Plastic Planet: A Sustainable Future?

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 2nd March 2018, the special report on the environment:

Mr President. The destruction of the environment is no longer a distant possibility; its degradation has harmed vital ecosystems and impacted the livelihoods of the people that depend on them and has also had negative effects on human health and well-being. It is no exaggeration to say that the environment is now very much a human security concern.

The Next Century Foundation commends the profound commitment of the UN to combat the threat of environmental degradation through the sustainable development goals and through the remarkable work carried out by the Environment Programme.

However while good ecological practices are becoming more mainstream and humanity is becoming more aware of the extent to which human action is harming the planet, the NCF wishes to particularly emphasize the dangers posed by the increasing scale of global plastic pollution.

According to the UN’s own figures, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 unless people stop using single-use plastic items. The danger posed by plastic waste entering the world’s seas and oceans is not only harmful to wildlife; it is also moving up the food chain and threatening human sustenance. Oceans and seas are crucial resources for human existence and their maintenance makes the Earth habitable.

The NCF believes that improper care of these resources could make humankind’s future unsustainable.  Despite the vast number of pledges and promises made by nations to reduce the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans, the distinct lack of timetables and lack of legally binding agreements has hampered any resolute and meaningful action.

While we are encouraged by the reuse of resources through recycling,  this solution alone is not enough. We instead urge nations to consider more front-line solutions; to adopt a legal commitment to the environment; to move towards a plastic-free world and perhaps most crucially to establish a realistic time frame for when this will be achieved.

We echo the opening statements of the Stockholm Declaration, that man is both creature and molder of his environment. We have all played a part in creating this problem, we must therefore work together to find the solutions. Thank you.


Korean Peninsula Crisis

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 4 ID on 12th March 2018, the special report on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:

Mr President, my name is Be Sun Lee from the Next Century Foundation.

The Next Century Foundation recognizes that despite the positive signal given by the Winter Olympic Games held recently in Pyeong-Chang, the underlying antagonism on the Korean peninsula persists. It is urgent that this issue is addressed. The NCF feels that the United Nation has not been involved as actively or thoughtfully as it could have been on the issue.

North Korea has been long known for the Human rights violations. On 13th February 2017 Kim Jong-Nam was assassinated. On 19 June 2017, Otto Warmbier died at the age of 22 after 17 months of imprisonment with hard labour in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Furthermore in 2017 alone, 23 missiles were fired, threating to undermine international security and infringing the universal fundamental human right to freedom from fear.

Meanwhile, in response to the Korean crisis, the UN Security Council has adopted economic sanctions against North Korea. However, it was the welfare of the population that was negatively affected, whilst the authoritarian elite was smuggling resources from abroad. On 24th of March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council adopted an “experts in legal accountability” process to assess cases and develop plans for the eventual prosecution of North Korean leaders responsible for crimes against humanity. But Mr President what practical effect have these measures had? The NCF believes the United Nations have merely been provoking outrage in North Korea and made the prospects for democracy even weaker by making the DPRK believe they are not part of our international community.

As a citizen of the Republic of Korea, I do not wish to see harm come to South Korea nor indeed to North Korea. Nearly 3,800 people who’ve been waiting to reunite with their relatives in North Korea died last year and still; however almost 60,000 South Koreans are still waiting desperately to see their separated families. We therefore appeal to the UN and the international community to collaborate altogether, rather than using this crisis to advance selfish political or economic interest, and to devise a thoughtful resolution of the problems facing the Korean peninsula. Only then can we genuinely invite North Korean leaders to denuclearise, protect human security, and promote human rights for all.

Citizens of Nowhere: Maintaining Civil Liberties in the face of Terror

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 1st March 2018, the special report on terrorism:

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation understands the tremendous pressure faced by nations to combat the nefarious forces of international terrorism but condemns the suspension of citizenship as a measure to counter extremism. The NCF feels that while this pragmatic approach may have advantages in the short term, it is simply a band-aid that masks the underlying problem and could prove to be counter-productive in the long term.

We stress the importance of creating a society that everyone is a part of regardless of cultural, religious or historical heritage. Two nations who particularly claim to foster and cherish the notions of tolerance and inclusivity are the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Bahrain. Both profess to aspire to build a world in which all citizens are equally valued and whose rights are equally upheld. To this end, both nations have signed various UN conventions on civil and political rights; most notably both have ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. However both nations continue to use the suspension of citizenship as a tool. The NCF believes that citizenship is an inalienable right to which every individual is entitled, and the removal of citizenship should not be wielded as a tool of oppression or punishment even when terrorism provokes national outrage. Indeed doing so may further alienate or even galvanize individuals that are already on the fringes of society into extreme action.

