time in less than a week on Tuesday and the damage it left in the “Lone Star State” was a reminder to Vincentians of the power of tropical cyclones and the damage that they have caused over the last decade in this multi-island nation.

“I wonder what we would be doing if we had that sort of persistent rain. I trust that what is happening in Houston will open the eyes of a lot of people worldwide with regards to climate change,” Minister of Transportation and Works, Sen. Julian Francis told a press conference in Kingstown on Monday.

Francis was updating the media on a road repair programme and the annual road-cleaning that came ahead of September, which is traditionally the heart of the Atlantic Hurricane Season.

The minister noted that the programme, which normally runs for 10 days, was reduced to eight because of the passage of Tropical Storm Harvey.

But the two days of work that the temporary workers employed under the programme lost as a result of the storm was nothing compared to the damage and loss left by less powerful weather systems over the past few years.

AMO and Special Operations agents conduct rescue with CBP UH-1N helicopter as part of Hurricane Harvey response. Credit: Public domain

The senator, who also has ministerial responsibilities for local government, expressed sympathy for the victims of Harvey but also criticized President Trump, who shortly after taking office pulled the United States out of the global Paris Accord to reduce the greenhouse emissions driving climate change and severe weather, has attempted to cut government funding for the agencies that monitor climate, and has long downplayed the problem while promoting the fossil fuel industry over renewables.

“It is pouring down on the fourth largest city in the United States of America but we know what the position of the sitting president and his administration is with regards to climate change.

“So I trust this comes as an eye-opener to the administrators and policymakers in the United States of America. I do feel sad and sympathise with the people of Texas… I have been following it closely and I say I wonder what would happen to us if we had that sort of downpour,” Francis said.

Speaking at a separate event later on Monday, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines is among the top 10 countries in the world most vulnerable to extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

“We don’t have to have high winds. Because we are mountainous, we have a lot of landslides, the rivers overflow their banks, a lot of disasters are caused in this country by heavy rainfall, without the wind.”

Gonsalves said that the nation’s seacoast is being eroded by wave action resulting from the frequent and more intense storms associated climate change.

“The entire eastern coast is being eroded and also on the western side of the island,” he said.

He noted that between 2014 and 2016, his government has had to rebuild five major bridges in a five-mile area in eastern St. Vincent.

The bridges were built to replace older ones damaged or destroyed by extreme weather events, which also necessitated redesign to accommodate larger water flows during storms ranging from tropical depressions to hurricane.

At a total cost of 7.4 million dollars, the bridges represent a significant budgetary expense in a multi-island nation whose capital expenditure allocation in 2016 was 74 million dollars.

“I say these things so that we can keep this matter in focus,” said Gonsalves, whose government in May introduced a one per cent levy to help fund the cost of disaster response and mitigation.

In 2016, flooding as a result of tropical waves left damage to public infrastructure totalling EC$37 million, almost 10 per cent of the 342-million-dollar national budget.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s meeting of the national assembly, Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Straker expressed solidarity with the people of the United States, and used the experience of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to remind nationals of what Texans might be experiencing.

“We are not immune to natural disasters and we have had our own flooding here, the major one being 2013 Christmas Eve, in which 13 lives were lost,” Straker said.

“Some people say that this is because of global warming, climate change, something that is denied and rejected by the president of the United States,” he told parliament.

“But what we have seen in Texas what is referred to in language as ‘of epic proportion’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘one in a 100 years’, the president said one in 500 years, and it is catastrophic. We must be touched with the feeling of their distress and their loss and their grief and their anguish, because we are subject to the same,” Straker said.

The foreign minister, whose oldest son lives in Texas, told lawmakers that all residents of the state have been affected in one way or the other.

“And we have to commiserate and sympathise and show solidarity with the Vincentians in the diaspora and with the hundreds of thousands of other people in Houston who have been affected by this storm, Harvey,” he said, noting that the storm passed St. Vincent and the Grenadines without much devastation.

Speaking about the impact on the lives of the people of Texas, he added, “Could you imagine that people work all their lives to build a home — that is very previous to a lot of people — and you furnish your home and you live comfortably with your family and within the space of a day or two, you could lose everything and you are left homeless? That’s a chilling prospect that all of us should contemplate,” Straker said.

Regionally, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), a block of 15 Caribbean nations, also extended its sympathies to the government and people of the United States and especially the State of Texas on the loss of lives and extensive damage to property and infrastructure following the passage of Hurricane Harvey.

CARICOM Secretary-General, Ambassador Irwin LaRocque, in a message to U.S. President Donald Trump, said CARICOM is confident that the people of Texas and the wider United States have the resilience to recover from the disaster.

LaRocque assured Trump that CARICOM stands with the Unites States at this time of disaster.

“The widespread destruction wrought by this hurricane has brought suffering to many and will necessitate a significant and lengthy rebuilding process,” LaRocque said. “The unprecedented nature of this climatic event highlights the unusual nature of weather patterns that continue to affect nations across the globe.”

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Why New US Cold War with Russia Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-us-cold-war-russia-now http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/08/new-us-cold-war-russia-now/#respond Wed, 09 Aug 2017 15:54:16 +0000 Vladimir Popov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151631 Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

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Vladimir Popov is a Research Director with the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin. This op-ed is based on a recent DOCRI publication (https://doc-research.org/en/).

By Vladimir Popov
BERLIN, Aug 9 2017 (IPS)

Even before the imposition of new sanctions on Russia by Donald Trump and the ongoing fuss over Russian hackers undermining US democracy, Russian-American relations had deteriorated to a level not seen since the 1950s. Why?

Vladimir Popov

Political ideology
After all, the US has fewer ideological disagreements with Russia than with the USSR. Russia now has a capitalist economy and is more democratic than the USSR. Russia is also much weaker than the USSR – its population and territory are about 60 to 80 percent of the Soviet Union, and its economic and military might has been considerably diminished, so it poses much less of a threat to the US than the USSR.
However, US rhetoric and actions towards Russia are much more belligerent now than during the 1970s, or in the 1980s, when the US imposed sanctions against the USSR after Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. Even when President Reagan was calling the USSR ‘the evil empire’, relations did not deteriorate as much as in recent years.

Bilateral economic relations have taken a similar turn for the worse. Soviet-US trade expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, nominally increasing nearly a hundred-fold in two decades, before plateauing in the 1980s. There was some growth in the 1990s and 2000s after the USSR fell apart, but after peaking in 2011, trade has been falling.

Why did the fastest expansion of bilateral trade occur in the 1960s and 1970s? After all, the USSR was not a market economy, and also ‘communist’. By contrast, US trade growth with post-Soviet, capitalist and democratic Russia over the next two decades was modest, before actually shrinking in the last half decade.

Geopolitics?

One popular explanation is geopolitical considerations. It is argued that when a hostile power tries to expand its influence, the US, the rest of the West and hence, NATO respond strongly.

Examples cited include the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s, and sanctions against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The same could be said about more recent Western sanctions in response to Russian advances in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and Syria.

But the 1970s contradicts this argument. After all, the USSR was gaining ground at US expense in Indochina, the former Portuguese colonies, Nicaragua and other developing countries. Why then did détente and trade grow in the 1970s?

US as #1
The US position is not primarily determined by either ideology or geopolitics, but rather, by the changing US establishment view of the balance of power. After the devastation of the Second World War, the USSR was hardly a superpower, so the US expected to press the USSR, its erstwhile ally, into submission through the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union began closing the gap with the United States in terms of productivity, per capita income and military strength in the 1950s and 1960s. Even though its economy slowed from the mid-1960s, the USSR had caught up in many respects, enough to qualify as the other superpower. The result was détente. Although the USSR had been offering rapprochement after the Second World War, the US only accepted detente in the 1970s, as the military gap closed.

Today, the US establishment knows that the Russian economy have fallen far behind since the 1980s while its military is getting more obsolete. The strategic conclusion appears to be that Russia can be contained via direct pressure and sanctions, something unthinkable against the communist USSR in the 1970s or China today, even though China is less democratic than Russia and still led by a communist party.

Playing with fire
Economically and militarily, Russia is undoubtedly relatively much weaker today than the USSR was. But its capacity has recovered considerably in the new century from the 1990s, with modest growth reversing the economic devastation of the Yeltsin presidency.

And even if it is true that the US is now an unchallenged ‘number one’, and will remain dominant in the foreseeable future, while Russia is not only weak, but also getting relatively weaker, the current effort of pressing Russia into submission has risks.

US pressure on Russia can result in a stand-off comparable to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which the USSR was willing to risk at that time, even though its military capability was well behind that of the US. Eventually, not only were Soviet missiles withdrawn from Cuba, a return to the status quo ante, but the US also promised not only not to invade Cuba, but also to withdraw its medium range missiles from Turkey.

