Inter Press ServiceMiddle East & North Africa – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 23 Jun 2018 00:37:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.6 President Al-Sisi Pursues Repressive Track with New Wave of Arrestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 14:24:47 +0000 Eduard Cousin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156086 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who was re-elected in March, continues the repression of regime opponents. Critics view the situation as increasingly dangerous. “There is no logic anymore,” says one. “The injustice increases… the regime becomes more violent. I’ll take a much-needed break from politics… There is nothing more to say,” tweeted regime critic Hazem […]

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President Al-Sisi pursues repressive track with new wave of arrests

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s seventy-second session. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Eduard Cousin
CAIRO, Jun 6 2018 (IPS)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who was re-elected in March, continues the repression of regime opponents. Critics view the situation as increasingly dangerous. “There is no logic anymore,” says one.

“The injustice increases… the regime becomes more violent. I’ll take a much-needed break from politics… There is nothing more to say,” tweeted regime critic Hazem Abdelaziz on 18 May, after a number of prominent activists had been arrested over the span of a few days.

Less than a week after this tweet, police raided the Abdelaziz’s house in Cairo, arresting him on accusations of ‘spreading false news’ and  ‘joining a banned organisation’.

 

Blogger, actor and lawyer

In 2014 Abdelaziz still worked for the presidential campaign of President Al-Sisi, but later described this as his “biggest mistake” and became a strong critic of the regime, in particular concerning the limitation of freedoms and repression of opposition groups.

He was the sixth prominent activist arrested in May – after satirical actor Shady Abu Zeid, former opposition leader Shady Al-Ghazaly Harb, leftist lawyer Haitham Mohamedeen, women rights defender Amal Fathy, and blogger Wael Abbas – all on grounds of spreading false news and joining a banned or terrorist organisation, which typically is a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Arrests of activists, opposition members or otherwise critical voices are not something new in Egypt, but such a large number of arrested prominent figures in a short time span is exceptional and worrying

An Egyptian PhD student at the University of Washington, Walid al-Shobaky, befell the same fate. He did research on the judicial system in Egypt, and disappeared on 23 May. Four days later he resurfaced in a Cairo prison, and the prosecution ordered his detention on the same accusations of false news and terrorism links.

 

Logic lost

Arrests of activists, opposition members or otherwise critical voices are not something new in Egypt, but such a large number of arrested prominent figures in a short time span is exceptional and worrying. “The situation becomes more difficult, more dangerous,” said Azza Solimon, women’s rights defender and lawyer for the arrested actor Shady Abu Zeid. “There’s no logic anymore.”

Abu Zeid became known from a prank with the police in 2016. On the five-year anniversary of the 25 January Revolution – the popular uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak to resign – he handed condoms blown up as balloons to policemen and posted a video of this online. Since, he has received threats from the police, was forced to resign from the television programme he worked for, and started to work for himself, posting humorous videos on a Youtube channel.

 

Discipline critics

Abu Zeid was ‘shocked’ after his arrest, said Solimon, who tries to visit him frequently in prison. “He didn’t understand why he was arrested now. He doesn’t talk politics in his videos, and the accusations are vague.”

He is already over a month in pre-trial detention, and it is not clear when his case will start. “All we can do now is support him,” Soliman said. “I try to help him to deal with this situation, as his lawyer and mother-figure. He may be in jail for a long time.”

Soliman, who herself has a travel ban and whose bank accounts are frozen due to her involvement in activism, believes the recent arrests are a way to ‘discipline’ people. “Any person who joined in the revolution, they want to discipline.”

 

Football fans

In other fields of society the regime leaves no room for dissent. The Ultras Ahlawy, the hard-core fan group of Cairo football club Al-Ahly, dissolved themselves in mid-May, citing the safety of their members. The Ultras White Knights, a fan group of Egypt’s second largest team Zamalek, followed suit two weeks later. The Ultras played an important role during the 2011 revolution, not shying away from a fight with the police during demonstrations.

The mobilising capacity of the Ultras is seen as a threat to the regime and police, who have tried to break up these groups for the past years. Since 2012, supporters are banned from attending stadium matches, clashes between Ultras and police have frequently led to fatalities, and dozens of members are in prison.

“The Ultras are desperate and don’t see a bright future,” said journalist and football fan Mahmoud Mostafa. “They hope for a reconciliation with the regime to get their fellow members out of prison.”

For example, in April this year 21 Ultras were arrested over inciting protests. Seven more were arrested in early May after a confrontation with the police.

A particular dramatic event took place in early 2015. At least 20 Zamalek supporters were killed in a stampede when police fired tear gas at a crowd in front of a stadium’s gate. Afterwards, not policemen but Ultras present at the scene were convicted. They would have incited riots with the police and hence been held responsible for the death of their fellow fans.

 

No space for independent voices

“The regime does not tolerate organised groups outside of its control,” Mostafa said. “The Ultras have a large audience among youth, and have [in the stadiums] an open platform to express an independent voice. That worries the state.”

Mostafa’s words reflect the underlying trend of the recent developments: the state does not want to allow a public space for citizens to express an independent voice, whether it is through social media, videos, stadiums or universities.

While the risks for Egyptians are much higher, foreign journalists are also subject to the crackdown. Two weeks ago French journalist Nina Hubinet was stopped at Cairo airport, interrogated about her previous work on Egypt, and sent back to France. She hadn’t been reporting from Egypt for five years and was only travelling to visit friends.

 

Egypt rejects EU criticism

Last week the European Union expressed its concern about the recent arrests, describing them as a ‘worrying development’. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded the same day. “No citizen in Egypt is arrested or tried as a result of engaging in an activity in the field of human rights or for directing criticism at the Egyptian government, but for committing crimes punishable by law,” spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement.

While the Ultras have succumbed, Soliman remains resilient. “Yes I’m worried, and the arrests are becoming more, but I’m a fighter,” she said. She keeps trying to enforce her and other’s rights by law, even though sometimes it’s also too much for her. “But then I calm down, relax and hold on to the dream: Justice, equality and rule of law.”

That dream however, seems farther away than ever under the second term of President Al-Sisi.

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Civilians Paid a Very High Price for Raqqa’s Devastating “Liberation” by US-led Forceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/civilians-paid-high-price-raqqas-devastating-liberation-us-led-forces/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civilians-paid-high-price-raqqas-devastating-liberation-us-led-forces http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/civilians-paid-high-price-raqqas-devastating-liberation-us-led-forces/#respond Tue, 05 Jun 2018 07:07:24 +0000 Donatella Rovera and Benjamin Walsby http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156055
Donatella Rovera is a Senior Crisis Response Adviser and Benjamin Walsby is a Middle East Researcher at Amnesty International

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Entire neighbourhoods in Raqqa are damaged beyond repair. Credit: Amnesty International

By Donatella Rovera and Benjamin Walsby
RAQQA, Syria, Jun 5 2018 (IPS)

Driving around in Raqqa, it was easy to believe what a senior US military official said – that more artillery shells were launched into the Syrian city than anywhere else since the Viet Nam war.

There was destruction to be seen on virtually every street, in the heaps of rubble, bombed-out buildings and twisted metal carcasses of cars. There were also constant reminders of devastated civilian lives, in the broken possessions, scraps of clothing and grubby children’s toys scattered amongst the ruins.

Between 6 June and 17 October 2017, the US-led Coalition mounted an operation to “liberate” Raqqa from the armed group calling itself the Islamic State (IS). The Coalition claimed its precision air campaign allowed it to oust IS from Raqqa while causing very few civilian casualties, but our investigations have exposed gaping holes in this narrative.

Our new report, ‘War of annihilation’: Devastating Toll on Civilians, Raqqa – Syria, presents the evidence we collected over several weeks in Raqqa, investigating cases of civilians who paid the brutal price for what US Defence Secretary James Mattis promised to be a “war of annihilation” against IS.

Residents were trapped as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, supported by the Coalition’s air and artillery strikes. IS mined escape routes and shot at civilians trying to flee.

Hundreds of civilians were killed: some in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge; and others as they tried to flee.

We investigated the cases of four Syrian families, who between them lost 90 relatives and neighbours almost all of them killed by Coalition air strikes.

Destruction in Raqqa’s city centre. Credit: Amnesty International

In the case of the Badran family, 39 family members were killed in four separate Coalition air strikes as they ran from place to place inside the city, desperately seeking a way of avoiding rapidly shifting frontlines and coalition air bombardments over the course of several weeks.

“We thought the forces who came to evict Daesh [IS] would know their business and would target Daesh and leave the civilians alone. We were naïve. By the time we had realised how dangerous it had become everywhere, it was too late; we were trapped,” Rasha Badran told us.

“I don’t understand why they bombed us…Didn’t the surveillance planes see that we were civilian families?”

After several attempts to flee, Rasha and her husband finally managed to escape, having lost their entire family, including their only child, a one-year-old girl named Tulip, whose tiny body they buried near a tree.

The Aswads were a family of traders who had toiled hard all their lives to build a home in Raqqa. Some of them stayed behind to defend their home from being looted, sheltering in the basement. But, on 28 June, a Coalition air strike destroyed the building, killing eight civilians, most of them children.

Another family member was killed when he stepped on an IS mine after returning to the city to try to recover the bodies days later.

During the four-month offensive, US, British and French Coalition forces carried out tens of thousands of air strikes. US forces, which boasted about firing 30,000 artillery rounds during the campaign, were also responsible for more than 90% of the air strikes.

The Coalition repeatedly used explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas where they knew civilians were trapped. There is strong prima facie evidence that Coalition air and artillery strikes killed and injured thousands of civilians, including in disproportionate or indiscriminate attacks that violated international humanitarian law and are potential war crimes.

Precision air strikes are only as precise as the information about the targets. In addition, when bombs big enough to flatten whole buildings are being used, as well as artillery with wide-area effects, any claims about minimizing civilian casualties ring hollow.

Amnesty International is urging Coalition members to investigate impartially and thoroughly allegations of violations and civilian casualties, and to acknowledge publicly the scale and gravity of the loss of civilian lives and destruction of civilian property in Raqqa.

The USA, UK and France must disclose their findings. They must be transparent in disclosing their tactics, specific means and methods of attack, choice of targets, and precautions taken in planning and execution of attacks.

They must also review the procedures by which they decide the credibility of civilian casualty allegations and they must ensure justice and reparation for victims of violations.

The victims, including tiny one-year-old Tulip, deserve justice. Coalition members must not risk repeating the same mistakes elsewhere.

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Excerpt:


Donatella Rovera is a Senior Crisis Response Adviser and Benjamin Walsby is a Middle East Researcher at Amnesty International

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Unilateral Coercive Measures have Devastated the Syrian Economy &Ruined Civilian Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/unilateral-coercive-measures-devastated-syrian-economy-ruined-civilian-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unilateral-coercive-measures-devastated-syrian-economy-ruined-civilian-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/unilateral-coercive-measures-devastated-syrian-economy-ruined-civilian-lives/#respond Fri, 01 Jun 2018 17:08:00 +0000 Idriss Jazairy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156031 Idriss Jazairy is Special Rapporteur on “the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights to the Syrian Arab Republic”*

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Idriss Jazairy is Special Rapporteur on “the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights to the Syrian Arab Republic”*

By Idriss Jazairy
GENEVA, Jun 1 2018 (IPS)

I have been entrusted by the Human Rights Council with the task of monitoring, reporting and advising on the negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights of unilateral coercive measures.

The United Nations has repeatedly expressed concern that the use of such measures may be contrary to international law, international humanitarian law, the UN Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States1.

Idriss Jazairy. Credit: UN Photo

During my visit, I had the honour of being received by Ministers, Deputy Ministers and senior officials of the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Economy and Foreign Trade, Local Administration and Environment, Social Affairs and Labour, Transport, Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Electricity and Health.

I also met with the leadership of the Planning and International Cooperation Commission, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Chamber of Commerce, and with the Governor of the Central Bank.

I was briefed by staff from civil society, humanitarian organizations and by independent experts. Last but not least, I am also grateful to the numerous diplomatic missions that shared their views with me during my visit. I very much appreciate the briefings I received from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in Beirut prior to my visit.

The purpose of this mission was to examine to what extent unilateral coercive measures targeting the Syrian Arab Republic impair the full realization of the rights set forth in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

I will present my full report to the Human Rights Council in September 2018. My present statement contains my preliminary observations on the outcome of my visit.

I have examined the situation of the Syrian Arab Republic as a target of unilateral coercive measures by a number of source States. I have examined relevant evidence and endeavoured to assess the actual impact of such measures on the Syrian people.

One source country has applied unilateral coercive measures since 1979, and they were strengthened in subsequent years. A larger group of States began applying similar measures in 2011.

The collective measures call for a trade ban on the import and export of multiple goods and services. It also includes international financial transfers. The superimposition of different packages of collective sectoral measures, together with the across-the-board implementation of financial restrictions, are tantamount in their global impact to the imposition of comprehensive restrictions on Syria.

Additional measures targeting individuals by virtue of their alleged relationship with the government have also been applied.

Because of their comprehensive nature, these measures have had a devastating impact on the entire economy and the daily lives of ordinary people. This impact has compounded their suffering resulting from the devastating crisis that has unfolded since 2011.

Singling out the impact of the unilateral coercive measures from that of the crisis is fraught with difficulty, but this does in no way diminish the necessity to take measures to restore their basic human rights as a whole.

It is clear that the sufferings imposed by the unilateral coercive measures have reinforced those that were caused by the conflict.

Indeed, it seems ironic that these measures applied by source States out of a concern for human rights are actually contributing to the worsening of the humanitarian crisis as an unintended consequence.

The dramatic increase in the suffering of the Syrian people

The Syrian economy continues to decline at an alarming rate. Since the application of coercive measures in 2011, and the beginning of the current crisis, the total annual GDP of Syria has fallen by two thirds.

Foreign currency reserves have been depleted, and international financial and other assets remain frozen. In 2010, 45 Syrian Liras were exchanged for one dollar; by 2017 the rate fell to fell to 510 liras per dollar. Inflation has dramatically increased since 2010, reaching a peak of 82.4% in 2013; the cost of food items rose eight-fold during this time.

