Inter Press Service » North America Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:29:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.S. 100th Member State to Join Nuke Terrorism Treaty Wed, 30 Sep 2015 21:14:29 +0000 Thalif Deen The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

The ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism by the U.S. “is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” says Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Thalif Deen

A 1997 movie titled “The Peacemaker” –partly shot outside the United Nations – dramatised the story of a Yugoslav terrorist who acquires a backpack-sized nuclear weapon, gone missing after a train wreck in rural Russia, and brings it to New York to detonate it outside U.N. headquarters.

Was it another Hollywood fantasy? Or a disaster waiting to happen?

Conscious of the remote possibility of a terrorist group arming itself with stolen nuclear weapons, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in April 2005 and entered into force in July 2007.

Currently, there are 99 states parties who have ratified the treaty, including the nuclear powers China, France, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday, the United States became the 100th state party when it handed over the instruments of ratification to the U.N. Treaty Section.

“This is good news – as with the ratification of any Treaty or Convention limiting the use of nuclear weapons by a major nuclear weapon state,” Jayantha Dhanapala, the former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS.

He said it is useful to recall that it was Russia that initiated this Convention in 2005 and to date there are 115 signatories and 99 states parties.

“Nuclear terrorism has been widely feared especially after 9/11 and it is well know that non-state actors like Al Qaeda and now ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) are engaged in a quest for nuclear materials to make a nuclear weapon, however rudimentary,” said Dhanapala, who has been President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, since 2007.

“And yet we must not delude ourselves into over estimating the significance of this action when more urgent treaties like the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) await ratification by the United States and seven other states in order to ensure its entry into force rendering permanent the norm against nuclear weapon testing – an important brake on the development of nuclear weapons,” he added.

As long as 15,850 nuclear warheads are held by nine countries – 93 percent with the United States and Russia – their use in a war, caused by deliberate political intent or by accident and by nation states or non state actors – remain a frightening reality with appalling humanitarian consequences and irreversible ecological and genetic effects, said Dhanapala, who also serves as a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and a governing board member of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

The Nuclear Terrorism Convention is described as part of global efforts to prevent terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction.

It details offences relating to unlawful and intentional possession and use of radioactive material or radioactive devices, and use or damage of nuclear facilities.

The convention is also designed to promote cooperation among countries through the sharing of information and the provision of assistance for investigations and extraditions.

Dr. M.V. Ramana, a physicist and lecturer at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security and the Nuclear Futures Laboratory, told IPS: “I would like to take the conversation in a different direction and ask what is nuclear terrorism?”

He said Webster’s dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

Nuclear weapons can cause massive death and destruction; any population faced with this possibility would be terrorized, he argued.

“Think of the people in any number of countries in the Middle East who are told by the U.S. President or some senior official that ‘all options are on the table’, implying, of course, the use of nuclear weapons.”

Under any fair and just definition of terrorism, anyone who uses a nuclear weapon to threaten another population would be a terrorist. This includes those who use nuclear weapons “just for deterrence,” he declared.

Remember that the ability to credibly project terror is ultimately at the heart of the strategy of deterrence and the safety that it is supposed to derive from deterrence is, as Winston Churchill proclaimed, “the sturdy child of terror.”

“I think the challenge for those seeking peace is to shift the discourse away from “nuclear terrorism by non-state actors” and turn the attention onto nuclear weapon states, which base their policies on the threat of nuclear death and destruction, and the urgency of disarming them,” said Dr Ramana who is author of several publications, including “The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India.”

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security said last week that when it comes to nuclear terrorism, “we are safer now than we were five years ago, but more remains to be done.”

The United States, she said, will continue to work with international partners to ensure that dangerous nuclear materials are accounted for and secured worldwide.

“Unending vigilance is required if we are to ensure that terrorist groups who may seek to acquire these materials are never able to do so.”

She said the United States is the largest national contributor to the IAEA’s (International Atomic Energy Agency) Nuclear Security Fund, providing more than 70 million dollars since 2010.

These funds support cost-free experts, mission and technical visits to Member States, the development of nuclear security guidance and best practices, and the Incident and Trafficking Database.

She said the State Department’s Counter Nuclear Smuggling Program (CNSP) is also working with key international partners to strengthen capacity to investigate nuclear smuggling networks, secure materials in illegal circulation, and prosecute the criminals who are involved.

Countries such as Georgia and Moldova are to be commended for their recent arrests of criminals attempting to traffic highly enriched uranium (HEU); significant progress has been made in this area. Unfortunately, continued seizures of weapon-usable nuclear materials indicate that these materials are still available on the black market, she pointed out.

According to the United Nations, some of the key provisions of the Convention include: the criminalization of planning, threatening, or carrying out acts of nuclear terrorism; the requirement for States to criminalize these offenses through national legislation and to establish penalties in line with the gravity of such crimes; conditions under which States may establish jurisdiction for offenses; and guidelines for extradition and other measures of punishment.

Additionally, there is the requirement for States to make every effort to adopt appropriate measures to ensure the protection of radioactive material; and the distinction that the Convention does not cover the activities of armed forces during an armed conflict or military exercise and cannot be interpreted as addressing the “legality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by States.”

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: The Pope, Partisanship and the Common Good Thu, 24 Sep 2015 22:44:10 +0000 Andrew Hanauer]]> Credit: The United States House of Representatives

Credit: The United States House of Representatives

By Andrew Hanauer and Eric LeCompte
WASHINGTON, Sep 24 2015 (IPS)

Pope Francis delivered two very strong messages in his speech to Congress Thursday morning: let’s work together and let’s protect the vulnerable.

Those are fairly non-controversial comments. Both messages received standing ovations from both sides of the aisle, the type of ovations Presidents rarely receive during a State of the Union address.

The Pope promoted bridge-building eloquently:

“There is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within.”

This is an important statement in a city gripped with partisan gridlock and amidst a Presidential campaign not known for its civility.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis lamented that so many people live in “cycles of poverty” and noted that “the fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.”

It’s tempting to divide those two messages – work together, help the needy – into separate items, two easy things to check off society’s to-do list. Be nice. Help others. But this Pope was saying so much more.

Francis’ message was that if we don’t work together, we can’t help the vulnerable. That each and every one of us must contribute to a world built on “hope and healing…peace and justice.” He said that “the challenges facing us today call for a renewal” of a spirit of cooperation. Getting along with each other isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s our moral duty because the most vulnerable are counting on us.

Francis is clear about the challenges we face. Poverty and inequality are at the top of the list. Since he became Pope, Francis has skillfully and specifically connected religious teachings on poverty and compassion to the actual debt, tax and trade policies that shape our global economy.

He criticized tax avoidance to dignitaries from known tax havens. He called for a global bankruptcy process for countries in response to the Greek debt crisis. He criticized austerity by name, labeling it bad for the poor. In his speech to Congress, Pope Francis talked about “unjust structures.” He didn’t label them, but anyone who listens to Pope Francis speak on a regular basis knows what he’s talking about.

It’s no mistake he’s talked about “an economy” of inclusion or exclusion. He recognizes that whether or not the most vulnerable have enough money to feed their families is the direct result of economic policies formed in capitals around the globe. We all have a role in shaping that economy. And when we work together, we can shape it for the better.

Our organization, Jubilee USA, was founded by religious leaders and Pope John Paul II to shift those very economic policies. We’ve won USD130 billion in debt relief for the world’s poorest countries – money that reduced child mortality rates, built schools and clinics, waived health fees for rural Africans and more. We won this relief because Republicans and Democrats worked together.

