#AceGuestNews – PAKISTAN – September 03 – Youth can play a crucial role in positively transforming conflict situations and building peaceful societies. In countries like Pakistan, where peace and stability seem a far-fetched idea for most, investing into young people to build their synergies and unity is the need of hour.
Moreover, the current turmoil calls for youth in Pakistan to become prepared to shoulder the responsibility to respond to the situation with understanding and ownership.
Peace is all about understanding each other’s perceptions and learning to find common grounds. This year “Role of Youth in Peace-building” a series of discussions took place across cities with the collaboration of Youth Development Foundation YDF and ICMICA Pakistan.
It comprised of panel experts that highlighted motivational skills for peace awareness, urged youth to accept followers of different faiths, think above school syllabus and understand the true message of every religion.
Last year, this activity was organized by the Youth Development Foundation YDF/ Interfaith Youth in Action where the youth participants hailing from different religions interacted and took part in a diversity tour across Lahore to visit a historic mosque, two churches and a gurdwara, the place of worship for Sikhs.
The discussions started off with a slideshow showing the grave consequences Pakistani people suffer on hands of religion based discrimination and sectarian violence.
Different panel experts spoke on various topics and youth participants were able to clarify many misconceptions about different faiths. Participants learned more on reasons why Pakistan is radicalized. A myriad of complexities including the distorted education, prejudice against religious minorities, hatred towards non Muslims in school textbooks are the main elements that create disharmony and conflict in society and derail peace in Pakistan.
But, the discussions’ main focus remained the ways through which the nation’s youth mobilization could help in eradicating the national scale religious intolerance. The young participants of all religious communities were present and sensitized “to welcoming religious diversity”, and for rejecting violence.
These programs concluded with Q/A session, some of them quiet, other very heated on issues including religious discrimination and war on terror, and a candle lighting ceremony.
Our country is witnessing a rise in fanaticism, as never before and with no state control of their activities. But Pakistan is not an exception.The whole of South Asia is in the grip of right-wing ideas.
However, Pakistan’s case proves that a religious state cannot deal effectively with religious fanatics. Therefore, religion should be separated from the affairs of the state.
Overshadowed by an economic, social and humanitarian crisis in the wake of a bloody war against terrorism, Pakistan’s sole hope lies with the youth. It is time to let them pave a path towards a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan.
#AceWorldNews says following the resignation of the Central African Republic’s two interim leaders, the top United Nations official in the crisis-riven country called for calm today, urging the authorities to mobilze around the speedy election of new transitional leadership.
In a statement issued by his office in Bagui, Babacar Gaye, Special Representative and Head of the UN Integrated Peace-building Office for the Central African Republic (BINUCA), took note of the resignation yesterday of President Michel Djotodia and Prime Minister Nicolas Tiangaye.
“He calls on members of the National Transitional Council (CNT) to mobilize around the urgent election of a new transitional executive, as agreed at the extraordinary summit of Heads of States of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) yesterday, 10 January 2014, in N’djamena, Chad.” Armed attacks between ex-Séléka and Christian anti-balaka militias have escalated significantly in the past two weeks, despite the creation of a transitional government following the attack a year ago by mostly Muslim Séléka rebels which forced President François Bozizé to flee.
Since then, thousands of people are estimated to have been killed, nearly 1 million driven from their homes, and 2.2 million, about half the population, need humanitarian aid.
Delivering a message on behalf of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the ECCAS Summit on Thursday, Mr. Gaye stressed that the past year’s events have profoundly damaged the relationship between Muslim and Christian communities in the CAR, and warned that there is a real danger of further upheaval along religious lines.
“The horrific cycle of violence and retaliation between communities must stop immediately,” he said. “Distrust is high and violence has fuelled anger and a thirst for revenge,” he added, highlighting the need to prioritize reconciliation efforts. Disarmament of combatants in accordance with international standards is essential, Mr. Ban stressed, noting also the importance of demobilization and reintegration of the former fighters.
Today, Mr. Gaye called on the people and the leaders of the CAR to maintain calm and show maturity following the leaders’ resignations. “Along with the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), French forces, SANGARIS, have made important progress in securing Bangui,” he said, adding that their efforts must be supported, especially as numerous threats persist.
“The entire UN System and our humanitarian partners are fully mobilized to assist approximately two million people who are in urgent need of assistance across the country,” he said.
To that end, yesterday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) issued an appeal for $40.2 million for CAR. That request, which is for the period to the end of March, follows appeals launched by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in late December for $152.2 million in immediate support needs for a 100-day plan for CAR.
UNHCR’s supplementary appeal for CAR aims to support more than 1 million people, including 86,400 refugees in neighbouring countries and 958,000 internally displaced persons.
#AceWorldNews says The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) announced today that as it continues to gain access to besieged areas, the number of people killed in the current round of fighting in the world’s youngest country “must be much higher” than the 1,000 figure given earlier in the conflict, which erupted nearly a month ago and continues to grind on.
