China’s Entry into the Muslim World

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Apr 7 2022 (IPS) – The retrenchment of American power in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world, coupled with the war in Ukraine, has provided a geopolitical breather for China. Beijing is effectively deploying this to make strategic inroads into the region, given this vacuum and focus on Europe.

The recent invitation to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Islamabad is a ‘historic first,’ and a significant breakthrough for Chinese diplomacy. For the first time, the foreign minister of the Peoples Republic of China was invited to address the most representative platform of the 57-member body representing the 1.5 billion Muslims.

During his speech at the OIC conference in Islamabad on the 22nd March 2022, Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked about the “long standing relationship between China and the Muslim world” and reaffirmed that China would continue supporting Muslim countries in their quest for political independence and economic development.

Historically, China has always been etched in the Muslim consciousness as a country with a great civilisation based on knowledge, learning and development. For example, there is a famous saying of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), 1,400 years ago, which urged Muslims to “seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China,” implying that although China was physically far away from Arabia, it was a land of learning.

Soon after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, a professor of the prestigious American university Harvard, Prof. Samuel Huntington, talked of a ‘clash of civilisations’ in which he implied that Western civilization would be at odds with both the Islamic and the Confucian civilisations. Interestingly, he also talked of a united front of the Islamic and Confucian civilisations.

During his speech at the conference on Dialogue among Civilisations, held in Beijing in May 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to “enrich the Chinese civilisation” and also referred to the Holy Mosque in Makkah (Mecca) as well as the travels to China of the Muslim explorer, Ibn Batuta, who wrote favourably on China and the Chinese people.

China has a longstanding relationship with the Muslim world. After the Chinese revolution in 1949, Pakistan was the first country in the Muslim world to recognise the People’s Republic of China in May 1950. The first institutional interaction between China and the Muslim countries took place at the 1955 Afro-Asian Summit in Bandung, Indonesia.

It was hosted by the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia and Pakistan and China were among the countries attending this historic summit. China shares a border with 14 countries, five of which are members of the OIC and none of these have border disputes with China.

In January 1965, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), was formed, China was among the first countries who recognised it. And in the 1960s and early 70s, China also provided material support and aid to various Muslim countries that were facing economic and political pressures, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Yemen and Egypt.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China also has been in the forefront of countries that have a proactive approach to the Muslim world. China, for example, presented a Middle East peace plan and it was unveiled during visits to China in May 2013 by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mehmood Abbas, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his meeting with the two leaders, President Xi Jinping presented the 4-point peace plan that called for an independent Palestine State alongside Israel, based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. While recognising Israel’s right to exist in security, the Chinese peace plan also called for an end to building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine, cessation of violence against civilians and termination of the Israel blockade of Gaza.

The peace plan also called for resolving the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and sought more humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians, while underlining that these are “necessary for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority.”

China also has been principled on the issue of Syria urging an end to both interference in Syrian affairs and an end to the Syrian civil war. In January 2022, China invited Syria to be part of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

China today is the largest importer of crude oil in the world and almost 50% of that oil comes from the Muslim countries of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE. Saudi Arabia has also invited President Xi Jinping to visit the Kingdom and there have been media reports that China and Saudi Arabia are engaged in discussions to have their oil trade done partially in Yuan or the RMB, the Chinese currency.

Defence cooperation between China and the Muslim world is also expanding and the Chinese advanced jetfighter J10C is now in use in countries like Pakistan and the UAE. In January 2022, China and Iran signed a comprehensive Strategic Accord which will run for 25 years, worth well over $400 billion dollars.

The centre piece of China’s relationship with the Muslim world today is the BRI. Interestingly, the BRI was launched in two phases by President Xi Jinping, with two important speeches in two different Muslim countries. In September 2013, during the speech in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

During another speech in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, in November 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Maritime Silk Road, both pillars of the BRI. And during his speech at the OIC conference on the 22nd March, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “China is investing over 400 billion dollars in nearly 600 projects across the Muslim world under the BRI.”

He underlined that “China is ready to work with Islamic countries to promote a multi-polar world, democracy in international relations and diversity of human civilisation, and make unremitting efforts to build a community with a shared future for mankind”. On the issue of Palestine and Kashmir, Wang Yi said that “China shares the same aspirations as the OIC, seeking a comprehensive and just settlement of these disputes.”