From George W. Bush to Barack Obama, from Pat Robertson to Jesse Jackson, we forge broad consensus. It wasn’t inevitable. World Bank President Jim Kim recently noted that when the Jubilee movement began in the late 1990’s,‎ nobody thought it would succeed. But because we worked together across political divides – now Kim attributes the debt relief work of Jubilee as a primary reason for economic growth on the continent.

We’ve got more big challenges to overcome. More than one billion people live in extreme poverty. Debt crises are spreading, from Greece to Puerto Rico to El Salvador. The developing world loses nearly one trillion dollars each year to crime, corruption and tax evasion, money that could be building schools and hospitals in the world’s poorest countries. Pope Francis noted in his speech that these very structures not only cause poverty, they fuel conflict and instability.

Congress has plenty it can do to help, but will be most effective if they can achieve bipartisanship. Take, for example, the fact that the US is one of the easiest countries in the world in which to create an anonymous shell company to move dirty money around the world. Criminals use anonymous shell companies to scam Americans, steal from developing countries and even fund terrorism. Legislation in Congress could change that – and it will only advance with support from both parties.

When Pope Francis encourages all of us to work together, both Democrats and Republicans should take note. Pope Francis did not deliver a liberal or conservative message. He delivered a message about putting people first – and putting the most vulnerable at the very center – of our political, moral and spiritual lives.

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

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U.S., Russian Arms Supplies to Iraq, Syria a Blessing to Rebel Groups Thu, 24 Sep 2015 20:54:25 +0000 Thalif Deen Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Thalif Deen

The United States and Russia are escalating arms sales to two of their major allies in the Middle East – Iraq and Syria – despite fears that some of these weapons may ultimately wind up, ironically, in the hands of armed rebel groups battling government forces.

The proposed U.S. sales to Iraq include 175 additional Abrams battle tanks and about 1,000 Humvee armoured vehicles, along with fighter jets, attack helicopters and laser-guided missiles – all worth over 15 billion dollars.

The Russians, meanwhile, have recently bolstered the beleaguered regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with jet fighters, helicopter gunships and transport helicopters – along with six T-90 battle tanks, 15 howitzers and 35 armoured personnel carriers, according to published reports.

But the ultimate beneficiaries may be rebel groups, including the Islamic State (IS), Al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front, who may inherit these weapons – either capturing them in battle or confiscating them from regular armed forces, who are known to abandon weapons and flee the battle field, as in several previous occasions.

The Wall Street Journal says some U.S. lawmakers, conscious of the risks, are conditioning any approval of arms sales to Iraq on “assurances the weapons won’t fall into enemy hands.”

Since both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be at the United Nations to address the high level annual debate, the two leaders are expected to hold bilateral talks – specifically on the future of Syria.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the Syria’s five-year old military crisis can be resolved only politically – not with weapons.

The United States has protested the infusion of new arms to the Assad regime but Russia maintains it is only honouring existing military contracts with Syria, a longstanding military ally going back to the days of President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current president.

According to U.S. intelligence sources, Russia is also continuing a military buildup in the port city of Latakia establishing new barracks that could accommodate up to 2,000 people, presumably Russians advisers.

Patrick Wilcken, Researcher, Arms Control, Security Trade and Human Rights on the Global Thematic Issues Programme at Amnesty International, told IPS the majority of weapons with rebel groups have been gained from “battlefield capture” — particularly, though not exclusively, of Iraqi military stocks, especially during IS’s advances in 2014, taking military bases/ stores from Falluja, Mosul, Tikrit and Ramadi – and also in Syria, from bases in Raqqa City and Tabaqa Airbase;

While it is virtually impossible to trace chains of custody of arms and ammunition in use by IS and other armed groups in Iraq and Syria, he said, it is possible to make a few general statements from evidence available (images, video and limited amounts of physical evidence collected by Conflict Armament Research (CAR).

Wilcken said the bulk of the weapons currently in circulation in Syria and Iraq are of Soviet/Warsaw Pact design/production, e.g. AK assault rifle variants, which have been produced around the world. It reflects the fact that both the Syrian and Iraqi militaries have a long history of Russian/Soviet supply.

But many of the weapons are over 20 or 30 years old, some dating back to the weapons build-up during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), or even earlier.

He said some NATO-standard (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) weapons had begun to appear, as the Iraqi army under the U.S. had begun to convert over to NATO-standard small arms.

When the Islamic State captured a treasure trove of U.S. weapons from fleeing Iraqi soldiers last October, one of the rebel leaders was quoted as saying rather sarcastically: “We hope the Americans would honour their agreements and service our helicopters.”

As fighter planes continued attacking IS targets, some of the U.S. airstrikes were, paradoxically, aimed at U.S.-made helicopters, Humvees, armoured personnel carriers and anti-aircraft artillery guns originally supplied to the Iraqi armed forces and currently deployed by the rebel group.

Not surprisingly, they are all under U.S. warranties for maintenance, repair and servicing.

AI’s Wilcken also told IPS the black market has thrived in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and continues to thrive; there is some evidence of Syrian army corruption and supply of armed groups; recently manufactured Russian ammunition, for instance, has found its way into IS stocks, either through sale or capture.

“A lot of weapons interchange has come about through army defections and mergers of armed groups.”

And there appears to be a remarkable level of consistency in the armouries of all the main armed groups (i.e. mainly former Soviet stock with a smattering of NATO standard U.S. equipment) while early (2012-13) supplies of the so-called moderate armed groups in Syria came from Gulf states and Turkey and quickly proliferated to IS and others through battle field capture, affiliations or corruption, he noted.

In summary, he said “regional arms proliferation has a long pedigree – at least on the Iraqi side – and any future supplier states need to exercise extreme caution to prevent further regional proliferation and its catastrophic consequences.”

Meanwhile, according to the Washington-based Defence News, U.S arms sales to Iraq last year also included 681 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 40 truck-mounted launchers, Sentinel radars, three Hawk anti-aircraft batteries with 216 Hawk missiles, 50 Stryker infantry carriers, 12 helicopters, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of maintenance and logistical support for thousands of U.S.-made military vehicles.

Additionally, Washington also struck arms deals for the sale of Hellfire missiles, M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and ammunition – all worth billions of dollars.

How much of this will wind up with rebel forces is anybody’s guess.

The writer can be contacted at

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Activists Say Fracking Fails to ‘Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful’ Thu, 17 Sep 2015 21:12:59 +0000 Emilio Godoy Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activist Ray Kimble has turned his home in Dimock Township, Pennsylvania into a symbol of opposition to fracking. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MONTROSE, Pennsylvania, USA , Sep 17 2015 (IPS)

U.S. activist Vera Scroggins has been sued five times by the oil industry, and since October 2013 she has faced a restraining order banning her from any properties owned or leased by one of the biggest players in Pennsylvania’s natural gas rush, Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.

“I feel like a half-citizen, because corporations can do whatever they want and citizens can’t. Corporations have broken environmental laws and keep working,” the retired real estate agent, who is a mother of three and grandmother of two, told IPS.

Since 2008 Scroggins, with the Shaleshock Media network of artists and media activists, has been fighting hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, the technique used to produce shale gas, in the rural community of Montrose, Pennsylvania, population 1,600.

In Montrose, which is in Susquehanna County, there are some 1,100 wells in 600 gasfields, as well as 43 compressor stations, which help the transportation process of natural gas from one location to another.“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed.” -- Tyson Slocum

This infrastructure, owned by seven companies, is near homes and schools.

