Frozen Assets, Frozen Relations? Key unpublished background on the Russia / UK issue

A few months ago, Boris Johnson visited Moscow to talk about UK relations with Russia – he was the first UK Foreign Secretary to do so in five years. It was an understatement then, when Johnson conceded that Britain’s relationship with Russia was “not on a good footing” and vowed to improve relations.

The poisoning of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a leafy cathedral town in England on the 4th of March has however dashed any hopes of closer relations between the two countries. In fact it has threatened to entirely freeze an already cold relationship.

Indeed earlier this week, Johnson himself changed tact, calling Russia a “malign and disruptive force” and accusing the Kremlin of launching cyber-attacks against Britain, labelling them an “act of war.”

Prime Minister Theresa May was even more damning in her condemnation of Russia in light of the poisoning. Speaking in the House of Commons, May publicly accused Russia of attempted murder both because of its record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and also because the nerve agent purportedly used on Skripal was, and could only be produced in Russia. There are, May concluded “only two plausible explanations for what happened;” either Russia directly orchestrated an attack on a citizen on foreign soil or it simply lost control of the nerve agent, allowing it to get into the hands of others.

May ended with an ultimatum to Russia: you have 24 hours to provide credible evidence that the attack was not state-sponsored or face the consequences of an act that essentially amounts to military aggression. Comparing it to the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, another double agent, May promised much more extensive measures than the sanctions put in place after his death.

Key points from a source the name of which the NCF has agreed to withhold at present:

  1. It is very doubtful that these compounds are military grade nerve agents or that a Russian “Novichok” programme ever existed – if they were potentially usable as weapons, people on the OPCW Scientific Advisory Board who were in a position to know would have recommended that they be added to the list of Scheduled Chemicals. They have never been added.
  2. “Novichok” compounds are easy to synthesize at bench scale in a modern lab – how else could Porton Down have developed a test for them? Any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound. Therefore its presence in this case is clearly not sufficient evidence of Russian culpability. Any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound. Porton Down must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them. Therefore its presence in this case is clearly not sufficient evidence of Russian culpability.

Background – again from the NCF source (name withheld)

  1. The only source for the story that a new class of organophosphate compounds was developed as chemical weapons under the name Novichok in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s is from Vil Mirzayanov, a defector in the 1990s. Mirzayanov described the chemical structures of these compounds and stated that the toxicity of an agent named Novichuk-5 “under optimal conditions exceeds the effectiveness of VX by five to eight times”. Mirzayanov alleged that Russian testing and production had continued after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993.
  2. Soviet scientists had published many papers in the open literature on the chemistry of such compounds for possible use as insecticides. Mirzayanov claimed that “this research program was premised on the ability to hide the production of precursor chemicals under the guise of legitimate commercial chemical production of agricultural chemicals”.
  3. Mirzayanov claimed that the Novichok agents were easy to synthesize: One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides.
  4. An authoritative review by Dr Robin Black, who was until recently head of the detection laboratory at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Porton Down), emphasizes that there is no independent confirmation of Mirzayanov’s claims about the chemical properties of these compounds: In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published.
  5. OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board did not take Mirzayanov’s story seriously enough to rate these compounds and their precursors as Scheduled Chemicals that should be controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention: The Scientific Advisory Board emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the Scientific Advisory Board makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The Scientific Advisory Board states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. The Scientific Advisory Board included Dr Black, and several other heads of national chemical defence laboratories in western countries. These labs would have made their own evaluation of Mirzayanov’s claims and specifically would have done their own experiments to determine if compounds with the structures that he described were of military grade toxicity. We can reasonably assume that if they had found that these compounds were potentially usable as chemical weapons, they would have recommended adding them to the list of Scheduled Chemicals.
  6. The Prime Minister stated that: There are, therefore, only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others. Of course there is a third possible explanation for the detection of such a compound.  As the structures of these compounds have been described, any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound, with the objective of generating a trail of evidence that would point to Russia. Porton Down, for instance, must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them.

