When U.S. Officials Show You Who They Are, Believe Them

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Democracy, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

© UNICEF/Tess Ingram
Parts of the city of Khan Younis are now almost unrecognizable after more than eight months of intense bombardment, UN officers report. Credit: UNICEF/Tess Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO, Jun 21 2024 (IPS) – “When someone shows you who they are,” Maya Angelou said, “believe them the first time.” That should apply to foreign-policy elites who show you who they are, time after time.


Officials running the Pentagon and State Department have been in overdrive for more than 250 days in support of Israel’s ongoing slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Supposedly dedicated to defense and diplomacy, those officials have worked to implement and disguise Washington’s war policies, which have taken more lives than any other government in this century.

Among the weapons of war, cluster munitions are especially horrific. That’s why 67 Democrats and an equal number of Republicans in the House of Representatives voted last week to prevent the U.S. government from continuing to send those weapons to armies overseas.

But more than twice as many House members voted the other way. They defeated a Pentagon funding amendment that would have prohibited the transfer of cluster munitions to other countries. The lawmakers ensured that the U.S. can keep supplying those weapons to the military forces of Ukraine and Israel.

As of now, 124 nations have signed onto a treaty banning cluster munitions, which often wreck the bodies of civilians. The “bomblets” from cluster munitions “are particularly attractive to children because they resemble a bell with a loop of ribbon at the end,” the Just Security organization explains.

But no member of Congress need worry that one of their own children might pick up such a bomblet someday, perhaps mistaking it for a toy, only to be instantly killed or maimed with shrapnel.

The Biden administration correctly responded to indications (later proven accurate) that Russia was using cluster munitions in Ukraine. On Feb. 28, 2022, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told journalists that if the reports of Russian use of those weapons turned out to be true, “it would potentially be a war crime.”

Back then, the front page of the New York Times described “internationally banned cluster munitions” as “a variety of weapons — rockets, bombs, missiles and artillery projectiles — that disperse lethal bomblets in midair over a wide area, hitting military targets and civilians alike.”

Days later, the Times reported that NATO officials “accused Russia of using cluster bombs in its invasion,” and the newspaper added that “anti-personnel cluster bombs . . . kill so indiscriminately they are banned under international law.”

But when the Ukrainian military forces ran low on ammunition last year, the U.S. administration decided to start shipping cluster munitions to them.

“All countries should condemn the use of these weapons under any circumstances,” Human Rights Watch has declared.

BBC correspondent John Simpson summed up a quarter-century ago: “Used against human beings, cluster bombs are some of the most savage weapons of modern warfare.”

As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reported this spring, cluster munitions “disperse large numbers of submunitions imprecisely over an extended area.” They “frequently fail to detonate and are difficult to detect,” and “can remain explosive hazards for decades.”

The CRS report added: “Civilian casualties are primarily caused by munitions being fired into areas where soldiers and civilians are intermixed, inaccurate cluster munitions landing in populated areas, or civilians traversing areas where cluster munitions have been employed but failed to explode.”

The horrible immediate effects are just the beginning. “It’s been over five decades since the U.S. dropped cluster bombs on Laos, the most bombed country in the world per capita,” Human Rights Watch points out.

“The contamination from cluster munitions remnants and other unexploded ordnance is so vast that fewer than 10 percent of affected areas have been cleared. An estimated 80 million submunitions still pose a danger, especially to curious children.”

The members of Congress who just greenlighted more cluster munitions are dodging grisly realities. The basic approach is to proceed as though such human realities don’t matter if an ally is using those weapons (or if the United States uses them, as happened in Southeast Asia, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen).

Overall, with carnage persisting in Gaza, it’s easy enough to say that Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown us who he is. But so has Presidente Biden, and so have the most powerful Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

While the U.S. has been supplying a large majority of the weapons and ammunition imported by Israel, a similar approach from official Washington (with ineffectual grumbling) has enabled Israel to lethally constrict food going into Gaza.

During his State of the Union address in early March, Biden announced plans for the U.S. to build a port on the Gaza coast to bring in food and other vital aid. But his speech didn’t mention the Pentagon’s expectation that such a seaport could take 60 days to become operational.

At the time, a Common Dreams headline summed up the hollowness of the gambit: “Biden Aid Port Plan Rebuked as ‘Pathetic’ PR Effort as Israel Starves Gazans.” Even at full tilt, the envisioned port would not come anywhere near compensating for Israel’s methodical blockage of aid trucks — by far the best way to get food to 2.2 million people facing starvation.

