The Man Who Built Peace

The Next Century Foundation is proud to support the launch of the documentary film, ‘The Man Who Built Peace’. It tells the story of Frank Buchman who was the founder of Initiatives of Change, formerly known as Moral Rearmament.

Driven by moral purpose and his relationship with God, his legacy is one that speaks to the pursuance of peace through “personal change and reconciliation” with the belief that all people should move beyond faith, race, location and other factors to find peace. This award winning documentary has been the work of those at Initiatives of Change who wish to share Buchman’s story and highlight his efforts in making the world a better place for all.

The views and values of both Buchman and Initiatives of Change align closely with the Foundation’s own ethos of total inclusivity and peace. We are happy to be supporters of this documentary and promote celebrating the life of such a visionary who worked tirelessly for a better future.

The film was launched on June the 7th 2018 at the Royal Geographical Society with subsequent viewings happening across UK cities. More information and links to tickets can be found here:

https://uk.iofc.org/man-who-built-peace-documentary-launch

The Great March of Return: where are the terrorists – The NCF Gaza reports

Palestinians are protesting against restrictions on what goes in and out of Gaza. They are also supporting ‘right to return’ calls from Palestinian refugees. The moving of the USA’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has exaserbated the situation. On Monday 14th May 40,000 Gazans joined the border protest. At least 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed thus far and thousands injured. Israel claims that protestors are terrorists attempting to break through the barrier. However several hundred metres separate protestors from IDF personnel. Most of the protestors were not violent and avoided getting too close to the ‘border’. Protestors included families with children. Gazans struggle to deal with increasing difficulties. Residents only have around four hours of electricity a day, there is limited access to clean water, limited health services and unemployment in the region is at around 64%. 

The response from the NCF in Gaza

The devastating reality of the situation has been reinforced by the Next Century Foundation’s office in the International Press Centre in Gaza. We were able to speak to them following the events of Monday 14th which they described as a “bloody, bloody day” and the worst so far. Award winning Gazan journalist Adel Zanoun told us that 3,288 people had been injured with a range of severity levels, including journalists. When asked about our journalist friends in Gaza, he said that they are all under threat regardless of whether they are national or international. The targeting of the press indicates that Israel’s claims that they are merely protecting themselves and responding to threats are not credible. Journalists are clearly marked with the word ‘PRESS’ across their chests. If Israel were combatting ‘terrorists’ then why have so many journalists, an estimated 175, been injured with several dead?

Regarding the use of force by Israel, Zanoun said that people were being injured by live fire against the Palestinian demonstrators that had steadily increased over the weeks; he said it was live ammunition that was injuring these people and not rubber bullets. Critical of Israel, he repeatedly tells me of how “bloody” it has been and the intense pressure that the Palestinians in Gaza are under. He makes reference to Hamas, stating that they have definitely played a role in the organisation of the demonstrations and that they may, following on from the intensity of Israel’s response, establish a counter response of their own. He also said that neither Ramadan nor the violence will deter demonstrations from continuing. However, he does not believe that the protests mask terrorism and emphasises that these were Palestinian people objecting to mistreatment.

Citing a widespread “collapse” of infrastructure, he emphasised the severity of the humanitarian situation, Public sector workers have been impacted with their salaries being cut; he says this has led to hospitals opening intermittently and no authorities in place to protect or serve the people in Gaza. There is no knowledge as to when full salaries will be reinstated. Zanoun repeatedly said that the Palestinian people are truly under such pressure that is only likely to worsen. With hospitals closing and virtually no ability to move in and out of the region, and no option for people to return if they do leave, the injured were not adequately cared for*. He says that there had been a breakdown of reconciliation between Hamas and Palestinian authorities in Ramallah thus contributing to the absence of humanitarian or political progress.

The Palestinian people in Gaza are suffering, as they have been for many years. The firing of live ammunition against thousands of mostly innocent and unarmed protestors has furthered the suffering. When I asked Zanoun what he thinks about the future and the next steps, he said “there is no hope for Gaza now”. There is uncertainty, he says, that means that “no one knows what will happen” in one hour, one day or one month. What he does know is that the pressure continues to mount against the people and that political and humanitarian solutions are needed immediately to address the declining situation in Gaza. He said that people and politicians need to be working towards helping those in Gaza.

