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Biden welcomes Kenya's leader as US under pressure in Africa

BBC Africa - Thu, 05/23/2024 - 10:02
Kenya's William Ruto becomes the first African leader to make an official state visit to the US in 15 years.
Categories: Africa

Lessons From Youth-Focused ‘Future Action Festival’ Ahead of UN Summit of the Future

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/23/2024 - 09:32

Soka Gakkai International representative and member of the organizing committee for the Future Action Festival, Tadashi Nagai, stressed the importance of coalition and movement building and youth engagement to escalate progress towards attainment of the SDGs. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

By Joyce Chimbi
NAIROBI, May 23 2024 (IPS)

The world has crossed the halfway point to the end of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) era amid multiple, unprecedented, and significantly destructive global shocks. Two of the most pressing global challenges are the climate crisis and the threat of nuclear armament. Of serious concern is a severe lack of youth engagement on issues of critical global importance.

Speaking to IPS during the 2024 UN Civil Society Conference, the outcome of which will inform high-level discussions when the UN hosts hundreds of world leaders, policymakers, experts, and advocates in September at the Summit of the Future in New York, Tadashi Nagai stressed the importance of coalition and movement building and youth engagement to escalate progress towards attainment of the SDGs. 

“In March 2024, the Future Action Festival took place in Tokyo, attended by approximately 66,000 people and over half a million viewers via live streaming. The event was a collaborative effort by youth and citizen groups to foster a deeper understanding and proactive stance among young people on nuclear disarmament and climate change solutions as two issues of global concern,” said Nagai, a representative of the Soka Gakkai International organization and the organizing committee of the Future Action Festival at the Nairobi conference.

The organizing committee comprised representatives from six organizations, including GeNuine, Greenpeace Japan, Japan Youth Council, Kakuwaka Hiroshima, Youth for TPNW, and Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Youth. Nagai said the high impact committee is reflective of a tangible, impactful coalition and movement building towards resolving issues of global, national, and local concern in the two major existential threats today—nuclear weapons and the climate crisis.

Nagai spoke of the inalienable link between youth engagement and the delivery of the promise of a peaceful world—a requisite for the attainment of the SDGs and other related global and national commitments. In the lead-up to the Future Action Festival, a youth awareness survey was conducted across Japan from November 2023 to February 2024, targeting individuals ranging from their 10s to their 40s. The survey focused on thematic areas such as society, climate change, nuclear weapons, youth and social systems, and the United Nations.

The survey results were illuminating, providing insights into how the youth perceive these issues and their possible role in resolving them. On the realization of a world free from nuclear weapons for instance, survey results showed that 82 percent of the respondents said nuclear weapons are not needed. Based on a sample size of 119,925 respondents, nuclear abolition is a widely shared vision among young people in Japan.

“We come with lessons from Japan on how civil society organizations represented at the Nairobi conference can build impactful, informative, and life-transforming coalitions and movements to address the most existential threats facing humanity today. This particular conference is unique, historic, and highly critical as it comes ahead of the UN Summit of the Future. The Future Action Festival was an opportunity to collect the voices of young people on issues of critical importance to the global community, in the same way that the outcome of the Nairobi conference will inform the UN Summit later on in September,” Nagai said.

Through the festival, the committee was determined to contribute to UN initiatives and endorse the newly-established UN Youth Office. Additionally, it aims to create momentum to strengthen international cooperation and solidarity toward a peaceful and sustainable future.

With this in mind, a joint declaration from the Future Action Festival was submitted to the UN to inform, influence, and shape high-level discussions at the Summit towards the production of three international frameworks: the Pact for the Future (available as a zero draft), the Global Digital Compact, and the Declaration on Future Generations. Nagai said that the Pact for the Future must be ambitious, inclusive, and innovative.

Under the theme, Summit of the Future: Multilateral Solutions for a Better Tomorrow, the summit aims to forge a new global consensus on what a collective future should look like and what can be done today to secure it. Enhancing cooperation on critical challenges and addressing gaps in global governance, reaffirming existing commitments, including to the SDGs, towards a reinvigorated multilateral system better placed to positively impact lives. The Summit of the Future will create conditions to help fast-track implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be more readily attained.

Affirming the critical role of young people in sustainable development, the position of world leaders in the 2030 Agenda is that SDGs would only be attained if they were of the people, by the people, and for the people. The 2030 Agenda invites citizen engagement, especially from young people, to “channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better world,” Nagai said.

Hence the link between the civil society conference, the summit, and other events such as the Future Action Festival—all geared towards effectively addressing issues of global concern such as climate change, war, and worsening inequalities. Every proposal offered by the UN Secretary-General for consideration at the UN Summit of the Future will have demonstrable impacts on the achievement of the SDGs.

Ultimately, the Nairobi conference was a process of renewal of trust and solidarity at all levels—between peoples, countries, and generations. Making a case for a fundamental rethink of political, economic, and social systems so that they deliver more fairly and effectively for everyone.

At the closing of the conference, Mithika Mwenda, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, emphasized the need for “boldness and honest conversations” to achieve the radical transformations needed to ensure sustainable development for all, poverty alleviation, and ultimately, an action-oriented Pact for the Future (one of the expected outcomes of the Summit).

Civil society groups and organizations also recommended a corresponding renewal of the multilateral system, with the Summit of the Future as a defining moment to agree on the most critical improvements necessary to deliver a future defined by equality, fairness, and shared prosperity.

Secretary-General António Guterres and Kenyan President William Ruto praised the efforts of civil society and underscored their “indispensable contributions.”

In his address, Guterres said time and again that he had witnessed the enormous impact of civil society in every corner of the world; easing suffering, pushing for peace and justice, standing for truth, and advancing gender equality and sustainable development, with many working at great personal risk.

Regarding current conflicts, including Gaza, Sudan, and ongoing crises in the Sahel, Great Lakes, and Horn of Africa regions, he said that the UN would give up on the “push for peace, justice, and human rights.

He recognized that civil society was crucial to addressing many issues in the world, including closing digital divides and revitalizing the collective approach to peace and security.

“We need to be informed by your frontline know-how; We need your can-do attitude to overcome obstacles and find innovative solutions,” said Guterres. “We need you to use your networks, knowledge, and contacts to implement solutions and to persuade governments to act.”

Note: This article is brought to you by IPS Noram in collaboration with INPS Japan and Soka Gakkai International in consultative status with ECOSOC.

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Categories: Africa

Democracy, Civic Space and Fundamental Freedoms Are under Attack, but Civil Society Is Here to Stay

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/23/2024 - 09:23

Forus General Assembly in Gaborone, Botswana. Credit: Forus

By Sarah Strack
GABORONE, Botswana, May 23 2024 (IPS)

During the Forus network’s General Assembly which took place in Gaborone, Botswana, civil society organisations from across 65 countries highlighted the challenges facing them globally in an increasingly polarised and crisis-hit world.

Participants discussed strategic foresight, policy demands and capacity strengthening – scanning the horizon for emerging and chronic issues affecting civil society, activists, journalists and human rights defenders worldwide.

Solidarity and local power

Year after year, civil society organisations have witnessed growing violence particularly directed against those defending human rights and the environment, as well as leaders of indigenous groups.

“Democracy, civic space and fundamental freedoms are under attack in various countries across the globe. Socio-economic disparities and gender based violence are on the rise in most geographies. The world is again failing to achieve its commitments made under various developmental, environmental and financial frameworks. It’s time for global civil society and human rights actors to reflect jointly and strategise on our future course of action,” says Zia ur Rehman, Regional Coordinator of the Asia Development Alliance who joined the Forus network in Botswana for the General Assembly.

The event also pointed to other conflicts and challenges – from the “chronic” humanitarian crises to conflicts and the impacts of climate change and migration patterns. Civil society from all continents crafted a collective way forward, informed by local realities.

Forus General Assembly in Gaborone, Botswana. Credit: Forus

Local civil society from Botswana shared their journey in fighting gender-based violence.

“Gender-based violence is a national pandemic, a violation of grand magnitude of human rights. Civil society organisations in Botswana continue to do such a commendable job in trying to help the country to overcome this scourge. As BOCONGO, we remain committed to support and advance the work of our members in this regard,” says Kagiso Molatlhwa, BOCONGO Executive Director. A message echoed by Gender Links an organisation working across the Southern African region, who says, “ending gender-based violence starts with empowering women”.

A year that could set the tone for the future

In terms of civic engagement, this year has been called the ‘super election’ year, with billions of people voting while navigating “the geopolitical disinformation maze”. The potential repercussions of such a pivotal year pushed civil society to reflect on how to preserve fundamental freedoms and civic participation in turbulent times.

According to research, elections in many jurisdictions have been affected by violence and arbitrary arrests, targeting opposition candidates and political leaders, as well as civil society, human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and election observers. At the same time political misrepresentation and manipulation online is a known concern.

The Forus network emphasized the strength of collective action and care in achieving local and global goals. From mutual support and “regenerative activism” to the protection of democratic values, alternative models and innovative approaches to address democratic challenges, civil society is calling for renewed international solidarity and shared visions to protect one another.

“We are concerned about the closure of civic spaces that are becoming stronger every day, but the search for alliances allows us to strengthen and recognize the important work of civil society, promoting sustainable development to build a more just and equitable society,” says Francisco Garcia of the national civil society platform in Honduras, ASONOG.

After a major UN civil society conference wrapped up in Nairobi earlier this month in preparation for the “summit of the future” coming up this September, civil society globally calls for “bold and honest” conversations among governments and civil society to drive forward a shared vision for reinvigorated and inclusive multilateralism.

The power of the network

The Forus General Assembly was organised in partnership with the national civil society platform BOCONGO and the regional coalition Southern African Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SAf-CNGO) with support from the European Union and the Agence Francaise de Developpement.

“Our gathering was a wonderful opportunity to reiterate our resolve to continue our struggles against inequalities to make this world a better place to live where everyone enjoys rightful spaces and choices of life,” says Zia ur Rehman, Regional Coordinator of the Asia Development Alliance.

“Your current life is a result of your thought life,” says Moses Isooba, Executive Director of the Uganda National NGO Forum, highlighting the importance of spending time together to “exude deep conceptual clarity” of where the Forus network wants to go.

