Interpress News Service

Responding to US Budget Cuts for United Nations

20 March 2017 - 12:08pm

Kul Chandra Gautam is a former UN Assistant -Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

It is in UN’s long-term interest to gradually reduce its dependence on US funding and undue influence, as proposed by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme

Kul Chandra Gautam

US President Donald Trump’s first budget proposing a 28 percent cut in foreign aid, including drastic reduction in US funding for the United Nations has caused much alarm and anxiety among UN officials. Many enlightened Americans and other citizens of the world who believe in multilateral cooperation to tackle pressing global problems, such as poverty, population growth, climate change, peaceful resolution of conflicts and humanitarian assistance feel dismayed by Trump’s nativistic ‘America First’ chest thumping.

But instead of lamenting and pleading for restitution of proposed cuts, friends of UN should welcome it as a strong incentive for seriously reducing the UN’s over dependence and vulnerability to blackmail by US and occasionally by some other donors.

Part of the response would be for the UN to take a fresh look at a very creative proposal made by former Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in 1985 to significantly change the system of financing the UN that would be more sustainable as well as fair and practical.

Revisit the Olof Palme proposal

A great supporter of the UN and a true multilateralist, Olof Palme had the best interest of the UN at heart when he proposed that no member state should be asked or allowed to pay more than 10 to 12 percent of the UN’s core budget. A 10 per cent cap, he reasoned, would limit the UN’s political dependence on its largest contributors.

Any resulting deficit from decreasing the share of the US could easily be counter-balanced by relatively modest increases among other rich member countries. Today, many middle-income countries and even some lower middle-income countries can afford to pay more towards the UN budget than they do at present.

It is interesting to note that when the Palme proposal was floated in 1985, the US opposed it, fearing that it would lose its leverage over the UN. And other states, particularly the Europeans, balked at the proposal although the increased amounts they would have to pay would have been quite modest. One wonders how the US and other countries would react today, but I believe it is the right time now to explore such alternative.

Ideally, we should also look at some more innovative financing proposals such as the Tobin tax on currency or financial transactions, a carbon tax, taxes on the arms trade, and raising resources from the deep seas and other global commons, which are considered the common heritage of humankind.

But we know that the US and many other states are likely to oppose such schemes as most states want to safeguard their monopoly over taxing powers and will not be keen to give such authority to the UN or anyone else. This must, therefore, remain part of a longer-term agenda.

Today the financing for development landscape is changing rapidly. Many UN activities benefit from private financing and those by philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and increasingly cloud-sourcing and crowd-funding as well as different forms of public-private partnerships. Harnessing such possibilities must also be part of the new UN agenda as recognized in the context of sustainable development goals.

Current funding formula

For the past seven decades, funding for the UN’s core budget and peace-keeping operations has been based on an internationally negotiated and agreed system of assessment of each member state’s “capacity to pay”.

Based on this, the US share currently comes to 22 percent of UN’s regular budget and 28% of its peace keeping budget, or approximately $600 million plus $1.1billion respectively per year, for a total of $1.7 billion in absolute amount (not including voluntary contributions and membership fees for specialized agencies).

According to this formula Japan pays 9.7 %, China 7.9%, Germany 6.4%, France 4.9 %, UK 4.5% and Russia 3.1%. Permanent members of the UN Security Council pay a slightly higher percentage for the separate peace-keeping budget.

The poorest countries of the world pay 0.001%, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have a cap of 0.01% each. Thus, very small and poor countries like Gambia, Somalia and Vanuatu pay about $27,000; Nepal $162,000; Bangladesh $270,000 and India $20 million per year.

It should be noted that historically the US paid a much larger share of the UN’s regular budget than it does today. At the time of the founding of the UN when there were only 50 member states, and most European countries were bankrupt after the Second World War, the US paid 49 percent of the UN budget.

As Europe recovered, its share was increased and the US share was decreased to 33 per cent in 1952; 30 per cent in 1957; 25 % in 1972 and the current 22%. Combining peace-keeping operations and other voluntary contributions, the US pays an average of 25 % of the UN’s bills.

As the assessed contributions are mutually agreed and equitable treaty obligations, normally they can only be changed through multilateral negotiations. Sudden, arbitrary and unilateral cuts, like those proposed by President Trump are, therefore, tantamount to violation of the spirit of international treaty obligations.

Regrettably, money and military power often talk louder than democratic norms or treaty obligations in the realpolitik of international relations. Continuation of the undemocratic veto power by the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, a legacy of a different era, is the most glaring example of this reality.

Besides the assessed contribution for the UN’s regular budget and peace-keeping operations, the Trump budget proposals pose an even bigger threat to the “voluntary” contributions that the US makes to such UN funds and programs as the UN Population Fund, UNDP, and perhaps even UNICEF.

The threat goes beyond funding to the US backing out of some widely agreed global treaties such as the recent Paris agreement on climate change, the Conventions on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Threats beyond Trump

Though Trump’s threats and actions are intemperate and extreme, they are not unprecedented. From time to time, members of the US Congress have made threats to cut funding for various UN agencies and programs as their hobby-horse. One of the worst periods in recent memory was during 1995-2001 when Senator Jesse Helms was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Indeed, the threat of US funding cuts has been a Damocles’ sword hanging over the UN from the early days of its founding. Occasionally such threat has led to some useful reforms in the UN, including a more stringent review of its budget and operations. But more often it has led to distorting the globally agreed program priorities, and giving undue and unfair advantage to the US in appointment of high-level officials in the UN Secretariat, Specialized agencies and Funds and Programs.

To be fair, it is not only the US but several other major donors too often exert the power of their purse to influence the staffing, election outcomes and policy priorities of the UN. Sometimes even lesser powers like oil-rich Qatar and Saudi Arabia exercise what is known as “cheque-book diplomacy” to buy undue influence in UN reports and decision-making.

Like our national governments and other public as well as private institutions, the UN is not perfect. Those of us who have worked in the UN system would acknowledge that there certainly are many inefficiencies and waste in the UN system that need to be fixed. But big powers unilaterally flaunting their power of the purse to dictate their brand of reform will make the UN weaker, not stronger.

UN budget in perspective

The totality of the UN system’s budget and expenditure for humanitarian assistance, development cooperation, peace-keeping operations, technical assistance and other essential normative functions, amount to about $48 billion per year. In the larger scheme of international finance, in a world economy of $77 trillion and global military budgets of $1.7 trillion per year, this is a modest amount to respond to the huge challenges that the UN is asked and expected to help tackle. The total UN system-wide spending annually is less than the defense budget of India or France, and less than one month’s US spending on defense.

With similar investment, bilateral aid and national budgets of much bigger proportions could hardly achieve results comparable to what the UN and international financial institutions achieve.

Wiser and more enlightened American leaders recognize this. In today’s world, America cannot be a walled, fortified and prosperous island. In a world where epidemic diseases respect no boundaries, and do not need a passport or visa to travel, nor does the impact of global warming and climate change, America’s security is inter-dependent on global human security. America’s own military leaders argue that ruthlessly cutting foreign aid and throwing more money for the military cannot enhance America’s security.

But lacking humility and sagacity, Trump and his associates seem to prefer pumping more money into the military machine. Trillions of dollars that US invested in military ventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have brought little tangible benefits to the US or to world peace and security.

There is no evidence to believe that a whopping increase in the already bloated military budget, homeland security and building border walls will make America safer from terrorism or other threats to its security. Mr. Trump should listen to the wise words of fellow billionaire Bill Gates who says: “The world will not be a safer place if the US stops helping other countries meet their people’s needs”.

The UN certainly has its work cut out to reform itself constructively, and to come up with more durable and reliable funding alternatives to protect itself from the whims of future Trumps elsewhere. The visionary Olof Palme proposal can be one part of the solution along with other innovative measures that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his team must be contemplating.

Secret Tax Deals Increased Dramatically After Luxleaks

20 March 2017 - 11:39am

By Ida Karlsson
STOCKHOLM, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Despite the LuxLeaks scandal, the number of secret tax deals is skyrocketing. Such deals between companies and governments across Europe increased by almost 50 percent the year after the scandal broke.

Despite the controversy, the number of these individual secret agreements drawn up between European governments and multinational corporations in the EU have soared from 545 in 2013, to 1444 by the end of 2015, according to official data from the European Commission. It is an increase of 160 percent in just two years.

“This is obviously deeply concerning and shows that reforms in Luxembourg and elsewhere are a bit of a mirage, in particular since there is still no public scrutinity of these rulings yet,” Fabio De Masi, a politician from Die Linke in Germany and a Member of the European Parliament, told IPS.

The LuxLeaks scandal erupted in 2014 and sparked a major global push against generous deals handed to multinationals, which grew even stronger with new revelations such as the Panama Papers.

The two whistleblowers who exposed the profit-shifting of some multinationals such as Apple, Ikea and Pepsi were convicted again last Wednesday by Luxembourg’s court of appeal, but with reduced sentences compared to the first verdict. Antoine Deltour, a former PWC employee was given a 6-month suspended sentence and a 1,500 euro fine and Raphaël Halet, another PWC employee, was given a 1,000 euro fine.

“It is scandalous that those who did an invaluable service to society, risking their careers, have again been found guilty while the rich and powerful rob hundreds of billions of euros from citizens,” Fabio de Masi said.

Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, has described the leak as “the worst attack” his country has ever experienced.

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager appeared to back the whistleblowers in comments last week.

“I think it was a good thing (the leaks),” she told a news conference in Brussels last Wednesday.

“I think it is important when people tell if they find that something is not the way it should be. Then authorities, law enforces, can do their job and do that in a better way. I think that a lot of people actually have benefitted from them telling what they knew.”

Developing countries lose an estimated 1,000 billion dollars annually to corporate tax dodging according to Global Financial Integrity.

For the first time, the group of countries in Europe in favour of transparency around the true owners of businesses is larger than the group against, according to the report “Survival of the Richest” by the European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad. But there are still more governments against measures to show what multinationals are paying in taxes in the countries they operate in than those in favour.

Eurodad, the coalition of civil society organizations campaigning for greater tax transparency, analyzed European Commission data for 18 countries.

Eurodad also warned that European governments were signing controversial tax treaties with developing countries. The treaties were undermining taxations in those countries, it said. On average these treaties lower tax rates in developing countries by 3.8 percent, according to the coalition.

Sri Lanka and the Born-again Commonwealth

20 March 2017 - 3:12am

By the Editorial Desk, Sri Lanka Sunday Times
Mar 20 2017 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

Interestingly, if not ironically, the British Government having voted to exit the European Union (EU) in accordance with the wishes of a majority of its people, is now looking forward – or maybe looking back – at the Commonwealth once again.

The 53-nation Commonwealth, the third largest global grouping, next only to the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, was often contemptuously dismissed as a club living in the somewhat inglorious past of the British Empire serving neither man nor beast. And then, Britain, the primus inter pares in this club, itself dumped the Commonwealth for a new and more attractive bride – the EU, until it found that was a mistake.

Marking Commonwealth Day last Monday, a day long forgotten except by the titular head of the group, the Queen of the United Kingdom, Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May spoke of a “truly global Britain”, a clear reference to looking beyond Europe – and re-engaging with other countries, mainly the Commonwealth of nations.

The week before, Trade Ministers from 35 of the 52 member-states, including Sri Lanka’s Trade Ministers met in London. (Yes; we have two Trade Ministers). The fact that the Commonwealth Trade Ministers were meeting for only the first time since 2005 spoke for itself.

