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Tuesday:  October 27, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Thursday
Nov012012

Superstorm Sandy Is ‘What Global Warming Looks Like’ (REPORT) 

(Video: Global Climate News)

(November 1, 2012) - Many environmentalists are blaming climate change for the appearance of superstorm Sandy that has wreaked such devastation on New York, New Jersey and 15 other states along the United States Atlantic Seaboard up through New England. Some meteorologists disagree, contending that Sandy would have occurred even without a warming climate.

Fred Krupp, who heads the Manhattan-based nonprofit group Environmental Defense Fund, said today, “Sandy is not just a weather disaster but also a climate disaster.”

“As a consequence of global climate change caused by human activities, sea levels are higher, the Atlantic waters are warmer, and there’s more moisture in the atmosphere – three of the reasons this storm packed such destructive force,” said Krupp.

The death toll due to Sandy is up to at least 50 people, and the number could still increase as search and rescue workers complete their grim tasks.

More than 8.2 million households lost power in 17 states as far west as Michigan after the superstorm made landfall near Atlantic City Monday night.

(PHOTO: Half of NYC is dark after superstorm Sandy/Andrew Burton) Nearly two million of those households are in New York City, where Con Edison shut off the power and steam, used to heat high-rise buildings, to lower Manhattan.

Four nuclear power plants in New York and New Jersey were affected – three shut down and one on Alert status due to flood waters and power outages.

Consolidated Edison said electricity in and around New York could take a week to restore.

For two days, the New York Stock Exchange was closed but finally reopened on Wednesday. In a sign that some semblance of normalcy is returning to New York, the Stock Exchange plans to open tomorrow with Mayor Bloomberg ringing the opening bell.

Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE Euronext said, “We are pleased to be able to return to normal trading. Our building and systems were not damaged and our people have been working diligently to ensure that we have a smooth opening tomorrow. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and communities suffering in the wake of this terrible natural disaster.”

The complete shutdown of mass transit brought the city to a standstill. Buses began running again on some routes Tuesday afternoon, the first move towards in restoring New York City’s public-transit system. Officials said restoration of full service, including the flood-damaged subways, could take days.

All four major airports in the New York-New Jersey area were closed for two days, but JFK and Newark airports reopened on Wednesday at noon. Laguardia and Teterboro airports are still closed until further notice.

(PHOTO: Laguardia airport's runway underwater after Sandy strikes/JetBlue)All this is the result of climate change caused by burning fossil fuels, which burdens Earth’s atmosphere with megatonnes of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, environmentalists contend.

Bill McKibben, who heads the healthy climate advocacy group 350.org said today, “The fossil fuel industry is causing the climate crisis, leading to more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. We’re calling on Big Oil to stop spending millions to influence this election and donate the money to disaster relief instead. Instead of funding climate silence, they should be funding climate relief.”

“The fossil fuel industry has spent over $150 million to influence this year’s election,” said McKibben. “Last week, Chevron made the single biggest corporate political donation since the Citizens United decision. This industry warps our democracy just as it pollutes our atmosphere. And we’ve had enough. In the coming year, we’re going to fight both forms of this pollution. Our biggest organizing effort ever begins one week from tomorrow, the Do the Math tour that will, we hope, ignite a long-lasting campaign to force the fossil fuel industry to change.”

(PHOTO: Sandy from space on Monday/NASA)“Sandy is what happens when the temperature goes up a degree. The scientists who predicted this kind of megastorm have issued another stark warning: if we stay on our current path, our children will live on a super-heated planet that’s four or five degrees warmer than it is right now. We can’t let that happen,” said McKibben. “So let’s get to work.”

But Dan Kottlowski, an expert senior meteorologist with Accuweather, is not convinced that the destructive storm is the result of a warming climate. He says it was so damaging not because of its strength, but because of its track.

“The storm track for Sandy was pretty common for an October storm,” Kottlowski told ENS. “But most hightail it out to the east. We’ve never seen it turn to the northwest before, and that’s why it struck New Jersey and New York Harbor. Climate change would not explain that.”

“I don’t think you can say one storm is the result of the impact of climate change,” Kottlowski said. “If we didn’t have a warming climate would this have happened? My answer is yes, it still would have happened.”

He explained that hurricanes are more likely to form over warm oceans and the Atlantic Ocean goes through a cycle of warming every 40 years. “We’re in the middle of that cycle right now,” Kottlowski said. “Most climatologists think we’ll have a warm part of the cycle for the next 15 years. The same thing happened in the 1950s and the 1930s. It’s not related to climate change.”

Kottlowski said to determine if Sandy was in fact caused by climate change, we will have to wait another 15 years to find out if the Atlantic Ocean cools down when the cooling part of its cycle would normally come around.

“The number of tropical cyclones across the world has not changed during the past 100 years, the only place it has changed is over the Atlantic Ocean and that has to do with the ocean’s salinity,” he said.

Dr. William Gray at Colorado State University’s Department of Atmospheric Science maintains that “CO2 increases are not responsible for Atlantic SST [sea surface temperature] and hurricane activity increases.”

(DIAGRAM: The atmospheric exchange between oceans and air/NOAA)In his forecast of Atlantic hurricane activity in the second half of the 2012 hurricane season, Dr. Gray says, “We have no plausible physical reasons for believing that Atlantic hurricane frequency or intensity will significantly change if global or Atlantic Ocean temperatures were to rise by 1-2°C. Without corresponding changes in many other basic features, such as vertical wind shear or mid-level moisture, little or no additional TC [tropical cyclone] activity should occur with SST increases.”

“Atlantic SSTs and hurricane activity do not follow global mean temperature trends,” contends Dr. Gray.

But many environmentalists are not persuaded.

Dan Lashof, who heads the Natural Resources Defense Fund, blogged, “This mega-storm is just one more sign of the new normal that will continue as long as we keep avoiding addressing climate change. Just like the unprecedented droughts, flooding and heat we all experienced this year, storms like Hurricane Sandy is what global warming looks like. This is the new normal.”

The Surfrider Foundation today spoke of “the real and devastating effects that are being caused by rising sea levels.”

“While the superstorm is an extremely rare event that cannot be directly blamed on climate change, our warming oceans are creating the latent potential for more frequent and more powerful storms,” the national organization of surfers said in a statement. “When powerful storms combine with increased sea level rise and intense coastal development, they provide the ingredients for massive destruction, loss of life and major economic losses.”

Krupp, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “Today, as we rush to ensure the safety of our loved ones and communities, we should remember that unless we finally get serious about climate solutions there can be no lasting protection from the ferocity of our warming world.”

---This article first appeared on the Environment News Service website.

Friday
Oct192012

Fiji’s Leadership of G77 a ‘Rare Opportunity’ for the Pacific  (ANALYSIS)

By Catherine Wilson

BRISBANE, Australia - For the first time in 48 years, a Pacific Small Island Developing State (PSIDS) is gearing up to assume chairmanship of the Group of 77 developing nations plus China.

In 2013, the Republic of Fiji – located between Vanuatu and Tonga in the South Pacific and currently under a military government led by Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama – will take leadership of the largest intergovernmental coalition within the United Nations, replacing the incumbent chair, Algeria.

“Fiji’s election to the Chair of the Group of 77 and China (G77) for 2013 demonstrates the international community’s (confidence in us) to preside over the 132-member organization in its endeavour to advance international matters that are of great importance to all developing countries,”  Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, Fiji’s minister for foreign affairs and international cooperation, told IPS.

The G77 was formed in 1964 with 77 founding member states, representing a collective ambition by developing nations to advance their international voice and influence on world trade.

(MAP: G77 Nations/Wikipedia) Since then, the G77, now comprising 132 member states, has championed South-South cooperation as a key strategy to boost standards of living and economic fortunes in the global South.

The intergovernmental group, which has identified the eradication of poverty as one of its greatest challenges, was also influential in developing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to a United Nations report last year, South-South cooperation has boosted development and investment between developing countries and is a formidable driver of economic growth.  Between 1990 and 2008 world trade expanded four-fold, while South-South trade multiplied more than 20 times.

Fiji’s rising role

Fiji’s new role within the UN was confirmed at the G77 foreign ministers’ meeting in New York on September 28.

The island state, with a population of about 868,000 spread over more than 330 islands, has an economy dominated by the sugar and tourism industries, as well as the highest national human development ranking within the Pacific sub-region of Melanesia.

However, an ongoing struggle for political power between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians – descendants of nineteenth century Indian immigrant laborers – has fuelled four military coups since 1987.

(MAP: Melanesia/Wikipedia) During the most recent one in 2006, Bainimarama, commander of Fiji’s military forces, took over the presidency and dissolved parliament in an alleged attempt to stifle corruption.

His declared aim is to reform the race-based electoral system and draft a new constitution, following nationwide consultations, ahead of planned democratic elections in 2014.

But Fiji’s refusal to hold democratic elections by 2010 led to international sanctions and its suspension in 2009 from the Commonwealth and the Pacific Islands Forum, a regional intergovernmental group of independent and self-governing states.

The government of Fiji currently receives significant economic aid and political support from China.  It also remains politically engaged in the South-west Pacific as an active member of the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an intergovernmental group comprising Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caledonia.