ANONG, the national civil society platform in Uruguay, highlighted the importance of civil society meeting across countries, for exchange and community-building. Transforming actions are born from these spaces of construction and reflection which represent an impulse to continue our work for the defense of human rights”.

Monametsi Sokwe from the Southern African Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, concluded by highlighting the importance of continuing to innovate to address emerging challenges, fighting for sustainable development, and creating a resilient and inclusive society.

“Civil society organisations are essential throughout the world, providing humanitarian aid, supporting community resilience, fighting for human rights, justice, equity, democracy and peace. They fight for the creation and animation of spaces where we can all learn from each other, and even from our differences, to act for the collective well-being. Such spaces are precious, and dialogue is crucial to making progress. Together, we can overcome the challenges of our time, by opening to the rich diversity that the world has to offer, while respecting our values. This will help us to find new solutions to the aspirations of our peoples and to safeguard our planet,” said civil society leader Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network.

IPS UN Bureau


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Sarah Strack is Forus Director
Categories: Africa

North Macedonia Turns Back the Clock

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/23/2024 - 08:39

Credit: Robert Atanasovski/AFP via Getty Images

By Andrew Firmin
LONDON, May 23 2024 (IPS)

The old guard is back in North Macedonia, as the former ruling party – the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) – returns to parliamentary and presidential power.

Long the country’s dominant political force, the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE had been out of power since 2016. But this month, the political alliance it leads came first in the parliamentary election, taking 58 of 120 seats. In the presidential election runoff, its candidate triumphed with 61 per cent of the vote. In both cases the centre-left, pro-Europe Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), which had led the governing coalition and held the presidency, came a distant second. In parliament, its political alliance lost 28 of its 46 seats with only 14 per cent of the vote.

VMRO-DPMNE made its way back to office by harnessing widespread public frustration over the country’s attempt to join the European Union (EU), which has moved slowly, been dogged by controversy and forced the government to make numerous compromises. SDSM stood on a platform of rapid constitutional reform to accelerate progress, but VMRO-DPMNE, while claiming to support EU membership, opposes further changes. Its return signals a turn away from Europe, and a likely worsening of civil society conditions.

Rocky road towards the EU

North Macedonia has been an official candidate to join the EU since 2005. Negotiations are always lengthy, but North Macedonia’s road has been particularly bumpy. Before it could begin formal negotiations, it had to change the country’s name. Any existing EU member can block a non-member’s accession, and Greece stood in the way. The country shared its name with a region of Greece, which the Greek government saw as implying a territorial claim.

The hugely controversial issue brought extensive protests as name-change negotiations reached their conclusion in 2018. A referendum intended to approve the change failed when a boycott left turnout well below the level required; VMRO-DPMNE urged its supporters to reject the deal. The referendum was non-binding, and parliament went on to change the constitution regardless in January 2019.

Then Bulgaria intervened. The Bulgarian government insists its North Macedonian counterpart must do more to prevent the spread of anti-Bulgarian sentiments and protect the rights of the country’s Bulgarian minority. This heated issue, inflamed by much disinformation, helped force a political crisis in Bulgaria in 2022 when the government collapsed.

The two sides finally struck a deal to allow North Macedonia to begin EU negotiations in July 2022, but disputes still flare. In 2023 Bulgaria’s parliament warned it could halt the process again. North Macedonia’s outgoing government failed to win the two-thirds parliamentary majority needed to change the constitution to recognise the Bulgarian minority.

Relations with Bulgaria played their part in the campaign. Some think the government has gone too far in compromising, and VMRO-DPMNE characterised the SDSM-led government’s actions as a surrender.

As a consequence of all the delays and compromises, public support for joining the EU has fallen.

A troubling return

VMRO-DPMNE led the government for a decade from 2006 to 2016, with Nikola Gruevski prime minister throughout. The party also held the presidency, a less powerful role, from 2009 to 2019.

Gruevski and his party fell from grace in 2016 amid allegations that he and many more of his party’s politicians were involved in a wiretapping scandal affecting over 20,000 people. Mass protests followed. VMRO-DPMNE still came first in the 2016 parliamentary election but couldn’t form a coalition, so power passed to an SDSM-led government. SDSM retained power in the 2020 election, and its candidate won the presidency in 2019.

Gruevski’s fall was swift. In 2018, he was sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, but he fled to Hungary, where the government of his authoritarian friend Viktor Orbán granted him political asylum. Further convictions followed, including a seven-year sentence for money laundering and illegal acquisition of property.

From exile, Gruevski has continued to criticise the government that replaced him. And while relations with VMRO-DPMNE’s current leader are hostile, ideologically VMRO-DPMNE still carries his fingerprints and the networks Gruevski developed among supportive media, the private sector and criminal groups remain. Under Gruevski, the party took a nationalist, pro-Russia and anti-west direction, promoting identity politics that hark back to the ancient Macedonian Empire.

For civil society, this makes the results concerning news. Conditions deteriorated during VMRO-DPMNE’s decade in power. The party’s identity politics fuelled a polarised environment. Nationalist groups physically attacked several journalists. Civil society leaders were among those subjected to illegal surveillance. Using the same tactics as Orbán, the government hurled abuse at civil society groups receiving funding from Open Society Foundations, accusing them of colluding with foreign governments. It subjected critical organisations to financial audits and raided their offices.

The election was held in an atmosphere of intense polarisation and proliferating disinformation, some originating in Russia, which doesn’t want any more countries joining the EU. There’s now a risk of a return to the politics of division, which would bring a resumption of attacks on civil society and independent media. VMRO-DPMNE has already made clear it’s looking for confrontation. New president Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova upset Greece by using North Macedonia’s old name during her inauguration ceremony.

The EU impasse wasn’t the only reason voters were unhappy. People haven’t seen any progress in combating corruption or improving economic conditions and public services. In country after country, there’s a broader pattern of electoral volatility as voters, unhappy with the performance of incumbents in difficult economic conditions, shop around for anything that looks different. Populist and nationalist parties – even long-established ones such as VMRO-DPMNE – are doing best at making an emotional connection with voters’ anger, offering deceptively simple answers and promising change.

For civil society, that means there’s now work to be done in depolarising the debate, building consensus and defending civic freedoms: a tall order, but a vital one, for which it’ll need a lot of support.

Andrew Firmin is CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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Categories: Africa

Empowering Women Could Boost Fertility, & Economic Growth in Japan and Korea

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/23/2024 - 08:04

Credit: IMF

By Kohei Asao, TengTeng Xu and Xin Cindy Xu
WASHINGTON DC, May 23 2024 (IPS)

Women in Japan and Korea face especially tough challenges juggling career and family. Many young women witness their peers encountering promotion delays after marriage and childbirth, dealing with problems splitting housework responsibilities, and having difficulty finding adequate childcare.

The financial burden associated with raising children, including the costs of larger living spaces and ensuring a competitive education for their offspring, is an additional factor affecting couples’ decisions on whether to expand their families.

Consequently, later marriages and childbirth have become increasingly more common, contributing significantly to declining fertility in these two countries. At 0.72 and 1.26, respectively, the latest fertility rates in Korea and Japan are among the lowest in the world.

Meanwhile, large gaps between men and women still exist in employment and wages, particularly for leadership positions. Representation of women in senior management roles is less than 15 percent in both Japan and Korea, among the lowest in G20 countries.

What are some of the conditions in and outside the workplace that contribute to low fertility and large gender gaps for both countries?

Social norms in these two countries place a heavy burden on women. Women in Japan and Korea perform approximately five times more unpaid housework and caregiving than men, more than double the OECD average for gaps between men and women in unpaid work.

Fathers in these two economies take less paternity leave compared with those in peer economies, despite more generous benefits.

Furthermore, something known among economists as “labor market duality” disproportionately affects women. In both countries, this means that a large share of women workers hold temporary, part-time, or other types of “non-regular” positions with low wages and limited opportunities for skill development and career advancement.

Some women who left the labor force (departing jobs with regular hours and benefits) during the early years of their kids’ childhood could only return to “non-regular” positions. Seniority-based promotion systems further penalize mothers who return to work.

Finally, working arrangements in these countries are often not family-friendly. Long working hours, inflexible schedules, and limited use of telework in Japan and Korea make balancing career and childcare responsibilities extremely challenging for women.

The governments of Japan and Korea have acted to support women, including through enhanced childcare and maternity leave policies, but more efforts are needed from these governments, business communities, and society at large:

First, reducing “non-regular” employment conditions, encouraging merit-based promotions, and facilitating more job mobility can help support more employment and career growth opportunities for women.

A recent IMF analysis on Korea estimates that reducing severance payments for regular workers (which eases dismissals and facilitates labor reallocation for both men and women) by 30 percent alone can significantly increase labor force participation among women and productivity growth (by 0.9 and up to 0.5 percentage point, respectively).

The productivity gains could be further increased if complemented with measures to support career development and facilitate job mobility for women. The net impact on male workers is also positive due to a more effective allocation of labor.

Recent IMF research on Japan suggests that various distortions in Japan’s tax and social security system discourage second-income earners—a large portion of employed women in the country—from working more.

Second, further expanding childcare facilities and facilitating fathers’ contributions to home and childcare, including establishing stronger incentive mechanisms for paternity leave use, are crucial.

Japan’s fertility rate mostly stabilized after the country expanded childcare facilities over a decade ago, and recent IMF studies on Japan confirm that increasing such facilities further would have a positive impact both on fertility and women’s career advancement.

Third, facilitating a cultural shift in the workplace by expanding the use of telework and flexible working-time arrangements could support increased women labor participation, while also allowing men to share more responsibilities at home.

Rising female labor force participation has already contributed to the post-pandemic growth recovery in Japan and Korea, while significant gains would result from further closing the gender gap.

IMF analysis suggests that policies that reduce Korea’s gap between men and women in hours worked in to the OECD average by 2035 can boost the country’s per capita GDP by 18 percent compared with no change.

Another IMF study shows that bridging Japan’s large gap in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields can boost the country’s total factor productivity growth by 20 percent and social welfare by 4 percent.

In Japan and Korea, policies aimed at closing gender gaps and progressively shifting cultural norms will help increase the growth potential, despite demographic headwinds.

