Interpress News Service

Aung San Suu Kyi: A Leader in Denial?

20 September 2017 - 2:23am

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

After finally breaking silence with a much anticipated address on the ongoing crisis in Rakhine State, Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed the world as she refuses to acknowledge the plight of her country’s Rohingya community.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In a 30-minute televised address, Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi said that her government does not fear “international scrutiny” over its management of the crisis in Rakhine.

Suu Kyi, who decided not to attend the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York, said she nevertheless wanted the international community to know what her government was doing.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence,” she said in her first public address since violence reignited after the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked security posts on 25 August.

“We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people caught up in the conflict.”

However, her speech was filled with claims considered dubious by many worldwide as she refused to address the reality on the ground in Rakhine including the the military’s alleged campaign of killing and burning villages.

“Her speech was disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst,” founder of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith told IPS, adding that some of her claims were “grotesquely untrue.”

A Denial of Atrocities

Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize Suu Kyi said that security forces are exercising “all due restraint” and that there have not been any “clearance operations” since 5 September.

However, Human Rights Watch released new satellite imagery showing that at least 62 villages in northern Rakhine were burned between August 25 and September 14, some of which can even be seen hundreds of kilometers away at the Bangladesh-Myanmar border.

Numerous global figures have reiterated the urgent scale of the crisis, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein who called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Suu Kyi that she has a “last chance” to reverse the army’s offensive and if she doesn’t, the crisis will be “absolutely horrible” and may not be reversible in the future.

The spike in refugees fleeing the conflict since 5 September indicate ongoing violence, which Suu Kyi also denied, stating that most Muslims have stayed in Rakhine and that the crisis is not as severe as the international community thinks.

“It’s incredulous,” said head of Amnesty International’s UN Office Sherine Tadros to IPS about Suu Kyi’s statement.

Rakhine State has a population of approximately three million, one million of whom are Rohingya Muslims.

The UN has estimated that over 400,000 Rohingya have already fled to Bangladesh in just three weeks. They have warned that up to one million—representing the entire Muslim population of Rakhine State—could flee to the neighboring nation by the end of the year.

“She has the responsibility to speak out, and at the very least we would expect for her to acknowledge what is going on in the ground in her own country,” Tadros said.

Balancing a Political Tightrope

Though it is unclear why she continues to support a military that placed her under house arrest for 15 years and has prevented her from becoming the President, some say Suu Kyi is walking a tightrope in protecting her own political interests.

This includes keeping the Myanmar’s powerful military, known as the Tatmadaw, happy.

After winning the 2015 elections, Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy, entered a power-sharing agreement with the Tatmadaw which includes control over a quarter of all seats in parliament.

The military also retains control over its own budget and key ministries including home affairs, defense, and borders, making it the real power in northern Rakhine.

And the head of Tatmadaw General Min Aung Hlaing has explicitly and consistently spoken out against the Rohingya community, claiming that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and Myanmar cannot “accept and recognize” them.

“Rakhine ethnics [Buddhists] are our indigenous people who had long been living there since the time of their forefathers,” he said in a Facebook post.

Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority population have also had little sympathy for the Rohingya since 2012, when deadly violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left at least 200 dead and displaced 90,000.

It seems that Suu Kyi may be between a rock and a hard place. However, many believe that she does not have the only responsibility, but also the power to advance human rights in the country.

“As the moral leader of the country and as the senior most political leader, she is certainly in a position to shape the way that people in the country think about human rights, the way they think about the situation in Rakhine state,” Smith told IPS.

Tadros echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “Even if you don’t have much power over the military, you don’t have to be an apologist for them.”

“She has political concerns and that is a normal thing for any leader, but the fact that the political concerns are taking precedence over the killing and injuring of thousands of people…it’s just beyond words,” she continued.

Suu Kyi also reminded the international community in her speech that Myanmar is a newly democratic country that is still learning its way, stating: “After half a century or more of authoritarian rule, now we are in the process of nurturing our nation.”

“We are a young and fragile country facing many problems, but we have to cope with them all… we cannot just concentrate on the few,” she continued.

Tadros said that excuse is not good enough and that she can show leadership without the state collapsing.

“Myanmar has had decades to deal with the issue and has never done it in an effective way and the Suu Kyi administration is no different,” Smith said.

A History of Violence

Though Suu Kyi claimed that her government has made efforts in recent years to improve living conditions for Muslims living in Rakhine without discrimination, Myanmar’s government has long disputed the Rohingya people’s status as citizens.

Since 1982 when they adopted the biased citizenship law, the country has enacted a series of discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

However, Suu Kyi has consistently remained silent on the plight of the Rohingya and has instead perpetuated their discrimination and exclusion.

In her address, Suu Kyi refused to use the “Rohingya” by name, only referencing it when she spoke of ARSA which she said are responsible for “acts of terrorism.”

When asked if this continues to perpetuate the narrative that Rohingyas are terrorists, Smith said yes.

“She is in a position now to actually save lives, she is in a position now to stop atrocities. Not only is she failing to do that, but she is making matters worse,” he told IPS.

He added that she is contributing to a narrative that may push more civilians to attack Muslim populations in the country.

Suu Kyi said all those who have fled to Bangladesh will be able to return after a process of verification, and added that she wants to find out what the “real problems” are in Rakhine.

“We want to find out why this exodus is happening. We’d like to talk to those who have fled, as well as those who have stayed,” she said.

Though there is no end in sight to the country’s crisis, Smith expressed concern that her promised actions may coerce the population to disavow their ethnic identity.

“That is not a [verification] process to allow the population to self identify as Rohingya, it’s a process to try to systematize and document this population as Bengali and it’s not a pathway to full citizenship.”

Tadros questioned the fate of Rohingya that do return, stating: “The people who have fled have the right to return. But return to what? Return to what sort of conditions? Return to a country where they have no rights and for this cycle of violence to happen again?”

“This isn’t about being able to physically cross the border to go back to your house anymore, this is about using this moment to actually get the Rohingya the rights that they deserve,” she added.

She urged for Suu Kyi and the international community to do everything in her power to stop the violence, while Smith called on the Security Council to declare the crisis as a threat to international peace and security.

“What is needed right now is action. The Security Council needs to start preparing itself to act towards international justice,” he concluded.

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President Trump at the UN: a Reaction

20 September 2017 - 1:40am

Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International

By Jessica Stern
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2017 (IPS)

On September 18 and 19, US President Donald Trump addressed world leaders at the opening of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly in New York.

Jessica Stern

Time and time again, President Trump has threatened to curtail the United States’ obligations to the international human rights system and to the United Nations itself. In his remarks, the word he said most often – “sovereignty” – underscored that his political agenda promotes political isolationism and undermines the global cooperation that protects vulnerable people from natural disasters, corrupt governments, and civil war.

As an organization that serves as a watchdog on the UN, we know that sovereignty is a term loaded with negative meaning. Sovereignty is often an excuse for States to ignore their obligation to protect the human rights of individuals, especially those that are most marginalized and vulnerable.

Reform in President Trump’s words is code for stripping the human rights system of much-needed resources. We believe the only reform that is truly needed puts LGBTIQ people and all vulnerable groups at the center of UN governance, human rights, and programs. The reform and resources we need would elevate the rights of the world’s most marginalized, open space for meaningful civil society participation, and invest in climate justice.

OutRight addressed the kinds of reform that would advance human rights and strengthen the UN today.

Reallocation of resources

The world’s most vulnerable and marginalized people shoulder the burden of poverty and discrimination, yet the UN currently fails to adequately address the needs of these populations. For example, UN Women, the lead agency addressing gender-based violence and gender justice, has one of the smallest budgets of all UN agencies. The UNDP proposed LGBTI Inclusion Index would aggregate global data about LGBTI people aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, but it remains woefully underfunded.

Increased investment in UN programs that work with marginalized and vulnerable populations is essential if the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women, girls and LGBTI people are to be protected. Adequate funding is required to protect and promote the human rights of all women and girls, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics, indigenous, migrant, rural, and elderly people, as well as people with disabilities, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

Access for civil society

Civil society access across the UN system is shrinking. In the last year alone, arbitrary and onerous restrictions on human rights defenders and organizations trying to utilize the UN have increased exponentially. Under these circumstances, civil society is unable to raise vital issues and act as a watchdog on States and UN officials, and the result is that transparency and accountability have been undermined. The very voices and people the United National claims to protect and serve are increasingly excluded from participating.

The reform needed would enable civil society to participate meaningfully in decision-making and for human rights defenders working at the international level to be protected from reprisals.

Greater investment in human rights and climate justice

Investment in security alone is not sufficient to protect human lives. Peace and security are achieved through the protection and promotion of human rights and climate justice. Every day, people’s fundamental rights are egregiously and persistently violated in ways that shock the conscience. Often the only recourse and access to justice for individuals’ whose rights are being undermined and disregarded at the country level are international rights structures. Global migration and food scarcity will only be exacerbated if the world does not put issues of climate change front and center in policymaking.

We call on UN Member States to increase commitment to the Office of Human Rights, the Human Rights Council, treaty bodies and special mechanisms. We call on Member States to fully ratify the Paris Agreement, uphold the “Call to Action” of the Oceans Conference, and support the Kyoto Protocols.

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Small Farmers in Brazil’s Amazon Region Seek Sustainability

19 September 2017 - 7:00pm

After living in the city for 10 years, Oliveira and Marcely Federicci da Silva, a young married couple, decided to return to work on their farm with a sustainable agriculture project, nearby Alta Floresta, in the so-called Portal of the Amazon, in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTA FLORESTA, Brazil, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

The deforestation caused by the expansion of livestock farming and soy monoculture appears unstoppable in the Amazon rainforest in the west-central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. But small-scale farmers are trying to reverse that trend.

Alison Oliveira is a product of the invasion by a wave of farmers from the south, lured by vast, cheap land in the Amazon region when the 1964-1985 military dictatorship aggressively promoted the occupation of the rainforest.

“I was born here in 1984, but my grandfather came from Paraná (a southern state) and bought about 16 hectares here, which are currently divided between three families: my father’s, my brother’s and mine,” Oliveira told IPS while milking his cows in a barn that is small but mechanised.

“Milk is our main source of income; today we have 14 cows, 10 of which are giving milk,” he explained. “I also make cheese the way my grandfather taught me, and I sell it to hotels and restaurants, for twice the price of the milk.”

But what distinguishes his farm, 17 km from Alta Floresta, a city of about 50,000 people in northern Mato Grosso, is its mode of production, which involves an agroforestry system that combines crops and trees, irrigated pastureland, an organic garden and free-range egg-laying chickens.

Because of its sustainable agriculture system, the farm is used as a model in an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) programme, and is visited by students and other interested people.

“We want more: a biodigester, solar power and rural tourism, when we have the money to make the investments,” said Oliveira’s wife, 34-year-old Marcely Federicci da Silva.

The couple discovered their vocation for sustainable farming after living for 10 years in Sinop, which with its 135,000 people is the most populated city in northern Mato Grosso, and which owes its prosperity to soy crops for export.

“Raising two small children in the city is harder,” she said, also attributing their return to the countryside to Olhos de Agua, a project promoted by the municipal government of Alta Floresta to reforest and restore the headwaters of rivers on small rural properties.


Alison Oliveira, surrounded by the organic crops that he and his wife grow on their small-scale farm outside the city of Alta Floresta, on the southern edge of Brazil’s Amazon region. Sustainable family farming, supported by several organisations, acts as a barrier against deforestation and soy monoculture. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The financial viability of the farm owes a great deal to the support received from the non-governmental Ouro Verde Institute (IOV), which in addition to providing technical assistance, created a mechanism for on-line sales, creating links between farmers and consumers, Oliveira pointed out.

The Solidarity-Based Marketing System (Siscos), launched in 2008, is“an on-line market that allows direct interaction between 30 farmers and over 500 registered customers, zootechnician Cirio Custodio da Silva, marketing consultant for the IOV, explained to IPS.

Customers place weekly orders, the system chooses suppliers and picks up the products to be delivered to the buyers in a shop on Wednesdays.

Besides, Siscos supports sales in street markets, and the school feeding programme, which by law in Brazil buys at least 30 per cent of its food products from family farmers, and the women textile workers’ network, who make handcrafted textiles.

The IOV, founded in 1999 in Alta Floresta to drive social participation in sustainable development, especially in agriculture, has promoted since 2010 a network of native seeds, to encourage reforestation and crop diversification.

Alison Oliveira milks one of his cows, which feed on a pasture with nocturnal irrigation, which cuts power costs by 60 per cent. Together with an organic garden and an agroforestry system, it makes their farm an example of sustainability which attracts many visitors. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Seed collectors organised in a 115-member cooperative, with 12 seed banks, 200 selected tree species, and mainly oilseeds for agriculture, represent an activity that is also a source of income, said agronomist Anderson Lopes, head of that area at the IOV.

