Did Sri Lanka’s Presidential Election Bring Back a Polarising Wartime Figure?

The new President of Sri Lanka after he was sworn in. Credit: Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

By Dr. Palitha Kohona
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Nov 28 2019 – The Economist proclaimed recently that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the man who, as secretary of defense, presided over this horrifying episode (the final phase of Sri Lanka’s terrorist inspired internal conflict), has just been elected president of Sri Lanka.

To Sinhalese Buddhists, about 70% of the population, he is a hero. After all, the militia he destroyed was appallingly cruel and bloodthirsty and had tormented Tamils as much as, if not more than, other Sri Lankans.

It never ceases to amaze how ‘liberal’ the liberal and free press gets when describing events that it has not witnessed and individuals of whom it does not approve for reasons that cannot be explained readily or logically. This approach is not limited to one country or one person.

On 16th November, Sri Lanka’s electors (almost 84% of them exercised their franchise freely, according to all observers) democratically elected Gotabhaya Rajapaksa as president confounding many foreign analysts. His lead was almost 12 percentage points. His victory was greeted with widespread and raucous jubilation across the country, with fire crackers being lit and free milk rice being distributed.

But, disappointingly, no Western media outlet highlighted this clear victory of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or his forward-looking policy platform for which the majority voted. Instead a narrative based on allegations and conjecture continues to be spewed out, conveniently backed by negative western NGOs.

Almost all media outlets in the West continue to brand Rajapaksa as the “Strong man, the alleged war criminal and human rights violator.” The minorities apparently live in fear of the incoming administration.

The Economist, which is reputed for its “trustworthy” reporting of facts for over a century, referring to the end of the terrorist inspired conflict in May 2009, proclaimed grandly that “the army surrounded 100,000 civilians on a tiny sliver of beach, barely three square kilometers in size.”

Mixed in among them were a small number of separatist guerrillas, the remnants of a once-formidable force that had been battling for an independent state for the country’s Tamil minority for 26 years. The insurgents had no compunction about using innocent villagers as human shields.

The army claimed to have more scruples: it had designated the area a “no-fire zone”, where civilians could safely gather. Nonetheless, it continued to shell the beach mercilessly. The UN warned that a humanitarian disaster was unfolding and urged the government to declare a ceasefire, to no avail. In the end, resistance crumbled and the army took control.

But the beach was left piled with bodies, with more floating in the adjacent lagoon. The number of civilians who died in the final phase of the war, the UN concluded years later after a long investigation, was probably in the “tens of thousands”.

Obviously, facts were not allowed to interfere with this grand and heart wrenching narrative. The so-called spit of land, to which the LTTE had forced the civilians to flee, was about 26 square kilometers in extent. The LTTE had forced the civilians to flee to this area to be used as a human shield.

Obviously, it had been planned with devilish-cunning that this civilian shield would force the government forces to slow down their advance or, better still, goaded the international community to intervene. The bonus was that dead civilians would later provide the convenient grounds for alleging that war crimes had been committed, quite ignoring that the civilians had been forced in to that situation by the LTTE itself.

The number of civilians who were later to cross the lagoon and escape to the government side was around 297,000 – not 100,000. It was not a handful of fighters who held the “eight mile stretch of land” but over 12,000, who later surrendered to the security forces.

To this day, no one has located, despite desperate efforts, the graves of the tens of thousands of bodies that were piled up on the beach or floating in the lagoon. No burial pits have been found and the burials would have required a large force of grave diggers who were not available as most able-bodied Tamils were manning the LTTE defenses, either voluntarily or under coercion. A vast armoury of heavy and light weapons were recovered by the security forces,

Rt. Hon. Lord Naseby’s revelations in the House of Lords on 5 February, 2019, based on the reports of the UK Military Attaché in Colombo, Antony Gash, are available in the public domain. Gash had recorded in a dispatch dated 16 February 2009 concerning 400 IDPs being transferred from the fighting area to Trincomalee, “The operation was efficient and effective, but most importantly was carried out with compassion, respect and concern. I am entirely certain that this was genuine — my presence was not planned and was based on a sudden opportunity”.

Lord Naseby goes on to say, “There are many more references in the dispatches to the fact that it was never a policy of the Sri Lankan Government to kill civilians.”

He adds, “I have one other reference that I think is useful. It comes from the University Teachers for Human Rights, which is essentially a Tamil organization. It says: “From what has happened we cannot say that the purpose of bombing or shelling by the government forces was to kill civilians … ground troops took care not to harm civilians”.

He quotes another passage, “Soldiers who entered the No Fire Zone on 19th April 2009 and again on the 9th and 15th May acted with considerable credit when they reached … civilians. They took risks to protect civilians and helped … the elderly who could not walk. Those who escaped have readily acknowledged this”.

