UNFPA Calls for Protection & Justice for Women & Girls in Tigray

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is UNFPA Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. Credit: UNFPA

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The 2018 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynaecologist celebrated for his work with survivors of sexual assault in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Panzi Hospital once said: “Rape is a strategy of war – it is meant to destroy women and communities physically and mentally”.


Sadly, this destruction has become a daily reality for women and girls in the Tigray region in Ethiopia.
In recent weeks, women have come forward with the most devastating stories of sexual violation and physical abuse. Selam, 22, who found shelter in a safe house, is one of the survivors.

She recalls “running from place to place without food or shelter” and “constantly living in fear” after being displaced from her home and repeatedly facing harrowing incidents of sexual violence.

Persistent fighting, forced displacement, and dire living conditions over the past eight months in Tigray and the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara in northern Ethiopia, have created one of Africa’s most pressing humanitarian crises.

More than 5.2 million people in Tigray alone require humanitarian assistance; among them are 118,000 pregnant women and 1.3 million women of reproductive age. Amid the crisis, gross violations and abuses against civilians, including sexual violence, continue to be reported.

The health and well-being of women and adolescent girls are further threatened by food insecurity that is expected to worsen. The destruction and looting of health facilities – around a third are partially functioning, and a mere one per cent are offering clinical management of rape services – further complicates the situation amidst the threat of COVID-19.

Julitta Onabanjo

Selam’s experience is just one of the stories captured by health officials and UN agencies, but these testimonies likely represent only a fraction of the real prevalence.
Even under normal circumstances, given the high levels of stigma, among other factors, gender-based violence is largely unreported in Ethiopia. Only 24 per cent of survivors ever seek assistance, according to the 2016 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey.

Devastating impact

Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have a devastating impact on women’s physical and mental well-being, rights and choices, and affect their ability to care for their children, support their families and contribute to their societies.

A social worker at the UNFPA-supported safe house where Selam now resides described the women as arriving “traumatized and depressed due to prolonged suffering, distress and horrendous violence”.

Even when women have not experienced sexual violence, the fear of rape or insecurity prevents them from accessing food distributing centres, critical health-care services for themselves or their children, and adolescent girls may stay away from school.

In the long-run, hiding from potential attacks contributes to malnutrition, poor health outcomes, and a lack of educational attainment among women and girls.

UN Member States have recognized the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls. The UN Security Council-adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security, calls on all parties in hostilities to take special measures to “protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict”.

The African Union also committed to “Silencing the Guns” by “ending all wars, civil conflicts, gender-based violence, violent conflicts and preventing genocide on the continent by 2020”.

Women’s bodies must not be the object of war or the collateral in conflict. Rather women must be the central subject and partner in peacebuilding.

In retelling their stories, women in Tigray describe their attackers as “armed men”. These serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law must be swiftly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Call to end hostilities

We urge the government of Ethiopia and the international community to step up efforts to end hostilities and all forms of violence in the country, including gender-based violence, to ensure the health and safety of women and girls.

As part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) system-wide scale up for the Tigray region activated in April 2021, UNFPA is expanding and accelerating support in its areas of responsibility — protection, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) and delivering quality sexual and Reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Safe houses

Women-friendly spaces, safe houses and one-stop centres in the conflict-affected regions have been set up to provide clinical management of rape and psychosocial counselling. These spaces connect women to a wide range of sexual and reproductive health services and legal services.

What transforms a rape victim into a rape survivor is justice. UNFPA is working with partners to ensure effective referral and prosecution systems are available.

We are working with the Ministry of Women, Children and Youth of Ethiopia to enable the capacity-building of armed personnel and the constitution of a Gender-Based Violence Task Force, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Police University and the Federal Police Commission.

UNFPA is also providing medical supplies, helping to restore health system services, and cumulatively, has distributed hundreds of Emergency Reproductive Health kits and thousands of Dignity Kits.

Additionally, to prevent COVID-19 infections among key staff providing SRH and GBV services and information in government and partner-run health facilities and one-stop centres, nearly 11,000 Personal Protective Equipment items have been distributed since November 2020.