Initially, the interest of the farmers was limited to having access to agricultural seeds, but later it also extended to
seeds of native tree species, for the restoration of forests, springs and headwaters, and degraded land, he said.

Silva and Lopes have similar backgrounds. Their farming families, from the south, ventured to the so-called Portal of the Amazon, a region that covers 16 municipalities in northern Mato Grosso, where the rainforest begins.

It is a territory with a rural economy, where one-third of the 258,000 inhabitants still live in the countryside, according to the 2010 national census.

It is a transition zone between the area with the largest soybean and maize production in Brazil, in north-central Mato Grosso, and the Amazon region with its dense, sparsely populated jungle.

This is reflected in 14 indigenous territories established in the area and in the number of family farmers – over 20,000 – in contrast with the prevalence of large soybean plantations that are advancing from the south.

The road that connects Sinop – a kind of capital of the empire of soy – with Alta Floresta, 320 km to the north, runs through land that gradually becomes less flat and favourable for mechanised monoculture, with more and more forests and fewer vast agricultural fields.

Pedro Kingfuku, owner of four supermarkets, stands among fruit and vegetables that come from Paraná, 2,000 km south of Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people. Local family farming has a great capacity for expansion to cater to the large market in the north of the state of Mato Grosso, in west-central Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

That tendency is accentuated towards Paranaita, a municipality with a population of 11,000 people, 54 km west of Alta Floresta, which announces the last frontier of livestock farming and soy monoculture, at least through that south-north highway across Mato Grosso, the national leader in the production of soy.

Movements in favour of sustainability, such as the one supported by IOV, and the important presence of family farmers, are joining forces to help curb the invasion of the Amazon region by soy monoculture which dominated north-central Mato Grosso, creating a post-harvest desert-like landscape.

Another non-governmental organisation, the Center of Life Institute (ICV), also active in Alta Floresta and surrounding areas, has a Sustainable Livestock Initiative, with reforestation and restoration of degraded pastures.

The “colonisation” process of the Portal of the Amazon was similar to that of the rest of Mato Grosso. People from the south came with dreams of working in agriculture, after previous waves of loggers and “garimpeiros” – informal miners of gold and precious stones – activities that still continue but have become less prevalent.

“Many of those who obtained land harvested the timber and then returned south,” because planting crops was torture, without roads, marketing or financial support, recalled Daniel Schlindewein, another migrant from Paraná who settled in Sinop in 1997.

Agriculture failed with coffee, rice and other traditional crops that were initially tried, until soy monoculture spread among the small farms, rented from the large producers.

But family farming has survived in the Portal of the Amazon.

“If the town of São Pedro didn’t exist, I would have to close the store in Paranaíta,“ Pedro Kingfuku, the owner of a chain of four supermarkets in the area, told IPS. He opened the stores in 2013 betting that the construction of the Teles Pires Hydropower Plant nearby would generate 5,000 new customers.

“But not even a tenth of what was expected came,“ he lamented.

The 785 farming families who settled in São Pedro, near Paranaíta, saved the local supermarket because they mainly buy there, said Kingfuku, the son of Japanese immigrants who also came from Paraná.

“Among the settlers, the ones who earn the most are the dairy farmers, like my father who has 16 hectares of land,” said Mauricio Dionisio, a young man who works in the supermarket.

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Cox’s Bazar Health Facilities Struggle to Cope as New Arrivals Pass 415,000: IOM Scales Up Mobile Teams, Support to Government Clinics

19 September 2017 - 5:15pm

People line up outside an IOM mobile clinic in Unchiprang spontaneous settlement. Photo: UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

By International Organization for Migration
Cox’s Bazar, Sep 19 2017 (IOM)

IOM, the UN Migration Agency is working with Government and aid agency partners to rapidly ramp up fixed and mobile health services in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district to help some 415,000 people who have fled violence in Myanmar’s North Rakhine State over the past three weeks.

Many of the new arrivals, who have walked for days through jungle in intense heat and monsoon rains, are already sick and malnourished by the time they reach the teeming settlements of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Camping in the open with little or no shelter on muddy hillsides with no access to clean water or latrines, the very young and the old are at greatest risk from water borne and contagious diseases.

“Newly arrived children are at high risk of vaccine preventable diseases. Bangladesh is already free of polio and almost free of measles and rubella. So, the Government, the World Health Organization and humanitarian partners launched an urgent immunization programme on Saturday to vaccinate 150,000 newly arrived children. Nutrition support and management of malnutrition, especially severe acute malnutrition, is also urgently needed for these children,” said Dr. Samir Kumar Howlader, IOM National Health Programme Officer.

“Lack of safe drinking water, personal hygiene and sanitation facilities has already resulted in acute watery diarrhea and other water borne diseases. So, disease surveillance and early warning systems also need to be strengthened significantly,” he added.

Others have arrived in Bangladesh with injuries inflicted in Myanmar. “I was living with a gunshot wound for five days. I would have lost my leg if I didn’t get treatment,” said Anayet Ullah, 18, who was in a critical condition when he was treated by an IOM medical team at Ukhiya government health complex. The doctors referred him to Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital, where he recovered.

The Ukhiya doctors and nurses are one of 12 IOM teams operating from government health facilities in the two Cox’s Bazar sub-districts of Ukhiya and Teknaf, where the Rohingya population outside the two UNHCR-run refugee camps now totals an estimated 600,000 people, two thirds of whom have arrived since August 25th. Three IOM mobile medical teams have also started providing basic and primary healthcare services in three spontaneous settlements in the area.

In addition to primary health care and referrals, the teams focus on sexual and reproductive health, and maternal and child health. They also provide mental health and psychosocial services to about 120 people each day. They say that all of these services will need to be massively expanded to cope with the influx of new arrivals.

An estimated 14,000 pregnant women are in need of maternal and child health care, with an estimated 50% of them considered to have complicated pregnancies
Over the past three weeks, IOM teams have provided emergency and primary healthcare services to around 15,000 new arrivals and 9,500 others from the Rohingya and host populations. They assisted 64 child deliveries and provided referral services to another 226 patients.

Agencies working in the health sector have told the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG) in Cox’s Bazar that they have already provided treatment to some 52,000 of the new arrivals. But existing facilities are reporting a 150-200 per cent increase in patients, overwhelming current capacity and resources.

They say that an estimated 171,800 newly arrived people are not yet covered by any primary health care services. Primary health care coverage also needs to be expanded as soon as possible to cover all newly arrived populations in both spontaneous and existing makeshift settlements, they note.

The agencies also say that an estimated 14,000 pregnant women are in need of maternal and child health care. An estimated 50 per cent of them are considered to have complicated pregnancies and may need emergency obstetric and neonatal care.

In addition to the immunization campaign, the Ministry of Health, which is leading the health sector response with the support of IOM, says that 16 mobile medical teams and satellite clinics have been mobilized in existing and new settlements, covering an estimated 217,206 new arrivals. They include mobile reproductive health clinics. Three more mobile teams are also providing daily services in no man’s land on the border and eight ambulances are operating. The MoH has also established a Control Room at the Civil Surgeon’s Office in Cox’s Bazar to support coordination of the response.

Last week, IOM has appealed for USD 26.1 million to meet the immediate needs of the 400,000 newly arrived people now sheltering in Cox’s Bazar. The Flash Appeal, covering the next three months, includes USD 3 million for healthcare. The IOM appeal is part of a broader appeal (ISCG Preliminary Response Plan) by all ISCG agencies operating in Cox’s Bazar for USD 77.1 million through year end.

For more information, please contact:
Peppi Siddiq in IOM Dhaka, Tel: +8801755568894, Email: pksiddiq@iom.int
Chris Lom in Cox’s Bazar, Tel. +8801733335221, Email: clom@iom.int

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“We are a World in Pieces”

19 September 2017 - 2:38pm

António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, in his address to the General Assembly

By António Guterres
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

I am here in a spirit of gratitude and humility for the trust you have placed in me to serve the world’s peoples. “We the peoples”, and our United Nations, face grave challenges. Our world is in trouble. People are hurting and angry. They see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.

The global economy is increasingly integrated, but our sense of global community may be disintegrating. Societies are fragmented. Political discourse is polarized. Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonize and divide.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Credit: UN Photo

We are a world in pieces. We need to be a world at peace. And I strongly believe that, together, we can build peace. We can restore trust and create a better world for all. I will focus today on seven threats and tests that stand in our way. For each, the dangers are all too clear. Yet for each, if we act as truly United Nations, we can find answers.

First, the nuclear peril.
The use of nuclear weapons should be unthinkable. Even the threat of their use can never be condoned. But today global anxieties about nuclear weapons are at the highest level since the end of the Cold War.

The fear is not abstract. Millions of people live under a shadow of dread cast by the provocative nuclear and missile tests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Within the DPRK itself, such tests do nothing to ease the plight of those who are suffering hunger and severe violations of their human rights.

I condemn those tests unequivocally. I call on the DPRK and all Member States to comply fully with Security Council resolutions. Last week’s unanimous adoption of resolution 2375 tightens sanctions and sends a clear message regarding the country’s international obligations.

I appeal to the Council to maintain its unity.

Only that unity can lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and — as the resolution recognizes — create an opportunity for diplomatic engagement to resolve the crisis.

When tensions rise, so does the chance of miscalculation. Fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.

The solution must be political. This is a time for statesmanship. We must not sleepwalk our way into war. More broadly, all countries must show greater commitment to the universal goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The nuclear-weapon states have a special responsibility to lead.

Today proliferation is creating unimaginable danger, and disarmament is paralyzed.

There is an urgent need to prevent proliferation and promote disarmament. These goals are linked. Progress on one will generate progress on the other.

Second, let me turn to the global threat of terrorism.
Nothing justifies terrorism — no cause, no grievance. Terrorism continues to take a rising toll of death and devastation. It is destroying societies, destabilizing regions and diverting energy from more productive pursuits. National and multilateral counter-terrorism efforts have disrupted networks, reclaimed territory, prevented attacks and saved lives.

We need to intensify this work. Stronger international cooperation remains crucial. I am grateful to the General Assembly for approving one of my first reform initiatives: the establishment of the UN Office on Counter-Terrorism. Next year, I intend to convene the first-ever gathering of heads of counter-terrorism agencies of Member States to forge a new International Counter-Terrorism Partnership.

But it is not enough to fight terrorists on the battlefield or to deny them funds. We must do more to address the roots of radicalization, including real and perceived injustices and high levels of unemployment and grievance among young people. Political, religious and community leaders have a duty to stand up against hatred and serve as models of tolerance and moderation.

Together, we need to make full use of UN instruments, and expand our efforts to support survivors.

Experience has also shown that harsh crackdowns and heavy-handed approaches are counterproductive. As soon as we believe that violations of human rights and democratic freedoms are necessary to win the fight, we have lost the war.

Third, unresolved conflicts and systematic violations of international humanitarian law.
We are all shocked by the dramatic escalation of sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. A vicious cycle of persecution, discrimination, radicalization and violent repression has led more than 400,000 desperate people to flee, putting regional stability at risk.

The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations, and allow unhindered humanitarian access. They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long.

No one is winning today’s wars. From Syria to Yemen, from South Sudan to the Sahel, Afghanistan and elsewhere, only political solutions can bring peace. We should have no illusions. We will not be able to eradicate terrorism if we do not resolve the conflicts that are creating the disorder within which violent extremists flourish.

Last week I announced the creation of a High-Level Advisory Board on Mediation. Those eminent individuals will allow us to be more effective in brokering peace around the world. The United Nations is forging closer partnerships with key regional organizations such as the African Union, the European Union, the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

We continue to strengthen and modernize peacekeeping – protecting civilians and saving lives around the world. And since taking office, I have sought to bring together the parties to conflict, as well as those that have influence on them.

As a meaningful example, I am particularly hopeful about tomorrow’s meeting on Libya.

Last month, I visited Israel and Palestine. We must not let today’s stagnation in the peace process lead to tomorrow’s escalation. We must restore the hopes of the people. The two-state solution remains the only way forward. It must be pursued urgently.

But I must be frank: in too many cases, the warring parties believe war is the answer.

They may speak of a willingness to compromise. But their actions too often betray a thirst for outright military victory, at any cost. Violations of international humanitarian law are rampant, and impunity prevails. Civilians are paying the highest price, with women and girls facing systematic violence and oppression.

I have seen in my country, and in my years at the United Nations, that it is possible to move from war to peace, and from dictatorship to democracy. Let us push ahead with a surge in diplomacy today and a leap in conflict prevention for tomorrow.