True, Russia is relatively weaker today, but it still has tremendous destructive capacity. One only has to remember that North Korea, with much less military capacity, has successfully withstood US pressure for decades. However, as US economic dominance in the world has been eroding since the Second World War, and its military superiority is the main source of US advantage, the temptation will remain to use this superiority before it is eroded as well.

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New Neocon Mantra: Iran, like Soviet Union, on Verge of Collapsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/new-neocon-mantra-iran-like-soviet-union-verge-collapse/#respond Fri, 07 Jul 2017 21:12:49 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151217 Iran hawks suddenly have a new mantra: the Islamic Republic is the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the Trump administration should work to hasten the regime’s impending collapse. It’s not clear why this comparison has surfaced so abruptly. Its proponents don’t cite any tangible or concrete evidence that the regime in Tehran is […]

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New Neocon Mantra: Iran, like Soviet Union, on Verge of Collapse

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2017 (IPS)

Iran hawks suddenly have a new mantra: the Islamic Republic is the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the Trump administration should work to hasten the regime’s impending collapse.

It’s not clear why this comparison has surfaced so abruptly. Its proponents don’t cite any tangible or concrete evidence that the regime in Tehran is somehow on its last legs. But I’m guessing that months of internal policy debate on Iran has finally reached the top echelons in the policy-making chaos that is the White House these days. And the hawks, encouraged by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rather offhand statement late last month that Washington favors “peaceful” regime change in Iran, appear to be trying to influence the internal debate by arguing that this is Trump’s opportunity to be Ronald Reagan. Indeed, this comparison is so ahistorical, so ungrounded in anything observable, that it can only be aimed at one person, someone notorious for a lack of curiosity and historical perspective, and a strong attraction to “fake news” that magnifies his ego and sense of destiny.

This new theme seemed to have come out of the blue Tuesday with the publication on the Wall Street Journal’s comics—I mean, op-ed—pages of a column entitled “Confront Iran the Reagan Way” by the South Africa-born, Canada-raised CEO of the Likudist Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Mark Dubowitz. I wish I could publish the whole thing (which is behind a paywall), but a couple of quotes will have to suffice:

In the early 1980s, President Reagan shifted away from his predecessors’ containment strategy toward a new plan of rolling back Soviet expansionism. The cornerstone of his strategy was the recognition that the Soviet Union was an aggressive and revolutionary yet internally fragile regime that had to be defeated.

Reagan’s policy was outlined in 1983 in National Security Decision Directive 75, a comprehensive strategy that called for the use of all instruments of American overt and covert power. The plan included a massive defense buildup, economic warfare, support for anti-Soviet proxy forces and dissidents, and an all-out offensive against the regime’s ideological legitimacy.

Mr. Trump should call for a new version of NSDD-75 and go on offense against the Iranian regime.

…the American pressure campaign should seek to undermine Iran’s rulers by strengthening the pro-democracy forces that erupted in Iran in 2009, nearly toppling the regime. Target the regime’s soft underbelly: its massive corruption and human-rights abuses. Conventional wisdom assumes that Iran has a stable government with a public united behind President Hassan Rouhani’s vision of incremental reform. In reality, the gap between the ruled and their Islamist rulers is expanding.

….The administration should present Iran the choice between a new [nuclear] agreement and an unrelenting American pressure campaign while signaling that it is unilaterally prepared to cancel the existing deal if Tehran doesn’t play ball.

Only six years after Ronald Reagan adopted his pressure strategy, the Soviet bloc collapsed. Washington must intensify the pressure on the mullahs as Reagan did on the communists. Otherwise, a lethal nuclear Iran is less than a decade away.

Dubowitz, who clearly has allies inside the administration, asserts that parts of this strategy are already being implemented. “CIA Director Mike Pompeo is putting the agency on an aggressive footing against [the Iranian regime’s terrorist] global networks with the development of a more muscular covert action program.” Dubowitz predictably urges “massive economic sanctions,” calls for “working closely with allied Sunni governments,” and argues—rather dubiously—that “Europeans …may support a tougher Iran policy if it means Washington finally gets serious about Syria.” As for the alleged domestic weaknesses of the regime, let alone its similarity to the USSR in its decline, he offers no evidence whatever.

Takeyh Joins In

I thought this was a crazy kind of one-off by FDD, which, of course, houses former American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Freedom Scholar Michael Ledeen, who has been predicting the imminent demise of the Islamic Republic—and Supreme Leader Khamenei—for some 20 years or so. Ledeen also co-authored former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s bizarre 2016 autobiography and no doubt tutored the NSC’s 31-year-old intelligence director, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, whose conviction that the regime can be overthrown has been widely reported.

But then a friend brought to my attention a short piece posted Wednesday on The Washington Post’s website by Ray Takeyh, a Council on Foreign Relations Iran specialist who in recent years has cavorted with Dubowitz and FDD and similarly inclined Likudist groups, notably the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Entitled “It’s Time to Prepare for Iran’s Political Collapse,” it also compared Iran today with the Soviet Union on the verge.

Today, the Islamic republic lumbers on as the Soviet Union did during its last years. It professes an ideology that convinces no one. It commands security services that proved unreliable in the 2009 rebellion, causing the regime to deploy the Basij militias because many commanders of the Revolutionary Guards refused to shoot the protesters.

…Today, the Islamic republic will not be able to manage a succession to the post of the supreme leader as its factions are too divided and its public too disaffected.…

The task of a judicious U.S. government today is to plan for the probable outbreak of another protest movement or the sudden passing of Khamenei that could destabilize the system to the point of collapse. How can we further sow discord in Iran’s vicious factional politics? How can the United States weaken the regime’s already unsteady security services? This will require not just draining the Islamic republic’s coffers but also finding ways to empower its domestic critics. The planning for all this must start today; once the crisis breaks out, it will be too late for America to be a player.

Once again, actual evidence for the regime’s fragility is not offered. Indeed, although he claims that the 2009 “Green Revolt” “forever delegitimized the system and severed the bonds between state and society,” he fails to note that May’s presidential election resulted in a landslide win for President Hassan Rouhani with 73 percent voter turnout, or that reformist candidates swept the local council polls in most major cities, or that the leader of the reformist movement, leaders of the Green Movement, and prominent political prisoners encouraged participation. Nor does he address the question of whether Washington’s intervention in Iran’s internal politics—in whatever form—will actually help or harm efforts by the regime’s “domestic critics” to promote reform, particularly in light of the recent disclosures of the extent and persistence of U.S. intervention in the events leading up to and including the 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq. Or whether last month’s terrorist attack by ISIS in Tehran might have strengthened the relationship between society and state.

This is not to deny that the regime is both oppressive and highly factionalized, but why is it suddenly so vulnerable—so much like the Soviet Union of the late 1980s—compared to what it was five or ten or 20 or 25 years ago? Only because Khamenei is likely to pass from the scene sooner rather than later? That seems like a weak reed on which to base a policy as fraught as what is being proposed.

Again, I’m not sure that this Iran=USSR-at-death’s-door meme is aimed so much at the public, or even the foreign-policy elite, as it is toward the fever swamps of a White House run by the likes of Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller or Cohen-Watnick. But here’s why a little more research into the new equation really got my attention.

And Also Lieberman

Dubowitz’s article, it turns out, was not the first recent reference. The most direct recent reference was offered by none other than former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who incidentally is one of three members of FDD’s “Leadership Council,” in a speech before none other than the annual conference of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) and its cult leader, Maryam Rajavi, outside Paris July 1. Seemingly anticipating Takeyh (plus the Rajavi reference), Lieberman declared:

Some things have changed inside Iran, and that’s at the level of the people. You can never suppress a people, you can never enslave a people forever. The people of Iran inside Iran have shown the courage to rise up… To just talk about that, to just talk about that, to hold Madam Rajavi’s picture up in public places, is a sign of the unrest of the people and the growing confidence of the people that change is near. The same is true of the remarkable public disagreements between the various leaders of the country…It is time for America and hopefully some of our allies in Europe to give whatever support we can to those who are fighting for freedom within Iran.

He then went on, “Long before the Berlin Wall collapsed, long before the Soviet Union fell, the United States was supporting resistance movements within the former Soviet Union”—an apparent reference, albeit not an entirely clear one — to the Reagan Doctrine and its purported role in provoking the Communist collapse.