They also can help gradually reverse declining trends in fertility, allowing women in Japan and Korea to manage having a family while pursuing fulfilling careers, and, in turn, to contribute significantly to their economies and societies.

Kohei Asao, TengTeng Xu and Xin Cindy Xu are economists in the IMF’s Asia-Pacific Department. For more information, see recent selected issues papers on Structural Barriers to Wage Income Growth in Japan, Women in STEM Fields in Japan, Japan’s Fertility: More Children Please, and Why So Few Women in Leadership Positions in Japan?

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

Education Cannot Wait Interviews Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative to Haiti

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 20:11

By External Source
May 22 2024 (IPS-Partners)

Bruno Maes is the UNICEF Representative in Haiti. He officially took office in August 2020. A Belgian national, Mr. Maes previously served as UNICEF Representative in Madagascar from 2007 to 2012, in Chad from 2012 to 2015, and recently in Egypt from September 2015 to 2020.

Mr. Maes joined UNICEF in 2000 and served as Deputy Representative in Burundi and Ethiopia. Before joining UNICEF, he served as Representation of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) for Angola.

Mr. Maes holds a Master’s Degree in development economics from the University of Louvain, Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium.

ECW: Armed groups reportedly now control 80-90% of Port-au-Prince and over 360,000 people – the majority of them children – have been displaced. The country seems to be mired in a culture of violence. How can Education Cannot Wait, UNICEF and other local partners work together to provide these girls and boys with the safety and protection of quality, holistic learning environments?

Bruno Maes: UNICEF expresses grave concern over the swift deterioration of the security situation countrywide, particularly in multiple neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince and in the Artibonite Department. Recent weeks have seen a disturbing trend of violence targeting public institutions and vital social infrastructures, including schools. The violence has led to the temporary closure of hundreds of schools, depriving children of their right to education.

The instability in Haiti continues to undermine education. Frequent disruptions in educational services have posed significant challenges in accessing schools. Occupation of classrooms by armed groups and by internally displaced persons (IDPs) has further reduced access, leaving children vulnerable to the increased risk of recruitment into armed groups or to being the victim of social exclusion, sexual and physical abuse, and socioeconomic discrimination.

As of the end of January, a total of 900 schools had temporarily closed, depriving approximately 200,000 children of their right to education. In a country facing increasingly complex conflicts and instability, education can never be considered merely an option. It must be acknowledged as a necessity, a matter of survival, and a key to social stability.

In Haiti, UNICEF is ensuring access to inclusive and relevant quality education, in a safe and protective learning environment, for all students in public school, including children living with disabilities, affected by a situation of violence, armed conflict or natural disaster.

Support from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) helps UNICEF in assisting families affected by violence and displacement to reintegrate children into formal education. Where integration into formal schools is not feasible, UNICEF collaborates with partners to establish alternative, safe, and temporary learning environments for children. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to ECW for its invaluable support in our efforts to sustain education in emergencies (EiE).

Regarding our expectations of ECW, UNICEF, and other local partners on issues of safety and the protection of a holistic, quality learning environment, we believe that the best way to work together will be to ensure capacity building of teachers on key issues. These include protection, mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) for children through protection mechanisms combined with social-emotional learning (SEL) activities in targeted schools. This action must be carried out through a strong partnership with the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training (MENFP in French).

In connection with ongoing initiatives to strengthen psychosocial support and social cohesion in the response, we need to mobilize for the integration of MHPSS into teaching, the strengthening of the code of conduct recently validated by the MENFP to reinforce social cohesion in the school environment, the implementation of school referral mechanisms to other sectors such as hild protection, health, nutrition, the promotion of the Safe Schools Declaration, and, finally, the adoption of gender-based violence risk mitigation measures and school safety plans in the face of attacks on education.

ECW: The education in emergencies response in Haiti – and indeed across the world – is underfunded. Why should donors scale-up funding through multilateral funds such as Education Cannot Wait to respond to this forgotten crisis and deliver on the promises outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?

Bruno Maes: There are many reasons why donors should increase funding through multilateral funds such as ECW. I can mention two:

Firstly, ECW is a structure that has considerable influence at global and even national levels, due to the funds it has already granted to Haiti. These include ECW’s First Emergency Response from 2021 to 2022 in response to the Great South earthquake, and then the Multi-Year Resilience Programme for the period 2022-2025). ECW’s technical expertise, direct relations with UN agencies in Haiti (WFP, UNICEF, the Office of the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator), transparent fiduciary management and long experience of working with different countries and regions are major assets to support this argument. Like the United Nations, ECW as a multilateral fund plays a very important role in low-income countries, including in emergency situations.

Secondly, the purpose of these funds – financed by multiple countries – is the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 4, which is our collective goal, in line with the 2030 agenda. And as the fund’s name suggests, education cannot wait in Haiti. The current situation has led to an increase in the number of internally displaced persons, and has created huge gaps in terms of access to basic social services such as education and health. As I speak, almost 4,000 schools are temporarily unable to function in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area (this situation would affect nearly 1.2 million students). Speaking in Washington DC in April on “Linking Education and National Security, Competitiveness and Global Stability” as part of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ “Quality Education for Security and Economic Growth” initiative, Haiti’s Minister of Education, Nesmy Manigat, described the educational response to the current situation as “a race against time, not only to guarantee the right to education for thousands of children affected by the crisis, but also to prevent some of them from unwittingly becoming child bandits or child soldiers.”

ECW: #RightHereRightNow, climate change, environmental degradation, soaring temperatures, natural disasters and extreme weather events create a clear and present risk for the children of Haiti. How can we connect education action with climate action in Haiti and beyond?

Bruno Maes: It’s worth remembering that among island countries, Haiti ranks 3rd in terms of vulnerability to climate change. It is also well known that extreme weather events are becoming increasingly severe, occurring almost five times more frequently than 40 years ago, disrupting the education of nearly 40 million children worldwide every year.

In Haiti, the consequences of the most recent earthquake caused enormous damage to infrastructure, with 1,250 basic schools in the three hardest-hit areas (Cayes, Camp-Perrin and Sant-Louis-du-Sud/South department) damaged or destroyed. This situation has directly or indirectly affected 307,359 pupils, whose educational continuity has been disrupted. Nearly 7,512 teachers and more than 1,000 school principals were affected by the earthquake.

There are several ways of connecting education action with climate action in Haiti and beyond, including the promotion of key related themes in new curricula. These would include: the management of household waste and plastic waste; the fight against deforestation and its main consequences; the fight against the unhealthy school environment and the living environment of the learner; the fight against the consequences of certain human activities harmful to the environment (industrial waste, greenhouse gas emissions); the rational management of water resources in a context of climate change; and the management of energy sources in a context of global warming. The unpredictability of the consequences of climate change is likely to exacerbate the climatic impacts on already sensitive sectors, such as education, and limit the country’s economic growth.

ECW: This is arguably the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere; how can education promote peace, stability, and economic resilience in a context like Haiti?

Bruno Maes: In the Haitian context, and in line with the aforementioned speech by Haiti’s Minister of Education, I believe that education can promote peace, stability and economic resilience through curriculum transformation. This is the most important step in meeting the challenges of an unstable world undergoing rapid social, economic, technological and climatic change.

As the Minister of Education suggested in the same statement quoted above this, to achieve this:

    o Efforts must be made to ensure that curriculum transformation is integrated throughout the education system, including curricula and textbooks, teacher preparation and pedagogy, assessment and school climate etc.
    o Education systems must equip young people with the life skills and knowledge they need to make a successful transition from the classroom to the world of work. Indeed, it has been shown that there is a positive link between increased human capital and economic outcomes such as higher wages, increased labor market participation rates and economic growth.
    o The modalities of the offer or its curriculum must lead to inclusion and equity. Otherwise, education could turn out to be a double-edged sword, leading to or exacerbating conflict. At this level, the country needs to develop and implement public policies to ensure that educational services are a public good that is equitably shared and promotes peace and social justice.
    o One of MENFP’s priority advocacy issues for Haiti’s next constitutional revision will be to raise awareness of the need for a consensus to integrate the percentage of minimum public spending per year for the education sector.

ECW: We all know that ‘leaders are readers.’ What are three books that have most influenced you personally and/or professionally, and why would you recommend them to others?

Bruno Maes: The Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell. Based on a true story, this book follows a young teacher, Erin Gruwell, who transforms the lives of her at-risk students through the power of education and writing. In the face of adversity and societal expectations, Erin encourages her students to express themselves through writing, helping them find their voices and realize their potential. The book is a compilation of diary entries written by the students themselves, chronicling their personal struggles, triumphs, and growth over the course of their high school years. The Freedom Writers Diary illustrates the profound effect that a dedicated teacher and a supportive educational environment can have on students, especially those facing significant challenges. It’s a testament to the transformative power of education in empowering young people to overcome obstacles and create a better future for themselves.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. This powerful memoir tells the story of Tara’s journey from growing up in a strict and isolated household in rural Idaho, where education was undervalued and often inaccessible, to ultimately pursuing higher education at prestigious universities like Harvard and Cambridge. Through her compelling narrative, Tara highlights the transformative power of education in breaking free from the constraints of her upbringing and shaping her identity.

And finally, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.” This passage beautifully captures perspective on the unique essence and individuality of children, emphasizing the importance of nurturing their growth and allowing them to pursue their own paths in life. It invites stakeholders to support children’s education not to mold them into replicas of themselves, but to empower them to discover and fulfill their own potential.


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Categories: Africa

Education Cannot Wait’s #ShareTheirVoices Global Advocacy Campaign Launched by ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif in Lead Up to United Nations Summit of the Future

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 19:42

Every Crisis-Affected Girl and Boy has the Right to Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education

By External Source
May 22 2024 (IPS-Partners)

In the lead up to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ Summit of the Future, taking place on 22-23 September 2024, Education Cannot Wait is supporting the global #ActNow Campaign with an urgent call to increase funding for the +226 million crisis-impacted children worldwide urgently in need of an education through ECW’s global #ShareTheirVoices campaign.