This combination of factors visited further devastation on the living conditions of the population that were already degraded by the conflict. This has hit the half of working Syrians living on fixed salaries particularly hard.

The unintended consequences of unilateral coercive measures

This damage to the economy has had predictable effects on the ability of Syrians to realize their economic, social and cultural rights. Syria’s human development indicators have all tumbled. There has been a staggering increase in the rate of poverty among ordinary Syrians.

While there was no food insecurity prior to the outbreak of violence, by 2015 32% of Syrians were affected. At the same time unemployment rose went from 8.5% in 2010 to over 48% in 2015.

Banking restrictions

The most pervasive concerns I have heard during my mission relate to the negative effect that comprehensive financial restrictions have had on all aspects of Syrian life. Restrictions on the Central bank, state-owned and even private banks, and transactions in the main international currencies have comprehensively damaged the ability of anyone seeking to operate internationally.

Despite nominally including “humanitarian exemptions” they have proven to be costly, or extremely slow, to access in practice.

The uncertainty around what transactions do, or do not violate the unilateral coercive measures, have created a “chilling effect” on international banks and companies, which as a result are unwilling or unable to do business with Syria.

This has prevented Syrian and international companies, non-governmental actors (including those operating in purely humanitarian fields), and Syrian citizens from engaging in international financial transactions (including for goods which are legal to import), obtaining credit, or for international actors to pay salaries or contractors in Syria.

This has forced Syrians to find alternatives, such as hawala, which result in millions of dollars flowing through high cost financial intermediaries, who are alleged at times to be owned by terrorist organizations.

These channels which are not transparent, cannot be audited, and increase transaction costs remain the only avenue for smaller companies and Syrian civil society actors to operate internationally.

Medical care

Syria practices universal, free health care for all its citizens. Prior to the current crisis, Syria enjoyed some of the highest levels of care in the region. The demands created by the crisis have overwhelmed the system, and created extraordinarily high levels of need.

Despite this, restrictive measures, particularly those related to the banking system, have harmed the ability of Syria to purchase and pay for medicines, equipment, spare parts and software.

While theoretical exemptions exist, in practice international private companies are unwilling to jump the hurdles necessary to ensure they can transact with Syria without being accused of inadvertently violating the restrictive measures.

Migration and ‘brain drain’

While the security situation was a central factor which led to migration flows from Syria, it should be emphasized that the dramatic increase in unemployment, the lack of job opportunities, the closure of factories unable to obtain raw materials or machinery or to export their goods have all contributed to increasing the emigration of Syrians.

Some receiving States have selected skilled migrants, while pressuring the less fortunate to return to Syria. This “brain drain” has harmed the medical and pharmaceutical industries in particular, at the worst possible time for Syria.

The anticipated end of the current conflict will not put an end to the flows of migrants, especially to Europe, in view of the saturation of neighbouring countries.

These flows are likely to continue so long as the Syrian authorities are prevented by unilateral coercive measures from addressing the pressing problems related to their social and economic infrastructure, in particular the restoration of energy and water supplies.

Ban on equipment and spare parts

The ban on the trade in equipment, machinery and spare parts has devastated Syrian industry. Vehicles, including ambulances and fire trucks, as well as agricultural machinery suffer from a lack of spare parts. Failing water pumps gravely affect the water supply and reduce agricultural production.

Power generation plants are failing, and new plants cannot be purchased or maintained, leading to power outages. Complex machinery requiring international technicians for maintenance are failing, damaging medical devices and factory machinery.

Civilian aircraft are no longer able to fly safely, and public transit buses are in woeful condition. Whatever rationale source countries may have for restricting so-called dual use goods, greater effort is needed to ensure that goods that are clearly intended for civilian use are permitted, and that they can be paid for.

Ban on technology

As a result of unilateral coercive measures, Syrians are unable to purchase many technologies, including mobile phones and computers. The global dominance of American software companies, technology companies, and banking and financial software, all of which are banned, has made it difficult to find alternatives. This has paralyzed or disrupted large parts of Syrian institutions.

Education

Shortages of inputs, energy and water supply as well as of teaching material causing delays in the rebuilding of schools have kept 1.8 million children without access to their classrooms.

The ability of Syrians to participate in the international community has been sharply affected. Syrians have been excluded from international educational exchange programs, and the tremendous difficulties involved in obtaining a visa have prevented many from studying or travelling abroad, upgrading their training and skills, or participating in international conferences.

By removing consular services from Syria, countries have forced people including the poorest, to travel to neighbouring countries for such applications, which are also placing onerous restrictions on entry for Syrians.

Conclusion

I am profoundly concerned that unilateral coercive measures are contributing to the ongoing suffering of the Syrian people. Claims that they exist to protect the Syrian population, or to promote a democratic transition, are hard to reconcile with the economic and humanitarian sufferings being caused.

The time has come to ask whether these unintended consequences are now more severe than can be reasonably accepted by democratic States. Whatever their political objectives, there must be more humane means by which these can be achieved in full compliance with international law.

In view of the complexity of the system of unilateral coercive measures in place, there needs to be a multi-stage approach to addressing the dire human rights situation prevailing in Syria.

This would imply a sequenced approach involving addressing the crucial humanitarian needs of the population throughout the whole of Syria, without preconditions, when these touch on issues of life and death. A first stage could include addressing the urgent needs of the food insecure, which represent nearly one third of the population.

The second stage is to translate at the ground level effective measures to fulfil the commitment of source States to meet their obligation to allow humanitarian exemptions, particularly for financial transactions.

Finally, there must be a serious dialogue on reducing unilateral coercive measures, starting with those that have the most egregious effect on the population, along with those that will promote confidence building between the parties, with the ultimate aim of lifting the unilateral coercive measures. I hope that my report and my future work can contribute in this end.

*Based on the end-of-mission statement by the Special Rapporteur,and includes “preliminary observations and recommendations” on Syria.

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Excerpt:

Idriss Jazairy is Special Rapporteur on “the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights to the Syrian Arab Republic”*

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Why Israel Dropped Out of the Security Council Race: Not Enough Voteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes/#comments Tue, 29 May 2018 16:32:20 +0000 Kacie Candela http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155973 Kacie Candela, PassBlue*

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On March 8, 2018, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and his wife, Sara, toured the “3000 Years of History: Jews in Jerusalem” exhibition at the UN in New York. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, right. Israel recently dropped its campaign to run for a seat in the next term of the Security Council. The election is June 8. Credit: ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

By Kacie Candela
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2018 (IPS)

From the start, it was a closely watched contest pitting Germany, Belgium and Israel against one another for their regional bloc’s two seats in the next term on the United Nations Security Council. Israel has never held a seat on the Council, and as it celebrates its 70-year membership in the UN in 2018, the country was aiming high for the June 8 election.

But it was never going to be a shoo-in for Israel. It has been a permanent member of WEOG, or the Western Europe and Others Group, since 2004, falling into this UN regional slot first as a renewable member in 2000, because its Arab neighbors refused to let it into their Asia-Pacific group.

So, when Israel announced abruptly on May 4 that it was withdrawing from the Council race, just as a debate for the contestants was being staged at the UN, the campaigning by Germany and Belgium was done.

Competing for the 10 elected seats on the Council seats is always intense, but Israel’s last-minute withdrawal leaves the overall election for the 2018-2019 term with few surprises. Only the Maldives and Indonesia, from the Asia-Pacific group, are left competing — for that region’s open seat.

The Security Council’s 10 nonpermanent members hold staggered two-year terms, which are not immediately renewable.

For the upcoming term, the African group has pre-selected South Africa; the Latin American and Caribbean group has preordained the Dominican Republic. The one seat allotted for Eastern Europe will be open next year.

The work to win a Council seat can begin years before the election. Besides events like cultural affairs (Italy, campaigning in 2016 at UN headquarters, showcased its cinema and food), freebies like felt satchels and more extravagant ventures such as a free trip for diplomats to visit a candidate’s country, the campaigns’ expenses are rarely publicized. There are virtually no rules on spending limits.

According to a report by the CBC on Canada’s candidacy for the 2021-22 Council term, countries have spent anywhere from $4 million to $85 million on campaigns.

The money goes to everything from postage stamps to travel and hospitality, but it does not include the salaries of those appointed to lead the efforts, although not all countries have a designated campaign staff, like Canada.

Israel, however, never had a slogan, website or logo. According to the General Assembly Affairs Branch of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, it never received notification from Israel that it was a candidate.

Israel’s campaign was less focused on cultivating an image with the UN press corps and civil society and more on currying favor among countries whose votes it needed. The Israeli mission paid for three visits of groups of UN diplomats to Jerusalem over the last few months.

The delegates were predominantly from countries in Africa and Latin America and Pacific island nations. Some Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, were rumored to have supported Israel’s bid, as well as a handful of US allies, like Guatemala.

When asked a few days after its withdrawal from the race which countries had supported Israel, Ambassador Danny Danon told PassBlue that it was a “long list” but not enough to meet the two-thirds’ threshold to win the election, which is held in the UN General Assembly among all 193 member nations. Danon declined to name any of the countries on the list.

When the Israeli mission announced its decision to drop out, some ambassadors at the UN said they were not surprised. Arab countries in the UN had been actively lobbying against Israel, especially after the Great March of Return in Gaza began this spring and Israeli forces killed more than 100 protesters at the rallies. Various high-level officials said there were rumors that Danon had even hinted about Israel foregoing the race.

One irony of Israel’s decision is that Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has repeatedly bemoaned the back-room negotiating and lack of competition in UN elections generally.

The race among Israel, Belgium and Germany had been awkward all along, notably because of Israel’s odd place in WEOG as a Middle Eastern country among Western Europeans and Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The United States is not a member of any regional group but votes in the WEOG bloc.

Israel has vied for a Council seat for more than 10 years. It announced it would run for the 2018-2019 seat in 2005, after it agreed to withdraw from Gaza. At the time, 2018-2019 was the next term for which the WEOG seats had not been claimed. Belgium announced its candidacy in 2009.

But in 2013, Germany announced it too would run, meaning Israel and Belgium would no longer be running uncontested. Germany could not have announced its intention earlier because it served on the Council from 2011-2012, and it is against UN election rules to campaign for a Council seat until a country is done with an active term. Germany has repeatedly contended it decided to run because by practice it sought a seat every eighth year.

In March 2018, reports in Israeli and American media contended that Germany’s bid violated an agreement brokered in the 1990s by Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to Germany from 1993-1994, to allow Israel to run unopposed for a seat after Israel became a member of WEOG.

In an interview with PassBlue in April 2018, Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, said, “Israel is very grateful to Germany for its help getting Israel out of the Asian group and into the Western Europe and Others Group.

“We have excellent bilateral relations with Israel, but there has never been an agreement between Israel and Germany. We have been very straightforward to all our partners since we arrived at the UN in 1973. We have been a candidate for the Security Council every eight years and we have never departed from this. We want to be very clear in what we do. There was no deal with Israel that I read in some papers, and the Israeli government has never accused us of breaking any deal.”

Both East and West Germany joined the UN in 1973, but when German officials reference the country’s history on the Security Council, they usually refer to West Germany, which has served on the Council about every eight years since its first term in 1977-78. According to the United Nations Association of Germany, until German unification, the two nations took turns serving on the Council.

The May 4 announcement by Israel seemed timed to coincide with the start of the debate among the WEOG candidates. The public forum, sponsored by the New York-based World Federation of United Nations Associations, was designed to make Council elections more transparent.

WFUNA, as the group is known, held hearings for Council candidates for the first time in 2016, but last year there were no competitive slates, so no hearings were held.

Up to the minute the debate began, the organizers still did not know whether Israel would show up, but soon into the program, the Israeli press release arrived in email in-boxes, saying that “after consulting with our partners, including our good friends, the State of Israel has decided to postpone its candidacy for a seat on the Security Council.

“It was decided that we will continue to act with our allies to allow for Israel to realize its right for full participation and inclusion in decision-making processes at the U.N. This includes the Security Council as well as an emphasis on areas related to development and innovation.”

After the debate, a question-and-answer format proceeded. Kelley Currie, the US representative for the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs Council, asked about human rights being discussed more actively in the Security Council. She then gave a statement about Israel, America’s close ally.

“We respect the decision by Israel to postpone its Security Council candidacy today,” Currie said. “We note the United Nations’ poor record of inclusion of Israel in membership in UN bodies and on the Security Council throughout Israel’s nearly 70 years as a UN-member state in good standing. This is a shameful record. The United States looks forward to the day when Israel is treated like every other member state and is appropriately included in this organization.”

Heusgen responded by saying the US gave “a remark, not a question with regard to Israel.”

He continued, “We can only underline that Germany together with others in the west European and others group have seen to it that Israel has become a member of this group to be able to exercise its rights and possibility to participate in this organization.”

*PassBlue is an independent, women-led digital publication offering in-depth journalism on the US-UN relationship as well as women’s issues, human rights, peacekeeping and other urgent global matters, reported from our base in the UN press corps. Founded in 2011, PassBlue is a project of the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs in New York and not tied financially or otherwise to the UN; previously, it was housed at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. PassBlue is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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Excerpt:

Kacie Candela, PassBlue*

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Can Preventive Diplomacy Avert Military Conflicts?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/can-preventive-diplomacy-avert-military-conflicts/#respond Mon, 21 May 2018 13:29:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155855 In the paradoxical battle against military conflicts, is preventive diplomacy one of the political remedies that can help deter wars before they break out? Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly, points out that prevention takes many forms, and it must tackle conflict at its roots – before it can spread. “This means stronger […]

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Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak delivers a speech after he was elected as president of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at the UN headquarters in New York, May 31, 2017. Credit: UN Photo

By Thalif Deen
STOCKHOLM, May 21 2018 (IPS)

In the paradoxical battle against military conflicts, is preventive diplomacy one of the political remedies that can help deter wars before they break out?

Miroslav Lajcak, President of the UN General Assembly, points out that prevention takes many forms, and it must tackle conflict at its roots – before it can spread.

“This means stronger institutions. It means smart and sustainable development. It means inclusive peacebuilding. It means promoting human rights, and the rule of law.”