And, in a passage that no doubt expressed what at least Dubowitz and his allies think but can’t say publicly at this point:

The Arab nations are energized under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince [Mohammed] bin Salman. [Saudi Prince (and former intelligence chief) Turki Al Faisal Al Saudi addressed the “Free Iran Gathering” just before Lieberman.] They’re more active diplomatically and militarily as part of a resistance against the regime in Iran than we’ve ever seen before. And of course for a long time the state of Israel, because its very existence is threatened by the regime in Iran, has wanted to help change that regime. So you have coming together now a mighty coalition of forces: America, the Arab world, and Israel joining with the Resistance, and that should give us hope that we can make that [regime] change.

Putting aside the question of just how popular or unpopular Madam Rajavi is in Iran for a second, there are a number of truly remarkable things about Lieberman’s speech. How much will it help “the resistance” in Iran to be seen as supported by the Saudis and the “Arab nations?” And how will it help to boast about Israel’s assistance when most Iranians already appear to believe that the Islamic State is a creation of the Saudis and/or Israel? Is there any “mighty coalition” more likely to permanently alienate the vast majority of Iranians? Is it possible that the MEK has become an IRGC counter-intelligence operation? It’s very clear indeed that the group is lobbying heavily—and spending lavishly—to become the administration’s chosen instrument for achieving regime change. But advertising Saudi and Israeli support for the enterprise will likely make that goal more elusive. The MEK’s reputation in Iran was bad enough, but this is really over the top.

Lieberman no doubt received ample compensation for saying what he said. Other former prominent US officials, including John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Gen. Jack Keane—all of whom probably have closer ties than Lieberman to the White House – also spoke at the MEK event, which, incidentally, makes me think that the White House is indeed seriously considering supporting the group as at least one part of its Iran policy. I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

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U.S. “Dumping” Dark Meat Chicken on African Marketshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/u-s-dumping-dark-meat-chicken-african-markets/#comments Thu, 06 Jul 2017 00:01:14 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151131 The United States and Europe’s preference for white meat is hurting Africa’s poultry industry, says Luc Smalle, manager at the agro firm Rossgro in South Africa’s Mpumalanga area. With 3000 Ha of maize and 1000 Ha of soya, as well as 1,500 heads of beef cattle, Rossgro mills its own feed, which also caters for […]

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Bags of feed at the Rossgro agribusiness firm in South Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Bags of feed at the Rossgro agribusiness firm in South Africa. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
MPUMALANGA, South Africa, Jul 6 2017 (IPS)

The United States and Europe’s preference for white meat is hurting Africa’s poultry industry, says Luc Smalle, manager at the agro firm Rossgro in South Africa’s Mpumalanga area.

With 3000 Ha of maize and 1000 Ha of soya, as well as 1,500 heads of beef cattle, Rossgro mills its own feed, which also caters for millions of chickens housed in 40 environmentally controlled houses.Africa’s young, dynamic population has the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas.

But Smalle is uncertain about the future of the poultry business, not only in South Africa but the whole continent.

He recalled how the US and Europe exported millions of tonnes of chicken meat to the then Soviet Union (now Russia). Historically, Russia was the major importer of America’s dark meat. According to available data, in 2009 alone, Russia is said to have doled out 800 million dollars for 1.6 billion pounds of U.S. leg quarters.

But in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin banned U.S. chicken from Russian shores, allegedly because it was treated with ‘unsafe’ antimicrobial chlorine. The ban remains in place, although some say it’s more about politics than public health.

Either way, according to Smalle, the ban “has led America and Europe to look for alternative markets to dump brown meat because most of the First World eats white meat, so they are dumping chicken in the third world, especially Africa. We should stand together and work with our governments to stop imports or put high tariffs so that they can’t dump it anymore.”

In a chicken, white meat refers to the breast and wings while legs and thighs are considered red/dark meat. The nutritional difference is fat content. White meat is a leaner source of protein, with a lower fat content, while dark meat contains higher levels of fat, hence the developed world preference for white meat on health grounds.

Smalle believes this state of affairs is hurting African poultry industry competitiveness where the average cost of raising a chicken is far much higher than in the developed world. He says most African farmers rely on bank loans from banks while their European and American counterparts are heavily subsidised by their governments.

“It’s going to kill the whole poultry industry in Africa if nothing is done to reverse the trend; they have subsidies which the African farmer does not have,” Smalle told IPS, citing the South African poultry industry, where he says a third of the workers have lost their jobs because firms have been pushed out of business.

Under free market economics, Smalle’s arguments might seem out of order. But the latest Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 jointly issued by the African Development Bank, World Bank and World Economic Forum seems to support the continent’s argument.

The report warns that without urgent action to address stagnating levels of competitiveness, Africa’s economies will not create enough jobs for young people entering the job market, adding that if current policies remain unchanged, fewer than one-quarter of the 450 million new jobs needed in the next 20 years will be created.

The biennial report comes at a time when growth in most of the region’s economies has been slowing despite a decade of sustained growth, and is likely to stagnate further in the absence of improvements in the core conditions for competitiveness.

Compounding the challenge to Africa’s leaders is a rapidly expanding population, which is set to add 450 million more to the labour force over the next two decades. Under current policies, only an estimated 100 million jobs will be created during this period.

Africa’s young, dynamic population does, however, possess the potential to lead an economic revival in the region, backed by targeted long- and short-term reforms in key areas, the report finds.

“To meet the aspirations of their growing youth populations, African governments are well-advised to enact polices that improve levels of productivity and the business environment for trade and investment,” says the World Bank Group’s Klaus Tilmes, Director of the Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice, which contributed to the report.

“The World Bank Group is helping governments and the private sector across Africa to take the steps necessary to build strong economies and accelerate job creation in order to benefit from the potential demographic dividend.”

Some of the bottlenecks and solutions include strengthening institutions, which experts believe is a pre-condition to enable faster and more effective policy implementation; improved infrastructure to enable greater levels of trade and business growth; greater adoption of technology and support to developing value-chain links to extractive sectors to encourage diversification and value addition.

The World Economic Forum’s Richard Samans, Head of the Centre for the Global Agenda and Member of the Managing Board, believes that “removing the hurdles that prevent Africa from fulfilling its competitiveness potential is the first step required to achieve more sustained economic progress and shared prosperity.”

The Africa Competitiveness report was released in May during the 27th World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban, South Africa, attended by more than 1,000 participants under the theme “Achieving Inclusive Growth through Responsive and Responsible Leadership.”

The report combines data from the Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) with studies on employment policies and city competitiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Funding Climate Resilience Benefits All Nations – Yes, the U.S. Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/07/funding-climate-resilience-benefits-nations-yes-u-s/#comments Tue, 04 Jul 2017 00:23:36 +0000 Kenton X. Chance http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151128 A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist and former climate negotiator in the Caribbean says that the United States could protect its economic and political interest by helping the region to go green. Further, James Fletcher, a former Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St. Lucia, says that US President Donald […]

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Trump’s emphasis on the coal industry is an attempt to increase jobs that no longer exist, while ignoring numerous opportunities in renewable energy

People wait for assistance after the devastation left by Hurricane Matthew in Low Sound, North Andros, The Bahamas in October 2016. A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist in the Caribbean says more climate-related disasters can result in climate refugees looking towards the United States for assistance. Credit: Kenton X. Chance/IPS

By Kenton X. Chance
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent, Jul 4 2017 (IPS)

A leading climate change mitigation and adaptation activist and former climate negotiator in the Caribbean says that the United States could protect its economic and political interest by helping the region to go green.

Further, James Fletcher, a former Minister of Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology in St. Lucia, says that US President Donald Trump’s emphasis on the coal industry is an attempt to increase jobs that no longer exist, while ignoring numerous opportunities in renewable energy.“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.” --James Fletcher

On June 1, Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from the global climate change deal reached in Paris in 2015, saying that the non-binding accord imposes draconian financial and economic burdens on the United States.

The US President was referring to the Green Climate Fund, for which advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly mobilise 100 billion dollars per year by 2020, from a variety of sources, to address the pressing mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries.

Fletcher, who was the 15-member Caribbean Community’s lead negotiator for the Paris accord, told St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Sustainable Development, Camillo Gonsalves’ “Firm Mediation” podcast, that Trump is wrong.

“Those are voluntary contributions, so it isn’t something that any country is mandated to do,” he said of the voluntary contribution to the GCF, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Former US President Barack Obama had pledged 3 billion dollars to the GCF and delivered 1 billion before leaving office.

“Now, it’s up to President Trump to decide whether he wants to honour that obligation, adjust it — we know he won’t increase it,” Fletcher said, noting that there is nothing compelling the United States to contribute any amount to the GCF.

“It’s just 100 billion that we hope to raise,” Fletcher emphasised.