We do not wish to underestimate the difficulty the UK government faces with returning UK-born ISIS fighters nor do we wish to underestimate the anger provoked by instances of bloodshed and sectarian violence in Bahrain. But by depriving individuals of their citizenship, these nations are forsaking civil liberties in the pursuit of security and setting a dangerous precedent. We therefore appeal to both the UK and Bahrain to adopt other more considered and perhaps more compassionate measures when it comes to dealing with extremists in their midst.

We believe that it is only through the creation of a more tolerant global society that we can truly combat extremism. Thank you.


Freedom of Religion in Iraq and Bahrain

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 on 2nd March 2018, the special report on Freedom of Religion:

Mr President. Freedom of Religion is one of Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” and is a basic pillar of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Middle East is riven by a sectarian divide within Islam between the Sunni and Shiite sects, the consequences of which have been dire. Levels of hatred in this internecine strife have now reached unprecedented heights.

The Republic of Iraq and the Kingdom of Bahrain are two nations on the faultline of this disturbing rift and both have national elections this year.

The Iraq elections are unlikely to generate full participation from the Sunni community. If the majority of the Sunni community were to boycott these elections out of a sense of vengeful resentment of the Iraq central government it would be a grave error.  New Sunni politicians untainted by the past are emerging in areas like Anbar province. It would be wrong to disempower them at a time when their voices should be heard.

Bahrain’s elections will be held later this year and as in 2014, the Islamic Republic of Iran is likely to put pressure on Bahrain’s Shiite community leaders to encourage the non-participation of the Shiite community as a whole in the forthcoming elections.  This nonparticipation serves no purpose other than to weaken the voice of that community. It is essential that Bahrain’s Shiites participate fully in the forthcoming elections. Thank you.

The Struggle for Suffrage: 100 Years On

100 years ago today, the Representation of the People Act 1918 was passed, allowing some women in the UK the right to vote for the first time. It is bittersweet to celebrate the centenary of women’s right to vote in a year that has so far been dominated by conversations on gender pay gaps, sexual harassment and gender inequality more broadly. But perhaps it is also a timely reminder that despite the vast achievements of the suffragettes, there is still a lot that needs to be done.

Indeed what the last year has especially highlighted is that we still need feminism as much as we did 100 years ago. To identify as a feminist today has almost become taboo; honest and much needed conversations about the gap in women’s pay and attitudes towards sexual harassment are often interrupted with “well what about.” But discussing the gender pay gap in the BBC or sexual harassment endemic in some business cultures does not diminish the impact nor the importance of issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM) or the lack of basic female rights in countries such as Saudi Arabia. In fact it serves to highlight the continuing endurance of negatives attitudes towards women in all societies and the action needed to eradicate these pernicious beliefs.

The history of the suffragettes has become so sanitised that it is easy to forget that the suffragettes themselves faced a huge backlash for wanting to achieve political equality for women and that this backlash came not just from men but also from other women who felt that women lacked the capacity to understand politics and branded the suffragettes as “ugly spinsters.” Such attitudes are unthinkable today when we have female presidents, prime ministers and heads of state.

So this year, while we honour and remember the sacrifices made by the women who fought for the right to vote, we should also recognise and honour the women that are still fighting, not just in far flung places across the world, but also here at home. The fight for women’s rights anywhere does not diminish the fight everywhere else. Injustice anywhere is felt everywhere, no matter how small.   After all, how can we tell other people to clean up their backyards when we have weeds growing in our own?

Reflections on Punjab: Seventy Years on from Partition

August 1947 marked the end of India as a single state and saw the emergence of today’s Pakistan and India. Partition caused unprecedented communal conflict, bloodshed and the mass movement of peoples across the border as Sikhs and Hindus became concentrated in India, whilst Muslims crossed over into new Pakistan. The hastily established border split existing communities, villages and homes in the northern state of Punjab. The state is the birthplace and homeland of Sikhism as well as being home to a Muslim majority and a number of special Islamic sites. Today, Punjab continues to experience tension and trouble as a direct result of partition whether that be in violent clashes at the India-Pakistan Punjab border, disagreements between different communal factions and government, or the involvement of the Indian or Pakistan diaspora in Punjab affairs.

