Emily Standfield is CIVICUS Member and data volunteer.
National civic space ratings from the CIVICUS Monitor, which uses up-to-date information and indicators to assess the state of freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression for all UN Member States. Credit: CIVICUS Monitor
TORONTO, Canada, Feb 24 2021 (IPS) – A month into Joe Biden’s presidency, the U.S. has rejoined nearly all the multilateral institutions and international commitments that it withdrew from under Trump. These include the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords.
Most recently, on February 8th, the U.S. announced it would also rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) as an observer. The U.S.’ role in the human rights forum looks different than it did four years ago in light of its recent track record on civil liberties.
The HRC has two primary functions: to draft and adopt new standards for human rights and to conduct investigations into specific human rights issues. In 2018, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. would be leaving the HRC, claiming that it was a barrier to any genuine global human rights protection. The U.S. had two primary grievances.
First, that the HRC has an “unconscionable” and “chronic bias” against Israel. And second, that the HRC’s membership criteria allows chronic human rights abusers to have a seat on the Council. Neither of which are entirely baseless claims.
Israel remains the only country-specific agenda item covered at every HRC meeting and Russia, China, and Eritrea — to name a few — all currently hold seats on the Council and have some of the worst human rights records in the world.
Emily Standfield. Credit: CIVICUS
On Monday, the HRC’s 47 member states met for its 46th session, it’s third time meeting since the beginning of the pandemic. The further decline of political and civil rights as enshrined in international law will be an unavoidable hot topic.
The CIVICUS Monitor which rates UN member states’ track records of upholding the legal tenets of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association finds that 30 of the Council’s full member states routinely and severely restrict these rights.
And in the case of its newest observer state, the USA was recently downgraded to the Monitor’s third worst civic space rating of ‘Obstructed’. The body is a long way off from adequately representing its values.
In the case of the USA, the rating change and decline in rights is reflected by the police response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest movement. During protests in 2020, law enforcement detained thousands of demonstrators, used teargas and projectiles to disperse crowds, and attacked journalists, despite the fact that most wore media credentials.
President Trump and other authority figures encouraged police officers to respond forcefully and, in some cases, requested such violent actions for their own benefit. In a perfect example of this, the Attorney General ordered the use of teargas against peaceful protesters so that President Trump could have a photo-op in front of a church.
While the BLM protests may have made the decline in civic freedoms abundantly clear, this rating change represents a longer deterioration of political and civil rights.
In response, in June the HRC unanimously passed a mandate that called for a report on ‘systemic racism’ targeted at individuals of African descent. Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, whose murder at the hands of white police officers began the mass protests, called on the human rights body to examine the U.S.’ history of racial injustice and police brutality.
In the end, the final resolution passed by the HRC called for an investigation of systemic racism globally and regrettably did not single out the U.S.
While Biden has rejoined the HRC as an observer, the U.S. must win elections in October 2021 if it wants to regain its seat on the Council. In 2019, Biden said, “American leadership on human rights must begin at home” and — in some ways — it has.
The BLM protests have sparked a degree of state and local level police reform, and Biden has made a commitment to achieving racial equity. While the U.S. should focus on improving freedoms within its borders, it should also not exempt itself from becoming a full member of the HRC again in October.
Former President Barack Obama ran for a seat on the Council because he believed the U.S. could do more to advance human rights as a member of the body. This turned out to be true— the U.S. supported the creation of several important international commissions of inquiry to investigate human rights violations.
If the rationale by Trump was that leaving the council would do more for human rights than holding a seat, it’s clear that this has not come to fruition. Whether it is freedom of speech or the right to peacefully protest, today more of the world’s population lives in ‘Closed’, ‘Repressed’ or ‘Obstructed’ countries as compared to four years ago, finds the CIVICUS Monitor.
Leadership is needed at the UN Human Rights Council on these issues, but it must come from those that have a full seat at the table and have a demonstrated track record of upholding their commitments. The U.S. is currently disqualified on both accounts. Credibility and moral leadership must come from somewhere else.
Instead, the U.S. must support other member states that are leading by example on these issues. Seven members of the HRC — Denmark, Germany, Uruguay, Netherlands, Marshall Islands, and Czechia — are rated ‘Open’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, the highest civic space rating a country can achieve.
These countries are adequately representing the values that the HRC is committed to defending. While there are surely other issues at the HRC that the U.S. will prove influential, the country is far from the inspirational example it often likes to present itself on these world stages.
At the current session of the HRC, which began on February 22nd, the U.S. should champion these members who have made meaningful progress on civil liberties and be prepared to take a backseat on issues that it so obviously falls short on.
NEW DELHI, India, Feb 22 2021 (IPS) – On February 1st, 2021 the military of Myanmar overthrew the country’s democratic government in a coup d’etat followed by arresting more than 40 government officials including Aung San Suu Kyi. The military declared a year-long state of emergency under the rule of it’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. Troops took over the streets, a night-time curfew has been put into force. Tens of thousands of protestors have taken to the streets across Myanmar, in what is seen as the biggest street protests in more than a decade. The anti-coup demonstrators are undeterred by police attacks and increasing violence from the security forces.