Nikunj Soni, board chair of the Pacific Institute of Public Policy (PIPP), an independent regional think tank based in Port Vila, Vanuatu, told IPS that with the emergence of a range of advocacy platforms, such as the MSG and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Pacific Islands Forum was no longer the sole organization through which the islands could coordinate a voice.

“Fiji’s chairmanship of the G77 will give the country’s leadership a chance to reach out to the rest of the region by way of consultation in order to make sure a regional voice can be heard on the international stage,” Soni told IPS. “The Pacific will have a rare opportunity to represent itself on the global stage…”

(MAP: Countries of the Pacific Island Forum/Wikipedia) This is becoming increasingly important for the Pacific Islands as neighboring superpowers like China and the US set their sights on the archipelago as a crucial geo-strategic location. China is increasing its investment and presence in the islands, while the U.S. has made moves to renew its engagement with the Pacific region in areas ranging from aid to security, and has deepened defense ties with Australia.

The Pacific Islands are also rich in mineral, forest and marine resources. The PIPP emphasized that increasing the region’s international voice on issues of security and resource management in the context of climate change was a top priority.

“With the Pacific Ocean covering half of the world’s ocean area and one third its total surface area, the region contains some of the largest unexploited natural resources and some of the most climate vulnerable nations on earth,” Soni explained.

“It remains important that small island developing states are not used by larger powers as proxies for their own geopolitical battles. At the same time, we must be able to protect our natural resources for the benefit of our own peoples.”

The global influence of the G77 will only increase as developing countries, especially Brazil, China and India, emerge as the new leaders of world economic growth. According to this year’s UN global economic outlook, developing countries will grow an average of 5.9 percent in 2013, while developed countries are likely to average only 1.9 percent growth.

But this year’s G77 Ministerial Meeting in New York also highlighted many challenges ahead for the coalition of developing nations, including the impact of the global financial crisis on world trade, food security, the fight against poverty, technology transfers and efforts to combat the severe effects of climate change.

“More recently, the G77 has taken on negotiating positions in areas of climate change and sustainable development, the two areas which PSIDS focuses on in New York,” Kubuabola stated. “These are the two areas Fiji wishes to place emphasis on to ensure that the interests of all developing countries, including those of PSIDS, are effectively addressed.”

During a speech at the G77 meeting in September, UN Under-Secretary-General for economic and social affairs, Wu Hongbo, pointed out that the G77 also had an influential role to play in drafting the global Sustainable Development Goals, one outcome of the Rio+20 Earth Summit held in Brazil in June.

-- This article first appeared on InterPress Service.

Tuesday
Oct162012

High food prices top UN agenda on World Food Day (REPORT) 

(Video: World Food Programme)

Rome: Global governance of food security and a so-called new world food order were on the table at World Food Day talks held by the United Nations on Tuesday in the face of drought and high prices.

The United Nations focused the talks in Rome on lowering food prices which have been pushed up by droughts in Australia and the United States and a drop in harvests in Europe and the Black Sea region.

A meeting at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization chaired by French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll brought together ministers from 20 countries including major producers and import-dependent developing countries.

“The key is to ensure global governance on food issues,” Le Foll said.  “Discussions were held on transparency in agricultural markets, the coordination of international actions, response to the global demand for food and the fight against the effects of volatility,” he added.

FAO chief Jose Graziano Da Silva said: “Food prices and volatility have increased in recent years. This is expected to continue in the medium-term.”

He said new mechanisms for stronger global governance of food security that are being set up were part of “a new world order that needs to emerge.”

(PHOTO: YemenFoxNet)But there were divisions among participants at the meeting, with the United States voicing strong opposition to the proposal of setting up strategic food reserves in particularly vulnerable countries, to be tapped when prices spike.

Graziano Da Silva said establishing reserves could be “an instrument to avoid poor countries paying the price” of price rises — although FAO’s official position is only in favor of setting up “small emergency stocks”.

“If you bolster the size of the stocks, you increase difficulties in terms of costs and management,” said FAO’s David Hallam, who is in charge of markets.

Millions go hungry

Around 870 million people in the world suffer from hunger, even though gains have been made in recent years when the United Nations estimated 1 billion people on the planet were not getting enough to eat. Still, the number is troubling.

FAO said the talks were aimed at boosting “the effectiveness of measures to address food price volatility and to reduce its impact on the most vulnerable.”

Global food prices rose by 1.4 per cent last month, after holding steady for two months, as cereals, meat and dairy prices climbed, the FAO said earlier.

The food import bill for poor countries is therefore estimated to rise by 3.7 percentage points from last year to $36.5 billion.

The FAO estimates that about 870 million people in the world - or one in eight humans - suffer from hunger, saying the figure is “unacceptably high” even though it has gone down from more than a billion in the early 1990s.

The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, said that figure rises to 1.5 billion people if you include malnourishment which hampers the physical and psychological developments of children.

(PHOTO: Agriaim)When global food prices rise as they are doing now “it is not just that there are fewer meals but the meals are also less varied,” De Schutter said, adding: “This threat is not really seen as a priority but it should be.”

Graziano Da Silva said it was vital to help small farmers as a way of combating hunger and World Food Day events highlighted the crucial role played by farming cooperatives in the developing world.

He underlined the fact that the figure of the number of people suffering from hunger had stopped going down over the past five years.  “The numbers are increasing in Africa and the Middle East,” he said.

“We cannot tolerate this in a land of plenty where production is sufficient for everyone,” he said, adding that the funds for aid and agriculture budgets had gone down over the past three decades, stranding small farmers.  “They have had to fight to adapt,” he said.

Graziano Da Silva added that promises made by governments to eradicate hunger made when prices hit record highs in 2007 and 2008 had not been kept.

The non-governmental group Action Against Hunger said that “some 100 million more people have become under-nourished” due to the price rises of 2008.

In a message to mark World Food Day, Pope Benedict hailed cooperatives as “an expression of true subsidiarity” and urged the international community to come up with legal and financial mechanisms to strengthen them.

The pope also emphasized the “vital role” played by women in cooperatives.

- This article appeared in GulfNews.

Tuesday
Oct092012

Six people confirmed dead, more missing after small boat capsizes off Mayotte (REPORT) 

(PHOTO: A boat carrying asylum seekers & migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. UNHCR/L.Boldrini)(October 9, 2012) - Six people died and 10 are still missing after a small vessel carrying 24 people capsized on Monday morning off the French territory of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, the United Nations Refugee Agency reported today.

“The capsizing is a reminder of the risks faced by people desperate to escape poverty, conflict and persecution,”  Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.

“As in the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden, the seas around Mayotte are the scene of irregular movements of migrants and refugees searching for a better life or protection from persecution and war.”

This is the second such tragedy in a month, bringing to 69 the number of people reported dead or missing after incidents off Mayotte this year.

For decades, people have been using small open vessels known as “kwassa-kwassa” to sail from the Comoros to the more prosperous French territory of Mayotte, according to UNHCR.

(PHOTO: A general view of the island of Mayotte/UNHCR)Most of these movements take place without the requisite documentation and involve considerable risk to those attempting them. Asylum-seekers account for a small proportion of these movements but their numbers have been increasing in the last two years, Mr. Edwards said.

UNHCR said that last year there were some 1,200 applications for asylum in Mayotte, 41 per cent more than in 2010. The largest proportion of applicants – about 90 per cent – came from the Comoros, with citizens from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Rwanda and Burundi, accounting for the rest.

- This report first appeared at the UN News Centre

Welcome to Mayotte

Mayotte:  Is an overseas department and region of France consisting of a main island, Grande-Terre a smaller island, Petite-Terre, and several islets around these two. The archipelago is located in the northern Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean, namely between northwestern Madagascar and northeastern Mozambique. Mayotte's area is 374 square kilometers and with its estimated 194,000 people is very densely populated. Its biggest city and prefecture is Mamoudzou. The territory is geographically part of the Comoro Islands, but has been politically separate since a 1974 referendum in which it elected to remain under French rule. The territory is also known as Mahoré, the native name of its main island, especially by advocates of its inclusion in the Union of Comoros. In a 2009 referendum, the population overwhelmingly approved accession to status of department. On March 31, 2011, Mayotte became an overseas department. (By Alex Ohan)

Friday
Sep282012

When businessmen become philanthropists (REPORT) 

By Jamie Smyth

(PHOTO: Chuck Feeney) When Chuck Feeney sold Duty Free Shoppers, the multibillion-dollar business he had cofounded 36 years earlier, to Bernard Arnault, head of Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, he didn’t rush out and spend his $1.67 billion windfall on luxury. Instead, he turned full-time philanthropist.

“I became convinced that there was greater satisfaction from giving my money away and seeing something come out of the ground, like a hospital or a university,” he says, sitting in the Dublin offices of Atlantic Philanthropies, the foundation he created in 1982. “It just seemed logical to put the money to good use rather than putting it into a bank account and letting it accumulate and accumulate.”

Wearing a $15 digital watch and a crumpled shirt, he could easily be mistaken for one of the American tourists outside. “This watch tells me the time better than a Rolex. When you are 81-years-old, you don’t really need a lot of the trappings of wealth,” he says.

