World Social Forum Activists Unravel Roots of Israel’s Occupation of Gaza

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Armed Conflicts

Protesting against Israel's attacks on Gaza, at the opening day march of the World Social Forum in Kathmandu. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

Protesting against Israel’s attacks on Gaza, at the opening day march of the World Social Forum in Kathmandu. Credit: Marty Logan/IPS

KATHMANDU, Feb 17 2024 (IPS) – Romi Ghimire has a busy life running a non-profit organization dedicated to Nepal’s rural people, but she also feels driven to do something about Gaza. “There are a lot of issues happening in the world, but right now the genocide in Gaza is the most urgent one,” she said inside the Palestine tent at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Kathmandu on Saturday.


“We’re watching it live…. we’re seeing it on a daily basis: every morning and evening I’m consuming it and I just can’t stop thinking about it. I can’t pretend that it isn’t happening,” Ghimire told IPS. “We have to raise awareness about it around the world because we are all the (Palestinians) have. They don’t have any arms or ammunition, any military — it’s just people like us that they have.”

“People like us” include the roughly 30,000 activists expected to attend the WSF, the annual global gathering of social activists, happening this year in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu until Monday. This block of the city centre is bustling with activists, rushing to reach a scheduled workshop or bumping shoulders with peers from 90+ countries amid white tents set up as temporary classrooms in a fairground.

Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, in response to an attack on Israel by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, is one of the most discussed issues.

“Israel has refined the art of colonization through what I call the best business practice of colonialism, which invites multinational actors and corporations to invest in their colonial project. And that provides an economic incentive to ensure that political positions are supportive of Israel”

On Friday, Dr Varsen Aghabekian spoke to 30 activists from Nepal, South Asia and beyond. The former Commissioner General for the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, Aghabekian detailed the history that has culminated in Israel’s occupation of Palestine, stressing the deep roots of the current assaults.

Demographic strategy

For example, in Mandate Palestine (as it was known in 1947), Palestinians made up 93% of the population and Jewish people were 7%. By 2023 the make-up had changed dramatically, with Palestinians at 51% and the Jewish population equal to 49%, said Aghabekian, labelling the process part of Israel’s “erasure”.

Historical “annexation” includes takeover of public and private property. In 1947, 90% of such property was owned by Palestinians; by 2023 they had been relegated to 22% of historic Palestine.

Israeli laws and policies “institutionalize the superiority and privilege the status of Jews,” added Aghabekian. They reserve the right of self-determination in Israel exclusively for the Jewish people, and declare Hebrew as the official state language, demoting Arabic, which had been the country’s official second language.

“We rightfully call (the situation) apartheid but when we do that many western countries frown and say: ‘It can’t be!’… Israel is trying to project that an occupier state is a victim of our resistance and our violence (but) we have the right to resist as an occupied people who want to be liberated.”

Eventually Israel must make peace with the Palestinians, added Aghabekian. “If they are prospering and we are in pain there will not be peace. The Gaza genocide, despite its disasters, is an opportunity… even the US said seriously ‘maybe we should think about the two-state solution’. I think we’re moving toward that.”

Not only is Israel misrepresenting its occupation and current attack on Gaza, the situation has revealed the hypocrisy of western legal, religious and cultural tradition, argued Mitri Raheb, the first president of Dar-al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, who spoke after Aghabekian.

Israel’s response to the Hamas attack has revealed the “warrior God,” not the God of peace, said Raheb, citing a personal example. A German bishop he met counselled Palestinians to remain non-violent. But just weeks later Raheb, who also served as the pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem from 1987 until 2017, saw the bishop on TV calling for western countries to provide Ukraine with tanks to counter Russia’s invasion.

Palestinians, he added, used to “believe in and fight for human rights because we thought they were international, they were for everyone. But I’m starting to question that. I think that human rights were meant for white Europeans, so they won’t kill each other any more, but it’s OK if the rest of the world is killed by the empire.”

“Business of colonialism”

Legal expert Wasem Ahmad dissected the economic structure that props up Israel’s occupation. “Israel has refined the art of colonization through what I call the best business practice of colonialism, which invites multinational actors and corporations to invest in their colonial project. And that provides an economic incentive to ensure that political positions are supportive of Israel.”

A human rights scholar, Ahmad told IPS he recognizes the limitations of the human rights system. “The more you do this work the more cynical you become of the system as it’s proposed. (Human rights) look very nice on paper but when you try to put them into practice you realize that there are a lot of political obstacles to that realization and it has to do with the broader imperial interests at play.”