The border itself is a particular focus for violence. In 2014 a suicide bomber killed some sixty people at the border and in 2016 a military confrontation at the border resulted in further casualties. This violence keeps negative feelings surrounding partition very much alive across the Punjab. The mistrust between the nations is highlighted by the difficulties that a Pakistan or Indian national may face when trying to get a visa for the neighbouring state. There are many hoops to jump through. The process itself takes at least 35 days and requires a multitude of letters, documents and the appropriate signature. Even upon arrival, there is the potential for further checks that are neither uniform nor predictable. This mistrust is a shame, for many people in Punjab have memories, friends, belongings or even ancestral homes on the other side of the border. They are denied the ability to travel back and to visit and as a result are denied the opportunity to grieve the trauma of partition.

Seventy years on from the violence of 1947, there are a some Sikh activist groups that persist in calls for ‘Khalistan’ – an independent, Sikh majority state. Their reasons are born out of the insecurity they feel as a religious minority in a Hindu nationalist nation, insecurities that have also of course been echoed by other minorities. In 1984, Sikhs were the subject of pogroms in so much as many were massacred in retaliation for Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Even the diaspora overseas that hail from Punjab remain invested in their state of origin and the issues of the past. In late September 2017, Times Square in New York City saw protests from thousands of Sikhs and their supporters expressing their hope for Khalistan and dissatisfaction with Modi’s oppressive India. Those calling for Khalistan may lack strength in numbers but the very existence of these secessionist claims represent the wound of communal difference that partition opened. The collective memories of events such as these ensures that the relationship between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims remains scarred post-partition.

However, the situation in Punjab is not wholly negative. The Punjab border stands not just as a symbol of hostility and tension, it also highlights the sense of camaraderie that is felt by Punjab and the two nations. Every day, at sundown, the two nations unite in an elaborate and long-standing ceremony in Wagah, Punjab where there is dancing and hand-shakes as the border is closed for the night. It echoes the reality of a shared history, collective memories and an intertwined present and future. Punjab’s future is one that is still hopeful as the state, the country and the diaspora reflect on the past and move into the future. A series of events, radio and television shows, literature and stories emerged in 2017, the 70th anniversary of independence, as younger generations began a dialogue concerning partition. Many of those who had lived in Punjab at that time came forward and shared their experiences; and in Amritsar, Punjab, the Partition Museum was founded by the Punjab government, inaugurated as a memorial to those who had experienced partition.

Populism and Nationalism vs. Globalisation

We are living in a world where globalisation and cosmopolitanism are the greatest. However, there has been surprising advancement of right-wing populist and nationalist parties such as the increased parliamentary representation of Marine Le Pen’s Front National. The election of Donald Trump and Brexit are similar phenomena. These clear manifestations of social exclusion within the western world prove that immigrants and local residents are not living in harmony and that this dichotomy is threatening our democracy. In order to better respond to the threat, we must clearly understand the reason behind the recent insurgence of populism.

“Make America Great Again” is a campaign slogan used by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. I’ve always wondered what specifically President Trump and his supporters want to “make great again”. Since the supporters disfavour immigrants inflow, does this mean bringing back racial segregation and restoring complete white supremacy? What exactly are his concerns about the immigration? According to research provided by the CATO Institute, Americans feel alienated from their own government and community and feel that they are blocked from resources and opportunities. The CATO Institute further argued that immigrants are usually the target for blame for the alienation because their cultural unfamiliarity gives a sense of negativity which distorts perception of reality.

With the help of the right wing who sees this social chasm as an opportunity to further their political interest, many Americans and Westerners claim that they are discriminated against in favour of immigrants and minorities and that they are being treated unfairly. However, their claims of experiencing “reverse racism” are in fact very misleading and are becoming a huge hindrance when dealing with reality. Then what is the reality? What forced people into this alienation even from ones’ own country?

The answer is financialisation, and the shareholder value model.  As financial capitalism develops more and more, corporate business structure, governance, and strategies have been transformed to maximise shareholders’ profits regardless of social costs. The problem is that when the debt-to-equity ratio is increasing, there is less money available for the real economy. Inevitably, real income for all households in America decreased whereas corporate profits increased tremendously.  The feelings of alienation Americans and westerners are experiencing are real, but the causes are not from the immigrants, but from the careless advancement of capitalism.

Globalisation definitely has increased the wealth of every nation, but a fair spread of wealth allocation was not realised, unfortunately. Stagnating middle-class income and increasing income inequality are causing social unrest giving rise to nationalism, protectionism, racism and you name it. Therefore, to protect our value of democracy and promote social tranquillity, we must seek to modify economic structures altogether rather than focusing on the advantage of one social group. Although Clinton’s “Stronger Together” lost the battle against Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, we must promote social inclusivity and make globalisation great for everyone.