According to this list, the military has arrested multiple members of civil society, including activists, writers, musicians, filmmakers. Monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said “more than 384 people have been detained, in a wave of mostly night-time arrests”.
The first known casualty of the coup, Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing died on February 9 when a police officer opened fire with live ammunition, hitting her in the head while she was protesting in Naypyidaw. Two more protestors were killed in the city of Mandalay, marking Myanmmar’s bloodiest day since the military seized power. Myanmar’s minority community fears renewed violence after the military coup.
United Nations Secretary General António Guterres condemned the use of deadly violence in Myanmar, “The use of lethal force, intimidation & harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable. Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly. I call on all parties to respect election results and return to civilian rule,” António Guterres said.
The military in Myanmar alleges that the recent landslide election win by Aung San Suu Kyi was marred by fraud. Following the coup, the military has already announced replacements for a number of ministers.
Witnesses in Mandalay reported seeing soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division, which led the deadly campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in 2017. The United Nations Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews said, “The 33rd Light Infantry Division was reportedly involved in the lethal attacks in Mandalay today – the same division responsible for mass atrocity crimes against the Rohingya in 2017. A dangerous escalation by the junta in what appears to be a war against the people of Myanmar.”
“The very idea of Aung San Suu Kyi taking the trip to Hague at the end of 2019 to defend the actions of the military spoke volume about who she is as a person, and where she stands in her understanding of how democratic transition in Myanmar should progress,” says Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya Social Justice Activist to IPS News.
“We have had three coups so far since 1962, and that memory still lives very deeply with a lot of Myanmar citizens. The pain and hurt that comes with it still reminds them of the glory that the country could never actually achieve.
“We have lived under a military regime for decades, without unifying, without taking to the streets, and making it known to the world that we reject this unconstitutional ceasing of power. The citizens are out on the streets because they will not have another chance at this, people are done with the fact that they will have to live under a culture of impunity where the military is untouched,” says Yasmin.
Rights group Human Rights Watch in its report, Myanmar, Sanctions, and Human Rightssaid, “it supports the use of certain types of sanctions – including targeted sanctions and travel bans, and restrictions on military, trade, financial, economic, and other relations – as a means to condemn situations involving grave widespread human rights abuses or humanitarian law violations, to assert pressure to end those abuses, to hold those responsible to account, and as a means to deter other parties from becoming complicit in abuses.”
“We are calling on the United Nations Security Council to impose a global arms embargo. Separately, the UN General Assembly can also endorse individual governments or regional organizations imposing unilateral sanctions on Myanmar’s military, something the General Assembly has done in the past (e.g., during South Africa during apartheid.), the report stated.
International rights defenders have expressed concerns over grave human rights violations in Myanmar following the Feb. 1 military coup. “What we are witnessing in Myanmar didn’t just suddenly happen. You cannot leave the perpetrators of grave crimes under international law on the loose and then act surprised when they trample human rights again,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Advocacy Sherine Tadros.
“It was already ingrained in us Rohingyas to be intimidated, to fear the military, to fear authority, because that has always been the tactics used on us. The same kind of tactics we see now – the psychological warfare, night raids, shooting of people, arbitrary arrest, restrictions of movements – all of the things that the protestors are dealing with right now have been used on every single ethinic community and the Rohingyas,” says Yasmin.
It’s been thirty-three years since the uprising in 1988 in Myanmar against the military dictatorship, also known as the 8-8-88 Movement. The armed forces continued to rule until 2011, when a new government began a return to civilian rule. The military’s current threat to revoke the constitution only revealed the fact that it is willing to overturn any political – democratic system when its interests are threatened.
“Without a real change and reform within Myanmar to the very foundation to rip off the military power because they have infested different parts of the country that makes Myanmar what it is, without doing that there is no democracy that could take place,” says Yasmin.
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.
ROME, Jan 11 2021 (IPS) – For 2021, Italy has been given chairmanship of the Group of 20, which brings together the world’s 20 most important countries. On paper, they represent 60% of the world’s population and 80% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While the shaky Italian government will somehow perform this task (in the general indifference of the political system), the fact remains that this apparently prestigious position is in fact very deceiving: the G20 is now a very weak institution that brings no kudos to the rotating chairman. Besides, it is actually the institution which bears the greatest part of responsibility for the decline of the UN as the body responsible for global governance, a task that the G20 has very seldom been able to face up to.
Let us reconstruct how we arrive at the creation of the G20. It is a long story, that begins in 1975, when France invited the representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, leading to the name Group of Six, or G6. The idea was to create a space where to discuss the international situation, not for decision making. Then it became the Group of Seven, with the addition of Canada in 1997. Russia was added in 1998, so the summit became known as the G8. And then, in 1980, the European Union was invited as a “nonenumerated participant”. In 2005 the UK government initiated the practice of inviting five leading emergency markets – Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa. Finally, in Washington, in 2005, the world leaders from the group recognized the growth of more emerging countries, and they decided that a meeting of the 20 most important countries of the world would replace the G8 and become the G20.