The Marcellus shale formation stretches across the northeastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is one of the large shale gas deposits that have led to the United States being dubbed “Frackistan”.

Fracking involves the massive pumping of water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into a well, which opens and extends fractures in the shale rock deep below the surface, to release the natural gas trapped there on a massive scale. The technique is considered damaging to health and the environment.

Fracking generates enormous volumes of liquid waste that must be treated for reuse, as well as emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than carbon dioxide, the most important cause of global warming.

“The wells pollute the water and the methane escapes into the air. Many people don’t know what’s going on, they don’t have information. I don’t feel safe with how fracking has been done,” said Scroggins, who lives in Montrose with her husband, a retired teacher. There is a gas well just one kilometre from their home.

Fracking, with its tall steel drilling rigs, has modified the local landscape, along with the constant traffic of trucks hauling soil, sand and water.

Activists complain that the development of industry in rural areas like Montrose is ruining the countryside, while the accumulation of methane can lead to explosions or respiratory ailments among local residents.

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Shale drilling rig in Montrose, Pennsylvania. Many rural areas in this northeastern state have seen their lives disrupted by the development of shale gas and the controversial fracking technique used to produce it. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In its Annual Energy Outlook 2015, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that about 11.34 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas was produced directly from shale gas in the United States in 2013 – about 47 percent of total U.S. dry natural gas production that year.

And about 4.2 million barrels per day of crude oil were produced directly from shale oil or tight oil resources in the United States in 2014 – 49 percent of total U.S. crude oil production.

Oil is the main source of energy in the United States, accounting for 36 percent of the total, followed by natural gas (27 percent), and coal (19 percent).

In Pennsylvania, gas production soared from 9,757 cubic feet in 2008 to 3.05 million in 2013.

In this state, the site of the first U.S. oil boom, 9,200 wells have been drilled, and over 16,000 permits for fracking have been granted.

The United States is the country that is most heavily exploiting shale gas and oil at a commercial level.

Fracking was given a boost in 2005, when the Energy Policy Act exempted the technique from seven major federal environmental laws, ranging from protecting clean water and air to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment.

With that backing, the industry unleashed a flood of lawsuits seeking to dismantle local and state environmental, health and contractual regulations adverse to its interests.

In the case of Pennsylvania, the state legislature approved the Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) in September 2012, which restricted local governments’ ability to zone and regulate natural gas drilling and required municipalities to allow oil and gas development in all zoning areas.

But city councils, local residents and environmental organisations fought the law, and in 2013 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down sections of it, saying they were unconstitutional and violated citizens’ environmental rights. This allowed local communities to once again apply zoning rules in granting permits for shale gas production.

Along the side of the road, the traveller constantly sees signs reading Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. But what is happening in rural areas does not seem to be in line with the slogan.

Ray Kimble, a 59-year-old mechanic, has experienced that contradiction in Dimock Township, where he lives. He told IPS that in his community, which is near Montrose, the water has been polluted since 2009 by drilling and fracking operations.

“They have damaged the town. We don’t want them here,” said Kimble, who added that he has a chronic cough and his ankles are swollen from contact with toxic waste while he worked for the industry as a driver.

Now he refuses to drink the tapwater and dedicates his time to carrying clean water to families affected by the contamination.

Dimock, population 1,500, was featured in the prize-winning documentary “Gasland” by U.S. filmmaker Josh Fox, which exposed the damage caused by fracking and helped spawn the first lawsuits against the shale gas industry, which were settled out of court.

Kimble’s house is just over 150 metres from a gas well.

“There are short-term profits with shale gas, but what happens when the wells dry up and the waste is left?” activist Tyson Slocum remarked to IPS.

“There is polluted water, flow-back water, the transformation of rural areas damaged by the operation of wells. There are quite a few long-term legal and financial liabilities to ensure that that legacy is properly addressed,” said Slocum, the director of the Energy Programme of Public Citizen, a consumer interest group that has provided advice to people affected by fracking.

The industry is now facing the sharp drop in international oil prices, the credit crunch, and growing public opposition to fracking.

In the last eight months, some 400 towns and cities in 28 states have adopted vetoes or moratoriums on fracking. The most far-reaching decisions were taken in the states of Vermont, the first to ban fracking, in 2012, and New York, which did so in December.

“Why don’t they build a well besides a politician’s home? Citizens don’t want them near our houses,” said Scroggins.

“I hope there won’t be a major leak, because it will be devastating. But the industry doesn’t acknowledge it has done something bad,” the activist added.

Slocum says the states have bowed to the industry’s interests. “The balance between profits and public health has been vilified, the debate on jobs and economic benefits is secondary,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. to Host Meeting of World Leaders on Refugee Crisis Tue, 15 Sep 2015 20:41:19 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

The 28-member European Union (EU), which was sharply divided over the Greek bailout financial crisis last year, is facing its biggest test of unity over the growing refugee crisis unfolding in European borders.

At an emergency meeting in Brussels Monday, the EU hesitantly agreed to share some 40,000 refugees – mostly fleeing from war zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – but only on a voluntary basis, even as Germany, Austria, Slovakia and the Netherlands imposed new border control measures to ward off the tidal wave of hundreds and thousands of displaced people flowing into Europe.

The restrictive measures include razor wire fences across land borders and pronouncements by some Eastern and Central European countries that only Christians will be welcomed, triggering strong condemnations by the United Nations.

Conscious of the spreading crisis, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting a meeting of world leaders on the margins of the General Assembly session – to specifically discuss international migration.

The meeting is scheduled to take place Sep. 30 immediately following a meeting to approve the U.N’s new socio economic agenda for the next 15 years: Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targeted to be achieved by 2030.

And of the 17 SDGs, Goal 16 is on international migration.

Ben Phillips, Campaigns and Policy Director at ActionAid told IPS that governments need to remember that what they have called the migrant crisis is first and foremost a crisis suffered by vulnerable people who flee their homes as a last resort.

“The response of too many governments has been to protect borders and neglect people. But it cannot be solved with higher walls. Most governments’ responses to date have tended to be brutal, panicked, and ineffective even in their own terms. They need urgently to shift to a smarter, kinder, approach.”

The Secretary-General has already appealed to European leaders “to be the voice of those in need of protection” and to quickly find a joint approach to the refugee and migration crisis that shares responsibilities equitably, as Germany and Austria continue to welcome thousands of people fleeing their war-torn homelands.

He has also spoken by telephone with several European leaders to discuss the migration crisis.

Recognizing the challenges that large-scale refugee and migration flows pose to Member States, the U.N. chief appealed to the leaders to be the voice of those in need of protection and to quickly find a joint approach to share responsibilities equitably.‎”

The Secretary-General also commended the leaders for having voiced concern about increasing xenophobia, discrimination, and violence against migrants and refugees in Europe.
“He hoped that any manifestation of these phenomena would be addressed firmly and without delay,” he said.

Ban is expected to meet with EU leaders when they arrive in New York to address the General Assembly beginning Sep. 28.

Phillips told IPS that ActionAid has called upon governments to address three key challenges: “Governments need, firstly, to respond in the spirit of the solidarity and welcome that has shown by ordinary people; secondly, to tackle the specific vulnerabilities faced by women and girls travelling across borders; and, thirdly, to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people, through sustainable solutions to conflict, inequality and climate change.”

“The spontaneous acts of kindness shown by human beings helping human beings offer a ray of hope, and show that once again the power of the people is stronger than the people in power.”