“We are talking about a population that is starving now,” said Ziad Issa, the head of humanitarian policy for ActionAid. “We have already seen children dying of hunger.”

An official at Save the Children offered a reality check: “Children in Gaza cannot wait to eat. They are already dying from malnutrition, and saving their lives is a matter of hours or days — not weeks.”

The Nation described “the tragic absurdity of Biden’s Gaza policies: the U.S. government is making elaborate plans to ameliorate a humanitarian catastrophe that would not exist without its own bombs.”

And this week — more than three months after the ballyhooed drumroll about plans for a port on the Gaza coast — news broke that the whole thing is a colossal failure even on its own terms.

“The $230 million temporary pier that the U.S. military built on short notice to rush humanitarian aid to Gaza has largely failed in its mission, aid organizations say, and will probably end operations weeks earlier than originally expected,” the New York Times reported on June 18. “In the month since it was attached to the shoreline, the pier has been in service only about 10 days. The rest of the time, it was being repaired after rough seas broke it apart, detached to avoid further damage or paused because of security concerns.”

As Israel’s crucial military patron, the U.S. government could insist on an end to the continual massacre of civilians in Gaza and demand a complete halt to interference with aid deliveries. Instead, Israel continues to inflict “unconscionable death and suffering” while mass starvation is closing in.

Maya Angelou’s advice certainly applies. When the president and a big congressional majority show that they are willing accomplices to mass murder, believe them.

It’s fitting that Angelou, a renowned poet and writer, gave her voice to words from Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death one day in 2003 while standing in front of an Israeli army bulldozer as it moved to demolish a Palestinian family’s home in Gaza.

A few years after Corrie died, Angelou recorded a video while reading from an email that the young activist sent: “We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure — to experience the world as a dynamic presence — as a changeable, interactive thing?”

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of many books including War Made Easy. His latest book, ‘War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine‘, was published in 2023 by The New Press.

IPS UN Bureau

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Why Protection & Participation of Children Must be Elevated at the UN Summit of the Future

Civil Society, Democracy, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KATHMANDU / NAIROBI, May 31 2024 (IPS) – The United Nations will hold the Summit of the Future on September 22—23 this year, during its annual General Assembly. Heads of state and government and their representatives will gather at the UN headquarters in New York, to discuss, agree on, and endorse a multilateral, action-oriented “Pact for the Future” intended to “protect and enshrine the rights of future generations”.


With the draft document of the pact already detailing fifty-two sets of actions around sustainability, peace and security, science and technology, youth, and governance, the Summit is being called a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Indeed, with post-pandemic political, economic, security, and social dynamics (and realignments) redefining world order, torpedoing trust in multilateral organizations and exposing the limits of international law, urgent action is needed to put humanity on a path to justice and equity.

The world is at a tipping point and multilateralism — the very vehicle of the Pact for the Future — is at risk of being ditched for expediency.

As advocates for a better world for children, including through interfaith collaboration, we applaud the worthy intentions behind both the Summit and the pact. However, the current draft of the pact leaves much to be desired. Children — the very essence of the future — are acknowledged only tangentially or conflated with young people, youth, and future generations.

The pact focuses squarely on adults, youth and young people. The protection and wellbeing of the most vulnerable infants and young children who are unable to articulate their unique needs and rights are not prioritized explicitly.

The fact that children make up a third of the world’s population and that 4.2 billion children are expected to be born over the next 30 years, ought to make it self-evident that protecting their rights and promoting their wellbeing must be at the very heart of any pact aimed at ensuring a better future humanity.

No future without children

We live in a world of incredible scientific breakthroughs, tremendous economic prosperity, and greater gender equality than ever before. Yet the number of children globally who are hungry, displaced and in desperate need of protection, has never been higher.

According to UNICEF, nearly one billion children live in multidimensional poverty with another 333 million children living in extreme poverty. These shocking, historically unprecedented figures are being exacerbated by growing inequality, the COVID-19 pandemic, devastating food and energy crises, a climate emergency, and new and protracted conflicts.

In the last year alone, more than 10.5 million children were forced to flee their homes mainly due to conflict and violence. The number of displaced children around the world is now estimated to be over 50 million, while the number of those living in conflict zones exceeds 460 million.