At the meetings the United Nations, the European Union, and the major international monetary and financial institutions are also invited. Spain is a permanent invitee, together with leaders of the Asian, African Union, of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the Financial Stability Board, the International Labor Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the World Bank Group, and the World Trade Organization.
Plus. The host country can invite some countries that it feels particularly associated with its foreign policy, at its year of presidency. Until now, 38 countries have been invited, from Azerbaijan to Chad, from Denmark to Laos, from Sweden to Zimbabwe. To complete, it is important to mention that Russia was suspended by the G8 in 2014, because of its annexation of Crimea. And was never readmitted. Trump, in his inexplicable deference to Putin, asked for its readmission to the G8, and this was refused by the other countries. The G7 has kept meeting, as “a steering group of the West”. At the same time, the G20 meets regularly, with Russia as part of his members.
So, Italy has the task to invite all those different actors, establish the agenda and planning and hosting a series of ministerial-level meetings, leading up to summit of head of governments. Italy has decided as agenda “The three P”: People, Planet and Prosperity. This imaginative and original agenda will be structured in 10 specialized meetings, like Finance (Venice July 9-10th); Innovation and Research (Trieste Aug. 5-8th); Environment, Climate, Energy (Naples, July 22nd), just to give a few examples. Beside these 10 specialized meetings, there will be 8 “engagement’s groups”, which will go from business to civil society, youth, etc.
The G20 is formed by countries that are involved in different and often contradictory groups. For instance, after Trump killed the TTP, (the Transatlantic Pacific Partnership), that Obama was able to put together excluding China, with a vast range of counters going from Australia to Mexico, from Canada to Malaysia, China was able to reciprocate, and crate the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which puts together the same countries plus some others and leave outside completely the United States. This commercial bloc is the largest ever created and has 30% of the world’s population, and 30% of the world GDP. But the European Union, (to which Italy belongs) has explicitly taken a path of European nationalism, to make the EU able to survive in the coming competition between China and the United States. European Union (and therefore Italy) are also members of NATO, where the United States is the indispensable and fundamental partner. And in the G20 China seats with India, which is the only country that has refused to join RCEP, and who is clearly taking an alternative path to China’s expansion in Asia. But this is also Japan’s policy, who is very active in G7, in the G20, and has entered RCEP, and considers, like South Korea, a priority to limit the Chinese expansionism.
Of course, there are a number of other pacts, agreements, treaties and alliances, that would be now boring and useless to enumerate. One country, like Italy, would therefore wear several hats at the same time. The point to make is, that since the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States in 1981, the multilateral system started to be under attack. Reagan, in Cancun’s Summit for the North-South dialogue, a few months after his election, questioned the idea of democracy and participation as the basis for international relations. Until then, the General Assembly resolutions were considered the basis for global governance. In 1973, the GA passed unanimously a resolution, calling for the reduction of the economic gap between the North and the South of the world, calling rich countries to their duties to establish a New International Economic Order, more just and based on the faster development of the poorer countries. Reagan denounced this as an anti-American maneuver. The US is not the same as Montecarlo, as he famously said (probably he intended Monaco, as Montecarlo is no state), and yet they have a vote each. So, this democracy coming from the UN, was in fact a straitjacket, and the US would proceed on the basis of bilateral relations, and not to be strained by multilateral mechanisms. Reagan was the first to talk of America first, He, together with Margaret Thatcher in Europe, dismantled all the social progress made in the world after the end of the Second World War. The market, with his invisible hand, would be the sole engine of society (that Thatcher said does not exist, only individuals). The State, that he called “the beast”, was the first enemy of the citizen. He declared: the most terrifying words in English are: I am from the Government, and I am here to help”. Any public or social cost was just a brake to the market. Reagan wanted to privatize even the ministry of Education: he and Thatcher left UNESCO, as a symbol of disengagement from the UN. Both he and Thatcher curtailed trade unions, privatized whatever possible, and started the era of neoliberal globalization, whose effect is now widely evident, and that Trump, Bolsonaro and Co. bless every day, because it has created a very large swath of disaffected citizens, who believe they will readdress their destiny.
Is important to note that Reagan did not have any real opposition, from the other rich countries. So, all this fragmentation of the world, with the creation of G7, G8, G20, and other exclusive clubs, was not an exclusive responsibility of Reagan and Thatcher. For forty years, the process of divesting the UN from its responsibility for the world’s peace, development, and democracy went on. Neoliberal globalization was based on finance and trade. Even before the end of the war, finance was delegated to the System of Bretton Wood, by the name of the site where it was founded. Let us just constate a fact: the Financial System was established in a such way, that Finance is the only sector of human activity that has no regulatory body. Today it has clearly separated by the general economy when its original function was to be at its service. And political institutions are not able to control its global structure.