Fourth, climate change puts our hopes in jeopardy.
Last year was the hottest ever. The past decade has been the hottest on record.

Average global temperature keeps climbing, glaciers are receding and permafrost is declining.

Millions of people and trillions of assets are at risk from rising seas and other climate disruptions.

The number of natural disasters has quadrupled since 1970. The United States, followed by China, India, the Philippines and Indonesia, have experienced the most disasters since 1995 – more than 1600, or once every five days. I stand in solidarity with the people of the Caribbean and the United States who have just suffered through Hurricane Irma, the longest-lasting Category 5 storm ever recorded.

We should not link any single weather event with climate change. But scientists are clear that such extreme weather is precisely what their models predict will be the new normal of a warming world.

We have had to update our language to describe what is happening: we now talk of mega-hurricanes, superstorms and rain bombs.

It is high time to get off the path of suicidal emissions. We know enough today to act. The science is unassailable. I urge Governments to implement the historic Paris Agreement with ever greater ambition. I commend those cities that are setting bold targets.

I welcome the initiatives of the thousands of private enterprises — including major oil and gas companies — that are betting on a clean, green future. Energy markets are telling us that green business is good business. The falling cost of renewables is one of the most encouraging stories on the planet today. So is the growing evidence that economies can grow as emissions go down.

New markets, more jobs, opportunities to generate trillions in economic output. The facts are clear. Solutions are staring us in the face. Leadership needs to catch up.

Fifth, rising inequality is undermining the foundations of society and the social compact.
The integration of the world’s economies, expanding trade and stunning advances in technology have brought remarkable benefits. More people have risen out of extreme poverty than ever before. The global middle class is also bigger than ever. More people are living longer, healthier lives.

But the gains have not been equal. We see gaping disparities in income, opportunity and access to the fruits of research and innovation. Eight men hold the same wealth as half of humanity.

Whole regions, countries and communities remain far removed from the waves of progress and growth, left behind in the Rust Belts of our world. This exclusion has a price: frustration, alienation, instability. But we have a blueprint to change course — to achieve fair globalization. That plan is the 2030 Agenda.

Half our world is female. Half our world is under 25 years of age. We cannot meet the Sustainable Development Goals without drawing on the power of women and the enormous energy of young people. We know how fast transformation can take place in our day and age. We know that with global assets and wealth worth trillions, we are not suffering from a lack of funds.

Let us find the wisdom to use the tools, plans and resources already in our hands to achieve inclusive and sustainable development — a goal in its own right but also our best form of conflict prevention. The dark side of innovation is the sixth threat we must confront — and it has moved from the frontier to the front door.

Technology will continue to be at the heart of shared progress. But innovation, as essential as it is for humankind, can bring unintended consequences. Cybersecurity threats are escalating. Cyber war is becoming less and less a hidden reality — and more and more able to disrupt relations among States and destroy some of the structures and systems of modern life.

Advances in cyberspace can empower people, but the dark web shows that some use this capacity to degrade and enslave. Artificial intelligence is a game changer that can boost development and transform lives in spectacular fashion. But it may also have a dramatic impact on labour markets and, indeed, on global security and the very fabric of societies.

Genetic engineering has gone from the pages of science fiction to the marketplace – but it has generated new and unresolved ethical dilemmas. Unless these breakthroughs are handled responsibly, they could cause incalculable damage. Governments and international organizations are simply not prepared for these developments.

Traditional forms of regulation simply do not apply. It is clear that such trends and capacities demand a new generation of strategic thinking, ethical reflection and regulation. The United Nations stands ready as a forum where Member States, civil society, businesses and the academic community can come together and discuss the way forward, for the benefit of all.

Finally, I want to talk about human mobility, which I do not perceive as a threat even if some do. I see it as a challenge that, if properly managed, can help bring the world together.

Let us be clear: we do not only face a refugee crisis; we also face a crisis of solidarity.
Every country has the right to control its own borders. But that must be done in a way that protects the rights of people on the move.

Instead of closed doors and open hostility, we need to reestablish the integrity of the refugee protection regime and the simple decency of human compassion. With a truly global sharing of responsibility, the numbers we face can be managed. But too many states have not risen to the moment.

I commend those countries that have shown admirable hospitality to millions of forcibly displaced people. We need to do more to support them. We also need to do more to face the challenges of migration. The truth is that the majority of migrants move in a well-ordered fashion, making positive contributions to their host countries and homelands. It is when migrants move in unregulated ways that the risks become clear – for states but most especially for migrants themselves exposed to perilous journeys.

Migration has always been with us. Climate change, demographics, instability, growing inequalities, and aspirations for a better life, as well as unmet needs in labour markets, mean it is here to stay.

The answer is effective international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are most widely distributed, and the human rights of all concerned properly protected. But from ample experience, I can assure you that most people prefer to realize their aspirations at home.

We must work together to make sure that they can do so. Migration should be an option, not a necessity. We also need a much stronger commitment of the international community to crack down on human traffickers, and to protect their victims.

But we will not end the tragedies on the Mediterranean, the Andaman Sea and elsewhere without creating more opportunities for regular migration. This will benefit migrants and countries alike.

I myself am a migrant, as are many of you. But no one expected me to risk my life on a leaky boat or cross a desert in the back of a truck to find employment outside my country of birth.

Safe migration cannot be limited to the global elite. Refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants are not the problem; the problem lies in conflict, persecution and hopeless poverty.
I have been pained to see the way refugees and migrants have been stereotyped and scapegoated – and to see political figures stoke resentment in search of electoral gain.

In today’s world, all societies are becoming multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious.
This diversity must be seen as a richness, not a threat. But to make diversity a success, we need to invest in social cohesion, so that all people feel that their identities are respected and they have a stake in the community as a whole.

We need to reform our world, and I am committed to reforming our United Nations. Together, we have embarked on a comprehensive reform effort:
— to build a UN development system to support States in bettering peoples’ lives;
— to reinforce our ability to safeguard people’s peace, security and human rights;
— and to embrace management practices that advance those goals instead of hindering them.
We have launched a new victims-centred approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse.
We have a roadmap to achieve gender parity at the United Nations – and we are already on our way.

We are here to serve: to relieve the suffering of “we the peoples”; and to help fulfil their dreams.
We come from different corners of the world. Our cultures, religions, traditions vary widely — and wonderfully. At times, there are competing interests among us. At others, there is even open conflict. That is exactly why we need the United Nations. That is why multilateralism is more important than ever.

We call ourselves the international community. We must act as one. Only together, as United Nations, can we fulfil the promise of the Charter and advance human dignity for all.

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Out of Africa: Understanding Economic Refugees

19 September 2017 - 11:19am

Young African migrants seek opportunities abroad as the World Bank projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Anis Chowdhury and Jomo Kwame Sundaram
SYDNEY and KUALA LUMPUR, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

Not a single month has passed without dreadful disasters triggering desperate migrants to seek refuge in Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to enter Europe via Spain, Italy or Greece in the first half of this year. Last year, 5,096 deaths were recorded.

The majority – including ‘economic migrants’, victims of ‘people smugglers’, and so on – were young Africans aged between 17 and 25. The former head of the British mission in Benghazi (Libya) claimed in April that as many as a million more were already on their way to Libya, and then Europe, from across Africa.

Why flee Africa?
Why are so many young Africans trying to leave the continent of their birth? Why are they risking their lives to flee Africa?

Part of the answer lies in the failure of earlier economic policies of liberalization and privatization, typically introduced as part of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) that many countries in Africa were subjected to from the 1980s and onwards. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and most Western donors supported the SAPs, despite United Nations’ warnings about their adverse social consequences.

SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow, bringing growth and prosperity. Now, a few representatives from the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions admit that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, condemning the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’.

While SAPs were officially abandoned in the late 1990s, their replacements were little better. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) of the World Bank and IMF promised to reduce poverty with some modified policy conditionalities and prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the G8 countries reneged on their 2005 Gleneagles pledge to provide an extra US$25 billion a year for Africa as part of a US$50 billion increase in financial assistance to “make poverty history”.

Poor Africa

Thanks to the SAPs, PRSPs and complementary policies, Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century and during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

According to the World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa, the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

The continent has also been experiencing rising economic inequality, with higher inequality than in the rest of the developing world, even overtaking Latin America. National Gini coefficients – the most common measure of inequality – average around 0.45 for the continent, rising above 0.60 in some countries, and increasing in recent years.

While the continent is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’, with more young people (aged 15-24) in its population, it has failed to generate sufficient decent jobs. South Africa, the most developed economy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), has a youth unemployment rate of 54%.

The real situation could be even worse. Discouraged youth, unable to find decent jobs, drop out of the labour force, and consequently, are simply not counted.

Surviving in Africa
Most poor people simply cannot afford to remain unemployed in the absence of a decent social protection system. To survive, they have to accept whatever is available. Hence, Africa’s ‘working poor’ and underemployment ratios are much higher. In Ghana, for example, the official unemployment rate is 5.2%, while the underemployment rate is 47.0%!

Annual growth rates have often exceeded 5% in many African countries in the new century. SAP and PRSP advocates were quick to claim credit for the end of Africa’s ‘lost quarter century’, arguing that their harsh policy prescriptions were finally bearing fruit. After the commodity price collapse since 2014, the proponents have gone quiet.

With trade liberalization and consequently, greater specialization, many African countries are now even more dependent on fewer export commodities. The top five exports of SSA are all non-renewable natural resources, accounting for 60% of exports in 2013.

The linkages of extractive activities with the rest of national economies are now lower than ever. Thus, despite impressive economic growth rates, the nature of structural change in many African economies have made them more vulnerable to external shocks.

False start again?
Africa possesses about half the uncultivated arable land in the world. Sixty percent of SSA’s population work in jobs related to agriculture. However, agricultural productivity has mostly remained stagnant since 1980.

With agriculture stagnant, people moved from rural to urban areas, only to find life little improved. Thus, Africa has been experiencing rapid urbanization and slum growth. According to UN Habitat, 60% of SSA’s urban population live in slums, with poor access to basic services, let alone new technologies.

Powerful outside interests, including the BWIs and donors, have been advocating large farm production, claiming it to be the only way to boost productivity. Several governments have already leased out land to international agribusiness, often displacing settled local communities.

Meanwhile, Africa’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about 3% in 1970 to less than 2% in 2013. Manufacturing’s share of total African GDP has decreased from 16% in 1974 to around 13% in 2013. At around a tenth, manufacturing’s share of SSA’s output in 2013 is much lower than in other developing regions. Unsurprisingly, Africa has deindustrialized over the past four decades!

One cannot help but doubt how the G20’s new ‘compact with Africa’, showcased at Hamburg, can combat poverty and climate change effects, in addition to deterring the exodus out of Africa, without fundamental policy changes.

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Ending Modern Slavery

19 September 2017 - 10:29am

One in four victims of modern slavery were children. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By William Lacy Swing
NEW YORK, Sep 19 2017 (IPS)

Two centuries ago, right here in this city soon to emerge as the world’s center of commerce, a coalition of clergy, government officials, business leaders and rescued victims rose to fight the scourge of human slavery.

Their cause was Abolitionism and it became the world’s first transnational human rights movement.

Thanks to Abolitionism, businesses that depended on human bondage would no longer be tolerated. Soon they would be illegal. Slavery, which had endured since antiquity, was driven first from the English-speaking world and, eventually, everywhere else.

William Lacy Swing

Or was it? We are here this week to examine a problem that’s risen in today’s increasingly globalised economy. To put it in blunt terms, the “chains” of historic slavery have in some cases been replaced with invisible ones: deception, debt bondage, unethical recruitment. It may be an infection buried within the supply chains of sophisticated global industries—like fishing, logging or textile manufacturing.

Or it can be hidden in plain sight—on any street corner where sex is sold for money.

Its victims number in the tens of millions. At any moment in 2016 forced labor—and its twin scourge, forced marriage—enslaved an estimated 40.3 million men, women and children worldwide, this according to research being released here this week during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.

While many consider slavery a phenomenon of the past, it is a plague that is still very much with us. Criminals worldwide continue to find new ways to exploit vulnerable adults and children, undermine their human rights and extract their labor by force. Whether this takes the form of the sexual enslavement of women or the recruitment and trafficking of men forced to labor, no continent, and no country, is free today of this threat to human rights and human dignity.

At any moment in 2016 forced labor—and its twin scourge, forced marriage—enslaved an estimated 40.3 million men, women and children worldwide
On 19 September, Alliance 8.7, the global partnership to end forced labor, modern slavery, human trafficking and child labor, will bring together key partners representing governments, United Nations (UN) organizations, the private sector, workers’ organizations and civil society to launch new global estimates of modern slavery and child labor.