Lord Naseby estimated that the maximum number of civilians killed was probably around 6000. Not tens of thousands as proclaimed by the Economist.

There has been no military conflict in history where no civilians have suffered. This number killed in the last days of the Sri Lankan conflict may have included combatants fighting in civvies.

The figure quoted by Lord Naseby broadly confirms the internal figure compiled by the UN office in Colombo and the census figure compiled later. But what is important is Lord Naseby’s conclusion that civilians were not the target of the military operation.

Why let published facts get in the way of a heart wrenching story if it serves to vilify someone who has been slated to be tarred.

Over 55% of the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the overwhelming preponderance of Muslims live in and among the majority Sinhala population. Surprisingly, no one seems to have noticed anyone in these communities living in fear as claimed by the Economist or making any effort, with bag and baggage, to move to the safety of the North or the East.

Of course, some in these communities, remembering the disturbances in Kandy during the last regime and the those in Aluthgama during the previous regime, may express reservations that please the ears of foreign journalists to juice up their stories.

But by and large, the children of the minority communities go to school every day as before, their businesses continue to flourish and their temples and mosques remain crowded.

General Sarath Fonseka (now Field Marshal) who commanded the army during the final phase of the conflict and contested the country’s presidency in 2010, in spite of being routed in the South, comfortably won all the Tamil-speaking majority electoral districts in the North and the East. Obviously, the electorate did not think of him as a killer of Tamil civilians.

Running from the Storm – How Bangladesh’s Climate Migrants are Becoming Food Secure

Ruma Begum and her husband collect pumpkins from their vegetable field. Credit: Rafiqul Islam/IPS

By Rafiqul Islam
BHOLA, Bangladesh, Nov 28 2019 – It was almost a decade ago when Ruma Begum and her family left their home in Bangladesh’s coastal Tazumuddin upazila or sub-district and travelled some 50 km away to start a new life. They had been driven out of their home by an extreme and changing climate that has continued to ravage the district of Bhola.

“Due to river erosion and salinity intrusion in agriculture in Tazimuddin where we lived in the past, we were compelled to migrate to Charhazarigong leaving everything behind. But our early days were not so easy as there was no adequate livelihood options,” Ruma, a mother of two, told IPS about her family’s 2010 move to Char Fassion upazila in Charhazarigong union.

When you can’t run from a changing climate

In Char Fassion upazila, about 80 percent of the 1,650 families comprise climate migrants.

When Ruma’s family first arrived there her husband began work as a day labourer and then later as a smallholder farmer on a leased piece of agricultural land. But they had moved from one coastal area to another and her husband did not produce many crops because of saltwater intrusion, regular floods and recurrent cyclones.

  • Because of government interventions in agriculture, Bangladesh has already achieved sufficiency in food. According to the Food Sustainability Index 2018 of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, the deep placement method used by millions of farmers in Bangladesh reduces fertiliser use by about 30 percent and increases yields by 15 percent to 20 percent.
  • But, a 2016 report by BRAC, the world’s largest international development organisation based and founded in Bangladesh, says about 27 million people in the country are predicted to be at risk of sea level rise by 2050, while two-thirds of this South Asian nation’s land remains less than five metres above sea level.
  • Bangladesh is one of the world’s most-densely populated countries, with a population of about 165 million living on a land size slightly larger than Greece — with the latter only having a population of some 11 million.

Mahmud Hassan, Additional Secretary from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, told IPS, “Bangladesh is experiencing natural calamities like cyclones and frequent floods, which affect negatively the lives and livelihoods of coastal population.”

  • More than 50,000 farmers were affected this month when Cyclone Bulbul hit the country’s southern coastal region.
  • About 22,836 hectares of crops were damaged by the November-10 cyclone, resulting in the loss of 72,200 tonnes of crops worth about Taka 263 crore (around $ 32 million), Agriculture Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque told a press conference on Nov.12.

When farmers don’t know what to do

When they couldn’t grow rice, Ruma’s family tried to cultivate vegetables. But until last year the crop continued to be damaged because of saltwater intrusion.

“So we had to pass very hard days with one son and a girl child. That time, my children suffered from malnutrition as most of the days we remained hungry for lack of food,” Ruma remembered.

There weren’t the only ones.

Sazzad Hossain Talukder, the Tazimuddin Upazila Agriculture Officer, said due to the saltwater intrusion and waterlogging, which occurred after cyclones and floods, coastal communities had been failing to produce enough crops and vegetable.

The 24 other families with whom they had migrated from Tazimuddin with also experienced the same crop failure, Ruma acknowledged.

But they didn’t know what to do or how to adapt. Maruf Hossain Minar, senior fisheries officer of Char Fassion, said for more than a decade local communities who lost crops and vegetables because of extreme climatic events did not know how to adapt.

