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Friday:  August 15, 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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Entries in War (3)

Monday
May282012

Dear Kara: War, What is it Good For? One Man's Journey (PROFILE)

(PHOTO: Paul Giannone in a room with unexploded ordinances in Angola/P. Giannone)(HN, 5/28/12) - Monday is Memorial Day in the United States.  Around the world other countries also celebrate their version of honoring the fallen; such as Remembrance Day in Commonwealth countries (Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Canada, India, Kenya, Mauritius, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK) on November 11th; and similar ceremonies take place in France, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Though, these days come once a year and help us to remember the brave and courageous  who died in the pursuit of justice, freedom and truth in the past - we must remember that war continues to exist with us in the world today.  It remains a factor - more so than ever in global history - all around us as conflict, indiscriminate killing, and terrorism. 

According to statistics gathered from Wars Around the World at least 51 global nations and armed guerilla groups are engaged in 335 active `hot' war.  This is more wars than the entire world has countries in it.

Africa, currently has 24 countries involved in hostile actions; with places such as Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan being the hottest spots.  In Asia, 14 countries are engaged in confrontations including Afghanistan, Burma-Myanmar, and PakistanEurope has experienced battle almost continuously since ancient times, and currently has 8 nations involved in confrontation.  The Middle East, on daily newspapers front pages every day, has 8 countries battling warfare in hotspots such as Iraq, Israel, Syria, Turkey, and YemenAnd the Americas, the most peaceful of world regions has 5 nation's including Colombia, and Mexico on the hot list.

But where has war in the world gotten us?  As a 1969 Vietnam protest song called "War" sung by vocalist Edwin Starr asked, "War, What is it Good For?"

HUMNEWS asked this question to the author of a poignantly honest and sometimes disturbingly real memoir `Dear Kara: One Man's Journey From War to War'.  Paul Giannone wrote the book as a lifelong letter to his daughter Kara who was born in 1993. A 26-year career emergency responder, planner and public health administrator Giannone began his professional work as a US Army Public Health Advisor in Vietnam 1969-1970 where he did two tours of duty.

From there, he then went on to years of working in conflict zones as a health worker including Iran (before the US embargo related to hostages was imposed in the late 1970's), Afghanistan, Sudan, Cambodia, Albania, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone among other nations.

EARLY YEARS

Giannone grew up in the small upstate New York town of Auburn. When Paul was 11, his father died of brain cancer and the family was plunged into instantaneous poverty. His mother had to work in factories just to keep the family going, finally seeing Paul enter college.  But, feeling no direction and flunking out he joined the Army - as many did - in 1969.

He didn't want to shoot anyone, and so joined the medical corps in the civil affairs unit of the Army instead. As a kid, Giannone played toys and guns and watched John Wayne movies - which, as Paul says, "Didn't show American soldiers screaming. Then you get to Vietnam and that's not the case."

What Giannone saw in the Vietnam war were high caliber bullets being used which essentially "tear your body apart".  And he learned he was "good at getting things done in difficult  situations".

(PHOTO: An An Duong boy injured in Vietnam fighting/P. Giannone)

AFTER VIETNAM

Seeing the impact of war on humanity up close and personal in Vietnam changed Giannone. When he returned to the United States in 1971 he vigorously pursued his Bachelor of Science degree in Community Health Services from the State University of New York at Brockport, graduating with honors in 1974. He then went on to achieve a Masters Degree in Public Health with a concentration in Population and Family Planning from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1976.

Giannone's first work assignment out of graduate school was in Iran as an analyst for the University of Iran's, all Iranian, disease control team. He had wanted an oversees appointment so that he could 'see the world differently' than he had seen it in Vietnam which he thought was "a political fluke not to be repeated".

But what he saw in Iran "shocked me" says Paul. "The US government was not paying attention to the people on local levels in villages and towns. I would actually observe the Shah's government fomenting dissent among the people there, encouraging conflict.  It was disturbing."