The Irish-American from New Jersey has spent most of his life doing everything he can to stay out of the limelight. This has included forcing recipients of $6.2 billion in donations from his Atlantic Philanthropies foundation to pledge not to reveal the source of their funds or risk losing them.

But following a decision in July by the charity to donate its final $1.3 billion by 2016 and wind up its global operations after 30 years of giving, he wants to talk about his philosophy of “giving while living”. Well, sort of. Shy and self-effacing, Feeney generally prefers asking questions to answering them; he evidently likes giving his money away better than giving interviews.

Feeney founded Atlantic Philanthropies when Duty Free Shoppers was expanding aggressively across the US, Asia and the Middle East. Two years after launching Atlantic, when he was on the cusp of becoming a billionaire, he secretly decided to sign over the vast bulk of his wealth and his 38.75 per cent stake in the company to the charity, leaving himself $5 million to live on.

The transaction was completed secretly in 1984 in the Bahamas and remained undiscovered for more than a decade, leading Forbes magazine wrongly to list Feeney as a billionaire and one of the richest individuals in the US.

Feeney was inspired by the essay Wealth by Andrew Carnegie, in which the 19th-century Scottish-American industrialist argued that the rich had a responsibility to distribute his wealth.

“It is logical for a US person to give their money away while they are alive as the government will take it from you when you die in taxes,” says Feeney.

Arnault might agree. This month, the French businessman caused an uproar when it emerged that he had applied for Belgian citizenship. One mooted explanation was the country’s favourable inheritance tax regime. “That guy [Arnault] is in the news today because he is trying to get residency in Belgium,” says Feeney, grinning. “You’d have to pay me to live there.”

Still, he defends the right of the wealthy such as Arnault to take “advantage of opportunity” in structuring their tax affairs. “Everybody sets up a structure that fits their purposes,” says Feeney, who based his own company and charity offshore, reducing their exposures to US taxes.

Is it hypocritical for tax exiles to become involved in philanthropy?  “I bet it is the government saying that,” he retorts.

Still, he is critical of the culture of greed and banking, which he says contributed to the financial crisis. “There is a need to fix certain things and make sure that excesses aren’t the norm,” he says.

He points to the ghost estates that blight the Irish landscape as evidence of the gross materialism that took over the country. But the Irish crash has not made him regret providing $1.5 billion in donations to the country. “It does seem unfair but that is what life is about,” he says.

Feeney’s philanthropic achievements have ranged from building hospitals in the US to increasing the number of nurses in South Africa. But it is probably in the education sector that the charity has had the biggest impact. This year Atlantic Philanthropies gave $350m to Cornell University, Feeney’s alma mater, to build a new high-tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York. It has also pumped almost $1 billion into education projects in Ireland.

The educational focus perhaps reflects Feeney’s own experiences of charitable giving. “I was with a special services unit in the Korean war and when I got out the biggest thing I got was a GI scholarship,” says Feeney, who was the first person in his family to attend university. Born into a working-class neighbourhood in Elizabeth, New Jersey during the Depression, Feeney says he saw how people struggled to make ends meet. To make a few dollars during his childhood he shovelled snow, cut lawns and caddied. “My claim to fame was I never lost a golf ball,” he says.

His entrepreneurial activity continued when he went to college, where he earned the nickname “sandwich man” for selling lunches to help pay his way.

When he travelled to Europe to study he spotted a gap in the market and began selling drinks, perfume and cigarettes to sailors on US ships stationed in Europe in the 1950s. “The Navy supply officers liked an American accent."

Feeney’s big break came a few years later when he won the concession to operate a duty-free business at Honolulu airport, which was on the cusp of a Japanese-led tourist boom. In the decades that followed, DFS expanded globally.

Aside from his philanthropic work, Feeney made an important contribution to the peace process in Northern Ireland. He became involved following an IRA bomb in 1987, which killed 11 people in Enniskillen, the town were his grandparents were born. At a time when Sinn Fein was ostracised due to its links with IRA violence, Feeney contacted Gerry Adams, the party’s leader, believing he was serious about pushing towards a peace process.

“We thought this guy could deliver what he said he could deliver. We were lucky to have Bill Clinton as president who bought the idea,” says Feeney, who funded Sinn Fein’s Washington office with a personal donation rather than a grant from his charity.

As he begins to wind down the activities of Atlantic Philanthropies, Feeney is turning his attention to persuading others to follow in his footsteps.

He is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, an initiative devised by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to persuade wealthy Americans to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. “There are only about 80 families signed up for this. We need a multiple of what we are doing to achieve our purpose,” he says.

But as he approaches his 82nd birthday, has his philosophy changed with age? “I can’t chase girls anymore because I realise now that I can’t catch them,” he says. “I don’t think age has changed my outlook - you are supposedly older and wiser but have to roll with the pitch.”

-- This article first appeared in GULFNEWS

Monday
Sep242012

“A Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”: A United Nations Initiative  (REPORT)

(Illustration: Sarah Nguyen) (HN, 9/24/12) - On the International Day of Peace on September 21, United Nations officials, experts and a movie star gathered at UN headquarters in New York City to propose pathways to lasting peace and tolerance, particularly in the wake of violence triggered by a critical video portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.  

Two afternoon panels, called a “high-level” debate on “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future,” were hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  

UNESCO Director-General and conference moderator Irina Bokova called for renewed commitment by all to respect, tolerance and mutual understanding. The UN agency has announced an International Decade of the Rapprochement of Cultures for 2013-2023.

In denouncing current incidences of bloodshed and unrest as “deplorable and unjustifiable,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the full-capacity room that We cannot let the voices of extremists dominate the debate and inflame tensions. We need voices of moderation and solidarity, reason and respect – especially from religious and political leaders.”

“We must be relentless in standing for our values – peace, human rights and respect for all people,” he said.

The role of young people was emphasized. Earlier in the day at a youth assembly, the Secretary General Ban implored youth to “de-friend” -- borrowing a term from Facebook -- intolerance, and instead to use the hashtag “Represent Yourself” to tweet a message of peace and global understanding. 

(PHOTO: IAAP UN representative Judy Kuriansky with former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández/HUMNEWS)Former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernández recommended that youth around the world participate in filmmaking, theatre, performing arts, sports, radio and television programs, oriented towards peace, non-violence and cultural diversity.

“How do you capture the mind of a 10-year old” about peace?” asked scholar and philanthropist Nasser David Khalili, Founder of the Khalili Collections of art and Chairman of the Maimonides Foundation which promotes peace and understanding among the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  An exercise he uses to teach tolerance asks groups to examine the skins of lemons, which are then placed back into a basket and mixed up. When asked to identify their own and unable to do so, the lesson becomes obvious that lemons, like human beings, are the same. 

The media came under critical eye.  While the UN Secretary General cited the importance of social media to promote dialogue and better communication, Fernández challenged new media to become either a "Brightnet.com" or "Darknet.com"

He described the choice as either serving hatred and insult to human dignity and cherished religious beliefs, as reflected in the recent circulation of the video about the Prophet Mohammed, or to become “the ideal catalyst for peace, knowledge, understanding, solidarity and pluralism in a new world order characterized for being borderless, wireless and interconnected.”

To accomplish this, Fernández recommended a new international legal approach to the use of cyberspace and global digital media, to “prohibit and punish blasphemy as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence toward something considered sacred.” The new laws would be binding on UN member states.

That communication is key was underscored by Arjun Apparadurai, Goddard Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.  Communication is even more important, he said, than information, which is subject to mis-information.  To be effective, communication must take into account the stark contrast between violence that spreads rapidly and virally, and peace that spreads slowly and gradually.

(PHOTO: Pictured from left to right former President of the Dominican Republic Leonel Fernandez; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic/Dr. Judy Kuriansky)Several presenters cited the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, which declares that "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." The phrase is also engraved in 10 languages on the Tolerance Square Wall at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.

Humorously noting gender bias in this phrase, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Lakshmi Puri made an impassioned appeal to recognize the role of women and girls as agents of sustainable peace in the context of the three pillars of the UN: social development; peace and security; and human rights. 

Pointing out women’s capacity for love and talent for consensus-building, her recommendations included that women and girls be involved in peace negotiations, included in political participation, and afforded economic empowerment. Condemning all violence against women and girls, she pointed out that peace is not an absence of violence but zero tolerance of violence.

“Gender justice is a means and an end to sustainable peace,” Puri said.   

Poverty was identified by several panelists as a major cause of violence. “Poverty and hunger make men fight,” explained Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  Other causes of violence he cited include dictatorships; resources, whether available or lacking, and “rivalry of great powers.”

The newly elected President of the 67th session of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Vuk Jeremić of Serbia, eloquently described personal distress over the destruction by the Taliban of the Buddha statues, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and symbol of peace.  Condemning such violence as “ignorance at the root of intolerance,” he called for the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means and a “new type of humanism,” emphasizing the vital importance of education and culture as building blocks for peace as “the fabric of daily life.”

(PHOTO: IAAP UN representative Dr. Judy Kuriansky with Forest Whitaker, actor & UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador/HUMNEWS)The role of religion was examined by Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate for Literature in 1986 and member of the UNESCO High Panel on Peace and Dialogue among Cultures. Noting dramatically that “religion has been used as an enemy of humanity – in fact as a crime,” he called for a stop to such “infantile efforts” to sabotage rational discourse.