He also said ActionAid, which is working on the ground across the world to support people who have fled, has seen first hand the damaging consequences of governments’ dehumanising response and failure to address the root causes driving the mass movement of people.

Asked whether the new law in Hungary that would allow the government to arrest migrants and imprison them is a violation of international humanitarian law, U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters “I think one of the points that’s clearly needed — and that’s exactly what the High Commissioner for Refugees said — is that we need to have comprehensive measures that apply throughout Europe.”

“A situation where different countries at different borders have different procedures creates chaos, both physical, as well as legal chaos.”

He said it is clear that those who are on the move, whether they be refugees or migrants, have rights. Countries also have responsibilities towards their own citizens in order to ensure national security.

“But, it is clear that international law, especially as it relates to refugees, needs to be respected. And more importantly, people, migrants, refugees, need to be treated with human dignity and I think that has been lacking in some places,” he added.

Dujarric also said migration with a “small m” has existed ever since we as humans were able to walk.”

“I mean, populations move, have always been on the move. The issue is that Member States need to deal with the migration flows in a way where we avoid forcing, whether it’s refugees or economic migrants, into the hands of criminal gangs, which is what we’re seeing across the Mediterranean and in Asia in the Andaman Sea, where there are no proper… enough proper avenues to deal with the migration issue — even with economic migration issue”.

And that’s one of the reasons, he said, the Secretary General will be bringing Member States together as part of goal 16 which talks about international migration, “but for that, we need a dialogue between the countries of origin, the transit countries and the destination countries.”

“And sometimes they’re the same. You know, different people migrate to different countries,” he added.

The writer can be contacted at

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Western Double Standards on Deadly Cluster Bombs Wed, 09 Sep 2015 18:26:15 +0000 Thalif Deen Ta Doangchom, a Laotian cluster bomb victim, beside homemade prosthetic limbs in the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

Ta Doangchom, a Laotian cluster bomb victim, beside homemade prosthetic limbs in the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) National Rehabilitation Centre in Vientiane. Credit: Irwin Loy/IPS

By Thalif Deen

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) banned the use of these deadly weapons for two primary reasons: they release small bomblets over a wide area, posing extended risks beyond war zones, and they leave behind unexploded ordnance which have killed civilians, including women and children, long after conflicts have ended.

As of last month, 117 have joined the Convention, with 95 States Parties (who have signed and ratified the treaty) and 22 signatories (who have signed but not ratified).“The protection of civilians must be non-political. By picking and choosing when it wishes to condemn the use of cluster bombs, the UK is playing politics with the protection of civilians." -- Thomas Nash of Article 36

At the First Review Conference of the CCM in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which began early this week, three States Parties – the UK, Canada and Australia – expressed reservations on a draft declaration on the use of cluster munitions.

In a selective approach to the implementation of the treaty, the three countries argued they could not accept or endorse text that condemned any use of cluster munitions because they contend that doing so would interfere with their ability to conduct joint military operations with states outside the convention.

The UK, which condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine this year, has refused to censure the use of the same deadly weapons by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia is a lucrative multi-billion-dollar arms market for the UK, which has traditionally provided sophisticated fighter planes, missiles and precision-guided bombs to the oil rich country.

Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch and the Cluster Munition Coalition said if the Convention is to succeed, States Parties must condemn any use of cluster munitions, by any actor, anywhere.

“States Parties cannot be selective about condemning, based on their relationship with the offender, or based on the type of cluster munition used,” he said.

If a State Party remains silent about confirmed use, one can argue that it is in effect condoning use, and thereby failing its obligations under the Convention, he noted.

The Cluster Munition Coalition believes the changes to the Dubrovnik Declaration sought by the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are contrary to the aims of the Convention, and would be a setback to efforts to stigmatise the weapon, and to prevent future use; thus, such changes could have the effect of increased casualties and other harm to civilians, Goose added.

Thomas Nash, director of the UK-based weapons monitoring organisation Article 36, told IPS the UK has tried to block international condemnation of these banned weapons at a gathering of states who are parties to the treaty banning cluster munitions.

The UK has condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, he pointed out, but it refuses to condemn the use by Saudi-led forces in Yemen.

“The protection of civilians must be non-political. By picking and choosing when it wishes to condemn the use of cluster bombs, the UK is playing politics with the protection of civilians,” Nash said.

He said UK efforts to water down international condemnation of cluster bombs show a callous disregard for the human suffering caused by these weapons.”

According to Article 36, prior to signing the Convention in 2008, the UK used cluster munitions extensively during the Falklands War (1982), in Kosovo (1998-1999) and in Iraq (1991-2003).

The UK also sold cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia prior to 2008, but it is not clear whether these transfers included the types of cluster munitions used in Yemen.

Asked for a rationale for the UK decision, Nash told IPS the UK says that it doesn’t want to condemn any use of cluster bombs by any actor because this might discourage some countries from joining the treaty in the future. “But this makes no sense.”

The UK has a legal obligation to discourage use of cluster bombs by any country and condemning the use of these banned weapons is the best way to do that, he argued.

Nash said the UK has come under close scrutiny over its arms sales to Saudi Arabia and there are numerous concerns over that country’s compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law.

Whether or not the UK refusal to condemn use of cluster bombs by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is directly linked to UK arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, clearly, UK policy in this area is highly dubious, he noted.

“The best way for the UK to clarify this would be for it to condemn the use of cluster bombs by Saudi-led forces in Yemen,” he said.

He also pointed out that the UK has historically been heavily influenced by the United States on the question of cluster munitions and, like Saudi Arabia, the U.S. would no doubt be displeased by the UK condemning any use of cluster munitions by any actor.

“So this is likely to be a factor as well,” Nash added.

The U.S., he said, continues to finds itself on the wrong side of history when it comes to cluster bombs and the UK, having signed and ratified the ban treaty, needs to choose which side it wants to be on.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS Saudi Arabia remains a critical market for the UK, “and I believe last year Saudi Arabia was the UK’s biggest arms export market at about 2.4 billion dollars. “

Saudi operates the Eurofighter Typhoon and Tornado fighter planes. Under BAE (British Aerospace) Systems’ Saudi Tornado Sustainment Program, BAE recently upgraded Saudi’s Tornado IDS (Interdictor/Strike fighter bombers) and air defense Tornado F3 fighters to extend service life through 2020.

Both the Typhoon and the Tornado are frontline fighter planes and have been playing a central role in the Yemen bombing campaign. Meanwhile, the air force also operates Hawk 65/65A trainers.

They have the Paveway IV precision-guided bomb from U.K.-based Raytheon Systems and the Storm Shadow air-to-surface cruise missile from MBDA, a French-Italian-British defense contractor.

She said Saudi Arabia was described as the first export customer for the MBDA Meteor missile in February this year, having signed a contract worth more than 1.0 billion dollars.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Protecting Lives Must Come First in Law Enforcement Mon, 07 Sep 2015 19:51:39 +0000 Dr. Anja Bienert Police action in response to indigenous protests is increasingly under scrutiny in South Africa. Credit: Thapelo Lekgowa/IPS

Police action in response to indigenous protests is increasingly under scrutiny in South Africa. Credit: Thapelo Lekgowa/IPS

By Dr. Anja Bienert
LONDON, Sep 7 2015 (IPS)

Everyone has the right to life. This principle is enshrined in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and appears in numerous international treaties and national laws.

