Inter Press ServiceMiddle East & North Africa – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 19 Sep 2018 12:21:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 25 years Since the Oslo Accords: Israeli Security Depends on Palestinian Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/25-years-since-oslo-accords-israeli-security-depends-palestinian-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=25-years-since-oslo-accords-israeli-security-depends-palestinian-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/25-years-since-oslo-accords-israeli-security-depends-palestinian-rights/#comments Fri, 14 Sep 2018 12:51:10 +0000 Jan Egeland http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157620 Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He co-organized the secret talks between Israel and Palestine that led to the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

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Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He co-organized the secret talks between Israel and Palestine that led to the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

By Jan Egeland
OSLO, Norway, Sep 14 2018 (IPS)

Twenty-five years ago, on 13 September 1993, I sat on the White House lawn to witness the landmark signing of the Oslo agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Diplomats around me gasped as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with former foe, Chairman Yasser Arafat. But for some of us present, the handshake came as no surprise.

Jan Egeland, former UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

Weeks earlier we watched the midnight initialing of the same accord in Oslo. It had been the culmination of an intense eight months of secret talks in Norway, a private back-channel we initiated to end hostilities.

Previous peace diplomacy efforts had failed. A triad of occupation, violence and terror had reigned for many years. The Oslo Accords led to a rare epoch of optimism in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

When our back-channel began, neither Israeli nor American officials were allowed to meet with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The signing momentarily changed everything. The two sides exchanged letters of official recognition, thousands of Palestinians secured jobs in Israel, joint industrial parks were planned, the Israeli stock exchange soared, and the country’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Gaza could become a “Singapore of the Middle East.”

Our optimism may seem naïve today. Hindsight can raise many worthwhile critiques about what that handshake missed. Importantly, the Oslo “Declaration of Principles” was no peace agreement, but rather a five-year time plan for how to negotiate peace through increased reconciliation and cooperation.

Peace antagonists took little time to tear down our efforts to facilitate agreements on Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, and the status and borders of a future Palestine. Israeli terrorists killed Prime Minister Rabin and Muslims at prayer in Hebron, while a terror campaign from Hamas and other armed groups targeted buses and marketplaces in multiple Israeli cities.

Before final status issues could be fleshed out, the tide of optimism gave way to more terror, violence and brutal crackdowns. The following years brought a second intifada, record expansion of illegal settlements, an increasingly entrenched military occupation, division among Palestinian factions, and the closure of Gaza. Instead of recognition and a commitment to sit at the same table, the political context devolved into extreme polarization and mutual provocation.

Twenty-five years later, it is time to learn from the past.

Too few concrete steps were made during the initial months when mutual trust existed. Political elites on both sides did too little to enable reconciliation, justice and security in their own backyards. We also made mistakes as international facilitators in underestimating the counterforces against peace. As in so many places where peace diplomacy fails, humanitarians had to step in to provide a lifeline. In the absence of a long-term solution, urgent needs only increased.

Today, I lead a large international aid organization assisting millions of people displaced across the world, including Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria. I have rarely seen, felt or heard as much despair as among Palestinian youth locked into hopelessness in camps and behind closed borders. Unemployment for Gaza’s youth sits at 58 percent, according to the World Bank.

In a time when peace efforts are at a standstill, it has been more difficult than ever to deliver humanitarian assistance to Palestinians. Relief funding is diminishing, while humanitarian needs are on the rise. Partisan lobby groups and politicians hostilely question aid agencies focused on protecting human rights, more than any time in recent years.

Young men and women I met recently in Gaza told me they feel betrayed: “You told us to study hard, stay out of trouble and believe in better days. Now we are further away than ever from finishing our studies, let alone getting a job, a home or an escape from this cage.”

As Palestinians increasingly struggle to meet basic needs, economic opportunity is stifled by endless occupation. This is bad news for Israelis and Palestinians. It is not in Israel’s interests to oppress future generations of Palestinians, contributing to increasing bitterness in its own neighborhood.

Despite the grim trends, there is still a way out of the vicious cycle of conflict. Perhaps precisely therefore, in this bleak hour, we may have the foundation for a genuine peace effort. It can only be a matter of time before Israeli leadership realizes its long-term security is squarely dependent on equal rights and dignity for millions of disillusioned Palestinian youth.

Bridging humanitarian funding gaps and allowing aid delivery would raise real GDP in the Gaza Strip by some 40 percent by 2025, according to the World Bank. Such short-term gains can be bolstered by long-term investments in employment and increasing connectivity between the West Bank and Gaza.

Financial aid and other forms of investment in the Palestinian economy are urgently needed, but they are stop-gap measures, not the solution itself. Without a final political agreement, there can be no end to the human suffering.

Only a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement” will lead to “peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security.” These principles remain as true now as they were 25 years ago. But they must be rooted in reverence for international law. Palestinians are as entitled to basic human rights as are Israelis or Americans. Any future positive gains are only sustainable when fortified by a commitment to a political solution that upholds the rights and security of all people in the region.