Another example of close ties between China and the Muslim world was the February 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where a majority of Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar had a high level of representation, despite the boycott called by certain Western countries. Also, only last week, on the 30th March, China hosted an important conference, the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighboring Countries, which was well attended.

China has also received support from Muslim countries on the issue of Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council. In fact, in July 2019, when a group of 22 nations led by the West sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council criticising China on Xinjiang, not a single Muslim country was a signatory of that letter, while another group of 37 countries submitted a letter on the same issue defending Chinese policies.

These countries included all the six Gulf countries plus Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan — all Muslim countries.

Given the changing geopolitical scenario, where there is a shift in the global balance of economic and political power, away from West and toward the East, followed by calls for a New Cold War, China’s thrust for cooperation and connectivity, given the common threat of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for connectivity through BRI, has a broad resonance in the Muslim world.

The Muslim countries see their relations with China as a strategic bond to promote stability, security and economic development in the Muslim world and the BRI has become the principal vehicle in the promotion of such an approach.

In the coming years, China’s partnership with the Muslim world is likely to be strengthened, given the mutuality of interests and the convergence of worldviews in upholding a world order based on International Law, the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Ironically, thirty years after enunciating the Huntington thesis on the ‘clash of civilisations,’ which talked of the Islamic and Confucian Civilisations co-existence with each other but possible confrontation with Western Civilisation, recent developments may be pointers to a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Source: Wall Street International MagazineTop of Form/OTHER NEWS

Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee Pakistani, Senator Mushahid Hussain was Bureau Chief in Islamabad of Inter Press Service (IPS) during 1987-1997 & later in 2014. He launched the first Public Hearings on Environment & Climate Change in the Pakistan Parliament. As Senator, he chairs the Senate Sub Committee on ‘Green and Clean Islamabad’ which has launched a campaign to ban plastic use in the Pakistani capital.

IPS UN Bureau


New Constitution Would Declare Chile a Plurinational State

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

SANTIAGO, Mar 9 2022 (IPS) – Chile could change the course of its history and become a diverse and multicolored country this year with a “plurinational and intercultural state” that recognizes and promotes the development of the native peoples that inhabited this territory before the Spanish conquest.

By 112 votes in favor and 32 against, the constitutional convention approved this proposal which now forms part of the draft constitution that Chilean voters will approve or reject in an August or September referendum.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily.” — Domingo Namuncura

The constitutional convention is debating and drafting a new constitution which is the result of the work of 155 constituents – half men and half women, with 17 indigenous members – elected by popular vote in October 2020 who began the task on Jul. 4, 2021. They have until Jul. 4 to finish their work.

In the country’s last census, in 2017, 2.18 million Chileans self-identified as indigenous people.

In other words, 12.8 percent of the 17.07 million inhabitants of Chile at that time (today the population stands at 19.4 million) were recognized as belonging to one of the indigenous peoples distributed throughout this long narrow South American country: the Mapuche (the largest native group), followed by the Aymara, Rapa Nui, Diaguita, Atacameño, Quechua, Colla, Kawesqar and Yagan.

Domingo Namuncura, a Mapuche social worker and professor at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, told IPS that “we are facing a very important historic event. The declaration of a plurinational State has always been a dream of the indigenous peoples of Chile.”

The creation of the constitutional convention was the response to months of protests and social unrest in 2019, the repression of which tainted the second term of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera, a businessman who had already governed the country between 2010 and 2014, and who will be succeeded as of Mar. 11 by the leftist Gabriel Boric, winner of the December elections.

Chile has been governed since 1980 by the constitution imposed by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who used legislation to put in place a neoliberal and authoritarian economic and political regime, which democratic governments have only been able to partially dismantle since 1990.

The result is a country with a dynamic economy based on exports of mining and agricultural products, but with one of the most unequal societies in the world, which was at the basis of the 2019 demonstrations, as was the failure to fulfill promises of change, such as a new constitution, the reform of the educational system or improvements in social rights.

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Arguments of the constituents

No previous Chilean constitution has mentioned indigenous people and their rights, by contrast with other Latin American constitutions that have emerged since 1980. And the only precedent of declaring a “plurinational state” is that of neighboring Bolivia, which did so in its 2009 constitution.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily,” said Namuncura.