Funds needed urgently

Providing adequate levels of these kinds of life-saving services requires urgent funding. We are calling on all that can help, including government and development partners, to assist us in addressing the immediate needs of women and girls and help us avert the medium to long-term repercussions of sexual violence. The immediate funding requirements for the next six months is $15 million.

The women and girls of Tigray have told us their stories, and we continue to hear them out. Our actions to deal with their trauma and rebuild their lives must be our urgent response.

For women to participate equally in society, they need to make decisions about their bodies freely and without fear. Rape and other forms of gender-based violence destroy the ability of women and girls to make choices and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Even in times of conflict, we must continue to defend and protect the rights of women and girls and devote the necessary attention and resources to prevent sexual violence and decisively ensure justice.

Source: Africa Renewal, United Nations

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UN Ready for Breakaway Nations but the Pace Remains Slow

Africa, Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Armed Conflicts

South Sudan’s independence from the rest of Sudan was the result of a January 2011 referendum held under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the decades-long civil war between the North and the South.

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

South Sudan’s national flag (centre) flies at UN Headquarters following its admission as the 193rd Member State. Credit: UN/E. Schneider

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – When the United Nations renovated its building at a cost of over $2.1 billion, as part of a seven-year refurbishing project back in 2014, the seating in the cavernous General Assembly hall was increased from 193 to 204—primarily in anticipation of at least 11 new member states joining the world body sooner or later.


But the pace of new member states joining the UN, primarily from half a dozen breakaway regions dominated by separatist movements, has remained slow.

East Timor, described as the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, broke away from Indonesia and joined the UN in May 2002.

The UN played a significant role in supporting the democratic process in the country, now known as Timor-Leste. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was deployed from 1992 to 2002 to administer the territory, exercise legislative and executive authority during the transition and support capacity-building for self-government.

Meanwhile, the Republic of South Sudan (population: 11.3 million), which seceded from Sudan, was the last of the 193 UN member states, joining the world body in July 2011.

But at least one potential member state— Kosovo– has been knocking at the door trying to seek admission rather unsuccessfully primarily because of opposition from one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The UN’s relatively new member states, beginning in the 1960s, included Singapore (1965), Bangladesh (1971) and six republics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Still, if political fantasies become realities, a lineup of new U.N. member states may include potential breakaway regions, including Kurdistan, Western Sahara, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Catalonia, Scotland and Palestine—not forgetting Tibet and Taiwan whose membership will be shot down by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UNSC.

But currently the most likely candidate is Tigray which is moving towards an independent state after nearly eight months of fighting against Ethiopian military forces, described as one of Africa’s most powerful, this time backed by Eritrea.

If it does happen, Ethiopia would have generated two breakaway states: first Eritrea which became independent of Ethiopia in 1993, and now Tigray, with a population of 7.1 million.

The Tigray Independence Party (TIP) has long campaigned for secession from Ethiopia which it described as an “empire”.

Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of Tigray, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “even if the conflict ends soon, Tigray’s future, as part of Ethiopia, is in doubt”.

In the Times report on July 4, Gebremichael said “The trust has broken completely. If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”. Still, he added, nothing has been decided because “It depends on the politics at the centre”.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, told reporters on July 2 the Security Council has held six closed-door meetings “and the situation in Tigray has not improved.”

She said the open meeting last week was the first opportunity to show that African lives matter as much as other lives around the world.

“But an open meeting is not enough,” she said, pointing out that “what we need to see is action on the ground.”

“We need to see a ceasefire that is permanent; that all of the parties agree to. We need to see the Eritrean troops return to their own border. We need to see unfettered access for humanitarian workers. “We need to see accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.”

“And at this moment I just want to express, again, our sympathy for the many losses of lives, including for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) staff who were killed recently,” she declared.

Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is in control of most of the Tigray region, including major towns.

William Davison, ICG’s Senior Analyst, said the Front has achieved these gains “mainly through mass popular support and by capturing arms and supplies from adversaries.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week he is deeply concerned with the present situation in Tigray.

“It is essential to have a real ceasefire paving the way for a dialogue able to bring a political solution to Tigray.” He said the presence of foreign troops is an aggravating factor of confrontation.