Our own NCF Team adds:

The pushback from Russia was unsurprising; the country’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov denied the attack and demanded access to samples of the nerve agent used to poison Skripal. Aria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman further accused both the British government and the media of using the incident to fuel anti-Russian sentiment in the UK. The Chairman of the Accounts Chamber of Russia Sergei Stepashin also posited that it was the British security services that were behind the attack who were trying to undermine the upcoming Russian presidential elections: “It seems obvious to me that this might be the primitive work of English security services” he said “tell me who needs this traitor in Russia?”

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin remained untroubled about any potential blowback. Indeed in a recent visit to the National Grain Centre in Russia, when asked by a BBC journalist whether Russia was behind the poisoning of Skripal, he simply smirked and replied “we’re busy here with agriculture […]get to the bottom of things there, first. Then we’ll talk about this.”

The incident poses an interesting challenge for the direction of British foreign policy in an uncertain pre-Brexit climate and a US ally that is now ambivalent towards Russia’s political manoeuvrings.

There are for instance clear differences between European interests and British interests; both Germany and France are moving towards closer engagement and dialogue with Russia and it increasingly looks like Britain will have to act unilaterally to effectively sever diplomatic ties with Russia. Across the pond, Trump has been unusually subdued in his condemnation; “As soon as we get the facts straight” he said, “if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.”

So will May stick to her promise of more extensive measures? Or will there simply be more expelled diplomats, more sanctions and more frozen assets? The answer is not immediately clear.

What is clear however is that Britain is in a precarious position in condemning extra-judicial killings, or in this case, attempted killings. The use of drone strikes to kill not just foreign citizens but also British-born citizens on foreign soil, if not by Britain then extensively by Britain’s friend the USA, allows Putin to act with impunity. After all, how can the UK condemn Russia for attacks on individuals when the Anglo-American alliance carries out its own attacks on foreign soil?

There is little doubt that if Russia is behind the attack, then it should be punished for attempting to carry out an assassination on foreign soil. But perhaps Mrs May should heed the advice of Mr Lavrov in complying with its own international obligations first, “before putting forward ultimatums.” Is it really wise for Britain to isolate itself further by severing all ties with Russia in the absence of any credible and incriminating evidence?


Vil S. Mirzayanov, “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: An Insider’s View,” in Amy E. Smithson, Dr. Vil S. Mirzayanov, Gen Roland Lajoie, and Michael Krepon, Chemical Weapons Disarmament in Russia: Problems and Prospects, Stimson Report No. 17, October 1995, p. 21.

OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013

Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry

The NCF at the UNHRC:

The Next Century Foundation “side” meeting at the United Nations Human Rights Council’s 37th Session addressed human rights in North Korea, the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Syrian Arab Republic. The pannelists were Ms. Be Sun Lee, a research officer for the Foundation, and Dr. William Morris the NCF Secretary General.


As a national of the Republic of Korea, Be Sun Lee’s covered issues relevant to both the South and the DPRK (North Korea) and suggested that the international community has a definitive role in acting as both mediators and facilitators in addressing these problems. Lee acknowledged the widespread recognition of North Korea as a violator of human rights and cited the many missiles fired in 2017 as “threatening to undermine international security and infringing the universal fundamental human right to freedom from fear”. She also criticised the UN Human Rights Council for a distinct lack of affirmative action. She considers current legal measures established by the UNHRC to prosecute North Korean leaders for alleged crimes against humanity, to have had little effect. Furthermore, Lee believes the economic sanctions against North Korea to be detrimental rather than beneficial. She referenced the negative impact of sanctions on the welfare of the North Korean people but also stressed the provocative effect of such sanctions because they cause outrage in North Korea and contribute to the isolation of the Korean peninsula by the international community. The isolation of North Korea is something that Be Sun Lee feels the North wishes to bring to an end. She believes that the international community should encourage the DPRK by engaging in progressive dialogue. Lee regarded North Korea’s positive presence at the Winter Olympics in Pyeong-Chang as superficial in its significance stating that “underlying antagonism on the Korean peninsula persists”. However, she recognised this as an opportunity for North Korea to move away from isolationism. Lee asserted that the international community really had to reassess their responsibility for contributing to the isolation of North Korea and then think about the role they could have in bringing them out of it.