“The Nationally Determined Contributions are precisely what they say they are: contributions. They are not commitments. No country is being held legally liable… You are not even allowed to name and shame. It is a kind of gentleman’s agreement that we all say yes we agree to do this, we all agree that there will be no backsliding so that we will increase ambition over time and I believe that’s one of the reasons that so many countries found it safe enough to join the Paris Agreement, because they knew there were no legal sanctions if they backed off on the agreement.

“So, to speak of the NDC as basically something that is putting an economic noose around the neck of the United States of America is anything but,” Fletcher said.

He said that the growth of the energy sector in the United States is in renewable energy.

“And if President Trump understood that sector a little bit better, he would understand that that is where he needs to be focusing his attention and not on a coal industry that really does not have any future, from an employment-generation perspective, for the United States.”

Fletcher said that contributing to the GCF “makes sense for the United States of America”.

“President Trump does not understand, his administration does not understand, that the more that you invest in building resilience in countries like ours, the more it allows us to make that transition away from fossil fuels. It is less of a burden that it places on them.”

He said that when there are natural disasters in the Caribbean, “our focus almost immediately turns to our closest wealthy neighbour, which is the United States of America for support.

“And the more you can reduce that burden by making us resilient and reducing the severity and frequency of those natural disasters, then the less of a burden there is on the United States of America.”

Fletcher said climate refugees will be a regular feature of the Caribbean landscape in years to come.

“Because people will lose their livelihoods, people’s home will be displaced, people’s habitats will be destroyed and these people have limited opportunities, particularly in small islands like ours.”

He noted that his country, St. Lucia is 238 square miles and is mountainous, with most of the settlements on the coast.

“When you have lost most of your coastland, where do you go? You don’t go inland. … There are limited opportunities to move inland, so people now start to migrate.”

He said that former US Vice President Joe Biden recognised these reality, and spoke to it in the two US-Caribbean summits that he organised.

“When he saw that the Caribbean was moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, he saw two things immediately. He saw an opportunity to lessen the influence of Venezuela in the region, and he saw it from a political vantage point, but he also saw an opportunity for US companies that are involved in renewable energy, in solar and in wind to basically sell their services to the Caribbean because he was concerned that our focus was on Europe any many of us for looking to Europe for technical assistance and support.

“So, there are opportunities there and it is very short-sighted on the part of President Trump to view this almost as a way of causing a resurgence of jobs that no longer exists.”

Fletcher said that while Trump speaks about coal mining jobs, all of the data suggest that there are fewer than 75,000 jobs in the coal industry in the United States and that it is a shrinking sector.

“There are over 650,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector in the United States, and that is growing. So it will make more sense to focus on a growing sector than a dying sector.”

Trump was also concerned that China and India, as large emitters, are allowed to continue to emit, while the US is restricted.

Fletcher said that on this point, what Trump says about China and India “is partially correct”, because they are significant emitters.

“But that’s where the issue of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) comes in,” Fletcher said, noting that countries like India and China say they have large sections of their population living in abject poverty and they need to be given some space to develop those sectors.

“And while they have committed — and India is making significant strides in renewable energy — they are saying, you can’t hold us to the same yardstick that you hold countries like Russia, like the United States, that are the cause of the problem that we have right now. Yes, we are working to address our problem but there is still a development trajectory that we are on that you can’t cause us to stop immediately and put us in an even bigger problem than we are right now.”

Fletcher said that if he were asked in an ideal world whether he would like to see India and China reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases more quickly, he would say absolutely and that he would love to see every country do the same thing.

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Nikki Haley Grilled in US Congress on America’s Role in the UN and the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/nikki-haley-grilled-us-congress-americas-role-un-world/#comments Thu, 29 Jun 2017 13:52:52 +0000 Barbara Crossette http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151101 Five months into her stint as United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley faced two days of often-sharp questioning on June 27 and 28 by influential panels of the United States Congress. They demanded justification for the Trump administration’s decision to slash funding to the United Nations, particularly cuts to the UN Population […]

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Nikki Haley Grilled in US Congress on America’s Role in the UN and the World

Nikki Haley and the Egyptian ambassador to the UN, Amr Aboulatta, in the Security Council. Haley told Congress recently that Trump’s proposed budget for the UN put the world body “on notice.” Credit: RICK BAJORNAS/UN PHOTO

By Barbara Crossette
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 29 2017 (IPS)

Five months into her stint as United States ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley faced two days of often-sharp questioning on June 27 and 28 by influential panels of the United States Congress. They demanded justification for the Trump administration’s decision to slash funding to the United Nations, particularly cuts to the UN Population Fund, Unicef, UN Women and the World Food Program.

Concerns were also raised about the wisdom of reducing the US budget contributions to peacekeeping from 27 percent to 25 percent (which cannot be done unilaterally without incurring arrears) and by squeezing peacekeeping missions around the world. Haley was proud to note that funds for the mission in Haiti were being cut by $150 million, though Secretary-General António Guterres just named Josette Sheeran, special envoy on cholera in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Cuts to US contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency in an era of nuclear proliferations were also questioned.

Haley also proudly told Congressional members that the US got the UN General Assembly budget committee this month to reduce the annual peacekeeping budget. In fact, the US aimed for $1 billion in cuts but agreed to about half that amount, for a total yearly budget of $7.3 billion.

Paradoxically in her testimony in Congress, Haley bemoaned the lack of equipment for peacekeeping troops (the mission in Mali desperately needs armored tanks), which could be financed through a more generous UN budget and save lives.

The tone of questions asked to Haley by Congressional members may suggest that Trump’s 2018 budget will not get significant legislative support on UN-related issues, yet there remains a hard core of Republican legislators who — not always clear on facts or context on how the organization works — are dismissive and insulting. Among them and other groups, a strong pro-Israeli lobby continues to function and may have been strengthened by Trump’s team.

Haley acknowledged pressure from Israel — calling it “support” — that led to the US forcing Guterres, the secretary-general, to reverse the appointment in February of Salam Fayyad, a former Palestinian prime minister, as the UN’s special representative for Libya. Fayyad’s appointment apparently was not initially opposed by Haley. Asked by a member of Congress about the last-minute about-face in the US on Fayyad, Haley said that because Palestine was not recognized as a country by the US, a Palestinian should not be given an official UN post.

In this case, she said, appointing him would add to the UN’s “imbalance” against Israel. She would not say clearly whether Israel forced the change in the original US position or whether a Palestinian could ever be approved for a UN post.

On her first day testifying before Congress, Haley was questioned by a House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee dealing with funds for international organizations; on the second day, she faced the full House committee on foreign affairs. A consummate politician, Haley performed well, skirting some issues, although generally showing unwavering support for the Trump team and the president himself.

“We are on the same page,” Haley said of Trump, who seems to approve of her tough talk in the international arena and his voice at the UN. “I don’t go rogue on the president.”

Yet, she added later that “this administration does not tell me what to say or not to say.”

In an interesting interlude amid the questioning by appropriations committee members, Haley revealed that the most recent threat to Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad and his backers, Russia and Iran, should another Syrian chemical weapons attack occurred, was just a threat by the US, with no action planned.

The goal, she said, was “to send a message” not only to Syria but also to Russia and Iran to get them to “back off.”

On the zeroing out of US funds for Unicef from the proposed 2018 federal budget, about which members on both committees voiced a range of reactions — from disbelief and disappointment to shock and outrage — Haley breezily replied to one questioner that the “starting point” of the budget was to build up the military and look for cuts everywhere else.

She did not react when Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, asked whether the world’s children — through slashing Unicef — should have to pay for the US military buildup, saying it was “not a proud value that Americans would uphold.”

Members of Congress, many of them Democrats shut out of policymaking in a House of Representatives controlled by the Republican party, also wanted to know why the US appeared to have an incoherent foreign policy. They noted conflicting pronouncements in President Trump’s tweets and public flip-flops; measured statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and declarations by Haley that seemed to be her own opinion at times.

Putting it mildly, the US has become “unpredictable,” a legislator said.

Pressed to describe her relations with her bosses in Washington, Haley revealed to the foreign affairs committee that she rarely talked with Trump or Tillerson and had no information on the unusual number of vacancies in the US State Department. She said that her closest relationship was with the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the defense secretary; James Mattis, with whom she spoke on issues concerning the UN; and others in the president’s cabinet, of which she is a member.

“We work as a team,” she said, adding that there was “a very organized process in place.”

On Russia, Haley stuck to her strong objections to the invasion of Crimea and Moscow’s incursions into eastern Ukraine, and accepted that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election. She insisted, however, that Trump was not involved in colluding with the election interference. Asked whether she had discussed with Trump the Russian involvement in the election, possibly at the direction or President Vladimir Putin, Haley said that topic had not come up because it was not a UN matter.