After being evacuated from Iran, Paul learned that  the Vietnamese “boat people” exodus from Vietnam was headline news.  Paul volunteered for the U.S. Indochinese Refugee Program because he wanted to do whatever he could to help a people that he had grown to love.  He also wanted to see if he could find the Vietnamese public health staff he had worked with in Hue City.  Paul became Director of refugee screening operations in Singapore designed to determine what country the “boat people” would be resettled.  Paul saw the refugee program evolve before his eyes as the program was  dealing less with refugees and more with economic migrants.  Data collected by Paul and others indicated that the program was rampant with immigration and welfare fraud and more ominous was the program was actually resettling North Vietnamese civilians, former NVA infantry, Viet Cong and political party members.  This information was reported to President Reagan at the White House and the reaction was that his immediate supervisor was fired and they were told by the Secretary of State Haig to cover the story up.

Paul went on to work with “real” refugees in Africa and then home to upstate New York.  Paul was demoralized.  Two times he had volunteered to his government to help Vietnamese.  First as a soldier and later as a civilian and both times he was lied to and betrayed. Giannone began writing the first part of his book in 1982.    It was just my complete feeling that the reasons for the Vietnam War and then how the US was dealing with the boat people” For two months, he cranked out his thoughts and then just put them away. 

Giannone then set about to use his public health skills for a global greater good, working for humanitarian organizations such as CARE, the American Red Cross and Family Health International - running emergency response and refugee relief operations in Singapore, Sudan, Albania, and Pakistan; AIDS/HIV intervention research in Thailand and the Philippines; family planning research and institutional capacity building in Egypt, Kenya, Turkey and Pakistan; and disaster response in the US among other work.  

(PHOTO: Paul Giannone in teh Rwanda jungle with staff/P. Giannone) In the meantime, Paul's daughter Kara was born in 1993 and though his heart was at home, he was often missing for important events in her life over the years, as war zones and those in need of help kept calling worldwide. He began writing his book again for Kara in case he was killed in a war zone.

WHAT DID YOUR WORK IN GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH TEACH YOU ABOUT THE STATE OF OUR HEALTH SYSTEMS?

Generally in public health we need systems. Often  developing nations lack strong management systems, and a collective and sustained effort is often hard to accomplish.  Ironically, as compared to war, which many use as a way to galvanize opinion and consensus - public health is a really great unifier of people.  We can all get behind the idea that we need to address the pandemic flu or polio, for instance.

TRAVELLING THE WORLD FROM ONE WAR ZONE TO ANOTHER, WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE WORLD AT LARGE THAT THE PUBLIC CAN LEARN FROM YOU?

To all the places I went,  I went as a manager or a coordinator and my lens was that of being a public health worker - and an American.  I have learned that all people around the world want to have dignity and work; and they all love their children and respect the elderly.  They all want to survive and keep their families safe. Most people want to give back to the world, and many of them have some form of community service that they do.  With human beings, that's what keeps them going as I've seen it. 

A while back I saw some data  indicating that American citizens believe that 27% of the US government budget goes to foreign aid in other countries and that's why some people say we shouldn't be helping those in need around the world.  Yes, we definitely need to be helping our own, but in reality the figure on US foreign aid is more like 1% and if we can help people help themselves, we have to do it.  None of the people I ever met wanted handouts.  

AS A PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICIAL, WERE YOU ABLE TO OBSERVE THE IMPACT OF CONFLICT MORE GENERALLY?  WHAT DID PEOPLE TELL YOU?

(PHOTO: In traditional dress with colleagues in Sudan/P. GiannoneI was in Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the late 1990's, working with women who were a credit to their gender and a credit to the human race. They stood up as best they could to survive and it was an amazing thing to watch.  In our CARE refugee camp in Albania we had women coming in for colds or coughs to our clinics telling us they had been gang-raped while leaving Kosovo. There, I had a little girl come up to me to say that she was there because she knew that with the Americans present she wouldn't raped. 

In Sudan - I was there to work with local officials in an area so remote they told me that the means of communications was drums and runners. We would drop in by light plane and the pilot would say something like, "See you in 4 days if you make it".  That was during the 1990's and the people there asked me why hadn't President Clinton signed the global landmine treaty - even the most remote people in the world work to keep themselves informed!  And it's not just an `oh by the way' kind of information that they seek, it's a life and death situation for them. They knew about the landmine bill and what the US was doing with it!  I'm always surprised by how much people know when I meet them in far off places.