“Our role,” he continued, “is to push that system and engage it, and force the wheels of justice to turn. Either it works in our benefit or we expose it and over time that system will change, even if it requires a breakdown to rebuild.”

But opposing Israel’s colonization through the legal system is only one approach, added Ahmad. “The idea that I’m only going to rely on the legal mechanisms, ignoring that the law is a social construct connected to economic, political and cultural interests and beliefs in society ignores that reality.”

Despite his critique of the West’s legal and cultural traditions, Raheb said he was invigorated by the throngs of people worldwide, and at the WSF, protesting Israel’s attacks. “Gaza was the wake-up call for all of us. And I think in the future this will just get stronger and stronger… Gaza galvanized the global South because it was the magnifying glass: suddenly we could see clearly. That was the turning point.”

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Last Chance Saloon? Myanmar Junta Imposes Military Conscription

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Armed Conflicts

A Buddhist pagoda towers above a teeming thoroughfare in Mae Sot, a Thai town dense with tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in nearby Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

A Buddhist pagoda towers above a teeming thoroughfare in Mae Sot, a Thai town dense with tens of thousands of people fleeing conflict in nearby Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

MAE SOT, Thailand, Feb 15 2024 (IPS) – The news travelled like wildfire. In the teashops, bars, and market stalls that make Thailand’s border town of Mae Sot feel far more Burmese than Thai, the feared rumours circulating at the weekend were suddenly confirmed.

Military conscription would be imposed on young men and women for two to five years, regime-controlled broadcasters in Myanmar announced on the Saturday night airwaves. Details were sparse.


Panic scrolling through social media suddenly replaced conversation in one popular Mae Sot hangout run by a Burmese activist-entrepreneur for his clientele of exiles, fugitives, and migrants. Pool players stopped mid-break. “What the ***!” exclaimed the member of a rock band. 

Myanmar’s junta has been at war with much of the country since staging a coup three years ago, but still, it has come as a serious shock that for the first time in modern history, the military will impose on young people the choice of two uniforms—army or prison.

Analysts—Burmese and foreign—interpreted the developments in various ways. For some, it was a clear sign that the military was losing this patchwork civil war and could not sustain itself. For decades, it had thrived on recruiting youngsters from poor areas of the Bamar-majority heartlands of Sagaing and Magwe. But now those same arid regions are hotbeds of resistance against the regime, its forces stretched across the length and breadth of almost the entire country, depending mostly on air power to bomb civilian areas into submission.

A Burmese woman wearing thanaka to protect her face from the sun walks through a market in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. The stall is selling the wood bark that is ground into the cosmetic paste so popular in Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

A Burmese woman wearing thanaka to protect her face from the sun walks through a market in the Thai border town of Mae Sot. The stall is selling the wood bark that is ground into the cosmetic paste so popular in Myanmar. Credit: William Webb/IPS

“An act of desperation,” Igor Blazevic said of the junta’s move, which follows sizeable territorial losses and a meltdown of its forces in northern Shan State late last year. Blazevic, a Myanmar expert at the Prague Civil Society Centre, predicted on Facebook that the measure would backfire because the regime was too “weakened and broken” to be able to administer recruitment on a large scale.

But on Monday night, more news was breaking that indicated the junta had got its ducks in a row—airports were suddenly requiring military authorisation stamped on tickets for even internal domestic flights. According to unconfirmed reports, some junta-controlled border posts were closing or imposing similar restrictions, and young men had been picked up on the streets of the commercial capital Yangon.

“It’s another way of terrorising the population,” was the view of one young Burmese who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.

In the Myanmar capital, Nay Pyi Taw, junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun simply said conscription was essential because of the “situation”.

“The duty to safeguard and defend the nation extends beyond just the soldiers but to all citizens. So I want to tell everyone to proudly follow this people’s military service law,” he intoned.

No way, retorted May, a young refugee whose dream of becoming a doctor was shattered by the 2021 coup and the arrest of her father.

She said compulsory military service would simply drive more young people to join the People’s Defence Forces of the resistance— despite the heavy losses they are incurring and the military’s barbaric treatment of prisoners subjected to torture, summary executions, and, most recently, strung up and torched.

May slipped across the nearby border into Mae Sot with her family after spending two years as a refugee in a camp run by a section of the Karen National Liberation Army fighting what is known as the world’s longest-running civil war dating back to 1949.

“I cannot go back to Myanmar,” she said. At 19 years old, she fits the age range of 18 to 27 for single women to be conscripted. For men, it is 18 to 35 years, rising to 45 for specialists like doctors and IT workers who quit their state sector posts in droves after the coup, joining the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of non-violent resistance.