“At the same time, full humanitarian access, unrestricted humanitarian access must be guaranteed to the whole territory. The destruction of civilian infrastructure is totally unacceptable,” he declared. 

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Flaws in Asia’s Pearl

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

In March 2021, the UN Human Rights Council was given a mandate to collect and preserve information and evidence of crimes related to Sri Lanka’s 27-year long civil war that ended in 2009. Meanwhile, Western nations taking a cue from the Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka appear to be tightening the noose. Credit: UN Photo / Violaine Martin. 43rd session of the Human Rights Council.

LONDON, Jul 5 2021 (IPS) – For well over a century Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, has been known to the world as the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’ for its multifaceted attractions. That is until blurb writers ruined it all with hyperbolic epithets that obscured the country’s magnetic charms, which attracted visitors from around the globe.


But one particular epithet has lived up to its name. Called ‘a country like no other’, Sri Lanka is increasingly beginning to prove this true – though not for the reasons that originally prompted it.

Over the years, groups of professional politicians and those drawn to the sphere, not to serve the public but by thoughts of self-aggrandisement and avarice, have dragged this once prosperous country, with its many natural resources and strong democratic institutions, towards its nadir.

From being Asia’s first democracy, with universal franchise granted in 1931– even before independence from Britain in 1948– political commentators and increasingly the public now fear that the country is teetering on the brink of militarism, with retired and serving senior officers in key positions in the civil administration, and others appointed to virtually oversee Sri Lanka’s 25 administrative districts.

While there is both international and local disquiet over the deterioration of democratic values, of more immediate concern is the country’s dire economic state. The situation is so critical that less than two weeks ago, the respected Sunday Times wrote that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government is ‘steps away from bankruptcy’.

At the same time, well-known economists were pressing alarm bells, warning about the possible breakdown of the banking system ‘causing a collapse of the economy’. The direct cause of the current crisis was the sudden hike in fuel prices in late June, which is bound to have a ripple effect on other commodities and services.

Bakers are already threatening to raise their prices, which could well have happened by the time this article appears.

A thermometer gun is used to take a boy’s temperature in Sri Lanka. Credit: UNICEF/Chameera Laknath

With the prices of staples such as rice and vegetables unbearably high, the average consumer, already burdened by the steepening cost of living, is being pushed to the wall by a government that came to power some 20 months or so ago promising to reduce poverty and improve living standards.

Rising living costs are compounded by a still uncontrollable Covid pandemic. This has compelled the government to impose lockdowns and curb travel – restrictions which are haphazardly lifted and re-imposed, despite the best medical advice – as daily wage earners run out of cash to buy food for their families and meet other domestic needs.

Political commentators and increasingly the public fear that the country is on the brink of militarism

Last month, the Sri Lanka Medical Association urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to continue lockdown restrictions without interruption–”considering that over 2,000 Covid 19 cases and over 50 deaths are being reported daily” and also the detection of the highly dangerous Indian variant’.

At the time of writing, health authorities reported another 52 fatalities and put the daily count of positive cases at 2,098. But such statistics seems to matter little to politicians and their military and medical cohorts, tasked with combating the spreading pandemic but ignoring the accumulating data and the advice of specialist medical professionals.

Meanwhile, the vaccination of the population, according to a pre-determined programme, has been disrupted by politicians who have drawn up their own priority lists and even threatened doctors and health workers who refused to accept their dictates, raising law enforcement issues and public criticism.

Those with power and influence find backdoor means to gain access to vaccinations, at the expense of an increasingly frustrated and angry public, who stand in long queues for hours awaiting their turn.

While the overall Covid containment programme is reportedly in a mess, along with an economy going steadily downhill, another pearl turned up in the Indian Ocean close to Colombo port. The X-Press Pearl, a Singapore-registered container ship, was carrying noxious cargo, including a leaking nitric acid container. With Qatar and India refusing to admit the vessel for repairs, it turned up in Colombo

That poisonous pearl spewed nitric acid into the ocean and then self-immolated, burning for days before part of it went down on June 2. As a result of the incident, more than 150 marine animals, including 100 turtles, 15 dolphins, three whales and scores of birds and fish beached in various parts of the country, not to mention the kilometres of beach covered with plastic pollutants, leading a UN representative in Colombo to describe the episode as a ‘significant damage to the planet’.