I also learned that we don't spend enough time listening to farmers, people on the ground and local community leaders.  We as Americans, but we as the world in general.  It's part of why we  fail overseas.  We have this idea that somehow trickle-down economics is going to work in the developing world, when it doesn’t even work in America,  and somehow the aid or influence we exert will somehow find its way from Kabul or Lagos to the village level without us addressing it. It doesn't work that way.

(PHOTO: The author in Vietnam holding a baby in 1969/P. Giannone)For instance, between Iraq and Afghanistan we can't account for 6 billion dollars. We need to drop the term superpower in the US and we need to become `Super Partners'. The US is still looked at in many ways as a country to help out but I don't think our strategy should be about  `boots on the ground' anymore.  More flip-flops and sneakers, less boots.

YOU WROTE THIS AS A LESSON TO KARA BUT ITS ALSO YOUR MEMOIR, WHAT DO YOU THINK BOTH KARA AND THE PUBLIC CAN TAKE AWAY FROM IT?

The experiences that I've had have dissolved prejudices - we're just one people striving for life and organization trying to do good.

On the bad side - I have seen the bad side. Yes, there are people like terrorists. There is brutal innocent and needless killing and maiming.  There are people who use their wealth to gain while others suffer.  And for the US there is a failure in our foreign policy - we have to do what we should do and learn from our mistakes and grow.

We are experiencing more frequent, intense disasters and complex emergencies globally. Addressing these must be about building coalitions.  We must look at culture and politics in the places we work in around the world and learn.  For instance, if anyone had done research on the culture and religion of Iraq - no one would have ever have said yes to the US going in there.

YOU'VE SEEN CONFLICT FROM BOTH THE HUMAN SIDE, THE HEALTH SIDE, AND THE CONFLICT SIDE FOR YEARS.  HOW HAS THE WORLD CHANGED IN THAT TIME?

In my time the world has gotten much more violent. Finally African tribal society is changing and people are taking a better life into their own hands but it is a rough journey for them. In the Middle East we're having the Arab Spring. An advance in technology and the flow of information has led to both a positive and a negative situation.  Our number one priority should be about getting the global terrorists we're dealing with now.  Then, the economy, education, environment, healthcare - we have to deal with these. They are no longer nice to have's they are have to haves.

(PHOTO: Landmine areas in Cambodia/P. Giannone)

And there's a new war we don't seem to be picking up on here in the US - we're fighting for how we spell "democracy" -  either with a big `D' or a little `d'.  The last 3 to 4 years people are talking about rewriting the constitution, dropping the separation between church and state, re-writing history, controlling woman’s rights. These are dangerous roads to go down.

HOW DID KARA REACT TO A BOOK BEARING HER NAME?

Kara was very quiet about the book, but I hope she was impressed. She did just graduate from high school this weekend and I am impressed by her!  I wanted the book to give her some insight into the work I was doing and why I couldn't be there in her early years.

AFTER ALL YOU'VE DONE AND LEARNED, WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR LEGACY IS?

My contribution now is teaching public health professionals - particularly in the military - how you do this kind of very necessary work around the world That would be a legacy I would want to leave behind.

(PHOTO: The author) 

At 64 Paul Giannone resides in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Kate and daughter Kara.  He is currently the Deputy Director, Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response in the Center for Global Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opinions expressed in this interview and in his book ‘Dear Kara One Man’s Journey From War to War” are not endorsed by, nor are policies of the US Government, Health and Human Services and/or the Center for Disease Control.  Further the stories and events that Paul Giannone discusses occurred before he became a federal government employee.

- HUMNEWS

Thursday
Apr192012

Preventing Full-Scale War between Sudan and South Sudan (PERSPECTIVE) 

(Video AlJazeera)

Brussels - Sudan and South Sudan are teetering on the brink of all-out war from which neither would benefit. Increasingly angry rhetoric, support for each other's rebels, poor command and control, and brinkmanship, risk escalating limited and contained conflict into a full-scale confrontation between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA).

Diplomatic pressure to cease hostilities and return to negotiations must be exerted on both governments by the region and the United Nations (UN) Security Council, as well as such partners as the US, China and key Gulf states. The immediate priority needs to be a ceasefire and security deal between North and South, as well as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. But equally important, for the longer-term, are solutions to unresolved post-referendum issues, unimplemented provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) (that ended the civil war in 2005), and domestic reforms in both countries.