On Sunday night in Mae Sot, large crowds of this latest wave of the Myanmar diaspora gathered for an outdoor CDM fund-raising concert, featuring dancing and music performed by several of the country’s ethnic minorities, including Karen and Chin. The concert was sponsored by an online bank set up by the resistance. Stalls sold knick-knacks and garments, and beer and hot food were swiftly ferried about by teams of neatly dressed waiters.

May and her entrepreneurial family had their properties and businesses seized and sealed by the military near Mandalay and are now rebuilding their lives, running a small restaurant among the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Burmese living in and around Mae Sot, setting up businesses, social services, and accommodation safe from predatory Thai officials and regime spies.

May remains determined to study medicine somewhere somehow, representative of a young, capable, and innovative generation of Burmese plugged into a digital world while moving in and out of the shadows of war.

Bo Kyi, a veteran activist and former prisoner who co-founded the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Mae Sot 24 years ago, saw the military’s conscription order as a “huge challenge” for young people, especially those who had tried to keep out of politics and war. It would become very hard to leave the country legally now, he said.

“Millions will suffer and Burma will lose its human resources,” he said.

[embedded content]

William Webb is a travel writer who started out in Asia nearly 50 years ago

IPS UN Bureau Report

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The West’s Addiction to War Must End in Gaza

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Sa’ada, Yemen. Aftermath of a Saudi airstrikes. Credit: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb 2 2024 (IPS) – Two months ago, an opinion piece I wrote, “The Cries of Gaza Reach Afghanistan,” was published with the hope of reminding American and other Western leaders of how quickly wars ON terror descend into wars OF terror because of their disproportionate impact on civilians and the unpredictability once unleashed.


The United States and its Western alliance of ‘forever wars’ since 9/11 were all entered under the pretext of defeating terrorism. Instead, they strengthened the political and military standing of those they aimed to destroy while simultaneously causing unimaginable suffering for millions of civilians, including their own citizens.

According to Brown University’s Cost of War Project and various other independent research groups, a catastrophic 4.5 million direct and indirect deaths are attributed to Western efforts to “defeat terrorism” since 9/11.

If Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Libya have taught us anything, it should be this. Today, the Taliban once again rules Afghanistan, and Iraq, after years of sectarian violence resulting from the U.S. invasion has moved closer to the political influence of Iran. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic rule remains firmly in place. The U.S./European NATO-led air war to rid Libya of Muammar Qaddafi and usher in democracy in 2011 was so naively executed that no consideration was paid to how such a reckless, violent endeavor would ultimately trigger a civil war, terrorism, and mass migration. In Yemen, U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Houthi rebels has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 Yemenis and strengthened the Houthis to the point where, for the “first time in history, a naval blockade is being successfully enacted” by a non-state actor with “no navy and cheap, low-grade technology.”

The same hubris that has blinded the West’s addiction to answering terrorism with war since 9/11 is the same hubris and hypocrisy that fuels its unconditional support for Israel’s war against Hamas today. To be clear, the attacks of Hamas on October 7, like the attacks of Al Qaeda on 9/11, deserve the harshest global condemnation and a proportional, strategic response that respects international law. It does not justify the unconditional support and shielding of Israel’s punitive war on Gaza’s unarmed civilian population, its civilian infrastructure, and its cultural and religious heritage while further risking the lives of the remaining Israeli hostages held by Hamas. Moreover, this war serves no military objective for Israel and offers no strategic benefit for those aiding and abetting Israel’s war from Washington, London, and various EU capitals.

In seeking to wipe out Hamas, all that Israel and its supporters led by the United States are doing is wiping out Gaza. In 100 days, Israel has succeeded in decimating 4 percent of Gaza’s population. Ninety thousand men, women, and children in the Gaza Strip have been killed, seriously injured, or disappeared. 75% of those killed are women and children (Source: Euro-Med Monitor), not Hamas fighters.

If Gaza was called an open-air prison before this war, now it’s an open-air graveyard. A closer look at the 4 percent shows an even bigger tragedy unfolding by the minute. Unchallenged by those who are supplying it with arms and political cover, Israel is targetting Palestinian healthcare workers, humanitarian relief specialists, journalists, artists, poets, civil society activists, and educators, along with their families. As if the killing of Gaza’s children and its brightest wasn’t enough, Israel, through the collaboration of its Western allies, is also obliterating Gaza’s residential and public service infrastructure.