Needing help to adapt

But in 2017, with support from United Nation’s development agency’s Integrating Community-based Adaptation into Afforestation and Reforestation Programme (ICBA-AR), the sluice water gates by the district were renovated, bringing an end to the saltwater intrusion. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) also implemented a project to help vulnerable coastal communities adapt through teaching them livelihood diversification and linking that to forest stewardship.

According to UNDP, the project is being implemented in four of Bangladesh’s most vulnerable coastal districts of Patuakhali, Barguna, Bhola and Noakhali.

Thanks to the project, people are able to produce crops again, but this time they have been taught about integrated agriculture, which Penn State University explains as “farming systems with environmental, economic, social, and intergenerational sustainability”.

  • Coastal communities learned about climate-tolerant, floating vegetable cultivation — an alternative method of cultivating vegetables by making frames with wood and bamboo. Here the roots of plants are in the ground on the banks of waterbodies and the plant is supported by the wood frames.
  • They were also taught how to farm fish in stagnant water — a method where a pond is created in small waterbodies.
  • The new methods provide year-round vegetables and protein for household consumption.

According to Talukder, the farmers can now harvest their crops three times a year as opposed to twice yearly as in previous years.

“The ICBA-AR project provides climate resilient diversified livelihood support to 10,500 coastal, poor households to adapt … to climate change. Most of the livelihood interventions of the project … are helping to meet the nutritional demand of the coastal poor households significantly,” Hassan, who is also the national project director of ICBA-AR, said.

Steady supply of food and steady nutrition

It has also provided food security for coastal farmers.

“After meeting our family demand, we sold vegetables and fish of Taka 3 lakh ($ 3,750) and are expecting to sell more Taka 2 lakh ($ 2,500) within one year,” Ruma said.

“Earlier we cultivated only vegetables. If there was a cyclone or a flood it got damaged and we had a deep shortage. But now if the vegetables are damaged we can benefit by fish farming,” she added.

Another farmer, Ibrahim Miah, said poor people like himself could not previously purchase vegetables for their diets because of their restricted incomes.

He told IPS that the cultivation of floating vegetables worked well for those who didn’t have access to land that was not vulnerable to becoming flooded or waterlogged.

“Once we had a very hardship in the family. We could not effort three meals [a day] even. Now the situation has changed. Now there is no food crisis and hunger in my family,” Ruma said.

Four Ways to Prevent Deaths from Lassa Fever

Lassa fever is a viral disease of inequity and disproportionately affects poor people. There are an estimated 100,000 - 300,000 annual cases of Lassa fever across West Africa, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control. Countries endemic for Lassa fever include Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria

Credit: S. Oka/WHO

By Ifeanyi Nsofor
ABUJA, Nov 27 2019 – Dr. Wouter, a Dutch doctor who helped perform surgeries and train colleagues in surgical skills in underserved areas of Sierra Leone died of Lassa Fever. He was infected as a result of performing a Caesarean section on an infected pregnant woman. 

This was a very painful and avoidable death. I mourn with his family and the Dutch people over this loss. No health worker should die while trying to save lives. Sadly, every year 5,000 West Africans die from Lassa fever.

Lassa fever is a viral disease of inequity and disproportionately affects poor people. There are an estimated 100,000 – 300,000 annual cases of Lassa fever across West Africa, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control. Countries endemic for Lassa fever include Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

Lassa fever is a viral disease of inequity and disproportionately affects poor people. There are an estimated 100,000 – 300,000 annual cases of Lassa fever across West Africa, according to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control. Countries endemic for Lassa fever include Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria

The infection is a type of hemorrhagic fever, which is transmitted via contamination of foods and water by poop of a species of rats that are common across the region. Poor sanitation is a predisposing factor to multiplication of these rats.

Without a doubt, Lassa fever is common. For instance, based on recent epidemiological report by the Nigeria center for disease control, there are 101 suspected cases of Lassa fever, 11 confirmed cases and one reported death across 40 local councils in 11 States, including Nigeria’s federal capital city Abuja.

Based on November 2019 records, there were seven cases of Lassa fever and 2 deaths in Sierra Leone. While in Liberia, Lassa fever killed 21 as at September 2019.

Due to poor health systems across endemic countries, health workers in the line of duty are also at risk of Lassa fever. In a previous opinion piece, I wrote about Idowu, a young Nigerian Doctor who contracted Lassa fever after treating an infected 7-month old baby in north-central Nigeria in 2018. Dr. Idowu died less than a month later.

Another victim, Dr. Emeka got infected after treating a newborn that was bleeding profusely on admission. Dr. Emeka was abandoned by his colleagues and had to pay for his treatment in one of Nigeria’s Lassa fever reference hospitals. Although Dr. Emeka survived, he lives with Lassa fever complications.