The other engine of globalization was trading. United Nations had the UN Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, which looked to trade as an instrument of development. The creation in 1995 of the World Trade Organization, as an independent organization, envisaging trade as an economic engine, divested the UN from trade too. And more the UN weakens, the easier is to decry its shortcomings.
The stroke of grace to multilateralism has been the arrival of Trump, the heir and an updated version of Ronald Reagan. But with a totally different agenda and vision. His basic idea is not “America First”, but “America Alone”. He pushes Regan’s idea of bilateralism versus multilateralism to the extreme of ignoring the concept of alliances. So, he declared, Europe is even worse than China. But there is a fundamental difference between them: Trump never pretended to be the President of all Americans. On the contrary, he tried immediately to divide and polarize the United States, and he leaves as a legacy the US that will take a very long time to become again a united and pacified country. And his strategy has been taken by several other leaders, from Bolsonaro to Orban, from Erdogan to Salvini.
It will be, therefore, difficult, for the UN to recover its function of the meeting place, to express plans of global governance, based on democracy and participation. It was a vision based on the lessons learned in the Second World War: let us avoid millions of deaths, terrible destruction, and to do so we need to work together. That lesson has been now forgotten. Just compare the kind of political leaders from that time, and the present one, to see the enormous change. Therefore, the expression of national egoisms will continue, with the richest countries in exclusives clubs, like OECD or the G20.
But there is a problem: those clubs are not efficient, because they gather together countries with very different agendas and priorities. Let us take a good example from the last G20, held last November under the very discredited chairmanship of Saudi Arabia. One of the points was the cancellation of the debt from poor countries, evidently urgent, because of the additional burden of the pandemic that is going to bring disproportionate damage. The Pope, the Secretary-General of the UN, Gutierres, pressed for that decision. All that the G20 was able to do, was to freeze the payment of the interest of the debt, for six months. And here, let us divagate for a useful learning exercise of the Third World Debt, and on the nobility of the rich countries.
If you take a loan that you repay over 20 years at 5%, or a mortgage, of 100, at the end you will have repaid 200. And during the first ten years, all you pay are the interest, and only in the second decade, you start to pay back, progressively, the capital. The result is that the poor countries several times renegotiated their debt and every time what they paid where the interest, to start again. And those interests were cumulative. During that process, they paid several times the amount of the capital that they received. But all that they paid went to the interests… At the university, you learn one good example of the perversity of cumulative interests. The old story is that a Dutch settler, Peter Minuit, bought the island of Manhattan from the Algonquin tribe. The price paid was $24 worth of beads, trinkets, a jar of Mayonnaise, two pairs of wooden clogs, a loaf of wonder bread and a carton of Quaker oats. If that amount was put in a loan at 5%with composite interest, it would be by now more than the estimated value of all of Manhattan, which exceeds three trillion dollars. So, the decision of the G20 to freeze interests for six months, amount to nothing. It is interesting to listen to insiders’ voices. The loans of the rich countries are computed in the DAC, Development Assistance Committee, established by OECD (the organizations that gathers all rich countries). The OECD engaged itself, in the old good day of multilateralism, to dedicated 1% of the members’ GDP to the development of the underdeveloped countries. This engagement was never kept, except for the Nordic Countries and Nederland. The US never went over 0,3%. Anyhow, any debt condonation goes into the official statistics of the DAC committee. But new loans are made, by countries that are not in the DAC committee, like China, which has made a very extensive number of loans, especially in Asia and Africa in not public conditions. For the OECD countries (basically the West), to cancel their loans could mean to unleash resources that could go to pay China loans, becoming so China funders. This is a good example of how competing interests, block the G20 from concerted actions.
Decisions on this issue are now expected from the next G20 Summit in Rome, in November. But before, the Global Health Summit, called from the G20 together with the EU in May, will be the occasion to verify what will happen. with vaccinations. But in the same month, Portugal has called for the very important Social Summit of the European Union. Portugal has taken the much more substantial chairmanship of the EU, and this is a very positive contribution to a positive 2021. Portugal is today probably the most civilized country of Europe, a place of tolerance, harmony and civic engagement, much like Sweden in the 80s. And is the only credible country on the issue of immigration. In the Social Summit Lisbon will push to strengthen social Europe, after so many decades of a solely economic Europe. The outgoing German chairmanship was fundamental in abandoning the austerity dogma and move to an unprecedented plan of solidarity and institutional strengthening, made also possible by the blessed departure of England, and its anti-European historical bias. The fact that vaccination is a European plan, and not a hotchpotch of national attempts, is great progress in term of vaccination. And if it will continue on the same path, on the issue of climate control, and technological development, it will recover much trust from the citizens, who felt Brussels an unaccountable institution, far from their priorities. Now the EU deals with unemployment, with the economic and social disaster brought by the virus. It is a tribute to the virtues of multilateralism, solidarity and development. And Portugal will try to complete what the German Presidency was unable to conclude.