At a recent three-day Forum on Peace and Development, sponsored by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry, participants came up with several responses, including international mediation, pre-conflict peacebuilding, counter-terrorism — and, perhaps most importantly, sustainable development that aims at eradicating poverty and hunger.

Lajcak cites a recent World Bank-United Nations report, titled “Pathways for Peace”, that argues in terms of dollars and cents: that for every $1 spent on prevention, up to $7 could be saved – over the long term.

Speaking on the “Politics of Peace” – the theme of the SIPRI forum which concluded May 9—he said: “Peace can be political. It can be complicated. And it can be messy. Mediators do not have an easy job.”

Jan Eliasson, chairman of the SIPRI Board of Governors and a former Swedish Foreign Minister, points out that “aside from saving and improving human lives, studies suggest that investing $2 billion in prevention can generate net savings of $33 billion per year from averted conflict”.

And according to a World Bank survey, he said, 40 percent of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities?

“It is time for us all to get serious about prevention and sustaining peace if we are to achieve the peace envisioned in the SDGs by 2030. Policy makers must focus efforts on prevention, committing additional resources and attention to the highest risk environment,” said Eliasson, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General.

In an introduction to the “Politics of Peace,” SIPRI says targeted, inclusive and sustained prevention can contribute to lasting peace by reducing the risk of violent conflict.

“Unfortunately, the political will to invest in prevention is often lacking where it is needed most,” notes SIPRI.

The UN’s peacekeeping budget for 2017-2018 is estimated at a staggering $6.8 billion. But how much does the UN really spend on preventive diplomacy?

At a high level meeting on peacebuilding last month, several delegates emphasized the concept of prevention. But complained about the failure to aggressively fund such prevention.

Asked how one could explain that “meagre resources, a little bit over $1 million” is being devoted to preventive diplomacy, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters April 25: “I think that’s a question perhaps to those who allocate the budget. The Secretary General has repeatedly called for greater resources and greater emphasis to be put on prevention.”

Siddharth Chatterjee, UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative in Kenya told IPS, today’s violent conflicts are complex, trans-border and multi-dimensional in nature.

Similarly, the causes and patterns of conflict are also complex and intertwined with ethnicity, dispute over boundaries, and competition over scarce resources, weak governance systems, poverty, socioeconomic inequalities, environmental degradation, etc.

The complexity of violent conflict, he argued, makes it prolonged, deadly, and economically costly to the countries which experience conflicts.

According to Collier et. al (2003), “by the end of a typical civil war, incomes are around 15 per cent lower than they would otherwise have been, implying that about 30 per cent more people are living in absolute poverty” due to conflict. And according to the same authors, conflict would also lead to a permanent loss of around 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Chatterjee also pointed out that the main damage of conflict emanates from its adverse effects of diverting resources from the productive sector to violence and destructive activities.

“These widespread conflicts are imposing an enormous cost not only to the countries where conflicts are raging but also to their neighboring countries, which often end up hosting refugees crossing the borders to seek a safe-haven. This further results in considerable economic and environmental problems for the host countries.”

He said armed conflict and violence are increasingly complex, dynamic and protracted. Over 65 million people were forcibly displaced in 2016 alone. Many conflicts have endured for decades; others have repercussions well beyond their immediate area.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Executive Director of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) told IPS that after so many wars and so much destruction, “I’m stunned that governments still think that weaponry is the pathway to peace and security.”

“When individuals are able to weaponize a car, a bus or truck, hi-tech missiles aren’t going to solve the problem. We need to be looking at the root causes and drivers.”

She said this brings up issues of gross inequality, rising extremism that’s fostering un-belonging, and other issues relating to education, mental health and so forth.

She asked: “What does it cost to build schools in Northern Nigeria so kids have a chance of a future? What does it cost to develop state of the art environmental programs that can preserve water and enable farmers to grow crops, so they aren’t forced to migrate to cities and be jobless and desperate?”

Globally, over 260 million children and youth are not in school, and 400 million children have only primary school education, according to UN estimates released last week. If left unaddressed, the education crisis could leave half of the world’s 1.6 billion children and youth out of school or failing to learn the most basic skills by 2030.

Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown, received a petition signed by some 1.5 million young people calling for more investment in education. The petition was delivered by three youth activists from India, Kenya and Sierra Leone.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, said Naraghi Anderlini, “we recognized that human security was integral to state security. The 9/11 attacks threw us off course and we entered a realm of perpetual war and retaliations. Yet at the core sits issues of human security, dignity, legitimate grievances and aspirations. State failure is central to everything we see – from corruption to excessive violence and being absent in basic service provision.”

She warned that “governments can try to hide behind their bluster, weaponry and techno-wizardry but we are hurtling towards a new unknown, but this will not be the path to peace.”

The tragedy is that ordinary people, civil society actors in communities everywhere, have the answers and solutions, she argued.

“They have rolled up their sleeves and with limited resources they are doing extraordinary work. They raise uncomfortable truths for this reason, governments and even the UN system don’t bring them to the table. They provide ‘side events’ and agree to host them on the margins of major summits.”

But the citizens are not marginal, they are at the very center of any state. And civil society organizations that enable citizens to contribute to solving problems should be equal partners in the space of decision making globally, she declared.

Chatterjee told IPS the other emerging threat to the global community is violent extremism which has not only sets in motion a dramatic reversal of development gains already made, but also threatens to stunt prospects of development for decades to come, particularly in border lands and marginalized areas as well as affecting developed countries.

To support prevention of conflict and violent extremism; it is important to focus on the root causes, drivers of conflict and radicalization, which are intertwined with poverty, social, cultural, economic, political and psychological factors.

Extremism, which often evolves into terrorism, has its origin in poverty and human insecurity, which is partly linked to exclusion, marginalization and lack of access to resources and power, he noted.

A recent UNDP report – “the Road to Extremism”- which is based on extensive data collected from East and West African countries, revealed that poverty and marginalization to be the main factors that drive young people to join extremist groups. The study also found that the tipping point is how the government treats the community and the youth.

In addressing both violent conflict and extremism, Chatterjee said, it is important to invest in prevention because attempting to address the problem once it has erupted will cost more and huge amount of resources. And, it will also be complicated, as in the case of Somalia or the Central African Republic (CAR).

That is why the UN Secretary General’s reform agenda emphasizes preventing violent conflicts before they erupt into full-fledged crises. The Secretary General’s agenda also links conflict to SDGs, and the principle of leaving no one behind espoused by the SDGs is a critical condition for sustainable peace and prosperity, said Chatterjee.

He said this approach will strengthen institutions to sustain peace as the best way to avoid societies from descending into crisis, including, but not limited to, conflict, violent extremism and ensure their resilience through investments in inclusive and sustainable development.

“The bottom line is without peace, little or nothing can be achieved in terms of economic and social progress and without development it would be difficult to achieve sustainable peace,” declared Chatterjee.

Asked for his reaction, Dan Smith, SIPRI Director, summed it up as follows: “In general I think that a Norwegian politician, Erik Solheim, now head of UNEP, put it well when he said, at a public meeting many years ago, in response to a question about why prevention is not emphasised more, something along these lines: “Because, to my knowledge, no politician has ever been re-elected on the basis of preventing a war that might not have happened in a faraway country that none of her or his voters have ever heard of.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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“What do you Become When you Shoot to Kill Someone who is Unarmed, & not an Immediate Threat to You?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/become-shoot-kill-someone-unarmed-not-immediate-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=become-shoot-kill-someone-unarmed-not-immediate-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/become-shoot-kill-someone-unarmed-not-immediate-threat/#respond Fri, 18 May 2018 12:17:00 +0000 Zeid Raad Al Hussein http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155825 Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, addressing a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem

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Hamas says the demonstrations are meant to draw attention to the harsh conditions in Gaza. Credit: AFP

By Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein
GENEVA, May 18 2018 (IPS)

Appalling recent events in Gaza have called this Council into Special Session. Since the protests began on 30 March, 87 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli security forces in the context of the demonstrations, including 12 children; 29 others, including three children, were killed in other circumstances. And over 12,000 people have been injured, more than 3,500 of them by live ammunition.

The violence reached a peak on Monday 14 May, when 43 demonstrators were killed by Israeli forces – and the number sadly continues to climb, as some of the 1,360 demonstrators injured with live ammunition that day succumb to their wounds. These people, many of whom were completely unarmed, were shot in the back, in the chest, in the head and limbs with live ammunition, as well as rubber-coated steel bullets and tear-gas canisters.

Israeli forces also killed a further 17 Palestinians outside the context of the five demonstration hot spots. Together, this figure of 60 is the highest one-day death toll in Gaza since the 2014 hostilities.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Credit: UN photo

This was not “a PR victory for Hamas”, in the reported words of a senior Israeli military spokesman; it was a tragedy for thousands of families. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also described the demonstrators as being “paid by Hamas”, and has said the Israeli security forces “try to minimize casualties”.

But there is little evidence of any attempt to minimize casualties on Monday. Although some of the demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails, used sling-shots to throw stones, flew burning kites into Israel, and attempted to use wire-cutters against the two fences between Gaza and Israel, these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force.

The stark contrast in casualties on both sides is also suggestive of a wholly disproportionate response: on Monday, on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone. Killings resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute “wilful killings” – a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Palestinians have exactly the same human rights as Israelis do. They have the same rights to live safely in their homes, in freedom, with adequate and essential services and opportunities. And of this essential core of entitlements due to every human being, they are systematically deprived.

All of the 1.9 million people who live in Gaza have been penned in behind fences and have suffered progressively more restrictions and greater poverty. After 11 years of blockade by Israel they have little hope of employment, and their infrastructure is crumbling, with an electricity crisis, inadequate health services and a decaying sewage system that constitutes a threat to health.

They are forced to seek exit permits from Israel for any reason, including for specialised health care, and many of those permits are denied or delayed – including permits for the majority of the demonstrators shot by Israeli security forces this week.

Israel, as an occupying power under international law, is obligated to protect the population of Gaza and ensure their welfare. But they are, in essence, caged in a toxic slum from birth to death; deprived of dignity; dehumanised by the Israeli authorities to such a point it appears officials do not even consider that these men and women have a right, as well as every reason, to protest.

Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week.

The human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory continues to deteriorate. Settlement building has again accelerated this year, together with rising settler violence. Demolitions of private property continue, including punitive demolitions, which constitute a deplorable form of collective punishment.

The small Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar, just east of Jerusalem, is at high risk of forcible transfer. This week, the villages of Beita and Nabi Saleh were subjected to closures and restrictions on movement following clashes with the Israeli forces. Israel also continues to detain large numbers of Palestinians, including children, although under international law the detention of a child must be a measure of last resort.

I also deplore the widespread and unprincipled use of detention without trial – described as “administrative detention” – and violations of fundamental fair trial guarantees. And the deficit in accountability for alleged extrajudicial killings and other violations, as previously reported by the Secretary General and my Office, undermines confidence in Israeli justice.

I therefore endorse calls made by many States and observers for an investigation that is international, independent and impartial – in the hope the truth regarding these matters will lead to justice.

Those responsible for violations must in the end be held accountable. In this context, as in all conflicts where impunity is widespread, unless ended by a peace settlement, excessive violence – both horrifying and criminal – flows easily from the barrel of a gun; becomes normal, destroying the occupied perhaps, but something crucial too in the occupier.

What do you become when you shoot to kill someone who is unarmed, and not an immediate threat to you? You are neither brave, nor a hero. You have become someone very different to that.

And then there is the fear and hatred – those dreadful twins, prolific in the manufacturing of violence and human suffering, now transforming into a psychosis, on both sides, more tightly spun, and more corrosive. And to what end? So we will all be destroyed?

The occupation must end, so the people of Palestine can be liberated, and the people of Israel liberated from it. End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear.

I urge Israel to act in accordance with its international obligations. Palestinians’ right to life, their right to security of the person and rights to freedom of assembly and expression must be respected and protected. All individuals’ right to health must be respected and protected, regardless of the context in which they may have been injured.

The rules of engagement for Israel’s security forces must be in line with Israel’s international obligations, and I urge that they be published. Children should never be the targets of violence and must not be put at risk of violence or encouraged to participate in violence.

I again remind all concerned that lethal force may only be used in cases of extreme necessity, as a last resort, in response to an imminent threat of death or risk of serious injury.

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Excerpt:

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein is UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, addressing a Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem

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United Arab Emirates: Entering into a Sustainable Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/united-arab-emirates-entering-sustainable-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-arab-emirates-entering-sustainable-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/united-arab-emirates-entering-sustainable-future/#respond Mon, 14 May 2018 20:35:53 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155763    The end of the oil age In the early 1970’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was an impoverished desert, with little access to food, water and well-paying jobs. Today, this country looks nothing like it was fifty years ago. Thanks to oil, the UAE has completely transformed and now is one of the most […]

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View from the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Credit: Ravin Vimesh

By Maged Srour
ROME, May 14 2018 (IPS)

 
 
The end of the oil age
In the early 1970’s the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was an impoverished desert, with little access to food, water and well-paying jobs. Today, this country looks nothing like it was fifty years ago. Thanks to oil, the UAE has completely transformed and now is one of the most developed economies in the Middle East, if not the world: its per capita GDP is equal to those of highly developed European nations ($68,000 – 2017 est.).

Wealth in the UAE, as in other Gulf countries, is derived mainly from oil but the black gold will run out someday soon. For this reason, the UAE, similar to other petro-rich countries in the region, is activating a list of local and national strategies and initiatives to build a new framework for the future. This framework aims to be run only by renewable energies but keeping the same level of wealth, if not improving it. Therefore rich, but without depending on oil.

Indeed, the UAE has recently embarked on a new path of investments, to end oil dependence and turn around most of its infrastructures run by renewable energies. Launched in 2017, the UAE Energy Strategy 2050 aims “to increase the contribution of clean energy in the total energy mix from 25 percent to 50 percent by 2050 and reduce carbon footprint of power generation by 70 percent, thus saving AED 700 billion by 2050.” The Strategy also seeks to increase consumption efficiency of individuals and corporates by 40 percent and it targets an energy mix that aims to combine renewable, nuclear and clean sources as follows: 44 percent clean energy, 38 percent gas, 12 percent clean coal and 6 percent nuclear.