Why should a disease whose causative organism, mode of transmission and treatment are known still be killing thousands every year? The answer to this question underscores the inequity around Lassa fever.

 

These are ways to ensure Dr. Wouter’s death is not in vain.

First, the international community must invest in producing a Lassa fever vaccine. This would be beneficial to endemic communities as well as protect health workers who work in such communities.

It is commendable that the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) has put out an advert for grants to develop a vaccine against Lassa fever. The total grant amount is $44 million. This initiative is a good one and should be supported by governments, ministries of health, communities, civil society organisations and the private sector.

Second, governments must prioritise other social issues that have huge influence on health and health-seeking behaviours. These are called social determinants of health and include access to clean water, availability of community sanitation, provision of education for all and promotion of healthy behaviours.

Poor sanitation is implicated in the spread of Lassa fever. As long as communities in endemic countries keep lacking access to clean water and are not educated about the benefits of keeping their environs clean, Lassa fever would continue to be endemic.

Third, governments should provide universal access to healthcare. No one should be denied care because of their inability to pay at the point of need. The World Health Organization’s definition of universal health coverage includes a spectrum of prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliation. All five components are important to stop Lassa fever.

Specifically, prevention of Lassa fever entails that countries also invest in epidemic preparedness. As it stands, no country in Africa is prepared for epidemics based on scoring by preventepidemics.org. This has to change to save lives and improve economic wellbeing on the continent.

Fourth, health workers must adhere to strict Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) protocols at all times when attending to patients. As committed as health workers are to saving lives, they must realise that they need to be alive to do so.

 

The Lassa fever public health advisory for health workers by the Nigeria centre for Disease Control strongly advises health workers to observe these protocols regardless of patients’ presumed diagnoses.

The IPC protocols include proper wearing and removal of face masks, hand gloves, gowns, and goggles before and after entering the patient’s room; washing of hands with soap under running water always; limiting invasive procedures such as injections; and appropriate disposal and disinfection of items used by Lassa fever patients etc.

As we mourn Dr. Wouter, the global health community should be reminded that no one should die of Lassa fever in the 21st century; not health workers and definitely not poor people in endemic communities.

Catalysing Change for Gender Equality

By Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
BANGKOK, Thailand – UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2019 – Great strides have been taken to empower women and girls in the Asia-Pacific region since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing adopted an ambitious global agenda to achieve gender equality twenty-five years ago. Gender parity has been achieved in primary education. Maternal mortality has been halved. Today, the region’s governments are committed to overcoming the persistent challenges of discrimination, gender-based violence and women’s unequal access to resources and decision-making.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

The Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference for the Beijing+25 Review will meet in Bangkok this week to explore how more Beijing Declaration commitments can be met to improve the lives of women and girls in the region. Asia-Pacific governments have reviewed their progress and identified three priority areas, areas where action is imperative to accelerate progress in the coming five years.

First, we must end violence against women, such a severe human rights violation which continues to hinder women’s empowerment. As many as one in two women in the region have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Countries in the region have adopted laws and policies to prevent and respond to violence against women. This is progress on which we must build. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2015 adopted the Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and a Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 2018. Free legal services, hotlines and digital applications to report violence, and emergency shelters and safe spaces for survivors are increasingly common. New partnerships are underway challenging stigma and stereotypes, working directly with boys and men. However, more investment is needed to prevent violence, and to ensure all women and girls who experienced violence will have access to justice and essential services.

Second, women’s political representation must be increased in Asia and the Pacific. Our region’s representation rates are behind the global average. Only one in five parliamentarians are women in Asia-Pacific. Despite governments committing to gender parity in decision making 25 years ago in Beijing, the region has seen the share of women in parliament grow at just 2.2 percentage points annually over the past two decades. We must therefore look to where faster progress has been made. In several countries, quotas have helped increase the number of women in parliament. These need to be further expanded and complemented with targeted, quality training and mentoring for women leaders and removing the barriers of negative norms, stigma and stereotypes of women in politics and as leaders.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Third, economic empowerment remains key. Only half the women in our region are in paid work, compared with 80 percent of men. Ours is the only region in the world where women’s labour-force participation is decreasing in the past 10 years. Two out of three working women are in the informal sector, often with no social protection and in hazardous conditions. Legislative measures to deliver equal pay and policies to ensure the recruitment, retention and promotion of women must be part of the solution, as must supporting the transition of women from informal to formal work sectors. Digital and financial inclusion measures can empower women to unleash their entrepreneurial potential and support economic growth, jobs and poverty reduction. Action has been taken in all these areas by individual countries. They can be given scale by countries working at the regional level.