According to a Wall Street Journal satellite imagery survey, “Israel has bombarded and destroyed 70 percent of homes in Gaza.” According to the W.H.O., “none of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning,” and universities, including its primary medical teaching college, have been blown up by the I.D.F. Even places of worship, mosques, and churches, historically places of refuge during times of war, haven’t been spared the wrath of the Israeli-Western assault on Gaza.

Investigations conducted by The Washington Post and Truthout state, “Israel has deployed over 22,000 U.S. produced bombs on Gaza including 2,000-pound ‘bunker bombs’ which experts warn are not meant for densely populated areas as well as white phosphorus produced by munitions manufacturer, the Pine Bluff Arsenal, in the U.S. state of Arkansas (source: Arkansas Times) and supplied to Israel by the U.S. government over the years. Despite massive protests in major U.S. cities calling for a cease-fire, President Biden has bypassed Congress on two occasions to get even more weapons to Israel. The U.K. and Europe, for their part, have also continued to supply key weapons to Israel since the start of the war (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) despite loud calls from their citizens for an immediate cease-fire.

When asked about these atrocities, the only reply from Israeli, American, British, and European officials is, “Do you condemn Hamas?” The answer should always be yes, but Hamas’s crimes against Israeli citizens on October 7 are not a license for Israel and the West to kill, maim, and displace the entire unarmed civilian population of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel’s reasoning that Hamas is using the civilians of Gaza as human shields and, therefore, justified in deploying any form of military action it deems necessary is not war but a crime against humanity. It’s also a disingenuous argument meant to create a fog of war repeated with criminal negligence by countless U.S., U.K., and European leaders and government officials.

It’s hard to imagine today, but the suffering being inflicted upon two million Palestinians and the remaining 132 Israeli hostages in Gaza, fatefully connected by history, geography, and the tragic events of October 7, will eventually come to an end. Perhaps the historic ruling by the International Criminal Court of Justice (I.C.J.) will prevail, but this could take months. In the meantime, the atrocities being committed on Gazans will intensify, and the plight of the Israeli hostages will enter an even darker, more desperate stage.

The recent ruling of the world’s highest court, while legally binding, doesn’t have the power of enforcement. Furthermore, the court’s order to Israel to “take measures which prevent further harm on Palestinians” without actually ordering a cease-fire fails to take into consideration the entrenched and sick appetite for war that exists between the world’s political elites are not only providing unconditional support for Israel’s war on the civilian population of Gaza, but participating and profiting from it.

According to EuroMed Monitoring, “Since the I.C.J.’s ruling, Israel has maintained its rate of killing in Gaza” with either no or muted reactions from Western leaders. The fury but also the inertia of powerful states, regardless of political governance and persuasion, is virtually impossible to stop once their war machines are set in motion. It’s no different for Israel.

It took the United States twenty years to end its war in Afghanistan and almost ten years in Iraq. It still maintains counter-terrorism operations with Saudi Arabia in Yemen despite the deadly impact on Yemeni civilians. Europe continues its unwavering support for continued war in Ukraine for no reason other than political arrogance. Russia, for its part, despite its upper hand in Ukraine, continues to fight with devastating consequences for both Russians and Ukrainians. So, why should Netanyahu and his war cabinet be counted on to rein in their war in Gaza? Like their militarily powerful peers, Israel’s warmongering has no bounds.

The entire population of Northern Gaza is now internally displaced, forced by Israel to move south towards Rafah on the Egyptian border. Despite the I.C.J.’s ruling, Israel has intensified its ground operation towards Rafah, where hundreds of thousands from the North of Gaza are already taking refuge on the outskirts of the city, living for weeks in a harsh desert landscape. If Israel continues its violent push into Rafah as it has warned Egypt it plans to do, the entire population of Gaza will be trapped in a tiny corner of the desert with no protection and no safe passage out.

Those who survive the daily air strikes are now dying of hunger, disease, and injuries left untreated because of the destruction of Gaza’s health care system. Two million people are now also forced to endure the extreme traumas of trying to survive without any viable shelter, food, clean water and sanitation, electricity, and safe passage while surrounded by constant air and ground bombardment, snipers, drone attacks, the cold and rain of winter and perhaps worse of all the inaction of world leaders who have it in their power to end Israel’s genocidal campaign in Gaza and, now it’s frightening assault on the civilian population of the West Bank, where Hamas isn’t even in power.