Unsocial Media: How Twitter Diplomacy Is Undermining US-Pakistan Relations

Twitter diplomacy has become a defining feature of Donald Trump’s administration. In the past two months alone he has tweeted about Iran, North Korea, Israel and Palestine. More recently, he used his first tweet of 2018 to accuse Pakistan of “lies and deceit” and called past US presidents “fools” for handing over $33 billion in aid to the country over the past 15 years. In yet another example of the Trump administration turning tweets into policies, US officials then announced a decision to suspend $2 billion in military assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad took decisive action against terrorist groups that have found safe haven in the region. This has fueled anger and resentment in an already uneasy ally that is gradually pivoting towards China and has led to anti-US protests and flag burning in the streets of Karachi and Lahore.

Needless to say, this is perhaps one of the lowest points in the relationship between the two countries.

But US-Pakistan relations have always been uncomfortable. Although it was one of the first countries to establish ties with a newly formed Pakistani state, the US has always harbored mistrust and suspicion towards Pakistan’s military, particularly in view of its bitter relationship with India. It goes without saying then that Trump’s tweets were a cause of celebration in India.

The new policy feeds into the existing narrative in Pakistan that the US simply uses Pakistan for its own convenience and abandons it at will. History has proven this to be true. In the 1980s, Pakistan proved a pivotal ally against the Soviets in the Afghanistan war and was funded by the US to train the Mujahideen that fought Soviet forces. Once the war ended however, the US withdrew from the region. The Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, has long been regarded as funding terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and affiliated groups such as the Haqqani network and was itself likened to a terrorist group by US authorities in Wikileaks documents in 2011. In that same year, the Obama administration similarly withheld aid, accusing Islamabad of harbouring terrorist organizations; and subsequently conducted a raid on Pakistani soil where Osama Bin Laden had been hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, raising concerns about violations of Pakistani sovereignty.

Throughout all this however Pakistan has remained a key ally in the region and holds access to the main routes for US military aid and assistance to Afghanistan, without which the US military mission there could not be sustained. More importantly, Pakistan is a geopolitically significant country sharing borders with Iran and Afghanistan and acting as a bridge between the Middle East and Asia. So while Trump’s tweet is nothing new in terms of the direction of US foreign policy, it has provided Pakistanis with a fresh reason to be angry at the US.

So what is the future of US-Pakistan relations? The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been gaining significant traction in recent years and antagonism with the US could drive the two countries closer together. While the US has been a fair-weather friend to the region, Beijing has proven to be an all-weather friend to Islamabad. If the US wants to foster closer ties with Pakistan and maintain a strategic ally in Asia and the Middle East, twitter diplomacy will, as Trump’s twitter sagas have shown, do more damage than good. It is clear that now more than ever, good old-fashioned diplomacy matters.

And what about Women?

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” – Martin Luther King.

Today, on a day celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, I want to talk about something that matters to me. Amidst the furore of the #metoo movement and the general conversation surrounding female empowerment, I think it is important to get to the root of these issues and that, in my view, is female education.

Article 26 of the universal declaration of human rights establishes education as a fundamental right necessary for developing the human spirit and promoting the virtuous ideals embodied by the declaration. Yet today over a billion individuals are deprived of their basic right to education, the vast majority of whom are young women in developing economies.

I was fortunate enough to be born in a country where it was expected that I would go to school, where my parents had no choice in enrolling me. But I have fought countless battles with my parents on furthering my education, I have fought to be strong and independent and I have shrugged off the weight of gender expectations time and time again.

But my struggle is a fraction of the struggle faced by young girls like Malala Yousef. I have fought with slammed doors and angry faces. They fight for their lives.

I have watched the backlash against the #metoo movement, and against feminism as a whole. I have had people tell me that feminism isn’t needed anymore, that women are equal enough. But feminism will only disappear when we live in a world where we no longer need to point out that two thirds of the 774 million of the illiterate adults in the world are women. It will disappear when being born a girl is no longer a cause for exclusion.

Study after study has shown that educating women leads to prosperity, just for them but for society as a whole. But more than that, education teaches girls to stand up for themselves, to have a voice and a chance.

So today, when we reflect on all the battles we have won and all the atrocities still going on in the world, it is important to remember that human rights violations are not always violent, they are not always bloody, sometimes human rights are violated with a simple “because you are a girl.”