Next year will mark the convergence of the 25 years of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the five-year milestone of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Investments and financing for gender equality need to be fully committed and resourced to realize these ambitious targets and commitments. Our hope is that the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Conference for the Beijing+25 Review will help provide the necessary momentum. Now is time to craft priority actions for change and accelerate the realization of human rights and opportunities for all women and men, girls and boys. Let us remain ambitious in our vision, and steadfast in our determination to achieve gender equality and women empowerment in Asia and the Pacific.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, and
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UN Women

Despite Halting Progress, UN Continues its Push for a Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East

Nuclear Test. Credit: United Nations

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2019 – A longstanding proposal for a regional nuclear-weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East – one of the world’s most conflict-ridden regions – has been kicked around the corridors of UN committee rooms since 1974.

And as another effort to negotiate a legally-binding treaty concluded last week, there were lingering questions crying out for answers: how realistic is the proposal in the face of implicit opposition from US and Israel? Is the proposal still in the realm of political fantasy?

Expressing confidence in the ongoing negotiations, Emad Kiyaei, Director at the Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) and a former director at American-Iranian Council told IPS, a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East is far from being a fantasy– and is based on the goodwill of the states from within the region to reach an agreement.

Last week’s conference, he said, was “a positive step forward and the states in the (committee) room were showing more flexibility and constructive discourse that we have witnessed in decades on this issue.”

He pointed out that the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East shows that business cannot continue as usual.

“It is a real threat, however, and this threat is further exacerbated by the global nuclear weapons states that have used the Middle East in their power games and scapegoated in not reaching a final document at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.”

He said the states from within the region understand the gravity of the threat and
the need for a comprehensive process that reduces tensions and serves as a starting point for an inclusive discussion in goodwill.

The United Nations says it has been working to eliminate nuclear weapons, including through the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), as well as the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), both of which are yet to enter into force.

Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and author of “Unfinished Business” on multilateral negotiations, told IPS: “The stakes for international as well as regional security could not be higher.”

“Ending weapons of mass destruction possession and use in the Middle East has to be a vital priority for everyone.”

“It’s helpful that most of the P5 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the UK, US, France, China and Russia) — and relevant states of the region attended the UN Conference — but very worrying that the United States and Israel decided to boycott,” she said.

“They behave as if they want to keep at least nuclear weapons and freedom of action for the foreseeable future. That’s a dangerous position to take, particularly after Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the JCPOA (2015 nuclear restraint agreement with Iran), which has reopened the door for Tehran to accelerate its nuclear production programmes, including uranium enrichment.”

Last week’s conference “was very limited in what it can accomplish in a week. What will it take to restore the JCPOA and bring Israel and the US to the table?”

“Politics is of course key here”, declared Dr Johnson.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed “the successful conclusion of the Conference” and congratulated the participating States, in particular on the adoption of a Political Declaration, and supported their continuing efforts to pursue, in an open and inclusive manner, the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapons and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction-Free Zone in the region.

Currently, there are five regional nuclear-weapon-free-zones – in Latin America and the Caribbean; Africa; Central Asia; Southeast Asia; and the South Pacific.

According to the United Nations, treaties covering those States are: African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba); South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga); Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (Treaty of Bangkok); Treaty on a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in Central Asia (Semipalatinsk Treaty); and, the first ever such zone, the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco).

The world’s five declared nuclear powers are the P5 in the UN Security Council while the four undeclared nuclear powers are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

But there are at least three countries in the region—Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – harboring intentions of going nuclear perhaps in a distant future.

Asked about the progress made so far, Kiyaei said since 2016, civil society in the region has been working with states from within the region and the international community to draw attention to the fact that the most important component missing was the belief that such a zone is possible and the goodwill needed to sustain this process.

The Middle East Treaty Organization (METO) with international experts has issued a draft treaty text that shows several possibilities to move forward if only the states want to achieve the zone, instead of using this topic to bash each other for short-term political points, he added.

“We have noticed a change of language that was shown even in the UN Resolution that was adopted for an annual conference on the WMD Free Zone. This is a rare opportunity whereby the conference on the zone is initiated and led by states within the Middle East, while the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council (minus the United States) serve as observers”, said Kiyaei, co-author of “Weapons of Mass Destruction: A new approach to non-proliferation” (Brookings Institution and Chatham House).

Dr Johnson said: “The main diplomatic challenge is to take forward a positive process that engages positively with the existing treaty regimes covering all types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).”

At a minimum, it would have been important for the November Conference to commit to holding a follow up conference under UN General Assembly auspices.

“They should also consider what positive initiatives can be taken to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference in 2020, especially in light of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East and the failure to hold the 2012 Conference that was agreed in 2010.”

“I’ve been talking with various regional and P5 states about what diplomatic initiatives could be practical to propose in 2020, but let’s see first how last week’s UN Conference has progressed.”

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the UN General Assembly, warned delegates about the continued existence of more than 15,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled around the world, “and any use of these weapons would be a humanitarian and ecological catastrophe, causing irreplaceable damage.”