No external actor has more potential for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the United States. Only Americans have real leverage on the parties and the ability to provide the security guarantees needed.

A new U.S.-effort is sorely needed as tensions build once again, humanitarian work becomes more difficult, and tens of thousands of youth take stock of their lack of options.

However, unless America’s “ultimate deal” delivers equal rights, justice and security, grounded in respect for international law, it will only serve to strengthen political extremism among Israelis and Palestinians, further destabilize a volatile region, and ensure that too many Palestinians will continue to live under seemingly endless military occupation.

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Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He co-organized the secret talks between Israel and Palestine that led to the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

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UN Seeks Probe into Saudi Bombing of Civilian Targetshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/157395/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=157395 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/157395/#respond Wed, 29 Aug 2018 13:56:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157395 Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of relentlessly bombing civilian targets in strife-torn Yemen and threatening executions of human rights activists, is fast gaining notoriety as a political outcast at the United Nations. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt […]

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Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. 02 August 2018 United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Security Council meeting on the situation in Yemen. 02 August 2018 United Nations, New York. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2018 (IPS)

Saudi Arabia, which has been accused of relentlessly bombing civilian targets in strife-torn Yemen and threatening executions of human rights activists, is fast gaining notoriety as a political outcast at the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt investigation” into some of the recent bombings in Yemen.

The bombings of civilians have also led to speculation whether the Saudis and their coalition partners could be hauled before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes.

In a report titled “44 Small Graves Intensify Questions About the US role in Yemen”, the New York Times said some members of the US Congress have called on the American military to clarify its role in airstrikes on Yemen “and investigate whether the support for those strikes could expose American military personnel to legal jeopardy, including for war crimes.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has not only condemned the continued attacks on civilians but also called for “an impartial, independent and prompt investigation” into some of the recent bombings in Yemen.

Guterres has described Yemen as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis”, with three in four Yemenis in need of assistance. So far, the UN and its partners have reached out to more than 8 million people with direct assistance this year.

The death toll alone amounts to over 10,000 people, mostly civilians, since 2014.

But any drastic action against the coalition—or even an independent UN investigation–  is most likely to be thwarted by Western powers, including three permanent members of the Security Council, namely the US, UK and France, which are key suppliers to the thriving multi-billion dollar arms market in Saudi Arabia.

According to Amnesty International, the Saudis are also seeking the death penalty for five individuals who face trial before Saudi Arabia’s counter-terror court, including Israa al-Ghomgham, who would be the first woman ever to face the death penalty simply for participating in protests.

With a woman activist being threatened with execution, who is next in line? Children?

Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director at Amnesty International, told IPS “The sad fact is that in Saudi Arabia, children and the mentally disabled are not exempt from execution.”

Abdul Kareem  Al-Hawaj was 16 when he took part in anti-government protests., Abdullah al-Zaher and Dawood al-Marhoon were arrested on 3 March and 22 May 2012, when they were 16 and 17 years old respectively. Ali al-Nimr was 17 when he was arrested in February 2012.

Balson pointed out that these cases have several things in common: All four are members of the minority Shi’a sect. All four claimed that their confessions were extracted under torture. All four are at risk of imminent execution. Unfortunately, Saudi authorities have proven their willingness to incur substantial political cost simply to put people to death.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed 47 people in a single day despite widespread international condemnation. Saudi Arabia is certainly no stranger to killing women – authorities executed two in 2017.

Asked about the continued strong military relationship between the Saudis and Western governments, Balson told IPS that U.S. government officials must, along with their Western allies ban the sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, not just to dis-incentivize executions but because these weapons cause innumerable civilian deaths in Yemen.

“This isn’t conjecture, it’s a documented fact,” he said.

Late last year, Amnesty documented that a US-made bomb killed and maimed children in San’a. Media reports have indicated that a bomb that killed dozens of children this month was made in the U.S.

“The U.S. must communicate to Saudi authorities that the killing of children – whether by warplane or executioner – is abhorrent,” he declared.

Hiba Zayadin of Human Rights Watch (HRW) told IPS the public prosecutor is demanding the death penalty for five of the six activists currently on trial.

“We do not know of any other woman activist that has faced the death penalty before for her rights-related work and believe this could set a dangerous precedent. It goes to show just how determined the Saudi leadership is to crush any and all dissent, all the while claiming to be on a path towards modernization, moderation, and reform,” she said.

Zayadin said now is the time for the international community to speak up about the human rights abuses increasingly taking place in Saudi Arabia today, especially by allies such as the US, UK, and France.

“We believe Saudi authorities would be responsive to calls from allies and international businesses seeking to invest in Saudi Arabia to respect the rule of law and release all unjustly detained dissidents”

If the Saudi leadership is truly committed to reform, she said, it would change course, and as long as it does not, the international community has a responsibility to hold it accountable to its promises.

Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, said Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most prolific executioners and the world cannot continue to ignore the country’s horrific human rights record.

“We call on the international community to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian authorities to end the use of the death penalty, which continues to be employed in violation of international human rights law and standards, often after grossly unfair and politically motivated trials.”