Meanwhile, the original pearl of the Indian Ocean is struggling to keep its head above water. The Sunday Times’ economics columnist Dr Nimal Sanderatne, an agricultural economist, former central banker and academic, painted a bleak picture in his weekly column in late June: ‘The external finances of the country are in a perilous state. External reserves have fallen, the trade deficit is widening, the balance of payments deficit is increasing and there are foreign debt repayments of about US$4 billion during the rest of the year.’

His views about the parlous state of the economy were echoed by several other economists, including the spokesman of Sri Lanka’s main opposition party SJB, Dr Harsha de Silva, and Dr Anila Dias Bandaranaike, a former assistant governor of the Central Bank.

In a desperate bid to boost reserves, Sri Lanka went for a currency swap of US$200 million with Bangladesh, once a struggling new nation in South Asia. Prudent economic policies and management, and national interest, brought Bangladesh to its current flourishing status.

When the currency swap was announced, one Sri Lankan wag remarked that it would have made more sense if Sri Lanka had swapped its advisors for those from Bangladesh, and the swap should be permanent to protect the country’s self-respect

Only a country that has lost its political sense and perceptiveness, or has abandoned all concern for its struggling people, could seek government sanction to import nearly 300 vehicles costing Rs 3.7 billion for its 225 parliamentarians and unnamed others, in the midst of a severe foreign currency crisis, when begging and borrowing seem the only options.

What is even worse, Sri Lanka’s premier state bank was ordered to open letters of credit one month or so before cabinet approval had been sought. Whoever ordered this remains unknown to the public at the time of writing.

Critics of the government say it is fast losing its one-time popularity as ill-considered and sudden policy decisions are heaped on existing economic and health problems, such as the snap decision to ban chemical fertiliser and pesticides, so essential right now for agriculture and export crops such as tea.

Scant wonder the government is being assailed by even close associates of the Rajapaksa family. One such is the head of the Catholic Church, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who, in a strongly critical statement recently said that ‘even nature seemed to be turning against the rulers’.

Meanwhile, western nations taking a cue from the UN Human Rights Council’s highly critical resolution on Sri Lanka last March appear to be tightening the noose.

At the end of June, the European Parliament moved a resolution, with almost 90 per cent voting for it, urging the EU authorities to consider suspending the Generalised System of Preference (GSP Plus) trade concessions to Sri Lanka, which would be a serious blow to exports.

Later the Core Group of Western nations that sponsored the UNHRC resolution issued a statement condemning Sri Lanka’s human rights situation and new changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Bleak times lie ahead.

Source: Asian Affairs Magazine

Neville de Silva is a veteran Sri Lankan journalist who held senior roles in Hong Kong at The Standard and worked in London for Gemini News Service. He has been a correspondent for foreign media including the New York Times and Le Monde. More recently he was Sri Lanka’s deputy high commissioner in London

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Sri Lanka’s Deteriorating Human Rights Situation Raises Multiple Alarms

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Featured, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Shreen Saroor

NEW DELHI, India, Feb 1 2021 (IPS) – A decade has passed since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war between the government and the LTTE, where at least 100,000 people were killed in the over three-decade long conflict. Families of victims of enforced disappearances continue to seek justice, the government is yet to end impunity and put accountability for crimes under international law and human rights violation and abuses in its transitional justice process.


In a recent United Nations Human Rights Office of The High Commissioner report, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stressed that the failure to deal with the past continues to have devastating effects on tens of thousands of families in Sri Lanka, who are still waiting for justice, reparations – and the truth about the fate of their loved ones. The report warns that the failure of Sri Lanka to address past violations has significantly “ heightened the risk of human rights violations being repeated.”

“Sri Lanka’s current trajectory sets the scene for the recurrence of the policies and practices that gave rise to grave human rights violations.” The report also flags the pattern of intensified surveillance and harassment of civil society organizations, human rights defenders and victims, and a shrinking space for independent media.