*N.B. Since speaking to Zanoun, Egypt has opened the Rafah border crossing with the Gaza strip throughout the month of Ramadan. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi tweeted that this would help “alleviate the burden of the brothers in the Gaza strip”

The background to the response

Since the end of March, 110 Palestinians, including children, have been killed in Gaza by Israel’s forces and thousands have been injured as they protest by the ‘border’. The response from the international community was weak to begin with, little attention was paid in the earlier days of these protests. However, since the 14th, Gaza is very much top of the international agenda with varied responses to the atrocities committed.

Israel’s representatives have denied acting wrongfully. They believe that Hamas was the driver of these protests and that the intention was to target Israel, target the borders and do so under the guise of a demonstration. Therefore, they have said their intention was to simply protect their borders and target ‘terrorists’ who were supposedly conducting a terrorist operation. It is undeniable that Hamas have been involved in the organising of these protests, something Zanoun said freely. However, to justify opening live fire on civilians because they are ‘terrorists’ is unacceptable. Not all of those who have died were terrorists, the members of the press who have been wounded, for example, were not terrorists.

In the immediate aftermath, the United States aligned themselves with Israel and did not, unlike their French and British counterparts, condemn the actions of the IDF. They believe their actions were justified. Nikki Haley spoke at the United Nations the following day where Israel was praised for showing “restraint” and blamed Hamas for the death of Palestinians and the violence, stating that it was what they wanted. The USA believed that ultimately, Israel acted in the best interests of its national security. Their stance is perhaps unsurprising given the choice to move the embassy on Nakba Day, a strong display of alliance with Israel and their lack of support for a future peace process.

Britain and France have expressed their disapproval of the actions of Israel and the wish to go forward in peace. Prime Minister Theresa May said that this level of violence is ‘destructive to peace efforts’ and that both sides should be acting with ‘restraint’. Britain’s shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, stood up and passionately condemned the ‘massacre’ committed by Israel against protestors.  French President Emmanuel Macron was openly disapproving of the violence exercised by Israel’s forces and expressed empathy and compassion for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

As aforementioned, Egypt’s opening of the border crossing with the Gaza strip is emblematic of the attention and compassion that is now being shown to the Palestinians in Gaza by the international community. The United Nations has expressed its concern for the events that have happened since March in Gaza. Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, has emphatically highlighted the plight of those in Gaza and their suffering. He also raises the point that there have been no casualties on Israel’s side thus demonstrating the asymmetry in any violent exchanges. Israel, according to al-Hussein, has acted without constraint and excessively. On Friday 18th May the UN Human Rights Council held a special session resolving to call an urgent independent enquiry into Monday’s events. The UK was amongst the 14 countries who abstained, citing the need for Israel to carry out their own independent investigation; the USA and Israel rejected the resolution. The latter once again cited the events in Gaza as a response to Hamas’ terrorist activities.

In Gaza itself, demonstrations continue unabated. The numbers are less and people are more cautious yet there is still drive there. It was quieter though as people across the region, including Israel, said their prayers for the people of Gaza and the ones who have been lost.

The international community has taken notice of Gaza and the suffering and unfairness that its people are subjected to. Israel may affirm the idea that their use of force was a way of responding to a perceived terrorist threat, but these arguments have little credibility. Of course there were agitators and violent protestors present, but children, impartial observers and thousands who posed no threat to the IDF have been injured, some killed. The treatment of Palestinians and their human rights has long been a cause for concern. With several nation states now openly criticising recent events and condemning the use of force against civilians, it leads to hope that there may be, as Adel Zanoun wished, humanitarian and political change for the people of Gaza.

Netanyahu’s Folly . . . or a gamble that paid off?

On the 30th April, through live broadcast from Jerusalem, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered an assertive presentation to the world accusing Iran of “brazenly lying” about their nuclear weapons ambitions. The presentation itself seemed amateur and the Prime Minister delivered it as if he were at school. But his intention was to make a serious point.