Adolfo Millabur, Chile’s first Mapuche mayor, elected in 1996 in the southern town of Tirúa, resigned from his post to become a member of the constitutional convention, to occupy one of the seats reserved for Mapuche representatives. He maintained that “if Chile is transformed and defines itself as a plurinational state, what changes is its democratic vocation.”

“By acknowledging the peoples that lived here prior to the creation of the Chilean State, a collective actor is given value. Different forms of relations should begin to be established, especially in the area of political definition and participation,” he told IPS.

Lawyer Tiare Aguilera, a member of the constitutional convention from the Rapa Nui people, believes that “the most important thing is to reach the referendum with a citizenry that is informed about plurinationality and its implications.”

In her view, “through plurinationality, our country will finally be able to advance towards reparations for the native peoples of Chile.

“There is a great deal of ignorance among the public. If we correctly inform and educate the public about their meanings and implications, we believe that the changes in the definition of the State will be understood,” she told IPS.

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Jaime Bassa, a member of the constitutional convention who was its vice-president until January, said “the normative proposals approved in commissions and in the plenary on plurinationality speak to us of a sense of reality, of accepting ourselves in legitimate diversity and coexistence, of recognizing our historical roots, of valuing ourselves based on our cultural identity.

“In comparative experiences, plurinationalism and multilingualism have brought about interesting cultural changes that have led to innovative and sustainable development alternatives,” he told IPS.

In his opinion, “the growth and development model we are moving towards within the framework of the constituent process that is underway should promote ethics and inter-territorial solidarity, care for the environment and sustainability, as foundations for political equality, and to ensure collaborative, resilient contexts of respect for rights that allow us to broaden and deepen our democracy.”

Bassa said the constitutional convention “is working on a proposal for a plurinational and decentralized legislative power in which there is equality, which would give rise to representation for the different territories, that would participate in the process of law-making, effectively representing the peoples and nations that coexist within the State.”

The regulation approved on Feb. 17 states that “Chile is a regional, plurinational and intercultural State made up of autonomous territorial entities, within a framework of equity and solidarity among all of them, preserving the unity and integrity of the State.”

According to Namuncura, who was the first Mapuche to serve as a Chilean ambassador, to Guatemala, “Chile has always been plurinational because it is constituted on the basis of different native populations that were already in this territory and that joined as native peoples or nations, by force or otherwise, in the construction of the national State.

“From the Aztec, Mayan, Inca and Mapuche cultures, before the arrival of the Spaniards, America was already a plurinational continent populated by more than 1,200 indigenous nationalities that were formed many centuries ago,” he pointed out.

The convention is also discussing other norms for indigenous peoples, such as their own courts of justice in coordination with the national justice system, a parliament with indigenous representation and a regime governing natural resources located in their territories.

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Business leaders unhappy

This process is of great concern to the business leaders grouped in the Confederation of Production and Commerce (CPC), whose board, headed by Juan Sutil, met several times with Mapuche representative Elisa Loncón, who was president of the convention until January, and her successor, María Elisa Quinteros.

The CPC was behind numerous Popular Standards Initiatives seeking to include its positions in the debate. It invited everyone to support these initiatives “that defend the values of freedom of thought and free enterprise,” among others, in order to achieve “a robust democracy” with public-private collaboration.

The CPC gathered 507,852 signatures and was able to submit 16 initiatives with its views on the constituent process. Three of them have already been rejected: “Free enterprise”, “Economic model, freedom of entrepreneurship and promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises”, and “Water for all”. One more is still being processed: “Towards sustainable mining for Chile”.

Business leaders have raised the tone of their opposition to the convention, which they accuse of distancing itself from the real Chile and from the work for a constitution for all.

“I am concerned that the constitution that is being drafted is not generating the proper balances and will not be a constitution that takes into account the sensibilities of all Chileans,” said Sutil.

Those sensitivities, he said, are especially from “a minority sector, which could be the center right, the right and even people from the center within the convention itself who are not being taken into consideration at all,” he told a local radio station.

“Chile is much more than what the constitutional convention reflects. The correlation of forces is very different in the real Chile than what is happening in the convention,” he argued.