Sri Lanka’s International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama gave a sound-bite to the media on the sidelines of the meeting saying it was the right time “for a new Commonwealth trading bloc”. Unfortunately, we have no further information on what this ‘new Commonwealth bloc’ is until the Minister enlightens us.

Britain’s decision to sideline its age-old trading partners in the Commonwealth was recognised at that very meeting and the country was asked, not necessarily to beg forgiveness, but to re-approach with “a degree of humility” old partners who were cast aside.

As Britain moved away from the Commonwealth (its funding dried up so much that the Commonwealth Press Union once known as the Empire Press Union, had to fold up, one day short of a hundred years of existence), so did the other Commonwealth countries move away from Britain. They had to seek new trading partners. Many countries found a great new economic partner — China.

China has spread its tentacles — and its influence far and wide, especially in the Asia-Pacific region and Africa where much of the Commonwealth membership is. As everyone knows, Sri Lanka too has had to look to China in recent years for economic succor, though not necessarily in trade.

Last year, Sri Lankan exports plummeted by as much as 3 percent and this decline continues despite what was an anticipated prognosis that a new pro-West Government in 2015 would attract more markets abroad. With its mainstay, garments only showing a marginal increase, and the EU still keeping Sri Lanka waiting for the GSP+ concessions, the country’s Balance of Payment problems have aggravated. The domino effect on the ordinary citizen is felt by inflation topping income levels and the resultant rise in the Cost of Living.

With the rupee continuing to slide to the US dollar, some expecting it to hit Rs. 160 sooner than later, all imported items will be costlier. Economic analysts point out that if the Sri Lankan consumer, especially the growing middle class, is forced to cut back on his or her lifestyle, it would have a knock-on effect on foreign investors who will not see Sri Lanka as a worthwhile market to invest in. The only attraction then in Sri Lanka would be for manufacturers seeking re-export facilities to third countries.

Our Economic analyst, Dr. Nimal Sandaratne, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank said last week in his column that Sri Lanka’s crisis is because of “the fundamental weaknesses in the trade balance, capital outflows, the non-realisation of expected inflows of Chinese capital and inadequate foreign investment”. Our exports earnings are only a little over a half of our import bill.

Many economic analysts blame inconsistent statements and actions by the National Unity Government for the lack of investor confidence in Sri Lanka. UNP Ministers and SLFP Ministers talk differently on economic policy leading to confusion all round. Unable to articulate their intentions properly, coupled with a veil of secrecy in what the pro-free market UNP Ministers want to do has given rise to suspicion that a cabal is dictating the Government’s economic agenda. This in turn, has met with objections from SLFP Ministers, including the President. SLFP Ministers more comfortable with an outdated pro-centralised economy are often tripping up the UNP Ministers, the result being the Government is going nowhere.

Sri Lanka is not ‘the only girl on the beach’ anymore. Many other countries have already made inroads into markets which Sri Lanka long thrived on; tea, apparels, tourism and while some of these newly emerging countries have already forged into diversified fields like electronics, Sri Lanka stagnates. Free Trade Agreements with Singapore, China etc., controversial as they are, still remain on the drawing boards and an FTA + called ETCA with India has already raised an anti-Indian bogey.

Going back to Britain’s Commonwealth ‘Born Again’ strategy, it is pertinent to note that while it calls for a return to the past, an all-party parliamentary group for Tamils (Sri Lankan Tamils only, it seems) just late last month slammed the Government of Sri Lanka for slow progress in post-war reconciliation and the setting up of a war crimes tribunal with foreign judges via the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 in Geneva.

The British Government, with its Lilliputian allies like Macedonia and Montenegro, who have nothing to do with Sri Lanka are now the new promoters of Resolution 30/1 in Geneva. Only MP Ian Paisley defended Sri Lanka in the House of Commons committee saying when Britain rejects an international inquiry into ‘Bloody Sunday’ or the Iraqi invasion, it runs the risk of being hypocritical in asking others to hold international inquiries. To a lesser degree, the former foreign affairs state minister Sir Hugo Swire said that the very fact that the parliamentary group was for the interests of the Tamils in Sri Lanka displayed how anti-integration the British Parliament might be seen to be and added that what all Sri Lankan communities want right now is “economic prosperity”.

Last month, Sri Lanka marked 69 years of Independence from Britain, but it has not sunk into many British MPs that the writ of Westminster no longer holds sway over this country. Maybe, they are only pandering to some of their constituents, but the British Government will have to make a call on wanting to do business with its old Commonwealth partners, while hauling some of them over the coals at the same time.

Smiling Towards Development

19 March 2017 - 8:01pm

Happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger and stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Credit: Mahmud Rassel/cc by 2.0

By Andrea Vale
ROME, Mar 20 2017 (IPS)

Previous indications of national prosperity have focused on income, poverty, health and, above all, Gross Domestic Product, but on March 20th, World Happiness Day commemorates what is perhaps becoming the new way to measure welfare: happiness.

On this day, the 2017 World Happiness Report – the fifth to be published since the inaugural 2012 report – will be released by the United Nations General Assembly, reflecting years of research and development that began in 2015.

In contrast to the shorter World Happiness Report 2016 Update released last March, World Happiness Report 2017 will be a more comprehensive look at the factors leading to, as well as implications of, happiness. The report will include two separate chapters which each focusing on a sub-population in China and Africa, as well as deeper analyses of workplace happiness.

The 2017 report will also introduce a focus on the happiness implications of immigrants and refugees, reflecting a necessity brought on by the rising rates of migration worldwide.

The 2016 report listed the happiest country in the world as Denmark, followed in descending order by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Conversely, Burundi was ranked least in happiness, claiming the bottom spot just below Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia and Tanzania, in ascending order of happiness.

In this instance, happiness was gauged by measuring a combination of GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption. But as Former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb recently pointed out in an article published in Blue Wings, “it’s difficult to measure the happiness of a nation or what a country should do in order to boost it. The feeling of happiness is personal and by definition subjective.”

Governments, Stubbs noted, “do not create individual happiness, but they can focus on at least five things that create the right conditions for individuals to thrive: security, health care, education, equality and infrastructure.”

Why devote so much time and effort into measuring happiness? Because happiness doesn’t just result in more smiles: studies are increasingly illuminating stronger links between happiness and progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The two form a complementary relationship – the happier a country is, the more progress it has made towards the SDGs, and the more progress a country has made towards the SDGs, the happier it is.

In the 2016 World Happiness Report, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs compared progress towards the SDGs, national competitiveness and economic freedom in a regression chart, finding that though the former two accounted for high levels of positive increase in a country’s happiness, the latter had increasingly less.

“Economic freedom per se does not seem to explain much, if anything, about cross-country happiness after controlling for national competitiveness and progress towards the SDGs,” Sachs said.

Happiness is a particularly relevant concept considering the spike of mental health awareness among high school and college-aged persons. Talking openly about depression, anxiety and general well-being has become increasingly important to young people, and has begun to be considered as vital to assessing one’s life as income, health and other classic gauges of prosperity. In other words, it is no longer enough to simply be in good health and have a well-paying job; in order to have a ‘good’ life, one must feel fulfilled and satisfied in their daily lives. One must be happy.

Making a country happier could result in more than just a brighter day: it could result in less hunger, higher education rates and better equality.

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Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Out

18 March 2017 - 6:39pm

Chibok girls who survived Boko Haram, Sa'a (left) and Rachel (right) at a press conference moderated by Vikas Pota, CEO, Varkey Foundation, at the Global Skills and Education Forum, Dubai. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
DUBAI, UAE, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network.

Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

Hope persists

“My dream is to be a medical doctor in the future and inspire others and go back to my home country and help those kids to go back to school and assist others get the education they deserve,” Sa’a says.

Rachel, who is back at school in Nigeria, says she wanted to be medical doctor as well but would now like to be a top ranking military officer after what happened to her father and three brothers.

“I would like to contribute to a better nation. I am not conformable because of what I have seen and I feel bad,” Rachel said. “Some girls cannot go to school now because of what happened and do not value education because without education they can survive. This is sad.”

Rachel is a teenager that went to school in northeast Nigeria. Her father was a plainclothes policeman who had moved his family with him to a smaller town where he thought it would be safer. He was assigned to protect the local church. Rachel’s mum found a job working in the Education department of the church that her father was on security detail to.

Then one day in late 2014, Boko Haram terrorists attacked the church that her father had been assigned to protect.  Rachel’s father fled to his house to gather his children. Unfortunately, as they tried to escape, they ran into the terrorists who shot dead her father and three younger brothers on the spot. They were 14, 12 and 10 years old and in secondary and primary school, respectively.

Vikas Pota, Chief Execuive of the Varkey Foundation, the hosts of the Global Education Forum, said the Boko Haram question is wider than simply the question of the girls, and is related to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria and elsewhere. He said collective action was needed to make the world more inclusive thereby creating an environment to access education to all.

“I think it is ridiculous in today’s age that so many girls and all the human intelligence that exists that we do not know where these girls are. It shows we do not care,” Pota told IPS, adding that,” As a father, how can we tolerate this situation? I think the government not – just the Nigerian one but governments around the world – should help and make sure this situation is resolved.”

*True identities have been changed to protect their families.

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‘Religious Discrimination, Fanaticism and Xenophobia Worsened’

18 March 2017 - 4:52pm

Credit: Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue

By IPS World Desk
ROME/GENEVA, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Religious discrimination, fanaticism and xenophobia have worsened in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America, thus there is a need for alternatives to identify a common strategy to address these challenges, a Geneva-based think tank promoting global dialogue stated.

The issue has been top on the agenda of a meeting organised by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue on Mar. 16 at the United Nations Office in Geneva, during which representatives from the Muslim and Christian regions of the world exchanged views on the convergence between Islam and Christianity,

William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) who participated in this meeting, entitled “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights, highlighted the importance of recognising the convergences of the Abrahamic religions – Islam and Christianity – in order to overcome religious divisions.

“We live today in turbulent and troubled times. There are many and loud voices that take perverse delight in drawing attention to what divides and splits our global community. In these circumstances, it is all too easy to forget that Islam and Christianity – two of the world’s three ancient Abrahamic monotheist religious traditions – have more in common than in contention.”

Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan underlined in a video message the importance of fostering religious tolerance and inter-faith harmony between Christians and Muslims as well as intra-faith cohesion.

Referring to the Brussels Declaration entitled “The Peace of God in the World’ Towards Peaceful Coexistence and Collaboration Among the Three Monotheistic Religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”, he underscored the importance of bringing peace to the world and the need for peaceful co-existence between religious groups.

“All of our religions disapprove of religious justification of violence and inhumane actions, none of them approve of violence, terrorism or ill treatment of human beings,” he said.

For his part, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim highlighted the significance of garnering the support of Muslim and Christian leaders to restore relations between Islam and Christianity.

“Today we have a tremendous opportunity to discuss the convergences between Islam and Christianity and to continue our joint efforts combining our strengths to promote equal citizenship rights,” he added.

The Minister of State for Tolerance of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikha Lubna Khalid al Qasimi, for her part emphasised the need for Christian-Muslim dialogue as a necessary condition for peace, tolerance and harmony.

“Irrespective of national identity, all citizens need to be granted equally universal human rights. Our states need to protect these human rights. To grant equal protection, we need to rethink our Christian-Muslim dialogue. It is only through engaging in dialogue and accepting the diversity of each other that we can reach a peaceful reconciliation.”