His point being that various Iranian leaders have falsely denied that they had ever been working on acquiring nuclear weapons with several citing the idea as “immoral”. Netanyahu’s PowerPoint presentation featuring diagrams, photographs and blueprints sought to demonstrate that Iran was in violation of the JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal) and that Iran, through what was known as Project Amad (1999-2003), had had the active goal of building a nuclear weapon.

The key allegation Netanyahu made in this presentation was that Project Amad, a supposedly merely scientific program, had been a covert nuclear weapons development project and that even after the closure of Project Amad, the work had secretly continued. He said that top-secret documents proved it. However, the Next Century Foundation does not find any real merit in Netanyahu’s further suggestion that the JCPOA allows Iran to continue their alleged nuclear weapons development unabated. Evidence to support the accusation that Project Amad was a covert nuclear weapons project is definitely compelling, but is nothing new to anyone in the international community. However, Netanyahu explicitly states throughout that Iran continues with its pursuit of its nuclear weapons ambitions. For these accusations he provides no real evidence. He simply opines that the retention of these documents, already known about since before the JCPOA, indicates that they are doing so and that their denial of the existence of prior nuclear weapon development efforts means they are liars.

The Presentation in Detail:

This presentation was built around alleged evidence from 55,000 pages and 183 CDs of “top secret” documentation that only a few Iranians and Israelis were supposedly aware of. Netanyahu does not specify how or when these documents were obtained but states that they were being kept in a top-secret, unassuming compound in Tehran. The acquisition of said documents was described by Netanyahu as a “great intelligence achievement”  by the Israeli intelligence services. The Iranians refute the claims made by Netanyahu and say that they would never keep official documents in the “dilapidated warehouse” Israeli intelligence allegedly acquired them from.

Project Amad ran for four years before closing in 2003. The documents obtained by Israeli intelligence seem to show, according to Netanyahu’s presentation, the active pursuit of nuclear weapons acquisition because Iran pursued the development of ballistic missiles with high power capability. However the development of a long range missile program does not necessarily mean an intention to have nuclear warheads. Several photographs, videos, blueprints and scans of documents were presented on different slides to enforce the message Netanyahu was pushing.

Rather more importantly Netanyahu did pull up one specific document that said the project was going to “design, produce and test … four nuclear warheads each with 10 kilotons of TNT yield for integration on a missile”. Israeli intelligence analysis of the documents determined that Project Amad had the ‘five key elements of a nuclear weapons programme’ including developing nuclear cores and preparing nuclear tests. To support the latter allegation, he provided scans of maps detailing five potential test locations in eastern Iran. Furthermore, he claims that despite Amad’s closure, the project continued in a devolved and both covert and overt way with the full knowledge of Iranian leaders and under the pretence that it was for scientific knowledge development. One cannot dismiss such evidence. The evidence was lacking in  quantity but it was supportive nonetheless. When taking this evidence into consideration, his point that Iran has lied could be considered compelling.

However, this evidence and knowledge has been in the public domain for many years. Concerns about Project Amad and nuclear weapons, deriving from official documents, are not ground-breaking in the slightest. It is of course concerning, but Netanyahu is essentially regurgitating old knowledge. This knowledge was reported on by international journalists at the time. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the ‘nuclear watchdog’ with whom Netanyahu said he would share these documents, had their own concerns over Iran and nuclear weapons. However, they were addressed at the time and in the years following. Yes, Iran did lie about the intentions and activities of Project Amad and subsequent nuclear ambitions. However the IAEA conducted their own investigation and by the time it came to signing the JCPOA in 2015, there was confidence that Iran were no longer pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. We knew this and the world knew this. Netanyahu is not offering us anything more.

Unlike the wealth of documentation supporting claims that Project Amad and its subsequent activities do show nuclear weapons development, Netanyahu failed to prove that Iran are still lying. He believes that holding such knowledge of nuclear development and “advanced work on weaponization” shows that Iran are continuing with their nuclear weapons ambitions. In his eyes the JCPOA nuclear deal “gives Iran a clear pass to an atomic arsenal” through allowing them to continue uranium enrichment and failing to address Project Amad and any other subsequent development of nuclear weapons. He does not provide anything substantive to support this.