In a news release from Juba, UNMISS notes fresh media reports, including in the New York Times, estimating that up to 10,000 people may have been killed since the conflict started on 15 December 2013, after President Salva Kiir said soldiers loyal to former vice-president Reik Machar, dismissed from office in July, launched an attempted coup.
On 26 December, 10 days into the crisis, the Mission estimated that 1,000 people may have been killed in the fighting. “This was based on UNMISS’ initial monitoring and investigations in Juba and other relatively more stable locations where its Human Rights Officers and other staff were able to access, investigate and document the unfolding developments,” the Mission said today.
Yet, after two weeks of subsequent violence, characterized by sometimes intense fighting with heavy weapons, there are now clear indications that the casualty count must be much higher, says UNMISS, adding that while it has continues to closely monitor the human rights situation, interviewing witnesses, and following leads, it “is not at this stage in a position to establish and verify the exact numbers of casualties.”
The Mission recalls that on 9 January, Hervé Ladsous, the head of UN Peacekeeping Operations, speaking to reporters in New York following a three hour briefing to the Security Council on the situation in South Sudan, said: “We are not able to provide final figures. We know it will be very substantially in excess of the 1,000 figure”.
Meanwhile the Mission says that despite serious security constraints due to the fighting in Bor and Bentiu, which has restricted access by its Human Rights Officers, during the course of last week, UNMISS began interviewing victims and eyewitnesses among displaced people from Bor who have arrived in Juba and Awerial County in neighbouring Lakes State. UNMISS Human Rights Officers have also been able to return to Bor on 9 January.
“Preliminary indications from these interviews and investigations in Bentiu and Malakal contain horrific allegations of atrocities by anti-Government forces against civilians and surrendering soldiers, including summary executions, torture, sexual violence and ethnically targeted killing,” the Mission says in the news releases, deploring these horrendous acts of violence and utter disregard for human life and dignity.
UNMISS chief Hilde Johnson called on all parties to cease hostilities immediately, and respect and protect civilians. “She reiterates Secretary-General [Ban Ki-moon’s] reminder that those who commit such heinous acts will be held accountable,” the news release adds.
UNMISS vowed to continue investigating and documenting atrocities committed by both sides, in all affected areas and called on the Government and the anti-Government forces to cooperate with “these important investigations and to facilitate unhindered access by the Mission’s Human Rights Officers to all affected areas.”
In addition, this past Friday, Mr. Ban that announced that he would dispatch UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, to South Sudan this weekend to look into cases of violations believed to have been committed during the conflict, which has displaced some 230,000 people, more than a quarter of whom are seeking refuge on UN bases.
#AceWorldNews says the United Nations human rights office today expressed concern about a decision by the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs to declare illegal a coalition of 54 mainly non-Islamic civil society groups focused on human rights known by the acronym COMANGO.
“We call upon Government of Malaysia to amend the Societies Act 1966, maximize the space for human rights activists and organisations to operate freely, and ensure that they can conduct their legitimate activities without intimidation or harassment,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
The COMANGO coalition submitted joint reports to both the UN Human Rights Council’s 2009 and 2013 Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) of the situation in Malaysia.
Since its submission to the second cycle of the UPR, which took place on 24 October 2013, the coalition has reportedly been subjected to a series of harassment and threats, allegedly by both State and non-State actors. The coalition has been accused of attacking Islam and of spreading beliefs that do not conform to Islamic teachings.
The Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs declared in a press statement on 8 January that COMANGO promotes rights which are not in line with Islam, and is therefore illegal.
The statement also noted that only 15 of the 54 organizations are registered under the Societies Act 1966.
“We are concerned by what appears to be an act of reprisal against COMANGO for its engagement with international human rights mechanism,” the spokesperson added.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, High Commissioner Navi Pillay and the Geneva-based Human Rights Council have persistently called for the protection of individuals and members of groups that cooperate with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights from acts of intimidation or reprisal.
#AceWorldNews says “United Nations Human Rights Office” today said it hopes that Myanmar’s decision to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment will lead to the full abolition of the death penalty in the country.
President Thein Sein announced on 2 January that he would commute death sentences to life imprisonment and reduce some sentences on humanitarian grounds and to mark the 66th anniversary of independence of the country, marked on 4 January.
“We warmly welcome the Myanmar Government’s Presidential Order,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
The move is “very significant” for Myanmar, which has not carried out the death penalty since 1989, the spokesperson noted, as the country assumed the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
The step “sets a positive example for other ASEAN member states and other States in the region and beyond,” Mr. Colville said on behalf of the Office for the High Commissioners of Human Rights (OHCHR).