Haley faced many questions on the rationale for the total defunding by the Trump administration of the UN Population Fund, or UNFPA. The most persistent questioners came from Democrats, but they were not alone. Haley responded that there was nothing she could do about the full loss of funds from the US to UNFPA since it had been done by presidential order. She insisted that the money saved, about $70 million by current calculations, would go to similar US aid programs.

Those programs, however, strictly bar US funding for any international organization or NGO that assists or even counsels on abortion. Reflecting her lack of interest about the loss of money to UNFPA, she was asked how maternal health care was being replaced by the UN agency in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which she just visited. Although she admitted she didn’t know, she said the next day in Congress “I always just meet with women” when she had visited the refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey.

The Trump administration (and the George W. Bush administration) used debunked reports that the Population Fund’s work in China supported forced abortions there to stop financing the agency. Haley repeated the claim, but told the appropriations subcommittee that the UNFPA was “associated” with a “company” in China that was guilty of involuntary “sterilization.” She did not repeat that formulation in the foreign affairs hearings, but Lois Frankel, a Democrat from Florida, called the China reason a “totally phony excuse.”

“A lot of women are going to suffer,” said Ami Bera, a Democrat from California and medical doctor, said about the cuts to the Population Fund.

Much of the hearings were consumed by repeated questions and criticisms of the Human Rights Council. Haley repeated what she said in her confirmation hearing in January about the Council needing to be “fixed.” She has never said plainly that the US is considering withdrawing from the 47-nation body. But in Geneva in June, Haley, saying she had come to see the Council firsthand, made a brief appearance (about three minutes) in the chamber to announce her presence.

Later that day in a speech to the Graduate Institute of Geneva, she warned that the US could “go outside” the Council to protect human rights if two nonnegotiable conditions were not met.

In that speech, Haley demanded that the Council change its election procedures (which would have to be done by the General Assembly) to “keep the worst human rights abusers from obtaining seats on the Council.” That would mean the open election of Council members, who are now chosen regionally by consensus, or horse-trading.

“As it stands, elections for membership to the Council are over before the voting even begins,” she said. “No competition means no scrutiny of candidates’ human rights records. We must change the elections so countries are forced to make the case for membership based on their records, not on their promises.”

Her second demand was that a Council agenda provision — known as Item 7 — which perennially singles out Israel for condemnation, “must be removed.” That command has garnered wide bipartisan support in the US, and American diplomats have been successful in recent years in reducing the number of obsessive resolutions on this issue, which will not be open to debate again until 2020. In Congress, Haley pointed to Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as providing the “hard core support” for Item 7.

Haley had no problem defending Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Agreement on climate change. “We are not going to throw climate out the window,” she said, adding: “What the president did was in the best interest of businesses and the best interest of our country.”

To which Connolly, the representative from Virginia, proclaimed that Trump’s decision put the US in the same boat as Nicaragua and Syria.

(*Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Putting the Spotlight on Women Migrant Workershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/putting-spotlight-women-migrant-workers/#respond Sat, 24 Jun 2017 22:25:30 +0000 Roshni Majumdar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151040 Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide. But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug. This is why, experts from […]

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Eni Lestari Andayani Adi (Indonesia), Chairperson of the International Migrants Alliance (IMA), addresses the opening segment of the United Nations high-level summit on large movements of refugees and migrants. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2017 (IPS)

Migrant workers, and their economic contribution to the development of both the country of origin and the host country, have caught the eye of governments and policymakers worldwide.

But the hardships faced by women migrants, who disproportionately bear the brunt of discrimination at work, are often swept under the rug.

This is why, experts from UN Women and the United Nations University (UNU) in New York came together this week to discuss and raise awareness about migrant women workers’ rights.

In 2015, female migrant workers, who number 117 million, contributed about half of the world’s total remittance flow.

As labour markets shuffle in the new world order, two distinct patterns have emerged. Women have increasingly moved to hospitality and nursing industries, or the “domestic” economy, as well as areas previously dominated by men, such as agriculture. Demand has continued to rise in developed countries, but women’s contributions have been severely underappreciated.

By contributing to the gaps of the labour economy, women have lifted the working age population, and contributed to technological and human capital. By virtue of their soft skills, they have closed the gaps of a receding tax base, undermined by an aging population, and have come to the assistance of the elderly in the chaos of cutbacks in the health sector.

In the Philippines, for instance, which is the world’s third highest remittance receiving country, women migrant workers have been the sole breadwinners for their family. Typically, women largely migrate to Europe and North America.

Still, with the change in the world order and the growth of newer economies, this flow is likely to change. Experts predict that the flow from the Global North to the Global South will shift, as migrants move into the fast growing economies of Asia, like China and India.

“Migration is going to continue because a single country will not have all the resources in and of itself. Even if technology advances, we are not going to put our children in the hands of a robot,” Dr. Francisco Cos Montiel, a senior research officer at UNU, told IPS.

Inkeri Von Hase, an expert on gender and migration issues, told IPS that “we have to prioritise women’s empowerment so they are able to realise their full potential.” The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was adopted in 2016 with this very aim to protect and empower migrant workers, has largely failed to take into account specific rights for women’s protection.

Still, all this is not to say that all women migrant workers are necessarily victims of sexual assault and discrimination at work. Many have found a renewed sense of agency and purpose, for instance, the women who have fled violence in Guatemala and El Salvador. To ensure they can continue to tread this path, however, it becomes crucial to adopt newer policies today.

It is also significant that many migrants have become de-skilled in the process of migration, and have settled for the first jobs they found, in a bid to earn money to send home.

The new recommendations by experts in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration report could be crucial to ensure the autonomy and independence of women migrant workers across the world.

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“Big Reflection” Needed on Opioid Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/big-reflection-needed-opioid-crisis/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 14:26:39 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=151003 Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency. In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world. In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at […]

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Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency UNODC

Intravenous drug users in Pakistan. Credit: Fahim Siddiqi/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 22 2017 (IPS)

Opioids are among the most devastating drugs and are creating a crisis of epidemic proportions, said the UN drug agency.

In its annual World Drug Report, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found concerning trends in drug use around the world.

In 2015, an estimated quarter of a billion people used drugs at least once. Of these, almost 30 million suffered from drug use disorders including dependence. UNODC found that opioids were the most harmful drug type, accounting for 70 percent of negative health impacts associated with drug use disorders worldwide, and its production is only increasing.

“[Opioid use] is a really dramatic epidemic…they are really, in terms of burden of disease, at the top of the scale,” said UNODC’s Chief of Drug Prevention and Health Branch Gilberto Gerra to IPS.

The use of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and fentanyl, heighten the risks of acquiring diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C through unsafe injecting practices as well as overdoses and death.

Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 premature deaths related to drugs that were mostly avoidable. A large proportion of those deaths is attributed to the use of opioids.

Though affects many countries in the world, the opioid crisis is particularly prevalent in the United States.

Mostly driven by opioids, approximately one quarter of the estimated drug-related deaths worldwide occur in the U.S.

Overdose deaths in the North American nation more than tripled from almost 17,000 to over 52,000 annually between 1999 and 2015, and increased by 11 percent in the past year alone, reaching the highest level ever recorded.

In fact, more Americans died from the misuse of opioids in 2016 than in the entirety of the Vietnam War, noted Gerra.

In the state of Maryland, opioid-related deaths quadrupled since 2010 and deaths from fentanyl increased 38-fold in the past decade. In response to the crisis, Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, stating: “We need to treat this crisis the exact same way we would treat any other state emergency…this is about taking an all-hands-on-deck approach so that together we can save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.”

Though some states have begun the place restrictions on the accessibility of pharmaceutical opioids, including a Florida bill that aims to restrict painkiller prescriptions to a five-day supply, Gerra stressed the importance of focusing on not only supply, but also the demand side of opioids.

“If so many people are consuming this opioid medication including legal opioids from the pharmacy, when you restrict the pharmacy’s opioid medication, they will start to turn to things like heroin,” he told IPS.

In the U.S., heroin use has increased significantly, and the Centers for Disease Control has suggested that it is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

“There needs to be a big reflection on this issue in North America,” Gerra said.

However, the potential changes in healthcare in the U.S. may impact access to treatment.

In particular, the current health care bill proposes cuts to expanded Medicaid, which is used by many states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic to boost their response by paying for medication, therapy, and other treatment services.

Health advocates criticised the proposed cuts during President Trump’s first meeting of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which is charged with finding solutions for the epidemic.

“If we make it harder for people to get health care coverage, it is going to make this crisis worse,” said North Carolina’s Governor Roy Cooper.