(PHOTO: Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir/Wikipedia) The most recent fighting between the SAF and SPLA arose amid a murky mix of armed actors and interests in the contested borderlands, including a variety of northern opposition forces and proxy militias. The exact cause is vigorously disputed, but the flare-up is the predictable outcome of negative trends: conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile; lack of agreement on transitional economic and financial arrangements between the two countries; Khartoum's seizure of Southern oil; South Sudan's decision to stop oil production; and sporadic cross-border attacks and bombings.

It occurs amid mutual recriminations: of Khartoum arming Southern rebels and the SPLA providing material support to its former brothers-in-arms now fighting for the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, as well as political support to members of the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) seeking to topple President Bashir.

In part to prevent the resupply of the SPLM-N, the SAF has also bombed refugee camps and towns in South Sudan and recently attacked Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. Complicating matters are divergent views within the capitals and hardliners seemingly working to undermine negotiated settlements, as demonstrated by the scuttling of the much anticipated North-South presidential summit on 3 April.

The end result is that, following renewed clashes, the SPLA has taken control of the disputed Heglig oil fields and stopped about half of Sudan's 115,000 barrels-per-day oil output. This has dealt a further blow to Khartoum's economy, already reeling from separation and the additional fall in revenue that resulted from Juba's decision in January to stop exporting oil through Sudan's pipelines. The beleaguered Khartoum regime, which is under pressure on political, economic, and multiple military fronts and increasingly concerned about the prospects of an Arab Spring uprising, cannot afford to sustain such losses.

RISKY STRATEGIES 

A game of "chicken" appears to be underway, in which both sides embark on risky strategies in the hope that the other will blink first. If neither does, the outcome will be disastrous for both.

(PHOTO: South Sudan President Salva Kiir/Wikipedia)Some suspect that President Kiir's tactics are intended to provoke a popular uprising in the North -- that he is gambling the attack on Heglig may be the proverbial straw that breaks the back of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). However, little thought seems to have been given to the consequences if President Bashir is removed from power. Unlike Egypt, Sudan lacks a single, legitimate institution that could manage a peaceful transfer of power.

Bashir, who became president following a 1989 military coup, and his close associates have fragmented the security services and rely on personal loyalty and increasingly expensive patronage to retain control. He and security hardliners continue to pursue divide and rule tactics to prevent the emergence of a unified counterweight to NCP dominance of the centre. Bashir's fall could trigger a wild scramble by multiple armed actors for control of Khartoum and other parts of the country that would be hard, if not impossible, to restrain.

Kiir and the SPLM are also dangerously exposed. With South Sudan's decision to stop oil production, 98 per cent of its governmental revenue has disappeared. Reserves and other stop-gap measures can only tide Juba over for some months, after which the SPLM would have to impose draconian budget cuts, including on the SPLA, which is a fractious force that includes many former foes. Khartoum has a long history of supporting its enemy's enemies. At relatively little cost it could continue to support Juba's opponents and compound domestic instability for a government already plagued by weak institutions, limited reach and increasingly untenable financial circumstances.

Khartoum and Juba need to exercise restraint and consider carefully the consequences of their actions. The decision to abandon negotiations and resort to increasingly bellicose posturing can only hurt both. Each government, with its own domestic challenges, may reap short-term political benefit from externalizing its problems, but there is no military solution, and both sides would suffer from all-out war. The destruction of oil infrastructure would have long-term economic consequences. Stability is necessary in both the North and the South for either to develop and prosper and, in turn, enjoy long-term stability.

(PHOTO: South Sudanese refugees at a camp in Unity State/UNHCR)DECADES OF MISTRUST

Decades of mutual distrust prevent either side from making good-will gestures and pursuing win-win negotiations. In such a febrile environment, the UN Security Council must reassert itself to preserve international peace and security. It should mobilize all possible leverage to bring the parties back to negotiations and agreement on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism (JBVMM), as well as encourage implementation of the border monitoring tasks outlined for the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) in Resolution 2024 (2011), particularly near Heglig and Jau.