Darkhan Myngbay, Minister of Culture and Information of the Republic of Kazakhstan, affirmed his country’s support of UNESCO initiative for peace and non-violence. 

Academy-award winning actor Forest Whitaker, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation, described his moving experience as an African American first visiting Africa.

“Being in Africa gave me a deep understanding of all humanity,” he said. “The connection amongst us all as crucial…We must always see the face of ourselves in others.”  Healing comes from feeling peace within ourselves, he said.

Whitaker, who won an Academy Award for his 2006 portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the film, The Last King of Scotland, launched a new humanitarian project in Uganda, as well as in South Sudan, through his new Peace Earth Foundation that focuses on peace-building and community empowerment in areas of conflict. 

While he has appeared inn war-themed films, Oliver Stone's film Platoon and Good Morning Vietnam, the acclaimed actor emphasized his commitment to peace, evidenced in the International Institute for Peace which he co-founded.  The Institute at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey, now under the auspices of UNESCO, develops programs and partnerships about issues such as poverty reduction, community-building, climate change, and the important role of women and spiritual and religious leaders in peace-building. Whitaker’s commitment to combat youth violence was inspired by growing up in dangerous South Central, Los Angeles.

Solutions to violence posed by the panelists highlighted education.  Other solutions, offered by Sachs, included the elimination of poverty and hunger, investing in development rather than the military, and term limits of leaders.

Reflecting on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis, when a world war was averted, Sachs quoted U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s remarks about peace, that "So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal.”

In the Q and A session, a 12-year boy from Lexington Massachusetts, attending the session with his mother, asked “What can I do to change the world?”  Ms. Bokova’s answer punctuated the day’s events, as she advised, “Believe it and you can do it.”

--- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is the Main United Nations NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and a member of HUM's Board of AdvisorsA licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Teachers College,she is world renowned as a humanitarian who has led workshops on peace, trauma recovery, crisis counseling and on her unique East/West intervention programs around the world, from Argentina to India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Israel, the UAE, and Iran. She has worked in disaster relief and psychological first aid at Ground Zero after 9/11, after SARS in China, bombings in Jerusalem, earthquakes in Australia and Haiti, the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the tsunami/earthquake in Japan, information about which is on www.DrJudy.com. An award-winning journalist and accomplished author, she is a tireless advocate for media which sheds light.

Wednesday
Sep192012

Globalization and its Discontents (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video: WissensWerte)

By Abdulaziz H. Al-Fahad

The recent eruption of violence in various Muslim capitals directed at the U.S. (and other Western) embassies, with tragic losses in life and property, is a predictable, if sad, consequence of globalization. The world is increasingly pulled together by the relentless push of modern technology and integrated economic systems on the one hand, and simmering conflicts periodically manifested on the cultural realm, on the other. The occasion for the latest uproar, the anti-Muslim "movie" denigrating the Prophet of Islam, is the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict that appears to become more aggravated over time, in no small measure due to growing Islamophobia in the West. The conflict is also helped now by the weakening security apparatus in the various Arab states experiencing mass uprisings, and the ability of various groups to exploit this vacuum to further their own political goals.

A few decades ago, this movie, or a preacher threatening to burn the Quran in Florida, or a cartoon published in a Danish newspaper would have passed, in all likelihood, unnoticed (at least by the offended parties), let alone cause major violent protests spanning continents. But in our globalized present, with the various tools of instant communication and social networking available to large swathes of humanity, what happens in a faraway place is immediately splashed everywhere, often with deadly results as we are witnessing today. Within this diverse yet networked humanity, where marginal figures are empowered, someone invariably takes offense at perceived insults emanating from distant lands. Despite all the energetic and well-meaning condemnations by sensible parties on both sides, it is unlikely that we will see an end to this cycle anytime soon.

(PHOTO: BSR) With its rich tradition of freedom of expression and secularization, denigration of religious figures, even when controversial, is protected speech in America. For many Muslims, in contrast, any transgressions on the cherished symbols of their beliefs have nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with a hegemonic West intent on willful and reckless disregard of Muslim sensibilities. For some in the Islamic world, this is the latest manifestation of the longstanding hostility of western Christianity reaching back to the early days of Islam, the Crusades, the colonial legacy, and the establishment of Israel in the heart of the Arab world, not to mention more recent American armed forays in various Muslim territories. This vicious circle of mutual miscomprehension is further compounded by the fixed, if inaccurate, belief within Muslim societies, that whatever happens within the western media must be at least tacitly approved by the relevant governments. In many Muslim countries, freedom of expression within the media barely exists.

Thus the conflict is viewed in starkly different, clashing perspectives. The West appears to frame the issue as a conflict between freedom of expression and censorship, whereas for many in the Islamic world it is a willful insult by a powerful West intent on maintaining its dominance in Muslim lands. If these differences continue to be viewed through these conflicting prisms, there is little hope for an accommodation to ameliorate, let alone stop, these periodic, violent flare-ups.

But Western insistence on framing the issue in terms of freedom of speech versus censorship risks missing a larger point, and borders on disingenuous. Western societies had to grapple with their own sense of balance between permissible and impermissible speech, and not all strike the same balance. While the United States maintains a robust and expansive view of such freedom through its First Amendment jurisprudence, some European societies (and Canada) have opted to carve out a "hate speech" exception criminalizing certain categories of expression. This divergence between the two approaches could be seen, for example, in the treatment of the Holocaust in their respective legal systems. While several countries would view denial of the Holocaust as a crime not protected by freedom of expression and would sanction the perpetrators, U.S. legal tradition would not allow the outright criminalization of such expression but would deal with it essentially by extralegal means, through marginalization and condemnation of transgressors and ensuring that certain matters are taboo and not acceptable in general discourse. 

(PHOTO: File/Foreign Policy) Americans remain faithful to the requirements of the First Amendment while simultaneously banishing offensive language, as determined by domestic American sensibilities, from the public sphere, and by severely delegitimizing those who resort to them and relegating them to the margins of society. In addition to Holocaust denial, the "N" word is perhaps the clearest example of the practical accommodation between free speech and curtailment of the same through non-legal means in the U.S. for the sake of social peace. No one denies anyone's right to use the racist word, but effective social mechanisms ensure that those inclined towards deployment of this offensive language are consigned to the fringe, invariably described as "lunatic."

As admirable as this western tradition of freedom of expression might be in the eyes of many Muslims, they remain unimpressed by a West that finds mocking God, Jesus, Moses or Muhammad to be protected speech but worthy at best of muted condemnation, while denigration of the Holocaust or uttering an offensive racist epithet are either criminalized or rendered into untouchable taboos. From that perspective, the West is not truly wedded to an absolute notion of freedom of expression but instead accommodates its own prejudices with regards to what is "offensive" through both legal and extralegal means. The underlying logic, of course, is grounded in specific cultures and histories, as opposed to universalist ideas, and deference to Muslim sensibilities has certainly not been part of that heritage.

Western societies have come a long way from its early days of crude prejudice and racism - except towards Muslims, one of the last frontiers of acceptable bigotry. The incessant rise in Islamophobia, not just as a fringe phenomenon but within the mainstream, belies Western claims to universalist values. The West has achieved remarkable success in combating its own demons of (anti-black) racism and anti-Semitism, to mention only two salient examples. While many in the West, like the rest of humanity, are not innocent of harboring such hateful sentiments, those who choose to display them are quickly condemned and banished from respectable circles or jailed. But when prejudice and hate is directed against Muslims, the guardians of the boundaries of acceptable speech are either absent or complicit.

Thus the outlawing of minarets in Switzerland is stamped with popular approval; the full veil is rendered into a crime in some European countries (although acknowledged to be a fringe practice, hardly deserving of any attention, let alone the full weight of the law); and opportunistic U.S. politicians hold anti-Muslim hearings and shamelessly peddle the phantom dangers of sharia, calculating that there is only an upside to the matter: classic solutions in search of actual problems. Equally disheartening, well-known Islamophobes are ensconced in mainstream institutions with influence over decision-makers, instead of being treated as outcasts. And Hollywood is still busy doing its best demonizing Muslims typically (with rare exceptions) cast as villains, stereotyping in ways it would not dare do with other groups.

(PHOTO: Tower)The permissive public atmosphere towards Islamophobia has allowed haters to spew their vitriol far and wide without paying any discernible price as would be the case if other communities were involved. A recent advertisement in an American city dubbed Muslims as savages; Muslims very well know if the identity of the target were to be changed to another community (e.g., blacks) the resulting uproar would have been substantial and free speech would have been an irrelevant argument. Inversely, until recently Aljazeera English failed to find cable distributors in the U.S. who had reportedly deferred to the wishes of the State Department.

Rightly or wrongly, there is strong suspicion in many Muslim countries that US bombings of Aljazeera's offices in Afghanistan and Baghdad were more intentional than inadvertent mistakes. It is within this overall unhealthy atmosphere that Muslims' perceptions of the West are formed and informed. The movie is not an isolated incident but a particularly vile version of what is acceptable (as opposed to free) speech in the West.