According to the United Nations, without additional resources, 84 million children and youth will be out of school by 2030, 300 million will lack basic numeracy and literacy skills, and only one out of six nations worldwide will achieve our promise of universal secondary education. Low- and lower-middle income countries face a US$100 billion annual financing gap to reach their education targets.

Education Cannot Wait (ECW), as the global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises within the United Nations, has mobilized US$900 million towards its US$1.5 billion funding target required to deliver on our 2023-2026 Strategic Plan. ECW urgently appeals to donors for US$600 million to close the funding gap so we can reach 20 million crisis-affected children and adolescents with the safety, hope and opportunity of quality education.

ECW’s #ShareTheirVoices campaign brings together the words of crisis-affected girls and boys from places like Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gaza, North-East Nigeria, Sudan, Haiti, Cox’s Bazaar, South Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, where the converging challenges of armed conflict, forced displacement, climate change and other protracted crises are derailing development gains and putting girls’ and boys’ lives at grave risk.

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls and women are officially, and unacceptably, banned from secondary and tertiary education. One Afghan girl says, “I may have been denied the right to learn, but my hunger for knowledge will not be extinguished. I will find a way to educate myself and inspire others to do the same.” Afghans girls deserve no less than an equal opportunity to develop their potential, thrive and pursue their dreams. We must continue to share their voices.

In Gaza, the education system has collapsed. Innocent children are bearing the brutal brunt of a catastrophic humanitarian situation unfolding before our eyes. Since early October, 625,000 children enrolled in schools across Gaza have had no access to education, and approximately 86% of school buildings have been damaged or destroyed. Despite the destruction and devastation that surrounds them, children are still grasping on to the hope of a brighter future where they can live and learn in peace and protection. A school-aged girl in Gaza says, “I love school, I don’t like war at all. I miss my teacher very much. I miss my friends, and I miss playing with them.”

From within the world’s largest refugee camp, Cox’s Bazaar, located in Bangladesh, 11-year-old Zawad, a Rohingya refugee, says, “Educated people have the knowledge to define right and wrong, which will help them lead a better life. I ask world leaders to provide more support for education.”

The deadly armed conflict in Ukraine continues to rage on with millions of girls and boys heavily affected – suffering trauma, shelling, displacement, injury and death. School is an important place for 16-year-old Anastasia but the piercing siren signaling possible rocket attacks is all-too familiar. “When we go to the shelter, it’s harder to sit in class. It’s hard to hear, it’s hot and it’s harder to memorize information – but I feel safe at school,” says Anastasia, who dreams of one day becoming a doctor.

Aisha, 13, is in a wheelchair, and was denied education for most of her life as a result of her disability and ongoing conflict and insecurity in North-East Nigeria. “Before I came to this school, I was not doing anything – no education at all. Now, I am able to learn and, when I grow up, I want to become a teacher so I can teach other kids,” says Aisha. She is just one of 20 million children out of school in Nigeria.

If we don’t #ShareTheirVoices, if we don’t act, what chance do these crisis-affected – yet full of potential and hope – children have? And what hope does humanity have if a quarter of a billion children and adolescents never access a school and only experience brutal violence and trauma? For Aisha, Anastasia, and millions of other girls and boys caught in crises across the world, education is not just life-changing, it is also lifesaving.

We must #ShareTheirVoices as we come together as a global community to #ActNow for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and for universal human rights. We know that quality education is an essential support in delivering on all of the other SDGs, from ending famine, starvation and extreme poverty, to gender equality and addressing the climate crisis.

Education Cannot Wait for any crisis-affected child – no matter who or where they are. Let’s #ShareTheirVoices and #ActNow: every girl and boy has the right to the safety, hope and opportunity of a quality education.


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Categories: Africa

The Pact for the Future Must Include the Unique Needs of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Persons

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 18:19

There are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States of America alone, the highest number of prisoners in the world per country. Credit: Bigstock

By Oswald Newbold II
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida, US, May 22 2024 (IPS)

This month, non-governmental actors from across the world recently convened in Nairobi for the UN Civil Society Conference in Support of the Summit of the Future to demand that their issues are prioritized in the Pact for the Future – which is envisaged to turbocharge the sustainable development goals.

This was a crucial moment for civil society to influence country positions towards the adoption of this Pact and its annexes – the Global Digital Compact and the Declaration on Future Generations.

An often-sidelined constituency in global development discourse are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who are relegated to the periphery of international global development discourse. Where included, they are combined with a wide range of ‘marginalized groups’ which does not address their unique issues. Instead, it perpetuates their exclusion.

United Nations members in their ongoing negotiations on the Pact for the Future, must consider criminal justice reform and its implication to development and human rights. Until then, we will fail in the promise of leaving no one behind towards our collective goals for people and the planet

Consider that there are over 2 million incarcerated people in the United States of America alone. Those most at risk of this discrimination are poor people, people using drugs and racial minorities.

This is the highest number of prisoners in the world per country. It is larger than the population of Bahrain or Djibouti. In fact this statistic is higher than the combined population of the world’s 10 least populated countries.

Notwithstanding, crime rates have reduced over the past 3 decades, yet imprisonment and sentences continue to become higher and longer.

Ironically, the United States’ national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner, expresses the country to be the land of the free.

To accelerate our development goals including our aspirations on peace, justice, and strong institutions; and those of reducing inequalities, it is imperative that the scourge of mass incarceration in America is mitigated and ultimately ended.

There have been relative national efforts towards this. Since 2017, April is designated as Second Chance Month in the United States, to raise awareness about the challenges faced by individuals with a criminal justice history.

Additionally, the enactment of policies provides opportunities for second chances, such as workforce training, education opportunities, and wraparound reentry services. Nonetheless, it is not enough as there is need for more political will in harnessing the potential of this opportunity.

Moreover, while it is crucial for breaking stigma and supporting systemic-impacted persons with their reintegration to society, it is important to recognize that some individuals do not even get first chances in life.

Significant correlations exist between mass incarceration and the dispossession of first chances; disproportionately impacting many who have never had genuine opportunities in life.

Poverty, in its various manifestations including access – or lack thereof, to education; and income inequalities among others often forces individuals into desperate situations for survival.

Furthermore, cycles of drug use which many are born into, are harder for poor people to break due to lack of health insurance and proper support systems.

Prisoner’s statistics from the Bureau of Justice shows that every state incarcerates black residents in its prisons at a higher rate than white residents. These racial biases are also present in sentencing, upsurging the disparities in the criminal justice system.

It could additionally be argued that there is an economic incentive to maintaining mass incarceration. The free labor by prisoners evidenced by the “convict leasing program” that started in America in 1908, is still mimicked to date in a modified form.

Essentially, jails and prisons have become the legalized slavery system afforded by the 13th Amendment, of the United States Constitution.

The repercussions of mass incarceration are deleterious. These include mental health deterioration, declining physical well-being, the spread of diseases and sexual violence.

Economically, upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals face systemic obstacles in obtaining sustainable incomes, affordable housing, and societal acceptance.

Post-incarceration life is burdened with collateral consequences rooted in stigmatization and marginalization, leading to social ostracization. Failing to reintegrate successfully, some individuals succumb to recidivism.

While society operates under a social contract defined by laws and regulations that governs order, there must be consequences for contravention. Nonetheless, these should not solely focus on punishment but also on rehabilitation, never resorting to destruction.

As the world envisions a new global governance system and a post-2030 development agenda, it is imperative that these reforms are reflected at regional, national, and grassroots levels, towards a just and equitable world.

United Nations members in their ongoing negotiations on the Pact for the Future, must consider criminal justice reform and its implication to development and human rights. Until then, we will fail in the promise of leaving no one behind towards our collective goals for people and the planet.

Oswald Newbold is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Reentry Professionals Inc. He also holds the position of Reentry Coordinator at The Reentry Center of Riviera Beach. He is reachable at

Categories: Africa

International Community Urged to End Impunity for Violence Against Healthcare in Conflicts

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 11:03

A health worker in Gaza continues with an inoculation campaign. The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition has called for international action to end violence against or obstruction of health care in conflicts. Credit: UNWRA/Twitter

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, May 22 2024 (IPS)

Governments and international agencies must do more to end impunity for violence against healthcare, campaigners have urged, as a new report shows that attacks on healthcare during conflicts reached a new high last year.

The report from the Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition (SHCC), an umbrella organisation of health and human rights groups, documented 2,562 incidents of violence against or obstruction of health care in conflicts across 30 countries—over 500 more than in 2022.

The group pointed out that the 25 percent rise on the previous year came as tens of millions of people in conflict-affected countries were already suffering from war, massive displacement, and staggering deprivation of food and other basic needs.

But beyond the inevitable suffering such violence against healthcare causes, the report’s authors highlighted that one consistent feature of the attacks was the continued impunity for those perpetrating them.

They say that despite repeated commitments, governments have failed to reform their military practices, cease arms transfers to perpetrators, and bring those responsible for crimes to justice.

And they have now called on national leaders and heads of international bodies, including UN agencies, to take strong action to ensure violence against healthcare is ended.

“There has to be a change in how we ensure accountability for violations of international humanitarian law when the protection of health care and health workers is not respected because current mechanisms do not provide adequate protection. We need to ask some hard questions,” Christina Wille, Director of the Insecurity Insight humanitarian association, who helped produce the report, told IPS.

Attacks on healthcare have become a prominent feature of recent conflicts—the SHCC report states that the rise in attacks in 2023 was in part a product of intense and persistent violence against health care in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), Myanmar, Sudan, and Ukraine.

And human rights groups have increasingly drawn attention to the deliberate targeting of healthcare facilities and medical staff by attacking forces.

Hospitals and other medical facilities are designated as protected civilian objects under international humanitarian law and it is illegal to attack them or obstruct their provision of care. Ambulances also have the same status. This designation does not apply if the hospital or facility is used by combatants for purposes deemed harmful to an enemy, but even then, an attacking force must give warning of its attack and allow for an evacuation.

But in many conflicts, forces seem to be increasingly ignoring this.

The SHCC report highlights that right from the start of two new wars in 2023, in Sudan and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, warring parties killed health workers, attacked facilities, and destroyed health care systems. Meanwhile, attacks on health care in Myanmar and Ukraine continued unabated, in each case exceeding 1,000 since the start of the conflicts in 2021 and 2022, respectively, while in many other chronic conflicts, fighting forces continued to kidnap and kill health workers and loot health facilities.