Yet this notion was sorely absent the day police fatally shot Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy, in a public park in broad daylight.From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, police use of force and firearms often makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

On Nov. 22, 2014, police in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., responded to an emergency call about an unidentified male standing in a local park and pointing a gun at people. It is unclear if the responding police officers were aware of the caller’s tip that the weapon was “probably fake”, or if they knew the alleged gunman was only a child.

Within two seconds of stepping out of his police car, one of the officers shot Tamir Rice from just metres away. A surveillance video later released by police shows how the young boy was fatally wounded in the blink of an eye. He died later in hospital.

A judge who reviewed the actions of the two police officers involved wrote that, having watched the surveillance video of the incident several times, he was “still thunderstruck by how quickly this event turned deadly”. He found probable cause for the officer who pulled the trigger to face murder charges.

Nobody is disputing that police are faced with challenging, and often dangerous, situations. The power to use force is indispensable for police to carry out their duties, but that does not mean it is an inevitable part of the job – in fact, the underlying principle of the international standards for policing is not to use force unless it is really necessary.

Those standards, the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms, spell out for police when force can legitimately be used.

What the Tamir Rice case shows is that in the U.S., as in many other countries, police often fall short of this mark. This tragic reality has been highlighted time and again, including the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the series of protests it unleashed.

From the streets of Ferguson, Missouri to the favelas of Brazil, police use of force and firearms often makes global headlines when it turns fatal.

In countless other cases, including in response to demonstrations, police are too quick to use force instead of seeking peaceful conflict resolution. They deploy tear gas, rubber bullets and other weapons in arbitrary and abusive ways or use excessive force, causing serious casualties, including killing and maiming people, often with little or no accountability.

Killings by police in Brazil have disproportionately impacted young black men. Numerous police shootings in the U.S. have resulted in the death of unarmed people, likewise with a disproportionate impact on African American males. In Bangladesh, special police forces have carried out heavy-handed police operations with lethal force, resulting in the deaths of many people.

And in countries including Bahrain, Burundi, Cambodia, Greece, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela and Ukraine, serious casualties have resulted from police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other means of force, sometimes even firearms, during public assemblies.

In cases such as these, governments and law enforcement authorities frequently fail to create a framework to ensure that police only use force lawfully, in compliance with human rights and as a last resort. Killings and serious injuries are frequently the price of this failure.

This is due to a variety of reasons, including domestic laws that contradict international human rights obligations, deficient internal regulations, inadequate training and equipment, lack of command control and the absence of accountability for police who act outside the law.

To tackle this problem head-on, Amnesty International has published a new set of Guidelines on police use of force, timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the UN Basic Principles being adopted. Drawing on examples from 58 countries in all regions of the world, their detailed conclusions and recommendations are meant to support government authorities to implement the UN Basic Principles and ensure good, effective, human rights-compliant policing.

In certain limited circumstances, police can and will need to use force to maintain law and order. But this must respect strict rules and may never be seen as a licence to kill, nor as granting immunity to police officials.

Nobody is above the law, least of all those who have a duty to uphold it.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

By Thalif Deen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Faith Leaders Call for Debt Relief to Puerto Rico Mon, 31 Aug 2015 17:16:09 +0000 S. Chandra By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

Puerto Rico’s religious leaders have called for debt relief of the Caribbean U.S. territory in the face of the 72 billion dollar liability that represents 20,000 dollars of debt for every man, woman and child.

In a statement issued Aug. 31, the clergy called on the U.S. Federal Reserve to intervene if Congress fails to pass bankruptcy protection to the financially-strapped island.

“This debt crisis threatens to push more of our people into poverty and put people out of work,” said San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, leader of Puerto Rico’s mostly Catholic population.

“The religious community stands with vulnerable people and we call for the crisis to be resolved in a way that protects the poor and grows our economy,” he added.

At a press conference in San Juan, leaders of the major religious groups laid out six principles to resolve the crisis.

“Puerto Rico’s religious leaders are fighting for the lives of their people,” stated Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based development coalition Jubilee USA Network.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 U.S. organisations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee’s mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable.

LeCompte visited Puerto Rico in mid-August to advise religious and political leaders on solutions to the crisis.  “We need to get Puerto Rico’s debt back to sustainable levels and ensure that the island has a path for economic growth,” he said

Some of the hedge funds, arguing for cuts in Puerto Rico’s economic growth, were or are currently involved in debt disputes in Greece, Argentina and Detroit, Michigan.

Two recent reports, one commissioned by a group of hedge funds which purchased the island’s distressed debt and the other authorised by Puerto Rico’s own government, suggest new austerity plans to pay off portions of the debt.

The reports note a range of “fiscal adjustments”, including reducing the minimum wage, education resources and healthcare costs. One of the principles promoted by the coalition of religious leaders is that any resolution to the financial crisis prevents further austerity plans.

The religious leaders raised concern over predatory hedge fund activity in their statement. Beyond the Catholic Church, other religious groups signing the statement include Methodists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and the Disciples.

“As religious leaders, we see how desperate the situation is for Puerto Rico’s people,” said Reverend Heriberto Martínez Rivera, secretary-general of Puerto Rico’s Biblical Society and the leader of the religious coalition confronting the debt crisis.

“Too many of our people are already suffering from austerity policies and many brothers and sisters have left for the United States hungry for work and a better quality of life,” he added.

Beyond calling for debt relief and criticising austerity policies, the religious leaders’ statement asserts the need for greater Puerto Rican budget transparency and participation in future debt negotiations by people negatively affected by the crisis.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: How Will Wall Street Greet the Pope? Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:14:17 +0000 Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson, author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, is President of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil), Certified B Corporation

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Millions in the New York City area are excited about Pope Francis’ visit on Sep. 25 to address the U.N. General Assembly as worldwide consensus grows on the need to shift global investments from fossil fuels to clean, efficient, renewable energy in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) scheduled to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Private investments worldwide in the clean energy transition now total 6.22 trillion dollars while successful U.S. students’ divestment networks have forced over 30 college endowments to divest.  Over 200 institutions have divested worldwide, including the U.S. cities of Minneapolis and Seattle, Oxford in the United Kingdom and Dunedin in New Zealand.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, in a faith-based consortium, are calling on Pope Francis to urge divestment for all religious and civic groups.  Islamic Climate Change Symposium leaders cited the Quran earlier this month in calling 1.6 billion Muslims to act in phasing out fossil fuels by 2050.

Backlash from traditional Wall Streeters has joined some U.S. Catholic organisations with millions still invested in fossil energy, fracking and oil sands.  The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks.

Reuters reports that Catholic dioceses in Boston, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota in the United States have millions of dollars in oil and gas stocks, making up between 5-10 percent of their holdings.  It has been reported that Chicago’s Archbishop Blasé Cupich, appointed by Pope Francis, will re-examine over 100 million dollars in fossil fuel investments.

Wall Street is also re-examining its positions on fossil fuels.  A survey of asset managers in Institutional Investor, July 2015, found that 77 percent expected the carbon-divestiture movement to continue and gain momentum.  Yet, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed that the models on climate change “aren’t that good” and has no plans to invest in renewable energy.

Recently, many large companies have been calling for and budgeting for carbon pricing – favoured by most economists.  Britain’s BG Group, BP, Italy’s ENI, Shell, Norway’s Statoil and France’s Total sent an open letter to world governments and the United Nations in June asking them to accelerate carbon pricing schemes.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has guidelines against investing in abortion, contraception, pornography, tobacco and war but is silent on energy stocks

The ethical investing movement now accounts for one-sixth of all holdings on Wall Street and the U.N. Principles of Responsible Investing counts signatory institutions with 59 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Hybrid approaches include venture philanthropy and “impact” investing, while a recent CFA Institute survey found almost three quarters of investment professionals use environmental, social and governance information in their investment decisions.