Only the United States, specifically President Biden, is uniquely positioned to pressure Israel to respect each of the I.C.J’s rulings. Perhaps, given its reliance on war as an answer to every foreign policy challenge since 9/11, the United States has forgotten it also has something called soft power- something it has sorely neglected the past twenty years.

The easiest way for President Biden to prove that he and the United States are still committed to international law is by announcing his personal support for an immediate cease-fire and showing proof that he’s pressuring Israel to do the same. He will also need to push for a robust and independent humanitarian assistance effort without any interference from Israel at either border crossing into Gaza.

Of course, all of this assumes that President Biden is willing to stop listening to the impenetrable wall of aides and advisors he’s created around himself and start seeing with his own eyes the scale of the suffering and the dire risks of a wider, regional war that is already endangering American lives.

According to a confidential source with extensive U.S. foreign policy experience, the deadly attack on U.S. troops on the border between Jordan and Syria this past week “exhibits how even the projection of U.S. military power serves to fuel conflict rather than mitigate it.” For totally preventable reasons, now the families of these American soldiers can join all the Palestinian and Israeli lives torn apart by the sheer insanity of this preventable war and unfolding humanitarian disaster.

Above all, President Biden needs to start hearing the calls of his fellow citizens, including the many thousands of Jewish Americans, who are demanding that their taxes and their nation not be used to wage yet another senseless war in their names. A failure to do so will have unimaginable consequences not just for Israelis and Palestinians but for the world.

IPS UN Bureau

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Amidst a Horrendous 2023, Civil Society is Fighting Back Society

Armed Conflicts, Biodiversity, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, COP28, Economy & Trade, Education, Environment, Featured, Global, Green Economy, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

TORONTO, Canada, Dec 22 2023 (IPS) – The year 2023 has brought so much tragedy, with incomprehensible loss of lives, whether from wars or devastating ‘natural’ disasters, while our planet has seen yet more records broken as our climate catastrophe worsens.

And so as the clock ticks towards the (mostly western) New Year, readers are traditionally subjected by media outlets like ours to the ‘yearender’ – usually a roundup of main events over the previous 12 months, one horror often overshadowed by the next.


Farhana Haque Rahman

So forgive us if for 2023 IPS takes a somewhat different approach, highlighting how humanity can do better, and how the big depressing picture should not obscure the myriad small but positive steps being taken out there.

COP28, the global climate conference held this month in Dubai, could neatly fit the ‘big depressing’ category. Hosted by a petrostate with nearly 100,000 people registered to attend, many of them lobbyists for fossil fuels and other polluters, it would be natural to address its outcomes with scepticism.

However, while Yamide Dagnet, Director for Climate Justice at the Open Society Foundations, described COP28 as “imperfect”, she said it also marked “an important and unprecedented step forward in our ‘course correction’ for a just transition towards resilient and greener economies.”

UN climate chief Simon Stiell acknowledged shortcomings in the compromise resolutions on fossil fuels and the level of funding for the Loss and Damages Fund. But the outcome, he said, was also the “beginning of the end” for the fossil fuel era.

Imperfect as it was and still based on old structures, COP28 hinted at the possible: a planetary approach to governance where common interests spanning climate, biodiversity and the whole health of Earth outweigh and supersede the current dominant global system of rule by nation states.

As we have tragically witnessed in 2023, the existing system – as vividly reflected in the repetitive stalemate among the five veto-bearing members of the UN Security Council – is failing to find resolution to the major conflicts of this year, Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza. Not to mention older and half-forgotten conflicts in places like Myanmar (18.6 million people in need of humanitarian aid) and in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (seven million displaced).

The unrestrained destruction of Gaza and the disproportionate killings of over 17,000, (now the death toll is “at least 20,000 people” according to Palestinian officials) mostly civilians– in retaliation for 1,200 killings by Hamas and 120 hostages in captivity– have left the Palestinians in a state of deep isolation and weighed down by a feeling of being deserted by the world at large.

The United Nations and the international community have remained helpless– with UN resolutions having no impact– while American pleas for restrained aerial bombings continue to be ignored by the Israelis in an act of defiance, wrote IPS senior journalist Thalif Deen.

The hegemony of the nation-state system is surely not going to disappear soon but – without wanting to sound too idealistic — its foundations are being chipped away by civil society where interdependence prevails over the divide and rule of the existing order. And so for a few examples encountered in our reporting:

CIVICUS Lens, standing for social justice and rooted in the global south, offers analysis of major events from a civil society perspective, such as its report on the security crisis gripping Haiti casting doubt over the viability of an international plan to dispatch a Kenya-led police contingent.