For example, the city of Masdar is the first city in the world to have a zero carbon footprint and zero waste and it is a car-free city. The city is still not fully developed but it currently aims to be home to 40 to 50 thousand people in a total area of six kilometres.

Back to the future
Energy is not the only field in which the UAE is at the forefront for development and innovation. Transportation, health, education, tackling climate change, visionary architecture, tourism, cyber security and so forth: these and others are all sectors in which the UAE is showing the world its willingness to improve and possibly become the leader, shocking the planet in terms of innovation.

Today the UAE is a country where skyscrapers nearly touch the sky, streets are clean, electric and hybrid cars are gradually becoming more common than cars run on fuel and the crime rate is very low. According to Numbeo, which surveyed 50,175 people in 4,574 cities, Abu Dhabi is one of the safest cities in the world, ranking 16th and with a very low crime index (11.85) and a quite high safety index (88.15).

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Center, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Credit: Martin Adams

The UAE is also planning to build a high-speed train, named Hyperloop, which will be able to reach 1.200 kph and connect Dubai and Abu Dhabi (120 km) in 12 minutes by 2021. In addition, in 2016, the world applauded the first journey to be ever completed by a solar airplane, which, not surprisingly, was an UAE product. Solar Impulse 2 is a solar-powered aircraft equipped with more than 17,000 solar cells. The airplane landed in Abu Dhabi after a journey of 505 days and 26,000 miles at an average speed of about 70 kph. The UAE government is even planning to establish the first human settlements in Mars by 2117.

However, this is just a small portion of the wider picture that describes the UAE’s way to the future. In December 2016, Gulf News had launched “The Amazing Nation”, a book to celebrate UAE’s 45th anniversary that aimed to tell the story of the innovative and modern UAE while also exploring its deep cultural roots. The book shows – through 117 pages with more than 40 double-page spreads filled with highly informative vignettes and varying forms of visual illustrations, photographs and multi-dimensional renderings – how the UAE’s famed architectural prowess will be visible in intelligent and energy-efficient buildings in the coming future.

According to this book, homes of the future will be incredibly smart and capable of growing their own food in a sustainable way. 3D and 4D printing in construction will allow unique innovations in terms of sustainable architecture and homes will also be folded up and transported by drones to any location. The country is also planning to build below the waterline and make underwater living possible. If there is one country that is projecting itself into the future, that is certainly the UAE.

An attractive country: UAE aims to become a crucial business hub
The strong belief of Emirates policy makers in the importance of spending in education, innovation and development, has made the country one of the most attractive hubs for business people and corporations from all over the world. According to the Arcadis Global Infrastructure Investment Index, the UAE is the third most attractive place in the world to invest in infrastructure.

Indeed, the UAE is extremely conducive to private business and the free market. In the thirty-eight free trade zones of UAE, businesses and corporations, even those that are owned by foreigners, are exempt from all taxes. This lack of taxation is a feature of those known as “rentier States”. A “rentier State” gets most (or all) of its income from natural resources revenues. These revenues are used to modernize the economy and to finance the public sector and ultimately to guarantee a fixed income for its citizens. Due in no small part to this system, taxation is almost inexistent in rentier States and makes them the perfect place to invest.

Development in a conflict region
The UAE, like some other Gulf countries, is clearly projecting itself into the future. These countries want to diversify the portfolio of their investments and provide an alternative source of revenues away from those related to oil. This unfolding situation must be addressed and monitored in the long run. The unprecedented modernisation occurring in the Gulf region is inspired by a new and young leadership that is gradually replacing the elders. These leaders are showing a remarkable enthusiasm for innovation but, at the same time, they are the protagonists of a provocative foreign policy, which is ultimately contributing to fuel tensions and conflict across the Middle East. Therefore, this modernisation needs to be examined also assessing the constant political instability in the region.

Indeed, unless this region does not find political compromises which allows enduring peace and a reliable stability, those same people who would enjoy the remarkable technological innovations, will constantly be concerned because of the lack of security in their countries.

Economic and social development needs to be accompanied by a wise and peaceful foreign policy, particularly in the Gulf and in the broader Middle East.

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“I Wake Up Screaming”: Gaza’s Children Bear the Brunt of Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/wake-screaming-gazas-children-bear-brunt-violence/#comments Thu, 10 May 2018 05:33:48 +0000 Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155696 Reham Qudaih wakes up nightly to the same nightmare: her father shot, lying on the ground in a pool of blood. “In my dreams he is on the ground shot. When I have that dream – which I’ve had more than once I wake up screaming,” she told the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). In a […]

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Palestinian child on donkey cart next to garbage container in Gaza City. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Will Higginbotham and Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2018 (IPS)

Reham Qudaih wakes up nightly to the same nightmare: her father shot, lying on the ground in a pool of blood.

“In my dreams he is on the ground shot. When I have that dream – which I’ve had more than once I wake up screaming,” she told the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

In a recent study, NRC found that children living in the Gaza Strip are experiencing are showing increasing signs of psychosocial deterioration since clashes reignited in the region.

“The violence children are witnessing in Gaza comes on top of an already worsening situation negatively impacting their mental wellbeing,” said NRC Secretary General Jan Egeland.

“They have faced three devastating wars and have been living under occupation for the past 11. Now they are once again faced with the horrifying prospect of losing their loved ones, as they see more and more friends and relatives getting killed and injured,” he continued.

Now in their sixth week, ongoing protests at the border between Gaza and Israel have left over 40 killed and more than 5,500 injured since its inception in March.

While Palestinian demonstrators are reportedly using burning tires and wirecutters to breach the barbed-wire border fence, Israeli forces have retaliated with rubber bullets and live ammunition.

Dubbed the ‘Great Return March,’ the demonstrations are centered on Palestinian refugees’ right to return and resettle in Israel.

NRC’s study—which saw 300 school children aged 10 to 12 surveyed—found that 56 per cent reported they were suffering from nightmares.

Principals from 20 schools also reported a rise in symptoms of post-traumatic stress in children, including fears, anxiety, stress and nightmares.

The principals ranked increased psychosocial support in schools as their top need currently.

One of the many schools in Gaza damaged in Israeli attacks. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Qudaih is fourteen and lives in the Gaza strip. She has suffered from ongoing nightmares since the 2014 Gaza-Israeli conflict.

She was making progress in coping with her trauma, but much was unravelled after her father was shot in the leg while attending the protests.

On the day that Qudaih’s father was shot, Israeli troops killed 20 Palestinian protesters and wounded more than 700 – including children.

“We went there [to the protests] to reclaim our rights that were taken away by the occupation…we do not have electricity, rights or food. We don’t get any treatment or a chance to play,” Qudaih said.

Since 2007, Gaza has faced an economic blockade by Israel and Egypt, contributing to a persistent humanitarian crisis.

According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), half of the region’s children depend on humanitarian assistance and one in four needs pscyhosocial care.

The United States’ recent move to cut aid to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees further threatens the already very fragile community.

In addition, there is a lack of medicine and health equipment while power cuts and fuel shortages have disrupted water and sanitation services leaving nine out of 10 families without regular access to safe water.

If such trends continue, the UN has predicted that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020.

Inconsolable since the incident, Qudaih constantly worries about the safety of her family and her future.

And her nightmares keep on returning.

Sadly, her story is not a unique for the children living in the Gaza strip.

“The escalating violence in Gaza has exacerbated the suffering of children whose lives have already been unbearably difficult for several years,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Geert Cappelaere.

Apart from the symptoms of severe distress and trauma, Geert added that children are also experiencing physical injuries.

Fourteen-year-old Mohammad Ayoub was among the children that was killed in the protests, significantly impacting the younger members of his family and the larger community.

“Children belong in schools, homes and playgrounds – they should never be targeted or encouraged to participate in violence,” Cappelaere said.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Israeli forces to curb the use of “lethal force against unarmed demonstrators,” while questioning “how children…can present a threat of imminent death or serious injury to heavily protected security force personnel.”

NRC highlighted the need for long-term investment in psychosocial suppor. t

“For the children we work with, the nightmares continue for months and years after the violence that causes them. For these children they don’t have a chance to recover from previous trauma before fresh layers arise. That builds up,” said Jon-Håkon Schultz, Professor in Educational Psychology at the University of Tromsø in Norway.

“We need people to look seriously and invest in ways that we can counter these harmful psychological impacts,” he added.

The NRC provides psychosocial support to children living in Gaza and provide training for teachers through their Better Learning Programme (BLP) developed in partnership with University of Tromsø in Norway.

One of the features of the program involved screening children for nightmares and helping them work through their re-occurring ones through breathing and drawing exercises.

Qudaih is among the 250,000 children supported by NRC.

“We want to have dignified lives,” she said, urging the need for peaceful demonstrations.

The ‘Great Return March’ began on 30 March and will end on 15 May to mark what Palestinians refer to as the “Nakba”, a day that commemorates Palestinians’ displacement after the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Marchers have also pointed to the relocation fo the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as a driver for the demonstration, a move that will take place on 15 May.

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To Sustain Peace: Heed the Warnings & Prevent the Next Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/sustain-peace-heed-warnings-prevent-next-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustain-peace-heed-warnings-prevent-next-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/sustain-peace-heed-warnings-prevent-next-war/#comments Fri, 04 May 2018 14:40:04 +0000 Sanam Naraghi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155627 Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is Co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

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Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is Co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

By Sanam Naraghi Anderlini
WASHINGTON DC, May 4 2018 (IPS)

New York and Washington DC may be three hours apart geographically, but in global affairs, they are worlds apart.

With the wars in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere unabating, at the UN in New York, terms like ‘conflict prevention’ and ‘sustaining peace’ are back in vogue, with world leaders attending a major summit. Meanwhile in Washington while the talks with North Korea took center stage behind the scenes the drum roll of war against Iran is revving up.

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini

The playbook of this potentially impending war is familiar. The groundwork in the media and political arena is being laid, to make war necessary thus inevitable, so that it ultimately becomes so. Future historians can look back to this month for the many early warning signs and the red herrings that set this stage. Below I address four of the most obvious.

The Israeli provocation

On Monday April 9th Israel attacked Syrian military bases where Iranian security personnel were stationed. Seven Iranians died in the attack and tensions in the region soared. As many Middle East watchers noted, Israel was trying to provoke a retaliation from Iran, so that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could unleash his pent-up anger across Iranian skies.

As the dead soldiers returned to Tehran, Iranian officials said the strikes “will not remain without a response.” Israel meanwhile reiterated it won’t tolerate Iranian military bases next door. It launched another attack on April 30th killing Iranians, Syrians and Iraqi military personnel.

Memories of Israeli-Iranian cooperation against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war are all but erased from history as the two countries have provoked and retaliated against each other through proxies for three decades. But the war of words is escalating to war on the ground.

Undercutting the JCPOA

Second, not surprising the rising tensions in the region come in parallel with the attacks on the Iran deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has always resented. The JCPOA has prevented Iran from pursuing even the possibility of nuclear weapons, and was meant to open a pathway for broader diplomacy between the US and Iran and to keep at least a cold peace between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Iran.

While Iran has adhered to the terms of the JCPOA, the US has not. The financial sanctions and threats of billion dollar penalties against banks that dare to do business with Iranian companies or citizens are still in place.

Without the promised economic benefits, the Iranian government faces an angry public and an emboldened hardline and conservative faction within the regime. Despite joining the coalition fight against ISIS, Iran’s dogged support for Syria’s President Assad adds fuel to the fire of the anti-Iran coalition.

While Netanyahu’s theatrics on May 1 gained attention, other pro-war advocates in America have also been re-inserting themselves into mainstream politics. On April 11th, Michael Makovsky a former Pentagon official and now head of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) suggested that because President Trump threatened to withdraw from the JCPOA, he has put the US in a corner.

Makovsky acknowledged that Iran is adhering to the agreement but said if Iran withdraws the US should act. “A prepared president” he wrote, “should seize the historic opportunity to follow through on that threat.” In effect he argues that regardless of Iran’s adherence, if the US withdraws, it must attack Iran so as not to appear weak. President Trump has taken the bait.

Meeting with France’s President Macron on April 24th, Trump said the US could withdraw from the JCPOA, but if Iran does so and “starts its nuclear program they will have bigger problems than they have ever had before,” adding “If Iran threatens us, they will experience a retaliation few countries have ever experienced.” President Trump may hate the JCPOA, but he despises Iran’s adherence to it even more.

Bolton, the MEK and the Regime Changers

Third, the ascent of John Bolton as National Security Adviser means ‘regime change’ policy is firmly back on the table. For those needing a reminder, this was the policy of the Bush administration after 9/11. It signals a range of covert and overt actions by the US or its proxies to bring down a regime that is deemed unfriendly to the US, and install a friendly one.

That John Bolton is an enthusiast of such a policy, and that he is publicly affiliated with the cultish Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK was on the terrorist list until 2012) that self-identify as Iran’s exiled opposition group and have shaped shifted to appear more palatable to western states, but remain widely despised inside the country, is another warning sign of an Iraq war redux.

Other ‘regime changers’ such as Eli Lake have also come out of hibernation. Early in April, Eli Lake an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq war published an interview with Dr. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel laureate. Dr. Ebadi has long criticized the Iranian regime for its human rights abuses, and called for a variety of legal measures to bring about systemic change.

In her interview, she repeats her assertion that “the regime change in Iran should take place inside Iran and by the people of Iran…But,” she says, the US “can help the people of Iran reach their own goal” by establishing a channel to the legitimate and independent Iranian opposition.

That she’s seeking US support is of concern to many. But in calling for regime change, she is also siding against the JCPOA. The article headline screamed “Nobel Laureate is done with Reform, she wants Regime Change’ and overnight the neo-cons had their own version of a celebrity advocate.

The Economic Factor

Finally, there is nothing quite like preparing the groundswell for chaos than meddling with a country’s finances. Here too the timing and evidence is not coincidental. In February 2018, the Iranian rial lurched downward and as Iranians rung in their new year in late March, the spiral continued with a 20% loss, causing many to question machinations behind the scenes.

While Iran’s own mismanagement of the economy is also to blame, the coalescing of external factors is notable. Iranians have relied on the United Arab Emirates (UAE) markets to obtain dollars and enable transactions and trade.