Communication was emphasised in this meeting as fundamental to a more peaceful future for all Koreans. Without dialogue and communication with North Koreans, including the Diasporas or those who have fled the nation, progress cannot be made. This involves the international community not only encouraging conversation but facilitating it. It also requires the recognition of ideological difference and careful navigation of difficult social, political and economic terrain. The idea of reconciliation and reunification was discussed extensively. Lee opined that there is a possibility of reunification but that it would require the commitment of not just those across the Korean Peninsula, but the international community and the UN. Lee highlighted the fact that there are families on either side of the Korean border who are still desperately waiting for reunification with one another and that it is ordinary civilians who are most affected by any hostile climate. Lee urged the UN and the international community to “collaborate together” to work towards the resolution of this problem.

Whilst North Korea dominated the conversation, Lee presented us with interesting food for thought concerning the welfare of South Koreans, an issue which she considered can sometimes be lost in conversations concerning human rights, and welfare of the Korean peninsula. She discussed the issues surrounding South Korea’s aging population who are growing in number but are without adequate support and care from the nation’s welfare mechanisms. As a result, the suicide rate for this elderly population is very high and, as Lee stressed, a cause for concern. She urged the audience and the UN to give the population of South Korea the attention that it is sometimes denied in light of its provocative and antagonistic neighbour.

The Kingdom of Bahrain

Following Lee’s address on the Korean peninsula, William Morris presented a passionate and engaging view of the current situations in both Bahrain and Syria. Regarding Bahrain, the assertion made was that Bahrain should commit to signing the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). Whilst Bahrain is party to the Convention, Morris shared the Next Century Foundation’s view that this was insufficient in itself and that the ratification of OPCAT would signal a definitive and clear commitment to making progress in the area of human rights violations within the nation state. Morris acknowledged that Bahrain’s history concerning human rights has been fraught with trouble. Nevertheless, he highlighted the internal moves made by Bahrain’s government to curtail the use of torture such as the appointment of an Ombudsman as well as a Special Investigations Unit to investigate any allegations. Things were far better in this regard in Bahrain, he stated. Ultimately, the emphasis was on Bahrain’s need to ratify OPCAT in order to ensure greater transparency, accountability and international credibility and emphasise their commitment to seriously address internal human rights violations.

Points raised during the panel’s debate and discussion with the audience saw one audience member asserting that Bahrain must address human rights violations, such as the revoking of citizenship. Focus, they said, must be given to judicial processes and royal decrees rather than concentrating attention on the country’s political sphere. Morris, however, was quick to assert that human rights and politics in Bahrain go hand-in-hand and it is very difficult to address one without the other and in addressing political issues, one can then work towards resolving human rights abuses. Political progress could lead the way to greater transparency. Morris emphasised the need to encourage full participation in the coming national elections in order to promote the betterment of welfare and human rights within the nation. He challenged the opposition to exercise their right to vote and show greater independence from Iran’s influence.

The Syrian Arab Republic

With regards to the situation in Syria, William Morris engaged with the very current issue of Eastern Ghouta and urged the UNHCR to validate verbal commitments to Syria through affirmative action. Whilst the UN has encouraged ceasefires in the region, he no longer considers this an adequate response and instead urged that the 500 fighters from the former Gebat al Nusra group should be helped to leave the region and head to the nations in the Arab World that have previously offered them support. If the UN encouraged and facilitated this, Morris believed that a credible ceasefire may have long-term viability and value. Consideration and compassion was expressed towards those in Eastern Ghouta whose suffering is incomprehensible.

Likewise, this same empathy was extended to the people of Afrin region who are also suffering as a result of the conflict in Northern Syria. Morris was greatly critical of the Turkish presence in Northwest Syria where their bombardment of the region is an attempt to eliminate the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters.