The global estimate of modern slavery was developed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, in partnership with my organization, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is also the United Nations global migration agency.

Accurate and reliable data are vital tools in tackling complex social challenges like modern slavery. The estimates prepared by Alliance 8.7 will not only raise international awareness about such violations, but will also provide a sound basis for policymakers around the world to make strategic decisions and enable development partners to address funding gaps.

Drawing on in-depth responses from thousands of face-to-face interviews conducted in 48 countries, combined with comprehensive data sets about the experiences of victims of human trafficking from the IOM, the global estimates of modern slavery will provide valuable insight into the numbers behind modern slavery with specific information regarding region, group and gender.

Among the findings to be presented here this week:

  • Debt bondage affected half of all victims of forced labor.
  • Women and girls accounted for 71 per cent of total modern slavery victims.
  • One in four victims of modern slavery were children.

Such data, sadly, reveal only one facet of this ongoing tragedy: its global scale. The hard work of rescuing victims reveals how deeply modern slavery affects whole families.

Recently, IOM’s Global Assistance Fund for victims of trafficking and other migrants in vulnerable situations contributed to assisting 600 men from foreign fishing boats enslaved in Indonesian waters. Some had not been on dry land for years. One victim told IOM he had been separated from his family, without any contact, for 22 years.

There should be no mystery as to why this has become such a concern of IOM. We call for migration that is safe, legal and secure for all. Safe and legal migration means mobility managed transparently by the world’s governments, instead of hidden in a labyrinth of criminal netherworlds.

Migration that is secure for all means just that: for all. Governments need not wonder who is sneaking tonight across some unguarded border. Employers need not worry their new hire is, unknown to them, a debt-slave bound to a “recruiter” who is pocketing their pay—even as he or she increases the debt burden on the victim. Families need not dread what has become of a son, or daughter, who leaves home for a distant opportunity—and then is never heard from again.

So please join me in this fight against global slavery. The struggle may be centuries old but, in some ways, it’s just beginning.

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Rohingya: A Trail of Misfortune

18 September 2017 - 8:29am

A burnt down house in a Rohingya village in northern Rakhine State, a result of sectarian violence in August 2017. Credit: Moe Zaw/VOA/public domain

By Farid Ahmed
COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Sep 18 2017 (IPS)

Forsaken and driven out by their home country Myanmar, tens of thousands of Rohingyas are struggling to survive in Bangladesh’s border districts amid scarcities of food, clean water and medical care, mostly for children and elderly people.

In a desperate flight to escape brutal military persecution, men, women and children in the thousands have walked for miles, travelled on rickety fishing boats or waded through the Naf — the river that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar.“It was a nightmare…the crackle of bullets and burning flames still haunt me.” -- Rebeka Begum

“I saw my houses being burned down and left behind all our belongings… my father was killed in front of us,” 12-year-old Nurul Islam told IPS as he reached Teknaf border in Bangladesh on Sep. 13. “In a bid to escape along with my mother and a younger brother, we walked almost a week to reach Bangladesh following a trail of people streaming out of Rakhine villages for cover.”

Islam is one of over 400,000 Rohingyas who have made the defiant and arduous journey to neighbouring Bangladesh in the past three weeks. Many of them were shot dead, drowned in the river or blown up in landmines placed in their path of escape.

Yet every hour, the number of new arrivals is rising. There seems no end to the steady flow of Rohingyas carrying sacks of belongings – whatever they could save from burning – or children on their shoulders or laps, or carrying weaker elderly people on their back or bamboo yokes. As they arrived, they were devastated, but happy to find themselves still alive – at least for the time being.

But aid groups, both local and international, warn that this already overpopulated, impoverished South Asian nation is now overwhelmed by the sudden influx of refugees.

They said lack of food and medical aid are leading to a humanitarian catastrophe as starving or half-fed people arrive already suffering from malnutrition, and an inadequate safe water supply and poor sanitation facilities could cause breakouts of waterborne diseases.

“We’ve already detected many cases of skin or diarrhoeal diseases,” Ibrahim Molla, a physician from Dhaka Community Hospital now aiding refugees in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR and International Organization for Migration (IOM) held a joint press conference in Dhaka on Thursday where officials estimated the number of fleeing Rohingyas might reach one million as their influx continued.

The latest round of Rohingya crisis unfolded as Myanmar’s army conducted a brutal crackdown on “Rohingya militants” who attacked a security outpost killing solders in the last week of August. Though not independently verified, according to eyewitness accounts of fleeing Rohingyas, the Myanmar army torched village after village, the homes of ethnic Rohingya Muslims, in reprisal, killing hundreds.

Myanmar authorities denied the allegations, but satellite images released by a number of international rights groups corroborated the claim made by the Rohingya refugees.

In addition to arson, the Myanmar soldiers were also accused of raping Rohingya women.

Local people in Teknaf also said they saw huge fires and black smoke billowing across the Naf River from the Myanmar side several times.

The UN refugee chief called the situation a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine state in Myanmar.

It was not the first time the Rohingyas, mostly Muslims, have been targeted and faced discrimination in their hometowns of Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they lived for centuries. In the past few decades, they have been stripped of citizenship, denied basic rights and made stateless, leading the UN to describe them as “the most persecuted people on earth”.

As the Rohingyas crossed finally the border after their death-defying trudge to Bangladesh’s southeast districts of Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban, many had no safe shelter, food or drinking water in a country of 160 million people, though Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to accommodate all on humanitarian grounds.

Though many countries started sending aid and others made promises, many Rohingya refugees were still starving or passing days half-fed. Those who were strong enough to jostle fared the best as local volunteers distributed limited amounts of food and water.

In many places when trucks carrying aid were spotted, starving people blocked them and desperately tried to grab food. The distribution process turned risky as the inexperienced volunteers threw food to the crowd of refugees from the trucks.

As they scuffled for food and water, many people were injured in stampedes or caned by the people given responsibility to discipline the refugees crowding for aid.

Thousands of Rohingyas, mostly women and children, took refuge on the sides of roads or other empty spaces under open sky. Some of those who were lucky could manage a sheet of polythene to save them from heavy monsoon rains that flooded a third of Bangladesh in August.

The Bangladesh government has already demarcated an area in Cox’s Bazar to build new refugee camps and started mandatory registration of Rohingyas before giving them official status as refugees.

Rebeka Begum, who had just alighted from a boat, was searching fruitlessly for food for her child. “We’re now paupers as we’ve left behind everything in Myanmar to save ourselves from the wrath of military,” she said, horror still sounding in her voice.

“It was a nightmare…the crackle of bullets and burning flames still haunt me,” Rebeka Begum said.

Amena Begum was collecting filthy water from a canal for her children to drink as she found no other options. “I urgently need water for my children… what can I do now?” she asked.

Local people said that since there were not enough toilets for so many people, thousands of refugees were defecating on the roadsides or on the banks of canals, from which they were also collecting water for drinking and other purposes.

UNICEF said over 200,000 Rohingya children were at risk and hundreds of unaccompanied Rohingya children, separated from both parents and relatives in the ongoing violence in Rakhine, were in Cox’s Bazar and looking for family members. Many of these children are traumatised by terrifying memories of murders and arson in homes and their experience on path while fleeing.

Save the Children in Bangladesh said in a statement on Sept 17 that a shortage of food, shelter, water and basic hygiene support might cause another catastrophe.

“Apart from diarrhoea and skin diseases, different types of communicable diseases might spread fast here,” warned Dr. Ibrahim Molla, adding that the shortage of space the refugees had for living and poor hygiene support was to blame.

Molla said the group was running a medical camp in Teknaf, and had obtained government permission to open a makeshift hospital for the refugees.

All local hospitals in Cox’s Bazar and the port city of Chittagong were teeming with Rohingya patients – many with bullet wounds and some with injuries from landmines.

Mohammad Alam was looking for medical support for his feverish son as he arrived on a boat crossing the Naf. He was advised by local people to walk a few kilometres more to find a hospital.

Alam, a farmer by profession, started off again in search of the hospital and a refugee camp.

“I’m lucky, as I’ve survived along with all my family members,” Amam said. But his pale and weary face denoted a grim and uncertain future, like his fellow Rohingyas who had no idea when or if they would ever be able to return home despite the global pressure on Myanmar to bring an end to Rohingyas’ persecution.

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Africa’s “Must-Do, Can-Do” Decade

18 September 2017 - 8:02am

Li Yong is Director General of the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

By Li Yong
VIENNA, Sep 18 2017 (IPS)

Since 2000 the continent of Africa has recorded impressive rates of economic growth. This remarkable performance has been largely driven by the prolonged commodity boom and development assistance. While the continent shows great diversity in the socio-economic trajectories of its countries, growth rates have generally masked an underlying lack of structural transformation, which is needed to achieve socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

Wherever industrialization has occurred, it has been a reliable force in steering economic diversification, and has contributed to developing, strengthening and upholding the framework conditions for competitive economic growth and development.

Over several decades, some developing countries – mainly in Asia – have been able to industrialize. Despite repeated attempts, Africa has not. If we look at the shares of global manufacturing value added for 2014 we see that the Asia and Pacific region’s share was 44.6%, whereas Africa’s share was just 1.6%. Sub-Saharan Africa is still the world’s least industrialized region, with only one country, South Africa, being considered industrialized.

African countries cannot achieve sustainable development without an economic structural transformation. They seek to change the structures of their economies by substantially increasing the shares of industry – especially manufacturing – in national investments, national output, and trade. African countries realize that they must undergo this structural transformation in order to address a range of interconnected challenges.

One of these is the growth of the population. More than half of the continent’s 1.2 billion-strong population is under the age of 19, and almost one in five are between 15 and 24 years old. Each year, 12 million new workers join the labour force. The continent’s young people need the tools and skills to take their lives into their own hands. Industrialization is the key to ensuring that the continent’s fast-growing population yields a demographic dividend.

Another associated challenge is migration. Many of Africa’s most ambitious and entrepreneurially minded young people feel compelled to join migration flows to the North. No country can afford to lose this potential. Migration remains a complex issue but industrialization can address one of the root causes by creating jobs in the countries of origin.

In addition, the threat posed by climate change hangs heavily over countries where agriculture remains the primary employer. Africa needs to apply and develop green technologies and channel investments into resource efficiency and clean energy. These investments can lower the cost of bringing power to rural areas, while contributing to global efforts to mitigate climate change.

Africa must industrialize, and it must do so in a socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable manner. Previous efforts to foster sustainable economic transformation in Africa have failed, and the need for a new approach is clear. What is needed now is a broad-based and country-owned process that leverages financial and non-financial resources, promotes regional integration, and mobilizes co-operation among Africa’s development partners.

This is the motivation behind the United Nations General Assembly’s proclamation of the period 2016-2025 as the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa (IDDA III). The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is leading the new approach for the IDDA III. We are fully supporting the focus on partnerships for resource mobilization, and offer an already tried and tested example of how to implement the approach: the Programme for Country Partnership (PCP).

UNIDO’s PCP combines technical assistance with policy advice, standards and investments leveraging to support the design and implementation of industrialization strategies and instruments that can make a sizeable impact on a country’s development.

Launched in 2014, the model is being successfully implemented in two African countries – Ethiopia and Senegal – as well as in Peru. The PCP is aligned with each country’s national development agenda and is a multi-stakeholder partnership model. It is designed to build synergies with ongoing government and partner interventions, while mobilizing funds and leveraging additional investment towards sectors with high growth potential.

The PCP focuses on a select number of priority sectors or areas that are essential to the government’s industrial development agenda. Priority sectors are typically selected based on job creation potential, availability of raw materials, export potential and ability to attract investment.

The PCP approach is designed to create synergies with partner programmes/projects relevant for industrial development in order to maximize impact. One particular area of focus is strategic partnerships with financial institutions and the business sector in order to leverage additional resources for infrastructure, industry and innovation, as well as knowledge, expertise and technology.

Mainstreaming of the PCP approach to other African countries can be a significant contribution to the successful implementation of the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa. UNIDO stands ready to support Africa on its path to inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

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Islamic Organization Promotes Cultural Rapprochement Between US & Muslim World

18 September 2017 - 7:44am

Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen. Credit: OIC

By Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen
NEW YORK, Sep 18 2017 (IPS)

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), by virtue of its position of being the second largest international organization outside the UN system with 57 member countries comprising one fifth of the world population and covering Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, is indeed an important actor in dealing with rapprochement between cultures, in particular rapprochement between the Muslim World and its international partners like the USA.

Rapprochement between cultures through dialogue among civilizations and diverse faiths as an agenda item was pioneered by the OIC at the international level as early as 1998.