Representing over 500 million Christians in more than 110 countries of the world, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit said, “that the nature of the relationship between these two faith communities is of vital significance for the welfare of the whole human family.”

For his part, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Algeria, Lakhdar Brahimi, condemned the hijacking of religious faiths by violent and extremist groups stating that the “majority of people in the so-called Muslim majority countries are horrified by the barbaric violence committed by groups who claim to serve Islam.”

“Daesh, Al-Qaeda, Boko-Haram and similar groups in our countries and in Europe are abusing Islam and gravely trying to destroy its values, its cultures and its civilisation.”

Equal, Inclusive Citizenship Rights

As part of the meeting’s agenda, the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre Idriss Jazairy presented a draft agenda for a forthcoming world conference entitled “Religions, Creeds or Other Value Systems and Equal Citizenship Rights” that will build on the discussions initiated during the meeting.

The goal of this conference would be to initiate a structured dialogue that might lead to the obsolescence of the concept of minority and to its replacement by that of a model of inclusive and equal citizenship rights.

On the conference, the Former Acting Foreign Minister of Lebanon and the current Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Dr. Tarek Mitri, argued that states should be established on the principles of citizenship, equality and law to create an environment of plurality and tolerance.

“Re-vitalising the pact of citizenship necessitates the rebuilding of state institutions on the foundation of the rule of law. The state’s chief obligation is to protect its citizens, all its citizens. Politics of inclusion in fractured societies are a condition for equal citizenship,” he said.

The former US ambassador to the United Nations and former member of the US Congress, Dr. Mark D. Siljander, ascertained that the convergence and the commonalities between the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity could lead to equal and inclusive citizenship rights. Drawing on his long-time expertise as a diplomat and peacemaker.

And Pakistan’s ambassador Tehmina Janjua reminded the participants that the concept of equal and inclusive citizenship should go beyond religious affiliation.

“If we are to address the issue of citizenship rights/minorities globally, then we need to go beyond the relationship of Christianity and Islam. We also need to go beyond viewing this issue from the perspective of religion alone.”

The goal of the Geneva Centre’s initiative was to highlight the many convergences that exist between Islam and Christianity, to recognise the potential of a “great convergence” between both religions, and to mitigate and reverse the social polarisation between affiliates of these two religions and the resulting marginalisation of religious minorities, discrimination, xenophobia and violence.

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Oh Happy Day!

18 March 2017 - 3:46pm

A Sudanese girl beams with happiness at the inauguration ceremony of the Transitional Government of National Unity of Sudan in Khartoum. UN Photo/Evan Schneider.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 18 2017 (IPS)

Once a year, there is a day when the seven billion inhabitants of Planet Earth should feel happy or at least are encouraged to do so–the World Happiness Day, which is marked every year on March 20. So far, so good.

But what happiness is all about? And who are the world’s happiest people… or at least the happy ones?

According to the Day’s promoters—the United Nations “It’s –literally– a day to be happy, of course!” Consequently, the world body has celebrated, since 2013, the International Day of Happiness “as a way to recognise the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world.”

Now the UN launched 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek “to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet– three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness.” Fine!

Being this a really sound idea, the UN invites each person “of any age, plus every classroom, business and government to celebrate the International Day of Happiness using hashtag #SmallSmurfsBigGoals.”

And it asks you to pledge to create more happiness in the world, and to share your happiness with the world.

All this is fine. But how, and when did the idea of celebrating a world happiness day was conceived? Which countries are the happiest? And, more importantly, are people really happy?

Two happy students from the Kulturama School of Performing Arts in Stockholm pose for a picture during Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to their school. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe


The idea, according to former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in his address in Aril 2012 to a High Level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm “ is that the world “needs a new economic paradigm that recognises the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.”

The meeting was convened at an initiative of small (770,000 inhabitants) but great Asian country–Bhutan, which already in the early 70s recognised the “supremacy” of national happiness over national income and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP), which measures the total value of goods and services produced by a country in one year, including profits made in foreign countries.

The Happy Kingdom of the Himalaya…

Well, that Buddhist kingdom on the Himalayas’ eastern edge, which is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes that range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys, has been so far the first-ever country to apply the supremacy of people’s happiness—measured in terms of people’s happiness, over macro-economic indicators.

Children from the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced performed in 2015 traditional dances at the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, El Fasher, Sudan. Credit: UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran


In that period, in the 1970s, developing countries were focused on increasing economic success to help develop prosperity. Then, Bhutan’s King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, however, believed an economic approach dehumanised the development process. Therefore, he instead decided to focus on a concept that he precisely called “Gross National Happiness.

For that there is an institution—the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research, which works precisely on the Gross National Happiness. It is a government autonomous organisation, mandated to carry out research on GNH. Its first pilot GNH Survey was carried out in 2006 with 350 respondents.

The questionnaire was further refined after the pilot survey and it was administered to 950 respondents from 12 dzongkhags. And it was again reviewed and refined for a nation wide GNH Survey which was carried out in 2010.

The Survey’s result was then used to develop the indicators and set benchmark values for the different indicators that were used for the GNH Index. The next nation-wide GNH Survey was carried out in 2015. The results of both these surveys are available here, showing the people are happy.

… The Happy Emirates of the Gulf

There is another small (around 6 million inhabitants) but rich country (second richest in the Gulf after Saudi Arabia)—the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has created a Ministry of Happiness.

It is a federation of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain, located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula. And it decided a year ago to create that Ministry for Happiness as part of the largest-ever government reshuffling that implied the appointment of a cabinet of 30 ministers and secretary of state, including 8 women.

The youngest woman minister–only 22-years-old, Ohoud al-Roumi, was appointed as minister of State for Happiness. Her mission is to drive policy “to create social good and satisfaction.”

In 2016, the government of Dubai established the Ministry of Happiness and referenced GNH as the background for the initiative

Moreover, a new post of minister of State for Tolerance was also created “to promote such virtue “as a fundamental value in UAE society.” Another woman, Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi, heads this ministry.

The same year, 2016, Thailand launched its own GNH Initiative.

… And The Happy Women of Brazil

The GNH concept evolved through the contribution of international and local scholars and researchers to become an initiative beyond the borders of Bhutan.

The idea of measuring peoples’ happiness has been gradually extended to other countries. For instance, in the year 2012, studies showed that Brazilian women are happy. Not only happy—they declared being much happier than men.

According to a study published five years ago by Brazilian Bubble, which provides the business and financial community with an economic and investment perspective on Brazil, on a scale of zero to ten, the Brazilians had to rate their current perception of happiness and expectations of future joy.

Averaging 8.98 against 8.51 for the Danish women (second place), Brazilian women showed their grace and optimism about life, being the international average was 6.74. In the last place of the ranking were the women of Zimbabwe, with 4.04.

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Argentina and UAE Agree to Strengthen Economic Ties

17 March 2017 - 7:01pm

Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, give a press conference after their working meeting in the foreign ministry in Buenos Aires. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

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

Argentina and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed Friday Mar. 17 to explore the possibility of this South American country receiving investment from the Gulf nation, particularly tourism and health, while they pledged to strengthen bilateral relations and increase trade.

This was reported by Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra and her counterpart from the UAE, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during the latter’s official visit to Buenos Aires.

The two ministers held a working meeting at the San Martin Palace, the headquarters of Argentina’s foreign ministry, then gave a brief press conference before having lunch with Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti.

“This week started and ended for us with the United Arab Emirates, which shows the importance that both countries put on this relationship and the shared interest in reinforcing our friendship,” Malcorra said.

She was referring to the visit to Argentina early this week by a high-level delegation from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, headed by Sheikh Hamed bin Zayed al Nahyan, that came to learn about the present economic situation and business climate in the country.

The delegation was received in the Casa Rosada, the seat of the central government, by President Mauricio Macri. The members of the delegation also met with Malcorra, Michetti, the president of the Central Bank, Federico Sturzenegger, and the ministers of the treasury, finance and energy and mines.

In addition, they held meetings with business representatives from different sectors of the economy: oil, steel, agriculture, food, real estate, energy and finance, among others.

A broad UAE delegation headed by UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mohammed Sharaf also visited Argentina this week.

Malcorra wore black at Friday’s meeting to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Mar. 17, 1992 terrorist attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which left 22 dead and dozens injured.

During the news briefing, Minister Al Nayhan expressed his solidarity referring to the incident and said he hoped nations “will work more effectively to put a stop to terrorism.”

He had a message of political support for President Macri, congratulating the government on its determination “to take the very brave steps it has been taking to ensure that Argentina becomes the country it deserves to be, generating openness, not only for tourists but also for investors and for its different partners and allies.”

Since Macri, of the centre-right Cambiemos alliance, took office in December 2015, one of his priorities has been to generate the conditions for drawing foreign investors to Argentina and improving the country’s access to global credit markets.

The measures he has taken to that end include an agreement to pay 4.65 billion dollars to holdout hedge funds, creditors that have been in conflict with Argentina since the late 2001 default declared in the midst of the severe economic crisis that led to the resignation of then president Fernando de la Rúa.

This is the second time that the UAE foreign minister has visited Buenos Aires since Macri became president. The first visit was in early February 2016, when the main aim was to meet the new authorities here.

In November 2016, an Argentine delegation headed by Vice President Michetti visited the UAE and held several meetings, with the aim of “attracting investment and generating jobs for our countries,” as the vice president stated at the time.

In the trade balance between the two countries Argentina – which mainly sells food to the Gulf nation – has a surplus of 133.6 million dollars.

“Although it is true that trade between our countries has not yet reached the levels that we would like, our presence will help it grow and will bring about a greater presence of the United Arab Emirates in terms of investment in Argentina. We have also been exploring opportunities to reach cooperation accords involving third parties, and we are optimistic,” said the Emirati foreign minister.

For her part, Malcorra referred to the sectors in which Argentina could receive investment from the UAE.

She especially mentioned “tourism, not only to draw a significant number of visitors from the Emirates, but also as an opportunity for investment in the hotel industry,” and “health, since the Emirates has become a model health centre, which draws people from the entire region; we are looking at the possibility of exchange and complementarity in this area.”

The Argentine minister also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed regarding visas, “to facilitate the exchange between the two countries.”

During the visit, Malcorra gave Minister Al Nahyan a letter from Macri in which the president promised that Argentina would take part in the Expo 2020, the world fair to be held in Dubai between October 2020 and April 2021, which is expected to be visited by 25 million people, 70 percent of them from abroad.

The Emirati minister came to Argentina from Brazil, the other leg of his current South America tour, where he signed three agreements on Thursday Mar. 16 with his Brazilian host and counterpart, Aloysio Nunes. Al Nahyan will return from Buenos Aires to Brazil, where he will inaugurate the UAE consulate-general in São Paulo on Tuesday Mar. 21.

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From Barriers to Bridges: Transformation of the Kenya-Ethiopia Border Region

17 March 2017 - 10:02am

President Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn lay the foundation for the Kenya-Ethiopia cross border program in the border town of Moyale on 07 Dec 2015. Photo Courtesy of PPS

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

Consider this. The communities around the Kenya-Ethiopia border in Moyale-Borona area, have long been associated with internecine violence, extreme poverty, and environmental stress. These have led to disastrous societal consequences, including displacement, criminality and violent extremism.

Siddharth Chatterjee

The 2012-2013 intercommunal clashes in Moyale town, claimed the lives of over 200 people, destroyed thousands of properties, including schools and other social amenities. The region has been viewed as largely peripheral, both economically and politically, and therefore attracted limited public and private resources.