Yemen: Our Future is at Stake

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018. Panel/ Annual Discussion/ Debate on the rights of the child.

Mr. President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to express its concern about the rights of children in the Republic of Yemen. The situation in Yemen is the world’s worst man-made humanitarian disaster. Civilians are becoming victims of unrelenting violations of international humanitarian law. Most of Yemen’s children have neither security nor education and are exposed to inhumane challenges on a daily basis. The blockade led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is threatening millions and the international community should step in and stop this horror.

Yemen’s children are malnourished, many actually facing famine.

22.2 million Yemenis are in need of humanitarian assistance, 60% of the population endures food insecurity, and an outbreak of cholera is putting vulnerable children at great risk.  Saudi Arabia ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1996, and yet, their use of food and medical aid as a weapon against an already suffering people and their children should be condemned.

Every child has basic rights, including the right to life. Children have a right to be protected from violence especially from the sight of horrendous war.

The Saudi-led blockade in Yemen not only harms children’s right to live but also affects our right to know what is going on. This because of the difficulties faced by journalists who wish to enter the country. The UN could have made better progress by engaging more with the public and bringing more attention to bear on this issue. We hope that Mr. Martin Griffiths, the recently appointed UN Special Envoy to Yemen, will help bring peace to this arena, and if he fails to do so, will expose those responsible for this ongoing tragedy.

If we ignore the crisis in Yemen, we betray the Middle East. Indeed if we turn aside and fail to help Yemen’s children, we betray humanity. Thank you.

Lost Confucianism in Asia: South Korean Case

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 15th of March 2018. UPR Outcomes on the Republic of Korea.

Mr President. Human Rights in the Republic of Korea are often neglected because many think all is well in South Korea in light of the country’s economic affluence. However, according to the World Health Organization, South Korea has the second-highest suicide rate in the world as well as having the highest suicide rate for any OECD member state.

This is due to the significant level of suicide among our senior citizens, which is the major contributing factor to South Korea’s overall suicide rate. With the population among the elderly increasing, the NCF calls for urgent attention to be paid to the situation of our elderly in South Korea.

South Korea’s elderly are suffering from poverty and income inequality due to the insufficient pension system and poor welfare system. Poverty rate among the elderly reached 61.7% in 2015, the highest for any OECD country, and yet, there is still no adequate system to provide help for people as they prepare for their lives post-retirement. Public social expenditure is the second lowest among the OECD countries.

Mr President, elderly poverty is an urgent social problem in South Korea. A lot of the elderly are suffering from lack of adequate sanitation, heating, lighting and food, exposing them to a wide range of hazards. Some of them choose to suicide, and some even fall prey to criminal activities such as prostitution.

South Korea is known for its rapid economic growth and has been held up as an economic model for other developing countries. However, there is a serious gap between the nation’s exemplary economic development and the poor pension and welfare systems for the elderly. The Next Century Foundation suggests that immediate attention be paid to this situation by the UN and calls for systematic reform in South Korea. Thank you.

Statement on Syria

Statement from the Next Century Foundation to the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 5th of March 2018 on the Syrian Arab Republic.

Mr. President, The Next Century Foundation shares the concern of the entire world with regard to Eastern Ghouta. However, we do not think that the UN approach of promoting temporary ceasefires is credible any longer, exemplary though it may have been at one time. By the UN’s own admission there are some 500 fighters from the group formerly known as Gebat al Nusra in Eastern Ghouta. This group has been supported by some in the Arab World. The Arab World as a whole could offer refuge to the fighters whose only other prospect is to fight to the death. Were they to do so, then a ceasefire might be of value. In any other context, a ceasefire is merely a breathing space before the resumption of further fighting and yet more misery for the population of Eastern Ghouta. Indeed conceivably one dire but unintended consequence of a UN promoted ceasefire might be to enable the population of Eastern Ghouta to flee and thus become IDPs or refugees, a prospect that is scarcely enviable. A ceasefire is only of true long-term value if it enables progress on the evacuation of the opposition fighters.