Against this backdrop, Timothy Smith, pioneer founder of the Interfaith Council on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) and now Senior Vice-President of Walden Asset Management, says that the “visit of the Pope in the wake of his prophetic Encyclical on climate is a clarion call – to ramp up our efforts to combat climate change with concrete actions,” adding that “it’s not the Pope’s job to present a specific game plan for Americans.  That is our job.”

Through ICCR, religious investors have worked for two decades on these issues.  Firms like Walden, Ceres and others have joined up to combat climate change, promoting efficiency and renewable resources.  All this new activity within the climate debate provides the greatest challenge yet to business-as-usual capitalism.

Many financiers in the global casino still see themselves as “masters of the universe” because they control capital flows, most investments, pension funds, influence monetary policies, capture politicians and regulators, while funding friendly academics and think tanks.

The recent jitters of stock markets have again revealed their fragility and the increasing turbulence and volatility caused by computerized algorithms accounting for over half of all activity.  High-frequency trading (HFT), “flash crashes”, are continuing with little regulation.  Foundations are crumbling from these many new challenges as small investors flee. 

Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, local and cryptocurrencies, credit unions and cooperative enterprises are flowering along with hybrid start-ups in the “shareconomy” – AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, Task Rabbit and the growth of farmers markets, swap sites for tools, clothes and second-hand exchanges.

Many reformers of capitalism try to change its culture, of short term gain and speculative trading.  The U.N. Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System will release its report to the General Assembly on Sep. 25, with global research on current practices and potential reforms.

A promising new effort to mobilise U.S. public opinion is JUSTCapital, founded by luminaries Deepak Chopra, Arianna Huffington and hedge fund philanthropist Paul Tudor Jones.  CEO Martin Whittaker says: “We are addressing some of the core questions affecting capitalism and corporations in the 21st century.  We are applying policy, research and surveys to define ‘just business behaviour’ in the eye of the public, using this definition to evaluate and rank the performance of the largest publicly traded American companies.”

While such caring financiers are quietly exploring reforms, the biggest threat is the fragility of global market structures from automation, algorithms, HFT and artificial intelligence which financiers still believe they can control.

Yet these same computers can now run markets more efficiently than humans.  Matching and trading buy and sell orders in transparent computerised black boxes makes human traders redundant, as well as reducing insider trading, speculating, front-running, naked short-selling, fixing interest rates and today’s widespread greed and corruption.

Capitalism’s greatest challenge is its reliance on rollercoaster national money systems and currencies.  Central bankers and governments’ tools fail along with economic theories as social movements are now aware of money-printing and the politics of money creation and credit-allocation, revealed in all its favouritism and inequalities.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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U.S. Provides Cover for Use of Banned Weapons in Yemen Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:20:48 +0000 Thalif Deen Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Abdallah Yahya A. Al-Mouallimi (right), Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the UN, speaks to journalists on July 28, 2015 following a Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. At his side is Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimising the use of cluster bombs – banned by an international convention – by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting against Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war, “if used appropriately”, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible.”“These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.” -- Ole Solvang of HRW

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch told IPS the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of U.S. cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement.  State and Defence Department officials are looking into that,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing rebel-controlled Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The United States, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi Government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict – you’ve heard me say this before – including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis,” he added.

Goose said a U.S. Defence Department official has already said the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been used in Syria, South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor,

the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), among others.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the Convention, with 93 States parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the Convention on Cluster Munitions and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in Houthi-controlled territory in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released next week.

On Sep. 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen “need to recognise that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the United States to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in Houthi-controlled territory that had been attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Opinion: Kerry Going Back Home Thu, 13 Aug 2015 11:54:13 +0000 Joaquin Roy

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, writes that when he visits Havana on Friday Aug. 14 within the framework of the resumption of US-Cuba relations, Secretary of State John Kerry will feel at home because, despite more than half a century of troubled relations, Cuba is the Latin American country which is most naturally "American-Yankee".

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

Recovering from a broken femur following a bicycle accident suffered in Switzerland, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – former senator and former presidential candidate – is anxious to accelerate his convalescence and will visit Cuba on Friday Aug. 14, where he will hoist the Stars and Stripes flag over the emblematic U.S. embassy building in Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

But Kerry will not going to a strange place: in reality, he will be going back home. As he catches a glimpse of the Capitol building in the Cuban capital, he will certainly think that it looks familiar – no wonder, it is a copy of the one on Capitol Hill back in Washington.

More than Mexico (from which the United States snatched half of its territory) and Puerto Rico (the peak of the 1898 Spanish-American War, together with the Philippines), Cuba is the land in Latin America which is the most naturally “American-Yankee”. Nothing is more palpable confirmation of this than to see the appalling ease with which anyone who has recently arrived in Cuba from Miami adapts to the local environment.

At this point, one must ask why it has taken so long to “normalise” what should have been a close relationship between the empire and a modest island about 160 kilometres from Key West.

“More was lost in Cuba” has been the cry of several generations of Spaniards as they considered a family or business misfortune. What did the United States lose in Cuba through having maintained that lengthy embargo in place, whose goal has been recognised as a failure?

More than substantial property, most of which actually belonged to Spaniards or their immediate descendants, Washington lost the arrogance of its hegemonic superiority after World War II.

The conversion of Cuba into a Marxist-Leninist state, allied with the Soviet Union – the arch-enemy of the United States – and the total destruction of the capitalist system, plus the exile of a stratum of a remarkable society, was a painful slap on the face of such magnitude that no U.S. president was willing to forgive and go down in history for being the first who had bowed before Castro.“The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country [Cuba] into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington”

This explains the inertia of maintaining the embargo, an error that bit by bit has been weakened in the economic field. But any explanation must also take into account the primary role played by Fidel Castro, lord and master of the situation.

His leadership will be remembered in history, although probably without absolving him (as he promised when he was condemned in 1956 after his first failed rebellion). He has had no match since Simon Bolívar.  His success is credited to his extreme understanding of the meaning of the United States in the historical evolution of Latin America and its innate identity. Unlike the erroneous vision of other leaders, Castro understood that United States was an intrinsic part of the Latin American personality, and Cuba in particular.

The United States is what Latin America wanted to be and could not be. Hence, Castro insisted on converting the country into an enemy, a task in which he was helped by the unfortunate policies of Washington. Nevertheless, he retained the notion that in reality Cubans do not hate the United States, but only despise the temporary occupants of the White House and the detested U.S. security institutions.

Castro knew perfectly well that while Cuba was by defect becoming a nation after gaining independence mortgaged by the Platt Amendment (another of Washington’s errors), it was also becoming inexorably “Americanised”.

The new empire reinforced this error through its support for or tolerance of dictators and corrupt Cuban rulers of the 1930s and 1940s, details that Castro exploited in a ruthless Machiavellian fashion to attempt to demonstrate the alien nature of the United States.

That is why, faced with maintenance of the embargo, Castro responded with actions that provoked the negative reaction of Washington.

When there were phases of relative calm (as happened under the Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton administrations) Castro sent troops to Africa, or shut down planes of Brothers to the Rescue (a Miami-based activist organization formed by Cuban exiles), generating adoption of the Helms-Burton Act which codified the embargo. He also got the European Union to adopt a Common Position, a sort of weak “embargo” to “keep up with the Joneses”.