However, an innovative, comprehensive and integrated cross-border programme initiated by the Kenyan and Ethiopian governments, in partnership with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the United Nations (UN) is changing this narrative.

During the recent visit to Kenya by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, President Uhuru Kenyatta specifically mentioned, the Kenya-Ethiopia cross-border programme and noted the importance of this innovative area-based development programme, which he said has the potential of being replicated elsewhere.

President Kenyatta hoped that the initiative would help transform the region. “The programme will see Moyale being turned into the Dubai of Africa,” he said.

The strong commitment of the two governments is reflected in an article the Foreign Ministers of Kenya and Ethiopia, co-authored. Kenya and Ethiopia: A cross-border initiative to advance peace and development.

President Kenyatta and UN Secretary-General meet at the State House on 08 March 2017. Photo @StateHouse


The initiative is driven by the need to foster peace and sustainable development in the cross-border area of Marsabit County, Kenya, and the Borana/Dawa Zones, Ethiopia. It was launched in December 2015 by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia.

The European Union Ambassador to Kenya, Dr Stefano Dejak remarked, “I am seeing positive signs of change and therefore the European Union has decided to partner with the UN and IGAD, to expand the cross-border programme to include Mandera Triangle (Kenya-Ethiopia-Somalia), the Omo (Kenya-South Sudan) and Karamoja (Kenya-Uganda) clusters”.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn witness as former Foreign Minister Ethiopia, Tedros Adhanom and Foreign Minister Kenya, Amb Amina Mohamed sign an MOU to create jobs, reduce poverty and foster trade in their restive borderlands, where conflict had intensified in recent years. Photo: UN Kenya


Among the positive signs is a determination to establish peace as the basis for integration. Local peace committees, comprising of different ethnic groups, have been working relentlessly to maintain the peace and promoting harmonious coexistence. The elders also testified to the fact that the number of young people getting radicalised and tempted to join extremist/terror groups had declined significantly.

Devolution has also empowered local authorities and communities, and has contributed to poverty reduction and effective service delivery in Marsabit County. The Isiolo-Merille-Marsabit-Moyale road, is now complete; and it will be a transformational as it will link the region to Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, and promote cross-border trade. In addition, this completes the Trans-Africa highway linking South Africa to Egypt.

The Isiolo-Moyale-Borona highway has had a massive positive impact on the region’s security, having opened up an area that was previously viewed as “marginalized”. Photo media commons


The region’s socio-economic development potential is great. The large numbers of livestock can be harnessed for leather, meat and dairy industries. The cross-border trade between the border communities could generate tremendous revenue for both countries. The region’s diverse and rich culture and heritage, evidenced by its historical and geographical sites, present huge tourism potential. There is also a latent resource for clean and renewable energy exploitation, as proven by the recent launch of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project that is expected to generate 310MW into the national grid and power one million households.

The UN is collaborating with development partners to tap this enormous potential to reduce poverty and spur development in various ways. This will especially benefit women who are significantly involved in cross-border trade. The UN will soon launch a “HeforShe” initiative/campaign to empower women and address the problem of gender inequality, and enhance women’s participation in the development process in both regions.

Lake Turkana Wind Power Project. Photo Media commons


A UN supported “Biashara Centre” – a business incubation centre – was opened in Marsabit Town to empower the youth and address the problem of youth unemployment, and promote small and medium enterprises.

Studies carried out, in collaboration with the communities, are helping to understand the causes, drivers, dynamics and impacts of conflict in the cross-border areas, and possible factors or stakeholders that could contribute to sustainable peace in the region. This is an important parameter of the African Union vision on peace and security in the first plan of action under the progressive Agenda 2063.

A UN supported Biashara center.Photo Credit: @undpkenya


The UN has worked with Marsabit County to review and mainstream the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP). The revised CIDP aims at improving the living standards of the people of Marsabit County through employment creation, reduction of poverty and creation of wealth and expanding public service delivery in general.

Though integration and trade along the border is still in nascent stages, there is reason for optimism that it will have long-term positive macroeconomic and social ramifications such as food security and income generation, particularly for populations who would otherwise suffer from social exclusion.

Ms Ruth Kagia, in the Office of the President of Kenya who coordinates the programme says, “This initiative if properly executed may well be a game changer by turning cross border barriers into bridges of opportunity. Especially among the marginalized and poor communities to expedite the achievement of a core goal of the SDGs and ending poverty by 2030”.

UAE: Strong Partnerships Vital to Address Global Challenges

17 March 2017 - 7:03am

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates.

By Marsílea Gombata
SÃO PAULO, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

IPS is reproducing an interview of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates with Valor Economico.

The UAE has witnessed a rapid expansion of its diplomatic relations with countries in Latin America, the South Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia as well as a consolidation and strengthening of its relations with Western countries during the tenure of Sheikh, who also launched a number of international forums, including the Sir Bani Yas Forum the Global Forum on Relationships between the Arab World, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Arab League countries dialogue with Pacific Island States. In this interview, among several issues,  he talks about building strong partnerships to address global challenges and the UAE’s commitment to invest in clean and renewable energy both at home and abroad.

Valor Econômico: This is your fourth time you are in Brazil as the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates. What is the purpose of the visit to Brazil this month?

Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan: In this increasingly globalized world, strong partnerships are vital for national prosperity, innovation, and in order to address global challenges. The UAE highly values its relationship with Brazil, and we seek to further build upon and expand the existing ties between our two friendly countries. During my visit, I am meeting/have met your President, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Trade and Services, the Minister of Defense and the Governor of Sao Paulo, demonstrating the UAE’s commitment to strengthening ties with Brazil across the board.

VE: Today the United Arab Emirates is our second largest trading partner in Middle East after Saudi Arabia. In 15 years, bilateral trade went from US $ 300 million in 2000 to US $ 3 billion in 2015. What are the prospects for expanding these exchanges?

AAN: I am confident that the UAE and Brazil will be able to further build upon the current level of exchanges. Our two countries have a lot to offer one another, and we are in regular discussions about further expanding our trade and cooperation more generally. We share common interests and common aims, as well as friendly relations, which provide a solid foundation to further expand and broaden our bilateral cooperation.

VE: The trade balance between countries now has a Brazilian surplus of around US $ 2 billion. Does this figure bother the United Arab Emirates? Does the government think of any strategy / measure to reverse this figure?

AAN: The UAE welcomes the rapid growth in bilateral trade between the UAE and Brazil, demonstrating the excellent state of relations between our two countries. The UAE’s economy has been growing strongly over recent years and so it is not surprising that it has attracted an ever growing share of Brazilian imports. To ensure its economic dynamism in the future, the UAE has adopted ambitious plans to further diversify its economy, laid out in the UAE Vision 2021 and the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. As the UAE’s economy continues to diversify and expand in the new sectors, we expect that there will be a gradual and organic rebalancing of trade balance that will benefit both of our countries.

VE: In 2012, you were in Brazil with former Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota and expressed the interest of the United Arab Emirates to invest in the country’s oil and energy sector. Is this still on the bilateral agenda? Is there any prospect of investing in Petrobras or even in operations practically abandoned by the company, such as pre-salt exploration?

In this increasingly globalized world, strong partnerships are vital for national prosperity, innovation, and in order to address global challenges
The UAE is always reviewing investments in the oil and energy sector, and exploring potential new opportunities and partnerships. Since my visit in 2012, the underlying conditions of the oil market have changed considerably, which naturally meant that some UAE companies have been reviewing their investment decisions. Despite this, the UAE remains optimistic about the prospects of the sector as a whole and continues to seek out potential long-term partners and investment opportunities. In parallel, the UAE is also committed to making substantial investments in clean and renewable energy both domestically and overseas. Our companies continue to be interested in other investment opportunities within the energy sector, and we are open to further discussions about how Brazil can create conditions that will facilitate such investments in the future.

VE: If so, what is the size of the investment you are planning? Who will guide it: government of the United Arab Emirates or companies? Which ones?

AAN: The UAE government and UAE companies will discuss the size of any future investments and who will be leading them as they arise.

VE: Are there prospects for investment in the Brazilian military industry/ market? What are the values and products?

AAN: As with oil and energy, the UAE government and UAE companies regularly review their current and future investments in the defense sector. The UAE is pleased to be in the process of increasing its defense cooperation with Brazil, and we are engaged in ongoing discussions about how we can further collaborate in this area. We were also very happy to welcome 16 Brazilian companies to the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (Idex) held in Abu Dhabi in February of this year, which demonstrates Brazil’s growing presence in this sector and helped showcase Brazil’s advanced military industry to a wide regional audience. On the margins of Idex, Caracal, a UAE-based manufacturer of small arms, announced its intentions to set up a plant in the state of Goiás in Brazil. This will be an important step to further strengthen cooperation between the defense industries of our two countries.

VE: The ADIA fund invested alongside CIC (China) and GIC (Singapore) funds in the investor consortium that capitalized BTG Pactual with US $ 1.8 billion. Is there any prospect of investing in other businesses in the Brazilian financial sector?

AAN: The UAE is pleased that ADIA’s investment partnership with BTG Pactual has assisted in the growth of the banking and finance sector, setting the stage for other potential investments in the future. Brazil’s establishment of Islamic Banking makes investment arrangements all the more attractive, and the UAE welcomes new opportunities to cooperate in the financial sector. Sao Paulo and Dubai are both important financial hubs for our respective regions, and I am confident that we will be able to continue to create new, mutually beneficial opportunities in the financial and banking sectors.

VE: Some Sovereign Wealth Funds have shown an interest in assets linked to the infrastructure sector here, an area where the country currently has few resources. After the entry of the Mubadala, a company of the government of Abu Dhabi, in the Porte Sudeste (ex-MMX, of Eike Batista), what are the next businesses?

AAN: The UAE recognizes that there are a number of investment opportunities in the infrastructure sector in Brazil, and that Brazil’s growing economy is likely to create an even more positive investment climate. The UAE and Mubadala is always on the look-out for investment opportunities in geographic areas and sectors that have a long-term potential, and discussions over prospective investments are held with the relevant entities.

VE: The United Arab Emirates plans to send an unmanned mission to Mars in 2021 and build a city on the planet within a century. What is the size of the investments in this spatial sector today? Does it occur to diversify the economy of the country when the oil – main asset – will be over? What are the other fronts to reach that?

AAN: So far, the UAE has invested 20 billion AED into the space sector, which will support the UAE’s goals of economic diversification and help us develop advanced capabilities in the engineering and sciences. During the World Government Summit in Dubai this year, the UAE announced its ambitious 100-year national plan, which aims to establish a city on the planet Mars. To support this initiative, the UAE will develop educations programs and university studies in advanced space sciences. An Emirati scientific team will lead the process, which will eventually expand to include international scientists and researchers from around the globe.

The UAE is also continuing to build upon its petrochemical, plastics and aluminum industries, in addition to is financial services, cultural, air transport and ports sectors. This is ensuring that we are well on the way to achieving the target of generating 64 per cent of GDP from non-oil industries outlined in Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030.

VE: Brazil has one of the most suitable rocket launching bases in Alcantara, in the State of Maranhão, near Ecuador line. Is there any joint project or cooperation linking the Emirates’ space expansion and the Brazilian base that is currently inactive?

Currently, the UAE’s space agency is not collaborating with Brazil over the use of launch sites in the country.

VE: To defend controversial policies, such as travel ban to immigrants from six countries, US President Donald Trump talks about protecting the US from potential terrorists. You are a supporter of joint action by the international community against terrorism. But is it all against terrorism? How far can we go?