At the same time, the report identified a disturbing new trend of combatants violently entering hospitals or occupying them as sites from which to conduct military operations, leading to injuries to and the deaths of patients and staff.

SHCC Chair Len Rubenstein said that in many conflicts, the conduct of combatants revealed “open contempt for their duty to protect civilians and health care under international humanitarian law (IHL)” and specifically highlighted how Israel, “while purporting to abide by IHL, promoted a view of its obligations that, if accepted, would undermine the fundamental protections that IHL puts in place for civilians and health care in war.”

“The report highlighted a lot of disturbing trends—there seemed to be no restraint on attacking hospitals right from the start of conflicts, we also saw for instance, a rise in hospitals being taken for military use, and it was also very disturbing to see children’s medical facilities being deliberately targeted,” he told IPS.

“These trends highlight the need for leadership [on increasing accountability]. Accountability for attacks on healthcare is not a silver bullet—accountability for murder does not stop all murders, for instance – but no consequences are a guarantee of further violations,” he added.

Christian de Vos, Director of Research and Investigations at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), which is a member of the SHCC, suggested a lack of accountability for attacks on healthcare in previous conflicts had emboldened certain forces to do the same in new wars.

“This goes back to the historical evolution of attacks on healthcare and the consequences of impunity. The patterns of attacks on healthcare that Russian forces, together with the Syrian government, perpetrated in the Syria conflict have a lot of links to how Russia has fought its full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” he told IPS.

In its report, the SHCC has made a number of recommendations to help end attacks on healthcare and hold those behind them accountable.

These include UN and national authorities and the International Criminal Court (ICC) taking new measures to end impunity, strengthening prevention of conflicts, improving data collection on attacks at global and national levels, bolstering global, regional, and domestic leadership—especially through the WHO and UN—on protecting healthcare, and supporting and safeguarding health workers.

Some of these plans would also see a key role played by local actors, including NGOs and other groups active in healthcare and human rights.

SHCC admits, though, that some of these are likely to be hard to implement.

“Our recommendations are aspirational and we accept that their implementation could be difficult in the context of the inherent difficulties of conflicts, but there are some areas where we think definite change could be achieved,” said Wille.

She explained that developing capacity for local health programmes to be more security and acceptance conscious could be strengthened.

“There is a need for training for the healthcare sector on how to understand, approach, and manage security and risk in conflict. Such support should be given to those responsible for overseeing plans for healthcare provision in conflicts so that services continue to be provided but with as much safety as possible,” she said.

She added that governments could also make a real difference by pushing to ensure ‘deconfliction’—the process by which a health agency announces to all parties who they are, where they work and what they are doing, and how it can be recognized and which in return receive assurances that they will not be targeted is adhered to by all sides in a conflict.

“Such mechanisms exist, however, at the moment, far too often they are not respected or applied in several conflicts. Governments can insist on the implementation of de-confliction, and this would also be a great help,” she said.

However, if significant change is to be made in ensuring accountability for attacks on healthcare, experts agree that it can only be done with strong political commitment on the issue.

“We have seen over the years that there hasn’t been this commitment and what we need is a strong commitment that will go beyond just words and statements condemning these attacks to real concrete action,” Rubenstein said.

He stressed that the massive, targeted destruction of healthcare seen in some recent conflicts had changed the wider political perception of the effects of such attacks.

“What has changed is the knowledge of the magnitude of these attacks and the enormous suffering they bring, not just directly at the time of the attacks but long after as well. This knowledge can stimulate the kind of leadership we need on this,” he said.

De Vos said that especially the Israel-Hamas war and the prominence of attacks on healthcare in that conflict had “shown clearly the devastation and suffering such attacks cause.”

“This might bring about the change [in will to ensure accountability] that we would like to see,” he said.

But while there may be optimism among experts around the chance for such change, they are less positive about the prospects for any reduction in the volume of attacks on healthcare in the immediate future.

“Unfortunately, the trajectory is not a positive one—there’s no ceasefire in Gaza, the war continues in Ukraine, and conflict is ongoing in the places where we have seen the most of these attacks on healthcare. It’s a pretty grim state,” said De Vos.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Categories: Africa

How Netanyahu Made the Creation of a Palestinian State Irreversible

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 08:18

Results of the General Assembly's vote on the resolution on the status of Palestine. May 2024. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elías

By Alon Ben-Meir
NEW YORK, May 22 2024 (IPS)

It is ironic how Prime Minister Netanyahu, who vehemently opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state, made it all but irreversible because of his misguided policies and extreme ideological bent.

The way he conducted the Gaza war has not only sealed the prospect of a Palestinian state but his political demise

The recent recognition of a Palestinian state by Spain, Ireland, and Norway is the latest blow to Netanyahu’s horribly misguided policy toward the Palestinians, which he pursued throughout his political career to prevent them from ever establishing their own state under his watch, as he stated time and gain.

This recognition is in addition to the overwhelming majority of United Nations General Assembly member states that have recognized Palestinian statehood. In truth, none of the above should come as a surprise, as the writing was on the wall for decades, and it was only a question of time before this inevitability unfolded.

The recent decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant against Netanyahu, charging him with war crimes, was another degrading rebuke of Netanyahu for his ruthlessness in the way he is conducting the Gaza war.

The horrific death and destruction that has been inflicted on Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza as a result of Hamas’ October 2023 attack that resulted in the slaughter of 1,200 Israelis and the ongoing and unprecedented war against Hamas that killed 35,000 Palestinians, and the unspeakable human suffering has created a new paradigm.

The establishment of a Palestinian state, which has been particularly resisted by Netanyahu for the past 16 years, has become front and center in the search for a permanent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide could not have put it clearer when he stated: “The fact that this Israeli government, led by Netanyahu, has been so clear that it has no intention to negotiate with the Palestinian side and has been so accepting and even supportive of new illegal settlements, all that has contributed to the recognition decision. In some sense, it’s a reaction to that.”

The tragic dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that a majority of Israelis bought into Netanyahu’s false argument that a Palestinian state will pose an existential danger to Israel, and hence, the continuing occupation is necessary to prevent the Palestinians from realizing their aspiration for statehood. But what is the alternative to a two-state solution? After 57 years of occupation, even a fool would have concluded that the occupation is not sustainable.

How much more death and destruction must both peoples endure before Netanyahu and his blindly misguided followers come to understand that if it takes a hundred more years and the deaths of a million Palestinians, they will never give up or give in on establishing a state of their own.

What is further baffling is that the multitude of right-wing Israelis keep complaining about Palestinian violence. They ignore the elementary understanding that any people who have been living in servitude for decades under the harshest conditions would rise against the occupier, especially when they have a legitimate right to have their own state, enshrined by the same 1947 UNSC Resolution 194 that granted the Jews the right to establish their independent state.

For 80 percent of all Israelis (those born after 1967), the occupation is a normal state of existence irrespective of the daily suffering and often inhumane mistreatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, to which they have been and continue to be subjected.

On January 10, 2024, I wrote: “Sadly, it took the Israel-Hamas war to awaken both sides to their tragic reality. They must now realize there will be no return to the status quo ante. The circumstances that led to the Israel-Hamas war only reinforced the inescapable requirement for a two-state solution. Simply put, there is no other viable option other than continuing the bloody conflict for decades to come.”

But then, what would it take for Netanyahu and his messianic ministers, especially Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, to wake up and realize that every day that passes without a solution, not only will more Israelis and Palestinians be killed in vain, but the conflict will become ever more intractable.

It will exact a mounting price in blood and treasure from both sides without any prospect of changing the inescapable requirement for a Palestinian state to reach a sustainable, peaceful coexistence.

The hurdles to reaching this noble goal are massive; there is the psychological dimension to the conflict that must be mitigated, territorial claims and counterclaims, the dispute over the administration of the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), mutual concerns over security, the final status of Jerusalem, and more. But then, regardless of how obdurate these conflicting issues may be, they will become far more daunting and perilous short of peace based on a two-state solution.

US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby recently stated: “The president still believes in the promise and the possibility of a two-state solution. He recognizes that it’s going to take a lot of hard work. It’s going to take a lot of leadership there in the region, particularly on both sides of the issue, and the United States stands firmly committed to eventually seeing that outcome.”

Whereas I applaud President Biden’s position and sentiment regarding the requisite of a Palestinian state, he needs to move the needle further and warn Netanyahu that he can no longer take for granted the US position that the creation of a Palestinian state must emerge from direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

While Biden may choose, for political reasons, not to follow the footsteps of the prime ministers of Spain, Ireland, and Norway by recognizing the Palestinian state, he should, at a minimum, permit the Palestinian Authority to reestablish its mission in DC, and reopen the American consulate in East Jerusalem.

That is, if Biden is truly committed to that outcome, then he must demonstrate that by taking real action on the ground. This is the time when leadership is truly needed, and no head of state worldwide can demonstrate that more at this crucial hour than President Biden to bring closer the two-state solution to reality.

Surely, Biden believes in what Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez stated: “This recognition is not against anyone; it is not against the Israeli people. It is an act in favor of peace, justice and moral consistency.” And I might add, it is a moral imperative on which Israel itself was founded.

It is time for Netanyahu to pay the price for dragging Israel into this perilous morass. But then again, he who has resisted the creation of a Palestinian state with all his might made it now more likely than ever before.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations, most recently at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

Small Island Developing States can be Nature-Positive Leaders for the World

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 07:41

Credit: UNDP Pacific Office
In the low-lying small island state of Tuvalu, the government's National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) – administered and implemented by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji and the Tuvalu government and supported by Global Environment Facility (GEF) – has been addressing marine-based livelihoods and disaster preparedness in the face of rising sea levels.
Meanwhile, the 4th International Conference on Small Island Developing States is scheduled to take place in Antigua and Barbuda from 27-30 May.

By Achim Steiner and Carlos Manuel Rodriguez

Small island developing states (SIDS) are scattered across the globe, dotting the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean, the west and east coasts of Africa and the Indian Ocean.

These low-lying highly indebted countries are on the frontlines of climate change and natural resource scarcity, already facing the extremes of sea level rise, unpredictable weather events, and environmental degradation that millions more will face tomorrow.