Education Cannot Wait, a global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, lobbied at COP28 for a $150 million appeal to support school-aged children facing climate shocks, such as the devastating drought in Somalia and Ethiopia, and floods in Pakistan where many of the 26,000 schools hit in 2022 remain closed.

Leprosy, an ancient but curable disease, had been pegged back in terms of new case numbers but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 made it harder for patients to get treatment and for new cases to be reported. Groups such as the Sasakawa Health Foundation are redoubling efforts to promote early detection and treatment.

With 80 percent of the world’s poorest living closer to the epicenters of climate-induced disasters, civil society is hammering at the doors of global institutions to address the challenges of adaptation and mitigation.

Lobbying on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai was activist Joshua Amponsem, co-director of the Youth Climate Justice Fund who questioned why weather-resilient housing was not yet a reality in Mozambique’s coastal regions despite the increasing ferocity of tropical cyclones.

“My key message is really simple. The clock is ticking for food security in Africa,” Dr Simeon Ehui told IPS as the newly appointed Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture which works with partners across sub-Saharan Africa to tackle hunger, poverty and natural resource degradation.

Dr Alvaro Lario, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which has received record-breaking pledges in support of its largest ever replenishment, warns that under current trends 575 million people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2030.

“Hunger remains a political issue, mostly caused by poverty, inequality, conflict, corruption and overall lack of access to food and resources. In a world of plenty, which produces enough food to feed everyone, how can there be hundreds of millions going hungry?” he asked.

Empowering communities in a bid to protect and rejuvenate the ecosystems of Pacific communities is the aim of the Unlocking Blue Pacific Prosperity conservation effort launched at COP28 by Palau’s President Surangel Whipps who noted that the world was not on track to meet any of the 17 sustainable development goals or climate goals by 2030.

A scientist with a life-long career studying coral reefs, David Obura was appointed this year as the new chair of IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

We really have reached planetary limits and I think interest in oceans is rising because we have very dramatically reached the limits of land,” says Dr Obura, “What the world needs to understand is how strongly nature and natural systems, even when highly altered such as agricultural systems, support people and economies very tangibly. It’s the same with the ocean.”

An ocean-first approach to the fight against climate change is also the pillar of a Dalhousie University research program, Transforming Climate Action, launched last May and funded by the Canadian government. Traditional knowledges of Indigenous People will be a focus.

As Max Roser, an economist making academic research accessible to all, reminds us: for more people to devote their energy to making progress tackling large global problems, we should ensure that more people know that it is possible.

Focusing on the efforts of civil society and projecting hope amidst all the heartbreak of 2023 might come across as futile and wasted, but in its coverage IPS will continue to highlight efforts and successes, big and small, that deserve to be celebrated.

Farhana Haque Rahman is the Executive Director of IPS Inter Press Service Noram and Senior Vice President of IPS; she served as the elected Director General of IPS from 2015 to 2019. A journalist and communications expert who lived and worked in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, she is a former senior official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development IFAD.

IPS UN Bureau

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Kazakhstan’s Transition: From a Nuclear Test Site to Leader in Disarmament

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Conferences, Headlines, Health, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Peace, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

A Group photo of participants of the regional conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and nuclear-free-zone in Central Asia held on August 29, 2023. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel

ASTANA, Kazakhstan, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – Exactly 32 years ago, on September 29, 1991, Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union, made a historic decision that would alter its fate. On that day, Kazakhstan permanently closed the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, defying the central government in Moscow. This marked the start of Kazakhstan’s transformation from a nuclear-armed state, possessing the fourth-largest nuclear arsenal at the time, to a non-nuclear-weapon state. Kazakhstan’s audacious move to eliminate its nuclear weapons was rooted in a profound commitment to global disarmament, setting an inspiring precedent.


Eighteen years later, in 2009, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, led by Kazakhstan, designating August 29 as the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. This day serves as a solemn reminder of the catastrophic consequences of nuclear weapons and underscores the urgent imperative for disarmament.

In a world where the threat of nuclear weapons being used again remains a grim reality, a pivotal question looms: Can we genuinely aspire to a world free of nuclear arms? To delve deeper into this pressing concern and comprehend the menace posed by nuclear weapons testing and deployment, we interviewed Karipbek Kuyukov and participants of the “Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone” regional conference. This conference, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan in partnership with the Center for International Security and Policy (CISP), Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), took place in Astana, Kazakhstan to commemorate this year’s International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

Karipbek Kuyukov is an armless painter from Kazakhstan, and global anti–nuclear weapon testing & nonproliferation activist. Credit: Jibek Joly TV Channel

One of the most poignant moments during the conference came from Dmitriy Vesselov, a third-generation survivor of nuclear testing. He provided a heartfelt testimony about the profound human toll exacted by nuclear testings on his family and the broader community. The nuclear tests conducted at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site over four decades unleashed explosions 2,500 times more potent than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The repercussions of these tests have echoed through generations, inflicting severe health problems and untold suffering.