Meanwhile, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said that at least 22 Yemeni children and four women were killed in an air strike last Thursday (August 23) as they were fleeing the fighting in Al Durayhimi district in Hudaydah governorate.

“This is the second time in two weeks that an air strike by the Saudi-led Coalition has resulted in dozens of civilian casualties. An additional air strike in Al Durayhimi on Thursday resulted in the death of four children,” he added

Lowcock said he was also “deeply concerned” by the proximity of attacks to humanitarian sites, including health facilities and water and sanitation infrastructure.

The UN and its partners, he pointed out, are doing all they can to reach people with assistance. Access for humanitarian aid workers to reach people in need is critical to respond to the massive humanitarian crisis in Yemen. People need to be able to voluntarily flee the fighting to access humanitarian assistance too.

“The parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and those with influence over them must ensure that everything possible is done to protect civilians,” he added.

In a piece titled “US Commander Seeks Clarity in Yemen Attack”, the New York Times said since 2015, the US has provided the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen with mid-air refueling, intelligence assessments and other military advice.

The US air commander in the Middle East, Lt. Gen Jeffrey Harrigian, has also urged the Saudi-led coalition to be more forthcoming about an airstrike in early August which killed more than 40 children.

Harrigian was quoted as saying “There’s a level of frustration we need to acknowledge. They need to come out and say what occurred there.”

The conflict in Yemen began in 2014 when Houthi rebels, aligned with Iran, seized the capital and sent the government into exile in Saudi Arabia. The fighting intensified beginning 2015.

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Palestinian Children, the True Victims of the Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/palestinian-children-true-victims-conflict/#respond Wed, 15 Aug 2018 06:57:07 +0000 Carmen Arroyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157188 Over 500 to 700 West Bank children were arrested and prosecuted each year by Israeli military forces. And Palestinian child rights organisation, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), says that between 2012 and 2017 the organisation represented more than 700 children, some 72 percent of whom endured violence after their arrest. With the release of Palestinian teen […]

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Over 700 West Bank children were detained by Israeli military forces between 2012 and 2017, with 72 percent of them enduring physical violence after the arrest, according to Defense for Children International Palestine. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 15 2018 (IPS)

Over 500 to 700 West Bank children were arrested and prosecuted each year by Israeli military forces. And Palestinian child rights organisation, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), says that between 2012 and 2017 the organisation represented more than 700 children, some 72 percent of whom endured violence after their arrest.

With the release of Palestinian teen activist Ahed Tamimi in late July, the constant arrests of Palestinian children by Israeli forces have been in the spotlight once again.“Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities tend to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.” -- Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at Defense for Children International Palestine.

“Ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces is widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the Israeli military detention system,” Brad Parker, international advocacy officer and attorney at DCIP, told IPS.

July was an eventful month for Palestine. On the one hand, the observer state of Palestine was chosen to lead the Group 77 at the United Nations, making it a big win for Palestine and increasing the tensions with Israel. G77 is the largest bloc of developing countries, currently with 135 countries, and Palestine spoke at the General Assembly. Palestine will assume leadership of the G77 by January 2019, replacing Egypt.

On the other hand, some days later the 17-year-old Palestinian activist, Tamimi, was released after an eight-month stay in an Israeli prison. She was arrested after she hit an armed Israeli soldier at the entrance of her village, Nabi Saleh. The scene was recorded and the video made her well known worldwide.

Commenting on Tamimi’s case, Parker said: “Ahed’s detention, prosecution, plea agreement, and sentencing in Israel’s military court system is not exceptional, but illustrates the widespread, systematic, and institutionalised ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces and the fair trial denials inherent in Israel’s military detention system.”

“Now that she has been released, attention will likely wane but she has and continues to highlight the plight of the hundreds of other Palestinian child detainees that continue to be detained and prosecuted in Israel’s military court system,” he added.

Palestinian child arrests are becoming pervasive and the legitimacy of the methods used to process their arrests is quite questionable. Of the 727 children processed by Israeli military courts that DCIP represented, 700 had no parent or legal counsel present during the interrogation.

Additionally, 117 spent more than 10 days in solitary confinement. For Parker, “the ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees by Israeli forces has been one of the more high profile Palestinian rights issues raised by the international community.”

With Palestine’s new leadership position at the U.N., the observer state could draw international attention towards this issue. But some experts remain sceptical as to whether this will prove to be true. Vijay Prashad, director at Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, said: “The G77 is hampered as countries that once were stalwarts in the fight against colonialism—such as India—are now hesitant. They need to be called to account.”

Asked about the role of the international system and institutions such as the U.N. to stop Palestinian child abuses in the West Bank, Prashad was adamant that there must be more action.

“The U.N. must be more vigorous. It is one thing to have declared the settlements as illegal and another to do nothing about it,” he said.

He went on, stating, “there needs to be more action by countries that abhor this policy of colonisation. Much more vocal condemnation, more stringent policies against the Israeli government [is needed].” 

Parker called the Israeli authorities to responsibility.