But with US and Saudi involvement, the UAE instigated a new 5% value added tax, visa restrictions and tighter banking restrictions that mostly affect Iranians. In Iran a public rush to sell the rial and invest in the ever more expensive dollar or gold, prompted the government to step in and announce a single official dollar rate. Whether this allays fears and stabilizes the economy is yet to be seen. But uncertainty is in the air.

Iran has done a poor job of public relations in the US. For an older generation, images of yellow ribbons tied around neighborhood trees counting the days of the 1979 hostage crisis are seared in memories.

For a younger generation, it is images of brave women throwing off their mandatory veils as they fend off security guards. It is a far away land of angry clerics with furrowed brows where environmentalists and dual citizens are arrested.

But as pressures loom, it is important to remember that Iranians – men and women, old and young, children and grand parents are trying to live normal lives of love and laughter, joy and heartache.

In 2002 when US think tanks and media joined the Bush administration’s drumbeat of war on Iraq, the public was skeptical, but the political establishment pushed to make war seemed inevitable.

Yet decisions made on a high of adrenlin and machismo didn’t result in a ‘cakewalk of a war’. They caused unimagined misery. Iraq, a country that was the cradle of civilization that had no illiteracy in its population by 1980, is now unrecognizable. One million people are dead according to the most conservative estimates.

Depleted uranium from US weapons runs in the waterways and into veins of Iraq children giving rise to unprecedented levels of cancer. US hubris and mismanagement of the occupation and its aftermath also gave rise to ISIS.

Now cheerleaders of that war have their eyes on Iran. A country that is significantly larger and is home to 80 million people, majority young, overwhelmingly educated, and mostly fed up with the aging theocracy that isolates them from the world and thwarts their aspirations.

But this population does not want missiles raining from the sky. It doesn’t want its economy ruined. It wants engagement with the world. It is also deeply patriotic. They may rail against the regime but they will likely rally as a nation if there is any foreign attack.

Even if attacks are purported to be tactical, aimed at the heart of the regime’s center to create a vacuum of power, the ascendance of on organized opposition that is tasteful to the west is unlikely. The more likely scenario is the rise of a militant force, backed by an indignant population fueled by renewed anger towards the US and its allies.

The world should also pause and anticipate what may unfold if chaos is invoked through economic collapse and a weakening of Iran’s borders: at a minimum refugees spilling into Europe and an open gateway from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Persian Gulf and beyond.

The JCPOA is a critical foundation for preventing conflagration on a scale we have not seen. For those who still claim military attacks, harsh sanctions or other forms of destabilization are the route to peace, democracy or human rights, the body count and chaos in Libya, Iraq and Yemen is evidence of their flawed logic.

Iran’s alliance with President Assad is unfathomable, but it does not warrant unleashing chaos against Iran’s 80 million people. Neither any regional Middle Eastern states, nor the global powers have morality on their side. All are implicated in wars that have led too many deaths already.

As the May 12 deadline looms for the US’s endorsement of the JCPOA, world leaders who claimed to support Mr.Guterres’ sustaining peace agenda, have a clear moral imperative: to stand by their words and sustain the peace for the millions of civilians in Iran and beyond who would pay the price if violence escalates.

That means they must prevent this impending conflict before the fog of inevitability sets in.

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Excerpt:

Sanam Naraghi Anderlini is Co-Founder & Executive Director, International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN)

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Authoritarian Govts Tighten Grip on Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/authoritarian-govts-tighten-grip-press-freedom/#respond Sun, 22 Apr 2018 11:39:30 +0000 Sopho Kharazi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155386 The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes. At the same time, […]

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Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Journalists in Peshawar protest an attack on Dawn News near the Peshawar Press Club in November 2016. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Sopho Kharazi
ROME, Apr 22 2018 (IPS)

The 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day will be led by UNESCO and the government of Ghana in Accra on May 2-3. The theme is “Keeping Power in Check: Media, Justice and The Rule of Law,” covering the issues of media in respect to the judicial system and transparent political processes.

At the same time, the conference will discuss state institutions’ accountability towards their citizens.

• Politicians in democratic states launched or escalated efforts to shape news coverage by delegitimizing media outlets, exerting political influence over public broadcasters, and raising the profile of friendly private outlets.

• Officials in more authoritarian settings such as Turkey, Ethiopia, and Venezuela used political or social unrest as a pretext to intensify crackdowns on independent or opposition-oriented outlets.

• Authorities in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Asia extended restrictive laws to online speech, or simply shut down telecommunications services at crucial moments, such as before elections or during protests.

• Among the countries that suffered the largest declines on the report’s 100-point scale in 2016 were Poland (6 points), Turkey (5), Burundi (5), Hungary (4), Bolivia (4), Serbia (4), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (4).

• The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Azerbaijan, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria and Turkmenistan

The day takes place in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, which includes 17 goals for achieving sustainable development for all, including ending inequalities between men and women. Among the goals, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 focuses on promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies.

Peace, justice and strong institutions allow for good governance as well as other sustainable development efforts to thrive, facilitated further by an independent and enabling media environment.

Today, the number of countries with right to information laws is steadily increasing. The international normative framework regarding the safety of journalists, and particularly women journalists, has been significantly bolstered through the adoption of resolutions at the UN General Assembly, Security Council, Human Rights Council and UNESCO, and there is greater recognition of the right to privacy.

Still, according to Freedom House, a free press is accessible to only 13% of the world population and a partly free press to 42% of the world population. The remaining 45% lives in countries where a free press is non-existent (“New Report: Freedom of the Press 2017”). Political and economic transformations of some countries alongside their technological developments place new restrictions on press freedom.

Governments of these countries tend to implement restrictive laws and censorship on freedom of press, usually justifying these actions as a necessary tool for national security against terrorism. Apart from violating the right of freedom of expression, these restrictions place higher risks of violence, harassment and death on journalists.

According to the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, violence and restrictions against media freedom has risen by 14% in the time period of 2012-2017. At the same time, since 2016, media freedom in countries where it was ranked as “good” decreased by 2.3%.

The level of restriction on press freedom has been one of the highest in MENA countries such as Syria. Even though article 43 of Syria’s Constitution guarantees freedom of the press while a 2011 media law bans monopolistic media alongside with “the arrest, questioning, or searching of journalists,” these laws are not practiced in the government-held areas of the country. According to the media law, publication of any information on armed forces and spread of information that might affect national security and provoke “hate crimes” is forbidden in Syria. In case of violating this law, journalists are held accountable and fined with 1 million Syrian pounds ($4,600).

At the same time, despite the fact that article 3 of the media law guarantees freedom of expression as stated in the Syrian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 4 of the same law declares that the media must practice this freedom with “awareness and responsibility”.

Consequently, this broad wording allows the Syrian government to restrict press freedom in multiple ways and in case of disobedience, punish journalists for anti-state crimes. For instance, in December 2016, the government imprisoned seven Syrian journalists through security-related legislation and used torture to receive their confession.

From the political perspective, Syrian authorities spread propaganda and false information while forcefully restricting publication of news in the government-controlled areas. Distribution of “all printed material” has been led by the General Corporation for the Distribution of Publications, responsible for censorship in Syria. This, alongside the economic problems caused by war, has decreased media diversity in the government-controlled area, leaving only a few dozen print publications which rarely deal with the political issues.

From the economic perspective, most of the print publications are owned by the government-allied businessmen who also control editorial policy. This, on the other hand, intensifies the problem of the non-existent free press in Syria.

However, despite this fact, in the opposition-controlled territory new print and broadcast outlets have emerged, funded by volunteers and some of them based abroad. For instance, the opposition TV channel – Orient TV owned by Ghassan Aboud, an exiled Syrian entrepreneur – broadcasts from Dubai while having correspondents in Syria.

According to Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, “when politicians lambaste the media, it encourages their counterparts abroad to do the same…[undermining] democracy’s status as a model of press freedom.”

The case of Syria demonstrates how the absence of press freedom and an independent judiciary triggers development of authoritarian governments. The “just, effective and independent judiciary” is a base for an effective rule of law which builds a strong democratic system, guaranteeing the right of freedom of information, expression and safety of journalists.

This, on the other hand, provides free press that is compulsory for representing political will and needs of people, and for establishing good governance. Press freedom allows journalists to monitor and report about the on-going events taking place in different sectors of the state. As a result, this makes it possible to hold governments accountable towards their people and helps to accomplish the 2030 agenda of Sustainable Development Goals.

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Middle East: a Threat to World Peace & Security, Warns UN Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/middle-east-threat-world-peace-security-warns-un-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-threat-world-peace-security-warns-un-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/middle-east-threat-world-peace-security-warns-un-chief/#comments Fri, 13 Apr 2018 16:47:38 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155274 UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an address to the Security Council

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an address to the Security Council

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2018 (IPS)

The situation in the Middle East is in chaos — to such an extent it has become a threat to international peace and security.

The region is facing a true Gordian knot – different fault lines crossing each other and creating a highly volatile situation with risks of escalation, fragmentation and division as far as the eye can see with profound regional and global ramifications.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

We see a multiplicity of divides. The first is the memory of the Cold War. But to be precise, it is more than a simple memory.

The Cold War is back — with a vengeance but with a difference. The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present.

Second, the Palestinian-Israeli divide. Third, the Sunni-Shia divide, evident from the Gulf to the Mediterranean. It is important to note that apparent religious divides are normally the result of political or geo-strategic manipulations.

Finally, a wide range of different factors — from opposing attitudes in relation to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood or the status of the Kurds, to the dramatic threats to communities that have been living in the region for millennia and are part of the rich diversity of Middle Eastern societies.

This multiplicity of divides is reflected in a multiplicity of conflicts with different degrees of interconnection, several of them clearly linked to the threat of global terrorism. Many forms of escalation are possible.

We see the wounds of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict deepening once again. The recent violence in Gaza has resulted in many needless deaths and injuries.

I repeat my call for an independent and transparent investigation into these incidents.
I also appeal to those concerned to refrain from any act that could lead to further casualties and, in particular, any measures that could place civilians in harm’s way.

This tragedy underlines the urgency of revitalizing the peace process for a two-state solution that will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live in two democratic states side by side in peace and within secure and recognised borders. I reaffirm the United Nations’ readiness to support these efforts.

In Yemen, we are witnessing the worst humanitarian disaster in today’s world. There is only one pathway to ending the Yemeni conflict and addressing the humanitarian crisis – a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue.

My Special Envoy Martin Griffiths is doing everything possible to facilitate that political settlement — and he will brief the Council next week.

In Libya, I encourage all parties to continue to work with my Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, as he engages in the political process with a broad range of Libyan interlocutors across the country to implement the UN Action Plan. It is high time to end the Libyan conflict.

Iraq demonstrates that progress is possible with concerted local, regional and global commitment. With the defeat of Daesh, and after overcoming the risk of fragmentation, the Government of Iraq must now focus on reconstruction, reforms and reconciliation. I hope the upcoming elections will consolidate this progress.

At the recent Paris and Rome conferences, the international community reaffirmed its support for Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability and state security institutions.

It is absolutely essential to avoid a new Israel-Hezbollah conflict that could inevitably result in many more victims and much greater destruction than the last war.

I reiterate the critical importance to act on key principles and commitments on Lebanon, including Security Council resolutions such as 1701, and the policy of disassociation. The dangers of the links to the Syrian conflict are evident in the recent confrontations between Iran and Israel in Syria.

Syria indeed today represents the most serious threat to international peace and security.

In Syria, we see confrontations and proxy wars involving several national armies, a number of armed opposition groups, many national and international militia, foreign fighters from everywhere in the world, and various terrorist organizations.

From the beginning, we have witnessed systematic violations of international humanitarian law, international human rights law, and international law tout court — in utter disregard of the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.

For eight long years, the people of Syria have endured suffering upon suffering. I reiterate: there is no military solution to the conflict.

The solution must be political through the Geneva intra-Syrian talks, as stipulated in resolution 2254 of the Security Council, in line with the consistent efforts of my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Syrians have lived through a litany of horrors: atrocity crimes, sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, the use of chemical weapons, forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances. The list goes on.

In a moment of hope, the Security Council adopted resolution 2401 demanding that all parties cease hostilities without delay for a durable humanitarian pause.

Unfortunately, no such cessation of hostilities ever really took place. That is the bleak panorama of Syria today.

In this panorama, I am outraged by the continued reports of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

I reiterate my strong condemnation of the use of chemical weapons by any party to the conflict and under any circumstances. Their use is abhorrent and a clear violation of international law.

The seriousness of the recent allegations requires a thorough investigation using impartial, independent and professional expertise.

In this regard, I reaffirm my full support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – the OPCW — and its Fact-Finding Mission in undertaking the required investigation into these allegations.

The Fact-Finding Mission should be granted full access, without any restrictions or impediments to perform its activities. I take note that the Syrian government has requested it and committed to facilitate it.

The first team of the OPCW is already in Syria. A second is expected today or tomorrow. But we need to go further.

In a letter to the Council two days ago, I expressed “my deep disappointment that the Security Council was unable to agree upon a dedicated mechanism to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria”, following the end of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM.

I want to repeat today that the norms against chemical weapons must be upheld.

As I wrote in the same letter: “Ensuring accountability for a confirmed use of chemical weapons is our responsibility, not least to the victims of such attacks.

A lack of accountability emboldens those who would use such weapons by providing them with the reassurance of impunity. This in turn further weakens the norm proscribing the use of chemical weapons and the international disarmament and non-proliferation architecture as a whole.

I urge all Member States to act responsibly in these dangerous circumstances.

I appeal to the Security Council to fulfil its duties and not give up on efforts to agree upon a dedicated, impartial, objective and independent mechanism for attributing responsibility with regard to the use of chemical weapons. I stand ready to support such efforts.”

Increasing tensions and the inability to reach a compromise in the establishment of an accountability mechanism threaten to lead to a full-blown military escalation.

In my contacts with you — especially with the Permanent Members of the Security Council — I have been reiterating my deep concerns about the risks of the current impasse and stressed the need to avoid the situation spiralling out of control.