Even in supposedly “normal,” stable, and peaceful settings, children are routinely exposed to the dangers of a rapidly expanding digital environment, discrimination, inequality, abuse, and exploitation, some of it in the name of religion.

Without explicit mention of children in the Pact for the Future, their specific rights and unique perspectives risk being forgotten. As the former Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child emphasized in February, “If the UN is truly committed to becoming a more inclusive multilateral platform for partnership and solidarity having people at center (…) – children cannot be excluded from the process for the Summit of the Future (…). Children should be both subjects of the Summit and the resulting Pact for the Future, and active participants before, during and after the Summit.”

The child is calling

Shortly after the UN Summit for the Future, leaders from major world faiths and spiritual traditions and representatives of governments and international organizations will convene in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, from 19 to 21 November for the Sixth Forum of the Global Network of Religions for Children.

Hosted by the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities, the forum will amplify the voices and rights of children — the architects of the future — as it tackles the issues of building a safe, secure, and sustainable world for children from an interfaith perspective.

With the greatest tragedy in recent memory involving children unfolding in Gaza, there could not be a more fitting theme or a more appropriate place for the world’s religious and secular leaders to congregate, offer prayers and catalyze action to “never again” allow the senseless killing and maiming of children we are witnessing today.

The forum’s ‘building a safe world’ theme will cover the dignity of the child in the digital world; role of families and collaborative communities; building resilience; and strengthening mental health in the face of global shocks, emerging crises, and pandemics.

Under ‘building a secure world’, the forum will address the root causes of conflicts, wars, xenophobia, hate crimes, and extremism; building resilience to conflict; the impact of conflict and war on children; and building a peaceful and inclusive world for children. The last theme – ‘building a sustainable world’ – will tackle responsible lifestyles; hunger, child poverty, and inequality; ethical values and education; and climate-conscious stewardship.

The forum is expected to foster intergenerational dialogue, mutual understanding, collaboration, and adaptive capacity to advocate for and with children for a future where children can grow and thrive without fear or limitation, regardless of their faith, cultural, racial, economic, or social backgrounds.

If we fail to put the rights and voices of children at the heart of the Pact for the Future, we will be failing one-third of the world’s population today and billions of children who are born in the future. The child is calling! We must unite our efforts, intensify our actions, and put the child’s voice at the center as we all come together to build a safe, secure, sustainable, and hopeful world for all.

Kul Gautam is a former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, the Chair of the Arigatou International Advisory Group, and the Chair of the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) Sixth Forum International Organizing Committee.

Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali is the Secretary General of the GNRC and Executive Director of Arigatou International – Nairobi.

IPS UN Bureau

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‘There can be No Special Status for Public Officials’

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Middle East & North Africa, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

In an interview with Herta Däubler-Gmelin who served as Federal Minister of Justice from 1998 to 2002, and as a Member of the German Bundestag from 1972 to 2009.

BERLIN, Germany, May 28 2024 (IPS) – The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, last week requested arrest warrants for three Hamas leaders as well as for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Yoav Galant. They are accused of various war crimes and crimes against humanity. But what does this mean and where do things go from here?


This is a very significant first step towards being able to bring political and military leaders to court for the most serious crimes against humanity. For some time now, the office of the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has also been conducting investigations in Israel and Gaza with the support of highly qualified external experts in international law.

Brenda J. Hollis, an exceptional US lawyer with extensive military experience, is leading the investigations at the chief prosecutor’s office. And, also in this case, she is just as qualified as in the investigation against Vladimir Putin, which led to an arrest warrant from the court.

The chief prosecutor has forwarded the results of his investigation to the competent judicial preliminary chamber of the International Criminal Court. This is staffed by judges who carefully examine all the evidence submitted and then assess it in full independence and in accordance with the applicable criminal law before deciding whether to issue an arrest warrant.

The procedure is therefore the same as the one used for the arrest warrant against the Russian president. But why is the International Criminal Court needed? Isn’t the Israeli judiciary responsible for a possible trial?

Of course, the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court must be clarified. In this case, this includes whether – if the terrible allegations of crime are confirmed – the Israeli prime minister and his defence minister would also be charged before Israeli courts and convicted by them. This is not entirely out of the question, despite Netanyahu’s attempts to strengthen his political power by weakening the judiciary.

We all remember the huge demonstrations by courageous Israeli citizens against these plans. To this day, the ‘battle for the rule of law and the separation of powers’ in Israel is not yet over. All of this will have to be recognised and evaluated by the judges of the competent preliminary chamber.