AAN: The UAE is heavily involved in efforts to counter terrorism and extremism, given the significant threats they pose to the security and stability of the UAE, the region and the world. UAE forces have been leading the fight against Al Qaeda and other extremists in southern Yemen, where they have liberated the important port city of Mukalla last year. Amongst others, UAE forces have also participated in international anti-terror operations in Afghanistan and against Daesh in Syria and Iraq. But the UAE knows that force alone cannot win the battle against terror. This is why, we have invested heavily in tackling the root causes of terrorism, by for example hosting the Hedayah Center of Excellence for Countering Extremism and launching the Sawab Center, together with the USA to counter online radicalization and recruitment. Furthermore, the UAE has taken a leading role in the rebuilding and reconstruction of areas liberated from Daesh and other extremists.

The USA has been an important partner in the fight against terrorism worldwide and we welcome the determination of the Trump administration to tackling the challenge of extremism. With regards to the recent discussion on immigration, we acknowledge that every nation has a right to control access to its territory, and while we believe in the universal benefits of free travel and exchanges, we respect the decision of the Trump administration to take measures to protect its borders for national security reasons. We also welcome the US Government’s clarification that the ban is “not a Muslim ban”, and encourage the media to report responsibly on the issue in order to avoid fueling stereotypes that only serve the interests of extremists.

 

UN Facing Famines, Conflicts and Now U.S. Funding Cuts

17 March 2017 - 1:48am

Snow falls outside of the UN headquarters Secretariat building in New York. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 17 2017 (IPS)

In the midst of responding to the worst humanitarian crisis since records began, the UN is now faced with potential funding cuts from its biggest donor, the United States.

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump released “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” the first such budget proposal of his presidency. The blueprint’s biggest proposed cuts target the Department of State, which would lose 29 percent of its budget, and the Environment Protection Agency, which would lose 31 percent.

Although details of exactly how the proposed cuts – which still require approval of U.S. Congress – would be made, are yet to emerge, funding for the UN and the USAID which both fall under the State Department is at risk.

“If approved – and that’s a big “if” – the Whitehouse’s plans could slash several billions in UN funding,” Natalie Samarasinghe Executive Director of the United Nations Association of the UK, told IPS.

These billions of dollars of potential cuts come at a time when the United Nations is occupied responding to both acute and chronic crises around the world.

“Some 20 million people are facing famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen,” said Samarasinghe.

“The number of people forced to flee their homes is now the biggest since records began,” she said. “These are people for whom the UN is literally the difference between life and death,” she said.

“The total foreign aid of the U.S. is about one percent of the budget - not 10 or 15 percent as some people seem to think - it’s one percent.” -- Michel Gabaudan

Michel Gabaudan, President of Refugees International, told IPS that it is important to keep the United States contribution in perspective when assessing the potential cuts.

“The U.S. contribution is critical, it is generous it is vital but it is not unduly high compared to other countries of the western bloc – who are the main funders of humanitarian aid – and we must this contribution in perspective.”

“The total foreign aid of the U.S. is about one percent of the budget – not 10 or 15 percent as some people seem to think – it’s one percent.”

“The magnitude of the U.S. economy means that that one percent of money is critical to humanitarian relief and to development programs but if you compare this with what some European countries are doing, like Switzerland, like the Nordics, like the Dutch … they are certainly giving more in terms of dollar per capita of their citizens,” he said.

Samarasinghe also noted that the proposed cuts are “still a relatively small amount compared to, say, fossil fuel subsidies.”

She said that it would be “politically challenging for European countries to pick up the slack, especially with elections looming in a number of countries.”

As an example, said Samarasinghe, a recent appeal from the Netherlands to fund reproductive health and safe abortions has not yet reached its $600 million target. That appeal was set up after Trump re-instated the Global Gag Rule, which removes U.S. funding from non-governmental organisations that carry out any activities related to safe abortion, regardless of the funding source.

Meanwhile, Deborah Brautigam an expert on China in Africa told IPS that it is unlikely that China will increase its funding to the United Nations as the United States steps back, because China already feels “very comfortable” in its current position at the UN. This position includes a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and UN development policies, which align with China’s priorities, such as industrialisation, said Brautigam who is Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.

Two UN agencies that receive the most funding from the United States are the World Food Program, which provides emergency food assistance, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

However Gabaudan said that both the more immediate humanitarian aid as well as long-term development assistance are needed to address the world’s crises:

“The state department funds UNHCR and USAID funds development programs which tie the humanitarian aid with longer term issues,” said Gabaudan.

“Most displacement crises are protracted, people don’t leave and get back home after a year or two,” he said, as is the case with the Syrian conflict, which just surpassed six year on March 15th.

The budget proposal also reinforces other aspects of the emerging Trump Republican administration policies, including sweeping cuts to environment programs and cuts to programs, which assist the poor in the United States.

Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations said in a statement that the cuts reflected a desire to make the United Nations more effective and efficient.

“I look forward to working with Members of Congress to craft a budget that advances U.S. interests at the UN, and I look forward to working with my UN colleagues to make the organisation more effective and efficient.”

“In many areas, the UN spends more money than it should, and in many ways it places a much larger financial burden on the United States than on other countries.”

However that financial relationship between the UN and the host of UN Headquarters is not unidirectional. According to the latest New York City UN Impact Report, the UN community contributed 3.69 billion dollars to the New York City economy in 2014.

In response to the budget blueprint Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that “the Secretary-General is grateful for the support the United States has given to the United Nations over the years as the organisation’s largest financial contributor.”

“The Secretary-General is totally committed to reforming the United Nations and ensuring that it is fit for purpose and delivers results in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.”

“However, abrupt funding cuts can force the adoption of ad hoc measures that will undermine the impact of longer-term reform efforts,” said Dujarric.

Dujarric’s statement also addressed aspects of the proposed budget, which claim to address terrorism. The proposal, which significantly increases spending on the U.S. military appears to favour a “hard power” militaristic approach over a “soft power” diplomatic and humanitarian approach.

“The Secretary-General fully subscribes to the necessity to effectively combat terrorism but believes that it requires more than military spending,” said Dujarric. “There is also a need to address the underlying drivers of terrorism through continuing investments in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises.”

Brazil and the UAE Determined to Explore New Bilateral Frontiers

16 March 2017 - 7:00pm

The UAE’s foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (2nd-L), and his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes (3rd-R) sign agreements in Itamaraty Palace, Brazil’s foreign ministry. Credit: Doris Calderón/IPS

By Doris Calderon
BRASILIA, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, made his fifth visit to Brazil Thursday, Mar. 16, in search of new opportunities to exploit the enormous potential in relations between the two countries.

In statements to reporters in the Itamaraty Palace, the headquarters of Brazil’s foreign ministry, after a working meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Aloysio Nunes, Al Nayhan said he was “very pleased about the strengthening of ties of friendship between the two countries seen year by year.”

“There are great opportunities between the UAE and Brazil, not only in the economy and trade, but also in other sectors, like tourism. We are particularly interested in increasing the presence of Brazilian nationals in our country,” he added.

He said he was pleased that 60,000 Brazilians a year visit the UAE, making the Persian Gulf country the third destination for tourists from Latin America’s giant. “Brazil is opening up and finding new horizons in other parts of the world,” he said.

Al Nahyan, who has been foreign minister since 2006, commented that the Middle East currently finds itself in a complex moment, making it necessary to jointly take on challenges like fighting violence and terrorism.

Brazil’s foreign minister said they discussed a wide variety of questions on the regional and global agenda, as well as bilateral issues.

Nunes stressed that the latest visit by Al Nahyan, who also came to Brazil in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014, “shows the high priority that the two countries put on bilateral relations and cooperation.”

The Brazilian official was referring to the mutual interest of the private sector in the two countries in long-term projects in strategic areas like infrastructure, industry and services, and to investment in Brazil by the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), considered the second-largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, worth nearly one trillion dollars.

The two ministers signed three bilateral accords during the meeting. Two of them were visa waiver agreements, and another involved the strengthening of air travel services between the two countries.

The UAE is home to the largest community of Brazilians in the Gulf: 4,500.

Al Nahyan’s agenda also included meetings with Brazilian President Michel Temer, Senate head Eunicio Oliveira, and the ministers of defence, Raul Jungmann, and industry, trade and services, Marcos Pereira.

The Emirati minister will visit Argentina on Friday Mar. 17, before returning to Brazil on Mar. 21, to participate in the inauguration of the new UAE consulate-general in São Paulo.

Relations between the two countries were formally established in 1974. The Brazilian Embassy in Abu Dhabi opened in 1978, and in 1991 the UAE opened its first embassy in Latin America, in Brasilia.

Ties grew stronger in recent years thanks to the number of visits by high-level Brazilian officials to the UAE: 31 ministers and 14 state governors since 2007, it was noted on Thursday.

The new emphasis on bilateral ties began in December 2003, with the visit to the UAE by then president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), at the head of a broad delegation of government officials and business leaders.

Ten years later, in 2013, then vice president Temer made an official visit to the Emirati cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Since 2008, the UAE haaçs become Brazil’s second-largest trading partner in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of bilateral trade.

The UAE is currently one of the biggest Middle Eastern importers of Brazilian goods, such as chicken, refined sugar, aluminum oxides and hydroxides, and cast-iron pipes.

Brazil imports from the UAE products like sulphur and electrical control panels and distribution boards.

More than 30 Brazilian companies have offices in the UAE, a business hub which re-exports products to third countries and large markets, such as Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Pakistan.

Bilateral trade soared from 300 million dollars in 2000 to three billion dollars in 2015.

In 2014, the two nations reached a defence accord that included the exchange of technology, cooperation in military instruction and training, weapons, crisis management, and logistical support in United Nations peacekeeping missions.

It was the first treaty of its kind signed by Brazil with a Middle Eastern country.

A new phase has now been launched in the promotion of trade and the exchange of people to make Brazil the UAE’s main ally in Latin America.

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“The Struggle Continues” for Human Right to Peace and Inclusion of Women

16 March 2017 - 4:07pm

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

UN officials and activists gathered to discuss the essential relationships between sustainable peace and gender equality during a two week-long UN meeting, begining March 13.

At a side event of the 61st session of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW), panelists shed light on the important role that women play in peace and development.

“Without peace, no development is possible. And without development, no peace is achievable. But without women, neither peace nor development is possible,” said Former Under-Secretary General and High Representative of the UN Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury.

Despite this, panelists noted that societies have long ignored women’s contributions.

According to an Oxfam report, women carry out up to 10 times more unpaid care work than men. This work is worth approximately $10 trillion per year, which is more than the gross domestic products (GDPs) of India, Japan and Brazil combined.

Research has also shown that almost 60 million unpaid workers are filling in the gaps caused by inadequate health services, majority of whom are women who have had to give up employment or education to carry out this role.

Chowdhury added that there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world if women had the same access to resources as men.

Panelists were particularly concerned with the lack of formal recognition of the human right to peace and the inclusion of women in this goal.

Canadian activist Douglas Roche explained the ‘human right to peace’ arose to address new “interconnected” challenges that the current human rights framework, which is based on a relationship between the State and the individual, is unable to do, including increased militarism by both State and non-State entities.

During the panel discussion, UN Independent Expert in the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order Alfred-Maurice de Zayas stated that the human right to peace also allows for the realization of the right to self-determination which is a “crucial conflict prevention strategy.”