This is not to absolve Muslims who share the same sin of allowing a permissive atmosphere of intolerance towards others. The West, particularly the U.S., has been vociferously expressing views, especially since 9/11, about anti-western sentiments in the Muslim world. School curricula in many Islamic countries have been revised both in deference to a powerful West making its wishes known, and also in recognition that in an integrated world, such an atmosphere is not only wrong as a matter of principle, but decidedly dangerous. The same applies to intolerant preachers, many of whom had to go through "re-education" and many of whom were purged. No one can claim the Islamic countries work of combating such hate is done, but the trend so far has been in the positive direction, something that cannot be said about many societies in the West.

Yet notwithstanding this move in the right direction within some Islamic societies, the ethos of civil protest is still wanting, despite encouraging signs during the Arab Spring. To express outrage at actions or sayings that are offensive is one thing; to cause death and destruction has to be a red line that Muslim societies have to rigorously impose, a task that is now even more urgent with the removal of authoritarian enforcers and the advent of representative government. The unqualified reaction of condemnation by Libyan citizens (joined by the majority of political, social, and religious leaders throughout the Arab world) against those involved in the murder of personnel in the U.S. consulate in Benghazi is one encouraging sign that violence has become unacceptable as a mode of expression. In contrast, Mitt Romney got it exactly wrong in his hasty denunciation of the condemnation of the "film" by the staff of the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Traditions of free expression preclude banning of speech but provocative bile should be labeled as such.

What is clear in these times is that Muslim sensibilities have not been incorporated by Western societies, and vice versa, and perhaps at this stage in history it is ambitious to expect otherwise. But in this shrinking world, indifference to the sensibilities of others comes with a price. Unfortunately, the comparison of the attacks against the Prophet, seen as deeply offensive by many Muslims, to criticisms of his Biblical counterparts, which is accepted speech in western societies, is a misdiagnosis. Most non-westerners would probably fail to understand why the Holocaust and the "N" word are more sacred and protected than God in the West and why transgressing against them is not tolerated, free speech notwithstanding. Perhaps the West could view some Muslim sensibilities as product of their own specific histories deserving of the same respect accorded to others.

The scenes we are witnessing today are horrifying. People of goodwill must draw the right lessons and work to help bring about an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and respect for matters that may not be readily understandable by everyone. For the West, that means the permissiveness (indeed tolerance) of Islamophobia within respectable circles should no longer be accepted. For Muslim societies, a better appreciation of free speech and the adoption of peaceful protests (including economic boycotts if need be) must replace the mob mentality characteristic of many of the responses over the last several years. The mob mentality is exploited by the more odious elements within Islamic countries who are espousing clearly dangerous and unacceptable notions of permanent war with the rest of the world, which in turn provide fodder for the Islamophobes the world over.

Alas, there is no magic wand to transform ours into a world of sufficient mutual tolerance and respect. But all people of goodwill must do what they can to bring it about where Islamophobia and unbridled anti-western sentiments, if not totally banished, are at least consigned to the margins of civilized discourse and conduct.

--This article, written by Abdulaziz H. Al-Fahad is the Principal in the Law Office of Abdulaziz H. Fahad, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and first appeared in Foreign Policy.

Monday
Sep102012

Australia asylum seekers pour in as others sent to Nauru (REPORT) 

(Video: Al Jazeera English)

(September 11, 2012) - Australia's ruling Labor party still hopes its asylum seeker people-swap deal with Malaysia will succeed, with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen confirming the government would continue to ‘‘vigorously prosecute’’ the  arrangement.

As the government prepares to send the first handful of asylum seekers to Nauru, and boats continue to pour into Australian waters at record levels, Mr. Bowen said the Malaysia deal was still part of his calculations.

"We have been in contact with our Malaysia counterparts at various levels," he said.

(PHOTO: Aerial view of Nauru Island, South Pacific/Wikipedia)The final legislation designating Nauru as an offshore processing location was introduced yesterday as another four boats carrying a combined 265 people were intercepted. This made eight boats since Friday and 2150 asylum seekers on 36 boats arriving in Australia since August 13.

On that day the government announced it would reopen Nauru and Manus Island and warned anyone intercepted after that day risked being taken offshore.

Nauru will have a final capacity for 1500 people, including 500 by the end of this month, and Manus Island is being set up to accommodate 600, for a total offshore capacity of 2100 when both camps are set up.

It will be impossible to send to the camps all that have arrived since August 13, meaning people will be selected from among those who have already arrived. The government hopes it will deter others. The opposition called this a lottery, and said the government must undertake that everyone who arrives from now be sent to Nauru.

''If the government says they are now in a position to send people there for processing then send people there they must,'' the opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said. "Any exceptions on those the government sends to Nauru will only dilute what is already a half-hearted message that this government is sending out to people smugglers.''

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, announced a military team was en route to Papua New Guinea to begin setting up the Manus Island camp. He said there were enough temporary facilities on Nauru to send people there by the end of the week.

(PHOTO: More asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island, South Pacific/Sharon Tisdale)They will be flown there and they will have no idea how long they will stay. The government has yet to finalize the ''no advantage'' period, which will require asylum seekers, even those who are found to be refugees, to spend as long on Nauru and Manus Island as they would if they had stayed in a refugee camp. This period will be several years.

The legislative instrument tabled by Mr. Bowen says it is estimated 704 asylum seekers have died at sea since October 2009, and the cost to the budget over the next four years due to the surge in arrivals is not more than $5 billion.

The imminent transfer of asylum seekers offshore is also not deterring asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Pakistan arriving in Indonesia en route to Australia.

An Afghan refugee in Cisarua, south of Jakarta, told the Herald that only days ago a new group of refugees arrived after flying from Quetta, Pakistan.

"They are coming little by little. Four days ago, 20 people came to Jakarta Airport," said refugee Alemzadeh, who is in Cisarua waiting for a boat to Christmas Island. "They know [about the new policy], but they don't stop. They say it's too dangerous to stay in Pakistan."

Alemzadeh said that for perhaps 15 days after the government's policy was announced, the influx from the war-torn regions had stopped, but it had now resumed. The recent drowning of more than 100 Hazara asylum seekers had also not deterred them.

- This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald by Phillip Coorey and Michael Bachelard and Jessica Wright.

Tuesday
Sep042012

Guyana, Suriname elected to key UN Committees for upcoming United Nations General Assembly (REPORT) 

(SOURCE: WorldAtlas) (September 4, 2012) - Set to make history, today both Guyana and Suriname were selected to chair two of the most important committees at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Guyana will serve as Chair of the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly for the 67th Session, the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced.

In a related development, Ambassador of Suriname to the UN, His Excellency Mr. Henry Mac Donald, was today also elected to chair the Third Committee, making this the first time that two Caribbean Community (CARICOM) representatives will chair Main Committees of the General Assembly during the same session.

The General Assembly body stated:

"The Assembly today elected Guyana's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador George Talbot, by acclamation to chair the Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee).  Ambassador Talbot is the first Representative of a CARICOM Member State at the United Nations to hold the position."

The Second Committee, which deals with a wide range of development matters, will have a full agenda of issues to consider, among them:  macro-economic policy questions, sustainable development issues, including follow-up to the Rio+20 conference, challenges associated with poverty eradication, globalization, international migration and development, and the situation of countries in special circumstances such as Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States.

(Video: UN promo for upcoming 67th UNGA meeting, 2012)

Guyana’s priorities for the upcoming session will include a focus on: food security and agriculture, poverty eradication, climate change related issues, and the developmental impact of inequalities both within and across countries as well as on greater effectiveness and efficiency in the conduct of the work of the Committee.

During Guyana's tenure, the Committee will also undertake the first quadrennial comprehensive policy review of the UN's operational activities for development.  Ambassador Talbot was nominated and endorsed for the post by CARICOM and by the Group of the Latin American and Caribbean States (GRULAC) which include 33 countries, equaling 17% of all UN members.

Additionally, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bangladesh were also elected to the Bureau of the Committee.

Ambassador Talbot, who holds a Bachelor's degree in Modern Languages from the University of Guyana and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is a career diplomat with vast experience in multilateral affairs.

This year's gathering of the UN's world body of 193 nations will is set to convene in New York City on September 18, and will run for two weeks. According to earlier voting, Serbia's Vuk Jeremić was elected president of the United Nations General Assembly; and Jamaica was chosen as the first seat in the General Assembly Chamber meaning they will lead the chamber in order of speeches.

(This article first appeared in Demerara Waves.)

Monday
Aug272012

Tiny Cook Islands Holds Big Pacific Islands Forum (REPORT)

(Video: AustraliaNetworkNews)

RAROTONGA - In the Cook Islands the 43rd annual Pacific Islands Forum  is about to get underway with climate change, trade and regional security expected to top the agenda as major powers vie for influence over a range of issues. The summit will run for a week.

FORUM

The Forum brings together 16 small island nations from across the South Pacific, and includes Australia, Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji  (which remains suspended after the latest military coup in 2006 left the military in charge, and later, court-ordered current President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau; the country then violated a promise to hold elections in 2009 to be dealt the suspension)  Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

A further 41 countries are sending delegations, including China, which has sought to expand its role in the region, where Taiwan has diplomatic recognition from a handful of countries.