“I see the OHCHR report as something that will give more oxygen to continue our many struggles, especially for truth and justice,” says Sri Lanka based human rights activist Shreen Saroor to IPS News. The report has articulated the lack of access to justice and the need for accountability very well. It is robust on militarisation and deep securitisation of Sri Lanka and calls for rigorous vetting and demilitarization with a warning of grave consequences if failed, says Shreen.

“Michelle Bachelet’s criticism on surveillance on CSOs and shrinking space for dissent and the abuses of Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act are alarming. However in order to prevent another round of conflict, the report should emphasize more on the ongoing attacks against countries’ religious minorities,” says Shreen.

Earlier in december 2020, Muslims in Sri Lanka were outraged over the forced cremation of a 20-day-old COVID-19 victim against the family’s wishes. Sri Lanka has been flagged for ignoring the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines which permits both burial and cremations.

In a country where minorities are marginalized and discriminated against, Muslims who fall victim to COVID-19 are unjustly prevented from being laid to rest in accordance with their religious beliefs and are forcibly cremated, said Amnesty International in a statement. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries in the world which has made cremations mandatory for people who have died or are suspected of having died from COVID-19. The rights group urged the Sri Lankan Government to not forget that “ it has a duty to ensure all people in Sri Lanka are treated equitably. COVID-19 does not discriminate on grounds of ethnic, political or religious differences, and nor should the Government of Sri Lanka.”

“Many of us who have witnessed continuous minority rights violations over three decades in Sri Lanka, it is important for OHCHR to take on the issue of growing Sinhala Buddhist majoritarianism and the extreme nationalism that has been mentioned in the OHCHR report.

“It is time for OHCHR to come up with an early prevention strategy, so that another bloody war or religious violence in this country is prevented,” says Shreen.

Human Rights Watch in its recently released 93-page report, Open Wounds and Mounting Dangers: Blocking Accountability for Grave Abuses in Sri Lanka, examines the efforts by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to thwart justice in seven prominent human rights cases.

“The Sri Lankan government’s assault on justice increases the risk of human rights abuses today and in the future,” said John Fisher, Geneva Director at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Human Rights Council should adopt a resolution at its upcoming session that demonstrates to the Rajapaksa administration that the world won’t ignore its abuses and offers hope of justice to victims’ families, the report stated.

In 2018, just before and during the ongoing session of the UNHRC, Sri Lankan authorities made several announcements to signify their commitments to pledges made in the October 2015 resolution on justice and accountability for abuses during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksha months into his tenure in November 2019, made several changes including replacing the 19th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which was enacted to limit excessive executive power and facilitate independent institutions including the judiciary with the 20th Amendment, which consolidated power in the executive and nullified the independent commissions mainly Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commissions and Office of the Missing Persons. “Rajapaksa appointed people implicated in war crimes and other serious violations to senior administration positions,” said Shreen.

In February 2020 Sri Lanka withdrew itself from the 2019 UN resolution on post-war accountability and reconciliation, which is scheduled to be taken up in the upcoming session.

Sri Lanka’s main Tamil political parties are now urging for an international probe, and in a joint letter addressed to members of the UN Human Rights Council said, “It is now time for Member States to acknowledge that there is no scope for a domestic process that can genuinely deal with accountability in Sri Lanka.”

According to this report, Sri Lanka is in discussion with India and other countries for support to counter the Core Group’s move which could lead to targeted sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans against alleged perpetrators of grave human rights violations and abuses in the March session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The author is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.

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Biden’s Opportunity To End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

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

Time is running out fast. Thousands of jobs could be lost if the financial situation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) doesn’t improve promptly, says Philippe Lazzarini, the organization’s commissioner-general. Credit: United Nations

NEW YORK, Dec 7 2020 (IPS) – Recently I had an opportunity to brief a group of European diplomats and journalists on a variety of conflicts, with a focus on the Middle East. During the Q&A I was asked which of the region’s conflicts Biden should tackle first.


Without much hesitation I said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not only because it is over seven decades old, but because it is an increasingly intractable, explosive, and destabilizing situation, which reverberates throughout the Mideast, and several regional powers are exploiting it to serve their own national interests, which sadly contributes to its endurance.

It is expected that Biden will support a two-state solution given his past position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, albeit a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians no longer believe that such an outcome remains viable.