After decades of struggling to gain consensus, the General Assembly adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace in December. Though it was a significant accomplishment achieved largely due to a civil society initiative, many have expressed their disappointment in the document.

“The new declaration is falling far short of the expectation of civil society, many governments,” Chowdhury told IPS.

Among concerns about the declaration is its lack of reference to women which is only mentioned once in the 6 page document.

President of Hague Appeal for Peace and long time peace activist Cora Weiss criicised the document’s language, which calls for women’s “maximum participation.”

“It’s a slippery word,” she told participants, stressing the importance of “equal” inclusion of women to achieve peace.

Weiss was a national leader of the Women Strike for Peace, which organised the largest national women’s protest of the 20th century and contributed to the end of nuclear testing in the 1960s. She was also helped lead the anti-Vietnam war movement, including organising one of the largest anti-war demonstrations in 1969.

“There is no limit to the relationship between women and peace,” Weiss said.

Chowdhury, who led the initiative on Resolution 1325 calling for the increase in women’s representation in conflict management and resolution, echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Women at the peace table is a very important element at the UN and at the Security Council to take into account. Unless they value the 50 percent of humanity positively contributing to securing peace and security, it will move nowhere.”

Despite the unanimous UN adoption of Resolution 1325, little has been done to enforce and implement it. No woman has ever been the chief or lead mediator in an UN-led peace negotiation.

Panelists also criticised the absence of language around disarmament in the Declaration.

“How are you going to make peace in a world that is awash with weapons?” Weiss asked.

According the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), approximately 15,000 nuclear weapons still exist and are owned by just nine countries. The Arms Control Association (ACA) estimates a higher inventory of 15,500, 90 percent of which belong to Russia and the United States. Almost 2000 of these warheads are on high alert and are ready to launch within minutes, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute found.

More general military spending also continues to dwarf resources provided to development activities including education.

In 2014, global military spending was approximately 1.8 trillion dollars while 26 billion dollars was provided to achieve education for all by the end of 2015.

Zayas highlighted the need to redirect resources used for war to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and address other pressing socioeconomic and environmental challenges.

Chowdhury also told participants that a resolution on peace cannot and should not be adopted by vote.

“Peace is the ultimate goal of the UN,” he said.

The Declaration was approved with 131 vote for, 34 against, and with 19 abstentions, reflecting a lack of consensus on the subject.

Though he expressed fear that progress towards gender equality may be rolled back due to a reversal in trends, Chowdhury said the struggle will continue until the human right to peace is recognized and implemented.

CSW is the largest inter-governmental forum on women’s rights, bringing together civil society, academia, and governments. This year’s theme is women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.

Willing Executioners

16 March 2017 - 4:04am

By Sobhya Agha
Mar 16 2017 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Terrorism, in one form or another, has existed for centuries. While its goals change according to the prevailing context, the basic technique ie using force to achieve political, social and religious ends has been the same throughout history, and has often included the use of suicide attackers.

Sobhya Agha

Modern suicide terrorism began in the 1980s under conditions where the coercer was the weaker actor and the target the stronger. From Hezbollah, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers and Chechnyan rebel groups to Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group, the rhetoric of major suicide terrorist groups reflects the logic of coercive punishment. This technique’s purpose is to inflict punishment and provoke fear. Triggered in part by suicide attacks elsewhere, a trend of such attacks took off in Pakistan in 2004, with waves of increased frequency.

The protracted terrorism campaign in Pakistan seems to base itself on three levels of validation: strategic, social and individual — the strategy being to induce changes in the status quo through political coercion. If terrorist groups did not believe that suicide attacks would advance their political goals, they would not carry them out. The reason behind the uptick in such attacks is that its sponsors know that the strategy pays off and is effective in achieving some political and societal changes. People belonging to minority Islamic sects and minority religions, security forces, lawyers, etc are tactically selected to maximise the damage in terms of casualties and intimidation.

Preventing suicide attacks requires shunning intolerance.

Social validation comes from terrorist groups’ ability to exist, nurture and thrive in society. Our government and society seem to tolerate their existence and recruitment efforts, and legitimise their proclamations of hate and religious purity.

The endless supply of individuals willing to give up their lives to attack innocent people provides the third validation. Religious indoctrination, weak states, hegemonic structures, inequality, poverty, and a lack of democracy and rule of law enable this supply of ‘willing executioners’.

Suicide attacks do not appear out of thin air, they require systematic efforts. Stopping this heinous act requires a multi-pronged strategy involving intelligence, security and operational measures, response and deterrence mechanisms, awareness campaigns and community involvement, and influencing the attitudes of such groups’ constituencies.

Intelligence is key, and both the federal and provincial law-enforcement agencies need to enhance their capabilities. Data collection and analysis, with support from modern technologies, is vital for eliminating terrorism’s infrastructure. Increased coordination among intelligence and law enforcement to collect, share and analyse data on terrorist threats is needed.

Even with such measures, attacks may occur, which is why the government must have effective response measures. Disaster preparedness plans and structures must be developed, and technical, mitigation and relief teams formed, to deal with rescue and evacuation. This would reduce public apprehension and panicked demands for extreme measures that may imperil democracy. Involving the community in emergency disaster preparedness would be of benefit.

Terrorism is a group endeavour and, thus, deterrence efforts should be mainly directed at groups rather than individuals. A credible threat of severe punishment that implies a group’s demise would presumably act as a deterrent, while addressing the grievances of larger population groups, to which the terrorists belong, may be effective in changing sympathies. A consistent, well-publicised de-radicalisation and rein¬-tegration plan for deserters and sym¬¬pathisers would also be invaluable.

It is imperative to gain insights into the conditions and processes leading up to terrorist atrocities to identify possible interventions to prevent/ break the cycle of retaliation. Physical security measures may prevent attacks from occurring, but they do not eliminate the ideology or the enthusiasm for it.

When we tolerate religious parties and schools censuring religious minorities, women, and progressive sections of society, and subscribe to the absence of separation between religion and state, terrorism is inevitable. Collective efforts are needed at all levels of government and society to create an environment that discourages militancy and fanaticism.

An outright rejection of sectarian religious education, and advocating for policies and laws that create a more unprejudiced and equal society, can serve as an antidote to terrorism. The syllabi taught in madressahs must be regulated. Civil society, progressive writers, academics, activists, and print and electronic media must be given support and protection to counter prevailing narratives that inspire extremism through education and awareness campaigns that promote tolerance.

The writer is adjunct faculty, Dept of Homeland Security, San Diego State University, US.
sagha@sdsu.edu
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2017

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

Travel Restrictions Cast Shadow on UN Women’s Meeting: Rights Groups

16 March 2017 - 12:27am

A view of the General Assembly Hall during the opening meeting of the sixty-first session of the Commission on Stats of Women (CSW). Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

Increasing travel restrictions have prevented delegates from attending this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), according to several women’s rights groups.

The travel constraints go beyond U.S. President Donald Trump’s embattled travel ban on refugees and Muslim-majority countries, which was again blocked by a Federal Judge on Wednesday.

Although the Executive Order has not been re-enacted, women’s rights groups perceive that organising internationally is becoming more difficult. They report that some potential delegates were surprised that they were unable to obtain U.S. visas for the UN meeting; others were worried about increasingly strict treatment at U.S. airports; while others were prevented from travelling by their home countries.

The annual Commission on the Status of Women is usually one of the most vibrant and diverse meetings at UN headquarters in New York with hundreds of government ministers and thousands of delegates attending from around the world.

Sanam Amin from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) told IPS that two members of the group’s delegation from from Bangladesh and Nepal, countries that “are not listed in the first or second version of (Trump’s travel) ban,” were unable to obtain visas.

“Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials,” said Amin.

Amin also said that she had “been in contact with UN Women in Bangladesh, in Bangkok (ESCAP) and in New York over the visa refusal issue,” for weeks before the meeting, trying to find a solution.

“Those who were refused were expected by us to speak or participate in our side events and meetings with partner organisations and official delegations.” The APWLD, is an NGO which has accreditation with the UN Economic and Social Chamber.

Others unable to attend the event include a youth activist from El Salvador who on Wednesday participated in a side-event she had been meant to speak at, via video. Meanwhile women’s rights activists Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman from Egypt were unable to attend because the Egyptian government has prevented them from leaving the country

"Multiple civil society organisations representatives from other countries are facing refusals and this is new to us, as we have never faced visa refusals after presenting UN credentials," -- Sanam Amin.

Representatives from civil society having difficulties obtaining visas to travel to attend UN meetings in the United States pre-dates the current Trump-Republican Administration. The U.S. Department of State advised IPS that it could not comment on individual visa cases. However while there are many potential reasons why visas may be refused, several groups perceive travel becoming more difficult in 2017.

“It’s incredibly ominous to have women’s rights activists feel like the revised executive order and overall hate rhetoric from the Trump administration makes them feel unsafe coming to this CSW and that is what we have heard,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International told IPS.

“We’ve heard women’s rights activists say that they worried about how they would be treated at U.S. borders and airports. We heard LGBTI activists who were coming to this meeting also worry about their own safety.”

Both Stern and Amin expressed concern about the implications and meanings of the travel ban, even though the courts have continued to keep it on hold, because even the revised ban, specifically restricts travel for nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“The ban text even cites violence against women – in section one – in the six countries as reason to ‘not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred’,” said Amin.

“In fact, it (would restrict) civil society from those very countries from participating in events such as CSW. Instead, their governments are emboldened to take more regressive positions on women’s human rights, and the U.S., with its Global Gag Rule among other anti-women policies, is taking its place side-by-side with the very countries it has targeted with the ban,” she said.

Stern added that the theme of this year’s CSW – the economic empowerment of women – should not be a politicised issue.

“(It) should be a non-partisan issue that every government in the world can get behind because every government has a vested interest in the eradication of poverty and national economic development and we know that women are the majority of the world’s poor and so if you empower women economically than you empower families communities and nations,” said Stern.

She emphasised the importance of the meeting as a global forum for people who are actively working for gender justice around the world to speak with governments.

At the CSW “thousands of activists for women’s rights and gender justice (speak) with every government of the world to say what struggles they have from their own governments and the kind of accountability that they expect from the international system,” says Stern.

The rights organisations sponsoring the No Borders on Gender Justice campaign include: MADRE, Just Associates (JASS), Center for Women’s Global Leadership, AWID, Urgent Action Fund, Women in Migration Network and OutRight Action International.

Caribbean Stakes Future on Climate-Smart Agriculture

15 March 2017 - 8:43pm

The massive rice industry in Guyana, which provides employment for at least 100,000 people, is just one area of the Caribbean’s agriculture sector under threat from climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 16 2017 (IPS)

As Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries continue to build on the momentum of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakech in 2016, special emphasis is being placed on agriculture as outlined in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

The historic climate agreement was approved on Dec. 12, 2015 at COP21. INDCs is the term used under the UNFCCC for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries which are party to the convention were asked to publish in the lead up to the conference.Nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have experienced prolonged droughts, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

In their INDCs, the countries of CARICOM, a 15-member regional grouping, have prioritized adaptation in the agricultural sector, given the need to support food security.

They are now shifting their focus from climate planning to action and implementation. To this end, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) hosted a Caribbean Climate Smart Agriculture (CCSA) Forum here recently to raise awareness of best practices, by promoting and supporting climate change actions, while providing a space for dialogue among relevant actors and allowing them to discuss the challenges and successes of  Climate Smart Agriculture.

Climate Smart Agriculture has been identified as offering major wins for food security, adaptation and mitigation in the Caribbean.