According to Sutil, criticism of the convention is widespread and “this is bad not only because it jeopardizes the process, but also because it jeopardizes the future of the country from an institutional point of view, and from the point of view of its development and growth.”

Forestry companies own approximately 1.9 million hectares in an enormous area in the south, across three of the country’s regions. A significant part of these hectares are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Precedents of a truth commission

The Historical Truth and New Deal with Indigenous Peoples Commission, created by then president Ricardo Lagos in 2001 and composed of 24 members with cross-cutting representation, found that 500,000 hectares were awarded to indigenous peoples between 1884 and 1929. This was verified after reviewing 413 titles issued in that time span.

The purpose of the Commission was to “correct the historical invisibility of native peoples, recognize their identity, repair the damage done to them and contribute to the preservation of their culture.”

In its final report, in 2003, the Commission proposed a hundred measures. In the area of land, it called for protecting lands belonging to indigenous peoples, demarcating and titling ancestral lands of native communities, and establishing a land reclamation mechanism.

Regarding natural resources, it proposed recognizing the indigenous peoples’ right of ownership, use, administration and benefit, the preferential right in State concessions, and the right of use, management and conservation.

So far, the greatest gesture by the State for the mistreatment of indigenous peoples was made by the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who as president of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) apologized in June 2017 to the Mapuche in a solemn official act for “the errors and horrors” committed against them.

Namuncura believes that a pending task is “to reach a political agreement with the large forestry companies so that a part of these lands, which today are their property, are returned to the indigenous peoples through a long-term political and financial commitment, with the possibility of considering the value of this restitution.”

The wording already approved for the first draft will now be analyzed by the Harmonization Commission, which will ensure “the concordance and coherence of the constitutional norms approved by the plenary.”

The version that emerges from that process will be voted by the plenary which, by two thirds, will define the text to be voted on by all Chileans in the referendum.


Conversation with a Media Icon: Dr. Roberto Savio

Civil Society, Democracy, Headlines, Human Rights, Press Freedom, TerraViva United Nations


The Inter Press Service co-founder is part of a vanishing breed

Dr. Roberto Savio is somewhat unique as an eyewitness to history and builder of institutions, a man who turns his visions into reality

ROME, Feb 7 2022 (IPS) – We are sitting in the heart of Rome, Via Panisperna, where Dr. Roberto Savio has had his office for the last 58 years. His energy and activity, both mental and physical, belies his age. At 87, he walks the 7 kilometres from his house to his office building and climbs two flights of stairs to reach his office. When I caution him about the traffic on the roads of Rome as he walks home every evening, he is very relaxed about it. “Look here, Rome is over 2,000 years old, and these roads were meant for pedestrians, not cars.”

I have known Dr. Savio, arguably one of Europe and the Third World’s pre-eminent public intellectuals (he has Italian and Argentine nationality) for the last 35 years. He is probably the only living journalist who was witness to three major summits of the 20th Century: Bandung Afro-Asian Summit 1955; the meeting of Tito, Nasser and Nehru at Brioni, Yugoslavia in 1960, which laid the basis of the Non-Aligned Movement; and the 1978 first-ever North-South Summit at Cancun.

Injustice is supreme, during the Coronavirus pandemic, some people still got a $1 billion dollar bonus, with the 50 richest persons increasing their wealth by 27%, while over 500 million of the poorest, got pushed below the poverty line.

Dr. Roberto Savio

Dr. Savio also cofounded, with Pero Ivačić, the Non-Aligned Press Pool, apart from the first-ever Third World news agency, Inter Press Service (IPS), plus now the aptly named ‘Other News’.

Dr. Savio is somewhat unique as an eyewitness to history and builder of institutions, since he’s not just a man of ideas but also a man of action, a doer who has the will to translate his vision into reality. In 1964, four Western news agencies — Associated Press (AP), and United Press International (UPI), both American; Agence France Presse (AFP) and the British Reuters — jointly controlled 96% of the world’s free information.

It was a near total monopoly of how and what information was disseminated. It was in this context that Dr. Savio, along with an Argentinean journalist, founded the Inter Press Service, the first Third World News agency with its headquarters in Rome.

And IPS, guided by its guru, had the audacity to challenge this monopoly of news and information, which is a subject of a number of studies. Noam Chomsky calls it Manufacturing Consent and Media Control: Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. Edward Said published a landmark study, Covering Islam: How the media and experts determine how we see the rest of the world.