I disagree with this belief: the Palestinians will never give up their right to establish an independent state of their own, and the one-state solution, which is being floated as an alternative, will never be accepted by the Israelis, because that would compromise the Jewish national identity of the state and undercut its democratic nature.

Due to the inter-dispersement of the Israeli and Palestinian populations, the two independent states, however, will have to fully collaborate in many areas, especially on security and economic development. This will lead to the establishment of the framework for a confederation, which will be the final outcome after several years of peace and reconciliation.

For Biden to succeed where his predecessors failed, he must repair the severe damage that Trump has inflicted on the entire peace process and restore the Palestinians’ confidence in a new negotiation that could, in fact, lead to a permanent solution.

To that end, he must take specific measures before the start of the talks and establish rules of engagements to which both sides must fully subscribe to demonstrate their commitment to reaching an agreement.

Preliminary Measures

Reestablish the PLO mission in DC: Biden should allow the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reestablish its mission in DC. This would immediately open a channel of communication which is central to the development of a dialogue between the US and the PA and to clear some of the initial hurdles before resuming the negotiations.

Resuming financial aid: It is essential that Biden restore the financial aid that the Palestinians had been receiving from the US. The Palestinian Authority is financially strapped and is in desperate need of assistance. The aid given should be monitored to ensure that the money is spent on specific program and projects.

Prohibiting territorial annexation: The Biden administration should inform the Israeli government that it will object to any further annexation of Palestinian territories. It will, however, keep the American embassy in Jerusalem and continue recognizing Jerusalem as its capital, leaving its final status to be negotiated.

Freezing settlement expansion: Given the intense controversy about the settlements and their adverse psychological and practical effect on the Palestinians, Biden should insist that Israel impose a temporary freeze on the expansion of settlements. This issue should top the negotiating agenda to allow for a later expansion of specific settlements in the context of land swaps.

Invite Hamas to participate: The Biden administration should invite Hamas to participate in the negotiations jointly with the PA or separately, provided they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. If they refuse, they should be left to their own devices and continue to bear the burden of the blockade.

Appoint professional and unbiased mediators: Unlike Trump’s envoys who openly supported the settlements and paid little or no heed to the Palestinians’ aspirations, Biden’s envoys should be known for their integrity, professionalism, and understanding of the intricacies of the conflict, and be committed to a two-state solution.

Invite Arab and European observers: The Arab states and the EU are extremely vested in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Saudi and German officials will be ideal observers who can render significant help in their unique capacity as leading Arab and European powers.

Rules of engagement

Establishing the end game: No negotiations succeed unless the parties involved agree on the nature of their desired outcome. For the Palestinians it is establishing an independent Palestinian state, and for Israelis it is maintaining the security and independence of a democratic Jewish state. Before embarking on new negotiations, the Biden administration should insist that both sides unequivocally commit to a two-state outcome.

Acknowledging historical and psychological impediments: Both sides have paid little heed in the past to the need to understand each other’s historic experiences—the Holocaust for the Israelis and the Nakba (catastrophe) for the Palestinians—which they subconsciously use as protective shields. Acknowledging each other’s respective traumatic experiences would help mitigate the psychological impediments which continue to feed into the mutual distrust and hatred.

Ending public acrimony: No negotiations can be conducted in good faith in an atmosphere of mutual public acrimony, as had been the case in all prior peace talks. An integral part of any negotiating process is to build trust, which cannot be nurtured while denouncing each other publicly. Leaders on both sides must end acrimonious statements, as their respective publics will have no faith in negotiations under such an atmosphere.

Renouncing and preventing violence: Both sides must commit not only to renouncing violence but to doing everything in their power to prevent acts of violence against one another. To be sure, nothing is more disruptive to the negotiations than a wanton act of violence.

To that end, both sides need to fully collaborate on all security matters and send a clear massage, especially to extremists on both sides, that violence will not be tolerated and perpetrators will suffer severe consequences.

Delinking and “banking” agreed-upon issues: What will be necessary in future talks is to commit to “bank” any agreement reached on a specific issue, delink it from all others, and not subject it to renegotiations should the talks stall or collapse. This would prevent the resumption of negotiations from ground zero and allow for the building blocks that could eventually lead to an agreement.