“Agriculture is a priority sector,” Pankaj Bhatia, Deputy Director of the World Resource Institute’s Climate Programme, told participants.

As countries move forward with their plans, he recommended they participate in NDC Partnership, a global initiative to help countries achieve their national climate commitments and ensure financial and technical assistance is delivered as efficiently as possible.

“Much work still needs to be done by countries to create more detailed road maps, catalyse investment, and implement the plans to deliver on their climate commitments,” said Bhatia, who helps to manage one of the largest climate change projects of the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“It’s worth exploring the options and how the NDC Partnership can offer support,” Bhatia added. 

As of February 2017, there were approximately 40 countries involved in the NDC Partnership, as well as intergovernmental and regional organizations such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), European Bank, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The major pillars of the Partnership to drive ambitious climate action include sharing knowledge and information and facilitating both technical and financial support, thus encouraging increased efficiency, accountability and effectiveness of support programmes.

The Partnership develops knowledge products that fill critical information gaps and disseminates them through a knowledge sharing portal.

Another speaker, Climate Change Specialist in the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Change Office, John Furlow, emphasized the importance of participation from multiple sectors in the process of creating Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAPs), using Jamaica as a case study for how this was done effectively.

“In 2012, the then prime minister of Jamaica asked USAID to help Jamaica develop a national climate policy. Rather than starting with climate impacts, we wanted to start with what Jamaica defined as important to them,” Furlow explained.

“The national outcomes in the vision document listed agriculture, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, construction, creative industries, sport, information and communication technology, services and tourism.

“So, we wanted to bring in the actors responsible for those economic sectors for discussion on how they would address climate and hazard risk reduction in a national policy,” he added.

Furlow continued that the goal is to get climate change out of the environment ministry and into the ministries responsible for the sectors that are going to be affected.

This, he said, has the potential of putting developing countries in the driver’s seat in locating “multiple sources of funding – domestic, bilateral aid funding and multi-lateral aid funding” – so countries can take a role in what’s going on within their borders.

The Climate Change Policy Framework for Jamaica outlines the strategies that the country will employ in order to effectively respond to the impacts and challenges of climate change, through measures which are appropriate for varying scales and magnitudes of climate change impacts.

It states that relevant sectors will be required to develop or update, as appropriate, plans addressing climate change adaptation and/or mitigation.

Within the Policy Framework there are also Special Initiatives based on new and existing programmes and activities which will be prioritized for early implementation.

Each year the Caribbean imports 5 billion dollars worth of food and climate change represents a clear and growing threat to its food security with differing rainfall patterns, water scarcity, heat stress and increased climatic variability making it difficult for farmers to meet demand for crops and livestock.

In recent years, nearly all of the countries in the Caribbean have been experiencing prolonged drought, posing significant challenges to food production in one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

Organizers of the CCSA Forum say there are many common agriculture-related topics in the NDCs of the English-speaking Caribbean countries, including conservation and forestry, water harvesting and storage, and improved agricultural policies.

All but one of the Caribbean countries included the issue of agriculture in their respective INDC. The sector is addressed in the INDCs with the priority being on adaptation. However, more than half of the countries also included conditional mitigation targets that directly or indirectly relate to agriculture.

The commitments made by all the countries denote the priority of the sector in the region’s development goals and the need to channel technical and financial support for the sector.

IICA said agriculture also has great potential to achieve the integration of mitigation and adaptation approaches into policies, strategies and programmes.

It also noted that the commitments made by each country, both through the Paris Agreement and in their respective INDCs, provide a solid foundation for tackling the global challenge of climate change with concrete actions keyed to national contexts and priorities.

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UN FARMS to Create One Million Days of Work for Mideast Migrants

15 March 2017 - 1:18pm

Fedah sayah Irshaid (42 years old) tends to some of her grape vines with the help of her husband and daughter. Fedah is a recipient of a Revolving loan for her plant nursery and rabbit raising business. She received the loan from the Al Khaldiyah Cooperative for Military Retired. Copyright: ©IFAD/Ivor Prickett/Panos

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

The problem is rather complex and often not recognised: in one of the major regions of both origin and destination for migrants and refugees — the Near East and North of Africa, 10 per cent of rural communities is made up of forcibly displaced persons, while more than 25 per cent of the young rural people plan to emigrate.

This has a strong rural dimension, with large numbers of displaced people originating in rural areas, and now living in rural host communities within or outside their home countries.

In recent years, forced displacement has become a global problem of unprecedented scale, driven by conflict, violence, persecution and human rights violations.

While the total number of displaced people reached an all-time high of more 65 million people, global attention has focused on the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, where continued conflict and violence most acutely affect Iraq, Syria, Yemen and neighbouring countries.

The total impacted population in the region is estimated at around 22 million people, a fact that generates additional pressure on both the host areas and the sending areas.

The UN, through its Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), designed an innovative response to the on-going crisis: FARMS (Facility for Refugees, Migrants, Forced Displacement and Rural Stability), which was announced at the UN World Summit on Migration held in September last year at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Internally Displaced, Migrants, Refugees

IPS asked Khalida Bouzar, Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division, who is in charge of FARMS at IFAD, if the Facility is meant for displaced rural persons within each country or if it also includes migrants and forcibly displaced persons fleeing conflicts and/or natural and man-made disasters?

Bouzar explains that in terms of displaced people, FARMS will cover both international refugees (people displaced across borders) and internally displaced people (forced to flee from their homes due to conflict or other extraneous factors but remaining within their country), she adds.

Khalida Bouzar greeting Sudan’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Badr Al Din Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: IFAD


FARMS will also address the needs of host communities (the local population) to reduce the stress on natural resources and economic opportunities. In origin communities, it will create opportunities for the entire community.

Specifically, Bouzar said that in host areas, the local communities will be supported in coping with the influx of displaced people by making their agriculture more productive and sustainable. The displaced, in turn, will be better able to contribute to their host communities, and better prepared to return home when the situation improves.

Regarding the “sending areas”, economic opportunities will be created so that people who have left have something to return to, and those who remain have a chance to build their livelihoods. “With FARMS, we seek to deliver long-term peace and development dividends. It is paramount to create a healthy climate for economic opportunities, and enable displaced people to return to their communities,” says Bouzar.

So far, about USD 20 million has been identified for the facility, with the goal of reaching USD 100 million.

FARMS resources will be provided in the form of co-financing support for the on-going IFAD portfolio of about USD 1.2 billion in the NENA region as well as stand-alone grants or activities and communication products to raise global awareness of the issues.

According to Bouzar, FARMS will strengthen the resilience of rural host areas to the impacts of large inflows of refugees, and will also create resilient livelihoods in the origin areas to break the cycle of migration and incentivise the eventual return of migrants.

One Million Days of Work

FARMS will create one million days of work, including at least 20,000 opportunities for youth. “This will be achieved over the life of the projects, and therefore over the next 5 to 6 years,” says Bouzar.

Other objectives are to implement at least 500 community infrastructure projects, and to increase social resilience by strengthening community and local government capacity to manage their development, resolve conflicts, and address the needs of refugees.

FARMS also aims at improving governance and management of natural resources, particularly land and water, as well as to improve the policy and regulatory frameworks to address the needs of rural host and sending communities.

Regarding the main causes of displacement, the IFAD’s Director, Near East, North Africa and Europe Division explains that these could be conflict, natural disasters, or climate-change related vulnerabilities and pressures. Often the cause is a combination of different factors.

Ten Priority Countries

Bouzar informs that the initial priority countries include: Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey and Yemen.

In the first phase, the facility will focus on the NENA region where the current crisis is most acute, with the possibility of scaling up globally in the future. In fact, says Bouzar, after the initial pilot of projects in the NENA region, FARMS could be scaled up to potentially include displacement in other regions.

Asked about the countries, which have been supportive of FARMS and about the amount of financial resources allocated to this project, Bouzar says the IFAD has received support from a wide range of IFAD members.

“Countries in the region have stepped up as crucial early partners, too. The Government of Jordan is collaborating with IFAD, and more partnerships are being designed with Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan.”

Why IFAD? According to Bouzar, the Fund is well positioned to be a key partner in bridging the gap between humanitarian and sustainable development responses in rural areas, and is already actively engaged in many of the most affected regions.

In fact, the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda recognised IFAD’s comparative advantage as a major investor in poor rural people and affirmed that rural development could achieve “rich payoffs across the SDGs,” she adds.

IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since its creation in 1978, it has provided 18.5 billion dollars in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 464 million people.

New Broadband Commission call to action provides guide to close digital gender gap

15 March 2017 - 8:28am

By UNESCO
HONG KONG, Mar 15 2017 (UNESCO)

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide, co-chaired by the GSMA and UNESCO, released a new report, Recommendations for action: bridging the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use, which sets specific recommendations to address the barriers women face in access and use of the Internet.

The report highlights key action areas for different types of stakeholders as part of the group’s efforts to ensure that all women and girls can fully participate in the online world.

Despite worldwide endeavours, the global Internet user gender gap widened from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher for men than women in all regions of the world.

The global Internet user gender gap widened from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016, with the gap highest in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (31%) and Africa (23%). Moreover, Internet penetration rates remain higher for men than women in all regions of the world.
“The continuous development of new technologies and their application to economic, political and social processes is creating new opportunities that can enhance the quality of human life,” said Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. “To be sustainable, all new opportunities must be available to all, to empower all, for the benefit of all – especially girls and women.”

Structural inequalities remain and impede women’s full and equal participation in the digital economy. Greater Internet access and use can not only have a positive impact on women’s lives, but can deliver significant benefits to the wider economy and society, and support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 9c, which contains a target for universal and affordable access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) in LDCs by 2020.

“Addressing the digital gender divide is critical to realizing the significant potential benefits that the Internet can bring for women, their families and communities” Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA, said. “We hope that the recommended actions in this report will lead to concerted efforts to reduce the gender gap in Internet access and use. Working together, we can make significant strides to erase the digital gender divide, in full support of the SDGs.”

  • Compile detailed evidence: collect, analyze and track sex-disaggregated data to inform policy, particularly at a national and sub-national level, through a greater understanding of the issue.
  • Integrate policy: integrate gender equality targets and key performance indicators into strategies, policies, plans and budgets, involving women and relevant local communities from the onset.
  • Address the barriers women face: confront barriers that impede gender equality online, including affordable access; issues around safety; digital literacy and confidence; and the availability of relevant content, applications and services.
  • Support multi-stakeholder cooperation: develop tools and policies to support national and international efforts, and effective sharing of best practices to address the digital gender gap.

The report recognizes the different but complementary roles of various actors, including governments and policy-makers, private sector, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and academia and research institutions, and outlines detailed recommendation action points for each stakeholder group.

The Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development was established in 2010 and comprises of more than 50 leaders from across a range of government and industry sectors. They are committed to actively supporting countries, UN experts and NGOs to fully leverage the potential of ICT to drive national Sustainable Development Goal strategies in key areas such as education, healthcare, gender equality and environmental management.

***

Contact:

UNESCO
George Papagiannis

Chief, Media Relations
Mobile: + 33 6 82 94 89 54
E-mail: g.papagiannis(at)unesco.org

ITU
Paul Conneally
Head, Corporate Communications
Mobile: +41795925668
E-mail: paul.conneally@itu.int

Why Do Some Men Rape?

15 March 2017 - 8:17am

A scared child shows fear in an uncertain environment. Credit: D Sharon Pruitt. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Wikimedia Commons

By Robert J. Burrowes
DAYLESFORD, Australia, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

A recent report from Equality Now titled ‘The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic‘ offered a series of recommendations for strengthened laws to deter and punish sexual violence against women and girls.