The parties and UNISFA must operationalize the JBVMM to investigate and verify claims either side is undermining peace or violating existing and future agreements, including for the necessary withdrawal of SPLA forces from the Heglig area and cessation of SAF bombing of South Sudanese territory. The monitoring mechanism needs to be flexible with high mobility. Lessons should be drawn from previous monitoring missions in Sudan, during which building confidence among Sudanese parties and supporting mutually-agreed arrangements were at least as important as verifying and reporting on legal obligations.

UNIMPLEMENTED CPA PROVISIONS, POST REFERENDUM ISSUES

Fundamentally, the current conflict is rooted in the CPA's unimplemented provisions, such as the status of Abyei, the cancelled popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and disputed borders, as well as unresolved issues stemming from separation. While they have acknowledged their interdependence, the two countries must still reach detailed agreements on many divisive issues, such as the joint exploitation of oil, transitional financial arrangements, citizenship, security and trade. The time for posturing and brinkmanship is past; they must return to the table promptly and sustain the focus and commitment necessary to hammer out and implement deals. Otherwise, if these critical issues are allowed to fester, they will undermine any ceasefire or limited peace deal.

Absent the democratic transformation long overdue in Khartoum, Sudan remains unstable as power, resources and development continue to be overly concentrated in the centre. A "new South" has emerged in Abyei, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile that - along with Darfur, the East and other marginal areas - chafes under NCP domination. Because of historic ties, and despite South Sudan's separation, the North's centre-periphery wars continue to draw in Juba.

The call by the North's opposition parties for a national dialogue in the context of a wider constitutional review conference suggests a way forward. Such a conference should be seen as a more extensive national consultative process, to accommodate the stymied popular consultations in the transitional areas and the Darfur people-to-people dialogue.

Those latter two processes, if run separately, will not lead to political stability and lasting peace in the whole country.

A NEW UNIFIED INTERNATIONAL STRATEGY

With developments increasingly appearing to be spiraling out of control, a new strategy is needed to avert an even bigger crisis. As Crisis Group noted in its September 26, 2011 Conflict Alert, any solution must be comprehensive. The international community must focus not only on North-South issues or the situation in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, but also require the NCP to agree to an immediate, inclusive, national reform process. The first priority needs to be for a security deal that stops both the fighting between the North and the South, as well as Khartoum and the SRF, but for this to hold it must also be clearly linked to binding commitments to discuss and implement political reforms.

(PHOTO: Taken March 28, 2012 shows destruction in Sudan's southern oil centre of Heglig after South Sudanese troops & government forces clashed along the border, sparking international alarm/AFP)The UN - the Security Council - should exert pressure on the two presidents to meet and negotiate an immediate ceasefire. This should be based on the June 29, 2011 Agreement on Border Security and the Joint Political and Security Mechanism, as well as the February 10, 2012 Memorandum of Understanding on Non-Aggression and Cooperation. They also need to reach common ground on a security deal for Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile based on the June 24, 2011 Framework Agreement, to be monitored by an enhanced JBVMM.

To encourage reforms in Khartoum, a united international community, particularly the African Union (AU), Arab League and UN, should put pressure on the NCP to accept a free and unhindered national dialogue aimed at creating a national stabilization program that includes defined principles for establishing an inclusive constitutional arrangement accepted by all. A national reform agenda should include a program that accommodates all the people of Sudan and supports inclusive governance.

The NCP must make genuine efforts to end impunity in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and allow humanitarian agencies unhindered access, as well as support the efforts of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and UNISFA to protect civilians.

If the NCP commits seriously to such a national reform agenda, regional actors and the wider international community should offer assistance.

Major players like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the Arab League, China, the US, EU and AU must recognize that reform is necessary for stability and requires their support. If the NCP accepts an inclusive reform process, for example, the U.S. should provide incentives under its normalization package to bolster that process. These could include easing debts, lifting economic sanctions and removing Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Meanwhile, North-South relations may also be improved by greater domestic stability in South Sudan.  Building institutions, extending service delivery, bolstering economic growth, and calming inter-communal tensions are among the priorities, and will be served in part by advancing promised political reforms. This includes an opening of political space inside and outside the SPLM, and an inclusive constitution-making process, that should be supported by partners and donors.

--- Editorial originally published by the International Crisis Group, HERE.