In that regard, five critical issues—the settlements, Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugees, national security, and borders—have been hashed and rehashed ad nauseum in past negotiations. The Biden team should identify any common denominator on these issues to prevent renegotiating certain elements over which both sides have already agreed.

Establishing a process of reconciliation: The negotiating process must simultaneously be accompanied by a process of reconciliation. Both sides must initiate widespread people-to-people interactions to gradually mitigate the deep animosity and distrust between them which cannot simply be negotiated away.

Israelis and Palestinians should engage in many activities, including sports, performing arts, tourism, development projects, and student interactions, to foster trust and confidence that peaceful coexistence is possible.

Keeping the public informed: Given that both sides will be required to make significant concessions, it will be imperative to keep their respective publics informed about the progress being made in the negotiations to engender support.

Keeping the public in the dark, as was the practice in past, prevented the public from developing any vested interest in the negotiating process and its successful outcome.

The failure of both sides to agree in the past to establish and be governed by the above rules of engagement clearly suggests that neither side negotiated in good faith. The Biden administration must insist that Israelis and Palestinians accept the above rules if they want to resume the negotiations in earnest. Otherwise, the new talks will be nothing but an exercise in futility.

Sadly though, the current leaders in Israel and Palestine are not in a position to enter into serious negotiations, and must leave the political scene before Biden resumes new talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu is on record opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; he is also facing three criminal charges of corruption, and in spite of his impressive accomplishments, he may well have outlived his usefulness.

President Abbas too has taken a hard position in connection with the settlements, Jerusalem, and the refugees, and it will be nearly impossible for him to make any significant concession and survive politically.

He is also “too comfortable” in his position and does not want to leave the political scene accused of having sold the Palestinian cause. In the interim, Biden should reiterate the US commitment to Israel’s national security and his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, giving a clear signal that only moderation will win the day.

The US remains the indispensable power that can bring both sides to an enduring peace, because no other power can exert the kind of influence needed to reach a breakthrough.

For the Biden administration to bring this about, it must play an active role by advancing its own ideas and put its foot down when necessary because neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can have it only their way, and certainly not without direct US involvement.

As president, Biden has a momentous opportunity to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both sides will do well to grasp the moment.

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Mahatma’s Non-Violence: Essence of Culture of Peace for New Humanity

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Opinion

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations and Founder of The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP), was the keynote speaker at the observance of the International Day of Non-Violence on the 15th Mahatma Gandhi Day Celebration, organized virtually by the Gandhi International Institute for Peace (GIIP)

Credit: United Nations

HONOLULU, Hawaii, Oct 22 2020 (IPS) – I will begin by presenting to you excerpts from the message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the International Day of Non-Violence.


I quote: “In marking the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, this International Day highlights the remarkable power of non-violence and peaceful protest. It is also a timely reminder to strive to uphold values that Gandhi lived by: the promotion of dignity; equal protection for all; and communities living together in peace.

On this year’s observance, we have a special duty: stop the fighting to focus on our common enemy: COVID-19. There is only one winner of conflict during a pandemic: the virus itself. As the pandemic took hold, I called for a global ceasefire. Now is the time to intensify our efforts. Let us be inspired by the spirit of Gandhi and the enduring principles of the UN Charter.” End of quote

At the outset, let me thank the Gandhi International Institute for Peace (GIIP) and its dynamic President Mr. Raj Kumar for organizing the observance of the International Day of Non-Violence and of the 15th Mahatma Gandhi Day Celebration by the Institute.

The theme of my keynote speech today is “Mahatma’s Non-Violence: Essence of The Culture of Peace for New Humanity”

The Mahatma affirmed that he was not a visionary but a practical idealist. He affirmed that “Non- violence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law – to the strength of the spirit.”

It is said that “he was the first in human history to extend the principle of non-violence from the individual to the social and political plane.” He entered politics for the purpose of experimenting with non-violence and establishing its validity.

Ambassador Chowdhury

The Mahatma had said that “Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world. One cannot be passively nonviolent … One person who can express ahimsa in life exercises a force superior to all the force of brutality.” I believe whole-heartedly that Mahatma Gandhi’s principle of nonviolence or Ahimsa has found true reflection in the life of a great son of the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s own struggle for equality and justice.