“Despite sustained engagement by [U.N. Children’s Fund] UNICEF and repeated calls to end night arrests and ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, Israeli authorities have persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against Palestinian child detainees or guarantee due process rights and basic fair trial rights,” he said.

In response to the question of whether there had been any reforms within the Israeli military, Parker answered: “Reforms undertaken by Israeli military authorities tend to be cosmetic in nature rather than substantively addressing physical violence and torture by Israeli military and police forces.”

The international community is taking a stand with, for example, briefings and reports by different U.N. agencies and the current United States bill that focuses on the rights of Palestinian children detainees called the “Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act”.

According to Parker, this is not enough as Israel keeps breaking international justice agreements.

“Regardless of guilt or innocence or the gravity of an alleged offence, international juvenile justice standards, which Israel has obligated itself to implement by ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, demand that children should only be deprived of their liberty as a measure of last resort, must not be unlawfully or arbitrarily detained, and must not be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” Parker said.

When asked whether the relocation of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem— enacted by U.S. president Donald Trump—has increased tensions, Prashad said: “Israeli policy has been whipped past illegality long before Trump became president. It has certainly intensified. But it is the same U.S. policy of appeasement of Israel’s ambitions.”

Parker, on the other hand, did see changes.

“Large-scale demonstrations, marches and clashes throughout the West Bank following the Trump administration’s decision to publicly recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December corresponded with a spike in the number of Palestinian child detainees held in Israeli military detention,” Parker said.

“Systemic impunity is the norm when it comes to Israeli’s 50-plus year military occupation of Palestinians, so demanding justice and accountability and ultimately an end to occupation is what is needed to end grave human rights violations against children,” he said.

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Europe Needs to Stop the Criminal Business Behind Immigrationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/europe-needs-stop-criminal-business-behind-immigration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-needs-stop-criminal-business-behind-immigration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/europe-needs-stop-criminal-business-behind-immigration/#comments Tue, 10 Jul 2018 09:03:35 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156618 Debating on migration as an emergency is a huge mistake and treating it as such opens the door for illegal and unfair activities, says a migration expert. Laura Verduci, a humanitarian officer who has worked with migrants both in Europe and Africa for more than 20 years, tells IPS that she has seen migrant emergency […]

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According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, about 42,000 migrants arrived in Europe this year as of Jun. 30. The number of migrants entering Europe have reduced in comparison to previous years. Courtesy: Laura Verduci/Doctors Without Borders.

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jul 10 2018 (IPS)

Debating on migration as an emergency is a huge mistake and treating it as such opens the door for illegal and unfair activities, says a migration expert.

Laura Verduci, a humanitarian officer who has worked with migrants both in Europe and Africa for more than 20 years, tells IPS that she has seen migrant emergency funds being squandered or embezzled.

Verduci, who currently works for Doctors Without Borders and is now based in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, says: “Once you consider it as an emergency, this implies the allocation of extra [financial] resources … I realised during my experience in Sicily, that they are subcontracted to private entities that bring the entire process into illegal and unfair activities.”

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, about  42,000 migrants arrived in Europe this year as of Jun. 30. It may still be early to compare this with last year’s figure of about 172 000 migrants, but if the overall migration in previous years is anything to go by the numbers seem to be decreasing from a high of just over one million migrant arrivals in 2015 to almost a third that in 2016. In comparison to Europe’s total population of about three quarters of a billion people, some see this as a drop in the ocean and not an emergency situation. 

The reduced numbers do not explain the long delays many migrants experience.

In Italy, most migrants are still trying to obtain political asylum or, in some cases, be included on official asylum lists.

A cultural mediator who works in a refugee centre in the north of Italy and wanted to speak anonymously, tells IPS that in some cases the bureaucratic procedures to obtain asylum in Italy are intentionally slowed by authorities in order to prolong the residence time of migrants in those centres, purely for the allocation of public funds. The International Press Foundation has previously reported on the issue.

Verduci has experienced the wasteful spending firsthand.

“I remember while I was working in Trapani, that we had to wait for slippers for migrants that were purchased from a supplier in Messina, which is on the other side of Sicily. We could buy slippers anywhere close to Trapani but the [purchase of the slippers] had been subcontracted to that specific seller,” she tells IPS.    

Last year, an Italian court convicted 41 people, including personalities and politicians both from right-wing and left-wing parties, for stealing money from public contracts. The Mafia-like system used intimidation to win contracts in Rome. 

The racket controlled many municipal services, such as rubbish collection and management, public spaces’ maintenance and refugee centres. The investigation revealed that most of those financial resources were never spent for what they were intended — to improve living conditions in the refugee centres — but were siphoned off.

“I can see clearly a link between criminality and some political parties in Italy,” says Verduci.

“There are criminal organisations are interested in prolonging the economic and social uncertainty of migrants who, if unemployed and isolated from society, risk to enter into illegal activities,” says Verduci.

Verduci refers not only to the alleged links between criminal organisations and Italian politics but also to the more transnational aspect of human trafficking that has been taking place between Libya and Italy.