Rocket Man’s Last Resort, Winter Olympics 2018

It seems like Kim Jong-Un, the North Korean dictator, has run out of cards. Under the increasing pressure from the US and the international community to denuclearise, North Korea announced on Tuesday that it wanted to join the Winter Olympics 2018, in Pyeong-Chang, South Korea.

After two years of silence, Kim Jong-Un has reconnected the military hotline between North and South Korea to show a desire to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics and offered to meet with the South Korean government. As a result, South Korea and the United States have decided to delay their joint military exercises until the end of Olympic Games.

As a result of the dictator’s “infantile repartee” with US President Trump, international sanctions against North Korea’s weapons production were reinforced and caused huge job losses, leading to economic downsizing and reducing the dictator’s popularity in North Korea. As an effort to appease the public, North Korean media again put the blame on the US, publicly denouncing the US for being an obstacle to peace with South Korea and stating that South Korea should discontinue any joint military actions with the US.

Kim Jong-Un should be given credit for always coming up with a brilliant plan to preserve his power, but he has got to be stopped.

The relationship between South and North Korea has been used by China, Russia, and America in their effort to seize preeminence in the Northeast Asian arena. The cost of their power game is usually put on South Korea’s shoulders. The dehumanising and precarious human security in North Korea is already well known to us. However, South Koreans are also being threatened every day by the unpredictable relationship between the US and North Korea. The dictator’s suggestion that the US and South Korea’s joint military action is a hostile act rather than merely defensive should be criticised strongly by the international community. His decision to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics should not change any current course of action against North Korea. And once and for all, I just wish genuine “freedom from fear” and better human security would be realised both in South and North Korea in 2018.

The Tunisian Experience: An Example to the World or an explosion about to happen?

Once again, demonstrations have erupted across Tunisia against the government’s ineffective economic policies. Prices of basic goods are skyrocketing due to tax raises and austerity measures applied under the 2018 Finance Act, which took effect on 1 January 2018.

Among all the countries that went through the 2011 Arab upheavals, Tunisia is seen as the only country that has successfully sustained fair levels of democracy, peace and stability. On the economic and social development side, however, the country has witnessed continuous failure. Prices and taxes, poverty and unemployment, and inequality were, rather, in a rapid increase.

It is a success, in fact, for the Tunisian people to maintain peaceful protests this long; in spite of the chaos that have swept the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa. There is all of the hope in the world that Tunisia will continue its way in being an example for peace in the region and the world.

For the past six years, protests have become a norm at this time of the year in Tunisia, which marks the anniversary of toppling President Zine el Abedine Ben Ali as well as the death of Bouazizi. During this week’s protests, however, some people acted with violence, burning down the country’s national security building in Thala.

The government, ruled by coalition parties, led by Nahda and Nidaa, has decried the protests as “destructive” and “chaotic”. The police have retreated in some Tunisian cities and the army was deployed in several others. More than 300 protesters were arrested and at least one person’s life has been claimed during the demonstrations.

At this point, gloomy predictions on the outcomes of the protests usually start with the question: will the security apparatus turn to violence? Reassuringly, among the factors that made the 2011 Tunisian experience unique is that the security apparatus defied orders to suppress protesters.

Leaders of the opposition party, the Popular Front, called for the protests to continue until the new financial laws get dropped. Thus, the people plan to continue taking to the streets in the coming days. It is important too that everyone knows, the government and the people, and the international community as well, that there is still plenty of time to keep the peaceful momentum going.

  1. The people should continue to peacefully voice their demands; be it lowering prices, cutting taxes, reconsidering some of the privatization decisions, creating efficient welfare programs, or all of the above.
  2. The government has to be responsive to its own people and deliver effectively. Nine political transitions in only six years, although peaceful, does not necessarily indicate progressiveness and raises many questions about the sincerity and legitimacy of the ruling elites. What is required is a balanced response that takes into account immediate political and economic concessions and transparent long-term development plans for the country.
  3. The international community also has the responsibility to invest in the success of this unique situation, rather than pushing the country into the edge of chaos. This week’s unrest erupted in response to austerity policies that are being pushed for by foreign lenders, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is worth a reminder that the IMF and the World Bank have pushed for similar policies in the past, and, in fact, have had praised Ben Ali’s liberalizing policies since 1987. Preserving Tunisian democracy by safeguarding the country’s development and setting a progressive, stable and peaceful example for the world is in the interest of the international community.