However, there is substantial evidence that legal approaches to dealing with violence in any context are ineffective.

For example, the empirical evidence on threats of punishment (that is, violence) as deterrence and the infliction of punishment (that is, violence) as revenge reveals variable impact and context dependency, which is readily apparent through casual observation.

There are simply too many different reasons why people break laws in different contexts. See, for example, ‘Crime Despite Punishment‘.

Moreover, given the overwhelming evidence that violence is rampant in our world and that the violence of the legal system simply contributes to and reinforces this cycle of violence, it seems patently obvious that we would be better off identifying the cause of violence and then designing approaches to address this cause and its many symptoms effectively.

And reallocating resources away from the legal and prison systems in support of approaches that actually work.

So why do some men rape?

All perpetrators of violence, including rapists, suffered enormous violence during their own childhoods.

Robert J. Burrowes

This violence will have usually included a great deal of ‘visible’ violence (that is, the overt physical violence that we all readily identify) but, more importantly, it will have included a great deal of ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ violence as well: the violence perpetrated by adults against children that is not ordinarily perceived as violent.

For a full explanation, see ‘Why Violence?’ and ‘Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice‘.

This violence inflicts enormous damage on a child’s Selfhood leaving them feeling terrified, self-hating and powerless, among other horrific feelings.

However, because we do not allow children the emotional space to feel their emotional responses to our violence, these feelings of terror, self-hatred and powerlessness (among a multitude of others), become deeply embedded in the child’s unconscious and drive their behaviour without their conscious awareness that they are doing so.

So what is ‘invisible’ violence? It is the ‘little things’ we do every day, partly because we are just ‘too busy’.

For example, when we do not allow time to listen to, and value, a child’s thoughts and feelings, the child learns to not listen to themSelf thus destroying their internal communication system.

When we do not let a child say what they want (or ignore them when they do), the child develops communication and behavioural dysfunctionalities as they keep trying to meet their own needs (which, as a basic survival strategy, they are genetically programmed to do).

When we blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie to, bribe, blackmail, moralize with and/or judge a child, we both undermine their sense of Self-worth and teach them to blame, condemn, insult, mock, embarrass, shame, humiliate, taunt, goad, guilt-trip, deceive, lie, bribe, blackmail, moralize and/or judge.

The fundamental outcome of being bombarded throughout their childhood by this ‘invisible’ violence is that the child is utterly overwhelmed by feelings of fear, pain, anger and sadness (among many others).

However, parents, teachers and other adults also actively interfere with the expression of these feelings and the behavioural responses that are naturally generated by them and it is this ‘utterly invisible’ violence that explains why the dysfunctional behavioural outcomes actually occur.

For example, by ignoring a child when they express their feelings, by comforting, reassuring or distracting a child when they express their feelings, by laughing at or ridiculing their feelings, by terrorizing a child into not expressing their feelings (e.g. by screaming at them when they cry or get angry), and/or by violently controlling a behaviour that is generated by their feelings (e.g. by hitting them, restraining them or locking them into a room), the child has no choice but to unconsciously suppress their awareness of these feelings.

However, once a child has been terrorized into suppressing their awareness of their feelings (rather than being allowed to have their feelings and to act on them) the child has also unconsciously suppressed their awareness of the reality that caused these feelings.

This has many outcomes that are disastrous for the individual, for society and for nature because the individual will now easily suppress their awareness of the feelings that would tell them how to act most functionally in any given circumstance and they will progressively acquire a phenomenal variety of dysfunctional behaviours, including some that are violent towards themselves, others and/or the Earth.

So what is happening psychologically for the rapist when they commit the act of rape? In essence, they are projecting the (unconsciously suppressed) feelings of their own victimhood onto their rape victim.

That is, their fear, self-hatred and powerlessness, for example, are projected onto the victim so that they can gain temporary relief from these feelings.

Their fear, temporarily, is more deeply suppressed. Their self-hatred is projected as hatred of their victim. Their powerlessness is temporarily relieved by a sense of being in control, which they were never allowed to be, and feel, as a child.

The Robots are Coming, your Job is at Risk

15 March 2017 - 7:23am

Credit: John Greenfield/Flickr

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Mar 15 2017 (IPS)

Last year Uber started testing driver-less cars, with humans inside to make corrections in case something goes wrong. If the tests go well, Uber will presumably replace their present army of drivers with fleets of the new cars.

Some personally owned cars can already do automatic parking.   Is it a matter of time before Uber, taxi and personal vehicles will all be smart enough to bring us from A to B without our having to do anything ourselves?

But in this application of “artificial intelligence”, in which machines can have human cognitive functions built into them, what will happen to jobs?   It is estimated that in the US alone, 4 to 5 million drivers of trucks and taxis could be rendered unemployed.

The driver-less vehicle is just one example of the technological revolution that is going to drastically transform the world of work and living.

The risk of automation to jobs in developing countries is estimated to range from 55 to 85 per cent, according to a study in 2016 by Oxford University’s Martin School and Citi. Major emerging economies will be at high risk, including China (77%) and India (69%), higher than the OECD developed countries’ average risk of 57%.
There is concern that the march of automation tied with digital technology will cause dislocation in many factories and offices, and eventually lead to mass unemployment.

Just a day before he left office, former US President Barrack Obama warned in a farewell interview that “jobs are going away because of automation and that’s going to accelerate,” pointing to “driverless Uber” and “displacement that’s going to take place in office buildings across the country.”

Also voicing concern about the social impact of automation, Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently proposed that governments should impose a tax on robots.  Companies using robots should have to pay taxes on the incomes attributed to the use of robotics.

That proposal has caused an uproar, with mainstream economists like Lawrence Summers, a former US treasury secretary, condemning it for putting brakes on technological advancement.  One critic suggested that the first company to pay taxes for causing automation should be Microsoft.

However, the tax on robots idea is one response to growing fears that the automation revolution will increase inequality as many lose their jobs while a few reap the benefits of increased productivity and profitability.

The new technologies will cause uncontrollable disruption and add to the social discontent and political upheaval in the West which had fuelled the anti-establishment votes for Brexit and Donald Trump.

Recent studies are showing that deepening use of automation will cause widespread disruption in many sectors and even whole economies.  Worse, it is the developing countries that are estimated to lose the most, and this will exacerbate the already great global inequalities.

The risk of automation to jobs in developing countries is estimated to range from 55 to 85 per cent, according to a study in 2016 by Oxford University’s Martin School and Citi.  Major emerging economies will be at high risk, including China (77%) and India (69%), higher than the OECD developed countries’ average risk of 57%.

The Oxford-Citi report, “The future is not what it used to be”, provides many reasons why the automation revolution will be particularly disruptive in the developing countries.

First, there is “premature deindustrialisation” taking place as manufacturing is becoming less labour-intensive and many developing countries have reached the peak of their manufacturing jobs.  Manufacturing processes are more automated today, also in low and middle income developing countries.

Martin Khor

Second, while 20th century technologies allowed companies to shift production abroad to take advantage of cheap labour, recent developments in robotics and additive manufacturing now enable firms to locate production closer to domestic markets in automated factories.

Seventy per cent of clients surveyed believe automation and 3D printing developments will encourage companies to move their manufacturing close to home.  China, ASEAN and Latin America have the most to lose from this relocation, while North America, Europe and Japan are the main winners.

Thirdly, “the impact of automation may be more disruptive for developing countries, due to lower levels of consumer demand and limited social safety nets” as compared to the developed countries, according to a summary of the Oxford Martin School report.

The report warns that developing countries may even have to rethink their overall development models as the old ones that were successful in generating growth in the past will not work anymore.

“In the light of these technological developments, industrialization is likely to yield substantially less manufacturing employment in the next generation of emerging economies than in the countries preceding them.  Hence it will be increasingly difficult for African and South American manufacturing firms to create jobs in the same numbers that Asian countries have done.  In other words, today’s low-income countries will not have the same possibility of achieving rapid growth by shifting workers from farms to higher-paying factory jobs.”

Instead of export-led manufacturing growth, developing countries will need to search for new growth models, said the report.  “Service-led growth constitutes one option, but many low-skill services are now becoming equally automatable.”

It cites a World Bank report showing developing countries are highly susceptible to their workforce being affected by increasing automation, even relative to advanced economies where labour costs are high.

Moreover, countries with lower levels of GDP per capita typically have a higher share of their workforce “at risk”.   “Thus there are reasons to be concerned about the future of income convergence, as low income countries are relatively vulnerable to automation,” concludes the report.

Another series of reports, by McKinsey Global Institute, found that 49% of present work activities can be automated with currently demonstrated technology, and this translates into US$15.8 trillion in wages and 1.1 billion jobs globally.

About 60% of all occupations could see 30% or more of their activities automated and 5% of jobs can be entirely automated.  But more reassuringly an author of the report James Manyika says the changes will take decades.   How automation affects jobs will not be decided simply by what is technically feasible.   Other factors include economics, labour markets, regulations and social attitudes.

Which jobs are most susceptible to be affected?  While most people think they would be in manufacturing, in fact many jobs in services will also be disrupted.   The McKinsey study lists accommodations and food services as the most vulnerable sector in the US, followed by manufacturing and retail business.

In accommodations and food, 73% of activities workers perform can be automated, including preparing, cooking or serving food; cleaning food-preparation areas, preparing beverages and collecting dirty dishes.

In manufacturing, 59% of all activities can be automated, especially physical activities or operating machinery in a predictable environment.  Activities range from packaging products to loading materials on production equipment to welding to maintaining equipment.

For retailing, 53% of activities are automatable.  They include stock management, packing objects, maintaining sales records, gathering customer and product information, and accounting.

A technology specialist writer and consultant, Shelly Palmer, has also listed elite white-collar jobs that are at risk from “robots” which she defines as technologies, such as machine learning algorithms running on purpose-built computer platforms, that have been trained to perform tasks that currently require humans to perform.

Those she assessed would be displaced include middle managers, salespersons, report writers, journalists and announcers, accountants, bookkeepers and doctors.

While some analysts are enthusiastic about the positive effects of the automation revolution, others are alarmed by its adverse effects.

Certainly, the technological trend will improve productivity per worker that remains, and increase the profitability of companies that survive.

While there are benefits at the micro level for those companies and individuals that thrive in the new environment, there are adverse effects at macro level, especially retrenchment for those whose jobs are no longer needed.

What can be done to slow down automation or at least to cope with its adverse effects?

The Bill Gates proposal to tax robots is one of the most radical.   The tax could slow down the technological changes and the funds generated by the tax could be used to mitigate the social effects.

Another radical idea which is generating a lot of debate is to provide “universal income” to everyone irrespective of whether they are working.  The high productivity will allow everybody to be paid a comfortable income, and thus there is no need to worry that automation will displace jobs.

Governments can also take the attitude of “join them if you can’t beat them.”  For example, China is seeing major opportunities in joining the technological revolution and has drawn up plans to invest in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Other more conventional proposals include upgrading the education of students and present employees to take on the new jobs required in managing or working with the automated production process, and training workers to be made redundant with the new skills needed to work in the new environment.

Overall, however, there is likely to be a net loss of employment, at least in the short term, and thus the potential for social discontent.

As for the developing countries in general, there will have to be much thinking of the implications of the new technologies for their immediate and long-term economic prospects, and a major rethinking of economic and development strategies is also called for.

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