It was thus no accident that major wars were started on the ‘big lie’ peddled by a pliant media by first ‘manufacturing consent’ so that wars would have political backing. The 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, which laid the groundwork for the Vietnam War, or the 2003 lie about Iraqi ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as a precursor to war, are both cases in point.

Dr. Savio was a hands-on boss at IPS (I know it because I worked for him at IPS for close to a decade!), personally presiding over editorial meetings at such locations as Manila, Bangkok and Rome, giving ideas and directions but always willing to listen and learn. He led IPS with a crusader’s passion to present a perspective that was different, and, at times, opposed to what the ‘mainstream’ Western media outlets were promoting. That idealism of the 1970s and 1980s has given way to pessimism and disappointment in Dr. Savio as the divisions, class and cultural, deepen amidst an increasingly polarised world.

He is deeply disappointed with two erstwhile democracies, the United States and India. “The America we knew no longer exists,” laments Dr. Savio wistfully. “That America has gone now.” In fact, he feels that political polarisation is so deep in the US, with 60 million evangelicals (the Religious Right) in the US pushing the country rightwards, that he’s convinced Donald Trump will be back with a bang in 2024!

Ever the empirical fact-checker that he is, Dr. Savio cites a PEW public opinion poll to corroborate his assertion. In the 1960s, he says, 8% of Democrats and 12% of Republicans didn’t want their children to get married to someone from the ‘other party’. Today, 88% of Democrats and 93% of Republicans have such beliefs, signifying an almost bridgeable political divide. No wonder, in the 2020 US Presidential elections, Biden won with 80 million popular votes while Trump came a close second with a record 75 million votes, most of whom are still convinced that the 2020 elections were ‘stolen’!

The other country that has disappointed Dr. Savio is India because “Nehru’s India has ceased to exist.” He adds that “Nehru was a very careful statesman, he didn’t want confrontation within India as he understood the diversity of people and the diversity of opinion that exists in India.” Dr. Savio then adds with a note of sorrow similar to his lament about the USA, “that Nehruvian India doesn’t exist any longer. Modi has divided India, Modi has marginalised Muslims.”

Looking at the global media, economic and political landscape, Dr. Savio feels three factors are going to be decisive in transforming the world in the 21st Century.

Considering the global media landscape, Dr. Savio sees the “print media as having a less and less of a role, as most of the print media is neither making money nor posting correspondents abroad, except perhaps El Pais, Le Monde, The Washington Post and the Guardian.

There was a time when Beirut had no less than 75 foreign correspondents.” He dismisses social media as “useless, dividing the world into bubbles, with 7 seconds as the average attention span of a teenager using the social media.” However, Dr. Savio understands how social media can be a ‘weapon of choice’ for some politicians, e.g. Donald Trump who has 86 million Twitter followers.

Dr. Savio adds in such a situation, “why should Trump bother about the American print media whose total daily circulation stands at 60 million, with quality print publications at less than 10 million.” Moreover, “media is now more local, no longer global.”

The second important change, in Dr. Savio’s view, is the crisis of capitalism, citing a quote of Nikita Khrushchev in 1960 that “capitalism cannot solve social problems.”

Dr. Savio adds that most of the capitalist West is also facing other crises, with conspiracy theories galore ranging from the anti-vaccine campaign to strange notions with 60 million Evangelicals in the USA convinced of the second coming of Christ, from QA Non to the ‘Birds Aren’t Real’ madcap conspiracy concoctions, which however have garnered support amongst a large section of Americans.

Despite the rightwing racist campaign against immigrants, Western economies increasingly won’t be able to function without foreign workers. Dr. Savio cites figures: “Germany needs 600,000 new migrant labour, while Canada needs 300,000” for skills and work that locals aren’t willing to do anymore. The core issue is that “society has lost its moral compass, with the culture of greed paramount” in the capitalist West.

Given this context of a ‘greed is good’ culture, Dr. Savio likens talk of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) on the part of big companies as “locking the stables after the horses have bolted.” Actually, Dr. Savio rightly concludes: “the capitalist system has collapsed.”