Dr. King considered his Nobel Peace Prize as “a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the critical political and racial questions of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence“. I reiterate this mainly to highlight the need for revisiting those words in view of what is happening in many parts of our world, including in this country.

As I have stated on many occasions, my life’s experience has taught me to value peace and non-violence as the essential components of our existence. Those unleash the positive forces of good that are so needed for human progress. Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace.

It is important to realize that the absence of peace takes away the opportunities that we need to prepare ourselves, to empower ourselves to face the challenges of our lives, individually and collectively. This intellectual and spiritual inspiration is implanted in me through the Mahatma’s life and his words.

The United Nations Charter emerged in 1945 out of the ashes of the Second World War. The UN Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was born in 1999 in the aftermath of the Cold War. I was the chair of the nine-month-long negotiations from 1998 to 1999 that produced the Programme of Action on Culture of Peace.

For more than two decades, I have continued to devote considerable time, energy and effort to realizing the implementation of this landmark, norm-setting decision of the UN. For me, this has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace inspired by the Mahatma and my humble contribution to humanity.

My work took me to the farthest corners of the world and I have seen time and again how people – even the humblest and the weakest – have contributed to building the culture of peace in their personal lives, in their families, in their communities and in their countries – all these contributing to global peace one way or the other.

The focus of my work and advocacy has been on advancing the culture of peace which aims at making peace and non-violence a part of our own self, our own personality – a part of our existence as human beings. I believe this will empower ourselves to contribute more effectively to bring inner as well as outer peace.

In simple terms, the Culture of Peace as a concept means that every one of us needs to consciously make peace and nonviolence a part of our daily existence. We should know how to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice.

We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant. More so, in today’s world so full of negativity, tension, poverty and suffering, the culture of peace should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity.

In my keynote address on “Human Security – an Essential Element for Creating the Culture of Peace” at the Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, in August 2007, inspired by Mahatma’s eternal words “Be the change that you want to see in the world,” I underscored that “Peace is a prerequisite for human development.… We all must undertake efforts to inculcate the culture of peace in ourselves. We cannot expect the world to change if we do not start first and foremost with changing ourselves – at the individual levels.”

The objective of the culture of peace is the empowerment of people, as has been underscored by the global leader for peace and Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. As we say “Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression, injustice and neglect”. The culture of peace can be a powerful tool in promoting a global consciousness that serves the best interests of a just and sustainable peace.

I am encouraged that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN in 2015 includes, among others, the culture of peace and non-violence as well as global citizenship as essential components of today’s education.

This realization has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people. The Mahatma asserted that “One thing is certain. If the mad race for armaments continues, it is bound to result in a slaughter such as has never occurred in history. If there is a victor left, the very victory will be a living death for the nation that emerges victorious. There is no escape from the impending doom save through a bold and unconditional acceptance of the nonviolent method with all its glorious implications.”

Dr. King had advised us rightly, “… I suggest that the philosophy and strategy of nonviolence become immediately a subject for study and for serious experimentation in every field of human conflict, by no means excluding the relations between nations.”

The last decades of violence and human insecurity should lead to a growing realization in the world of education today that children should be educated in the art of peaceful, non-violent, non-aggressive living.

Never has it been more important for the next generation to learn about the world and understand and respect its diversity. I want to underscore one particular aspect in this context. In the culture of peace movement, we are focusing more attention on children because that contributes in a major way to the sustainable and long-lasting impact on our societies. As the Mahatma’s words highlight, “Real education consists in drawing the best out of yourself.”

An essential message that I have experienced from my work for the culture of peace is that we should never forget that when women – half of world’s seven plus billion people – are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

Women bring a new breadth, quality and balance of vision to a common effort of moving away from the cult of war towards the culture of peace. “Without peace, development cannot be realized, without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is possible.”

I believe the culture of peace is not a quick-fix. It is a movement, not a revolution.

Let us remember that the work for peace is a continuous process. Each one of us can make a difference in that process. The culture of peace cannot be imposed from outside; it must be realized from within.

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