Yet they also are pioneers, innovating and demonstrating what is possible in a shift to a nature-positive future. Emerging technologies and solutions are re-setting economic and societal priorities to value and optimize natural resources and setting forth a path of thriving resilience.

In three decades of working together supporting small islands states, these are the three critical success factors we see emerging from these trailblazing island states as the world looks to transition to a nature-positive future.

One: Nature sits at the heart of this effort.

Nature is the most effective solution to our interconnected planetary crisis and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. It can unlock new and quickly felt benefits of sustainable development.

Ecosystem services underpin key economic sectors in all vulnerable small island states, from fisheries to agriculture to tourism, but these same sectors have historically imposed serious environmental costs. Transitioning these sectors from ‘highly damaging’ to ‘sustainable’, in ways that are investable and profitable while benefiting communities, sits at the heart of our work together.

The new Blue and Green Islands Programme, for example, mainstreams the central role of nature and scales nature-based solutions to address environmental degradation across three target sectors—urban, food, and tourism—for nature-positive shifts in fifteen island states.

Small islands are especially well positioned to benefit from nature-positive economies, counting among them some of the most diverse and unique ecosystems in the world. For them, a nature-positive economy is important not just to stabilize the security of their natural resources and ensure resilient and thriving futures; it assures their role as irreplaceable hosts to many of the world’s migratory and endemic species that make up our global planetary safety net.

Two: Successful solutions touch all aspects of life and livelihoods.

Tackling sea level rise isn’t separate from restoring protective coastal ecosystems, which isn’t separate from rapidly expanding new opportunities in sustainable tourism and sustainable fishing. These expanding opportunities drive sustainable development, bringing jobs, economic prosperity, and resilience.

‘Whole of island’ approaches are now tackling the conservation of land, water, and ocean resources as interconnected issues. These approaches are championing decarbonization and sustainable livelihoods, increasing access to sustainable energy, increasing the ability of communities to adapt to unpredictable or extreme weather, creating jobs, improving opportunities and wellbeing, and achieving sustainable development goals.

The logic of integrated approaches is clear: our lives are deeply interconnected with our environment and our opportunities the world over. The challenge is adapting and shifting systemic norms that are out of step and out of date for the collective future we want. Whole of island issues demands ‘whole-of-society’ inclusion and coordination, across ministries and sectors, building on locally owned and existing structures and initiatives, and seeking private sector engagement and community empowerment at every level.

Today, all our projects undertaken with island states promote integration and inclusion and are designed to ensure that multiple challenges can be addressed at scale and pace simultaneously.

Early efforts through the Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management (IWCAM), the Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco Project) and the Pacific Ridge to Reef Programme in Pacific SIDS, for example, helped to pioneer the integrated approaches we are seeing today under the global programs in SIDS.

Three: Innovation is the accelerator.

Successful projects demonstrate the disproportionate importance of innovation to turn our most urgent challenges into opportunities for sustainable development. Representing nearly 20% of the world’s exclusive economic zones, many of these islands are incubating new and investable nature-based solutions that can be scaled up to support successful transitions to nature-positive economic sectors and centres of excellence, both in the islands themselves and to the benefit of countries beyond.

For example, with UNDP and GEF support, Seychelles issued the world’s first ‘blue bond’; Cuba mainstreamed nature into policies and practices to reverse degradation of the Sabana-Camagüey ecosystem driven by agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and tourism; and the GEF’s Small Grants Programme supported local communities to ban single-use plastics in the Maldives.

New initiatives with innovative partners such as the Global Fund for Coral Reefs also seek to attract and de-risk private sector investment into local businesses to protect and restore important coral reef ecosystems. These initiatives offer opportunities for integration that are now inspiring similar examples across other islands.

Nothing without partnerships.

A broad and inclusive coalition of government, private sector, civil society, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and other partners is critical to further accelerate nature-positive transformation and increase impact.

New partnerships with the private sector to identify and deploy new business models and instruments to support nature-positive outcomes are also a major part of this effort.

Small Island Developing States have in front of them an opportunity to scale and replicate their successes and make outsized contributions to the implementation of environmental conventions including the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (The Biodiversity Plan), the Paris Agreement and the UNCCD Strategic Framework, as well as progress towards their sustainable development goals.

In responding to the most pressing development needs of small island states, the nature-positive economic transitions that are emerging, sector by sector, taking an integrated, innovative and community-informed approach, offer answers to development challenges with applications far beyond their precarious and precious coastlines.

Achim Steiner is Administrator, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Carlos Manuel Rodriguez is CEO and Chairperson, Global Environment Facility (GEF)

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

ICC War Crimes Charges a Milestone but Falls Far Below Expectations

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 07:20

Air strikes continue in Gaza. Credit: WHO

By Mouin Rabbani
AMMAN, Jordan, May 22 2024 (IPS)

The ICC Prosecutor’s applications for arrest warrants regarding the Situation in Palestine represent a milestone. But they are of little credit to Prosecutor Karim Khan.

It is abundantly clear that Khan has been sitting on this file for years, hoping it would simply disappear. Two matters forced his hand.

First, his 2023 indictments of senior Russian officials despite a previous pledge that he would only pursue cases referred to his office by the United Nations Security Council and ignore the rest – particularly the investigations concerning Afghanistan and Palestine that were opposed by the US and UK.

Having gone back on his commitment, the hypocrisy associated with continuing to ignore the Palestine investigation initiated in 2021 became simply too overwhelming, particular as Israel’s genocidal onslaught against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip intensified in 2024.

Second, the global outcry against his inertia became too loud to ignore. Much as Khan would have preferred to pursue the policy preferences of the US, UK, and Israel, the main sponsors of his campaign for ICC prosecutor, his inaction became untenable.

According to Khan. his office been investigating the Situation in Palestine since early 2021, and is examining all violations of the Rome Statute as since 2014. Yet in his case too, history appears to have commenced on 7 October 2023.

His applications wholly ignore, any and all, issues unconnected with the current situation in the Gaza Strip. Nothing about the crime against humanity that is apartheid, nothing about the war crime of illegal settlement, nothing about Israel’s previous onslaughts against the Gaza Strip, or its systematic sniper attacks against demonstrators during the 2018 Great March of Return.

Ever the careful politician attentive to those who got him elected, he pointedly indicted three Hamas leaders but only two Israeli officials. This raises numerous questions: why did he seek an arrest warrant for the head of Hamas, who according to available reports was not involved in the planning or execution of the 7 October 2023 attacks, but not Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has explicitly identified Palestinian civilians as legitimate military targets?

Why did Khan decline to apply for arrest warrants for the Israeli military’s chief of the general staff, or any of the senior Israeli military commanders directly responsible for perpetrating the crimes he has enumerated, or other members of Israel’s war cabinet who share full responsibility for its decisions?

Why did he pointedly ignore the crime of genocide, which is explicitly identified in the Rome Statute? It may well be the case that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is also considering Israel’s responsibility for genocide, but unlike the ICJ the ICC does not deal with individual criminal responsibility.

It seems indisputable that Khan is once again playing politics. His problem is that his efforts to curry favour in Washington will gain him nothing, and he is already being attacked from across the US political spectrum for violating the sacrosanct principle Israeli impunity. Washington will now stop at nothing to ensure that only Khan and Hamas are held to account.

US attempts to interfere with ICC procedures themselves constitute crimes under the Rome Statute. Will Khan seek to hold the raving lunatics who have taken over the Washington asylum to account, or look the other way in the hope of achieving absolution?

The flaws of Khan’s conduct notwithstanding this remains an enormously significant development. Together with the ICJ genocide case, it has now become impossible for Israel to maintain its state of exceptionalism.

It is increasingly being judged both legally and politically on the basis of its actual conduct rather than through the sordid prism of twentieth-century European history. For Israel this represents a defeat of strategic proportions.

Mouin Rabbani is Co-Editor of Jadaliyya, Non-Resident Fellow with the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS), and Non-Resident Fellow at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

South Africa in eight charts ahead of crucial vote

BBC Africa - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 01:17
The BBC tracks the crucial issues facing South Africans ahead of the 29 May general election.
Categories: Africa

South Africa in eight charts ahead of crucial vote

BBC Africa - Wed, 05/22/2024 - 01:17
The BBC tracks the crucial issues facing South Africans ahead of the 29 May general election.
Categories: Africa

Panama’s Elections: Has Impunity Prevailed?

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Tue, 05/21/2024 - 20:42

Credit: Johan Ordoñez/AFP via Getty Images

By Inés M. Pousadela
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, May 21 2024 (IPS)

Regional experts called it Panama’s most important election since the 1989 US invasion that deposed de facto president General Manuel Noriega. Panamanians went to the polls amid high inflation and unemployment, with a stagnating economy. Endemic corruption was also high on their long list of concerns, along with access to water, education and a collapsing social security system.

The winner, conservative lawyer José Raúl Mulino, was a stand-in for former president Ricardo Martinelli, disqualified from running due to a money laundering conviction. Martinelli remains popular regardless and managed to transfer his popularity to his less charismatic substitute. For those who backed Mulino, nostalgia for the economic stability and growth that marked Martinelli’s pro-business administration seemed to outweigh his proven record of corruption.

On the face of it, the election results seemed to demonstrate the primacy of economic considerations in voters’ minds, with hopes for growth trumping corruption fatigue. But that’s not the whole story.

Free, fair and uncertain

On 5 May, Panamanians went to the polls to elect a president and vice-president, 71 National Assembly members, 20 Central American Parliament deputies and local representatives.

The elections were undoubtedly clean and transparent, with integrity guaranteed by the participation of civil society in the National Scrutiny Board. Results were announced quickly and all losing candidates accepted them. But the pre-voting context was far less straightforward. Until the very last minute the now president-elect wasn’t sure he’d be allowed to run.

Mulino served as security minister in Martinelli’s government between 2009 and 2014. Ten years later, largely unknown to the electorate, he entered the race as Martinelli’s running mate for Achieving Goals (Realizando Metas, RM), a party Martinelli founded in 2021.

