Afghanistan’s Historic Year: Peace Talks, Security Transition but Higher Levels of Violence

Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations, addresses U.N. Security Council. She said her generation have been the main victims of the war in Afghanistan. “We are being killed, our dreams are being buried everyday,” she told the Security Council. Courtesy: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the United Nations, addresses U.N. Security Council. She said her generation have been the main victims of the war in Afghanistan. “We are being killed, our dreams are being buried everyday,” she told the Security Council. Courtesy: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Nalisha Adams
BONN, Germany, Dec 18 2020 – While Afghanistan ends a historic year, filled with the hope for peace as the government and Taliban sat down for almost three months of consecutive peace talks for the first time in 19 years, it was also a year filled with violence with provisional statistics by the United Nations showing casualties for this year being higher than 2019.

Yesterday, Dec. 17, in a virtual meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), praised the peace efforts on the close of “one of the most momentous years that Afghans have endured”, while also highlighting the causalities of the year.

She said that the Afghanistan government and the Taliban had “made incremental but genuine progress in their peace talks”. They agreed on a preliminary deal, reportedly the first written agreement after 19 years of conflict.

“These developments are an early but a positive sign that both sides are willing and able to compromise when needed,” Lyons said.

Talks continued uninterrupted in host country Qatar for almost three months, but are currently in a three week recess.

However, despite the talks, the Taliban has refused to a ceasefire and continued its war on the Afghanistan government.

It was, however, reported this week that a top U.S. general held recent talks with the Taliban in Doha, urging a reduction in violence as this risked the peace process. 

Lyons also raised the issue, stating that the “unrelenting violence remains a serious obstacle to peace and a threat to the region.” She added that one Afghan official had told her recently, “the sense and perception of violence and insecurity is higher now that ever”.

While UNAMA is still compiling this year’s data, Lyons provided some provisional statistic on the impact of the violence.

“In October and November, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) caused over 60 percent more civilian casualties than in the same period last year. In the third quarter of 2020, child casualties rose 25 percent over the previous three months; while attacks against schools in this same period increased fourfold.

“In the first 11 months of 2020, targeted killings by anti-government elements rose by nearly 40 percent compared to the same period in 2019,” she said, adding that it was no surprise that the Global Peace Index for 2020 listed Afghanistan as the least peaceful nation in the world for a second year in a row.

She highlighted some of the conflicts experienced over recent months — two separate rocket attacks in Kabul, an attack on Kabul University, and the increased conflict in some areas — and said these served to heighten fears around the emergence of new terrorists threats.

She called for all countries to continue to pressure all parities to the conflict to bring about a sustained reduction in violence. “I except this will be a top priority when the negotiations resume,” she said.

Meanwhile, Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s Youth Representative to the U.N. also briefed the Security Council.

She said that “while it is very difficult to represent a generation born and raised in violence and conflict,” she was honoured to speak on behalf of Afghan youth, including those who were killed in the terror attack on Kabul University and other education centres.

“I have met their families. Their pain is beyond our imagination. I have promised them that I will be their voice and I am fulfilling my promise,” Zadran, who spent her childhood as a refugee in Pakistan, told the Security Council.

“I’m representing a generation who have been the main victims of this proxy war. We are being killed, our dreams are being buried everyday.”

She called for the end to the daily killings of Afghan youth who are a majority of the country’s population as two thirds of citizens are under the age of 25.

“Terrorists are afraid of Afghan youth. And that is why they are targeting our education institutions.

“They know that an educated and informed generation will never allow terrorism and extremism to grown in their country,” Zadran said.

Zadran said that as an Afghan youth representative, her message to terrorists and their supporters was clear and obvious.

“You tried to bury us. You didn’t know that we were seeds.”

Zadran said that the youth supported the end of the conflict through the peace negotiations.

Lyons said Afghanistan’s youth were a key constituency, and were also the most educated generation of youth in the country’s history.

“Young Afghan’s have clear views on the future of their country, and we must do all we can to amplify their voices.”

“Through our youth-focused local, peace initiatives, which are conducted throughout Afghanistan, UNAMA has provided a platform for the youth of Afghanistan to have their say on peace,” Lyons noted.

“Most recently, in the rural province of Faryab, young participants issued their own declaration with strong recommendations, specifying an immediate ceasefire, setting out the role of Islam under Afghanistan’s constitution, identifying the all-important sustainable development goals and emphasising the need for transitional justice.

“These are the young people of Afghanistan, their voices deserve to be heard,” Lyons said, adding that cooperation throughout the region of Central and South Asia will be essential for enduring peace.

Lyons also noted an increasing commitment among regional players for peace in Afghanistan as this was linked to attaining peace within the region.