The Next Century Foundation also wishes to beg for the compassionate care of the citizens of Afrin, who suffer much the same torment as the citizens of East Ghouta. We wish to express our concern with regard to Turkey’s incursion across the Northern border of the Syrian Arab Republic. It is profoundly saddening to see the world turn its back on the YPG militia group (or People’s Protection Units) which served the world so loyally in the attack to liberate much of northern Syria from ISIS.

Turkey has been engaged in the bombardment of the Afrin region in the northwest of Syria to vanquish the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters. As a consequence, there have inevitably been civilian casualties. Around one million people are trapped in Afrin. Some 250 of the surrounding villages have been stripped of their population as people flee the advancing troops and take refuge in the town. The homes they abandon are often looted. And meanwhile, the hospitals cannot cope with the wounded.

We appeal to Turkey to recognise the territorial integrity of Syria. In a reference to its intention to channel Syrian refugees in Turkey back into Syria, Yasin Aktay, a senior member of Turkey’s Parliament and a chief adviser to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “Turkey will try to enhance the infrastructure and resources in Afrin after it is secured for them to return.”

Turkey’s previous cross-border operation – dubbed Euphrates Shield – ended in March 2017 after seven months. During that offensive to dislodge ISIS, Turkey captured the border town of Jarablus by the Euphrates River.

Turkish troops are currently still in control of a substantial area of Syria as a consequence of that offensive. Turkey’s actions are part of a pattern of territorial encroachment in Iraq and Syria which is doubtless well-meaning but is cause for concern.

Those in Afrin with whom the Next Century Foundation is in contact beg the UN to send in a peacekeeping force. They acknowledge Turkish concerns about the presence of the YPG and YPJ (the YPJ are the female fighting units that comprise around 35% of these Syrian peshmerga) in Afrin. They assure the Next Century Foundation that they would ask the forces of the YPG and YPJ to withdraw from Afrin to positions East of the Euphrates, in the context of the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force. This the YPG / YPJ would, they believe, agree to do. This would, they believe, ameliorate Turkey’s concern and enable Turkish forces to cease their advance on Afrin.

Thank you.

Encouraging National Dialogue in South Sudan in the Hope of Peace

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 13th of March 2018. Interactive Dialogue on Item 4, South Sudan

Mr President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to speak today about encouraging peaceful and inclusive dialogue for South Sudan and appeals to the United Nations to promote this dialogue. The human cost of the long-running Civil War in the Republic of South Sudan has been catastrophic. Millions of people have been displaced, millions face starvation and even famine and hundreds of thousands have been killed. Progressive steps and a national dialogue are imperative in bringing an end to the human suffering this Civil War has caused.

The Next Century Foundation strongly believes that national dialogue is in the interest of those who wish to see peace in South Sudan. Such dialogue should not be restricted in any way and should be inclusive to all those who are party to the conflict. Therefore, whilst we acknowledge the efforts that have been made via the January and February 2018 establishment of peace talks between the government and opposition delegations, we believe it is important that the former Vice President Riek Machar is included. The perceived opposition leader is currently in exile in South Africa and his access to the South Sudanese peace process is incredibly limited despite being a long-standing key figure in the country’s politics and the Civil War. The NCF believes that it would be beneficial for a national dialogue to include the former Vice President so that all sides can work cohesively to address the great issues facing South Sudan and to finally bring an end to the suffering of the South Sudanese people. The Next Century Foundation calls upon the Government of South Africa to stop its grossly counterproductive detention of South Sudan’s Vice President, an act which is both unethical and illegal.

Despite the push for peace talks and dialogue, there have been continued difficulties in moving the talks forward. The African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on International Development and the UN have asserted that “measures should be taken against the so-called spoilers of peace and negotiation”. Inflammatory and controversial decisions and actions are not conducive to progress and have the potential to hinder the peace process. We urge all parties to observe and respect the December ceasefire. Machar’s spokesperson has recently been sentenced to death by the South Sudanese government for alleged treason, an act which of itself is a violation of the ceasefire agreement and has contributed to tensions.