But if we look to the obvious need for a world’s vaccination, the reality is much dimmer. Until now the rich countries have bought as many as possible vaccines. f. Europe, with 13% of the world population, has bought 51% of the total production. Israel is a case study. With a population of 9 million people, highly registered and organized in the health system, Netanyahu (who will do everything to stay in power), has bought the vaccines at an extra cost but is fast reaching all the population. Certainly, this cannot be the case of India, with nearly 1.4 billion people, and a very primitive system of health… Even the Pope has launched an appeal for distributing a free vaccine in the poor countries, and India and South Africa (which are a member of the G20), have asked the General Assembly of the World Health Organization for free distribution in poor countries. There has been strong opposition from the rich countries, that have financed at the tune of 10 billion dollars the development of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which now they buy at market prices, several times higher than those of AstraZeneca… And then those two vaccines use a new technology, whose side effects are still unknown, unlike AstraZeneca, which uses a well-experimented technique.
But even if we take the cheaper vaccines, there is a very basic issue: under which ethical and human logic, patents and money can be made over public goods, as the Pope has repeatedly asked? The patent industry has been patenting seeds, rice, plants, which have been existing for hundreds of years, and those new peasants cannot use them without paying a royalty to the company who patented them. And then the pharmaceuticals tried to patent, parts of the human body… Citizens from several parts of the world have been setting up an association, Agorà for Humankind, that is conducting a campaign, for the elimination of patents and profits over public goods, as they belong to humankind. Also, an international alliance has been set up between the public and private sectors, the General Alliance for Vaccine Initiative, GAVI, which has the task to finance vaccination in 93 middle and poor countries. But funding is still far from coming. As things are now, at the end of 2021, only 30% of humankind will be vaccinated, basically from rich countries.
Yet, if there is something that should make all of us aware that we are in the same boat, is this pandemic. Until at least 70% of all humans will be vaccinated, the virus will continue to strike and kill. The British mutation, much more contagious, is a good example. The country with more cases is now Spain, which has no physical contact with the UK. But it went to Gibraltar, the British colony since 1713 in the South of Spain. And from there spread to the surrounding Spanish villages and towns. Did the realization that viruses does not know borders help to make the new treaty for relations between Gibraltar and Spain? The answer is not really: it is trade. Yet, it does not require a virologist to assume that trade spreads the virus…
So, after this long ride among different subjects, its thread should be clear. We have gone from an era when the lessons of the Second World War created a generation of politicians who made of peace and development the common ground for international relations, even during a very dangerous Cold War. Would Trump, Johnson and Putin be at Yalta, instead of Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, the outcome would have been very different. Most probably, we would have had no United Nations, no international organizations. Just think that the US, to push for the creation of the UN, agreed in its founding engagement, to pay 25% of its costs.
Then, beginning with Reagan and Thatcher, a profound change came. The interests of my country are more important than international cooperation, and the stronger I am, the more so. Multilateralism, cooperation, went under attack, and so the role of the State, its function of guarantor of social progress, equity and participation. Other organizations started to sprout, and weaken the UN, and the instruments of a social pact, like trade unions. From the spirit of the fall if the Berlin’ Wall, in 1989, a number of clubs of rich countries, like the G7, the G8, the G20, started to substitute the UN, and private clubs, like the World Economic Forum of Davos, attracted more important personalities than the General Assembly of the United Nations.
We are now in a third phase, whose symbol abounds: nationalism, xenophobia, and the illusion that sovereignty is more important than cooperation. Brexit is a notable example. But Trump sets up an unprecedented level of legitimacy to what was once considered the betrayal of civism and democracy: exploit and exasperate the divides of a country, racial, cultural, gender, and run without any compliance to rules and traditions. He is accompanied by a variegated assortment of autocratic, populist, and narcists kind of new political generation: Bolsonaro, Orban, Kacynski, Putin, Modi, Sissi, Nehayanu, Duterte, just to cite the most known, while others, like Salvini, are poised to take the power. The virus, instead of uniting citizens, has further divided them. To wear the mask, is a left-wing declaration, like to worry about the climate, which is a survival’ concern. Military expenses are on a continuous increase. In 2019 they have reached an unprecedented amount of 1917 billion dollars. Enough to solve all problems of food, health and education worldwide. The UN is still the only organization able to provide the world with plans of global significance. Its Agenda 2030 gives a plan for the solution of our most significant problems. It costs a fraction of the military expenses. The G20 has paid some lip services, to Agenda 30, but never anything significant. The new generations of politicians are under general scrutiny, and it is not positive at all… I would say that is representative of our crisis, books still get published on a world of conspiracy, like that the virus is used by Bill Gates to inoculate nanoparticles that will make it possible to control all human bodies, Or myths like the one on Bilderberg Club, one of the private’s clubs meeting, as the place where decisions are taken by a small elite on how to run the world. This, when more than ever is clear that the system has lost its compass, and even the tragedy of climate and soon two million deaths are not able to bring back cooperation and multilateralism… but the explosions of conspiracies is a good sign of the decline of democracy…