Why does this scaffolding now appear to be coming down – because the justifications of the past do not have the arguments that are necessary for pragmatism today. The United States needs a secure and steady environment it its backyard. Barack Obama has more important issues to deal with in the rest of the world. Cuba has become a nuisance.

The other reason is because Raúl Castro is not like his brother and is clutching at the straw of the United States “returning home”.

But the change will not be easy. The political conditions of normalisation inserted in the Helms-Burton Act are formidable (disappearance of the Castro brothers or many high officials named by them, establishment of political parties, freedom of expression, elimination of Radio/TV Martí, etc.).

Erosion by slow progress (as in the economic field) will not be sufficient. It will be necessary for Congress to repeal the legislation en bloc. This time Raul is not going to commit a fatal error. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Obama Takes Lead on Climate Change Ahead of U.N. Talks in Paris Fri, 07 Aug 2015 18:38:32 +0000 Nora Happel The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

The Clean Power Plan could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Credit: Bigstock

By Nora Happel

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama formally unveiled the details of his Clean Power Plan (CPP), a comprehensive carbon-cutting strategy he described as “the biggest and most important step…ever taken to combat climate change” in a prior video address posted on Facebook.

As set down in the final rule from Aug. 3 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the CPP requires power plant owners to reduce their CO2 emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Between 2005 and 2013, carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 15 percent, meaning the U.S. is about halfway to the target."These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970." -- Sara Chieffo

States are allowed to create their own plans on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units (EGUs). Initial versions of these plans will have to be submitted by 2016, final versions by 2018.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the U.N. Secretary-General, told journalists at a U.N. press conference in New York: “The Plan is an example of the visionary leadership necessary to reduce emissions and to tackle climate change.”

At a meeting between President Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Oval Office on Tuesday, the U.N. chief commended Obama’s leadership role in addressing climate change: “I would like to congratulate you and highly commend your visionary and forward leadership announcement of yesterday on a Clean Power Plan. […] The U.S. can and will be able to change the world in addressing [the] climate phenomenon.”

The U.S. is the world’s biggest CO2 emitter after China. Yet, the praise given to Obama for his efforts in cutting CO2 emissions seems to suggest a shift in the perception of the U.S. as one of the largest climate offenders to a model and leader in combating climate change.

The announcement of the plan follows a series of recent diplomatic achievements by the U.S. government such as the Iranian nuclear deal and the normalisation of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Many observers attribute these significant moves by the U.S. president shortly ahead of the end of his presidency to his endeavors in building a legacy on the foreign policy front.

The CPP could prove to be the green legacy of Obama’s presidency. Sara Chieffo, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), told IPS: “This historic plan puts in place the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants – the nation’s single largest source of the pollution fueling climate change.

“When taken together with other major advancements by the Obama Administration, like increasing fuel efficiency standards for vehicles and investments in renewable energy, the Clean Power Plan represents a significant reduction in carbon pollution by 2030, as well as a boon to public health.

“By taking these steps the Obama Administration is demonstrating true leadership in reducing carbon pollution, strengthening the growing movement for global action.”

However, as for the Iran nuclear deal and the agreement with Cuba, Obama’s success in implementing the CPP and the legacy built upon it will be largely dependent on Congress and the courts.

Following widespread criticism, the CPP underwent various modifications until the final rule was published on Monday. Compared to former versions, the final rule is now focusing much more on fossil fuel-fired power plants as CO2 emitters and less on states achieving their targets, as explained by Jody Freeman in an article for Politico.

“[R]evisions to the final rule will make it harder for opponents to argue it intrudes on state sovereignty. This has been one of the highest-profile claims against the draft plan, which asked states to meet individual, state-level emissions targets. But the new structure of the final version lets states meet their obligation simply by applying the EPA’s uniform national rates for coal and gas units to the power plants in their jurisdiction—the most straightforward compliance plan imaginable.”

Prior to the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, legal discussions have centered on another EPA regulation already in place since 2011, the mercury and air toxic standards (MATS) meant to limit hazardous air pollutant emissions from fuel-fired power plants.

In a June 29 ruling on Michigan vs. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the EPA regulation with a 5-4 majority, stating the EPA did not properly consider the costs of the regulation as required by the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court remanded the case to the D.C. Circuit for further consultations and proceedings consistent with the Court’s opinion.

The 2011 initiative by EPA to regulate emissions of toxic air pollutants has been challenged by industry groups and about 20 states. Although the Supreme Court decision can be seen as a major setback for the EPA and its environmental initiative, it also facilitates the Clean Power Plan by preventing the existence of a double-regulation, “[o]ne of the challengers’ primary legal arguments against the Plan”, as pointed out by Brian Potts and Abigail Barnes in a recent Forbes article.

“Ironically, this decision could pave the way for another landmark (and nearly just as expensive) EPA regulation, the Clean Power Plan—but only if the agency lets its beloved mercury rule die on the vine.”

Indeed, there is optimism that the Clean Power Plan in its final version will be able to stand firm in the face of the lawsuits expected to be brought against it.

Sara Chieffo told IPS, “With a coalition of public health officials, faith leaders, businesses, and the millions of concerned citizens from across the country calling for climate action, the only ones challenging the Clean Power Plan are big polluters and their allies in Congress and state legislatures.

“These polluters are resorting to the same dirty and desperate playbook of doomsday predictions they have used since President Nixon first signed the Clean Air Act in 1970. But time and again, history has proven that cleaning up our air is good for our health and our economy.

“We are confident that elected officials across the country are going to side with their constituents’ overwhelming support for climate action, instead of polluters who are putting their profits ahead of our health,” she added.

The announcement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan comes a few months ahead of the much anticipated Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris. As stated by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the U.S. government’s initiative will play a vital role in turning the Conference in Paris into a success.

“President Obama’s leadership by example is essential for bringing other key countries on board and securing a universal, durable and meaningful agreement in Paris in December,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Half a Million U.S. Women and Girls at Risk of Genital Cutting Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:41:34 +0000 Kitty Stapp FGM is a taboo topic in many cultures. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 5 2015 (IPS)

Jaha Dukureh knows firsthand the barbaric effects of undergoing female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Now a resident of the United States, she was mutilated as a baby in the Gambia in West Africa. Her sister bled to death after enduring the same procedure.

What was done to Dakureh is called “infibulation,” where the clitoris and the labia are removed and the vagina is sealed to insure a girl’s virginity until marriage."Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse." -- Paula Kweskin

Now a passionate advocate against FGM/C, Dakureh issued a call to arms on the eve of President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Africa, urging him to “play a historic role in the fight to eliminate FGM.”

“While the origins of FGM are ancient and predate organised religion, there is one thing we know for sure: its purpose is to control female sexuality and lessen a woman’s humanity,” she wrote in a powerful commentary for the Guardian.

In the last 15 years, the number of women and girls at risk of FGM/C in the United States has more than doubled, advocacy groups warn, calling for stronger measures to prevent this human rights violation.

According to data from the Population Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C. research group, a staggering 506,795 girls and women in the United States have undergone or are at risk of undergoing FGM/C.

“It’s important this subject is no longer taboo,” Paula Kweskin, a human rights attorney who produced a film called Honor Diaries that deals with the problem of FGM, told IPS. “It needs to be discussed at every level so that it can be addressed and eradicated. When it’s swept under the carpet, women and girls are revictimized by the silence and inaction.”