“Increased trade and connectivity will build the foundation for peace and regional prosperity,” Lyons said, adding it was important to support regional efforts, including the regional efforts on drug trafficking and transnational organised crime as these were considered two serious threats to peace.

Lyons said that any sustainable peace needed to be owned by Afghan’s diverse society. “This is only possible if the process is inclusive from the outset, with meaningful participation by all constituencies, including women, youth, minorities, victims of conflict, and religious leaders,” Lyons said.

She added that the ongoing security transition, with the international troop withdrawal, added to the anxiety of the Afghan population. She said in the coming months this larger security transition will become a central topic in the dialogue among Afghan officials, regional countries and the international community.

She, however, pointed out that the $3 billion raised in financial support for the country during a donor conference in Geneva was remarkable within the context of the current financial environment.

Lyons said that the full security transition, peace negotiations, the health and socio-economic challenges of COVID, the ongoing commitment of the international donors and the expected results of even more regional cooperation meant that Afghanistan would continue to move forward in this new year.

“By all accounts this was a big year. But a bigger year lies ahead,” she said.

 


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Saipem and Farid Noureddine Bedjaoui’s Acquittal Upheld by Italy’s Highest Court

The Supreme Court of Cassation has upheld the acquittal of Saipem and Farid Noureddine Bedjaoui of bribery and international corruption charges

MILAN, Italy, Dec. 18, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The Supreme Court of Cassation has upheld the Milan Court of Appeal's previous judgment acquitting Italian energy company Saipem and businessman Farid Noureddine Bedjaoui of corruption and bribery charges first issued in 2013.

Italian prosecutors accused Saipem of orchestrating an alleged $197m bribe to former Algerian officials in order to secure seven contracts with Sonatrach, and businessman Farid Noureddine Bedjaoui of facilitating the bribe.

In January 2020, the Milan Court of Appeal acquitted both Saipem and Mr Bedjaoui and ordered that the preventative seizure of the proceeds of the alleged crime be returned to Saipem and all the defendants in the prosecution, because the alleged fact of corruption does not exist.

The Court of Cassation's decision to uphold the Court of Appeal's judgment ultimately vindicates Mr Bedjaoui of any role in any alleged bribery and highlights the fact that the allegations of the Italian prosecutor about the existence of any corruption in connection with the Saipem contracts in Algeria are groundless and unfounded.

Bedjaoui's legal counsels Marco Deluca and Guido Carlo Alleva have expressed their "utmost satisfaction" with the judgment, commenting that "The acquittal is explicit and final. It comes after 7 years of extensive investigations, tens of rogatory letters addressed to many countries, and long trials that ended with the establishment of a clear and indisputable fact that no bribe was ever paid by Farid Bedjaoui or Saipem to Minister Chakib Khelil, and that Farid Bedjaoui played the legitimate role of agent and promoter of Saipem."

Deluca and Alleva stated that "During the course of a very long and complex battle Farid Bedjaoui was required to make many sacrifices, many of which can never be reclaimed or compensated. This decision definitively confirms that the accusations of the Prosecutor's Office of Milan were groundless and without merit, and at the end justice was well served."

NOTE TO EDITORS:

For more information please contact

bedjaoui@portland–communications.com

Issued by Mr. Marco Deluca and Mr. Guido Alleva, lawyers for Mr. Bedjaoui


Online Violence, Fueled by Disinformation and Political Attacks, Deeply Harms Women Journalists

An alarmingly high number of women journalists are now targets of online attacks associated with orchestrated digital disinformation campaigns

Credit: Unsplash, vía Thought Catalog.

By Julie Posetti
WASHINGTON, Dec 18 2020 – An alarmingly high number of women journalists are now targets of online attacks associated with orchestrated digital disinformation campaigns. The impacts include self-censorship, retreat from visibility, an increased risk of physical injury, and a serious mental health toll. The main perpetrators? Anonymous trolls and political actors.

These findings are among the first released in a survey conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) on online violence against women journalists. They paint a global picture of the deeply entrenched nature of gendered abuse, harassment and sexualized attacks against women journalists, along with the obstacles to effective solutions.

The survey, which is the most comprehensive and geographically diverse survey ever undertaken on the theme of online violence, was offered in five languages and received responses from 714 women journalists across 113 countries. It is part of a broader UNESCO-commissioned study to examine online violence in 15 countries, with an emphasis on intersectional experiences and the Global South.

The women journalists surveyed said they had been subjected to a wide range of online violence, including threats of sexual assault and physical violence, abusive language, harassing private messages, threats to damage their professional or personal reputations, digital security attacks, misrepresentation via manipulated images and financial threats.