There have been reports in the media accusing the previous Italian government of striking a deal with Libyan militias involved in human trafficking to stop migration flows to Italian shores. The government had denied the reports at the time. But it was reported that after the alleged agreements were made, migrants arrivals dropped significantly.

Analysts like Den Boer from the University of Kent and Valerie Hudson from Texas A&M University believe that it would be a mistake to consider only the benefits of migration, which also brings some negative effects if not addressed with the suitable policies.

There is also the risk that migrants could remain trapped in a limbo of inadequacy in European societies if countries do not offer suitable integration policies. 

Migrants, if forced to live in poverty, without the chance of gaining employment or an education, risk being exploited by criminal organisations.

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-way-forward-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/peace-way-forward-yemen/#respond Wed, 04 Jul 2018 08:12:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156531 Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives. While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard […]

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Peace “Only Way Forward” For Yemen - A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

A young boy runs with his tyre past buildings damaged by airstrikes in Saada Old Town. UNICEF says health facilities in the country have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed. Credit: Giles Clarke/OCHA

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 4 2018 (IPS)

Tackling the relentless conflict in Yemen has never been more urgent as it has pushed the Middle Eastern nation “deep into the abyss.” However, much can be learned from recent and ongoing initiatives.

While a recent humanitarian conference on Yemen attempted to address the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis, Norwegian Refugee Council Europe’s Director Edouard Rodier told IPS that it was a “failed opportunity.”

“We didn’t have the right people because those who are in a position to make political decisions, the kind of decisions that we need, were not there,” he said.

The conference was co-chaired by Saudi Arabia, one of the parties to the Yemeni conflict, and France, who has long backed the Saudi-led coalition, raising concerns over the event’s credibility.

“We all know that the main problem is man-made and if you really need to find a solution, you need the two parties around the table…we cannot expect from a conference that is only representing one party to the conflict that is supported by allies or countries that have interest on the one-side of the conflict to reach a significant political gain,” Rodier told IPS.

An Escalation of Violence

Since violence broke out three years ago, 22 million Yemenis are now dependent on aid and over eight million are believed to be on the verge of starvation.Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

After a four-day visit, United Nations Children Agency’s (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore observed what was left of children in the war-ravaged country.

“I saw what three years of intense war after decades of underdevelopment and chronic global indifference can do to children: taken out of school, forced to fight, married off, hungry, dying from preventable diseases,” she said.

Approximately 11 million children — more than the population of Switzerland — are currently in need of food, treatment, education, water and sanitation.

Health facilities have been cut by more than half, thousands of schools have been destroyed, and over 2,000 children have been killed, according to UNICEF.

“These are only numbers we have been able to verify. The actual figures could be even higher. There is no justification for this carnage,” Fore said.

Violence has only escalated in the past month after a Saudi-led offensive in Hodeidah, which has already displaced 43,000, left three million at risk of famine and cholera, and provoked an international outcry.

Fore said that basic commodities such as cooking gas has dwindled, electricity is largely unavailable, and water shortages are severe in most of the western port city.

Prior to the war, Hodeidah’s seaport was responsible for delivering 70 percent of Yemen’s imports including fuel, food, and humanitarian aid.

“In Hodeida, as in the rest of the country, the need for peace has never been more urgent,” Fore said.

“Parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them should rally behind diplomatic efforts to prevent a further worsening of the situation across the country and to resume peace negotiations,” she added.

However, the struggle for control over Hodeidah forced Paris’ humanitarian conference to downgrade from a ministerial-level event to a technical meeting, preventing any political discussion on the crisis.

“It became a very technical meeting with different workshops to discuss things that really then would have needed the presence of people who have a knowledge of what is happening on the ground. It is good to have workshops and technical discussions with the right people at the table,” Rodier said.

But who are the right people?

A New Hope?

Many are now looking to new U.N. Envoy to Yemen’s Martin Griffiths whose recent efforts have sparked some hope for a possible ceasefire and peace deal.

“The U.N. Special Envoy is in the best position to lead this process. He should receive all the backing from all the countries that are presenting good will and that want to see progress,” Rodier told IPS.

Griffiths has been meeting with both parties to the conflict who have agreed to temporarily halt the assault on Hodeidah and have expressed a willingness to return to the negotiating table after two years of failed attempts.

While control over the port city was a point of contention that led to the failure of previous talks, Griffiths said that the Houthi rebels offered the U.N. a lead role in managing the port — a proposal that both parties accepted and a move that could help restart negotiations and prevent further attacks.

He expressed hope that an upcoming U.N. Security Council meeting will result in a proposal to be presented to the Yemenis.

However, political commitment and international support is sorely needed in order for such an initiative to be successful.

For the past three years, the Security Council has been largely silent on the crisis in Yemen and the U.N. continues to be lenient on Saudi Arabia’s gross violations of human rights.