So, Italy enters now the chairmanship of the G20. It is a position without any significant weight, with the task to realize a coming Summit, of the head of States, from which nobody expects much. If Trump’s defeat has any significant meaning, by November the political situation could have improved, but we will have a Germany without Merkel, probably more nationalist, and the miraculous social engagement of the European Union, could come to a halt. Italy has a very fragile government, and the dubious distinction of having a very young minister of Foreign Affairs, whose only working experience was to be a steward at Naples’ stadium. On the Health Summit, he does not look particularly commanding respect and authority. This will be Italy’s first test. In May, it will be clear that without vaccination in the world, rich countries will not be out of danger. It should be easy to rally the 20 most important countries of the world, which include India and South Africa, to such obvious actions. But in those times, where interests and selfishness are the reality, it is legitimate to nourish many doubts… Anyhow, if 2021 will not be a year of regeneration and creation, we will be on an irreversible slipping decline… time is running out…
But it looks now like the solution to the problems is beyond the reach of the system…
Publisher of OtherNews, Italian-Argentine Roberto Savio is an economist, journalist, communication expert, political commentator, activist for social and climate justice and advocate of an anti-neoliberal global governance. Director for international relations of the European Center for Peace and Development. Adviser to INPS-IDN and to the Global Cooperation Council. He is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus.
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury was Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN (2002-2007); former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to UN (1996-2001); and globally acclaimed as the initiator of the precursor decision leading to the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 as President of the UN Security Council in March 2000.
On October 31 2000, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 (2000) calling for participation of women in the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts. Credit: United Nations
NEW YORK, Oct 30 2020 (IPS) – In 2010, at the opening session of the civil society forum observing the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security”, I had the honor to declare 1325 as “the common heritage of humanity” indicating the wide-ranging nature of the potential benefits which will flow from the landmark resolution’s full and effective implementation by all at all levels.
On 31 October, the world will be observing the 20th anniversary of 1325. The United Nations Security Council held a virtual session with wider participation of UN Member States on 29 October to observe the anniversary.
Today, in Namibia, the country which presided over the Security Council as it adopted UNSCR 1325, President Dr. Hage Geingob is launching the International Women’s Peace Center located in Windoek.
Anniversaries become meaningful when there is a serious stock-taking of the progress and lack of it and thereafter, charting of a realistic, determined roadmap and course of action for the next years. Of course, it is a pity that COVID-19 pandemic has setback our plans and enthusiasm for the observance in a major way.
The core message of 1325 is an integral part of my intellectual existence and my humble contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, a little more than 20 years ago, on the International Women’s Day on 8 March in 2000, as the President of the Security Council representing my country Bangladesh, following extensive stonewalling and intense resistance from the permanent members, I was able to issue an agreed statement [UN Press Release SC/6816 of 8 March 2000] on behalf of all 15 members of the Council with strong support from civil society that formally brought to global attention the contribution women have always been making towards preventing wars and building peace.
The Council recognized in that significant, norm-setting statement that “peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men”, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making levels.
That is when the seed for UNSCR 1325 was sown. The formal resolution followed this conceptual and political breakthrough 31 October of the same year with Namibia at the helm, after tough negotiations for eight months, giving this issue the long overdue attention and recognition that it deserved.
The very first paragraph of this formal resolution starts with a reference to the 8 March 2000 statement identifying the rationale and tracing the history of “Women and Peace and Security” at the Security Council. The inexplicable silence for 55 long years of the Security Council on women’s positive contribution was broken forever on the 8th of March 2000.
Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. We recall that in choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”
1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in the citations of the Nobel Prizes. That is the value, that is the essence and that is the prestige of UNSCR 1325 in the global community.
The historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has, however, been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation, particularly for lack of national level commitments and global level leadership.
The driving force behind 1325 is “participation”. I believe the Security Council has been neglecting this core focus of the resolution. There is no consideration of women’s role and participation in real terms in its deliberations.
The poor record of the implementation of 1325 also points to the reality of the Security Council’s continuing adherence to the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements, though the Security Council is gradually, albeit slowly, accepting that a lasting peace cannot be achieved without the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace processes.
The Council has also met with women’s groups and representatives of NGOs during its field missions on a fairly regular basis. The first such meeting was held with women’s organizations in Kosovo in June 2001 when I was leading the Security Council mission to that country as the Council President, over the unwillingness of the UN appointed Mission Chief in Kosovo.
My work has taken me to the farthest corners of the world and I have seen time and again the centrality of women’s equality in our lives. 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.
Women’s equality makes our planet safe and secure. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.
It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.
Women are the real agents of change in refashioning peace structures ensuring greater sustainability.