These methods of attack are growing more sophisticated and evolving with technology. They are also increasingly associated with orchestrated attacks fueled by disinformation tactics designed to silence journalists. This points to the need for responses to online violence to grow equally in technological sophistication and collaborative coordination.

Here are the top 12 findings from the report, which was published by UNESCO to mark International Human Rights Day:

(1) Nearly three in four women respondents (73%) said they had experienced online violence.

Online attacks against women journalists have been a pernicious problem for many years. Now, these appear to be increasing dramatically and uncontrollably around the world, as our respondents illustrated.

(2) Threats of physical (25%) and sexual violence (18%) plagued the women journalists surveyed.
But these threats aren’t just directed at the women being targeted — they radiate. Thirteen percent of respondents said they had received threats of violence against those close to them.

(3) One in five women respondents (20%) said they had been attacked or abused offline in incidents seeded online.

This finding is particularly disturbing given the emerging correlation between online attacks and the murder of journalists with impunity. In related findings, 13% said they increased their physical security in response to online violence, and 4% said that they had missed work due to concerns about the attacks jumping offline. This highlights both their sense of vulnerability and their awareness of the potential offline consequences of digital attacks.

(4) The mental health impacts of online violence were the most frequently identified (26%) consequence. Twelve percent of respondents said they had sought medical or psychological help due to the effects of online violence, and 11% said they had taken days off work as a result.

Online violence against women journalists causes significant psychological harm, especially when it is prolific and sustained. But our survey also demonstrated that media employers need to do much more to support the mental health and well-being of those targeted. Only 11% of our respondents said their employer provided access to a counselling service if they were attacked.

(5) Almost half (48%) of the women reported being harassed with unwanted private messages.
This highlights the fact that much online violence targeting women journalists occurs in the shadows of the internet, away from public view where dealing with the problem can be even more difficult.

(6) The story theme most often identified in association with increased attacks was gender (47%), followed by politics and elections (44%), and human rights and social policy (31%).

This data underlines the function of misogyny in online violence against women journalists. It also spotlights the role of political attacks on the press, connected to populist politics in particular, exacerbating threats to journalism safety.

(7) Forty-one percent women respondents said they had been the targets of online attacks that appeared to be linked to orchestrated disinformation campaigns.

Women journalists increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of digital disinformation campaigns which leverage misogyny and other forms of hate speech to chill critical reporting.

(8) Political actors were the second most frequently noted sources (37%) of attacks and abuse after “anonymous or unknown attackers” (57%).

The role of political actors as top sources and primary perpetrators of online violence against women journalists is an alarming trend confirmed by this survey. Meanwhile, the proliferation of anonymous and pseudonymous “troll” accounts complicates the process of both investigating the perpetrators and efforts to hold them to account. A lack of transparency and limited responsiveness by the platforms, especially those where attacks are prolific, compounds this problem.

(9) Facebook was rated the least safe of the top five platforms or apps used by participants, with nearly double the number of respondents rating Facebook “very unsafe” compared to Twitter. It also attracted disproportionately higher rates of incident reporting among the respondents (39% compared to Twitter’s 26%).

Considering the role of Facebook and Twitter as major vectors of online attacks against women journalists, the levels of reporting to the social media companies demonstrated by the survey respondents appear relatively low. This likely reflects both a sense of futility frequently associated with such efforts, as well as a general reluctance among the women surveyed to raise these issues externally. In addition, the finding underscores the urgent need for major internet companies to fulfill their duty of care and more effectively tackle online violence against journalists.

(10) Only 25% of respondents reported incidents of online violence to their employers. The top responses they said they received were: no response (10%) and advice like “grow a thicker skin” or “toughen up” (9%). Two percent said they were asked what they did to provoke the attack.

The respondents demonstrated the existence of a double impediment to effective action to deal with online violence experienced in the course of their employment: low levels of access to systems and support mechanisms for targeted journalists, and low levels of awareness about the existence of measures, policies and guidelines for addressing the problem.

(11) The women journalists surveyed most frequently indicated (30%) that they respond to the online violence they experience by self-censoring on social media. Twenty percent described how they withdrew from all online interaction, and 18% specifically avoided audience engagement.

Such acts, which could be considered defensive measures employed by women to preserve their safety, demonstrate the effectiveness of online attack tactics: They are designed to chill critical reporting, silence women and muzzle truth-telling.

(12) Online violence significantly impacts the employment and productivity of the women respondents. In particular, 11% reported missing work, 38% retreated from visibility (e.g. by asking to be taken off air and retreating behind pseudonyms online), 4% quit their jobs, and 2% even abandoned journalism altogether.

While some of these numbers might appear small, this is a significant indicator of the perniciousness of the problem. This data also demonstrates the negative implications of online violence for gender diversity in (and through) the news media.