Kuyukov, a renowned Kazakh artist born without hands due to radiation exposure in his mother’s womb, has devoted his life to raising awareness about the horrors of nuclear testing. His powerful artwork, created using his lips or toes, depicts the survivors of nuclear tests and serves as a poignant tribute to those who perished. Kuyukov’s unwavering commitment reflects the indomitable human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Dmitriy Vesselov’s testimony shed light on the ongoing challenges faced by survivors. He candidly shared his struggles with health issues, including acromioclavicular dysostosis, a condition severely limiting his physical capabilities. Vesselov expressed his deep concern about the potential transmission of these health problems to future generations. Consequently, he has chosen not to have children. The conference underscored the imperative of averting the repetition of history by delving into the past tragedies inflicted by nuclear weapons testings.

Hirotsugu Terasaki, Director General of Peace and Global Issues of SGI, commenting on the event said “I believe that this regional conference is a new milestone, a starting point for representatives from five countries of Central Asia to discuss how we can advance the process toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, given the ever-increasing threat of nuclear weapons.”

Terasaki observed that the international community is actively deliberating Articles 6 and 7 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), mandating state parties to provide support to victims and address environmental remediation. He accentuated Kazakhstan’s pivotal role as a co-chair of the working group central to these discussions.

Kazakhstan does provide special medical insurance and benefits to victims of nuclear tests. However, these benefits are predominantly extended to individuals officially certified as disabled or a family member of those who succumbed to radiation-related illnesses. Numerous victims, like Vesselov, who do not fall within these categories, remain ineligible for assistance.

Despite his daunting challenges, Mr. Vesselov maintains an unwavering sense of hope. He hopes that his testimony will serve as a stark reminder of the perils of nuclear weapons and awaken global consciousness regarding the dangers posed by even small tactical nuclear weapons and the specter of limited nuclear conflicts. Ultimately, his deepest aspiration, shared by all victims of nuclear weapons, is that the world will never bear witness to such a devastating tragedy again.

As Kazakhstan assumes its role as President-designate of the third Meeting of States Parties to the TPNW, it reaffirms its steadfast commitment to global peace and disarmament. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s resolute words resonate with the sentiment of a nation that has borne the scars of nuclear testing: “Such a tragedy should not happen again. Our country will unwaveringly uphold the principles of nuclear security.”

At the conference, member states of the Treaty of Semipalatinsk were encouraged to support Kazakhstan in this endeavor, and in its efforts to represent the Central Asian region’s contribution to nuclear disarmament, through attending the second Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW, at least as observers, which will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York between 27 November and 1 December this year, and by signing and ratifying the TPNW at the earliest opportunity.

In a world still grappling with the looming specter of nuclear devastation, Kazakhstan’s journey from a nuclear test site to a leading advocate for disarmament serves as a beacon of hope. Kazakhstan’s unwavering commitment to peace stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of a nation that once bore the weight of nuclear tests and now champions a safer, more secure world for all.

Katsuhiro Asagiri is President of INPS Japan and Kunsaya Kurmet-Rakhimova is a reporter of Jibek Joly(Silk Way) TV Channel.

IPS UN Bureau

 

The UN’s Own Relevance Is at Stake at This Year’s General Assembly

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Climate Change, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Featured, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Inequality, Peace, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addresses the 22nd session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations headquarters in New York City on 17 April 17 2023. Credit: Ed Jones/AFP via Getty Images

NEW YORK, Sep 7 2023 (IPS) – This September, world leaders and public policy advocates from around the world will descend on New York for the UN General Assembly. Alongside conversations on peace and security, global development and climate change, progress – or the lack of it – on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to take centre-stage. A major SDG Summit will be held on 18 and 19 September. The UN hopes that it will serve as a ‘rallying cry to recharge momentum for world leaders to come together to reflect on where we stand and resolve to do more’. But are the world’s leaders in a mood to uphold the UN’s purpose, and can the UN’s leadership rise to the occasion by resolutely addressing destructive behaviours?