As the UN adopted the SDGs in 2015, 1325 was about to observe its 15th anniversary and many were wondering why Goal 5 on women and girls and Goal 16 on peace and governance did not make any reference to the widely-recognized 1325. This disconnect between the two main organs of the UN is unacceptable to all well-intentioned supporters of the world body.
That global reality is dramatically evidenced in the fact that the UN itself despite being the biggest champion of women’s equality has failed to elect a woman secretary-general to reverse the historical injustice of having the post occupied by men for its more than seven-decades of existence.
On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of 1325, I have been invited to speak at many virtual events and interviews from different parts of the world. I am asked again and again what could be done for the true implementation of 1325 to make a difference. In my considered judgment, I have identified four areas of priority for next five years.
One, Leadership of the UN Secretary-General.
What role the Secretary-General (SG) should play? Secretary-General Guterres has done well on women’s parity in his senior management team. It would be more meaningful to expand that parity for the Special Representatives of Secretary-General (SRSG) and Deputy SRSGs, Force Commanders and Deputies at the field levels with geographical diversity.
Many believe there is a need for the Secretary-General’s genuinely proactive, committed engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325.
Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries if their heads of state/government received a formal communication from the Secretary-General urging submission of respective National Action Plans (NAPs)?
Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up by the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism. UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of NAPs.
A “1325 Impact Assessment” component with concrete recommendations needs to be included in all reports by SG to the Security Council asking their inclusion in all peace and security decisions taken by the Council.
Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations by the United Nations. Improving the gender architecture in field missions and at headquarters; improving gender conflict analysis and information flows; and accountability for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel do need SG’s engaged leadership to make progress.
A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel and its regional partners in hybrid missions. UN is welcomed in countries as their protectors – it cannot become the perpetrators themselves! 1325 implementation has an additional obstacle of overcoming a culture among Council members and within the UN system that views gender issues as an “add-on” component, rather than being one of the central tenets which support conflict prevention and underpin long-term stability. SG should take the lead in changing this culture in a creative and proactive way.
Two, National Action Plans (NAPs)
As we observe the anniversary of 1325, it is truly disappointing that a mere 85 countries out of 193 members of the UN have prepared their National Action Plans (NAPs) for 1325 implementation in 20 years.
It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council (as envisaged in Article 25 of UN Charter) to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not.
In real terms, NAPs happen to be the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable.
There is a clear need for the Secretary-General’s attention for the effective implementation of 1325. Though NAPs are national commitments, it can be globally monitored. SG can also target 50 new NAPs by the 21st anniversary of 1325.
Three, Mobilizing Men for Implementing 1325
Patriarchy and misogyny are the dual scourges pulling back the humanity away from our aspiration for a better world. Gender inequality is an established, proven and undisputed reality – it is all pervasive. It is a real threat to human progress! UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has lamented that “… everywhere, we still have a male-dominated culture”.
Unless we confront these vicious and obstinate negative forces with all our energy, determination and persistence, our planet will never be a desired place for one and all. Women’s rights are under threat from a “backlash” of conservatism and fundamentalism around the world.
We are experiencing around the globe an organized, determined rollback of the gains made as well as new attacks on women’s equality and empowerment. Yes, this is happening in all parts of the world and in all countries without exception.
Men and policies and institutions controlled by them have been the main perpetrators of gender inequality. It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. It is also a reality that empowered women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts.
We need to recognize that women’s equality and their rights are not only women’s issues, those are relevant for humanity as a whole – for all of us. This is most crucial point that needs to be internalized by every one of us.
With that objective, we launched the initiative for “Mobilizing Men as Partners for Women, Peace and Security” on 20 March 2019 in New York with the leadership of Ambassador Donald Steinberg, taking the vow to profess, advocate and work to ensure feminism as our creed and as our mission.
Four, Direct involvement of civil society
Another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. The role and contribution of civil society is critical. I would pay tribute to Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) for making creative and qualitative contributions for the implementation of 1325 for the last two decades.
Civil society should be fully involved in the preparation and implementation of the NAPs at the country levels. At the global level, the UN secretariat should not only make it a point to consult civil society, but at the same time, such consultations should be open and transparent.
We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.
Let me reiterate that Feminism is about smart policy which is inclusive, uses all potentials and leaves no one behind. I am proud to be a feminist. All of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place to live for all.
We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.
Let me assert again that observance of anniversaries becomes meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. Coming months will tell whether 1325’s 20th anniversary has been worthwhile and able to create that energy.
Let me end by reiterating that “If we are serious about peace, we must take women seriously”.
The first quarter of 2020 saw a loss equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs in the global economy, a number that increased to 495 million jobs in the second quarter, with lower- and middle-income countries hardest hit.2
The pandemic is pushing an additional 71 to 100 million people into extreme poverty and, in only a brief period of time, has reversed years of progress on poverty, hunger, health care and education, disrupting efforts to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.3
While the virus has impacted everyone, it has affected the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most.
The pandemic has also demonstrated that timely, reliable and disaggregated data is a critical tool for governments to contain the pandemic and mitigate its impacts.