This is exactly the risk we face today – that things spiral out of control. It is our common duty to stop it.

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Excerpt:

UN Secretary-General António Guterres in an address to the Security Council

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“International Solidarity” at Yemen Donor Conferencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/international-solidarity-yemen-donor-conference/#respond Thu, 05 Apr 2018 15:55:56 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155181 The international community has pledged over two billion dollars towards urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Yemen during a UN event. Convened by the UN along with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, a High-Level Pledging Event brought together the international community to support suffering Yemenis facing a seemingly “forgotten war.” “This pledging conference represents a […]

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (second from left) signs a Voluntary Financial Contribution Memorandum between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Nations to the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 5 2018 (IPS)

The international community has pledged over two billion dollars towards urgently needed humanitarian assistance to Yemen during a UN event.

Convened by the UN along with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, a High-Level Pledging Event brought together the international community to support suffering Yemenis facing a seemingly “forgotten war.”

“This pledging conference represents a remarkable success of international solidarity to the people of Yemen,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“Yemen’s situation today is catastrophic. But with international support, we can and must prevent this country from becoming a long-term tragedy,” he added.

Forty countries and organizations pledged 2.01 billion dollars towards the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan (YHRP) which requested 2.96 billion for lifesaving assistance to 13 million people across the Middle Eastern nation.

Last year’s donor conference raised 1.1 billion dollars in aid.

With the destructive conflict soon entering its fourth year, Yemen has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 22 million people, or 75 percent of the population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Though both sides are complicit, a Saudi Arabian-imposed blockade has particularly led to severe shortages in food, medicine, and other basic needs.

Approximately 18 million are food-insecure, including over 8 million who are on the brink of famine, and the lack of access to water has led to the world’s largest cholera epidemic.

With the rainy season soon to commence, many are concerned that the number of cholera cases will multiply yet again.

While humanitarian resources are extremely important in saving lives, they are not enough, said Guterres.

“We need unrestricted access everywhere inside Yemen and we need all the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians,” he continued.

Both Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden Isabella Lovin and Switzerland’s Vice President Ueli Maurer echoed similar sentiments.

“Humanitarian aid alone cannot be the response to the growing needs of the Yemeni people endangered by the armed conflict,” Maurer said.

In addition to unfettered aid access, the hosts highlighted the need for a political process and a political solution.

Though efforts continue to try to bring warring parties to the negotiating table, attacks persist, terrorizing the people of Yemen.

Most recently, an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition left 12 people dead in the coastal city of Hodeidah. Houthi forces later retaliated by targeting the southern region of Saudi Arabia with a missile.

Groups such as Human Rights Watch and a number of UN experts have pointed to the Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate air strikes as disproportionately affecting civilians over the last year.

Meanwhile, among the generous donors at the conference are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who have fueled Yemen’s conflict. The two countries donated 930 million dolars, one of the biggest contributions the UN has ever received, prompting the UN Security Council to consider a British proposal praising the Middle Eastern nations.

The move, however, has raised ethical questions among many.

“The Security Council should be naming and shaming everyone,” said Human Rights Watch’s UN Director Louis Charbonneau.

“A statement that condemns one side, the Houthis, but doesn’t even mention the abuses of the other, the Saudi-led coalition, simply nurtures the atmosphere of impunity,” he added.

Guterres called for the full respect for international humanitarian law and an inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue.

“Millions of people depend for their survival on the decisions we take today,” he concluded.

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Yemen the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crisis, Says UN Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/yemen-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis-says-un-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yemen-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis-says-un-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/yemen-worlds-worst-humanitarian-crisis-says-un-chief/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 08:10:17 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155143 Secretary-General António Guterres, in his address to the Pledging Conference on Yemen.

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A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By António Guterres
GENEVA, Apr 4 2018 (IPS)

Thank you all for being here today to show your solidarity with the women, men, girls and boys of Yemen. And I want to thank my co-chairs, the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland, for hosting this conference for the second year and for their continued humanitarian commitment.

Yemen is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. As the conflict enters its fourth year, more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection.

Some 18 million people are food insecure; one million more than when we convened last year. And a horrifying 8.4 million of these people do not know how they will obtain their next meal.

Millions of Yemenis do not have access to safe drinking water. Last year, 1 million people suffered from watery diarrhoea and cholera. Half of all health facilities are shut or not working properly, meaning there is a high risk of another cholera epidemic.

Treatable illnesses become a death sentence when local health services are suspended and it is impossible to travel outside the country. Civilians have been facing indiscriminate attacks, bombing, snipers, unexploded ordnance, cross-fire, kidnapping, rape and arbitrary detention.

Every ten minutes, a child under five dies of preventable causes. And nearly 3 million children under 5 and pregnant or lactating women are acutely malnourished. Nearly half of all children aged between six months and 5 years old are chronically malnourished and suffer from stunting, which causes development delays and reduced ability to learn throughout their entire lives.

Some two million children are out of school, and 2,500 schools have been destroyed or are not being used for their original purpose.

Children are being forcibly recruited to fight, or put to work to support their families. And families across the country are sliding into debt and coping in any way they can. Child marriage rates have escalated; nearly two-thirds of girls are married before the age of 18, and many before they are 15.

Three-quarters of displaced people are women and children, and women and girls among them face an increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence. And the number of women accessing services for gender-based violence has risen by at least 30 per cent, despite social constraints on reporting.

And these facts represent only a snapshot of the devastation.

Yemen’s situation today is catastrophic. But with international support, we can and must prevent this country from becoming a long-term tragedy.

The 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen requires $2.96 billion to reach more than 13 million people across the country.

And we have a strong foundation on which to build. The humanitarian operation has expanded dramatically. At the start of last year, partners were reaching 3 million people per month with food assistance. By August, we were reaching more than 7 million people every month.

At the height of the cholera epidemic, more than 1,000 oral rehydration centres and 234 diarrhoea treatment centres were in operation – up from only 25 such centres earlier in this year.

Thanks to humanitarian agencies and our partners, the cholera epidemic has been contained and famine – even if famine is a technical concept that does not really describe the reality as many, many people are hungry – but famine has so far been averted, although there is no room for complacency on either count.

Your generosity made this work possible. But your generosity is well-deserved by the Yemeni people. In my capacity as High Commissioner for Refugees and during more than 10 years, I worked closely with Yemen.

Yemen has always received Somali refugees in big numbers coming to the country, and granting them prima facie refugee status, something that unfortunately, many other countries around the world refused to do, even if their resources and capacities are much larger than the resources and capacities of the Yemeni people.

The Yemeni people has always been extremely generous to those that came to Yemen in search of protection and assistance. And so our generosity is also a duty to match the generosity that Yemenis always have shown to those in need that have been able to seek their protection.

Last year’s donor conference raised $1.1 billion for humanitarian action in Yemen. This year, the United Nations and our partners on the ground are ready to do everything possible to expand our support even further. But we need resources.

Donors have already stepped forward. The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have generously provided $930 million for the Humanitarian Response Plan. They have also pledged to secure an additional $500 million from the region. And I deeply thank them.

Other donors have contributed some $293 million. This means that we have already met 40 per cent of our requirements for the year.

But the scale of suffering that we see in Yemen requires rapid, full funding for the 2018 response plan. And the plan is prioritized so that every dollar goes where it is urgently needed. I urge all to do whatever it is possible because the Yemeni people needs and deserves it.

My second message here today is that humanitarians must be able to reach the people who need help and to do so without conditions. Humanitarian agencies and their partners need full and unconditional access at all times. But humanitarian agencies report access constraints in 90 percent of districts in Yemen.

All ports must remain open to humanitarian and commercial cargo for the medicines, the food and the fuel needed to deliver them. And Sana’a airport is also a lifeline that must be kept open.

It is vital to provide safe, unimpeded, unrestricted humanitarian access to all parts of the country. And the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations Plan recently announced in Riyadh was an important step in this direction.

My final message is possibly the most important of all. We must see action to end the conflict.

This war is causing enormous human suffering to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, and there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian crises.

A negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra-Yemeni dialogue is the only solution. And I urge all parties to engage with my new Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, without delay.

And I reiterate my call for full respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Meanwhile, millions of people depend for their survival on the decisions we take today. And I hope you will match your participation here with action, to support humanitarian operations and to move decisively towards lasting peace in Yemen.

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Excerpt:

Secretary-General António Guterres, in his address to the Pledging Conference on Yemen.

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I Am a Migrant: Integrating Through Syrian ‘Hummus’http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/04/migrant-integrating-syrian-hummus/#respond Wed, 04 Apr 2018 07:45:46 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155140 Khaled left Syria in 2015, when his country was already in its fourth year of war. He is 27 years old and can clearly remember what his life was like then in Damascus: a happy life, with a happy family, in a happy country. Despite coming from a land now devastated by war, Khaled does […]

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Washington’s Ambiguity Equals De Facto Sanctions On Teheranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/washingtons-ambiguity-equals-de-facto-sanctions-teheran/#respond Fri, 30 Mar 2018 14:37:02 +0000 Ann-Kathrin Pohlers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155105 Over the last few months, the United States’ rhetoric on the Iran nuclear agreement has been ambiguous, creating an uncertain environment for investors. With John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now appointed a national security adviser who is actively seeking to leave the Iran deal. In December 2017, a new wave of protests swept Iran’s […]

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In 2017, Iran’s oil exports came close to 1 billion barrels. Pictured here are oil fields in West Iran. Credit: Nicholas V.

By Ann-Kathrin Pohlers
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 30 2018 (IPS)

Over the last few months, the United States’ rhetoric on the Iran nuclear agreement has been ambiguous, creating an uncertain environment for investors. With John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now appointed a national security adviser who is actively seeking to leave the Iran deal.

In December 2017, a new wave of protests swept Iran’s cities. As the uprising movement faced repression, more than 25 people ended up dead in a few days. Many of them died in prison; the official story is they all committed suicide.

As these escalations caught most by surprise, there is a significant difference in the Iranian Green Movement. A movement much larger than the recent one, the Green Movement wasn’t as widespread as the December protest and mainly showcased within the city borders of Teheran.

The 2017 unrest, however, took place in small to midsize cities across the country and featured a different demographic. While the Green Movement is considered a middle-class movement, the recent uproar is one of Iran’s working class.

Iran’s economic crisis led many companies to lose money and workers to lose their pensions. The triggering factors for the protests, primarily political and economic, can be linked to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal.

“Unemployment is a very critical factor in all of this. Then you have Rouhani going to the Parliament and hinting at the new budget and what it would look like,” Trita Parsi, author of ‘Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy,’ told IPS. “You have a tremendous deep frustration in the population with things such as corruption and mismanagement.”

This frustration escalated seven months into moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s second term after he beat the Conservatives in a landslide, even though the Rouhani administration faced accusations they had promised more than the sanctions relief did for the Iranian economy. Surveys show that the promised economic benefits of the deal were significant and so was breaking out of isolation and not finding themselves in a situation in which the risk of war with the United States would be a constant presence.

“That, the deal has achieved,” Parsi said. “The expectations where the economy would go after the deal, however, were not met. Despite that though, there was still strong support for [Hassan Rouhani], partly because the majority opposed the alternative which was a return to conservative rule.”

So it wasn’t the situation Iran which drastically changed, it was the United States’ Iran policy. While the nuclear agreement went into effect under Barack Obama, the new administration takes a two-track approach to the nuclear deal as they renegotiate with allies as well as prepare to withdraw from it.

“If you take a look at Iran’s economy on paper, it looks as if it’s doing quite well. There’s a growth of roughly six and a half percent. Well, that growth is almost entirely because of oil sales. As a result of the deal, they were capable of selling oil again, and it’s probably the only area in which they have been able to go back to the pre-sanction years,” Parsi said. In 2017, Iran’s oil exports came close to one billion barrels. “But oil sales do not create jobs.”

In the absence of job creation, Iran’s unemployment rate continues to increase, especially among young people and particularly among young women. “Combined with the fact that this is a highly educated population, you have a lot of people with two master’s degrees driving the Iranian version of Uber,” Parsi added.

Even though Iran’s economy is growing, its population is still stagnant as job-creating investments aren’t taking place. Companies interested in the Iranian market face the problem that they can’t find financing as none of the major banks are willing to invest as they fear the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear agreement and new sanctions.

“Many job-creating projects are five to seven years long, and banks are not charities. They want to have some degree of security and certainty that the deal will be in place for that period but they can’t even get four months of security because Donald Trump is constantly saying he will not renew the sanction waivers,” Parsi said.

The waivers temporarily deactivate the sanctions on Iran and are part of the nuclear agreement. Many, Trita Parsi included, expected Trump not to renew them but then the President pushed back the original January deadline for his administration and its European allies to agree on renegotiations to May 12.

“The White House strategy is to infuse uncertainty which is already working because now you see protests in Iran. All they need to do is to continue to constantly make everyone guess if they renew the waivers or not.”

The United States is not the only party to the deal – European banks and entities are as well.

“Those sanctions are targeting countries trading with Iran which means Europe, China, India, and Asia,” according to Parsi. “The question then is will Europe stand firm and continue to honor the deal?”

To do so, Europe would have to revive 1990s-era sanction blocking mechanisms as already suggested by David O’Sullivan, EU ambassador to the United States. This threat, however, will most likely remain empty as it essentially means the United States sanctions Europe and Europe sanctions the United States to block the secondary sanctions on Iran. These blocking mechanism would shield companies from U.S.-imposed fines, but they can’t shield European banks from losing access to the American market. “Would I choose the Iranian over the U.S. market? I would not,” Parsi stated.

And it’s that uncertainty preventing banks and businesses from coming in, in effect imposing de facto sanctions on Iran and paralyzing its economy.

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Chemical Weapons in Syria? Time for Outragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/chemical-weapons-syria-time-outrage/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 13:43:33 +0000 Tariq Raheem http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155060 US Defense Secretary James Mattis dropped a political bombshell last week when he said the U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports that the Syrian government had used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens. Arguing half-heartedly that he was not rebutting the reports, Mattis told a Pentagon news briefing Friday: “We have other reports […]

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Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, Syria has witnessed unprecedented devastation and displacement. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and 6 million are internally displaced. With more than 13 million people in need of assistance, the conflict has caused untold suffering for Syrian men, women and children. Credit UN photo

By Tariq Raheem
NEW YORK, Mar 28 2018 (IPS)

US Defense Secretary James Mattis dropped a political bombshell last week when he said the U.S. has no evidence to confirm reports that the Syrian government had used the deadly chemical sarin on its citizens.