Ultimately, this survey’s first results illustrate that online violence against women journalists is a global phenomenon that demands urgent action. For freedom of expression to be sustained, for diversity in journalism to flourish, and for access to information to be equal, women journalists must be seen and heard.

The climate of impunity surrounding online attacks raises questions that demand answers. Impunity emboldens the perpetrators, demoralizes the victim, erodes the foundations of journalism, exacerbates risks to journalism safety and undermines democracy.

Based on these disturbing findings, nine recommendations for action are offered in the full report, targeting governments, the social media platforms and media industry employers.

 

This story was originally published by IJNET, International Journalists’ Network

 

How Africa can Lead the World in the COVID-19 Recovery

A mother homeschools her children in Shamva district, Zimbabwe, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa; Zimbabwe and South Sudan among most vulnerable. Credit: WFP/Tatenda Macheka

By Kundhavi Kadiresan
WASHINGTON DC, Dec 18 2020 – Africa, compared to Asia, Europe and the US, has largely escaped the devastating death toll of COVID-19, accounting for a fraction of the world’s 63 million cases.

Instead, the continent has been uniquely affected by the pandemic’s impact on food supply chains, revealing underlying vulnerabilities that threaten to bring a different crisis and leaving the spectre of famine looming over several African countries.

As donors, NGOs and research organisations rally to support governments in preventing a rise in extreme hunger and poverty, we have an opportunity to transform Africa’s food systems for the better at a time when the entire world has reached an inflection point for the sustainability of food systems.

In tackling the secondary impacts of the pandemic, Africa can build greater resilience to global shocks, leapfrogging other regions by reconfiguring a food system that the continent – and the world – has long since outgrown.

This could provide a blueprint for other regions and countries in the run-up to a milestone UN summit in 2021 and help the rest of the world to leverage food and agriculture for better health, climate action and opportunities for equality.

Such a roadmap should start by recognising that the diet, nutrition and health of a population underpins all other indicators of progress and prosperity.

With this in mind, agriculture should be situated at the heart of any national or regional strategy for development and economic growth.

Since it was launched in 2003, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) has set out clear targets for agriculture as a driver of other goals and includes more than 40 countries among its signatories.

As of 2015, public spending on agriculture across Africa under CAADP had increased by more than seven per cent a year to support more and better livelihoods, stronger food security and greater resilience.

It also provides a clear, shared vision around which partners, such as agricultural research networks like CGIAR, can unite to play their part.

Such an integrated, coordinated approach, both between governments and partners, will be essential in delivering the next decade of the programme to accelerate the transformation of African agriculture.

But while a high-level framework like CAADP is crucial for bringing together partners in pursuit of common goals, each country, district and neighbourhood will also need solutions appropriate to their specific contexts.

The world may be connected by its common need to produce sufficient healthy food in a sustainable way, but the means through which this is achieved varies enormously according to social and environmental factors.

Developing more innovations that fit geographical needs will allow food systems to be more responsive, adaptive and impactful.

Over the last 20 years, for example, CGIAR has developed 52 separate innovations across sustainable livestock, crop breeding and natural resource management in Ethiopia alone. By tailoring them to the specific challenges faced by smallholders, women and youth, these solutions have reached an estimated 11 million rural households.

Going forward, initiatives like the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program, led by CGIAR and funded by the African Development Bank, will integrate expertise from across research areas to continue to scale up the uptake of appropriate new technologies.

Working in 30 countries, TAAT is forecast to increase raw food production by 120 million tons per year, helping to lift about 40 million people out of poverty, by focusing on national needs across different crops and livestock, and different challenges from crop pests to soil fertility.

Finally, in reforming agriculture, Africa has the opportunity to address systematic and long-term inequality, particularly when it comes to gender inequality.

Women in Africa continue to carry out around 40 per cent of agricultural labour yet their frequent exclusion from financial services, land rights and equal opportunities for training holds back Africa’s agricultural development.

CGIAR’s COVID-19 Hub enables researchers to work collectively, while also drawing lessons learned from research across the CGIAR System that can both support the pandemic recovery, and also identify opportunities to close the gender gap.

For example, one study demonstrates the challenges women livestock keepers faced compared to men as a result of a shortage of livestock feed during the pandemic, and offered solutions that could unlock the potential of women, building resilience not only for women but also for their families and their communities.

Arguably, if research into the connected relationship between human, animal and environmental health had been better funded, the world may not be facing today’s COVID-19, health and hunger crisis.

But if there is one lesson to learn, it should be that investing now in agricultural research could help prevent the next disaster, in Africa and around the world.

It is clear now that the needs of a 21st century food system stretch further than ever, and we must rise to the challenge of redesigning a food system for Africa itself and by Africa for the world.

 


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