In July 2023, Martinelli was convicted of money laundering and sentenced to 10 years in prison, making him ineligible to run. He appealed, but the Electoral Tribunal didn’t make a final decision on his disqualification until March. To avoid jail, he sought asylum in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama City. Mulino took his place, but his presidential candidacy was also challenged. For two months, he became the centre of attention as the Electoral Tribunal and Supreme Court debated whether he could ran. The positive court ruling came on 3 May, just two days before voting. Mulino also received a lot of help from Martinelli, who campaigned for him online while holed up in the Nicaraguan embassy.

A fragmented vote

Eight candidates contested the presidency, a five-year position with no possibility of a second consecutive term. With no runoff, a fragmented vote was likely to produce a winner with far less than half the vote. Mulino’s winning total of 34.2 per cent wasn’t unusual: two previous presidents received similarly low shares, including the outgoing centre-left president, Laurentino Cortizo of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD).

Mulino’s closest competitor, on 24.6 per cent, was Ricardo Lombana, a centre-right anti-corruption outsider. In third place was Martin Torrijos, another former president and Martinelli’s immediate predecessor, now distanced from his original party, the PRD, and running on the ticket of the Christian democratic People’s Party (Partido Popular, PP). Fourth was Rómulo Roux, of the centre-right Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD), the party Martinelli founded and used as a vehicle for the presidency, but which he abandoned in 2020 amid leadership disputes.

The parties that once dominated the political landscape fared badly. The Panameñista Party didn’t even have a presidential candidate; instead, its leader joined Roux as his running mate. The PRD, which led three of the last six governments, fell below six per cent.

Independents on the rise

In 1998, Martinelli’s CD was the first to challenge the dominance of traditional parties. Later changes to the electoral law allowed independent candidates to stand. Their growing prominence reflects widespread dissatisfaction with traditional parties and the political class.

In the 5 May congressional elections, independent candidates won more seats than any political party – 20, up from just five. Mulino’s new RM party took 14 seats. The PRD lost a whopping 22, retaining only 13. The new composition of the National Assembly speaks of a thirst for renewal that doesn’t match the choice for corruption and impunity the presidential results might suggest.

Spotlight on the economy

For the three decades before the pandemic, the Panamanian economy grew by around six per cent a year, helped by income from the Panama Canal and construction and mining booms. But then challenges started piling up. The economy slowed down. Jobs disappeared. Inflation rose.

Activity in the Panama Canal has been severely affected by the impacts of climate change, with a drop in water levels. Drought has also reduced access to drinking water in some regions. Meanwhile an unprecedented rise in the numbers of migrants travelling through the Darién Gap, the treacherous stretch of jungle at the border with Colombia, has stretched the resources of the humanitarian assistance system.

Mulino campaigned on promises to improve the economy by attracting investment, developing infrastructure and creating jobs. He pledged to improve access to safe water and promised to ‘shut down’ the Darién Gap.

Mulino’s voters may have accepted the bargain he appeared to offer – prosperity in exchange for impunity – but many more people voted against him than for. He was able to win because the vote against was so fragmented. The number of independents who entered Congress is just one of many indicators of widespread dissatisfaction with politicians like him.

Mulino will have to deliver on his promises to attract investment and create jobs. He’ll need to reduce inequalities and deal with growing insecurity, the situation in the Darién Gap and a pensions system on the brink of insolvency. Last but not least, he’ll need to strengthen institutions and tackle corruption – which begs the question of what he’ll do about Martinelli.

The challenges are many and great, and Mulino won’t have anything close to a legislative majority. The National Assembly is so fragmented that a high-level deal with one or two parties won’t be enough. Mulino seemed to recognise this on election night when he called for national unity and said he was open to dialogue and consensus. This was a first step in the direction he should keep following.

Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS Lens and co-author of the State of Civil Society Report.


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Categories: Africa

ICC Move to Seek Warrants for War Crimes in Gaza Triggers a Backlash from US

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Tue, 05/21/2024 - 08:04

Streets in Rafah are emptying as families continue to flee in search of safety. Credit: UNRWA

By Thalif Deen

The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to seek warrants on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has triggered a strong backlash both from the Biden administration and a group of pro-Israeli Senators in the US Congress.

The names in the ICC arrest warrants also include Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (Deif) and Ismail Haniyeh—all leaders of Hamas.

As expected, US President Joe Biden, an unflinching supporter of Israel, who continues providing billions of dollars in American weapons used in the devastation of Gaza, described the ICC charges as “outrageous” and rejected the comparison of Israel with Hamas on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Let me be clear: whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” he said in a statement. “We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), told IPS the Prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas officials is a milestone in accountability in the face of decades of impunity for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine.

“The U.S. Congress’ promise to attack the Prosecutor and the ICC will be an attack on international justice and the rule of law; don’t expect other countries to submit to ICC warrants if the US does not.”

“While the Prosecutor has sought these initial arrest warrants for war crimes related to the ongoing war in Gaza, the warrants that come next should indict Israeli officials for their ongoing settlement enterprise, which are also war crimes under the Rome Statute,” said Whitson.

“Any effort to ‘balance’ warrants against Israeli officials with an equal number of warrants against Palestinian officials would be an embarrassing concession to political calculations.”

In a letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim A. Khan last week, and in anticipation of the charges against Israel, a group of 12 US Senators said: “We write regarding reports that the International Criminal Court may be considering issuing international arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials. Such actions are illegitimate and lack legal basis, and if carried out will result in severe sanctions against you and your institution”.

“By issuing warrants, you would be calling into question the legitimacy of Israel’s laws, legal system, and democratic form of government. Issuing arrest warrants for the leaders of Israel would not only be unjustified, it would expose your organization’s hypocrisy and double standards”.

“Finally, neither Israel nor the United States are members of the ICC and are therefore outside of your organization’s supposed jurisdiction. If you issue a warrant for the arrest of the Israeli leadership, we will interpret this not only as a threat to Israel’s sovereignty but to the sovereignty of the United States”, the letter warned.

While the request must be approved by the I.C.C.’s judges, the “announcement is a blow to Netanyahu and will likely fuel international criticism of Israel’s war strategy in Gaza”, the New York Times said May 20.

Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said: “Just as President Biden recognized that the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin due to war crimes in Ukraine was ‘justified,’ the president should do the same now regarding the arrest warrant applications sought by the ICC prosecutor against Benjamin Netanyahu due to war crimes in Gaza.

“War crimes are war crimes, regardless of whether they are committed by so-called American allies,” he said.

“Biden should not interfere with the clear and credible arrest warrant applications that the ICC prosecutor is seeking against Israeli leaders responsible for genocidal war crimes in Gaza, nor should our nation continue to fund those war crimes.”

“Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist mass murderer who has no intention of stopping his campaign of starvation and slaughter in Rafah and the rest of Gaza unless President Biden forces him to stop.
That time has come,” said Awad.

Michael Omer-Man, DAWN’s Israel-Palestine research director, told IPS while the Prosecutor has sought these initial arrest warrants for war crimes related to the ongoing war in Gaza, the warrants that come next should indict Israeli officials for their ongoing settlement enterprise, which are also war crimes under the Rome Statute.

“Any effort to ‘balance’ warrants against Israeli officials with an equal number of warrants against Hamas officials would be an embarrassing concession to political calculations,” he pointed out.

Norman Solomon, executive director, Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS the ICC itself has long been guilty of selective prosecutions confined by the leverage of global power politics. The news this week, with appropriate legal action against Israel and Hamas, gives hope that the ICC has begun to break out of its ethnocentric self-confinement.

The biggest factors in the ongoing slaughter of civilians in Gaza by Israel are that country’s extremely cruel militarism and the huge support of that militarism by the U.S. government. Rarely has any war been so widely and fervently condemned by so many people and nations around the world.

“The Gaza war is truly a crime against humanity on a massive and ongoing scale. Accountability should be demanded not only of the Israeli leaders inflicting this slaughter but also the U.S. government that continues to make it possible, said Solomon, national director, and author of “War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine.”

As a practical matter, he said, a single standard of human rights is difficult to maintain in public discourse and virtually impossible to enforce on a global basis.

War crimes and crimes against humanity, as addressed in the new announcement from the ICC, were surely committed by the leaders of both Israel and Hamas ever since early October 2023. While they do, of course, deny any such charges, the human consequences of the crimes they have overseen are horrific, he pointed out.

From the vantage point of the U.S. government, he argued, the main patron of Israel, the truth of the matter is unacceptable. And so, President Biden felt compelled to immediately denounce the ICC applications for arrest warrants for Israel’s prime minister and so-called defense minister.

“What Benjamin Netanyahu and Yoav Gallant have been doing for more than seven months is indefensible on any moral or legal grounds”.

Vastly larger than the repugnant crimes against humanity by Hamas — which should be unequivocally condemned — are the crimes against humanity by the Israeli government that have been heavily subsidized by the military aid and rhetorical support of the United States, said Solomon.

In his statement, the ICC Prosecutor said “on the basis of evidence collected and examined by my Office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Yahya SINWAR (Head of the Islamic Resistance Movement (“Hamas”) in the Gaza Strip), Mohammed Diab Ibrahim AL-MASRI, more commonly known as DEIF (Commander-in-Chief of the military wing of Hamas, known as the Al-Qassam Brigades), and Ismail HANIYEH (Head of Hamas Political Bureau) bear criminal responsibility for the following war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed on the territory of Israel and the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 7 October 2023:

    • Extermination as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(b) of the Rome Statute;
    • Murder as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(a), and as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
    • Taking hostages as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(iii);
    • Rape and other acts of sexual violence as crimes against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(g), and also as war crimes pursuant to article 8(2)(e)(vi) in the context of captivity;
    • Torture as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(1)(f), and also as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i), in the context of captivity;
    • Other inhumane acts as a crime against humanity, contrary to article 7(l)(k), in the context of captivity;
    • Cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i), in the context of captivity; and
    • Outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime, contrary to article 8(2)(c)(ii), in the context of captivity.