The chief prosecutor’s request concerns the leadership of Hamas as well as the leadership of Israel. Does this not lead to an inappropriate equation between those who are members of an EU terror-listed organisation and elected representatives of a democratic government?

The claim of equivalence is an inaccurate, political accusation — and the International Criminal Court is not concerned with politics. It is verifiably about international law. Everyone – including government statements – should take this into account, unless they want to weaken the International Criminal Court.

The chief prosecutor has, of course, submitted different applications with various justifications relating to different facts and allegations of crimes. In these, there is no recognisable legal equivalence between the leaders of Hamas, in other words a highly organised non-state terrorist group, and the elected officials of Israel.

Some commentators evidently take the view that only terrorists can commit the most serious crimes against humanity, but not democratically elected officials. Unfortunately, numerous examples from the recent past show that this is not the case.

As Germany recognises the International Criminal Court, Netanyahu and Galant would theoretically have to be arrested upon entering the country if they were charged. How realistic do you think this is?

Anyone wanted by the International Criminal Court on the basis of an arrest warrant must be arrested if they enter a member state, because the Rome Statute clearly stipulates that arrest warrants must be executed by the member states. Of course, not every government that is pursuing its own political agenda likes this.

As we all know, the Chinese government’s criticism of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Putin and its demand for his immunity on the grounds that he is a public official were met with astonishment. However, there can be no special status for public officials.

The Rome Statute rules this out and we in Germany – as well as around two thirds of UN member states – should recognise and support the independent International Criminal Court with good reason.

As a constitutional democracy, we should also be wary of double standards. On the contrary, we should help to dispel the suspicions fuelled by political interests about the qualifications, integrity and independence of the International Criminal Court, the chief prosecutor and the judges.

The International Criminal Court has frequently demonstrated its high level of qualification and its necessity. It is infuriating that the US, Russia, but also China and India, among others, acknowledge the Court as a ‘court for others, but not for themselves’.

This weakens international law, on which we Germans particularly rely. As is well known, the International Criminal Court has already recognised its jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity in Palestine and Gaza in 2021 following multiple resolutions and recommendations by the UN General Assembly.

The International Criminal Court is based on the Rome Statute of 1998, which was adopted during your time as minister of justice and against immense pressure from the US. What impact would a disregard of the proceedings by Germany and other signatory states have on the international legal system?

It is indeed a great disappointment, even a nuisance, that states such as the US are evading membership and downright fighting the International Criminal Court. Especially as very good US lawyers work in the office of the chief prosecutor.

I would like to repeat: strengthening international law and supporting the International Criminal Court go hand in hand. In Germany, we have not only ratified the Rome Statute, but have also created the German International Criminal Code, which today, in accordance with the Rome Statute, relieves the International Criminal Court in appropriate proceedings. We rely on international law and should continue to do so. And this support has to prove itself time and again.

The fight against the most serious crimes against humanity is more important today than ever before. It is also high time to assign the prohibition of aggressive war to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in its entirety, even if ‘only’ the invaded state, but not the aggressor itself, is a member state of the International Criminal Court.

Source: International Politics and Society (IPS)-Journal published by the International Political Analysis Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin

IPS UN Bureau

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Billions will Vote this Year – LGBTIQ+ People Must not be Excluded

Civil Society, Democracy, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, LGBTQ, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

UNDP is working in all regions of the world to integrate LGBTIQ+ people and issues in development efforts. Credit: UNDP Dominican Republic

UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2024 (IPS) – This year has been called the ‘super election’ year, with 3.7 billion people potentially going to the polls. This historic political moment is also an opportunity to reflect on what these billions of voter experiences will look like. Who will vote, who can run for office and who might be excluded from the political process?


It goes without saying and is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone should have the right to participate in the political processes in their country, and huge strides have been made in recent years to recognize and advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights. But the reality for LGBTIQ+ people is often very different.

Because despite progress, one third of countries maintain laws that make same-sex relationships illegal. For the LGBTIQ+ people living in these countries, what is their experience with elections, as voters or as candidates?

Consider the transgender person who faces harassment whenever they leave their home and is ultimately excluded from their community. Or the LGBTIQ+ groups that are receiving constant online hate because of a wave of social media disinformation. To what extent are they free to express their political views, without fear of discrimination, hate speech or even physical violence?