In addition, data on the social and economic impact have been essential to develop support programmes to reach those in need and start planning for a recovery that leads to a safer, more equal, inclusive and sustainable world for all.
Data and statistics are more urgently needed than ever before. While many countries are finding innovative ways to better data, statistical operations have been significantly disrupted by the pandemic.
According to a survey conducted in May 2020, 96 per cent of national statistical offices partially or fully stopped face-to-face data collection at the height of the pandemic.4
Francesca Perucci, UN Statistics Division. Credit: IISD/EBN | Kiara Worth
Approximately 150 censuses are expected to be conducted in 2020-2021 alone, a historical record. Yet, to address the urgent issues brought by the pandemic, some countries have diverted their census funding to national emergency funding.5
Seventy-seven out of 155 countries monitored for Covid-19 do not have adequate poverty data, although there have been clear improvements in the last decade.6
Behind these numbers there is a tremendous human cost. Despite an increasing awareness of the importance of data for evidence–based policymaking and development, data gaps remain significant in most countries, particularly in the ones with fewer resources.
In addition, the lack of sound disaggregated data for vulnerable groups, such as persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous peoples, migrants and others, exacerbates their vulnerabilities by masking the extent of deprivation and disparities and making them invisible when designing policies and critical measures.
The 2030 Agenda, with the principle of “leaving no-one behind” at its heart, underlines the need for new approaches and tools to respond to an unprecedented demand for high quality, timely and disaggregated data.
The UN World Data Forum
The UN World Data Forum was established as a response to the increased data demands of the 2030 agenda and as a space for different data communities to come together and find the best data solutions leveraging new technology, innovation, private sector and civil society’s contributions and wider users’ engagement.
The first and second World Data Forums in Cape Town and Dubai resulted in the Cape Town Global Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data and the Dubai Declaration.
These two forums addressed the new approaches required to the production and use of data and statistics not only by official statistical systems, but across broader data ecosystems where players from academia, civil society and the private sector play an increasingly important role.
This year, the UN World Data Forum, initially to take place in Bern, Switzerland, was held on a virtual platform because of the pandemic.
The virtual event allowed for a very broad and inclusive participation, with over 10,000 participants from 180 countries to showcase their answers to the challenges posted by the COVID-19 crisis, share their latest experiences and innovations, and renew the call for intensified efforts and political commitments to meet the data demands of the COVID-19 crisis and for delivering on the sustainable development Goals (SDGs) while also addressing trust in data, privacy and governance.
The programme of the Forum included three high-level plenaries on leaving no one behind, on data use and on trust in data. Together and under one virtual roof, the forum launched the Global Data Community’s response to COVID 19 – Data for a changing world.
This is a call for increased support for data use during COVID-19, focusing on the immediate needs related to the pandemic and for increased political and financial support for data throughout the COVID 19 pandemic and beyond.
Showcased in 70 live-streamed, 30 pre-recorded sessions and 20 virtual exhibit spaces, many innovative solutions to the data challenges of the 2030 Agenda were proposed and partnerships were formed, including:
• Lessons learned in using data to track and mitigate the impact of COVID-19, at the global, national and local level; • Better ways to communicate data and statistics; • Use of maps and spatial data to improve the lives of communities; • Lessons learned from the use of AI algorithms; • Challenges in balancing data use and data protection; • How to secure more funding for data.
The next World Data Forum is scheduled to take place from 3 to 6 October 2021 in Bern, Switzerland, hosted by the Federal Statistical Office and the United Nations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has sadly confirmed that without timely, trusted, disaggregated data there cannot be an adequate response to the many challenges of dealing with the crisis and ensuring a sustainable, inclusive and better future for all.
Clearly, the time is now to recognize that we need data for a changing world. The time is now to accelerate action on the implementation of the Cape Town Global Action Plan and the Dubai declaration to respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic and to put us back on track towards the achievement of the SDGs and to build stronger and more agile and resilient statistical and data systems to respond to future disasters.
World leaders need to recognize that increased investments are more urgently needed than ever to address the data gap and to close the digital divide and data inequality across the world.
To ensure the political commitment and donor support necessary to prioritize data and statistics, it is critical that the data community is able to demonstrate the impact and value of data.
The UN World Data Forum will continue to strive towards these objectives. It will also remain the space for knowledge sharing and launching new initiatives and collaborations for the integration of new data sources into official statistical systems and for promoting users’ engagement and a better use of data for policy and decision-making.
1 WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard 2 ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Sixth edition 3 United Nations, The Sustainable Development Goals, Report 2020 4 United Nations Statistics Division, COVID-19 widens gulf of global data inequality, while national statistical offices step up to meet new data demands, 5 June 2020. https://covid-19-response.unstatshub.org/statistical-programmes/covid19-nso-survey/ 5 PARIS21 Partner Report on Support to Statistics 2020 6 The World Bank
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.
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.