We understand that the situation in South Sudan is complex and difficult, but we consider peace to lie in the nation’s future. This will require international support and commitment and, most importantly, the commitment and participation of all South Sudanese factions in the realisation of a progressive national dialogue. Thank you.

We Need Big Ideas on Big Data

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 5th March 2018, the special report on privacy: 

Mr President. The Next Century Foundation recognises the value of technological progress. Across the world, the rapid advancement of technology has brought humanity closer together. From the role of social media during the Arab Spring protests, to the economic advancements bringing opportunity to many in the Silicon Savannah of Nairobi, the positive effects of technology are vast, far-reaching and apparent. It has strengthened the processes of democratic participation and exposed the corners of the world in which these processes don’t exist.

Yet, despite the progress made, we now face a new challenge. Privacy is a precious civil liberty. Our entire lives are uploaded to the internet. The same technology that allows us to access our bank accounts, message our loved ones and order goods from around the world leaves a digital imprint that has been used by corporations to target and profile customers; big data has now become part and parcel of modern life.

If knowledge is power, then our digital footprint which tracks our every movement, our every detail, our every desire is a crucial source of power. The companies which have created the innovative technology we use must adhere to principles of social responsibility. Collecting copious amounts of information on individuals without their knowledge is a grievous violation of individual rights.

It is therefore imperative that governments around the world act to protect the privacy of their citizens, but this must be coupled with firm action to tackle the criminal nexus which utilises technology for their own sinister ends. Reasonable measures to maintain security are essential when it comes to securing privacy.

Governments must work with technological giants to implement meaningful regulations which help protect privacy. Governments must understand that while technology has the capacity to promote the human spirit and create a truly inclusive world, it must not be used to enable the sacrifice of civil liberties that so many have fought for around the world.

There are global conversations regarding the future of technology in motion as we speak, but assertive action must be taken by both government and corporations to help promote the rights of citizens. We call on the UN to exert its influence to deal effectively with guaranteeing citizens the right to enjoy these new services and technologies, without sacrificing their identity in an ocean of digital data.

Freedom from Fear – Iran’s responsibility for brokering peace

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 14th of March, 2018. General Debate on Item 4, Human Rights situations that require the council’s attention.

Mr. President, freedom from fear is a core principle underpinning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the Middle East today is beset with chaos, war, and internecine hatred.

Iran is arguably the strongest regional power in the Middle East exerting a substantial measure of hegemony in both Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, as well as arguably in Lebanon.

Iran has argued for some years, in conversation with its critics, that once Iran had rapprochement with the United States of America, it would lend its weight to efforts for Middle East peace.

Iran had its deal with President Obama, and though undermined by President Trump, the deal remained in high degree intact.

But what steps have we seen by Iran to promote peace in the Middle East?

Iran can either promote peace or promote war in pursuit of greater hegemony, or indeed maintain the status quo.

Iran could make a greater genuine effort to promote reconciliation in nations at the faultline of the Sunni-Shiite division but not yet in a state of war, like the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Iran could and should also take a role in the Middle East peace process between Israel and Palestine. Given the fact that its proxy in Palestine, Islamic Jihad, is well respected in Gaza, Iran’s failure to take a measure of responsibility for the Middle East peace process is unjustifiable.   Thank you.

Corporate Responsibility in a World Without Barriers

Transnational corporations wield considerable power. In an increasingly globalized world, transnational corporations are powerhouses of economic growth and innovation both in the developed and developing world.  But this power has often gone unchecked, either by rent-seeking states or by corrupt international bodies that allow corporations to exploit the land, labour and natural resources of developing countries and have turned a blind eye to blatant violations of international law and in many cases, to the abuse of human rights.