The OIC believes in dialogue and communication in order to foster mutual respect and understanding. Its focus continues to be one of outreach and engagement with the international stakeholders like the USA to form a meaningful and functional partnership to work together in engendering a culture of peaceful coexistence and upholding human dignity.

Communication makes people more connected and raises awareness among them on the implications of hatred and discrimination based on their faith, culture and religion. Based on these premises, the OIC has established a separate full-fledged Department of Dialogue and Outreach in its General Secretariat. The main objective of this Department is to reach out to different cultures with an aim to reduce misunderstanding and cultural gap between them and the Muslim World.

With this in mind, the Department has established a close relationship of collaboration and cooperation with the King Abdullah International Center for Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), an Intergovernmental setup established at the initiative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia along with Austria and Spain to highlight the efficacy of cultural rapprochement as an effective tool to reduce conflict through building bridges between cultures.

We all want to live in dignity, in peace, in security, to raise our children, to protect our families. Muslims are not exception to that. Islam like any other religion advocate for the same values of humanity, mercy, solidarity, peace.

To this end, contemporary challenges like xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination, and hatred must be tackled through inclusive dialogue and tolerance. For this, uniting our efforts is what the world needs today.

Much has been achieved in this regard, nevertheless, as the challenges around us continue to grow and expand, much more is yet to be done. We believe that there is more to unite us than to divide. As such, in order to focus on the factors that bring us together, cultural rapprochement through communication, dialogue and inclusiveness needs to be nurtured and demonstrated in our everyday life.

Meanwhile, an OIC press release says the Organization will hold several meetings on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York starting Monday, 18 September 2017.

The foreign ministers of the OIC Member States are expected to hold a coordination meeting to discuss the issues of interest to the OIC that are on the agenda of the current session of the UNGA.

Also, the Special Ministerial Committee on Palestine will hold a meeting to discuss the developments regarding the Palestinian issue, and the Secretary General Dr. Yousef Al Othaimeen will chair an international high-level meeting to support the Palestinian refugees.

There will also be a ministerial meeting of the Contact Group on the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, who are being subjected to persecution, displacement and ethnic cleansing in Myanmar for years. The situation has exacerbated in the past weeks, which caused more than 300,000 of the Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.

Other contact group meetings will also be held on Somalia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Yemen, Jammu and Kashmir, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and on the aggression of Armenia on Azerbaijan to discuss the situations and developments in these countries and regions.

In addition, the second meeting of the Contact Group on Muslims in Europe will be held, which aims to promote understanding and respect between Muslims living in the West and their communities and protecting their rights in light of heightened Islamophobia across Europe.

The recent terrorist attacks combined with the current economic crisis and high unemployment rates have increasingly strained relations between immigrant Muslim communities and the larger societies in which they live, a situation that has been used by the far right groups to exacerbate tensions.

The OIC Secretary General is expected to have bilateral meetings with a number of presidents, foreign ministers and high officials from the member states and non-member states during the UNGA to discuss issues of mutual interest.

Furthermore, Al-Othaimeen and his accompanying delegation of senior officials will participate in the opening of the UNGA session and several meetings and activities that are to be held on its sidelines on important regional and international issues.

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ITUC: The Global Economic Model has Failed

18 September 2017 - 7:14am

Secretary General of the ITUC Sharan Burrow at her office in Brussels. Foto: Linda Flood

By Linda Flood
BRUSSELS, Sep 18 2017 (IPS)

Sharan Burrow has just returned from a long weekend in Latin America. In Panama she met with laborers. Out in the real world. That is where she is most at home. Where working conditions are poor. Conditions that she has spent her life trying to change.

It’s Monday at ITUC’s office in Brussels. A first hectic week after the summer is underway. This autumn’s agenda is, as always, the obvious areas of concern for the organization: equality, migration, climate and the eradication of slave labor.

ITUC has launched a campaign that they call “war on climate change”.

– When you consider the losses of life due to weather change and season shifts, it’s already a reality. People are being displaced.

Sharan Burrow scorns the criticism that the ITUC shouldn’t be spending time and money on the climate.

– If you don’t have jobs – you can’t fight for wages and conditions. So if jobs are at risk in the context of climate destruction then it’s our core business.

Among ITUC plans, is to put pressure on the giant pension funds to make sure they make climate smart investments. But pressure and demands are also put on governments, corporations and investors.

ITUC is a confederation of confederations for the world’s trade unions. Sharan Burrow has been Secretary General since 2010 and both represents and is responsible to 176 million members.
– Of all the international bodies that have an influence in the world of work, we are represented there.

The relative importance of organs like the Davos World Economic Forum or the G20 summit for the global labor markets has been downplayed by some critics. But Sharan Burrow doesn’t pay heed to that view.
– People say the G20 is not effective and we could join that critique if solely in terms of implementation, but in terms of establishing an agenda the last G20 reached two very important pieces policies for us. The labor ministers decided that violations of labor rights and human rights could no longer be part of the competition. And they decided that minimum wages had to be based on dignity. That set a framework for fair competition in a global economy that has lost its way.

About 94% of the global supply chains are reliant on a hidden workforce - If you take Latin America, 25 of the largest companies employs 70 million people but only 4 million are employed directly. The rest are a hidden workforce and they are subject to abused fundamental rights and nobody takes responsibility for this
She is both visibly and audibly incensed.

– The global economic model has failed. People are horrified that inequality is growing at such a high rate, well for us it’s not a shock, it’s built into the model.

She is refering to studies that show that about 94% of the global supply chains are reliant on a hidden workforce.

– If you take Latin America, 25 of the largest companies employs 70 million people but only 4 million are employed directly. The rest are a hidden workforce and they are subject to abused fundamental rights and nobody takes responsibility for this.

ITUC’s position is that the importance of a social dialogue is pivotal, and they support the Global Deal initiative launched by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

– Collective bargaining is under attack, minimum wages are low and social protection isn’t expanding.

At the moment sixteen countries, seventeen unions and seven corporations are in the Global Deal partnership. Several Swedish large companies that Arbetet Global has spoken to question the intitiative, while employer organizations claim the initiative may undermine the efforts of ILO.

– That’s simply an excuse to take no responsibility. Where we don’t have a social dialogue, then it it easier to deny workers collective bargaining. We need to change the rules of the global economy and Sweden is a good model on which to start.

Sharan Burrow hails the economic system and the labor market in Sweden.

– Collective bargaining is the strength of your economy. Why would you want to change that when you have everything? The rest of the world is trying to catch up with you.

As a warning example she mentions the US.

– What we see now are cities that are bargaining for higher minimum wages because there are workers who can’t live off their wages. Nobody in Sweden, nobody in Europe, nobody in the world wants a labor market and working environment like the US.

In the fight for better working conditions ITUC want to see a mandatory monitoring of businesses, so called due diligence. Sharan Burrow wants all companies to make a risk analysis of the working conditions, in terms of potential abuses involved in product safety, product placement or property rights.

– We want to see mandated due diligence but so far France is the only country to legislate for due diligence.

This story was originally published by Arbetet Global

The post ITUC: The Global Economic Model has Failed appeared first on Inter Press Service.

What I Saw in Ukhia

16 September 2017 - 6:28am

Displaced Rohingya refugees from Rakhine state walk near Ukhia, at the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar, as they flee violence on September 4, 2017. PHOTO: AFP/K.M. Asad

By Shaheen Anam
Sep 16 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

According to the latest UN report, nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugees have crossed over to Bangladesh. The Rohingya people, living in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, are fleeing their homes they have lived in for 200 years. Subject to discrimination for years and not recognised as citizens, the Rohingyas, the majority of whom are Muslims, have for so long been able to eke out a living on agriculture and small farming. With little expectations from the state to guarantee them equal rights, all they want is to till their own land, harvest their crops and live in peace and security.

Alas! That is not to be! Blamed for alleged terrorist attacks on police outposts and a military base last month, in which at least twelve members of the security forces were killed, the innocent civilian population is being subjected to the worst kind of persecution imaginable—termed by the UN as ethnic cleansing and by some public figures as genocide.

Myanmar’s army under instructions from the very top has come after them with machine guns, firing from helicopters, and resorted to using mines and machetes. Brutally murdering, raping and burning down their homes, sparing no one—women, the elderly and children—prompting lakhs to flee the homes of their ancestors into Bangladesh. They have arrived in a country with no guarantee of food, water, sanitation or a decent life because saving their lives has been their only thought. Most have come empty-handed, without assets or money, with just the clothes on their backs. On the way, they have lost loved ones, witnessed atrocities such as looting, arson, women raped in the presence of family, and children murdered. Most recount harrowing stories of unimaginable brutality.

Going into Ukhia amidst its scenic beauty, what I witnessed reminded me of the many movies we have seen of mass exodus of people fleeing persecution, the Nazi extermination of Jews and the more recent plight of the Syrian refugees. Streams of people walking or sitting by the roadside with expressions of utter despair, tragedy and loss written on their faces. Women recounted how their children were killed while running; some talked of husbands or brothers taken away never to return; some just kept quiet, too numb, hungry and traumatised to speak. Who can forget the horrific photo of the half burnt body of a child barely alive in The Daily Star a few days ago?

The camp at Balukhali where thousands have taken refuge is nothing more than filthy, muddy pieces of land where thousands have taken shelter in makeshift tents comprised of thin plastic sheets slung over two bamboo poles. I saw several women holding babies, their eyes vacant, too weak to even ask for help. Children crying in hunger, burning with fever sitting on the muddy ground or lying listless in their mother’s arms. As the Coast Trust van arrived with packets of cooked food, thousands ran towards it, extending their hands; those strong enough got them, the weak ones looked on helplessly. Some said they would take this packet to their families and share with five or six or even 10 members.

The sanitation situation is precarious. Due to open defecation, the likelihood of infectious diseases spreading is threatening the local population as well. Many have not showered for days prompting an outbreak of skin disease. The makeshift health centre is unable to cope with all this; all they can do is provide basic medicines such as paracetamol, salbutamol and orsaline for fever, respiratory infection, diarrhea, etc. Children are at risk of respiratory tract infection and will not recover unless provided with emergency hospital care.

But this camp, due to its concentration of people, is getting, however inadequate, some attention from aid agencies. What about the thousands walking aimlessly in search of help on two sides of the highway? The Marine Drive, as it is called, is stunningly beautiful with hills on one side and the sea on the other and can be compared to any beach in the south of France or the coast of Italy. The drive takes one to the Naf river, one of the routes the Rohingyas are taking to cross over. Here, one can see the border with Myanmar, lush, green, yet so unwelcoming to these people. Thick clouds of smoke can be seen, a grim reminder of the horror on the other side. It is then that I realised why they are coming to Bangladesh, why they have no other alternative but to flee. The smoke is from their burnt homes, from the exploding mines and the bombs being thrown from helicopters. Fleeing to an uncertain future, all they want is to save their lives, not to see their children killed, not be caught by soldiers to be taken away, raped and tortured.

On the wayside, I met Joitun, who has travelled for four days with four children accompanied by her old father. Her husband was dragged away, killed; she barely managed to escape with her life and the children.

“They would have killed us too,” she says, “but I could run fast. Many were shot as I ran, I heard screams behind me, fires from the sky burnt our village.” Neither she nor her children had eaten anything for a few days except some biscuit crumbs. Soon it would be night; she was standing alone, no food, shelter or place to sleep. Where would she go? How would she spend the night?

The story is the same everywhere I went. Total desolation, hopelessness with nothing to look forward to. Many compare their plight to ours in 1971 when 10 million of us became refugees in the neighbouring country. But it is not the same because then we had hope of returning someday to a free country. The Rohingyas have no country, no citizenship, nothing to go back to except death and persecution.

This is a huge humanitarian crisis for Bangladesh, one we have never faced before. Already hosting some 500,000 Rohingyas for the last 20 years, we are ill-equipped to take in anymore. Yet, we have opened our doors to them, what else could we do?

Now it is the turn of the international community to come good on their values of fundamental human rights and dignity for everyone. The principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which all countries have signed dictate that we don’t turn our backs on them. We urge the rich countries to come forward and demonstrate that the values of equality, justice and peace they preach to the rest of the world are also binding on them.

Shaheen Anam is Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

The post What I Saw in Ukhia appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Panel debate at UN: Arab region and the West need to define a common agenda to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment

15 September 2017 - 6:20pm

Opening remarks by Dr. Al Qassim

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Sep 15 2017 (Geneva Centre)

International experts on women’s rights from the Arab region and the West called on decision-makers from the Global South and the Global North to increase their efforts towards addressing barriers and challenges impeding the realization of women’s rights and gender equality. This conclusion was reached during a panel debate organized at the United Nations Office in Geneva held on 15 September on the theme of “Women’s rights in the Arab region: between myth and reality.”