These experiences do not exist in a vacuum. They are the result of a vast swathe of anti-LGBTIQ+ laws and policies, which in some countries are continuing to gather momentum, compounded by the pervasive stigma and discrimination many LGBTIQ+ people face in their everyday lives.

And they directly impact our political processes by silencing people, limiting the extent to which they can have a voice in their societies and in the decisions which affect them, and entrenching structural discrimination.

UNDP has been working for decades to help break these barriers and to strengthen laws, policies and programmes that respect the human rights of all individuals. This demands we work with a broad range of global partners and advocates, recognizing that LGBTIQ+ people are a diverse group and face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.

But with estimates suggesting about half of the global population may vote this year, it does throw into sharp focus the need to ensure that the people determining the leadership and political direction of their countries, truly reflects the full diversity of the world we live in.

We have reason to be hopeful that they will. Because with the steadfast support of partners like Luxembourg, UNDP has been supporting global efforts, including LGBTIQ+ organizations and activists, to help transform LGBTIQ+ rights.

For instance, last October, UNDP launched its global publication ‘Inclusive Democracies: A guide to strengthening the participation of LGBTI+ persons in political and electoral processes,’ in a jointly cohosted event with the LGBTI intergroup of the European Parliament.

Its aim is to provide policymakers, electoral management bodies, legislators, civil society and other stakeholders a clear set of tools to work towards a more equal exercise of civic and political rights, freedom of expression and association, and access to public services. The publication, informed by UNDP’s work globally, includes best practices from over 80 countries, mainly from the Global South.

At the same time, UNDP is working in 72 countries and all regions of the world to integrate LGBTIQ+ people and issues in development efforts.

This includes working with young key populations in Southern Africa – which includes young gay men and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people – to help challenge some of the negative stereotypes appearing in mainstream media, and to change the negative narratives.

Support has focused on organizing media skills training for young people to build their journalistic skills and enhance the use of digital platforms for advocacy on issues affecting them.

But digital platforms also have the power to do great harm, and LGBTIQ+ individuals often face disproportionate online harassment, posing a threat to their equal political participation. With support from Luxembourg, UNDP has been able to prioritize combating dangerous online speech that targets individuals based on gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

For example, the Cabo Verde Free and Equal Campaign, part of UNDP’s efforts, focuses on fighting gender stereotypes and eliminating prejudices through legal and communication channels.

The global efforts to address LGBTIQ+ rights are having an impact. The recent HIV Policy Lab report – produced jointly by Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute, UNDP and the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) shows a clear and ongoing trend toward decriminalization of consensual same-sex sex around the world, with more countries removing punitive laws in 2022 than in any single year in the past 25 years.

These advances are part of a collective effort, because building inclusive and equitable societies means building a coalition of partners. At UNDP, the importance of partners like Luxembourg in helping to fund this vital work, and shining a light on the injustices LGBTIQ+ people face, is never underestimated.

This is important because investments in human rights are investments in our societies. And thanks to Luxembourg and our core donors, UNDP has been able to help people, whoever and wherever they are, to have a voice in shaping their societies.

This year, the stakes have never been higher. The decisions made in the elections taking place will set the course for how societies develop, and to what extent human rights are respected. Which is why we must also use this moment to recognize our partners and to renew our commitments to the LGBTIQ+ community.

The world’s attention will be focused on the election winners and losers. But the outcome is only one piece of the puzzle. Ensuring the political processes taking place are inclusive, credible and peaceful is how we ultimately build a world where everyone can vote, anyone can run for office, and most importantly, where no one will be silenced.

Ulrika Modeer is UN Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP; Christophe Schiltz is Director General, Directorate for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Defence, Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Luxembourg

Source: UNDP

IPS UN Bureau

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The Summit of the Future Is a Rare Chance to Fix a Broken System: Civil Society Must Be Included

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Economy & Trade, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

NEW YORK, Apr 22 2024 (IPS) – Today, the spectre of a major regional conflict, and even a possible nuclear conflagration, looms large in the Middle East. Despite stark warnings issued by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, the multilateral system is struggling to resolve the very challenges it was supposed to address: conflict, impoverishment and oppression. In a deeply divided world, this September’s Summit of the Future offers a rare chance to fix international cooperation and make good on gaps in global governance.