(PHOTO: Aerial view of Rarotonga, part of the Cook Islands/Cook Islands Tourism)The Russians have also had mixed success here in winning support.  And in the past year, the United States has signaled a renewed emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, deepening economic and security ties.

Highlighting the growing importance of the forum is the much anticipated arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later in the week.

Clinton’s office has yet to confirm whether she will head the United States delegation but preparations are in place for what locals say would be the most important diplomatic visit since Britain’s Queen Elizabeth came to the Cook Islands in 1974.

CLIMATE CHANGE, BOUNDARY AGREEMENTS

Derek Fox, spokesman for the Forum, says two upcoming votes for non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council will add another layer to lobbying among delegates.

“Chinese have a big interest in the Pacific and that’s probably why the Americans are starting to show an interest again now.  And there are other agencies like the UN and the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank and countries quite distant from here who are showing an interest," said Fox.  "There’s an Israeli group coming and there is a Taiwanese delegation here.”

Fox says other issues include climate change and management of the Pacific Ocean, with announcements expected on a new marine park, boundary agreements and foreign aid packages.

(PHOTO: Tuvalu life/Flickr) For countries like Tuvalu, where the highest point is just 4.6 meters above sea level, aid for coping with climate change is fundamental. Many here believe climate change has also contributed to shifts in tidal patterns that have resulted in erosion of the islands.

Kora Kora, is a local politician and former Mayor of Manahiki, one of the small Cook Islands that sits just four meters above sea level and lies about 1,000 kilometers north of Rarotonga.  He says climate change is the biggest single everyday issue for the people of the Cook Islands and has resulted in a significant shift in migration patterns.

“We’ve lost most of our little islands that is in our lagoon, there’s no longer any soil or gravel on the top, now it’s all submerged under water.  Since 1997 when we had a big cyclone now our population back then was round 580 and up to now it’s down to 260 people on the island, so yes indeed it’s a big issue to talk about climate change,” stated Kora.

Pacific Islanders have complained for years that their interests, particularly in regards to climate change, have been overlooked by much bigger regional powers.  But many believe that the future could be different, with the so-called US “pivot” towards the region, coupled with China’s growing ability to extend its diplomatic reach into the South Pacific.

 --This article first appeared on VOANews, written by Luke Hunt.

Monday
Aug272012

Pacific Islands Forum needs to reaffirm its relevance (PERSPECTIVE)

(MAP: Member states of the Pacific Islands Forum/Wikipedia)FACT:   Rarotonga is the most populous island of the Cook Islands, with a population of 14,153 (census 2006), out of the country's total population of 19,569. The Cook Islands' Parliament buildings and international airport are on Rarotonga. Because it is the most populous island, Cook Islanders may often be referred to as Rarotongan, but they may come from one of the other 14 islands in the group, such as Aitutaki or Mangaia. Rarotonga is a very popular tourist destination with many resorts, hotels and motels. The chief town, Avarua, on the north coast, is the capital of the Cook Islands. (WK)

The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Summit in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands that opens today will be a watershed. It will either forge a new path for the region's pre-eminent institution or give ground to the alternative architecture that has grown since Fiji's suspension from participation.

That the stakes are high is evidenced by the unprecedented attendance of the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be joined by a large Chinese delegation, underscoring the point that the region is geopolitically important.

The summit provides an opportunity for Australia to influence how the region deals with outside powers and on what terms. In recent months Foreign Minister Bob Carr has injected a note of pragmatism into Australia's relations with Fiji and it remains to be seen what impact this will have.

The challenge for the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) is twofold.  First, its place at the centre of regional architecture needs to be cemented in light of the drift towards alternative forms of regional and sub-regional co-operation. Second, it needs an organizational renovation to face the challenges of globalization and development.

Australia and other donors have long identified the PIF as the key institution for implementing development policies in the Pacific. This is the orthodox function of the PIF and one Australia and New Zealand have largely bankrolled for more than 40 years. More recently, the PIF has taken on a diplomatic role. This political role was compounded by the response to the 2006 coup in Fiji as the PIF became the central vehicle for legitimizing the Australian-led sanctions regime.

(MAP: Dive the World) Six years of sanctions have not achieved their stated aims, in so far as Fiji has not returned to democracy. That said, Australia has reaffirmed its leadership to the other members of the PIF and to external powers and organizations such as the US, China, UN and the European Union. However, come 2014 when elections are held in Fiji the rationale for sanctions will end. Fiji will presumably be welcomed back into the PIF and as such Australia and its supporters will be faced with much more challenging diplomacy.

The rise of alternative forms of regionalism is a direct result of Fiji's suspension and poses the largest challenge to Australia. The Melanesian Spearhead Group, engaging with the Pacific meetings and the Pacific Small Island Developing States grouping at the UN have much in common, not the least that Australia is excluded from membership. They are largely driven by Fiji's "Look north plus" policy.

Fiji has made new friends and opened up new avenues of co-operation and as Australia chooses to re-engage it will be operating in a vastly different Pacific seascape. In this climate the continuing relevance of the PIF will need to be demonstrated rather than simply asserted. Fiji is not likely to accept the status quo and may need to be encouraged to resume its engagement with PIF.

The Melanesian Spearhead Group, etc, lack the institutional capacity of the PIF but are growing fast. As such, organizational renovation of the PIF is also a necessity.

The Pacific Islands Forum has greater capacity than other nascent forms of regional co-operation and the potential to remain the clearinghouse for aid. However, its central role is under challenge while its effectiveness is also being questioned. A recent internal review of the PIF Secretariat's operations found much to criticize and sparked a spirited defense from the Secretariat itself. The challenge will be to respond constructively to meet the diverse expectations of its members and the challenge from The Melanesian Group, etc.

Renovation must also focus on the role of the metropolitan powers (Australia and New Zealand). Their dominance of the political agenda highlights the importance of getting the balance between the interests of Pacific Small Islands Developing States and larger powers right. This dominance is relatively new as it arose in the context of former Australian Prime Minister John Howard's Pacific "arc of instability".

It is evident in current Prime Minister Julia Gillard's focus on using the PIF to renew the "Pacific Solution" (the name given to the Australian government policy of transporting asylum seekers to detention centers on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean, rather than allowing them to land on the Australian mainland).

(Video: Al Jazeera)

However, tension in the political agenda is evident in the stalemate over Fiji and is underscored by the growing regional interests of other powers, such as China, Russia and the US.

Australian policymakers have attempted to limit the influence of outside powers in their backyard. However, a failure to closely engage with Pacific interests could also make Australia appear like an outsider to some in the PIF. From this perspective it is no coincidence that sub-regionalism has grown during recent years.

The metropolitan powers have a central role to play, not least in regard to funding, but also in respect to middle-power leadership in relation to the 21st-century challenges facing the Pacific, such as those posed by climate change or illegal fishing in their extended economic zones.

It may be that the Rarotonga summit will be a turning point in the development of Pacific architecture for co-operation. Australia has major strategic interests in the region and it is an opportune time to refocus efforts and to reinforce the enduring nature of Australian support and friendship. Carr's recent leadership towards normalizing relations with Fiji is a positive development, but after six years the switch can't just be turned on. It may be that a possibility for enhanced regional co-operation exists within the PIF itself.

The Polynesian sub-group within the Pacific looks set to expand as the region's main representative body prepares to welcome Hillary Clinton as a VIP visitor.

(DRAWING: The Russian "Rurik" sets anchor near Easter Island on its way through the Pacific Ocean in 1816. Drawing by Louis Choris in early 1816./Wikipedia)Leaders of Polynesian countries are looking favorably at giving full membership to representatives of the indigenous people of New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.

Cook Islands' Prime Minister Henry Puna and his Samoan counterpart Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi said the sub-group would address the issue of expansion in their final communiqué on Friday.

The Polynesian leaders will also discuss ways of improving their countries' access to the latest communications technology.

Two proposals to lay marine cables past the island nations have collapsed. Mrs. Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, is the forum's top-level visitor this year.

-- This article first appeared in the Australian, written by Michael O'Keefe.

Tuesday
Aug212012

Bolivia's Children Face Harsh Work in Young Lives (REPORT) 

(Video: Bolivia children work long days in mines/UNICEF)

(8/21/21) - "I have worked as long as I can remember," says Felix Mamani Mayta, a 14-year-old whose life story illustrates an everyday reality for 850,000 children and adolescents in Bolivia.

Felix, who is still in school, began with small jobs in retail and later as a bicycle delivery boy for his family's business, a combination ice cream shop and meat and poultry distributor.

Witty and full of energy, Felix is a board member of the Union of Boys and Girl Workers of Bolivia, an advocacy group that lobbies Congress and municipal councils for legal protections for children.

The group lobbies "so that working girls and boys have a place in society, so that all children and adolescents are taken into account, so that we are listened to as children," he told AFP.

(PHOTO: El Alto, Bolivia/Wikipedia) Franz Rios Apaza is 13 years old and sells cigarettes in the streets of El Alto, a city bordering La Paz and one of the poorest in the country.