Regarding Israel, the ICC Prosecutor said “on the basis of evidence collected and examined by my Office, I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and Yoav Gallant, the Minister of Defence of Israel, bear criminal responsibility for the following war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed on the territory of the State of Palestine (in the Gaza strip) from at least 8 October 2023:

    • Starvation of civilians as a method of warfare as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Statute;
    • Willfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or health contrary to article 8(2)(a)(iii), or cruel treatment as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
    • Willful killing contrary to article 8(2)(a)(i), or Murder as a war crime contrary to article 8(2)(c)(i);
    • Intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as a war crime contrary to articles 8(2)(b)(i), or 8(2)(e)(i);
    • Extermination and/or murder contrary to articles 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(a), including in the context of deaths caused by starvation, as a crime against humanity;
    • Persecution as a crime against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(h);
    • Other inhumane acts as crimes against humanity contrary to article 7(1)(k).

“My Office submits that the war crimes alleged in these applications were committed in the context of an international armed conflict between Israel and Palestine, and a non-international armed conflict between Israel and Hamas (together with other Palestinian Armed Groups) running in parallel. We submit that the crimes against humanity charged were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to State policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day”.

“My Office submits that the evidence we have collected, including interviews with survivors and eyewitnesses, authenticated video, photo and audio material, satellite imagery and statements from the alleged perpetrator group, shows that Israel has intentionally and systematically deprived the civilian population in all parts of Gaza of objects indispensable to human survival.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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Categories: Africa

Who are Africa's Premier League winners and losers?

BBC Africa - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 17:55
BBC Sport Africa profiles the players who caught the eye, for better or for worse, over the 2023-24 Premier League season.
Categories: Africa

Biodiversity Meet Suggests New Guidelines on Synthetic Biology Amid Persisting Questions

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Mon, 05/20/2024 - 15:41

SBSTTA 26 Chair Senka Barudanović, Bosnia and Herzegovina, conferring with the Secretariat. Credit: IISD/ENB | Mike Muzurakis

By Stella Paul
NAIROBI, May 20 2024 (IPS)

After a week-long discussion by delegates from 196 countries, the 26th meeting of the Subsidiary Body of Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advisors (SBSTTA) of UN Biodiversity has concluded with a set of recommendations on several issues, including living modified organisms (LMOs) and synthetic biology. All nations must consider the recommendations, discuss them, and possibly adopt them at the Biodiversity COP in October. However, many questions remain unanswered and unclear.

LMOs and Synthetic Biology in Biodiversity COP

Synthetic biology, though identified as a new emerging issue, has been discussed for well over a decade at UN Biodiversity. In fact, 13 years ago, at COP11 in Hyderabad, India, nations took note of the proposals for new and emerging issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. They had also noted the need to consider the potential positive and negative impacts of components, organisms and products resulting from synthetic biology techniques on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Based on SBSTTA’s suggestions, countries decided to create an ad hoc technical expert group (AHTEG) on synthetic biology in 2014. This group would talk about “synthetic biology as a further development and new dimension of modern biotechnology that combines science, technology, and engineering to make it easier and faster to understand, design, redesign, manufacture, and/or modify genetic materials, living organisms, and biological systems.” Later, the COP also asked AHTEG to discuss synthetic biology and risk assessment under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, an international agreement aimed at ensuring the safe handling, transport, and use of living modified organisms (LMOs). The protocol was adopted on January 29, 2000, as a supplementary agreement to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and entered into force on September 11, 2003.

David Cooper, acting Executive Director of UN Biodiversity and Senka Barudanovic, SBSTTA chair, address the press. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Mandate of SBSTTA-26

Brinda Dass is the Gene Drive Policy Lead at Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, US and a member of the AHTEG who attended the SBSTTA-26 in Nairobi. Dass revealed that for the Nairobi meet, AHTEG was given the task of developing a special guideline on engineered gene drive and at SBSTTA, the major discussion on LMO and synthetic biology was centered around genetically modified mosquitoes.

“For risk assessment, the request from the last COP (COP15 held in Montreal, Canada, in 2022) was to have a draft outline prepared. The request was very focused on the specific elements of engineered gene drive mosquitoes because that’s the most proximal use case because there’s work ongoing right now to generate engineered gene drive mosquitoes for malaria elimination and control in Africa.  So, our technical expert group was asked to prepare additional voluntary guidance on living modified organisms that contain engineered gene drives—and that’s what we did,” Dass told IPS.

Dass’s also commented that it was a successful meeting.

“Most parties, especially from the African continent—actually, almost all African delegations—accepted the document as they were happy to send it to the COP. So, they have approved it, they have accepted it, they were happy with what work was done and they wanted to move to COP. They don’t have any reservations on that,” Dass added.

Both Senka Barudanovic, who chaired all the sessions of SBSTTA and David Cooper, acting Executive Secretary of UN CBD, appeared to agree with Dass.

“I sincerely congratulate delegates for their hard work; I think it was a successful meeting where most parties demonstrated a spirit of compromise,” said Barudanovic.

“This meeting showed the willingness of parties to the CBD to reach consensus on the important scientific foundations of our work to achieve the Biodiversity Plan,” said Cooper. “The discussions have wide-reaching implications for biosafety, biotechnology, biodiversity in our oceans, and new global work on the health of people, plants, and animals.”

Brinda Dass, senior technical expert and Gene Drive Policy Lead at the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Engineered Gene Drive Versus Genetically Engineered Products

Genetic engineering involves the direct modification of an organism’s DNA, often in a controlled environment, without necessarily influencing inheritance patterns in the wild. This technology is usually applied in agriculture, medicine, and industrial biotechnology. For example, BT cotton and other genetically modified (GM) crops.

Engineered gene drive, on the other hand, uses specific genetic constructs to create inheritance patterns, which means the genetic modification has a higher chance of being passed on from one generation to another. The development of engineered malaria mosquitoes is done under this technology.

Since its impact would be on successive generations, engineered gene drive technology naturally raises significant ecological and ethical concerns due to the potential for widespread and irreversible impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. One of the biggest concern is the potential spread of modified genes beyond the target population. For example, there is concern about the impact and effect of engineered gene drive malaria-resistant mosquitoes on other animals and other insects, including mosquitoes that do not cause malaria.

Experts also say that the whole issue of LMO and Synthetic Biology is also looked at with concern and skepticism because many find it too complicated.

One of the reasons that it is complicated is because there is no universal definition of what synthetic biology is. Because it largely captures many kinds of technologies and products, it is difficult to understand what does and doesn’t fall under the bucket of synthetic biology.

Another factor is the unequal participation of the delegates, which could be attributed to a variety of reasons, including lack of understanding.

“Not all the delegates speak up. So, we don’t know their level of understanding. By level of understanding, I mean, there’s factual understanding and then there’s understanding of what the implications are of the decisions that are being taken here. Of course, I can’t say more (on the reasons why they don’t speak or their understanding), because I don’t know all the delegates and I’m limited to their statements,” said a scientist from the US who works as the focal point on LMO but is unwilling to reveal his name as the US is not a signatory to the UN Biodiversity Convention.

Lucia DeSouza, senior biotechnology scientist at the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI). Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

The Arguments and the Questions

At SBSTTA, some participants indicated that despite days of discussions, several questions were left unanswered and that many parties and representatives of NGOs and indigenous peoples groups were not in agreement. Some of these experts have been following the biodiversity COPs, the developments at SBSTTA, and the Cartagena Protocol for a long time, and they allege that the issue of gene drive was being discussed at multiple meetings, which led to unnecessary use of time, efforts, and resources.

“If you look at the documents from synthetic biology, one of the things that they prioritize is gene drives. But the thing is that gene drive is also being looked at already under Cartagena protocol. So, if you ask me, it looks like duplication of effort because synthetic biology is supposed to do horizon scanning, which is to look at new and emerging technologies as they apply to CBD and the protocols, right? So, if they look and say gene drive is one of those technologies,. But then, we already have gene drives being worked on, it’s not so much new and emerging,” said a scientist unwilling to reveal her name as she is not authorized to speak with the media.

The same issue was also brought up by the delegate from Japan, who argued that gene drive technology is a technology that arrived several years ago. It has already emerged, and the world is already working on it. So, why was the issue still being discussed at SBSTTA as a new and emerging issue?

“It’s true; technical experts have been talking about synthetic biology for more than 10 years, but they never concluded whether it is a new and emergent issue. Even the self-limiting mosquitoes fall under the definition of LMO and it’s one that has been tested in the field for a long time and it’s actually approved for Brazil, Paraguay, if I’m not mistaken. So, it’s also even been in the market. So, what Japan here raised is a very important point, because we are wasting a lot of time,” says Lucia DeSouza, a Brazilian scientist who is the Executive Secretary of the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (PRRI), a global group of biotechnology scientists.

Recommendations of SBSTTA and the Future Course

According to a statement by the CBD Secretariat, on biosafety and biotechnology, the Parties recommended new voluntary guidance on the risk assessment on engineered gene drives. The recommended guidelines are aimed at strengthening transparency and scientific rigor in the process and continuing the detection and identification of LMOs.

For the issue of synthetic biology, SBSTTA recommended that further discussions are needed on the possibility of continuing horizon scanning, an approach that involves systematically exploring and analyzing emerging trends, innovations, and potential future developments in the field of synthetic biology. This approach helps policymakers, researchers, and stakeholders anticipate and prepare for future challenges and opportunities.

An example of horizon scanning for synthetic biology could be the development of genetically modified fish, which is currently being researched for possible aquaculture efficiency and food security.

However, because SBSTTA is an advisory group, the COP may or may not adopt its recommendations. But once a draft decision is sent to the COP—in this case the issue of engineered gene drive malaria mosquitoes—then the nations will have a chance to read and express their opinions. It is possible that they will object to or reject some of the draft’s provisions, but it is also very likely that the parties will eventually accept some version of the draft decision.

“We are discussing risk assessment. We are discussing how to build a management system based on this risk assessment. And then what? Then, where do we go? It’s a good question,” DeSouza said. “While we can’t predict where things will go from here, as long as this topic remains relevant for parties, they’re going to keep wanting to have conversations related to it. The only way the topic will end is if the products (like gene drive mosquitoes) stop being produced and used or if the parties stop taking an interest in it. If the parties stay interested, then SBSTTA will continue to develop technical guidance documents. Finally, the countries will develop their own domestic regulatory frameworks following all these guidelines and the Cartagena protocol.”
IPS UN Bureau Report


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