The problem is, too few people and civil society organisations, outside UN circles, even know the Summit is happening. This is characteristic of a lack of broad consultation. Things started poorly with limited time and opportunities for civil society to provide inputs last December into the zero draft of the Pact for the Future, which is supposed to be a blueprint for international cooperation in the 21st century.

The zero draft, released in January 2024, lacks the ambition many hoped would be on show to tackle the enormity of the challenges before us. It included just one mention of the role of civil society and nothing about civic space, even though growing restrictions on fundamental freedoms are severely impeding the transparency, accountability and participation needed to realise the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the set of ambitious but largely unrealised universal commitments the Summit intends to reaffirm.

To be clear, the Summit’s co-facilitators, Germany and Namibia, are in an unenviable position, having to balance the demands of states that want the process to be purely intergovernmental and others that see value in civil society’s engagement. Some don’t see any role for civil society: in February, a handful of states led by Belarus sent a letter to the Special Committee on the UN Charter questioning the legitimacy of civil society organisations. If their demands were acceded to, the UN would miss the innovation and reach that civil society participation brings to the table.

Next month, the UN is hosting a major civil society conference in Nairobi with the aim of providing a platform for civil society to contribute ideas to the Summit of the Future. But, with barely a month between the selection of applicants and the hosting of the conference, it remains to be seen how many civil society representatives, particularly from smaller organisations in the global south, will be able to make it.

There remains a need for the UN to take on board the Unmute Civil Society recommendations, which include a call for the appointment of a civil society envoy. Such an envoy could drive the UN’s outreach to civil society beyond its hubs. With many finding the institution remote, an envoy could champion better and more consistent participation of people and civil society across the UN’s sprawling agencies and offices. So far, civil society engagement with the UN remains deeply uneven and dependent on the culture and leadership of various UN departments and forums.

The Summit can only benefit from civil society engagement if it’s to achieve it aims, particularly as many conflicts are raging around the world, including in Gaza, Myanmar, Sudan, Ukraine and elsewhere. Many of civil society’s reform ideas are included in the UN Secretary-General’s New Agenda for Peace, which will be deliberated at the Summit, including nuclear disarmament, strengthening preventative diplomacy and prioritising women’s participation in peace efforts.

There’s also an urgent need to address the soaring levels of debt many global south countries face, which is diverting public spending away from essential services and social protections into debt servicing. Civil society backs efforts such as the Bridgetown Initiative to secure commitments from wealthy countries on debt restructuring and debt cancellation for those countries facing a repayment crisis. But civil society needs to be included to help shape plans, because if financing for development negotiations don’t include guarantees for civic space and civil society participation there’s no way of ensuring that public funds benefit people in need. Instead, autocratic regimes could use them to shore up repressive state apparatuses and networks of corruption and patronage.

Civil society further calls for reforms in the international financial architecture. These include demands to bring decisions by the G20 group of powerful economies into the ambit of the UN’s accountability framework, and to equitably distribute shares and decision-making at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, presently controlled by a few highly industrialised countries.

But it’s unclear how many of civil society’s transformative proposals for global governance reforms will end up in the final outcomes of the Summit of the Future. So far, there’s been limited transparency in relation to UN member state negotiations, records and compilation texts, despite civil society having shown its commitment by making over 400 written submissions to the Pact for the Future process.

Troublingly, few governments have consulted nationally with civil society groups on their positions for the Summit of the Future negotiations. If these trends continue, the international community will miss a key chance to make life better for future generations. It isn’t too late to robustly include people and civil society in the process. The aims of the Summit are too important.

Mandeep S. Tiwana is CIVICUS Chief Officer for Evidence and Engagement and representative to the UN in New York.

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China, India & Sri Lanka Embroiled in the Geo-Politics of the Indian Ocean

Armed Conflicts, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

The writer is former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN and, until recently, Ambassador to China

Credit: United Nations

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Apr 10 2024 (IPS) – Unfortunately, a rivalry that should not exist and did not exist historically between China and India is being stoked by the media and some policy makers, especially in the West. It is not too difficult to discern the Machiavellian geo-strategic objectives of this complex game plan.


Most policymakers in the West find it difficult to accept that a non-European and non-white Asian nation which the West has been used to exploit and treat with disdain has risen so rapidly that it is now in a position to offer an alternative social, economic and political model to development and progress.

China has not only risen from the depths but is challenging the West in many respects, including economically, technologically, socially and even militarily. The China led the Belt and Road Initiative, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Global Development Initiative, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS Bank, etc, have posed a real challenge to the established world economic order dominated by the West.