The debate was held on the occasion of the 36th session to the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue – a think tank having special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) – and the Permanent Mission of the Arab Republic of Egypt to UN Geneva.

Women’s rights in the Arab region: between myth and reality” offered an alternative narrative to the widespread misperception and stereotyping of Arab women as well as an objective assessment of the joint challenges faced by countries in the Arab region and in the West to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Minister of State of Justice of Sudan


The Minister of State for Justice of Sudan H. E. Tahani Ali Toor Eldba. stated in her intervention that the political emancipation of women in Sudan is giving results. In this regard, the Minister of State observed that women now hold 30% of the seats in the parliament of Sudan of which positions of Vice President are also held by women. She added that women are represented as head of political parties, in the diplomatic corps as well as in the judicial system, business and commerce and in international organizations. There were also women generals in the police and in the armed forces.

The Chairman of the Geneva Centre Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim indicated in his opening remarks that “advancing women’s rights and enhancing gender equality are the pillars of an inclusive and equal society.” Although he noted that significant challenges exist in promoting and advancing women’s rights in the Arab region, he praised recent initiatives taken by Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates to advance the social, political and economic status of women in their respective societies. He called upon the Global North and the Global South to “define a common agenda” with the ambition of “promoting gender equality at worldwide and to jointly overcome barriers hindering women’s development.“

Intervention Dr. Al Qassim


The Ambassador and the Permanent Representative of the Arab Republic of Egypt, H. E. Mr. Amr Ramadan, noted in his opening speech that Egypt’s recently adopted constitution (2014) guarantees “equal opportunities for women and prohibit discrimination against her.” The speaker observed that “real enforcement of women enables her to liberate her potentials and allows her participation.” In an attempt to enhance the political empowerment of women in Egypt, Ambassador Ramadan underlined that Egypt’s constitution guarantees women 87 seats in the Egyptian Parliament. The vision to achieve “sustainable development” and a “just society” – he said – is in line with the “2030 Vision of Egypt” aiming at advancing gender equality and guaranteeing “equal rights and opportunities” for women.

The moderator of the debate – the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy – stressed in his opening remarks that the panel debate’s main objective is to enhance “cooperation and exchange of best practice” between Arab countries and the West as “no region can claim to have achieved gender balance so far.” He added that “significant achievements have been reached in terms of equity, but equality is still some way off in all regions of the world.” The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director concluded his intervention stating that the debate “responds to a larger need for more perceptive awareness of the situation of women and their rights worldwide.“

Moderator Ambassador Idriss Jazairy


H. E. Ms. Hoda Al-Helaissi – Member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council and former Vice-Chairperson at King Saud University – observed that women empowerment and addressing gender inequality are “universal concerns” of the global community. She remarked that “a country’s true development, economic growth and international success can only come about when it uses its human resources to its fullest – male and female.” H. E. Al-Helaissi further added that the stereotyping of Arab women in the West would not advance the cause of promoting and advancing gender empowerment in the Arab region. She called upon international decision-makers to recognise “the change that takes place and supporting that change rather than merely repeating the static stereotyped image” of women in the Arab region.

In her statement, H. E. Ms. Emna Aouij – member of the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice – noted that violence against women affects approximately 1/3 of women at a global scale. The elimination of all forms of discrimination and harmful practices against women and girls relies on the effective implementation of the existing legal framework that guarantees equality between men and women. The UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice – she highlighted – stresses the “need to include men and women in the constitutional processes of countries” as these represent the foundation for all law. She also emphasized the importance of education and of effective long-term awareness campaigns in order to ensure the respect of women’s rights within societies and to deconstruct stereotypes based on gender and patriarchal social norms.

The member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, H. E. Ms. Naela Mohamed Gabr, highlighted in her intervention that the unprecedented rise of violence and conflict have exacerbated the status of women in the Arab region. She stated that “the political situation in the region and the subsequent deteriorating security and economic conditions” have become fertile ground “for extremely negative outcomes for women, with a decline in interest in empowering them and enhancing their rights.” The hijacking of religious faiths by extremist groups have also exacerbated the prospect of enhancing women’s rights in the Arab region. H. E. Ms. Mohamed Gabr said:

Panellists


Unfortunately, there are ideologies that deny development and deny even the historical facts that confirm that women in Islam were partners to men in trade, conquests and propagation of the new religion. It also denies that the divine revealed religions, especially Islam, had given women a respectful place, while respecting their rights and their physical and psychological privacy.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences – H. E. Ms. Dubravka Šimonovic – welcomed the recent steps taken by Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan to repeal discriminatory laws allowing rapists to escape justice if they would marry their victims. The political empowerment of women in Algeria – she said – stands out as an example in the MENA region as women occupy more than 30% of the parliamentary seats.

She further added that the adoption of the Abu Dhabi Declaration “United for Shaping the Future, for a better world” at the 2017 Global Summit of Women Speakers of Parliament in Abu Dhabi – organized by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the UAE Federal National Council – is a bold call to action to countries in the Arab region to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls. In this regard, Ms. Šimonovic appealed to “countries in the Arab region to be proactive in addressing discrimination and eliminating violence against women, including by implementing the imperative actions included in this important instrument.”

She concluded her intervention stating that issues related to violence against women are not exclusive to the Arab region.

Islamophobia is becoming an issue of growing concern

The second last speaker to take the floor – the Director of Monash University’s Bachelor of Global Studies in Australia Dr. Susan Carland – remarked that her recent book “Fighting Hislam: Women, faith and sexism” contradicted the view that Islam is a sexist religion purporting that Arab women “see it as a crucial instrument in their fight against the sexism they face.” She observed that women belonging to other religious faiths such as Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism have faced sexism and subjugation within their respective communities. Sexism, she noted, could therefore not be attributed as an issue solely belonging to Islam, but to the widespread influence of patriarchy across the world.

In this regard, Dr. Carland said: “Examples from earliest hadith literature, to medieval scholarship, to feminist activity in Egypt and Iran in the early twentieth century, to modern-day scholarship, activism, and political engagement by Arab women to tackle sexism – many operating from a religious framework – abound, demonstrating that Arab and Muslim women fighting sexism is neither new nor foreign. This long history of activity is often unknown both within the Arab and Muslim world, and outside it.”

Teodora Popa interviewed Dr. Al Qassim after the panel debate.


Ms. Sarah Zouak – The co-founder of the French association Lallab (based in Paris), organizer of the Women Sense Tour, writer and producer of the documentary Women Sense Tour – noted in her intervention that women of Arab origin often witness stereotyping and discrimination in France owing to their religious and cultural backgrounds. She observed that racism in today’s society is a heritage from the colonial era. Ms. Zouak further added that media often contribute to the stigmatization and stereotyping of Muslim men as “violent” and Arab women as “submissive, oppressed, victims, weak and no free will.” Media tend to raise the need to “rescue” Muslim women and they tend to seek the advice of middle-aged “Orientalist” male experts to provide the evidence rather than give a voice to young women of Arab origin themselves.

In concluding her intervention, Ms. Zouak stated that “women are victims of violence in every part of the world, and not uniquely in Muslim majority countries contrary to what some people think.” “Feminism is about empowering women to do what they want and not to dictate them how they should be emancipated” ended Ms. Zouak in her statement.

During the interactive session, the Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates to UN Geneva – H. E. Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Nasser Al Zaabi – noted that the panel debate will “contribute to clarify the current situation of women in the Arab world and demystify the wrong image widespread in the international arena and in the part of the intellectual community.” He observed that the UAE is ranked as a leading country in the enhancement of “gender equality in the region.” In this regard, H. E. Ambassador Obaid Al Zaabi added that UAE women make up inter alia 20% of the diplomatic corps, 15% of the boards of directors of the UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry, and that women now occupy two-thirds of all posts in the public sector as well as 30% within senior and decision-making positions.

H. E. Mrs. Nassima Baghli, the Permanent Observer of the Permanent Delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to UN Geneva – questioned whether the fight against addressing Islamophobia has prevailed over the fight to address racism. In reply to this question, Ms. Zouak added that Islamophobia constitutes a form of racism that is prevailing particularly in the West. Muslim women are particularly affected by Islamophobia – she noted – as 80% of Islamophobic attacks in France affect women. Ambassador Naela Gabr added that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation has an important role to play in responding to the rise of Islamophobia as it affects the realization of human rights and women’s rights. She appealed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to address the rise of this phenomenon in collaboration with civil society and other organizations addressing Islamophobia.

A group of students from the EU Business School raised the issue of the promotion of gender equality through education as a solution to countering the rise of violent extremism, referring to the UN Secretary-General Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism. Ambassador Naela Gabr noted that in order to address the triggering factors of violent extremism, education on women’s rights and equality and awareness-raising were crucial in order to change mind-sets and stereotypes.

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World Hunger on the Rise Again

15 September 2017 - 11:48am

Children drink from a tap during recess at a UNICEF supported primary school inside Bukasi internally displaced people's camp, in Maiduguri, Borno state, Nigeria. Credit: UNICEF/Gilbertson

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Sep 15 2017 (IPS)

Exacerbated by climate-related shocks, increasing conflicts have been a key driver of severe food crisis and recently re-emerged famines, a major United Nations joint report has just revealed.

Hunger and under nutrition are significantly worse where conflicts are prolonged and institutional capacities weak, on 15 September warned the first-ever UN report measuring progress on meeting new international goals pegged to eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030. “After steadily declining for over a decade, global hunger is on the rise again, affecting 815 million people in 2016, or 11 per cent of the global population, says a new edition of the annual report on world food security and nutrition.”“Addressing food insecurity and malnutrition in conflict-affected situations cannot be business as usual”

At the same time, multiple forms of malnutrition are threatening the health of millions worldwide, it adds.

“The increase – 38 million more people than the previous year – is largely due to the proliferation of violent conflicts and climate-related shocks, according to the study.”

Addressing food insecurity and malnutrition in conflict-affected situations cannot be “business as usual,” alerts the new edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017, Building Resilience for Peace and Food Security.

It requires a conflict-sensitive approach that aligns actions for immediate humanitarian assistance, long-term development and sustaining peace, says this year’s report, which has been elaborated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the UN World Food Program (WFP), along with the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).Key numbers

Hunger and food security


• Overall number of hungry people in the world: 815 million, including:
o In Asia: 520 million
o In Africa: 243 million
o In Latin America and the Caribbean: 42 million

• Share of the global population who are hungry: 11%
o Asia: 11.7%
o Africa: 20% (in eastern Africa, 33.9%)
o Latin America and the Caribbean: 6.6%

Malnutrition in all its forms

• Number of children under 5 years of age who suffer from stunted growth (height too low for their age): 155 million.
o Number of those living in countries affected by varying levels of conflict, ranging from South Sudan to India: 122 million

• Children under 5 affected by wasting (weight too low given their height): 52 million

• Number of adults who are obese: 641 million (13% of all adults on the planet)

• Children under 5 who are overweight: 41 million

• Number of women of reproductive age affected by anaemia: 613 million (around 33% of the total)

The impact of conflict

• Number of the 815 million hungry people on the planet who live in countries affected by conflict: 489 million

• The prevalence of hunger in countries affected by conflict is 1.4 - 4.4 percentage points higher than in other countries

• In conflict settings compounded by conditions of institutional and environmental fragility, the prevalence is 11 and 18 percentage points higher

• People living in countries affected by protracted crises are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be undernourished than people elsewhere

SOURCE: The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017

The Consequences

The consequences are striking—around 155 million children aged under five are stunted (too short for their age), the report says, while 52 million suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height.

Meantime, an estimated 41 million children are now overweight. Anaemia among women and adult obesity are also cause for concern. These trends are a consequence not only of conflict and climate change but also of sweeping changes in dietary habits and economic slowdowns.

The report is the first UN global assessment on food security and nutrition to be released following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 as a top international policy priority.

It singles out conflict – increasingly compounded by climate change – as one of the key drivers behind the resurgence of hunger and many forms of malnutrition.

And it sends a clear warning signal that the ambition of a world without hunger and malnutrition by 2030 will be challenging – achieving it will require renewed efforts through new ways of working.

More Chronically Undernourished People

The joint report provides estimates of the number and proportion of hungry people on the planet and includes data for the global, regional, and national levels, while offering a significant update on the shifting global milieu that is today affecting people’s food security and nutrition, in all corners of the globe.

Among other key findings, it reveals that in 2016 the number of chronically undernourished people in the world is estimated to have increased to 815 million, up from 777 million in 2015 although still down from about 900 million in 2000.

After a prolonged decline, this recent increase could signal a reversal of trends.

“The food security situation has worsened in particular in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern Asia and Western Asia, and deteriorations have been observed most notably in situations of conflict and conflict combined with droughts or floods.”