Saturday
Dec102011

A Liberian, a Liberian and a Yemen – Women – Walk into a Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony…..

Nobel Peace Prize winners Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, left; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, center; Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, right take the stage at City Hall in Oslo, Norway, December 10, 2011. (PHOTO: TimesofMalta, John McConnico)(HN, December 10, 2011) - ...And take home the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace.  On Saturday December 10, the traditionally sanctioned date on which the Nobel Committee awards the world’s highest peacemaking honor, three proud women – from Africa and the Middle Eastern – strode onto the stage at Stockholm’s `Concert Hall’ to take their place in history.

The women - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman - won the coveted prize for their efforts to peacefully bring change to their countries.

But President Sirleaf who called the prize a “wonderful recognition” said it really belongs to many more oppressed women around the world who have “suffered inequalities”.  

"This award belongs to the people whose aspirations and expectations for a better world we have the privilege to represent and whose rights we have the obligation to defend," said Sirleaf.  She went on, "History will judge us not by what we say in this moment in time, but what we do next to lift the lives of our countrymen and women who face a lack of access to those basic things that allow the comfort of life".

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Liberia's first elected female president in 2006.  Fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee is an activist recognized for uniting women against the country's warlords. 

Leymah Gbowee, who led a group of women in white t-shirts who stared down warlords to help turn the tide of her country's civil war, also spoke about the millions of others who were on stage Saturday.

"I believe that the prize this year recognizes not only our struggle in Liberia and Yemen, it is in recognition of the struggle of grass-roots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cote D'Ivoire, Tunisia, Palestine and Israel and in every troubled corner of the world," said Gbowee.  Adding, "victory is still afar...there is no time to rest."

Royal trumpeters heralded the beginning of the annual ceremony, as Norway's royal family and this year's Nobel laureates entered the hall.

Both Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee become the seventh and eighth African recipients of the Nobel prize – following successively Albert John Lutuli, South Africa, 1960; Desmond Tutu, South Africa, 1984; Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, 1993; Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan of Ghana, along with the UN itself in 2001; sustainability advocate Wangari Maathai, Kenya, 2004 (deceased in September 2011 from a long battle with cancer). 

Co-recipient of this year’s Peace Prize Yemeni activist and journalist Tawakkol Karman becomes the first Arab woman and youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for her country’s freedoms earlier this year in Sana'a's Tahrir Square.  On the Nobel stage she said, “The prize will lift the spirits and support the aspirations of Arabs who are struggling peacefully to improve their lives. This year's Arab revolutions confronted tyrants who went too far in depriving their people of freedom and justice. The international community must do more to fulfill its pledges and resolutions for peace, freedom and women's rights.”

The three Nobel Peace Prize winners each received a medal and a diploma, and will share the $1.5 million US prize. The Nobel Prizes in medicine, chemistry, physics, literature - and the related prize in economics - were presented later Saturday in Stockholm as well.

These awards for 2011 were given in Physics, jointly to Saul Perlmutter,  Brian P. Schmidt and Adam G. Riess of the US and Australia; the Prize for Chemistry to Dan Shechtman of Israel; the Prize for Medicine jointly to Bruce A. Beutler, Ralph M. Steinman and Jules A. Hoffmann respectively of the US and Luxembourg; the Prize for Literature to Tomas Tranströmer of Sweden; and the Prize for Economics to Thomas J. Sargent and Christopher A. Sims of the US.

Since the Nobel Peace Prize was first annually awarded in 1901, a total of 15 women have received it. The first was Austrian writer and peace activist Bertha von Suttner in 1905.  Later the late Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun won in 1979 for her humanitarian work.  1991's recipient was Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi won in 2003.  The most recent woman to receive the prize was Wangari Maathai in 2004.

Women have also won Nobel Prizes in the sciences and literature, with one woman, radiation researcher Marie Curie, honored twice, first in physics and years later in chemistry.

Norwegian Nobel panel chairman Thorbjoern Jagland says women are critical to peace.  "We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society," said Jagland.