Arguing half-heartedly that he was not rebutting the reports, Mattis told a Pentagon news briefing Friday: “We have other reports from the battlefield from people who claim it’s been used. We do not have evidence of it.”

The statement by Mattis made a virtual mockery of a rash of presidential statements and proposed resolutions by the UN Security Council which has routinely accused the Syrian government of continuing to use chemical weapons on civilians, which President Bashar al-Assad had denied.

Nor has the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) made any irrefutable claims on chemical weapons use.

Still, in April, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria in response to what it said it believed was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

Last month, the Reuters news agency reported that French President Emmanuel Macron warned that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this was the case.

Meanwhile, at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, the UK mission in Geneva accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta.

And Western diplomats proclaim that Syrian authorities should not be referred to as a “government” but as a “regime“ even though there is no official listing of such member-states—either as “governments” or “regimes,” any more than procedures for officially demoting a member-state from the 1st to the 2nd grade status.

In the current international scenario, the far right seems to have all the access it needs – specifically in the Western media—to advocate its cause. But regrettably, there are those whose voices are silenced, and who say that the gravity of crimes is not necessarily related to the quantity of decibels they generate on the battlefield or in the mainstream TV channels.

Take for instance two hospitals in Syria: one is bombed and destroyed, human shields or no human shields. A war crime indeed.

Another stands proudly on the horizon but its activity is paralysed by unilateral coercive sanctions: blockage of supply of spare parts make it impossible to get the theatre to operate gravely wounded people; prostheses are no longer available for amputees; electrical supply breaks down because of ban on imports of generators; water is polluted for lack of imported filters and people die in the hospital from water-borne ailments; and no medicines are available for the dying or gravely ill.

Even in the streets, people die or fall gravely ill because of the rocketing prices of basic food stuffs due to the sanctions. But everyone is told this situation is created by bad governance. Or that the Government is preventing access. This may be the case sometimes, especially if fighters can’t be separated from civilians.

The civilized world anticipated it all and the sanctions are benevolent for the civilian population because all accept the “humanitarian exception”. No one of course mentions that the SWIFT international fund transfer system has been blocked preventing Syria from importing these humanitarian supplies or indeed anything else, imposing on it a comprehensive stranglehold, as was the case previously in Iraq.

And chemical weapons of Syria today are reminiscent of the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction of yesteryear. Are all these wanton deaths not also war crimes?. We are told to believe they are not.

All wars are won in the media and through propaganda, as well as on the battlefield. This is the case also for Syria. The fact is Syria is finally winning the war on the battlefield to regain control over its own territory. As they disentangle the enemy fighters from the civilians, tens of thousands of the latter are taking refuge with the protection of the government.

So the scenario is collapsing. The only possibility of counter-attack that is left is through mobilizing, in the real sense of the word, the media. The fig leaf is human rights which are being violated by all combatants (have you ever heard of squeaky-clean snow white war in human history?) but also by those that are supplying heavy weapons to groups that they heretofore listed as terrorists.

The indictment justifying this? Human rights violation by the other side while the accuser merrily continues imposing his stranglehold on the civilian population for which he “weeps” The crime committed by the winners on the battlefield is to have called into question the geo-strategic objectives of others which the latter believed was within their reach a few years ago.

But the architects of this strategy may take advantage of this change of reality as compared to their expectations to pause and think. Those fighting in the Ghouta against the government are not democratic forces but the reincarnation of those terror groups of El Qaeda and ISIS and no one else. Crocodile tears about these “freedom fighters” seem indeed out of place when they are listed as terrorist organizations in the very countries that now cry for them.

Remember September 11? Would the strategists really want to replicate in Syria the Libyan experience or do they not fear that a new Karzai in Damascus would be disastrous in terms of reinvigorating those very terrorist groups the world has just succeeded in eradicating in Iraq and Syria?

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A New Low for Security Council as Russia Takes Syrian Human Rights Off the Tablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/new-low-security-council-russia-takes-syrian-human-rights-off-table/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 17:52:57 +0000 Sherine Tadros http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154990 Sherine Tadros is Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York

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Except for Syria, Middle East Disappeared from U.S. Network News in 2017

Syrian boy brings bread back from underground bakery in severly damaged area of Aleppo. Credit Shelly KittlesonIPS

By Sherine Tadros
NEW YORK, Mar 22 2018 (IPS)

There is nothing controversial about saying the UN Security Council has failed Syria.

Diplomats have openly admitted it, journalists have written about it, human rights organizations have declared it – several times over in the past seven years. But what happened this week was deplorable and unacceptable, even by the very low standards we now have for the Council when it comes to Syria.

On Monday, the 15 member states of the Security Council gathered to hear a briefing on the human rights situation in Syria by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein. But before he could start, Russia used its prerogative to call for a procedural vote on the agenda – effectively to stop the UN’s own human rights chief from telling the Council about the situation on the ground.

Russia claimed discussions on human rights are not pertinent to the Security Council’s agenda. Or in other words, the body charged with maintaining international peace and security is not a forum to discuss human rights violations taking place.

It may sound absurd, but this was not the first time Russia had made this claim. They tried the same tactic to block discussions on the human rights situations in other countries including Ukraine, and previously on Syria.

The difference is that this time, they won. They got the votes and successfully stopped High Commissioner Zeid from speaking.

Russia, China, Bolivia and Kazakhstan voted against the agenda, while the African countries on the Security Council – Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast – abstained, leaving only seven countries in favour, one less than was needed for the briefing to happen.

This was a disgraceful moment for the Security Council. When it is blocked from simply discussing human rights in Syria, it has clearly lost all credibility to find a solution. Worse than that, it has become part of the problem.

Instead of using their power and influence to stop the war crimes taking place in Eastern Ghouta, Afrin, Idlib – Russia, and those Russia convinced of their warped logic, instead used it to suffocate discussion about those atrocities.

Members of the Council, led by France along with the USA, the UK, Sweden, Poland, Holland and Peru, quickly called for an informal meeting – known as an Arria Formula – and invited the High Commissioner to give his briefing outside the chamber in one of the UN conference rooms. All 15 members of the UNSC attended in another show of how dysfunctional the Council has become.

So what is happening in Syria that Russia and friends went to such lengths to prevent being discussed?

At the informal meeting, which will not be recorded as an official Security Council meeting, High Commissioner Zeid told it like it is. He begun by declaring definitively that “the Syrian conflict is characterized by its absolute disregard for even the most minimal standards of principle and law”.

The UN human rights chief went on to detail the gross violations taking place in different parts of Syria today, including the repeated targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure by Syrian forces, with the backing of Russia.

The current siege on Eastern Ghouta by the Syrian government, Zeid said, involves “pervasive war crimes” including the use of chemical weaponry, enforced starvation, denial of aid and unjustifiable mass internment accompanied by torture and ill-treatment. To a lesser extent, he remarked, non-state armed groups are also committing crimes, including sexual violence.

In concluding, Zeid said these violations should be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. He urged the permanent members of the Security Council to stop blocking efforts to bring justice and instead end the violence, particularly war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Zeid then left member states with a reflection on what had happened earlier at the Council and Russia’s justification for blocking the briefing. He said an experienced colleague in the field had given him wise advice: “The severe human rights violations of today are the inevitable conflicts of tomorrow.” He went on to say that most conflicts begin when serious human rights violations open the way for unchecked policy decisions, including the waging of war.

Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia – history will not forget this vote and the dangerous precedent it has set for human rights at the Security Council.

If only there were an initiative that committed member states not to vote against vital efforts to stop human rights atrocities, you might think?

Well guess what. There is.

The Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group Code of Conduct on the Security Council politically and publicly commits its signatories not to block measures to prevent or end war crimes and other atrocities. It currently has 115 (out of 127) state signatories, including nine members of the Security Council. Kazakhstan and the Ivory Coast, either of whose vote would have been enough to allow this week’s briefing to happen, are signatories of the Code.

But the Code is not legally binding, and instead there was no place for a discussion on human rights at the Security Council this week. Most unjustly of all, the ones that pay the price for this colossal UN failure are the people in Syria being killed, maimed, starved and tortured every day.

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Excerpt:

Sherine Tadros is Head of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York

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Asian & African Migrants Continue To Face Exploitation in Mideasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/asian-african-migrants-continue-face-exploitation-mideast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asian-african-migrants-continue-face-exploitation-mideast http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/asian-african-migrants-continue-face-exploitation-mideast/#respond Thu, 22 Mar 2018 08:03:24 +0000 Rabiya Jaffery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154950 With more and more people living outside their country of origin, it is becoming increasingly clear that stronger legal parameters — within and between nations — are required to protect the most vulnerable of migrants from denial of access to fundamental rights. The UN’s proposed Global Compact on Migration, currently under negotiation by UN member […]

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By Rabiya Jaffery
AMMAN, Jordan, Mar 22 2018 (IPS)

With more and more people living outside their country of origin, it is becoming increasingly clear that stronger legal parameters — within and between nations — are required to protect the most vulnerable of migrants from denial of access to fundamental rights.

Credit: International Labour Organization

The UN’s proposed Global Compact on Migration, currently under negotiation by UN member states, covers a wide range of issues on labour and human rights, and is a significant opportunity to improve the governance on migration and to address the challenges associated with today’s migration,
“It is important to remember to address the specific issues faced by domestic migrant workers in the Middle East,” Somayya Mohammed, an immigration lawyer based in the Middle East, told IPS.

“Domestic migrant workers comprise a significant part of the regional workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.”

The Middle East’s Gulf region has an estimated 2.4 million migrant domestic workers, traditionally recruited from Asia – mostly from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.

All foreign workers in the Gulf fall under the kafala (a visa-sponsorship) system which does not allow them to leave or change employers without their initial employer’s consent. If they do, they can be arrested and punished for “absconding” with fines, detention, and deportation.

Most Gulf countries have begun pushing some sort of reforms when it comes to labor laws for migrant workers in recent year.

Last year, the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) adopted a bill on domestic workers that for the first time guarantees a weekly day of rest, 30 days of paid annual leave, paid and unpaid sick leave, and 12-hours of rest a day, among other rights.

Qatar’s cabinet also recently adopted a bill on domestic workers which guarantees a weekly rest day, 30-days of paid leave, 10-hour working days, and an end-of-service payment.

“While a significant advance, these draft laws still fall short of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Domestic Workers Convention, as they provide fewer protections than those accorded other workers under national labour laws,” according to a statement by Human Rights Watch.

Oman’s domestic worker regulations, for example, are weak, with no penalties for employer breaches, and it is the last country in the Gulf region not to provide labor rights in law, the statement adds.

“While some of the Gulf countries have been making reforms in their labor laws, the very essence of this system [of kafala] is very harsh and exploitative because the sponsor basically has absolute power over their employees,” says Mohammed.

“Domestic workers, particularly, are often forced to work in isolation and harsh conditions and are vulnerable to sexual and other forms of abuse.”

Just earlier this month, the Philippines barred nationals from seeking domestic positions in Kuwait after a Filipina maid was found dead in a freezer in her employer’s home, which officials in Manila state was merely one of many similarly unacceptable incidents in the Gulf state.

A new agreement is currently being worked on between Kuwait and Filipino authorities which seems to reassure greater protection and a stronger regulatory framework for migrant workers. But, according to media reports, there is a possibility the Philippines may only lift the ban on skilled workers.

This isn’t the first time a country has taken preemptive measures to protect low-skilled nationals working or seeking work in the Gulf.

Many Asian countries now also verify contracts to check employers agree to a minimum salary and working conditions before allowing domestic workers to go abroad. India and Sri Lanka also require sponsors to provide security deposits that are returned once the worker has safely returned home.

But several reports, including one by Human Rights Watch, show that ever since Asian countries began tightening regulations to protect domestic workers, recruiters have been expanding their demand for cheap domestic labor into East Africa— especially in nations where poverty and high unemployment make the offer of work in the Middle East hard to refuse.

“People think they are going to have a lot of money and become rich. But they don’t know that they are going to hell,” Fatima (not her real name), a former Tanzanian domestic worker in Oman, told IPS.

When Fatima left Tanzania to work as a nanny and maid in Oman in 2014, she thought she had landed a dream job that would allow her to support her family back home. Instead, she spent two years virtually imprisoned in her employer’s house, being exploited and mistreated.

She was expected to do all household chores, take care of four children, including a newborn baby, be up any time of the night to tend to the baby, and then start her day at 4 a.m. to prepare the family’s breakfast and get the children ready for school.

She was allowed two meals of leftovers a day. Communication with her family was restricted to 10 minutes every two months.

Patricia Lawson, a researcher from the Tanzanian Domestic Workers Coalition, and NGO that works on protecting domestic worker rights, recently surveyed 50 Tanzanian domestic workers based in either Oman or Kuwait.

She was told by 43 of them that their employers confiscated their passports, forced them to work seven days a week, and almost half said their employers had, at one point or another, forcibly confined them to their homes or residential compounds.

“Most women said their employers made escape even more difficult by limiting their communication for weeks and prevented them from seeking help from the outside world,” Lawson told IPS. “And at least half had absolutely no privacy and were forced to sleep on the floors of living rooms.”

The women, who described sexual harassment and assault, said that male family members groped them, exposed themselves, and entered their rooms late at night. And several described attempted rape.

“The men get violent or threaten to throw us out when we refuse their advances,” says Aisha, another former Tanzanian domestic worker who worked in the UAE for a year and then in Oman for two years. “Or they would lie to their wives and say that I tried to seduce them.”

According to Lawson, women also mentioned they could not communicate with their female employers due to language barriers or fear of dismissal.

“If they did complain, female employers would not believe them, place the burden on them to avoid the harassment, or simply fire them,” says Lawson.

Many women said when they asked to leave, their employers or agents demanded repayment of recruitment costs – often far more than they had earned.