The apparent halt to declining hunger numbers is not yet reflected in the prevalence of child stunting, which continues to fall, though the pace of improvement is slower in some regions, the report warns.

Globally, the prevalence of stunting fell from 29.5 per cent to 22.9 percent between 2005 and 2016, although 155 million children under five years of age across the world still suffer from stunted growth.

Children, Stunned

According to the report, wasting affected one in twelve of all children under five years of age in 2016, more than half of whom (27.6 million) live in Southern Asia.

Multiple forms of malnutrition coexist, with countries experiencing simultaneously high rates of child undernutrition, anaemia among women, and adult obesity, t reports, adding that rising rates of overweight and obesity add to these concerns.

Levels of child stunting are still unacceptably high in some regions, and if current trends continue, the SDG target on reducing child stunting by 2030 will not be reached, according to the report.

Economic Slowdown

Another key finding is that worsening food security conditions have also been observed in more peaceful settings, especially where economic slowdown has drained foreign exchange and fiscal revenues, affecting both food availability through reduced import capacity and food access through reduced fiscal space to protect poor households against rising domestic food prices.

Credit: WHO/C. Black

“While underlining that the failure to reduce world hunger is closely associated with the increase in conflict and violence in several parts of the world, the report attempts to provide a clearer understanding of the nexus between conflict and food security and nutrition, and to demonstrate why efforts at fighting hunger must go hand-in-hand with those to sustain peace.”

Famine struck in parts of South Sudan for several months in early 2017, and there is a high risk that it could reoccur there as well as appear in other conflict-affected places, namely northeast Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, they reminded.

Alarm Bells

Over the past decade conflicts have risen dramatically in number and become more complex and intractable in nature, said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General; David Beasley, WFP Executive Director; Gilbert F. Houngbo, IFAD President; Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

Some of the highest proportions of food-insecure and malnourished children are found in countries affected by conflict, a situation that is even more alarming in countries characterised by prolonged conflicts and fragile institutions.

At the site for internally displaced persons in Mellia, Chad. Credit: OCHA/Ivo Brandau


“This has set off alarm bells we cannot afford to ignore: we will not end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by 2030 unless we address all the factors that undermine food security and nutrition,” the chiefs of the five UN agencies participating in the elaboration of the report have stated.

The five UN agencies heads also reaffirmed their determination and commitment now more than ever to step up concerted action to fulfil the ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and achieve a world free from hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

“Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition is an ambitious goal, but it is one we strongly believe can be reached if we strengthen our common efforts and work to tackle the underlying causes that leave so many people food-insecure, jeopardizing their lives, futures, and the futures of their societies.”

In response to a question raised by IPS at a press conference held this morning to launch the report at FAO headquarters, the FAO DG da Silva emphasized that to reverse the adverse trend in the number of undernourished people, ‘we are all working together, especially in countries affected by conflict and climate change, and continuing our focus on emergencies and humanitarian issues. There are new tools available now, such as cash vouchers and food for work. Although lives were lost, we were able to pull South Sudan out of famine in three months and Somalia in six months. There is no illusion that all protracted crisis can be solved immediately’.

IFAD President Gilbert Houngbo said that ‘We should not wait for conflicts to be over. Long term investment is core to the solution, not only as seen from an agriculture perspective, but there are also issues of governance. Agriculture investment must also be combined with investment in technology and fighting food losses and creating access to markets’

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Communities Can be Role Models for Sustainable Development

15 September 2017 - 10:29am

Mikoko Pamoja is a community-based initiative that has pioneered carbon credit payments for mangrove restoration. Credit: Mikoko Pamoja

By Nik Sekhran
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2017 (IPS)

The United Nations, governments, civil society, business, thought leaders and media will gather in New York on September 17 to celebrate the winners of the Equator Prize 2017. The 15 prize winning communities successfully advance innovative solutions for poverty, environment, and climate challenges.

The Equator Prize 2017 winners will join a prestigious group of 208 previous Equator Prize winners that have been recognized by the UNDP Equator Initiative partnership since its inception in 2002. Together, these prize winners tell a compelling story about the power of local action. This year, among the winners is the Federación de Tribus Indígenas Pech de Honduras, a cooperative that sells an essential ingredient in the international fragrance and flavor industry.

Nik Sekhran

Across the Atlantic, the Mali Elephant Project works in a region torn asunder by violent extremism to protect the endangered African elephant and advance local development priorities. Moving further east, in Indonesia, Raja Ampat Homestay Association has created an innovative, community-run web platform for ecotourism, garnering over 600 new jobs for the community and catalyzing the creation of 84 community businesses, all while conserving fragile marine ecosystems.

The stories of these groups are not simply colorful reminders that people can live in harmony with nature. They illustrate how community action is essential to achieve sustainable development.

In 2015, the world agreed to an ambitious set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From ending extreme poverty and hunger, to ensuring resilient communities, to ensuring water security, to sustaining life on land and life below water, this agenda defines the world we want in 2030. Achieving these goals will require a significant departure from business as usual.

Take the environment as an example – on our current trajectory, we will lose 68% of biodiversity by 2020. We are losing a rhino every eight hours, and an elephant every 15 minutes. Losing biodiversity also hurts the economy – we have lost US$20 trillion dollars in economic value since 1970 due to the degradation of ecosystems and the disappearance of biodiversity.

Further challenges arise from the trends we will face over the next 13 years, as we look towards 2030. With 1.3 billion more people on the planet, demand for food will increase by 35%, for water by 40%, and for energy by 50%.

We are approaching, and may have already surpassed, the planetary boundaries that define the thresholds of sustainability. We must learn to stay within these limits, to address the coming challenges, and to not only stem the loss of biodiversity but to transform nature to become an engine of sustainable development.

The village of Bang La sustainably manages a 192-hectare forest that has shielded the community from devastating disasters and improved livelihoods through increased fish catch. Credit: Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Bang La


We at UNDP believe that no one actor – not governments, not companies, not cities and not NGOs – can achieve the SDGs alone. We also believe that local action will be an essential component to achieve the goals. Local communities and indigenous peoples face the very real consequences of biodiversity loss and climate change daily – consequences which can mean life or death for their families, communities, and ways of life.

The Equator Prize teaches us that these same communities excel in developing innovative tactics that deliver high-impact, scalable solutions to address these challenges and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our awardees demonstrate that successful approaches combine multiple sustainable development benefits. Each Equator Prize 2017 winner’s actions address at least five SDGs in a holistic way. In Kenya, for example, Mikoko Pamoja is the first community-based initiative of its kind to sell carbon credits generated through the protection of mangrove forests. The community reinvests income from these credits into clean water and education, providing a virtuous cycle of development dividends that deliver on SDG1 (no poverty), 4 (quality education) and 6 (clean water and sanitation), in addition to SDG13 (climate action), SDG14 (life under water), and SDG15 (life on land).

In Indonesia, Raja Ampat Homestay Association’s web portal for community homestays provides a scalable avenue for local development and ocean conservation. Credit: Raja Ampat Homestay Association


Equator Prize winning communities also show that investing in nature is an effective and efficient pathway to sustainable development. Because its mangroves were intact, the village of Bang La in Thailand was largely spared the devastating force of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The community formed an association – the Mangrove Forest Conservation Group of Bang La Community – to legally protect their mangroves for future generations, at a fraction of what the cost of rebuilding a devastated community would be.

I look forward to celebrating and honoring these environmental heroes. Our venue for the Equator Prize Award Ceremony gala is a testimony to the power of local action – The Town Hall theatre in New York City was built in the early 1920s as a meeting place for a vibrant group of suffragists. The success of their struggle shows us how the commitment and perseverance of a small group of individuals can change the world for the better. Just like these suffragists, the Equator Prize 2017 winners provide powerful stories of hope amidst chaos, showing us that local action can create powerful impacts for people, planet, and prosperity.

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Caribbean Picks Up the Pieces After Monster Storm

15 September 2017 - 7:27am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Aung San Suu Kyi Chooses Silence

15 September 2017 - 4:46am

The photo was taken at Thae Chaung camp in Rakhine state. Credit: UNHCR/Stephen Kelly/2013

By Roshni Majumdar
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 15 2017 (IPS)

On 23rd August, just days before thousands of Rohingyas began fleeing their homes from Rakhine State, Aung San Suu Kyi’s recently appointed Rakhine Advisory Commission, established in 2016, submitted its final report. The engaging of an independent Commission, tasked with recommending newer ways of improving the lives of Rohingya Muslims, Myanmar’s most deeply persecuted minority group, carried some weight of diplomacy.

In that week, when clashes broke out between Rohingya militants and security forces, Myanmar’s Army responded by doubling down on its attacks against Rohingyas in Rakhine State, killing at least 400 people, only 29 of whom were militants. What appeared as a window of opportunity to test the findings of the report, which recommended reviewing a citizenship law that revoked the rights of Rohingyas as citizens of Myanmar in 1982, collapsed at its feet. Instead, a record numbers of Rohingyas, more than 300,000, were forced to flee to Bangladesh.

Recently, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, shed light on harrowing details of the conflict. He denounced the government’s “cynical ploy” to only allow refugees who could produce “proof of nationality” back into the country, and condemned the State’s strategy to lay landmines along the borders of Bangladesh. He even warned that the government should “stop claiming that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages.”

This recent wave of violence, is in many ways, both old and new. In 1977, when Burmese authorities conducted a set of screenings, called Operation Nagamin (Dragon King), to register its citizens for a national census, almost 200,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee. Although authorities claimed that it was simply screening out foreigners, refugees who primarily fled to Bangladesh, and who were largely Rohingya Muslims, disputed the claims and alleged widespread police brutality.

Similarly, this February, four months after a group of Rohingya militants broke into prominence by killing nine police officers in October 2016, the UN released its first findings of the long standing conflict, laying bear the horrific killings, gang rapes, and “crimes against humanity” committed by the State’s military in it’s retaliation to the attack.

IPS spoke to Matthew Smith, an expert on the topic, and the co-founder of Fortify Rights, an NGO that vigilantly documents human rights violations in Southeast Asia, about the rise of armed insurgencies staged by a group of Rohingya militants.

The group, called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), is relatively small. Believed to have been backed by donors in the Middle East, the group wields its sense of power from the support of its community. When Matthew spoke with fighters of ARSA; he explained that, militants who have carried out its most recent attacks by using knives and home-made bombs, were acting on the promise of being aided with more automatic weapons, and newer fighters. However, when that plan failed, Myanmar fell into the hands of the Army. ARSA was no match to the military’s prowess.

ARSA fighters, many of whom partially blame themselves for the cataclysmic turn of events, first picked up ammunition to break away from this very sense of helplessness. For them, there was simply no other option. Inadvertently, a combination of threats posed by ARSA and a public maneuvering by a government long prejudiced against Rohingyas, gave way to support for the military among Burmese citizens. Most citizens, who otherwise remain very skeptical about the military’s role in domestic politics, found new ground with the army to quash any militant threats.

A renewed sense of public consensus that backed the government’s strategy of driving out Rohingya from the country pushed into maximum effect in the last few weeks. In spite of international pressure to rein in violence, Aung San Suu Kyi is walking on a tightrope, and is keeping silent, for now.

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At Key Finance Meet, Mongolia Seeks Path to a Greener Economy

14 September 2017 - 2:03pm

Frank Rijsberman.

By Stella Paul
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 14 2017 (IPS)

Rapid growth of a coal-fired economy often leads to environmental degradation, and Mongolia is a case in point.

Alongside an impressive 5.3 percent GDP growth rate, the country has also been witnessing its worst levels of air pollution and is now trying hard to shift to a greener economic model, said experts at the Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum (MSFF) 2017 held Sep. 14 in the capital of Ulaanbaatar."A key achievement of the forum this year was setting up of a new credit system called the Mongolia Green Credit Fund." --Frank Rijsberman, Director General of GGGI

Speaking exclusively to IPS on the sidelines of the event, Frank Rijsberman, Director General of the Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which is a key partner of the forum, said the forum had just helped establish a Mongolia Green Climate Fund which would see a flow of funds for projects that would bring in more green economic growth through cleaner energy, cleaner transport and projects to make Mongolia’s cities more sustainable.

“In Mongolia, the economy has grown very rapidly. That has led to some serious environmental issues. For example, Mongolia has used a lot of coal-based energy. As a result, it now has the worst level of air pollution in the region. If (the pollution in) in New Delhi is bad and worse in Beijing, then it’s the worst in Ulaanbaatar. In fact the country had to declare a national emergency over the brown haze,” said Rijsberman.