IN A RELATED EVENT:

China’s Alternative Nobel Prize Honours Russia’s Vladimir Putin as Thousands Take to Streets to Protest Recent Elections

In Beijing on Friday, two exchange students accepted a Chinese peace prize on behalf of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Confucius Peace Prize was hastily launched last year as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize which in 2010 honored imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.  A group of five Nobel Peace Prize winners including Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Mairead Maguire and Betty Williams as well as former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, Reporters Without Borders and others have urged China to release Liu Xiaobo, who is now serving an 11-year prison sentence for subverting state power in China by co-authoring an appeal for political reform.  The International Committee of Support to Liu Xiaobo said in an email that Liu is the only Nobel laureate currently in prison, following the release of Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi’s release in November 2010. 

The Confucius Prize sponsors are professors and academics who say they are independent of China’s government.  Organisers of the Confucius Peace Prize went ahead with this year's awards against the wishes of the Ministry of Culture who ordered the group to shut down saying they did not have official permission to run the awards.  Undeterred, the original masterminds of the award set up a new organisation called China International Peace Research Centre before quickly announcing this year's winner.

(Two Russian Exchange students recieve 2011 Confucious Award on behalf of Vladimir Putin. PHOTO: weibo/littleoslo)Lien Chan, former chairman of the Kuomintang, ruling party of Taiwan, was the winner of the first Confucius Peace Prize in 2010. He did not attend the award ceremony, so a little girl was selected by organisers to accept the award in his place.  Similarly, Putin, was honored for `enhancing Russia’s status and crushing anti-government forces in Chechnya’ organizers said because during his 2000-2008 term as president Putin “brought remarkable enhancement to the military might and political status of Russia”.  The 2011 prize ceremony took place one day before this year’s annual Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, and two Russian female exchange students were selected to stand in for Putin where they accepted a statue of the Zhou Dynasty sage on his behalf.  

The Prize came as thousands of people have taken to Russian streets for a week protesting authoritarian trends in Putin’s policies, his reputation for jailing political rivals and cracking down on government critics. Demonstrations in Moscow over last week’s parliamentary elections which were believed to be tainted by fraud have raised the biggest ever challenge to Putin who is seeking to return to the presidency next year; currently serving as the country’s Prime Minister, having spent two terms as the country’s former President.

Putin, who recently led the United Russia party to its worst ever showing at the polls, beat seven other nominees -- Gyaltsen Norbu (the "Chinese Panchen Lama"), Bill Gates, South African President Jacob Zuma, former UN chief Kofi Annan, Yuan Longping a Chinese agricultural scientist known as the "father of hybrid rice", German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Taiwanese politician James Soong -- to clinch the highly-uncoveted title of Confucious Prize winner.

IN RUSSIA, MEANWHILE PROTESTORS CHANT, `PUTIN OUT’

In the largest public display of mass discontent in post-Soviet Russia, an anti-government demonstration brought tens of thousands of Moscow citizens out to the packed streets near the Kremlin to protest alleged electoral fraud by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party `United Russia’ on Saturday. Protestors gathered in other cities across this huge country with clashes reported in St. Petersburg, the Pacific city of Vladivostok, the Siberian city of Perm and the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk among others.

(Video, Al Jazeera)  City officials in Moscow had given unusual permission for a rally of up to 30,000 people, and by the time the rally started, with periodic wind-blown snow, police said there were at least 25,000 while protest organizers claimed 40,000.

In smaller gatherings earlier in the week hundreds of people were arrested or hospitalized after violence broke out, including prominent opposition leaders Alexei Navalny, and Sergei Udaltsov.

On Saturday people chanted, “Putin Out”; saying things such as "Everyone is sick of living under this regime which forbids freedom of expression” and holding signs with "Putin's a louse" and banners such with the United Russia party emblem, reading "The rats must go".  The protests come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and who has been Prime Minister under current President Dmitry Medvedev’s government, will seek a third term as President in nationwide elections on March 4, 2012.

Putin’s power however was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament. Protestors allege that even that showing was inflated by massive vote fraud, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations. Earlier in the week Russian President Medvedev conceded that election law may have been breached and Putin suggested "dialogue with the opposition-minded".  It is known that on Election Day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure which called the vote unfair, urging an investigation into fraud; Putin has specifically said that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US are intentionally fomenting protests and trying to undermine Russia. Recently, U.S. Sen. John McCain tweeted to Putin that "the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you".

---HUMNEWS staff, with contributors