A similar scenario is found around the world as availability of and access to treatment of drug use disorders remain limited. Fewer than one in six persons with drug use disorders are provided with treatment each year, UNODC found.

Gerra highlighted the importance of treatment, pointing to the need for personalised interventions and close supervision by doctors or therapists in order to avoid opioid misuse.

He also added that people possessing drugs for personal consumption should not be criminalised as it steers them away from seeking treatment for fear of punishment.

Though approaches to global drug policy have been contentious and diverse, countries in the General Assembly session on the world drug problem (UNGASS) in 2016 unanimously agreed for the first time to a people-centered approach which sees the drug problem as a health disorder rather than a criminal or moral issue.

“We cannot respond to people trapped by drugs with a punitive approach. We have to tell them that we are here, we are aware of your condition and behaviour, you are aware that you are in trouble, please come and we will do what we can to help you and your family to overcome this problem in a very humane and human-rights, science-based way,” Gerra told IPS.

Gerra called for a continuum of care approach to help keep people using drugs like heroin safe through services like needle exchange programs and to provide long-term accessible and affordable treatment once users are ready.

“No one should be left behind in the delivery of prevention and treatment interventions,” UNODC said in its report.

Gerra noted that prevention is by far the most cost-effective intervention in the long run, but approaches must be science-based in order to be effective.

“People don’t understand that there is a science behind prevention—they continue to use initiatives that are well-intentioned but completely not science-based [and] then they say prevention is not working,” he said, pointing to science-based methodologies such as life skills education and drug education to children.

The globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is to leave no one behind, includes a target to strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meetinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/un-work-stoppage-geneva-halts-human-rights-meeting/#respond Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:53:10 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150960 As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting. But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA). […]

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UN Work Stoppage in Geneva Halts Human Rights Meeting

Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 19 2017 (IPS)

As UN staffers in Geneva threaten a strike, protesting a proposed salary cut of over 7.5 percent, a token two-hour “work stoppage” last week forced the Human Rights Council to suspend its meeting.

But there is more to come, warned Ian Richards, President of the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA).

Richards told IPS that a strike would only ever be the last resort. But he accused the United Nations of failing to practice in its own backyard what it preaches to the rest of the world, particularly on labour and human rights.

“Had there been a proper negotiation system in place for staff to have a say in their salaries as the UN preaches to countries, we could have avoided all this.”

“Having said that”, he pointed out, “if there is no avenue for meaningful dialogue, UN staff will have no choice but to escalate their actions.” At the end of the day this isn’t about a budget cut, he noted.

Currently, the UN staff in Geneva number over 5,400 in the professional category of employees.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” early June, blamed the New York-based International Civil Service Commission (ICSC) for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The agencies based in Geneva include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development, (UNCTAD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Conference on Disarmament and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), among others.

The ICSC, which determines UN salary structures, has awarded staff in New York a pay rise of 2.2 percent, which they rightfully deserve, said Richards. “In the end it’s about some pushing to see what they can get away with,” he added.

The CCISUA will be joined by the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA) in any collective action.

The Human Rights Council, the primary UN body dealing with human rights, was forced to suspend its sittings last Friday, but the Geneva staff decided not to disrupt a meeting negotiating an end to the long-drawn-out Syrian civil war which has triggered one of the world’s major humanitarian crises.

Rolando Gómez, Public Information Officer of the Human Rights Council Branch of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva confirmed to IPS about the suspension of the Human Rights Council meeting, resulting from the work stoppage.

“It was the first time such a suspension took place at the Council for such a reason,” he added.

Gomez said the Human Rights Council recognises the right of UN staff to demonstrate against the proposed pay cut and did not wish to take any action that would prevent them from doing so.

“The Council also reiterates its immense gratitude to UN staff at Geneva for the first-rate, indispensable assistance they provide in servicing their meetings throughout the year,” he declared.

Meanwhile, in a letter to staff unions in Geneva, Michael Møller, Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG), said staff representatives have informed the Executive Heads of all Geneva-based common system organizations that they are “planning actions throughout this summer, including work stoppages” with respect to the recent decision of the ICSC on post adjustment levels in Geneva.

This is also refers to an email last week from the UNOG Staff Council with the heading: “Upcoming work stoppage”.

“UN Geneva recognizes and respects the right of staff to freedom of association. Staff are allowed to meet on the UN Geneva premises in a non-disruptive representative manner. UN Geneva also acknowledges the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the ISCS’s determination on post adjustment for Geneva.”

The letter further warned: “Notwithstanding the above, staff are reminded that actions which disrupt or otherwise interfere with any meeting or other official activity of the Organization, may be considered in contravention to the obligations under staff rule 1.2 (g). This includes any and all conduct which is intended, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the ability of staff or delegates to discharge their official functions.”

Based on guidance from UNHQ (in New York), staff are also reminded that action, such as work stoppage or other collective action, may be considered as unauthorized absence in line with staff regulations and rules, the letter added.

He also said that staff should take note that discussions are still ongoing with the ICSC regarding the implementation of the post adjustment changes, “and we should all ensure that we do not to jeopardize the outcome of such discussions.”

“This is also to call on all of us to act professionally and in a manner befitting our status as international civil servants,” the letter added.

Richards told IPS: “We’re disappointed that UN management should have resorted to threatening staff.”

Asked for his comments, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “The guidance we have from our colleagues in Geneva is that they fully acknowledge the right of staff to freedom of association, which is a basic right. Staff were allowed to meet on the UN… on the premises in Geneva in a non disruptive manner.”

“I think our colleagues in Geneva have acknowledged the dissatisfaction of staff resulting from the issues having to do with the International Civil Service Commission on post adjustments in Geneva. My understanding is that negotiations are still going on, on the implementation of these issues, but we’re all international civil servants, and we need to respect the rules,” he noted.

Richards also said that staff from organizations across Geneva took part in the work stoppage, with the aim of sending a strong message to New York management and the ICSC, that Geneva staff won’t allow their pay to be cut on the basis of absence of negotiations and numerous questions raised about the data and calculations.

“During the stoppage we held a staff meeting, attended by a large number of staff, including directors and staff from HR and security. We have a video which shows a lot of anger.”

Asked what the next step would be, Richards said: “Next steps are the report from a group of statisticians who visited the ICSC last week to check their data and calculations. The ICSC will revisit the issue in Vienna in July and we hope will change their conclusions.”

“It is important to note, he said, that this isn’t about budget cuts, as New York, where ICSC is based, recently got a 2.2 percent pay rise. However, the un-transparent approach used by the ICSC means that another 85 duty stations could be in line for a cut,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chipshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/negotiations-miami-must-not-treat-central-american-asylum-seekers-bargaining-chips/#respond Thu, 15 Jun 2017 18:12:05 +0000 Madeleine Penman and Marselha Goncalves Margerin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150898 Madeleine Penman, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin, Advocacy Director for the Americas at Amnesty International USA

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Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

By Madeleine Penman and Marselha Gonçalves Margerin
MEXICO CITY, Jun 15 2017 (IPS)

Today in Miami, the governments of US and Mexico are putting aside their well-publicized tensions of recent months and co-hosting a conference on security and governance in Central America´s Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, from where thousands of people flee extreme violence to seek asylum in the US and Mexico. 

Seeing the United States and Mexico in front of the cameras as happy co-hosts sparks a number of questions.

Many citizens have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.
Why is no one speaking about Trump´s great big wall? Who is talking about their much-aired differences in negotiating a new NAFTA trade agreement?

It remains to be seen whether these impasses between the US and Mexico will be the bargaining chips during discussions in Miami that affect the lives of families, children and entire communities whose lives are being destroyed by powerful gangs known as maras that effectively control the lives of thousands of people in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

Many citizens  have no choice but to flee from these countries that have some of the highest homicide rates on the planet.

Yet rather than looking at humanitarian approaches to the crisis in these countries, the Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America will be largely led by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, whose main job is to patrol US borders. He will be inviting attendants to bunker down together at the United States armed forces Southern Command base to discuss solutions for Central America with a host of government, private sector and international development actors.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

At the same time, the obligations of all these governments under international law to protect people who are fleeing for their lives, must not be forgotten.

While leaders meet to discuss ways of addressing the security crisis in Central America, the United States has already started implementing one of the most ambitious border control programmes in its recent history, directly affecting thousands of Central American asylum seekers.

A report launched by Amnesty International today shows how these measures, currently being rolled out in line with President Trump´s Executive Order on Border Security of 25 January 2017, threaten to repeat the very same failed strategies that US presidents have tried since the 1990s. Rather than promote stability in Central America, hardline border patrol has been proven to cause an increase in the people smuggling industry, lining the pockets of powerful criminal networks in the region and affecting lives of thousands of vulnerable people.