A Human Rights Watch report from 2017 mentions a Tanzanian domestic worker who went to file a complaint with the Oman police in 2016 after a male member of the family she was working for sexually assaulted her.

The police told her that her employer had pressed charges against her for running away. She was asked to pay a fine or spend three months in jail. Oman does not criminalize non-penetrative sexual assault or harassment, as in her case.

A former official at the Tanzanian embassy in Oman told IPS that none of the rape cases reported to the police by domestic workers they assisted had moved forward, either because the women refused to undergo forensic tests or the police, after questioning the women, did not believe they had been raped.

In the Gulf region, when authorities do not believe the claim, reporting a rape can be considered a confession of consensual sexual relations, prompting charges of zina (sexual relations outside of marriage) against the rape victim.

Compounding the lack of justice, due to the stigma, migrant domestic workers rarely reported sexual violence and suffered in silence.

Lawson says her NGO teaches women the telltale signs of exploitation and tracks women overseas, calling embassies if they are in trouble. Given the lack of safety mechanisms or the political will for change, she says it is better “not to tell women not to go, but to teach them to travel safely.”

According to a Human Rights Watch Report from 2016, Tanzania has expanded some protections for overseas migrant domestic workers since 2011, but there are still many gaps in Tanzania’s recruitment and migration policies which place workers at heightened risk from the outset and provide little opportunity for redress.

Tanzania requires workers to process their applications to migrate through the country’s labor ministries, but many workers migrate outside of this channel.

The authorities require women to migrate through a recruitment agency but have not set out minimum standards for how agencies assist workers in cases of abuse, or for inspections and penalties in case of violations.

“I’m pushing for investigations. I haven’t come across one case that was investigated,” Mickness Mahera, a Tanzanian politician who has been helping to rescue women trapped in the Middle East, told IPS.

Mahera is calling on the government to enter into labour agreements with Gulf nations to protect its domestic workers abroad.

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Restoring U.S. Aid Crucial to Avoid a Water Catastrophe in Gazahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/restoring-u-s-aid-crucial-avoid-water-catastrophe-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=restoring-u-s-aid-crucial-avoid-water-catastrophe-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/restoring-u-s-aid-crucial-avoid-water-catastrophe-gaza/#respond Wed, 21 Mar 2018 09:45:32 +0000 Matthias Schmale http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154927 Matthias Schmale is Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

 
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Water Day on March 22.

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Drinking water in Gaza is causing a rising number of its residents to fall ill and the UN says scarcity and pollution of water resources are at the forefront of the territory's scourges.

By Matthias Schmale
GAZA CITY, Mar 21 2018 (IPS)

World Water Day (March 22) could not come at a more critical time for the people of Gaza who are facing a humanitarian catastrophe The recent decision by the United States to reduce funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), jeopardizes its role as a critical source of clean drinking water when Gaza’s supplies slow to a drip.

An estimated 1.2 million Gaza residents have no access to running water. For those who do, up to 97 percent of the water they receive is too polluted with salt and sewage to drink. The salt comes from seawater, which penetrates Gaza’s only aquifer when the water table drops too low. Palestinians in Gaza consume on average fewer liters per person per day than the World Health Organization recommends, and less than a quarter of the average per capita consumption in Israel.

Nevertheless, the combination of rapid population growth and regional climate change extracts 200 million cubic feet of freshwater each year from an aquifer that receives only 60 million cubic feet of diminishing rainfall annually.

As the water level steadily drops, more seawater seeps in, increasing the aquifer’s salinity. Only around 22 percent of wells in Gaza produce water with acceptable salt concentrations. The rest are anywhere from two to eight times saltier than global standards, with some wells exceeding the official standard for “brackish.” The high salinity puts Gazans in jeopardy of kidney stones and urinary tract problems.

But high salinity is not the worst of Gaza’s water problems. Years of conflict have damaged or destroyed much of its critical water and sanitation facilities—including wells, pumps, desalinization plants and sewage treatment plants.

The crippled infrastructure that survives can only be used the few hours a day Gaza receives electrical service. A newly completed World Bank wastewater treatment plant in Beit Lahia, for example, sits idle much of the time because Gaza doesn’t have enough electricity to run it.

Without adequate facilities, untreated sewage backflows onto Gaza’s streets, and the equivalent of 40 Olympic-size swimming pools—more than 100 million liters—discharges into the Mediterranean Sea every day.

The raw sewage contaminates 75 percent of Gaza’s beaches and washes ashore in adjacent Israeli coastal cities, elevating the risk that waterborne diseases like cholera or typhoid could trigger an epidemic.

For 70 years, UNRWA has been fulfilling its mandate delivered by the UN General Assembly, including the United States, to provide humanitarian assistance, food, health care, and education and emergency assistance to Palestine refugees registered with us.

When Gaza’s water situation grows dire, UNRWA provides clean water as emergency assistance in the best interests of its beneficiaries in Gaza. During the 2014 conflict, when hostilities destroyed critical facilities, and the flow of water to much of Gaza slowed to a trickle, UNRWA was there, trucking water twice a day to more than 90 UNRWA schools, where nearly 300,000 Palestinians sought shelter until the violence subdued.

When Palestinians in Gaza struggle to access clean water, sanitation suffers and every child in Gaza is put at risk of contracting waterborne diseases. Last summer, the incidence of diarrhea in children under three doubled.

UNRWA responded by teaming with humanitarian aid organization Mercy Corps on a project to provide the 30,000 refugees in the Maghazi camp—which experienced some of the highest incidences of diarrhea—with at least three liters of potable water per day.

When, despite these efforts, poor sanitation triggers an outbreak of waterborne, communicable disease, UNRWA is there as well, employing over 1,000 individuals at 22 medical clinics in Gaza, caring for the sick and facilitating more than four million patient visits each year.

The long-term solution to Gaza’s water crisis is a robust sewer and drainage system and restored water treatment facilities. But efforts to rebuild water facilities are limited because up to 70 percent of the materials required raise alleged “dual use” security concerns by Israel authorities and are either rejected or delayed from entering Gaza.

Since 2014, only 16 percent of the nearly 3,000 items requested to rebuild Gaza’s water infrastructure have been approved for entry into Gaza. Until Gaza’s infrastructure is rebuilt, the area remains in constant crisis as demand for water increases, conditions worsen and functional infrastructure deteriorates.

Yet, in January, the United States—UNRWA’s single largest and generous supporter for more than six decades—unexpectedly reduced its annual contribution by 83 percent (from $360 million to $60 million).

UNRWA has a humanitarian mandate that is beyond politics and UNRWA implements this mandate in accordance with the four humanitarian principles adopted by the UN General Assembly.

We function based on the mandate affirmed by the UN General Assembly, which has consistently renewed our charge since UNRWA was created, confirming the need for UNRWA to continue providing assistance pending a just and lasting resolution to the question of Palestine refugees.

Humanitarian funding should be preserved from political considerations and remain consistent with universal principles of humanitarian assistance—humanity, neutrality, impartiality and operational independence.

The U.S. funding reduction also jeopardizes UNRWA’s operations, including our life-saving provision of emergency water to Palestine refugees, our critical sanitation programs and the international community’s long-term efforts to rebuild Gaza’s water treatment infrastructure.

When you are without it, water is more valuable than gold, even the limited amounts UNRWA provides during an emergency. Without UNRWA acting as an essential back-stop, Gaza’s ongoing water crisis could quickly devolve into a dramatic humanitarian catastrophe, affecting regional stability and undermining efforts to establish a lasting peace.

The U.S. should reconsider its reduction of funding. It is in the interests of Gaza’s neighbors and would restore some hope for a life of greater dignity for many of the civilians living in Gaza.

The post Restoring U.S. Aid Crucial to Avoid a Water Catastrophe in Gaza appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Matthias Schmale is Director of Operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

 
 
This article is part of a series of stories and op-eds launched by IPS on the occasion of World Water Day on March 22.

The post Restoring U.S. Aid Crucial to Avoid a Water Catastrophe in Gaza appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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Is UN’s Ambitious Global Compact the Last Word on the Migrant Crisis?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/uns-ambitious-global-compact-last-word-migrant-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uns-ambitious-global-compact-last-word-migrant-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/03/uns-ambitious-global-compact-last-word-migrant-crisis/#comments Fri, 16 Mar 2018 17:38:36 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=154859 As the death toll keeps mounting and the humanitarian crises continue unabated, the life of the average migrant or refugee has largely turned out to be an unmitigated nightmare. The litany of woes include life-threatening midnight runs in dangerous waters, victims of human trafficking, suffering under deplorable working conditions, and subject to rampant sexual abuse […]

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Numbers or people? Migrants at Lampedusa. Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2018 (IPS)

As the death toll keeps mounting and the humanitarian crises continue unabated, the life of the average migrant or refugee has largely turned out to be an unmitigated nightmare.

The litany of woes include life-threatening midnight runs in dangerous waters, victims of human trafficking, suffering under deplorable working conditions, and subject to rampant sexual abuse and violence in households.

The United Nations, in an attempt to resolve the ongoing crisis, is pinning its hopes on a proposed Global Compact on Migration (GCM), a 24-page document that covers a wide range of issues, including labour rights, access to legal assistance, open borders, consular protection, cheaper transfer of migrant remittances and the re-integration of migrants and refugees into society.

The ongoing negotiations – the last round of talks ended March 15, with a final round scheduled for July – will culminate in an intergovernmental conference on international migration in Morocco in December this year, with a view to adopting the GCM by all 193 member states.

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric put it this way: “The Global Compact for Migration will be the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, to cover all dimensions of international migration in a holistic and comprehensive manner.”

He pointed out that the negotiating process will require further discussion on several outstanding issues, including differentiation between irregular and regular migration, differentiation between migrants and refugees, implementation and capacity-building, as well as follow-up and review.

Matthew Reading-Smith, Senior Communication Officer at CIVICUS, a global civil society alliance based in Johannesburg, told IPS there are over a quarter billion migrants and refugees in the world. Over 5,000 died last year on their dangerous journeys.

And the United Nations has been moved to act, he said, pointing out that the Global Compact is meant to protect the rights of those displaced and help address the root economic, environmental and social drivers that are compelling people to leave their communities and countries.

In a blog posting, CIVICUS said a key area where the document falls short is on commitments to tackle the primary causes of migration. A stated aim of the Global Compact is to “mitigate the adverse drivers and structural factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin”.

However, the current text lacks actionable commitments to control the numerous man-made forces underlying global mass migration.

“The reasons are different for every migrant and diaspora, but we know that natural disasters are the number one cause of internal and international displacement. With rising sea levels, desertification and extreme weather events, climate action must be a part of any meaningful agreement. “

Emele Duituturaga, Executive Director of the Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), said “climate induced displacement is upon us. Coastal communities are being evacuated and relocated the world over.”

“In sea locked countries of the Pacific Ocean, disappearance of our island homes is imminent”, he warned.

To protect the growing number of climate migrants, a necessary starting place for the compact is to reaffirm the importance of the Paris Climate Change Agreement and accelerate efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, instead of the more conservative and ambiguous target to keep the world “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Missing just one of these targets will lead to millions of people being displaced, said Duituturaga.

Speaking at an international Forum in Paris in January, William Lacy Swing, Director General, International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN’s migration agency, said the Forum was remarkable in its timing, given recent developments signaling that this is truly a new era for migration – a “mega-trend” of our time.

To mention only two of these milestones, he singled out the formal recognition of migration as a force for sustainable human development– with the formal inclusion of migration-related targets in Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals; and, Secondly, he said, the historic adoption of the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants, and the resulting consultations, stock-taking phases; the Secretary-General’s Report; and the much-awaited “Zero Draft” that will form the basis for formal negotiations — all leading us towards the adoption of a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.”

Sarnata Reynolds, Global Displacement & Migration Policy Advisor at Oxfam told IPS that overall, Oxfam welcomes much of the contents of the zero draft to the Global Compact on Migration.

“It consistently recognizes that all migrants have human rights, including the right to be treated with dignity and respects their right to access education, health care, due process and justice before the law.”

At the same time, she said, the zero draft is written from the perspective of states rather than the experience of rights holders. While this state-led process requires that political leaders ultimately agree to the contents of the GCM, implementation won’t be possible or credible if the experiences of migrants, their families and the communities who work alongside them are not fully integrated.

As the negotiations unfold, Oxfam urges states to commit to increasing the safe passage of migrants by providing sufficient work opportunities, education, family reunification and protection visas that meet the needs of families and industry, and lifesaving assistance when migrants are caught in crisis. In particular, the experience of women as migrants themselves and oftentimes as the primary caretaker of migrant families, must be integrated into all programs and approaches, to ensure that their ability to exercise agency and take up fair and safe employment is promoted.

As another priority, Oxfam is calling for the legal recognition and protection of migrants forced across borders due to disasters and/or climate change.

Oxfam welcomes the inclusion of these vulnerable migrants throughout the zero draft, and will work alongside favorable states to ensure that the final compact includes a process toward the formal protection of those crossing borders for these reasons, and a concrete timetable to realize these goals.

Kate Gough, a researcher at the Washington-based Center for Global Development (CGD) who specializes on migration issues, told IPS the draft is ambitious and covers a lot of ground.

“The GCM is a significant and critical opportunity that we can’t afford to miss. Member States have a chance to pragmatically tackle how migration is governed, in line with current and future migration realities.”

She said the immense benefits migration can bring can be amplified: migrants can significantly and positively contribute to the countries they move to and the countries they move from, but maximizing the positive impacts that are possible requires policies that enable migrants’ contributions rather than stifle them.

Gough also pointed out that the issue of returns is dominating discussions right now.

This is understandable given the scale of arrivals, but ultimately counterproductive. Return efforts alone will not deter future migration. The coming demographic realities mean migration will continue, and new legal pathways for migrants will be essential to managing these migration pressures, she noted.

“The conversation on returns is valid and relevant, but should not be the only part of the discussion. In fact, new lawful migration channels paired with enhanced enforcement could be an effective migration management tool, (as we laid out in a recent brief looking at the U.S. Bracero example). This is one example of the types of pragmatic and realistic policy discussions that could help move the negotiations forward,” she declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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