The U.N.’s recent Children and Armed Conflict report noted that the Saudi-led coalition was responsible for more than half of child deaths and injuries in Yemen in 2017. The report also accused both Houthis and the Saudi coalition of recruiting almost 1,000 child soldiers — some as young as 11 years old.

However, the Secretary-General failed to include the coalition in his report’s list of shame.

Instead, the coalition was put on a special list for countries that put in place “measures to improve child protection” despite a U.N. expert panel having found that that any action taken by Saudi Arabia to minimise child casualties has been “largely ineffective.”

Rodier urged for the international community to maintain a sense of urgency over Yemen.

“We need to have another kind of conference with the ambition to have political gains that is U.N.-led and it has to happen soon,” he told IPS.

“We need some kind of mediation…there will be no military solution to the humanitarian crisis today in Yemen. It has to be a political solution,” Rodier added.

Fore echoed similar sentiments, highlighting the need for a political solution to the conflict.

“We all need to give peace a chance. It is the only way forward,” she said.

It is now up to the international community to step up to the plate to prevent further suffering and violations. If not, peace will continue to remain elusive with repercussions that will last generations.

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Overly Bureaucratic Procedures and Long Waits Cuts off Support to 22 Million Yemenishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/overly-bureaucratic-procedures-long-waits-cuts-off-support-22-million-yemenis/#respond Thu, 28 Jun 2018 14:41:38 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156445 As Yemen’s people struggle to survive amid what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the stranglehold by both government coalition forces and rebels over the country’s main ports of entry and distribution is cutting off a lifeline of support to 22 million people. Amnesty International, in a report published on Jun. 22 […]

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Sana'a backstreet, Yemen. Credit: Ahron de Leeuw

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jun 28 2018 (IPS)

As Yemen’s people struggle to survive amid what has been described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the stranglehold by both government coalition forces and rebels over the country’s main ports of entry and distribution is cutting off a lifeline of support to 22 million people.

Amnesty International, in a report published on Jun. 22 after seven months of extensive research, said that the Saudi-led government coalition are blocking the entrance of essential humanitarian aid, including food, fuel and medicines. And any distribution of this aid is slowed by Houthi rebels within the country.

“The core aspect highlighted by the report is that humanitarian aid finds it extremely difficult to reach destinations inside the country,” Riccardo Noury, communications director and spokesperson for Amnesty International in Italy, told IPS.

Aid workers described to Amnesty International the extent of delays, with one saying that it took up to two months to move supplies out of Sana’a, the country’s capital.

“The most difficult part was getting the aid out of the warehouse once it is in Yemen,” the aid worker was quoted as saying.

World’s worst humanitarian crisis

Yemen’s war began after Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital at the end of 2014, forcing the government to flee. In support of the government a coalition of states, led by Saudi Arabia, launched an offensive against the rebels. At least 10,000 Yemenis have been killed in almost three years of fighting, with the overall injured numbering 40,000.

The conflict has pushed Yemen, which was already known as the Middle East’s poorest country before 2014, to the verge of a total human, economic and social collapse.

Save the Children, an international non-governmental organisation that promotes human rights, estimates that 130 children in Yemen die every day from extreme hunger and disease.

It is estimated that three quarters of Yemen’s 27 million people are in need of assistance.
A third require immediate relief to survive and more than half are food insecure – with almost 2 million children and one million pregnant or lactating women being acutely malnourished, the Amnesty International report said. About 8.4 million people face severe insecurity and are at risk of starvation, the report noted quoting figures from the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Overly bureaucratic procedures and long waits for clearance

Amnesty International examined the role of the two major parties in the conflict. On the one hand there is a blockade imposed by the Saudi-led coalition on the country’s air, road and harbour ports, while and on the other hand the slow bureaucracy and corruption of Houthi rebels compromises the flow of aid within Yemen.

Last November, the Saudi-led coalition blocked all Yemen’s ports after rebels fired missiles on neighbouring Saudi Arabia. The ports where opened weeks later but only to allow humanitarian aid into the country.

“However, humanitarian aid alone is not sufficient to meet the needs of the Yemeni population, who also rely on commercial imports of essential goods such as fuel, food and medical supplies,” the Amnesty International report said. It noted the restriction on commercial imports “impacted Yemenis’ access to food and exacerbated existing food insecurity.”

Whereas prior to the blockade more than 96 percent of the country’s food requirements were being met, as of April, “food imports were half (51 percent) of the monthly national requirement.”

Exacerbating the matter is the fact that this year Yemen only received 53 percent of required aid funding. According to the Financial Tracking Service database, which tracks humanitarian aid flows in areas of crisis, in 2018 Yemen received only USD1.6 billion against a request of USD2.9 billion. According to UNOCHA, Saudi Arabia has donated over half a billion dollars towards this aid.

While humanitarian aid is allowed into the country, the government coalition forces are accused of forcing aid vessels to wait for coalition clearance before being allowed to proceed to anchorage. This leads “to excessive delays and unpredictability that have served to obstruct the delivery of essential goods and humanitarian aid.”

However, even when aid eventually enters Yemen, its distribution is hindered by rebel forces.