Sadly, the world is facing an acute crisis of leadership. In far too many countries authoritarian leaders have seized power through a combination of populist political discourse, outright repression and military coups. Our findings on the CIVICUS Monitor – a participatory research platform that measures civic freedoms in every country – show that 85% of the world’s population live in places where serious attacks on basic fundamental freedoms to organise, speak out and protest are taking place. Respect for these freedoms is essential so that people and civil society organisations can have a say in inclusive decision making.

UN undermined

The UN Charter begins with the words, ‘We the Peoples’ and a resolve to save future generations from the scourge of war. Its ideals, such as respect for human rights and the dignity of every person, are being eroded by powerful states that have introduced slippery concepts such as ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘development with national characteristics’. The consensus to seek solutions to global challenges through the UN appears to be at breaking point. As we speak hostilities are raging in Ukraine, Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Sahel region even as millions of people reel from the negative consequences of protracted conflicts and oppression in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria and Yemen, to name a few.

Article 1 of the UN Charter underscores the UN’s role in harmonising the actions of nations towards the attainment of common ends, including in relation to solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all. But in a time of eye-watering inequality within and between countries, big economic decisions affecting people and the planet are not being made collectively at the UN but by the G20 group of the world’s biggest economies, whose leaders are meeting prior to the UN General Assembly to make economic decisions with ramifications for all countries.

Economic and development cooperation policies for a large chunk of the globe are also determined through the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Established in 1961, the OECD comprises 38 countries with a stated commitment to democratic values and market-based economics. Civil society has worked hard to get the OECD to take action on issues such as fair taxation, social protection and civic space.

More recently, the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – grouping of countries that together account for 40 per cent of the world’s population and a quarter of the globe’s GDP are seeking to emerge as a counterweight to the OECD. However, concerns remain about the values that bind this alliance. At its recent summit in South Africa six new members were admitted, four of which – Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – are ruled by totalitarian governments with a history of repressing civil society voices. This comes on top of concerns that China and Russia are driving the BRICS agenda despite credible allegations that their governments have committed crimes against humanity.

The challenge before the UN’s leadership this September is to find ways to bring coherence and harmony to decisions being taken at the G20, OECD, BRICS and elsewhere to serve the best interests of excluded people around the globe. A focus on the SDGs by emphasising their universality and indivisibility can provide some hope.

SDGs off-track

The adoption of the SDGs in 2015 was a groundbreaking moment. The 17 ambitious SDGs and their 169 targets have been called the greatest ever human endeavour to create peaceful, just, equal and sustainable societies. The SDGs include promises to tackle inequality and corruption, promote women’s equality and empowerment, support inclusive and participatory governance, ensure sustainable consumption and production, usher in rule of law and catalyse effective partnerships for development.

But seven years on the SDGs are seriously off-track. The UN Secretary-General’s SDG progress report released this July laments that the promise to ‘leave no one behind’ is in peril. As many as 30 per cent of the targets are reported to have seen no progress or worse to have regressed below their 2015 baseline. The climate crisis, war in Ukraine, a weak global economy and the COVID-19 pandemic are cited as some of the reasons why progress is lacking.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is pushing for an SDG stimulus plan to scale up financing to the tune of US$500 billion. It remains to be seen how successful this would be given the self-interest being pursued by major powers that have the financial resources to contribute. Moreover, without civic participation and guarantees for enabled civil societies, there is a high probability that SDG stimulus funds could be misused by authoritarian governments to reinforce networks of patronage and to shore up repressive state apparatuses.

Also up for discussion at the UN General Assembly will be plans for a major Summit for the Future in 2024 to deliver the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report, released in 2021. This proposes among other things the appointment of a UN Envoy for Future Generations, an upgrade of key UN institutions, digital cooperation across the board and boosting partnerships to drive access and inclusion at the UN. But with multilateralism stymied by hostility and divisions among big powers on the implementation of internationally agreed norms, achieving progress on this agenda implies a huge responsibility on the UN’s leadership to forge consensus while speaking truth to power and challenging damaging behaviours by states and their leaders.

The UN’s leadership have found its voice on the issue of climate change. Secretary-General Guterres has been remarkably candid about the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry and its supporters. This July, he warned that ‘The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived’. Similar candour is required to call out the twin plagues of authoritarianism and populism which are causing immense suffering to people around the world while exacerbating conflict, inequality and climate change.

The formation of the UN as the conscience of the world in 1945 was an exercise in optimism and altruism. This September that spirit will be needed more than ever to start creating a better world for all, and to prove the UN’s value.

Mandeep S. Tiwana is chief officer for evidence and engagement + representative to the UN headquarters at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

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