#AceWorldNews says Reporting “modest progress” with the Syrian Government on speeding up visa issuance and increasing the number of relief distribution hubs, a top United Nations official said the other that with perhaps 250,000 Syrians cut off from aid in besieged communities across the war-torn country, greater efforts are needed to ensure real gains on the humanitarian front.
“I advised the Security Council that we have seen some modest progress in terms of administrative procedures that had been put in place over time,” said Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, as she spoke to reporters after briefing the 15-member body on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
This is her second closed-door meeting with the Council since it adopted, on 2 October, a Presidential Statement urging the Syrian Government to immediately allow humanitarian access to relieve the plight of civilians trapped by heavy fighting, including cross-line aid deliveries.
The statement, which called on all parties to the conflict to agree on humanitarian pauses in the fighting, with special attention to key delivery routes, also deplored the escalating violence in a conflict that has killed more than 100, 000 people and driven some 6.5 million others from their homes since opposition protesters first sought to oust the Government of President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.
On the implementation of the statement, Ms. Amos cited progress, for example, in the Government’s decision to grant some 50 visas on an individual basis.
Damascus has also given the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) permission to open three additional relief hubs, “but only two of these will actually be helpful to us, because the third being proposed – Al Sweida – will not allow us access into Western Dera’a, which is where the hard-to-reach communities are.”
She also noted that both the Government and the opposition had indicated who the interlocutors are for the UN to try to facilitate humanitarian access.
“However, I did remind the Council that on some of the more difficult areas – protection of civilians, de-militarization of schools and hospitals, access to besieged communities and also cross-line access to hard-to-reach areas – we have not seen any progress.
“I need the Council to continue to make it absolutely clear that targeting civilians is against international humanitarian law and that we need to do greater work to ensure that the recommendations in the Presidential Statement are achieved,” she declared.
Responding to questions, Ms. Amos said that an estimated 250,000 civilians are trapped in besieged communities, while perhaps some 2.5 million were in hard-to-reach areas – places that aid workers have been able to reach but not frequently enough to make any real headway against the overall needs.
Asked if a Council resolution – which carry legal obligations for UN Member States ¬– would improve the situation, Ms. Amos said: “My focus is on how what has already been agreed can be put into effect. Should the Council agree on a resolution, then we will operationalize that.”
Indeed, while the UN and its partners have made gains in reaching civilians across the strife-riven country, in the context of the scale of the crisis, “this is far too few to meet the needs of the people. Of course the issue is what is the best means to reach people in need? For me, the unity of the Security Council is the key here.”
Meanwhile, UN agencies continue pressing ahead with relief efforts, now rushing to fortify desperate civilians against the oncoming winter season.
Briefing the press in Geneva today, Marixie Mercado, spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned: “The scale of the humanitarian response needed for the looming winter is unprecedented, as the number quadrupled as compared to the previous year.”
She explained that in December 2012, there were approximately 1.15 million children affected by the crisis inside Syria, with an additional 232,000 Syrian children living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
As the conflict approaches its fourth year, those numbers have skyrocketed to 4.3 million and 1.2 million, respectively. UNICEF has worked since early October to equip children as quickly as possible for the cold. Blankets, plastic sheeting, winter clothing and hygiene kits are being distributed, along with wintered tents and fuel to heat classrooms.
For its part, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has commenced an emergency airlift of urgently needed winter supplies to reinforce its stockpile in northern Iraq with relief items for up to 50,000 vulnerable Syrians. A UNHCR-chartered Boeing 777 landed at Erbil airport on Monday carrying 90 metric tons of relief items to help 4,400 families over the winter months, including plastic tarpaulins, thermal blankets, sleeping mats, jerry cans and kitchen sets.
“While UNHCR has adequate stocks inside Iraq to meet the immediate needs, we want to ensure that sufficient items are on-hand to address any developments,” said UNHCR’s Amman-based Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Amin Awad. “The relief items we are airlifting will reinforce the UNHCR-led winterization regional response as temperatures are starting to drop across higher altitude areas in the Syria region.”
Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), told reporters that the agency dispatched enough food for over 3.4 million people inside Syria in November, mainly to internally displaced families in 13 governorates, and had reached eight more locations, which had been inaccessible in recent months.
However, she said WFP remains gravely concerned about the fate of many Syrians still trapped in conflict zones throughout the country, including around Damascus and in Al Hassakeh, where some areas have been without food assistance for six consecutive months.
WFP aims to reach 4 million people inside Syria every month, as well as to provide assistance for nearly 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries.
- Aid to besieged areas in Syria still blocked (blognovic.com)
- UN Envoy Welcomes Agreement on Humanitarian Corridor from Iraq to Syria (iraqinews.com)
- Syria: Senior UN officials strongly condemn attacks on health personnel, facilities (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Growing suffering of Syria’s besieged civilians (mkxzi.wordpress.com)
- Syria: Aid to Besieged Areas Being Blocked (hrw.org)