Houthi rebels have to approve authorisation of movement of aid in the country. It is meant to take, at the most, two days. But sometimes it can take up to five days because of a shortage of officials.

“However, [aid workers] complained that overly bureaucratic procedures have caused excessive delays. They gave the example of the fact that permits provided to humanitarian organisations confine authorisation for movement to the specific day, time, and geographic location that was mentioned in the application.”

The consequence is that if aid workers “are not able for some reason to proceed to the operation on that day [they] have to put a request for a new permit and wait again,” the report said.

Houthi forces have been accused of extortion and interference in the distribution of aid and of “using their influence to control the delivery of aid, to influence who receives aid, and in which areas, and which organisations deliver it.”

One aid official told Amnesty International that they were “often told by Houthi forces to hand over the aid and that they [Houthi forces] would distribute it.”

The delays by both sides is against international humanitarian law, said Noury.

“All warring parties must facilitate the rapid distribution of impartial humanitarian assistance to all civilians in need. They also must ensure freedom of movement for all humanitarian personnel,” he added.

Human rights in Yemen

Noury expressed deep concern for the human rights situation in the country.

“First of all, you have all this situation linked to violations of international humanitarian law, that deals with the conflict itself. This is a very dirty conflict, in which warring parties have used arms that are forbidden by international law, such as cluster bombs. Then, you have the countless attacks against civilians that were committed by the Saudi-led coalition, and then, obviously the issue of humanitarian aid flows,” he said.

Noury stated his concern over the freedom of expression in Yemen as activists from local NGO, Mwatana for Human Rights, are being arrested by both Houthi rebels or Saudi forces as they attempt to impartially report on crimes perpetrated by both warring parties.

Amnesty International have called for the U.N. to “impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for obstructing humanitarian assistance and for committing other violations of international humanitarian law.”

It’s called on the government coalition forces and rebel forces to end delays and allow prompt delivery of aid and the allowance of commercial flights into the country.

Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

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Mideast Faces Tragic Shredding of its Diverse Religious, Ethnic & Cultural Fabrichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/mideast-faces-tragic-shredding-diverse-religious-ethnic-cultural-fabric/#respond Tue, 26 Jun 2018 15:31:14 +0000 Antonio Guterres http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156407 António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in an address to the Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East & North Africa

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Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 26 2018 (IPS)

I thank the Russian Federation Presidency for convening this debate at a crucial juncture for the people of the Middle East and North Africa.

The region faces profound divisions, troubling currents and a tragic shredding of its diverse religious, ethnic and cultural fabric.

Decades-old conflicts, together with new ones, as well as deep-rooted social grievances, a shrinking of democratic space and the emergence of terrorism and new forms of violent extremism, are undermining peace, sustainable development and human rights.

The territorial integrity of countries like Syria, Yemen and Libya is under threat. Millions of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes. The impacts of this instability have spread to neighbors and beyond.

In addressing these challenges, we would all do well to recall the series of Arab Human Development Reports issued by the UN Development Programme starting in 2002. Those studies identified significant deficits in education, basic freedoms and empowerment, especially of the region’s women and young people.

Among the findings of the first report, in 2002, was, and I quote:

“Political participation in Arab countries remains weak, as manifested in the lack of genuine representative democracy and restrictions on liberties. At the same time, people’s aspirations for more freedom and greater participation in decision-making have grown, fueled by rising incomes, education, and information flows. The mismatch between aspirations and their fulfilment has in some cases led to alienation and its offspring – apathy and discontent. Remedying this state of affairs must be a priority for national leaderships.”
Many such shortfalls continue to bedevil societies across the region.

Let us also recognize that many of today’s problems are being compounded by the legacy of the past, including the colonial era and the consequences of the First World War, notably the dissolution of the Ottoman empire. The well-known “peace to end all peace” did unfortunately achieve that aim.

It was in this broad context that the Arab Spring reverberated widely as a call for inclusion, opportunity and the opening of political space.

Here I would like to pay tribute to the people of Tunisia, where the call began. They have achieved considerable progress in consolidating their young democracy, including through a new constitution and a peaceful transition of power.

But the Tunisia promise did not materialize everywhere in the region.

Today, in a region once home to one of history’s greatest flowerings of culture and coexistence, we see many fault-lines at work, old and new, crossing each other and generating enormous volatility. These include the Israeli-Palestinian wound, resurgent Cold War-like rivalries, the Sunni-Shia divide, ethnic schisms and other political confrontations.

Economic and social opportunities are clearly insufficient. As such difficulties rise, trust in institutions declines. Societies fracture along ethnic or religious lines, which are being manipulated for political advantage.

At times, foreign interference has exacerbated this disunity, with destabilizing effects.
And the risk of further downward spirals is sky high.

Our most pressing peace and security challenges in the Middle East are a clear reflection of the rifts, pressures, neglect and long-term trends that have brought us to today’s crossroads.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains central to the Middle Eastern quagmire.

Achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting two-state solution that allows Palestinians and Israelis to live side-by-side in peace, within secure and recognized borders, is essential for security and stability in the entire region. The recent tensions and violence in Gaza are a reminder of the fragility of the situation.

International support is critical to create an environment conducive to launching meaningful direct negotiations between the two parties. I remain deeply committed to supporting efforts towards this end.

Later today, I will preside over a pledging conference to address severe funding gaps facing the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees.

In Syria, civilians have borne a litany of atrocities for more than seven years of conflict: sieges, starvation, indiscriminate attacks, the use of chemical weapons, exile and forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, detention and enforced disappearances.

Syria has also become a battleground for proxy wars by regional and international actors. Violence is entrenched, amid a fractured political landscape and a multiplicity of armed groups. In the absence of trusted state institutions, many Syrians have fallen back on religious and tribal identities.

I continue to call on the parties to the conflict to engage meaningfully with my Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura in the UN-facilitated political process in Geneva. I urge progress in the establishment of the constitutional committee. Security Council resolution 2254 remains the only internationally agreed avenue for a credible and sustainable end to this conflict.

More than ever our aim is to see a united and democratic Syria, to avoid irreparable sectarianism, to ensure full respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to enable the Syrian people to freely decide on the country’s future.

Yemen is suffering a prolonged and devastating conflict with clear regional dimensions.

My Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has been actively engaged in order to avoid an escalation that could have dramatic humanitarian consequences at the present moment. One week ago, he presented to this Council elements of a negotiation framework that he has been discussing with various interlocutors inside Yemen and in the region. Our hope is that this framework would allow for a resumption of badly needed political negotiations to put an end to the conflict.

In Gaza, Syria and Yemen, the international community must remain mobilized in order to ensure a strong humanitarian response to millions of people in dire need.

In Libya, the United Nations is committed to supporting national actors to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

The national conference process organized as part of the UN Action Plan is delivering a clear message: Libyans are longing for an end to the conflict and an end to the transition period. All stakeholders must continue lending their support to my Special Representative Ghassan Salamé, as he leads the political process.

Political success in Libya will also hopefully allow the country to play its role in addressing the dramatic plight of migrants and refugees who have been suffering so much in attempting to cross the Mediterranean.

In the past few years, we have witnessed numerous examples of Iraq’s resilience, including overcoming the risk of fragmentation and achieving victory over ISIL. Iraq’s endurance as a stable, federal state is a testament to the enormous sacrifices of the Iraqi people, from all communities. I strongly hope that the Iraqi institutions will be able to ensure an adequate conclusion of the electoral process in a way that fully respects the will of the Iraqi people.

In this context, the reconstruction of areas destroyed in the retaking of territory from ISIL is a priority, as is the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Iraq’s displaced people to their homes, including those from religious minorities. It is also important to complement such efforts by ensuring that those who committed atrocity crimes are held accountable for their actions, in accordance with international standards.

Let us remember that what look like religious conflicts are normally the product of political or geo-strategic manipulation, or proxies for other antagonisms.

There are endless examples of different religious groups living together peacefully for centuries, despite their differences. Today’s artificial divides therefore can and must be overcome, based on respect for the independence and territorial integrity of the countries concerned.

In this context, it is important to value the experience of respect for diversity that Lebanon today represents.

In Lebanon, parliamentary elections — the first since 2009 — were held peacefully in May, underscoring the country’s democratic tradition. We look forward to the formation of the new Government, to further strengthen state institutions, promote structural reforms and to implement the dissociation policy.

Heightened regional tensions could threaten Lebanon’s stability, including at the Blue Line. Steadfast international effort remains critical in supporting Lebanon to consolidate state authority, safeguard the country from regional tensions and host refugees until durable solutions are found, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.

I remain particularly concerned with the risks of destabilization around the Gulf.

That is why I have always supported the efforts of the Kuwaiti mediation to overcome divisions among Arab states in the area.

On the other hand, it is important to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which should remain a valuable element of peace and security, independently of the wider discussion about the role of Iran in the region.

During the Cold War, ideological rivals still found ways to talk and cooperate despite their deep divides, for example through the Helsinki process. I do not see why countries of the region cannot find a similar platform to come together, drawing experience from one another and enhancing opportunities for possible political, environmental, socio-economic or security cooperation.

Regional and sub-regional organizations also have a key role to play in supporting preventive diplomacy, mediation and confidence-building.

The region needs to ensure the integrity of the state, its governance systems and the equal application of the rule of law that protects all individuals.

Majorities should not feel the existential threat of fragmentation, and minorities should not feel the threat of oppression and exile.

And everyone, everywhere, should enjoy their right to live in dignity, freedom and peace.

I call on the members of the Security Council to find much-needed consensus and to act with one strong voice.

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Excerpt:

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, in an address to the Security Council on the Situation in the Middle East & North Africa

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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.

The post Civilians Paid a Very High Price for Raqqa’s Devastating “Liberation” by US-led Forces appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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.

The post “What do you Become When you Shoot to Kill Someone who is Unarmed, & not an Immediate Threat to You?” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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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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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