However, the third factor is Dr.Savio’s biggest worry: the future of Europe and the looming New Cold War. He is highly critical of NATO since “it’s a structure of war, always searching for new enemies, and pushing Russia closer to China.” Criticising NATO for adding China to its list of “major challenges and threats,”

Dr. Savio questions: “by which stretch of imagination is China part of the North Atlantic? This is an exercise in futility.” Moreover, he is convinced that “Trump will come back in 2024, and one thing is for sure, Trump is not interested in spending American money on war.” Perhaps the only silver lining in an otherwise gloomy scenario. With the exit of Merkel, Europe is leaderless.

Dr. Savio then quotes his late friend, the former UN Secretary General Dr. Boutrus Boutrus Ghali, as telling him “the Americans are lousy allies and terrible enemies,” and the biggest problem is that “the Americans don’t want to be told yes, they want to be told, yes sir!” Thankfully, in a world of multi-polarity requiring multilateralism, there are very few countries in today’s world who will simply acquiesce to US bidding with a nod of “Yes Sir!”

Dr Roberto Savio is actually part of a vanishing breed, the ‘last of the Mohicans,’ idealists who were builders in the quest for a better tomorrow, for whom the good fight is to present the truth, the unvarnished truth, while giving a voice to the voiceless, a task he has admirably performed. More power to his pen!

Senator Mushahid Hussain is an elected Senator from Pakistan’s Federal Capital, Islamabad. He is currently Chairman, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. He has been Minister for Information, Tourism & Culture, Journalist, university teacher and political analyst. He has a Master’s degree from the Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, DC.

This story was originally published by the Wall Street International Magazine


The New Social Contract: an Opportunity for Deliberative Participation

Civil Society, Democracy, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations


A woman, accompanied by a child, casts her vote during the general elections in Mozambique. Credit: UNDP/Rochan Kadariya

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jul 9 2021 (IPS) – These days there hasn’t been certainly a shortage of reports portraying the decline of liberal democracy around the world.

With rising popularism and a divisive use of social media, we should not be surprised about a general malaise taking roots in most advanced liberal democracies.

From the Freedom in the World 2021 report published by the Freedom House to the Democracy Index 2020 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit to the IDEA’s Global State of Democracy Indices there is more and more evidence that liberal and representatives’ democracies are under duress.

Could the ongoing debate about a New Social Contract, a concept launched by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, help revive one of the essential elements of any democratic society, people’s interest and participation in the civic life?

If his recent re-election at the helm of the United Nations might have dissipated doubts that this new idea was just a fad, what are the chances for this debate surrounding the New Social Contract to become an opportunity to enhance public engagement at local levels without further dividing the gulf between classic liberal democracies on one side and other nations adopting less democratic, more authoritarian political systems?

Provocatively, could such debate instead help nearing such the gap?

To set aside any doubts, inevitably, the New Social Contract is not about enhancing democracy around the world.

This would clearly a utopian proposition for the Secretary General to embrace but rather an attempt to rethink and improve, regardless of the political system being adopted, the norms between citizens and the state.

Initially coined during the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in 2020, Guterres made the case for a more just and inclusive society centered around the fights against inequalities and discriminations because, he said, “People want social and economic systems that work for everyone”.

Members of the Madheshi community of Biratnagar attend a political rally to demand autonomous federal regions and greater representation in parliament. Credit: UN Photo/Agnieszka Mikulska

“The New Social Contract, between Governments, people, civil society, business and more, must integrate employment, sustainable development and social protection, based on equal rights and opportunities for all”.

As vague as it is in terms of boundaries and ultimate goals, the New Social Contract can be seen as a framework that can, not only revitalize our societies but also build a fairer, cleaner and just economy able to overcome the multiple challenges created by the pandemic.

The Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals attached to it, offer the blueprint upon which such idea can be built locally.

Being still a working in progress, the New Social Contract can offer an impetus not only at re-designing the relationships between social partners, governments, unions and businesses but it can also be a source to generate more interest among the population about public life.

Making sense of it especially from the perspective of youth can be challenging but it is essential doing so because we cannot imagine a renewed citizenry without including youth whose vast majorities are uninterested and disenchanted from the public discourse.

A possible pathway to generate new passions for civic life among youth would start from helping them being more informed about what is happening at local and national levels, something that can evolve to higher forms of deep interests.

The last stage of this continuum would be supporting them into embracing forms of direct engagement.