Trump’s measures not only call for the construction of a wall, but allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations as well as increasing the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end. The discussions taking place in Miami today must not forget the cycle of migration from beginning to end, and not only look at the security crisis in Central America but also criticize the inhumane responses being devised by the USA for arriving Central Americans, measures that violate international law.

There is no hiding the United States´ desire for Mexico to play a key role in stemming the flow of asylum seekers and migrants arriving on its borders from Central America.

A Mexican government eager to register gains in other negotiations open with the USA may be keen to ramp up its existing efforts as the USA´s chief gatekeeper.

Negotiations in Miami Must not Treat Central American Asylum Seekers as Bargaining Chips

Credit: Amnesty International

Amnesty International´s research shows how Mexico plays the role of the chief immigration officer for the USA, deporting thousands of Central Americans to situations of murder or other human rights violations, when the very Mexican government bemoans the same treatment of its own citizens.

Yet it must not be forgotten that both governments are bound to principles under international human rights treaties that prohibit the return of people to life threatening situations. Of 113 people from the Northern Triangle that Amnesty International spoke to in recent months, 86% alleged major threats to their life.

Nevertheless, the US and Mexican governments are complicit in violations of international law that send back thousands of people to their death and rather than tackling a problem, only threaten to make it worse.

This crisis is not likely to go away any time soon. The question now is how much blood governments are willing to have on their hands.

Read more

Facing Walls: USA and Mexico’s violation of the rights of asylum seekers (Report, 15 June 2017)

https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr01/6426/2017/en/

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How Peter Thiel Got His New Zealand Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/how-peter-thiel-got-his-new-zealand-citizenship/#comments Thu, 08 Jun 2017 00:05:06 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150801 In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there. It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand […]

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Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

Peter Thiel speaking at Hy! Summit in Berlin, Germany, March 19, 2014. Photograph by Dan Taylor, www.heisenbergmedia.com

By Christopher Pala
WELLINGTON, Jun 8 2017 (IPS)

In January, the revelation that Peter Thiel, the libertarian Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump adviser, secretly got a New Zealand citizenship six years ago caused an uproar, mostly because he was the first to get one without pledging to live there.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t even required to fly to New Zealand to get his papers: the government allowed him to pick up his passport at its consulate in Santa Monica. The outrage was compounded by the government’s release in February of his 145-page naturalization file, which revealed a cascade of broken promises.Purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one.

In his application dated June 2011, he described New Zealand as a utopia that “aligns more with my view of the future” than any other country. Thiel has said the maximum tax rates in the U.S. (now 39.6 percent) should be lowered to 20 percent or less and the shortfall in national income should be recovered by “disentangling some of those middle-class entitlements that people have gotten used to.”

In New Zealand, the top tax rate is 33 percent. It is the only OECD country without a capital gains or inheritance tax; it is run by the world’s most business-friendly bureaucracy and has a vibrant and under-capitalized tech sector.

Though it was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893, and has offered free dental care to schoolchildren since 1921, it swung from one of the most managed economies to one of the least regulated in the 1980s. As a result, 60 percent of its rivers are too polluted to swim in and its fisheries have been found to rest on a foundation of waste and official lies.

In 2015, Thiel bought a 193-hectare estate on Lake Wanaka, in the South Island. He also owns a mansion on Lake Wakatipu, an hour away. These and other purchases by absentee foreign billionaires have been blamed for helping push up real estate prices and boosting homelessness, which at 1 percent is twice the US rate and three times the British one. The cost of housing is the hottest issue in elections due this year.

In his citizenship application, Thiel wrote, “It would give me great pride to let it be known that I am citizen and an enthusiastic supporter of the country and its emerging high-tech industry.” He said he intended “to devote a significant amount of my time and resources to the people and businesses of NZ” and become “an active player in NZ’s venture capital industry.”

He explained that the year before, he had created an investment fund called Valar Ventures “dedicated exclusively to funding and aiding New Zealand technology companies.” Through it, he could “act in an advisory role in a way that (others) cannot because I have encountered and solved many of the problems that will confront entrepreneurs as they build their companies.”

At the government’s suggestion, according to the file, Thiel even donated NZ$1 million (830,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to an earthquake relief fund.

On July 8, 2011, three days after his application was accepted, he was the headline speaker at a conference at the Icehouse, a business development center in Auckland, the economic capital. But Thiel made no mention of his new citizenship, nor did he speak of becoming an active player on the local tech scene. Likewise, he made no mention of New Zealand to a New Yorker writer who interviewed him for a long profile headlined “No Death, no Taxes,” published that November.

“The last thing we want to do is give people the impression that our citizenship is up for sale, and this affair has certainly created that,” said Iain Lees-Galloway, the spokesman on immigration issues of the opposition Labour Party, in an interview. As for Thiel’s promises in his application, Lees-Galloway added, “He couldn’t have been all that proud (of becoming a Kiwi) because he didn’t tell anybody for six years.”

The government of the right-wing National Party glossed over the broken promises. Prime Minister Bill English, who was deputy PM in 2011, told local reporters, “If people come here and invest and get into philanthropy and are supportive of New Zealand, for us as a small country at the end of the world, that’s not a bad thing.” Thiel had been to New Zealand four times, his file showed, starting in 1993.

On February 4 came another disclosure: The Herald reported that nine months after Thiel was granted the citizenship, his Valar Ventures fund had accepted what the paper called a “sweetheart deal” from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, created in 2002 to encourage investments in local tech start-ups.

Valar and the fund would jointly invest in four local companies: Xero, with the largest share, as well as Vend, Booktrack and Pacific Fibre. Two years earlier, Thiel had separately invested three million dollars in Xero, a cloud-based accounting software that was already listed.

At the time, NZVIF’s standard contract had a clause that allowed the outside investor to buy, after five years, the government’s share at its initial cost, plus the yield of a five-year government bond. If the company shares went up, the investor pocketed the profits from the government’s share, too. If the shares fell, both lost equally.

In October 2016, after the shares of Xero soared, Valar Ventures exercised the clause. The exact size of its investment is not known, but the profits have been estimated at 23.5 million dollars for an investment of 6.8 million. Valar still owns 4.8 percent of Xero, down from a peak of 7 percent. Today, of the 13 companies in its portfolio, only two are from New Zealand: Xero and Vend.

Opposition politicians suggested that naïve government officials had made yet another transaction with Thiel that failed to benefit New Zealanders. “Thiel had already invested in Xero, it was hardly a risky venture,” pointed out Lees-Galloway, the Labour MP.

But while politicians denounced the deal as having essentially privatized the profits from a taxpayer-funded investment, the tech world saw things very differently.

Andrew Hamilton, the CEO of the Icehouse business center where Thiel gave his speech, declined to specify what else Thiel had done for startups, saying only: “Peter was and is awesome, and we are always grateful to people who contribute and help!”

Lance Wiggs, the founding director of the Punakaiki Fund, which invests in companies in the development and fast-growth phases, said Valar was “exactly the kind of fund New Zealand wanted to attract.” He said Thiel’s investment in Xero “was absolutely crucial at the time, he really helped them lift their game from being a local player to an international one.” Xero is now worth two billion dollars and has 1,400 employees around the world.

As for the government, Wiggs added, “I can see why they blinked and gave him a passport, though I can’t see why he needed it,” given that Thiel has a residency permit since 2006.

But unlike the permit, citizenship is “irrevocable,” as his lawyer pointed out in the application.

Adam Hunt, a tax administration specialist, offered one possible explanation: “It’s an attractive place for a rich person,” he said. Thiel could renounce his American citizenship and move to New Zealand. “If you’re rich and you move here, you can live off your capital gains,” which are not taxed. “You may have virtually no income here, and pay almost no taxes.”

Forbes estimates Thiel’s net worth at 2.7 billion dollars. He is 49 years old.

As for Thiel himself, who was born German and naturalized American, he declined to publicly defend the officials who did him the favor, or to make any new investments in New Zealand start-ups. His spokesman, Jeremiah Hall of Torch Communications in San Francisco, did not respond to three e-mails seeking comment.

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Mixed Reactions to U.S. Withdrawal from Climate Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/06/mixed-reactions-to-u-s-withdrawal-from-climate-deal/#comments Thu, 01 Jun 2017 07:10:12 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150694 The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives. Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to […]

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

The United States is expected to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate agreement, prompting mixed reactions from civil society and political representatives.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) receives the legal instruments for joining the Paris Agreement from Barack Obama, President of the United States, at a special ceremony held in Hangzhou, China. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Despite facing global pressure to remain, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce the country’s exit from the Paris climate agreement which nearly every country committed to in 2015 in order to curb global greenhouse gas emissions.