The MSSF, which is now in its 5th year, has been working to address this key challenge of poor air quality, besides other environmental issues such as renewable energy and sustainable cities. This year, the forum focused on roping in more partners and increasing the involvement and contribution of current ones in funding the green projects within Mongolia.

There were over 350 participants including national policy makers, business leaders, private sector investors, bankers, government officials, representatives of civic groups and international organizations. They came from a wide array of fields, including green development, sustainable finance, and innovative technologies.

“A key achievement of the forum this year was setting up of a new credit system called the Mongolia Green Credit Fund,” noted Rijsberman.

Launched later this year, the new credit fund is expected to mobilize between 8-10 million dollars to finance energy efficient projects in Ulaanbaatar’s public buildings.

Highlighting his own organization’s involvement in the MSFF and the new credit system, Rijsberman said that GGGI was trying to help Mongolia develop “bankable projects” for the funders.

Mongolia is one of the largest coal-producing countries in the world. According to statistics shared by the Mongolia‘s Ministry of Energy, over 80 percent of the country’s energy is coal-fired. Statistics by other research organisations such as Index Mundi show the air pollution level, measured at 2.5 pm (particulate matter), is dangerously high, while the country’s annual carbon emissions are 14 metric tonnes.

However, the government has committed to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent by 2030. Now, the country needs about seven billion dollars to finance its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, buildings, waste and transportation. The banking sector – the main participant and organizer of the MSFF – has agreed to accelerate sustainable finance initiatives and a green economy transition.

“Apart from that (seven billion dollars), businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need an additional investment of 1.5 trillion dollars in the coming five years mostly for construction and manufacturing sector projects. Additionally, tackling critical sustainability issues such as air and soil pollution requires financing equal to 4.3 billion dollars. To fill in this investment gap, all partners – public, private and international organizations – need to act together,” said Orkhon O., President of the Mongolian Bankers Association.

Rijsberman said GGGI has helped develop MGCF’s Business Plan and conduct market assessment to identify the most crucial areas that require investment to achieve the NDCs. These areas are 1) Cleaner Alternative Heating Solutions for the Ger Segment, 2) Energy Efficiency Products for Large Energy Consumers, and 3) Affordable Green Housing and Mortgage Schemes.

There will be more such assessments in the future, with a special focus on tackling air pollution in Ulaanbaatar .

Asked how the Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum is different from other Green Growth forums as the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF ) of Denmark or the Indonesia Sustainable Finance Forum, Rijsberman said that the forum in Mongolia was organized mainly by a group of banks including the Bank of Mongolia, Credit Bank, Trade & Development Bank and several others. So, it is a forum where investment is a high priority besides fostering partnerships.

“We are especially focusing on energy and sustainable cities and working closely with city and national government partners to improve the regulatory and institutional frameworks needed to launch a green, inclusive Public-Private-Partnership investment program,” he explained.

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Mongolia Seeks to Strengthen Partnerships to Scale up Sustainable Finance

14 September 2017 - 3:36am

By GGGI
ULAANBAATAR, Sep 14 2017 (GGGI)

The Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum 2017 was held on September 14 at Shangri-La Hotel in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, hosted by the Mongolian Bankers Association (MBA), in collaboration with MET, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), Arig bank, IFC, BMZ, UN Environment, PAGE, UNDP-Biofin, the Ministry of Finance, the Bank of Mongolia, the Financial Regulatory Commission, Ulaanbaatar City Mayor’s Office, and the Mongolian National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI).

The Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum, now in its 5th year, is the largest gathering of national policy makers, business leaders, private sector investors, bankers, government officials, representatives of civic groups and international organizations. Under the theme of “Fostering Partnerships to Scale Up Sustainable Finance,” the one-day event brought together leading experts from a wide array of fields, including green development, sustainable finance, and innovative technologies.

Following successful editions of the Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, this year’s event attracted more than 350 participants, including key speakers, panelists and guests from around the world. Among the discussion topics were coming up with a roadmap and taking a collaborative approach to highlight sustainable finance in policies, regulations and non-banking operations, introducing and scaling up a pipeline of projects for the Mongolia Green Credit Fund (MGCF) to potential investors and reaffirming key partners’ commitment going forward, and highlighting the participation of the private sector in preparation for developing green projects.

The Government of Mongolia has expressed commitment to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement and the banking sector unanimously agreed to accelerate sustainable finance initiative and green economy transition. There is an eminent need to build a partnership platform to discuss, review and innovate policies, actions and initiatives and identify possible areas for collaborative efforts. This year’s event featured a visual exhibition where private sector organizations could display their sustainable and green projects and activities to explore potential partnership opportunities.

“In Mongolia, investment required to finance the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, buildings, waste and transportation amount to USD 7 billion. Apart from that, businesses and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need an additional investment of USD 1.5 trillion in the coming five years mostly for construction and manufacturing sector projects. Additionally, tackling critical sustainability issues such as air and soil pollution requires financing equal to USD 4.3 billion. To fill in this investment gap, all partners – public, private and international organizations – need to act together,” said Mr. Orkhon. O, President of the Mongolian Bankers Association.

“GGGI will continue to provide tailor-made and result-oriented support for Mongolia, specifically in relation to the development of bankable projects and the operation of the Mongolia Green Credit Fund (MGCF), the first and the only dedicated financial vehicle for climate finance in the country. In addition, GGGI’s Mongolia team has been working closely with city and national government partners to improve the regulatory and institutional frameworks needed to launch a green, inclusive Public-Private-Partnership investment program. Once launched later this year, the program is expected to mobilize between USD 8-10 million to finance energy efficiency retrofit projects in Ulaanbaatar’s public buildings,” said Dr. Frank Rijsberman, Director-General of GGGI.

“Public and private partnerships play important roles in the development of green finance. Policy makers and financial regulators need to understand the needs of private investors just as much as private investors need to get familiar with Government systems and articulate their needs better. The two must come together,” said Ms. Mahua Acharya, Assistant Director-General and Head of the Investment and Policy Solutions Division.

With the support of GGGI and PAGE, the MGCF’s Business Plan has been developed and relevant legal and market assessments have been conducted. Based on the findings of the market assessment, the initially determined target markets for the fund are i) Cleaner Alternative Heating Solutions for the Ger Segment, ii) Energy Efficiency Products for Large Energy Consumers, and iii) Affordable Green Housing and Mortgage Schemes. Further preparatory activities will be conducted under the Readiness and Preparatory Program of the Green Climate Fund and the MGCF’s set up of operations will take place through 2017 with a view to commence MGCF’s operations by Q4 2017 to tackle air pollution in Ulaanbaatar city.

About the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

Based in Seoul, GGGI is a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organization founded to support and promote green growth. The organization partners with countries to help them build economies that grow strongly, are more efficient and sustainable in the use of natural resources, less carbon intensive, and more resilient to climate change. GGGI works with countries around the world, building their capacity and working collaboratively on green growth policies that can impact the lives of millions. To learn more about GGGI, see http://www.gggi.org and visit us on Facebook and Twitter.

Local GGGI communications contact
Bayarmaa Enkhbayar

Senior Associate-Communications and Knowledge Management
e.bayarmaa@gggi.org

(GGGI Seoul HQ)
HeeKyung Son, Communications Specialist
+82 70-7117-9957
H.Son@GGGI.org

(GGGI Seoul HQ )
Darren Karjama , Head of Communications
+82 70-7117-9966
Darren.Karjama@GGGI.org

 

Mongolian Sustainable Finance Forum 2017

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Intervene now, take action

14 September 2017 - 3:10am

12 Nobel laureates, 15 other eminent citizens call upon UNSC in open letter.

By Staff Correspondent
Sep 14 2017 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Twelve Nobel laureates and 15 other eminent global citizens yesterday urged the UN Security Council to intervene immediately to end the humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

“We call on UNSC to intervene immediately by using all available means. We request you to take immediate action for cessation of indiscriminate military attack on innocent civilians that is forcing them to leave their home and flee country to turn into stateless people,” they said in an open letter to the president and member states of the UNSC.

The move comes at a time when around 3.7 lakh Rohingyas fled Myanmar Army’s crackdown in Rakahine in the last two weeks and entered Bangladesh. More are expected to come while some 87 are estimated to have died in boat capsize on their way across the Bay of Bengal.

The signatories of the letter thanked the UNSC president and member states for holding the UNSC meeting on Rohingya crisis yesterday.

They urged the UNSC to persuade Myanmar government to take immediate steps to implement the recommendations put forward by the Rakhine Advisory Commission that Myanmar itself established last year under the pressure of the international community.

The Advisory Commission, comprised of mostly Myanmar citizens and chaired by Kofi Annan, recommended providing citizenship to the Rohingyas, allowing them freedom of movement, rights and equality before the law, ensuring communal representation, lack of which affects Muslims disproportionately, and facilitating UN assistance in ensuring safety and security of returning people.

“The fear became reality through the attack on Myanmar security forces by the militants. Unless, constructive effort to build lasting peace is taken, the situation will get worse which in turn may pose serious security threat to the neighbouring countries.”

To implement the recommendations, the signatories suggested reappointing the commission members immediately to constitute an Implementation Committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations, taking immediate steps to stop the outflow of Rohingyas, inviting international observers on a regular basis to visit vulnerable areas, taking back the refugees and building camps within Myanmar to rehabilitate Rohingyas upon their return with UN financing and supervision.

Of the signatories, 10 Nobel peace laureates are Prof Muhammad Yunus (2006), Betty Williams (1976), Oscar Arias Sánchez (1987), Shirin Ebadi (2003), Tawakkol Karman (2011), Máiread Maguire (1976), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (1984), Jody Williams (1997), Leymah Gbowee (2011), Malala Yousafzai (2014), and two Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine — Sir Richard J. Roberts (1993) and Elizabeth Blackburn (2009).

Apart from them, 18 eminent global citizens — former Malaysian minister for foreign affairs Syed Hamid Albar; business leader and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson; entrepreneur and philanthropist Mo Ibrahim; Voice of Libyan Women and SDG advocate Alaa Murabit; former Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya; business leader and SDG advocate Paul Polman; director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Jeffrey D. Sachs; business leader and philanthropist Jochen Zeitz; former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino; former prime minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland; human rights activist Kerry Kennedy; business leader Narayana Murthy; former secretary-general of ASEAN Surin Pitsuwan; former president of Ireland Mary Robinson; Actor and SDG advocate Forest Whitaker, actor and activist Shabana Azmi; poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar and former chair of Human Rights Commission, Pakistan Asma Jahangir singed the letter.

“The human tragedy and crimes against humanity unfolding in the Arakan region of Myanmar need your immediate intervention. This is one of the decisive moments when bold and decisive actions are needed promptly when it is still possible to get it resolved,” they said.

According to different organisations, the recent military offensive by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine state has led to the killing of hundreds of Rohingyas and hundreds of thousands displaced.

“Complete villages have been burned, women raped, many civilians arbitrarily arrested, and children killed. Crucially, humanitarian aid organisations have been almost completely denied access, creating an appalling humanitarian crisis in an area already extremely poor.”

Referring to the huge influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh, the eminent personalities in the letter said human misery created by such massive displacement of men, women and children under the threat of death is getting worse every day.

“Some of us denounced the previous spate of violence late last year and wrote to you to intervene. However, the situation has not improved. We urge you to take decisive actions to stop the violence against innocent civilians and bring permanent peace in Rakhine state.

“The arguments that the Myanmar government is using to deny Rohingyas their citizenship are ludicrous, to say the least. At independence of Burma from the British in 1948 and under successive governments, Burma recognized the people of all ethnicities within its border, including the Rohingyas, as full citizens, having representation in the parliament.”

The military juntas in the 1980s had decided that Rohingyas were not Burmese. “Accordingly, they stripped the Rohingyas of their citizenship. They used military and political means to make sure that the Rohingyas leave the country. Systematic persecution aiming at ethnic and religious cleansing began.”

The Nobel laureates and other luminaries joined the Secretary General of the United Nations in re-emphasizing that the grievances and unresolved plight of the Rohingya have festered for far too long and are becoming an undeniable factor in regional destabilisation. The authorities in Myanmar must take determined action to put an end to this vicious cycle of violence and to provide security and assistance to all those in need.

“A bold change in approach is needed by United Nations and the international community if there is to be an end to the cycle of violence against the Rohingyas. The government of Myanmar needs to be told that international support and finance is conditional on a major change in policy towards the Rohingya.”

Propaganda and incitement of hatred and all violence, particularly state violence against Rohingyas, must stop, discriminatory laws and policies must go and the recommendations of Kofi Annan’s commission must be implemented immediately, they emphasized.

The world is anxiously waiting to see that the UNSC is playing its role to bring an end to a humanitarian catastrophe and build peace in the region, they summed up.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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