Engagement is driven by a strong interest for the public life and the willingness to turn such desire to know more into contributions, actions on the grounds.

Last year, UNV came up with a new volunteering framework that fully captures the different features and characteristics of giving your time, energies and skills for the public good.

Indeed, volunteerism with its different forms and dimensions, is one of the best tools to involve people and youth in particular in the public life.

That’s why it is not surprising that the upcoming UNV’s State of the World’s Volunteerism Report, is going to explain how volunteerism can be a true enabler for determinant for the New Social Contract.

More opportunities for public engagement will also generate more trust, an essential trait of any healthy and cohesive society and it is here where the ongoing efforts to localize the SDGs can make the difference by bringing people together for the common good, for achieving the goals at grassroots levels.

Achieving the SDGs at this level is not about just actions, about mobilization of resources of human, in kinds or financial nature. It is also about deliberation and here, after this long detour, I am reconnecting with the issue of democracy.

The design of a New Social Contract as a conducive platform to achieve the SDGs locally by involving people on the ground, can be a tool to elevate the quality of democratic discourse, generating platforms for a new form of shared decision making or shared governance.

Interestingly, while political parties wherever they operate, might become a hindrance to such change because their role as gatekeeper of public participation would be eroded, this conceptualization of shared governance might become of interest to nations not adhering to representative, parties dominated liberal systems.

In the field of political science there is a dynamic movement of social scientists exploring the concept of deliberative democracy that would allow, through different means, including sortition, to have new forms of real, rather than token, forms of public involvement and participation in the decision making.

It’s true that so far, most of the attempts putting in practice deliberative democracy have been applied in the contexts with solid liberal democratic traditions.

A diverse range of “experiments” have been carried out with the most successful probably being the Ostbelgien Modell adapted by the Parliament of the German-speaking Community of Belgium where there is a permanent Citizens’ Council that enable an ecosystem of Citizen’s Assemblies.

Ireland in the past used successfully some aspects of deliberative democracy to involve the general public in discussing and debating key constitutional issues that also helped generating consensus on gay marriage gender equality.

This legacy continues with a Citizens’ Assembly that recently submitted a report, after prolonged consultations and deliberations, on the issue of gender equality.

Iceland has been using a hybrid form of public deliberation, though led by a small number of elected citizens but with ample opportunities for people to crowdsource the nation’s constitution.

Other forms, with vary degree of success and with different level of inclusivity and decision-making power, were tried in two provinces of Canada, British Columbia and Ontario.

Within the growing area of deliberative democracy studies, there is now a great interest on the so-called “deliberative micro public” where a limited number of citizens gather to decide on certain issues of common interest.

If you have seen The Best of Enemies, a movie portraying an exercise of public deliberation about segregated learning in the Jim Crow’s United States in the early seventies, you get the idea about what these might look like.

Many of these lessons learned might also be of interest to policy makers whose political systems have not embraced democracy.

With the discussions still going on how the New Social Contract should look like at local levels and with the agenda of SDGs localization being recognized as instrumental to achieve the Agenda 2030, we could have an opportunity to advance stronger forms of public participation in the decision making locally and everywhere.

This would strengthen the meaning of good governance around the world while also creating new space for deliberations in contexts that normally shut them.

Perhaps deliberative participation, a term that might be easier to sell globally, if properly carried out at local levels, could become a cornerstone of the New Social Contract, reinvigorating classic democracy where already exists while creating space for others political systems to evolve and be more inclusive.

The Author, is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not for profit in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.


Is the USA Fit to Rejoin the UN Human Rights Council?

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, North America, TerraViva United Nations


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.


Is This The End of Myanmar’s Quasi-Democracy?

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

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.

Yasmin Ullah

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.

Following the coup in Myanmar, Washington has imposed sanctions on the military, urging other U.N members to follow suit. The UK too announced asset freezes and travel bans on three generals in Myanmar and is also going to be putting in place new measures to prevent UK aid. Singapore warned that there will be “serious adverse consequences” for Myanmar if the situation there continues to escalate. The European Union’s foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell urged the military and “all security forces in Myanmar to immediately stop violence against civilians.”

Rights group Human Rights Watch in its report, Myanmar, Sanctions, and Human Rights said, “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.