Though it is uncertain what the U.S. exit will look like, the decision has already sparked widespread disappointment and outrage.

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Margaret Huang called the expected decision an “assault on a range of human rights.”

“By refusing to join other nations in taking necessary steps to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change, the President is effectively saying: ‘Let them drown, burn, and starve,’” she continued.

Sierra Club’s Executive Director Michael Brune echoed similar sentiments, stating: “Donald Trump has made a historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased significantly in recent years from 317 parts per million in 1960 to more than 400 parts per million in 2016, levels that have not been observed for over 10 million years. This has lead to a rise in global average temperature of over 0.9 degrees Celsius (1.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above its 1960 level, and it is only projected to increase further without curbing fossil fuel use and thus emissions.

Climate change is already contributing to extreme environmental events including rapidly melting ice caps, more frequent and devastating storms, and prolonged droughts which have and will continue to impact hundreds of millions of peoples’ human rights around the world, Huang noted.

On previous occasions, President Trump has described climate change as a “hoax” created by China and has vowed to invest in domestic coal and oil, industries that have largely contributed to increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Brune noted that the decision is a betrayal of the public and market, stating: “This is a decision that will cede America’s role internationally to nations like China and India, which will benefit handsomely from embracing the booming clean energy economy while Trump seeks to drive our country back into the 19th century.”

According to the Sierra Club, the number of clean energy jobs already outnumbers all fossil fuel jobs in the U.S. by more than 2.5 to 1, and coal and gas jobs by 5 to 1. This shift to renewable energy is only expected to grow globally, reflecting the transition of the world’s energy sector into cleaner technologies. China alone aims to increase its renewable energy by 40 percent by 2020.

The majority of Americans also back the Paris agreement. A recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found 71 percent support of U.S. participation in the deal from both Republicans and Democrats alike.

Prior to the U.S.’ decision, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that it was “absolutely essential” that the world implements the Paris agreement but action can still continue if a country doesn’t do so.

“But if any government doubts the global will and need for this accord, that is reason for all others to unite even stronger and stay the course,” he said in a speech at the New York University Stern School of Business.

In a similar vein, Seychelles’ Permanent Representative to the UN Ronald Jumeau said countries will move forward with climate action with or without the U.S.

“The absence of the USA does not make the glass half empty or half full. It is still more full than empty,” he said.

“What you have to worry about is look at who is here, who is sitting in the front row, and say now what are we going to do about this? How are we going to step up so that it brings benefits to us all,” Jumeau continued.

Countries in the G7, European Union, and Asia have already stepped up to reaffirm their commitments to the Paris agreement in response to the U.S.’ wavering stance.

An upcoming EU-China Summit in Brussels is expected to result in a detailed action plan to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the climate deal.

“Small Island States cannot afford to be dismayed or feel down about any of this, we have to move on for the sake of our countries [and] for humanity in general and for all countries,” Juneau concluded.

Nearly 150 countries have ratified the Paris climate agreement, representing over 80 percent of global emissions. Nicaragua and Syria are among the only countries that have not signed the agreement.

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Proposed UN Pay Cuts Threaten Work Stoppage in Genevahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/05/proposed-un-pay-cuts-threaten-work-stoppage-in-geneva/#respond Tue, 30 May 2017 15:30:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=150659 Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel. But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of […]

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UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 30 2017 (IPS)

Facing significant reductions in US financial contributions from a politically-unpredictable Donald Trump administration, the UN Secretariat is gearing itself for a rash of austerity measures and budgetary cuts, including downsizing peacekeeping operations and cuts in development aid, reproductive health and overseas travel.

But UN staffers in Geneva, numbering over 5,400 in the professional category of employees, are already on the warpath because of a proposed 7.5 percent reduction in their take-home pay triggering a strong backlash and public demonstrations—and perhaps leading to a possible work stoppage.

The proposed salary reductions in Geneva aren’t related to the impending US cuts to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets in New York.

A resolution adopted by the Geneva staff, at an “extraordinary general meeting” last week, blames the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC), which presides over salary structures, for “failing to address the deep concerns and questions raised by staff federations and the heads of 10 Geneva-based agencies over the proposed cut to post adjustment that would result in a reduction in take-home pay of 7.5 per cent (or more).”

The staff federations include the 60,000-strong Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA) and the 30,000-strong Federation of International Civil Servants Association (FICSA)

The resolution says the ICSC has refused three times to meet with staff and explain the proposed cuts despite ongoing and serious questions about its data-handling and statistical analysis.

Ian Richards, President of CCISUA, told IPS the resolution was unprecedented and “shows how angry staff in Geneva are at the ICSC’s manipulation of its own methodology to cut pay in what unfortunately is one of the world’s most expensive cities where local salaries rose almost six percent in the last five years”.

“We’re under huge pressure from staff to get the work stoppages going,” he warned.

He said the decision to cut pay was taken by ICSC, but given its failure to provide convincing explanations to the heads of human resources of the organizations in Geneva, most organizations will not implement it for now.

“Those same organizations have also sent a team of statisticians to New York to go through the ICSC’s calculations. Unfortunately the UN secretariat has decided to break ranks, meaning staff in Geneva will be paid different salaries for the same work.”

Richards said pay cuts are also poor employment practices and are only taken by employers in crisis and after negotiating with staff unions.

“The fact that the ICSC increased pay in New York and Washington DC shows we aren’t there right now,” he added.

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

UN staff in Geneva protesting proposed pay cuts. Credit: UN photo

Geneva is the first UN duty station to be affected by the new rules, but there are 85 duty stations to follow. This summer, several European Union duty stations such as Paris, Vienna, Rome and Madrid, will be up before the ICSC.

According to the staff unions, New York salaries went up by 2.2 percent in February.

“This isn’t about a choice between a pay cut or preserving jobs in Geneva. Organizations did not factor in the pay cut while setting their budgets. Meanwhile Swiss salaries increased 5.7 percent between 2010 and 2015, the same period over which the ICSC is trying to cut ours,” says CCISUA.

There is also a widespread belief that Geneva was victimized first because UN member states aren’t happy at having to pay $1 billion on a new building, which they were strong-armed into paying for, and particularly with possible cost overruns.

Meanwhile, since Washington is the largest single contributor both to the UN’s regular and its peacekeeping budgets, a proposed 29 percent in US foreign assistance by the Trump administration is expected to have a heavy impact on the United Nations in New York.

Currently about 22 percent of the UN’s biennium regular budget of $5.4 billion comes from the US. So does 28 percent of the UN’s peacekeeping budget of about $8 billion.

Asked about the impending cuts proposed in the US budget, UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “We’re obviously studying the (US) budget, going through some of the numbers. I think, from where we stand and looking at the budget, as proposed now, would make it simply impossible for the UN to continue all of its essential work advancing peace, development, human rights, and humanitarian assistance around the world”

He said the budgetary process in the US is what it is. “It is going through a legislative process. So we will wait to see what comes out of that legislative process.”

“I think it goes without saying it, but it bears repeating that we’re obviously extremely grateful for the financial contributions the United States has been making and is making to the United Nations over the years as its largest financial contributor”.

Dujarric said that even before the proposed US cuts were announced, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has remained engaged in bringing out reforms in the UN system “ensuring that the UN is fit for purpose, delivers what it’s meant to deliver”.

He said Guterres has put out a number of directives to staff and the Secretariat– over which he has authority– on limiting the amount of travel to necessary-travel only.

He has also asked the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and the Department of Field Support (DFS) to look at how the UN uses its air assets in peacekeeping missions, which would also include the cutting down as much as possible on the number of special flights.

“I think the Secretary General is extremely aware of the cost… of the monies that is entrusted to us, and he would like to see a reduction in the number of expenditures, and he’s asked his managers to look at that. As for himself, he has also cut down drastically on the delegations and the number of people that travel with him.”

But still, said Dujarric, the UN needs resources to deliver on its mandates laid out by the 193-member General Assembly.

On cuts, Richards said reducing the size of UN staff delegations is probably a good idea. “But at the end of the day, travel is only a small part of the regular, Trump-affected budget. Much travel is paid from extra-budgetary sources, such as projects and events that require travel,” he noted.

Reflecting on the situation in Geneva, Richards pointed that what was noteworthy is that the ICSC decided to remove mitigating measures that would have softened the impact of the cut just before it started working on Geneva.

“The ICSC has agreed to review its decision at its next meeting in July and we hope it will put things right. Many staff have told us they will return from their holidays if need be to take collective action”, he warned.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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