Although nuclear weapons have only been used once in history, the 1945 bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War attest to their devastation, he added.

Asked who the key non-starters are, Kiyaei said the United States and Israel decided not to participate in this year’s conference, however, their absence in the room is not necessarily a bad thing at this moment as it allows the other states to have a constructive discussion to serve as a positive and crucial step towards a positive outcome.

“Having said that, we call on Israel to pay attention that with consensus on all final decisions on the WMD Free Zone treaty, it has nothing to lose by joining the process and everything to gain.”

The US’s stand is that the time is not right and the states in the region are not ready for disarmament. “We would like to remind that there is huge difference between disarmament and dismantlement—there is no such thing as not being ready for disarmament as disarmament begins with a conversation if there is
goodwill”.

The question is not readiness, wanting or not wanting—as Israel has on numerous times supported the establishment of a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East.

“It is time to start this discourse—just as it is time for the nuclear weapons states to dismantle their stockpiles based on a specific timeline,” he declared.

270 Million People are Migrants, Who Send Home a Staggering $689 Billion

Though the benefits of migration outweigh the costs, public perception is often the opposite and negatively impacts migration policy.

Pakistani migrant workers build a skyscraper in Dubai. Credit: S. Irfan Ahmed/IPS

By External Source
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2019 – The number of international migrants in 2019 is now estimated at 270 million and the top destination remains the United States, at nearly 51 million, the UN migration agency said on Wednesday.

In its latest global report, IOM noted that the overall figure represents just a tiny fraction of the world’s population, although it is a 0.1 per cent increase on the level indicated in its last report, published two years ago.

“This figure remains a very small percentage of the world’s population (at 3.5 per cent), meaning that the vast majority of people globally (96.5 per cent) are estimated to be residing in the country in which they were born,” IOM’s Global Migration Report 2020 said.

India continues to be the largest country of origin of international migrants, with 17.5 million living abroad, followed by Mexico (11.8 million) and China (10.7 million)

According to the UN agency, more than half of all international migrants (141 million) live in Europe and North America.

An estimated 52 per cent are male, and nearly two-thirds of all migrants are looking for work; that’s around 164 million people.

 

Most hail from India, Mexico and China

India continues to be the largest country of origin of international migrants, with 17.5 million living abroad, followed by Mexico (11.8 million) and China (10.7 million).

Other findings indicate that the number of migrant workers declined slightly in high income countries – from 112.3 million to 111.2 million – but increased elsewhere.
Upper middle-income countries saw the biggest increase, from 17.5 million to 30.5 million.

 

Money sent home reaches $689 billion

Linked to this, international remittances also increased to $689 billion in 2018, IOM said, the top beneficiaries being India ($78.6 billion), China ($67.4 billion), Mexico ($35.7 billion) and the Philippines ($34 billion).

The United States remained the top remittance-issuer, at $68 billion, followed by the United Arab Emirates ($44.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($36.1 billion).

 

African migrants tend not to leave continent

Although most migrants travelled to the US, the report confirmed other important migration corridors from poorer countries to richer nations such as those to France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

“This pattern is likely to remain the same for many years into the future, especially as populations in some developing subregions and countries are projected to increase in coming decades, placing migration pressure on future generations”, IOM said.

In Africa, Asia and Europe, most international migrants stay within their regions of birth, but the majority of migrants from Latin America and the Caribbean and North America do not.

In Oceania, finally, migration levels remained about the same in 2019.

Focusing on the Middle East, data showed that Gulf countries have some of the largest numbers of temporary labour migrants in the world, including the United Arab Emirates, where they make up almost 90 per cent of the population.

 

Conflict linked to record displacement

Highlighting how ongoing conflicts and violence in Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Myanmar, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen have led to massive internal displacement in the last two years, IOM’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said that a total of 41.3 million people were forced to flee their homes at the end of 2018 – a record since monitoring began in 1998.

Syria has the highest internally population of displaced people, at 6.1 million, followed by Colombia (5.8 million) and the DRC (3.1 million).

After nearly nine years of conflict, Syria is also the top refugee-originating country, at well over six million – dwarfing Afghanistan (at around 2.5 million) – out of a total of nearly 26 million.

Finally, turning to the impact of climate and weather disasters, the report notes that Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines contributed to the fact that 3.8 million people were newly displaced there at the end of 2018, the largest number globally.

This story was originally published by UN News

Certifer Confirms Virgin Hyperloop One Technology is Ready for Independent Third-Party Safety Assessment

VALENCIENNES, France, Nov. 27, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Today, Certifer announced they are working with Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) to meet their goal of surpassing the safety of all existing transport systems. Certifer has followed VHO's progress with the R&D, prototyping and testing stages, and has performed a complete review of their solution design status. The experienced Independent Safety Assessors at Certifer validated the readiness of Virgin Hyperloop One's technology and organization to be assessed in terms of safety and confirmed the company is ready to take this historic first step "" the first of its kind in the hyperloop space.