"I began working when I was seven," he said. He worked as a bus driver's assistant, and shined shoes, and any other work he could find.

"I don't have a father, only a mother, and we are three brothers," he said. "I am in school. I go in at seven in the evening and get out at 10 at night, and from there I go sell cigarettes until two or three in the morning."

"I earn 50 bolivianos (about seven dollars) on Fridays and Saturday, when I make more money."

Child labor "is a problem of poverty, not only in Bolivia, but in developing countries," said UNICEF's representative in La Paz, Marco Luigi Corsi, adding that there are no easy solutions.

The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 850,000 children between the ages of five and 17 in Bolivia work and believes that it puts them at physical and psychological risk.

UNICEF, the Bolivian government and non-governmental organizations have identified 23 categories of child labor that all agree are dangerous.

They include work harvesting sugar cane and chestnuts in the lowlands and the Amazon basin, and mining in the Andean highlands.

In a country of 10 million people "there are about 300,000 who are dedicated full time to some form of child labor and between 40 and 60 percent in Bolivia are likely involved in the worst forms of child labor," says UNICEF spokesman Wolfgang Friedl.

"Bolivia is in a worrying situation, but there is recognition among legislators and government officials that the international laws and conventions to eradicate child labor must be fulfilled," he said.

(PHOTO: Jose Gonzales, 14, pushes a wheelbarrow with silver ore along a shaft in a mine in Bolivia in 2010/AFP)Marco de Gaetano, coordinator of an NGO called El Trabajo de Crecer, which operates in Bolivia and Peru, says the goal is to end all forms of exploitation of minors.

"We are betting on the dignity of labor and the elimination of the worst forms of labor," he said.

Despite this, many child workers in Bolivia, especially those involved in commerce, believe they have been strengthened by their experience.

"Most people think that work is something bad, but on the contrary, for us it was a source of experience," said Felix, who said that as a bus driver's assistant he needed to know fractions to make change.

Tania Nava, head of the local municipality's child welfare office, is skeptical of the benefits. "There is an unresolved debate over whether children should work or not," she said.

"Families, for reasons of poverty, are obliged to have all their members work," she said. However there is unanimous agreement that children deserve access to health, education, dignity and to be protected against exploitation and the worst forms of child labor.

-- This article first appeared on France 24.

Wednesday
Aug152012

Oceans suffering from sea sickness, says study (REPORT) 

(Video: Learn just how much we owe these vast ocean habitats/Conservation International)

(HN, 8/15/12) - Seychelles and Germany have the healthiest seas of any inhabited territory, while Sierra Leone has the unhealthiest, according to a new index that says many oceans score poorly for biodiversity and as a human resource.

Topping the list with a score of 86 out of 100 was the uninhabited South Pacific territory of Jarvis Island, owned by the United States, as well as a clutch of other unpopulated Pacific Ocean islands.

The Seychelles, one of only two developing nations in the top 12, ranked fourth with a score of 73 out of 100 -- the same as that of Germany.

(PHOTO: Ocean Inquiry Project) The index was devised by researchers in the US and Canada who measured whether the world's oceans are able to provide food and recreation while also sustaining sea life.

They examined the overall condition of 171 exclusive economic zones (EEZs) - sea areas managed by coastal countries and stretching up to 200 nautical miles into the ocean.

The 171 EEZs represent 40 percent of the world's ocean, but yield the bulk of sea-derived food, recreation and means of livelihood.

Put together, the EEZs scored 60 out of 100, suggesting "substantial room for improvement", said a report in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

"Humans undoubtedly have substantial negative impacts on the ocean, and index scores are negatively correlated with coastal human population," it said.

Nearly half of the world's seven billion people live near the coast.

Developing countries in West Africa, the Middle East and Central America generally scored poorly, while richer nations in northern Europe, Canada, Australia and Japan had higher scores.

There were some notable exceptions, with developing country Suriname joining Seychelles in the top 12 while Poland and Singapore from the first world were ranked among the worst performers.

(MAP: Jarvis Island, South Pacific/Wikipedia) The lowest score of 36 went to the West African state of Sierra Leone.

The researchers measured the oceans in 10 categories including food provision, their ability to support coastal livelihoods and economies, clean water, coastal protection, artisanal fishing, carbon storage, tourism and biodiversity.

"The index is an important tool to assess where we've been and where we want to go," study co-author Benjamin Halpern, of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning at the University of California at Santa Barbara, told AFP.

"This is the first time that we can quantitatively and directly compare and combine hugely different dimensions -- ecological, social, economic, political -- that define a healthy ocean."

He added the index only looked at how each nation managed its own EEZ, not on how they were affecting those of other countries.

 - This article first appeared in the Bangkok Post.  

Monday
Aug062012

"Saving the World From Madness" (REPORT) 

 

(Video: Sound bites from speakers at the UN WHO Meeting to launch the Quality Rights Tool Kit/NIA SPOONER)

By Dr. Judy Kuriansky

*Recently, the United Nations World Health Organization launched the Quality Rights Tool Kit, which supports countries in assessing and improving the quality of mental health care as a human rights condition. and civil society actors gathered together to lend their support to the project and to discuss how to promote the use of the Tool Kit in countries.  Dr. Judy Kuriansky was there to chronicle the discussion for HUMNEWS.

FACT:   Globally, one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Poor quality services and human rights violations in mental health facilities and social care homes are an everyday occurrence in many countries around the world. People living in mental health facilities are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment and many are subject to physical, sexual and emotional abuse. As a result, people with severe mental health conditions in some countries die as much as 10 years younger than the general population. (Source: WHO)

(DRAWING: ArtTherapy) “Derogatory words are used to describe us, such as mentally disturbed, having unsound minds, idiots, lunatics, imbeciles and many other hurtful labels,” declared Mrs. Robinah Alambuya of Uganda, to an invited audience of about 100 health professionals, UN agency officials, the UN Foundation academics, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, journalists and guests.  The diverse group was gathered at the Millennium Hotel Diplomat Ballroom in New York City, across the street from the main United Nations headquarters, for an event sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighting abuses in the mental health care system and to launch a landmark product, the WHO QualityRights Toolkit, to address the problem.

“These words and the beliefs from which they derive, devalue us and form the basis of discrimination and the loss of inherent dignity,” Alambuya said. 

SHOWING RESPECT

Representing African women and the voices of survivors of people with psychiatric and psychosocial problems in Africa, Alambuya made a plea for respecting those who deal with mental health distress. In her role as President of the Pan African Network of People with Psychosocial Disabilities monitoring inhumane health care systems, she applauded WHO’s efforts to insure those rights in her keynote speech.

The `Tool Kit' is an awareness and training campaign to provide the public, the private sector,  and government groups with actionable steps to stop human rights violations against people with mental health conditions, in order to improve the quality of care and to promote human rights as including mental health.

The recommendations can be implemented in developing and developed nations by all stakeholders, and even includes those with mental disabilities themselves.

"IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE"

Dr. Michelle Funk, Coordinator of Mental Health Policy and Service Development in the Mental Health and Substance Abuse department at WHO, pointed out the extent of the problem with "One in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime," she said.

Suicide is among the top three cause of death in young people aged 15-34 worldwide. Qualified caregivers are scarce with less than one psychiatrist serving 200,000 in almost half the world populations. Yet poor quality services and human rights violations are pervasive in social care homes and mental health facilities where patents are often exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment. And worse, to physical, emotional and even sexual abuse. 

“It is a scandal that still today many mental health facilities are places of violence and harmful treatments practices rather than places of care and support," said Funk. “One of the most important points to note about this tool kit is that it establishes the key standards that need to be met in all inpatient and outpatient mental health and social care facilities across the world.” She went on to praise the role of the governments of Spain and Portugal in providing funds to help produce the toolkit.

NOTABLE ADVOCATES

Panelists at the June 28th event represented a wide range of perspectives about the issue, including UN and government officials, an African woman with disabilities, and a former prisoner from the slums of India.

Hollywood film producer Gary Foster described his evolution to become a mental health advocate when producing the film “The Soloist“ - a true life story about a former cello prodigy who developed a mental health condition and became homeless on the streets of Los Angeles. Foster, who also produced “Sleepless in Seattle” and "The Score” spent time on skid row where he discovered that all people have “dream for success.”  

Serving as an important example of how the campaign goals can be accomplished, Ambassador Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez, Deputy Permanent Representative of El Salvador to the UN, described his government’s recent advances in ambitious health care reform, including a social development component with a human rights approach - pointing out how abuses of mental health are not an isolated issue, because mental health care extends to all facets of society, and is integrally tied to attitudes and poverty. 

Often times, people with psychosocial disabilities become homeless, are abandoned by their families, and are detained against their will by authorities - neglected in inferior conditions. Therefore, mental health services need to encompass access to decent work, education and quality of life. 

Panelist Julian Eaton, a psychiatrist and mental health advisor from the West Africa Office of CBM in Togo, discussed how "the value of technology in such a campaign, particularly the use of mobile phones, is revolutionary". 

The initiative builds on WHO’s Mental Health and Development Report, published in 2010 and is also based on the framework of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which asserts that “human rights standards that must be respected, protected and fulfilled in all facilities”.