Although there has been much discussion in the UN itself on how to regulate transnational corporations since the 1970s, the pace and scope of globalization has intensified, and with it the need for greater regulation.  There are now transnational corporations that are more powerful than the developing nations in which they operate and while they have generated economic development there, they have also sometimes generated dire social consequences. There are countless examples of transnational corporations exploiting cheap labour, draining water resources, dumping toxins and in some cases, even accusations of assassinations. This behaviour has often been conducted with impunity.

We believe that the UN plays a vital role in setting the standards for human rights recognition and compliance and has a duty of care to those affected by corporate abuse.

The inter-governmental working group has made significant headway in this sense and we commend its move away from voluntary rule-setting to a more legally binding instrument that safeguards human rights. We particularly commend its focus on justice for victims of corporate human rights abuses and the emphasis placed on corporate social responsibility in resolution 26/9 on the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument on transnational corporations.

However we feel that the adoption of the resolution does not have sufficient support in the highly developed home states of transnational corporations where their power is often concentrated.

Increasingly transnational corporations are becoming stateless, allowing them to conduct illicit activities with no accountability or transparency.  We believe the governments of the world must hold transnational corporations to account and ensure that the highest ethical standards are applied to their behaviour. We urge them to withhold contracts from those corporations that do not adopt proper policies in regard to their social responsibility and from those corporations that fail to examine and counter bad practice such as bribery and corporate capture within their own ranks.

Often corporations will adopt social responsibility policies as a simple marketing ploy rather than out of any sense of genuine morality.   We, therefore, call on the UN to hold these organizations to account. But more importantly, we urge corporations to adopt a business culture that fosters the values of tolerance, inclusivity and above all responsibility.  It is only in this way, that we can ensure human rights are extended to citizens everywhere and are abused nowhere. We believe that globalization should be a positive force that benefits the many, not an elite few.

The Precarious Position of India’s Minorities

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 14th of March, 2018. Item 5, Report of Forum on Minority Issues.

Mr President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to assert its belief in total inclusivity. The NCF would like to draw attention to the Republic of India’s relationship with its minorities. India is the world’s largest democracy and it continues to rapidly develop as it stands firm as a key player on the world stage with a diaspora spread across the globe. However, reflection is needed on the part of this great nation state as it considers its own areas of weakness.

As a Hindu-majority nation, India is home to many religious minorities, particularly Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis and Jains. Today we see expressions of insecurity and concern across several of these minority groups as they begin to feel that under a Hindu nationalist central government, their place in society is being compromised. There is a structural failure on the part of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to credibly address or stop violence against religious minorities. There were at least 38 such attacks in 2017 alone. We join our voice to that of others such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who have expressed concern. Indian Prime Minister Modi has facilitated an environment that allows for violence against minorities. Since the creation of the Indian state, both Sikhs and Muslims especially have expressed their sense of insecurity within India. The former have a fraught relationship with the nation, particularly following the anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984. It is not just those within India who express such feelings, we see support from diaspora across the world, particularly in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 2015, there were protests by the British Sikh diaspora against Modi’s visit to London. In 2017 considerable concern was expressed about levels of anti-Muslim violence that had occurred in India. It is not just religious minorities that face difficulty. As indigenous peoples, the Adivasi, continue a long-drawn-out struggle for social inclusion and rights. The term Adivasi is used to represent the 200 different indigenous groups within India that comprise varying cultures, ethnicities and languages. Marginalised from mainstream society and often at the lower end of socio-economic indicators, these indigenous peoples face economic exploitation and poverty with little mobility and protection of their rights.

India is a country with a rich history and a variety of cultures and peoples and the Next Century Foundation strongly urges the government and people of India to foster inclusivity and acceptance, regardless of difference.

Living in the Shadows of Disability

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 6th of March 2018, the special report on disability:

Mr President.  The Next Century Foundation is committed to fighting for total inclusivity everywhere. Persons with disabilities are equal citizens entitled to equal rights and opportunities. We therefore call on all nations to promote public policies that are conducive to the alleviation of hardships for society’s most vulnerable.