The BRI has resulted in the investment of over USD one trillion in the countries of the region and beyond making a tangible contribution to the development of many countries and has pricked the hitherto somnolent West also to participate positively in the development of those countries.

The calculated statements of EA Minister of India, Jaishankar, while emphasising India’s obvious strategic interests, have not overly endorsed the Western approach to China. China has attracted many admirers.

China has risen in a very short period to the position of an economic super power and to become the second largest economy in the world. It is expected to overtake the US economically by the end of this decade. It is also the main source foreign investments in the world, not to mention tourists.

It is also the biggest source in the global supply chain and the most lucrative multi billion dollar consumer market. All this is causing serious discomfort to those countries in the West, giving rise to damaging efforts at delinking, which were so used to dominating the world unchallenged. China’s technological advancement is nothing short of spectacular.

There could even be racist undertones to the criticisms being directed at China, a poor Asian country formerly dominated and exploited willy nilly by the West and to the reluctance to accept its new status and its own model of development. (One recalls that in the 1980s, a resurgent Japan experienced a similar process of vicious containment resulting in twenty years of stagflation).

China, for its part, has not articulated any desire to dominate or influence its economic partners and others or impose its political and economic model on anyone else. On the contrary, it has consistently expressed a desire to achieve a common future and a goal of shared prosperity, without domination. To judge Chinese intentions through the prism of the West’s own historical experience is patently wrong.

Both India and China are over dependent on Indian Ocean sea routes for the transport of their energy needs. While both would want to ensure the safety and security of Indian Ocean sea routes, both should also take adequate measures to prevent competition from blowing into confrontations of unmanageable proportions.

China has never expressed interest in establishing bases in the Indian Ocean region or acquiring territory. Its only military base in the region is in Djibouti established as part of a multinational effort to counter pirates.

The West which has been dominating the region since 1500 AD tends ascribe similar motives to China against the background of its own past record. (The situation with regard to Hambantota which has crept in the West’s narrative requres a longer explanation).

Sri Lanka’s initiative in the 1970s to establish an Indian Ocean Zone of Peace, although designed to contain the then prevalent super power rivalry in the Indian Ocean, may become relevant again in the contemporary context.

The situation in the Maldives should NOT be viewed purely from the Western lens and characterised as a simple case of China – India rivalry for regional influence. The domestic Islamic political imperatives and the resulting political pressures on the Maldivian leadership are important factors.

It is a fact that Chinese companies have been proactive in developing infrastructure in Maldives for sometime and their work is of good quality. India’s official reaction to the Maldivian measures has been measured. China has signed a number of bilateral agreements with the Maldives and Maldives readily agreed to accept a ship visit from a Chinese research vessel which was denied access to Sri Lankan ports due to Indian pressure.

Some critics argue that Chinese investments in Sri Lanka are part of a larger geopolitical strategy by China to expand its influence in the region.

This assertion needs to be stripped of its polemical outer layer to appreciate its essential shallowness. To begin with, it is mainly raised by commentators from countries which had rapaciously exploited vast swathes of the non white world through conquest and colonialism for centuries and continuing economic domination, conveniently ignoring their ongoing depradations.

Sri Lanka, which desperately needs development funding, has welcomed the China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the highest levels. It has not sought to exclude anyone else from participating in our development process. We have steadfastly asserted our non-aligned status and our neutrality.

In fact, our President has characterized the AUKUS alliance, which is designed to contain China, as a mistake. The Sri Lankan Prime Minister visited China this week and was received at the highest levels.

China has already invested around USD one trillion in the countries that joined the BRI, and more is forthcoming. Sri Lanka needs to develop fast and has no option but to welcome investment funding from all sources.

As a sovereign and independent state, Sri Lanka must be free to select its own development partners and its own development model. In the process, it has not sought to exclude anyone nor posed a threat to anyone, directly or indirectly. Sri Lanka has welcomed all friendly countries to participate in its development process.

I would not characterise Sri Lanka’s approach to development as a balancing act. It is not. Sri Lanka must work with all countries to achieve its own development objectives which should not be held hostage to the unfounded sensitivities of any other party.

Dr Palitha Kohona is also a former Sri Lanka Foreign Secretary, Head of the UN Treaty Section, chairman, UN Indian Ocean Committee and Chairman of the UN’s Sixth Committee.

IPS UN Bureau

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