(Video: WHO)

A short film was shown of cruel and deplorable conditions in a care center, showing emaciated patients, chained to beds, crying out and lying in excrement. Ambassador Gonzalez pointed out that mental health workers themselves, who have to work in substandard conditions, are another victimized group. 

As a psychologist who has worked in many mental health institutions with psychiatric patients, I asked Michele Funk whether a solution would be to allot needed funds for improvements in these facilities.  “No", she responded, “They must be shut down, and new ones opened.”

CRITICS, SUPPORTERS

While generally lauded, the Toolkit is not without criticism.  Alambuya expressed concern about the emphasis on a medical model of service delivery that does not adequately take into account the social problems faced by persons with mental disabilities, saying, "The voices of people with disabilities must be heard, using the popular phrase, `Nothing about us, without us'”.

(PHOTO: Adolescents are generally perceived as a healthy age group; yet an estimated 10-20% of them experience a mental health problem/WHO)In a powerful close to the panel, Gregory David Roberts, speaking from personal experience of his being imprisoned and overcoming drug abuse, the author of the best-selling novel “Shantaram”  recounted the story of a fellow inmate - mentally challenged - who had been abused by the other prisoners; and who despite consistently smiled.  One day the man found unhatched eggs, and put them under his armpits until they hatched.  The baby pigeons became valued and protected in the jail, eventually taming hard-hearted cruel prisoners.  The experience prompted Roberts to learn lessons about his shame for not defending the man, and about the power of people of mental disability to transform others.

Roberts recounted another story of a mentally challenged young man who would have been arrested had it not been for the community people who chained him up near them, where he could be cared for and protected from arrest,  underscoring his point that community-based programs are key.

More launches of the toolkit campaign will be held to gain more visibility for the project.

“Everyone should have access to mental health care,” said His Excellency Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, President of the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly. Recommending mainstreaming of mental health care, he noted that his own state of Qatar introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly to introduce and International Day of Autism"If we all consider human rights together," he said, “We can make a difference.”  

- Dr. Judy Kuriansky is the Main United Nations NGO Representative for the International Association of Applied Psychology and a member HUM's Board of AdvisorsA licensed clinical psychologist in the Departments of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, she is world renowned as a humanitarian who has led workshops on peace, trauma recovery, crisis counseling and on her unique East/West intervention programs around the world, from Argentina to India, Singapore, the Czech Republic, Israel, the UAE, and Iran. She has worked in disaster relief and psychological first aid at Ground Zero after 9/11, after SARS in China, bombings in Jerusalem, earthquakes in Australia and Haiti, the tsunami in Sri Lanka and the tsunami/earthquake in Japan, information about which is on www.DrJudy.com. An award-winning journalist and accomplished author, she is a tireless advocate for media which sheds light.

Tuesday
Jul312012

An African Sahel War on the Horizen? (Perspective) 

(Video: Is the Mali conflict a threat to the region? 1 month ago/AJE)

By Dr Julia Leininger

In the Sahel a war is spreading. Within three months it has overtaken the towns in an area of northern Mali larger than France. 365,000 people have taken flight within the country and across its borders into neighboring Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. But it is not the only disaster to strike northern Mali. The people are not only fleeing the violence, a reminder of the Tuareg war of 1990 to 1992: they are also trying to escape drought and famine.

Little in the way of facts and developments is leaking out to the world's public. Journalists, foreigners and most western aid organizations have left. The situation is too dangerous. At best, information is being received by telephone from the border towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. Uninhabited desert areas are isolated from modern means of communication. And yet reports on the region paint a clear picture of good and evil. Images of defiled graves in Timbuktu show how Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels are destroying a world cultural heritage dating back centuries.

(MAP: Mali regions-Azawad consists of Gao, Kidal & Timbuktu, as well as the NE half of Mopti, claimed by & internationally recognised as part of Mali/WIKIPEDIA)The inhabitants of Timbuktu appear to have no choice but to watch helplessly as the armed and masked men go about their heartless business. In Gao, a town on Mali's border with Niger, the 'Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa' (MUJAO) is said to have taken the whole population hostage, a circle of land mines ensuring that no one escapes.

It seems to be a clear-cut case: extremist Islamists and Tuareg rebels versus the Malian state. And yet it is not quite so simple. The threatening Islamist gestures of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), MUJAO and Ansar Dine conceal a mixture of hard economic interests, disputes between old-established clans and struggles for an independent Tuareg state to be known as Azawad.

Independence from the Malian state is demanded by the Tuareg Movement for the National Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), which began by allying itself with Ansar Dine to increase its strength. But the groups fell out over the question of religion: while the MNLA advocates a secular state, the other three are officially seeking to establish an Islamist regime in western Africa.

The Tuareg and the Islamists

Yet the lines separating the Tuareg and the Islamists seem clearer than they really are. Ansar Dine is led by the respected Tuareg Iyad Ag Ghali. He had hopes of becoming the leader of the MNLA. When they were dashed, he set up the Islamist Ansar Dine, but retained links with his Tuareg clan. He is alleged to have the backing of AQIM. AQIM emerged from an Algerian Salafist movement, is said to be composed mostly of Algerians and Mauritanians and operates across borders in the western Sahel.

(Video: Tuareg's claim independence, 3 months ago/AJE)

Behind the religiously charged scenes, all the groups that are ready to use violence - whether Tuareg, AQIM, MUJAO or Ansar Dine – have a number of things in common.  

First, they are linked to international smuggling: only in an ungoverned area like the Sahel can the lucrative movement of drugs from Latin America to Europe flourish and other smuggled goods find their way to consumers in Africa, Asia and Europe.

Second, their violence has no support in Mali's tolerant and consensus-oriented society. Nor does the introduction of a Wahabi and Salafist form of Islam find any approval in the Sufi tradition of the Malian faithful.

Third, the groups with a propensity for violence are benefiting from the collapse of the Muammar Gaddafi regime of Libya. Innumerable Tuareg who fought in the ranks of the Libyan army have returned, some of them heavily armed, to their desert homes in Mali, Niger and Chad. Trained as soldiers, they are easily recruited for the struggle in northern Mali. Their combat strength and fire power are alarming, even though the actual numbers involved remain unknown. Finally, the fighters in northern Mali are taking advantage of the power vacuum that has prevailed in the capital of the country since a military coup in March 2012.

(Video: Islamists claim victory over Tuareg's, 1 month ago/AFP)

Beside the pictures of war and famine, the coup that ousted the democratically elected President, Amadou Toumani Touré, fades into insignificance. Yet the absence of a workable government is currently preventing effective action against famine, poverty and war in the North of the country. In this former model democracy, supporters of the old regime face sections of the military and young Malians pressing for radical political change. They recall the demands that the old political elite addressed to representatives of the authoritarian regime in the early stages of Malian democracy in 1991.

The state was to ensure the unity of the nation and put an end to the ominous Tuareg rebellion (1991-1995). The old elite also stood for an end to corrupt politics and the enrichment of individuals at the expense of the Malian people. Now the civil and military opposition are also accusing the government led by Touré, who has fled to Senegal, and the constitutional transitional government of being incapable of restoring peace in the North and ensuring sustainable development for all Malians.

Popular Military Coup

In this respect many observers are surprised to find that the military coup has proved very popular with the urban population. Nor has an agreement mediated by Burkina Faso and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) done much to improve the wrangling over the leadership of the country. ECOWAS, for example, has called on the Malian transitional government to have formed a government of national unity by July 31, 2012 (which hasn't happened) and to take action to end the conflict in the North.

(Video: Meanwhile, hunger prevails/FAO)

International support is needed if a further escalation of violence in the Sahel region is to be prevented. In Africa itself the African Union, ECOWAS and Mali’s neighbors Algeria and Chad are discussing the form that engagement might take. ECOWAS has taken Algeria's place as the main negotiating power in conflicts with the Tuareg and AQIM.

The problem with ECOWAS's new role is, however, that Algeria and Chad, being non-members, are excluded. A split in political positions was also to be seen at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa mid-July. While ECOWAS is preparing to intervene with 3,000 troops, Algeria is pressing for a political dialogue with the warring parties. Chad would take military action, but not under ECOWAS's aegis.

Sustained management of the conflict in northern Mali and of the regular catastrophic droughts in the Sahel is, however, achievable only with Algeria and Chad. The integration of these countries can succeed only if Mali, the African Union and the United Nations Security Council adopt clear positions. In the Security Council France has already declared its support for military intervention, while the USA is exercising restraint in view of the forthcoming presidential election. As the Malian military is also opposed to intervention, Mali's transitional government remains incapable of taking action for the time being.

In the meantime, they expect a government of national unity to be formed in Mali and an ECOWAS mission and the UN Secretary-General to present their reports on the situation in Mali. It is to be hoped that in this way a more accurate picture of the facts and developments in the war and the emergency in northern Mali will emerge. It is only on a sound basis of this kind that the advantages and risks associated with a military intervention can be assessed.

-- Dr Julia Leininger works at German Development Institute (DIE) Department 'Governance, Statehood, Security'. She is the regional coordinator for Sub-Sahara Africa. This analysis appeared on July 16 as OpEd in DIE. [IDN-InDepthNews]