In the Middle East and North Africa discrimination towards persons with disabilities continues to result in their wholesale exclusion from society. This discrimination goes beyond mere social stigma and includes physical barriers to access to transport and buildings and extends to a lack of access to vital health services, full employment and basic education.

In the Middle East, disabled persons are often forced to live in the shadows of a society that refuses to acknowledge them. In Egypt for instance, it is even difficult to accurately estimate the number of Egyptians living with disability because families often hide their disabled children. Cultural misconceptions also abound and disability is seen in some communities as a form of punishment inflicted by malevolent spirits.

Further, in war torn areas such as Syria, the physical devastation has not only forcibly displaced mentally and physically disabled persons but has also destroyed the very infrastructures that could alleviate their suffering.

While extensive discussion on such issues is helpful, direct action needs to be taken. We therefore call on the UN to exert its influence to encourage Arab states to establish national strategies to develop their institutional capacities to deal with the barriers that persons with disabilities face and to create a regional dialogue on how to tackle the social and cultural stigmas associated with disability. Following from this, there must be comprehensive policies and programs put in place that are both sensitive to the needs of disabled persons, but also appreciative of their independence and their place among ordinary citizens.

We believe that in the absence of an inclusive environment that involves disabled persons in every facet of social life, there cannot be genuine equality anywhere. To this end, we must recognize and acknowledge that disability is a societal problem, not an individual one. Thank you.

Albinos and East Africa: prompting discussion for a hopeful future

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 6th of March 2018, IE albinism.

Mr President, the Next Century Foundation wishes to draw attention to the current situation of those with Albinism in East Africa, especially in the United Republic of Tanzania. Those living with Albinism in this region may spend their lives ostracised from their communities, living in fear of violence and battling the health concerns and issues that arise as a result of the condition they are born with. The experience of those with Albinism is one of discrimination based on colour.

Tanzania has a higher rate of people born with Albinism than its neighbouring nations. In Tanzania’s communities there are differing, and sometimes dangerous, views of Albino peoples. Witch doctors proliferate the idea that Albino skin and body parts have magical or mystical properties relating to prosperity and good luck. This has resulted in a great degree of violence, such as the mutilation or murder of these people and even the vandalising of graves as body parts with these so-called magical properties are sought out. It is a lucrative market. In 2015, the UN itself reported that there had been 75 murders of Albinos in Tanzania from the year 2000 but also acknowledged that this is most likely not reflective of the true number. Conversely, other superstitious views see Albinism as a sign of bad luck or a curse thus also rendering those with Albinism vulnerable to risk and violence. Violence is not the only issue faced by Albino peoples. There is great misunderstanding concerning the condition and this leads to social exclusion by communities and even families with infanticide and child abandonment not being uncommon. Families too face the same exclusion if they choose to protect members with the condition.

In Tanzania, 90% of those with the condition will die before they are 40 years old. Affected eyesight and eye damage alongside hair loss are two issues. However, it is skin cancer that presents a truly huge problem for those with Albinism. Due to the lack of understanding about the condition, continuous and unprotected exposure means that skin cancer is rampant. Sun-cream is not a common or affordable commodity across Tanzania and it is something as simple as this product that could make a real difference.

The NCF expresses its support and praise to the organisations and governments who have spoken out against the superstitious views and violence against Albino peoples and those who have made efforts to alleviate the suffering of those with Albinism through education and relief. Whether that be Tanzania’s president condemning witch doctors, the sun cream organisation Kilimanjaro Suncare in Tanzania that provides carefully formulated sunscreen products for those with Albinism amongst other initatives, or international organisations such as the Global Medical Relief Fund that have produced prosthetic limbs for Albino victims.

However, we now call upon the UN and international community to raise further awareness of these issues by raising the profile of such discussion. The human rights violations of Albino peoples often fails to gain the attention it needs. We also wish to see support for international organisations and in-country efforts to educate, provide relief and breakdown stigmas concerning those with Albinism.

(Photo Credit: Kilimanjaro Suncare, ponte en su piel)