“Policy makers, doctors, police, teachers and community leaders all have a role in making sure that girls can receive the help they need and deserve. There is no excuse for this type of abuse.”

The top 10 metropolitan areas where girls and women are at highest risk of female genital mutilation include New York, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The PRB notes that FGM/C, which entails partial or total removal of the external genitals of girls and women for religious, cultural, or other nonmedical reasons, has devastating immediate and long-term health and social effects, especially related to childbirth.

Most girls at risk are in found in sub-Saharan Africa. In Djibouti, Guinea, and Somalia, for example, nine in 10 girls ages 15 to 19 have been subjected to FGM/C. But the practice is not limited to developing countries.

An estimated 137,000 women and girls in Britain have undergone the procedure, according to a report released in July by City University London and Equality Now.

In the United States, the PRB says, efforts to stop families from sending their daughters abroad to be cut — so-called “vacation cutting” — spurred the passage of a law in 2013 making it illegal to knowingly transport a girl out of the United States for the purpose of cutting.

“We urge the U.S. to provide a public update on its plans to ensure all efforts to end FGM are sustainable and supported with funding, and support and encourage state efforts to end FGM at local levels,” Shelby Quast, policy director at Equality Now, said last month.

She added that having specific laws in each state would prompt state schools, hospitals and clinics as well as local law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to step up prevention efforts and act swiftly in FGM cases.

“People in [the U.S.] don’t want to think it happens here. But their daughters might be sitting next to a best friend who can be subjected to a violent, cultural procedure,” she told NPR. “If it were cutting the nose or the ear off — something everyone could see — there’d be a different response. We can’t continue to hide this away.”

The U.S. Congress had already passed a law in 1996 making it illegal to perform FGM/C and 23 states have laws against the practice, which has grown in part because of increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is prevalent, especially in North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2000 and 2013, the PRB says, the foreign-born population from Africa more than doubled, from 881,000 to 1.8 million. Just three sending countries—Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somalia—accounted for 55 percent of all U.S. women and girls at risk in 2013.

“This is a barbaric and completely unnecessary practice that causes devastating physical and psychological damage for countless girls and women in the United States and countries across the globe,” said Raheel Raza, president of the Council for Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Raheel, a human rights activist, is among several Muslim women featured in Honor Diaries, a documentary breaking the silence on FGM and other abuse against women and girls in honour-based communities.

Edited by Thalif Deen

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Even the Rich Have Not Harnessed Full Potential of Digital Economy Thu, 30 Jul 2015 23:04:51 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Jaya Ramachandran
PARIS, Jul 30 2015 (IPS)

The digital economy permeates countless aspects of the world economy, impacting sectors as varied as banking, retail, energy, transportation, education, publishing, media or health. But the full potential of the digital economy has yet to be realised even in the world’s most advanced and emerging countries, says a new report.

On the one hand, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are transforming the ways social interactions and personal relationships are conducted, with fixed, mobile and broadcast networks converging, and devices and objects increasingly connected to form the Internet of things.

On the other hand, none of the 34 countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has a national strategy on protecting online privacy or funding research in this area, which tends to be viewed as a matter for law enforcement authorities to handle, says the report.

The OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2015, which covers areas from broadband penetration and industry consolidation to network neutrality and cloud computing in the OECD and its partner countries like Brazil, Colombia and Egypt, also stresses the need to do more to offer information and communication technology (ICT) skills training to help people transition to new types of digital jobs.

In a 2014 OECD survey, 26 out of 29 countries considered building broadband infrastructure as their top priority and 19 of 28 countries put digital privacy and security second and third, observes the report.

Asked about the future, countries placed skills development as their top objective, followed by public service improvements and digital content creation.

Other surveys cited in the report suggest that two-thirds of people are more concerned about their online privacy than a year ago and only a third believe private information on the Internet is secure. More than half fear monitoring by government agencies, adds the report.

Other important findings in the Digital Economy Outlook are:

Of 34 countries surveyed, 27 have a national digital strategy. Many were established or updated in 2013 or 2014. Most focus on telecoms infrastructure, broadband capacity and speed. Few cover international issues such as internet governance.

Seven of the OECD’s 34 member countries count more than one mobile broadband subscription per person. Around three-quarters of smartphone use in OECD countries occurs on private Wi-Fi access via fixed networks.

All OECD countries have at least three mobile operators and most have four. Prices for mobile services fell markedly between 2012 and 2014 with the biggest declines in Italy, New Zealand and Turkey. Prices rose in Austria and Greece, however.

The ICT sector employed more than 14 million people in OECD countries in 2013, almost 3 percent of jobs in the 34-country bloc. ICT employment ranges from above 4 percent of total employment in Ireland and Korea to below 2 percent in Greece, Portugal and Mexico.

ICT venture capital is on the rise again and is now back at its highest level in the U.S. since the dot-com bubble.

China is the leading gross exporter of ICT goods and services, but the U.S. is the top exporter when trade is calculated in value-added terms, due in part to the high presence of U.S. ICT services embodied in final products. Embodied ICT services also contributed to higher shares for India and the UK in value-added terms.

Korea is the most specialised of OECD and partner countries in computer, electronic and optical products; Luxembourg is strongest in telecoms; while Ireland, Sweden and the UK are most specialised in IT and other information services.

Edited by Kitty Stapp


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Workplace Diversity Still a Pipe Dream in Most U.S. Newsrooms Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:32:50 +0000 Nora Happel Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel

Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

Another new census, by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), found just 12.76 percent minority journalists at U.S. daily newspapers in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and ASNE.

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Seeks August Deadline for End to South Sudan War Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:09:23 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By a Global Information Network correspondent
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a meeting with regional African leaders, threatened new sanctions for the warring factions in South Sudan if a peace deal is not be reached by Aug. 17.

“The possibilities of renewed conflict … is something that requires urgent attention from all of us,” Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

Pres. Obama outlined the options at a meeting Monday in Addis Ababa with leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the chair of the African Union and the foreign minister of Sudan. “Liberating” South Sudan, with support from the U.S., Britain and Norway, was supposed to be the high point of Obama’s Africa policy. Four years after independence, the nation is a humanitarian disaster.

In fighting showing no signs of letting up, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced, since violence erupted in December 2013, according to the U.N. Human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings have been carried out by both sides – namely the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

At the session of leaders, Obama set an Aug. 17 deadline for a peace agreement signed by all combatants although no consensus was reached on Monday on what to do if the deadline comes and goes. Numerous sanctions were floated – an arms embargo and the freezing of assets and ability to travel – backed by the international community. Obama expressed his preference for sanctions over intervention, as proposed by one of the leaders.

Western diplomats have pushed countries in the region to withdraw support for the South Sudanese combatants in order to make peace. Uganda, for example, openly supports the South Sudan government. Sudan supports Machar’s rebels.

Those at the talks included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and the chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In a press briefing, a senior administration official told reporters that “venal leaders” had squandered a huge opportunity which the international community had helped them win. “So we can’t undo this for them,” he said, referring to the crisis. “They’ve got to fix this (themselves).”

Fighting has been fiercest in the Upper Nile and Unity States, where the nation’s two major oil fields are found. With the onset of the rainy season, an already dire situation has grown worse.

“Tens of thousands of people are cut off from aid and medical care as fighting intensifies in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State,” Doctors Without Borders, the international medical humanitarian organization, said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, rebel spokesman James Gatdet welcomed Obama’s comments, saying “peace is possible”. But a spokesman for South Sudan rejected the plan and accused the international community of “jeopardizing the chances of the people of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rights Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Deal Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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