"Partnering with Virgin Hyperloop One is a big milestone in Certifer's history and aligns with our mission to support clients exploring innovative solutions to set the future foundations of intelligent, reliable and safe transportation modes that will improve user experience," said Certifer's CEO Pierre Kadziola. "We are confident Virgin Hyperloop One can deliver on this technical challenge with a high level of safety."

"Embedding safety into every level of our company is paramount," said Virgin Hyperloop One's CEO Jay Walder. "We are ready to take this next step and have an independent party like Certifer evaluate our processes and ensure we are building a safe mass transportation system passengers can ride in years, not decades."

In building the world's first hyperloop system, VHO, is creating a disruption in the traditional approach to transportation. Just like all railway and urban transportation projects, such as high–speed trains, light rail transportation systems, and metro rolling stocks, the VHO technology is subject to the same process and constraints as those reviewed on "traditional" mode of transportation.

VHO has chosen to rely on Certifer, an independent safety assessment (ISA) body, to perform a third party evaluation of the company's engineering and safety process. Additionally, Certifer will serve as an independent assessor to ensure VHO is in compliance with relevant transportation guidelines. Certifer will support VHO with its high–level expertise across all of the railway disciplines and subdisciplines as well as from several different domains such as system safety, hardware development, software development, civil and mechanical works, guideways, control command and signaling, magnetic propulsion, etc. Certifer will work closely with VHO's dedicated Safety Certification and Quality Assurance team.

"By partnering with VHO, Certifer becomes part of a revolution that is taking place in a changing public transportation landscape," said Certifer's Director of Innovation Aryldo Russo. "In the framework of this project, Certifer is offering – on the same basis as all of our projects – the highest level of quality while reflecting our core values of Innovation, Independence, Impartiality, Commitment, Expertise and Excellence by enhancing challenges for a safe future."

"As the leader in the industry, governments are looking to us as a trusted partner to advise on this technology sector and recommend a new set of global standards. We take this process very seriously and are working with Certifer to ensure our engineering and safety processes meet the highest level of rigor and deliver a safe product," said Virgin Hyperloop One's Director of Safety Certification and Quality Assurance Benjamin Pasquier

Certifer is assessing whether the Engineering Safety Management Plan developed by VHO is adequate to achieve the stated goals, and that the identified list of standards and regulations referred to by VHO for this program is sound from safety viewpoint. In this framework, Certifer is considering the whole transport system, including pods (vehicles), civil and guideway structures, vacuum and guideway mechanisms, docks, controls and communication, maintenance and systems.

Virgin Hyperloop One Regulatory Progress
Governments around the world are recognizing hyperloop as a new mode of transportation. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao created the Non–Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to explore the regulation and permitting of hyperloop technology to bring this new form of mass transportation to the United States. The European Commission's Directorate–General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) has also been leading discussions with hyperloop companies to advance regulatory standards. In India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA), Prof. Vijayraghavan, has set up an independent committee called the Consultative Group on Future of Transportation (CGFT) to explore the regulatory path for hyperloop.

About Certifer
Headquartered in Valenciennes, Certifer is a leading global player specialized in Railway and urban transportation. Founded in 1997 in France, Certifer has developed its expertise by providing Inspection, Certification and Test Organization services in more than 40 countries all over the world. Thanks to a presence in 11 countries and more than 550 experts, Certifer provides independent safety assessment, independent checking engineer, assessment body, independent cybersecurity assessment and test organization services…. Learn more about Certifer here.

About VHO
Virgin Hyperloop One is the only hyperloop company who has built a full–scale hyperloop test track and has completed hundreds of test runs to date. The company successfully operated a full–scale hyperloop vehicle using electric propulsion and electromagnetic levitation under near–vacuum conditions, realizing a fundamentally new form of transportation that is faster, safer, cheaper, and more sustainable than existing modes. The company is now working with governments, partners, and investors around the world to make hyperloop a reality in years, not decades. They currently have projects underway in India, KSA, the U.S. and the UAE. Learn more about Virgin Hyperloop One's technology, vision, and ongoing projects here.

IEDs: Tackling Terrorists’ Weapon of War

In Torit, South Sudan, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) carries out mechanical and manual demining exercises. Credit: United Nations

By Pavithra Rao
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 27 2019 – Some of the most memorable images of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, show her wearing a protective suit while touring a minefield in Angola in 1997 to raise awareness of the devastating effects of land mines.

After meeting 13-year-old Sandra Thijika, who lost her leg after stepping on a land mine, the princess told the media, “I’d read the statistics that Angola has the highest percentage of amputees anywhere in the world…that one person in every 333 had lost a limb, most of them through land mine explosions.” She used the occasion to call for a global effort to address the problem.

Two years later, on March 1, 1999, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction (also known as the Ottawa Mines Ban Treaty or simply the Ottawa Treaty) entered into force.

By 2018, 164 states, including 50 African states, had signed up, committing to “not using, developing, producing, acquiring, retaining, stockpiling, or transferring anti-personnel landmines.”

However, 20 years since the treaty, there are still more than 50 million stockpiles of land mines, mostly in Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chad and Iraq, according to the US-based nonpartisan Arms Control Association, which is dedicated to drumming up support for arms control policies globally.

In a similar vein, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a network of NGOs, is upbeat about progress made so far with the Ottawa Treaty, reporting that 28 states have completely cleared and ended the use of land mines.

These include South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Chad. Mozambique was declared free of land mines most recently, in 2015.

Non-state actors

While the treaty has proved successful with states, the bigger problem remains that of nonstate actors laying their hands on improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which include land mines.

Pavithra Rao

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) IED adviser, Bryan Sand, defines as an IED anything that is “activated by the presence, proximity or contact of a person.”

“IEDs can be broken into three broad categories,” Sand says. “The first category consists of victim-operated IEDs—these meet the definition of a land mine; the second category are timed devices that are set to detonate at a specific time; and the third category is command devices, which can be operated when one either presses a button or steps on a switch, etc.”

While land mine use is decreasing, Sand says there is an upswing in the number of IEDS being used by nonstate actors. “IEDs are a huge problem, because individuals who do not have access to state munitions resort to improvised devices.”

Sand adds that terrorist groups such the Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia are using IEDs as instruments of terror. “They are using these devices to circumvent what has been largely a very successful Ottawa Treaty on land mines.”

In a broader sense, IEDs are unpredictable, as they are not manufactured within the same set of specifications as regular land mines. Most IEDs are also cheaper and easier to manufacture.

How much impact can an IED have?

He elaborates: “When you look at the cost of an AK-47 vis-à-vis its effect, it is limited compared to the cost of an IED that can destroy many more lives and several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of property. This is why IEDs are weapons of choice for terrorist groups across Africa and globally.”

One of the loopholes in the Ottawa Mines Ban Treaty is that it targets land mines, not the full range of IEDs, which include antitank mines, booby traps and other devices.

Because IEDs are multi-dynamic, regulation is complex, Sand concedes. “It is difficult to enforce regulation on things that can also be used as technology. If I am activating an IED using a cell phone, how would one know that the cell phone is for personal use or for a nefarious purpose?” he asks rhetorically.

From the UN’s point of view, Sand says IEDs hinder the ability to deliver humanitarian aid—convoys that ought to move across roads can’t operate. “Look at Nigeria and Cameroon—they’re diverting resources that could be better spent elsewhere than dealing with IEDs,” he points out.

AU intervention

The African Union and its member states are looking to develop a strategy to deal with IEDs, while the UN is doing the same thing “so that a whole-of-government or whole-of-institution approach can be adopted…to get everyone on the same page,” says Sand.

For example, UNMAS undertook a mapping of the entire UN system and found, surprisingly, that 28 different UN agencies are dealing with individuals and groups affected by IEDs. UNMAS envisions a unified systemwide focus on IEDs.

Regarding deactivating land mines, much has been done, but there is still a lot more to do, says Sand. Countries such as Mozambique, Angola and Somalia, hit hard by land mines used in wars and conflict, are deploying technological tools such as electromagnetic radar and even using rodents to detect and neutralize land mines.

Military records, maps and information from local populations have also been crucial in detecting land mines. “It’s a huge amount of work and engagement with the local population, with the government, with civil society and NGOs,” explains Sand, and adds, “The UN assists in coordinating so much of this. It’s a bigger process and it’s resource driven.”

UNMAS also makes efforts with its limited resources to assist land mine victims. Sand says, “We want to help the victims and survivors in terms of rebuilding their lives. For example, we had a survivor come [to UN headquarters in New York and] speak about his experience—losing three of his limbs to an IED attack and the resources that were made available to him, and how he survived. It was truly remarkable.

“We need to make our resources more available across the world, so bettering ourselves in that delivery is important.” UNMAS, he concludes, envisions a world where people do not die because of land mines or IEDs.

*The Africa Renewal information programme, produced by the Africa Section of the United Nations Department of Global Communications, provides up-to-date information and analysis of the major economic and development challenges facing Africa today. Among the major items it produces is the renowned magazine, Africa Renewal (formerly Africa Recovery), which first appeared in 1987. It also produces a range of public information materials, including backgrounders, press releases and feature articles. It works with the media in Africa and beyond to promote the work of the United Nations, Africa and the international community to bring peace and development to Africa.