Conclusions

Netanyahu delivered what he believed was a ‘ground-breaking’ presentation that addressed issues previously unaddressed or acknowledged. However, this was not the case. There has been an awareness of Iran’s nuclear activities by the international community and that this supposedly top-secret documentation has been known about and is nothing new. What Israel’s premier presented did indeed show a contradiction between the denials of nuclear weapons development by Iranian leadership and what was actually happening. Whilst the presentation may have raised legitimate concerns, it was no turning point.

It is important to be aware of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s own perceptions of Iran and place this presentation in a wider geopolitical context. He refers to Iran as a “terrorist regime” and expresses his distrust and disdain for Iran’s leadership. The presentation concluded with his opinion on the JCPOA and his belief that President Trump would do “the right thing” and withdraw from the nuclear deal. Stating that he would share the gathered intelligence with other countries and the IAEA, he said that “the United States [could] vouch for its authenticity”. In the ten days that have followed the presentation, President Trump has withdrawn from the deal and tensions have heightened between Israel and Iran. It appears that Netanyahu’s big presentation was successful.

Is Tanzania’s ‘Bulldozer’ a threat to Democracy?

In November 2015, John Magufuli assumed office as the President of Tanzania, perpetuating the dominance of the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party who have been in power since the 1970s. At the time of his election most considered Magufuli to be representative of political continuity within Tanzania. Now, almost three years later, it is clear that Magufuli has disrupted the status quo.

The President has come to be known as ‘the Bulldozer’ for his unapologetic approach to tackling corruption and curtailing excessive spending within government. He gained this reputation right at the beginning of his presidency when he cancelled the usual opulent Independence Day celebrations. Instead, that money was redirected towards street cleaning. In the same way, he doubled down on excessive expenditure on ceremonies, meetings and travel of government officials and civil servants. He ensured that everyone was aware that being a government official was not synonymous with luxury or privilege and that fraud and corruption were not to be tolerated. This was achieved by tough measures and the dramatic firing of many civil servants. It has been reported that in his first three months as President, Magufuli fired an average of one civil servant a day.

‘The Bulldozer’ has shown his toughness in industry and economics too. He has drawn a hard-line by protecting and taking ownership of Tanzania’s resources. Most recently, a 24 kilometre wall with one secure entrance was erected around the tanzanite mines near Mount Kilimanjaro as a way to stop the smuggling of this precious stone. This is just one of Magufuli’s moves to regulate mining. He has gone head-to-head with foreign mining companies with the goal of gaining maximum profit from national resources. Magafuli’s main aims have been to improve efficiency across the board in Tanzania, to harness the nation’s wealth and to do so for the betterment of the country. He has enjoyed popularity and praise as a result of his hard-line response to these issues and many see this as a promising signal for a fairer and more prosperous future. The tough stance he has taken on issues such as corruption and excess has been applauded both by Tanzanians and the international community.

However, criticism has definitely been expressed by some, especially those who see his policies and conduct as aggressive. Most notably, Magufuli’s stance on democracy cannot be ignored, indeed it is in need of serious attention. He has stifled freedoms of expression. Those who have expressed political opposition or criticism have been subject to harassment, arrest and detention. Tundu Lissu, the leader of the opposition party and an open critic of Magufuli, was severely injured after being attacked in September of 2017. Opposition parties have been banned from holding public meetings and rallies. Both the press and the broadcast media have also been subject to the same threat. News outlets have been shut down for lengthy periods of time, journalists have been arrested and several have been reported missing.

This increased control over the public domain and freedoms of the people has been formalised. A new law signed in March 2018, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, now demands an astronomic fee of over $900 for those wishing to publish online content in Tanzania. This includes bloggers, as well as those operating online radio and television services and impacts regular users of online domains and social media. Content considered to ‘cause annoyance’ or ‘public disorder’ will result in the revoking of these $900 licences. This is not just applicable to political topics; Diamond Platnumz, one of Tanzania’s most famous singers, was recently arrested for posting a video of him kissing a woman. He subsequently issued a public apology for such content. Freedoms within the public and private spheres are deteriorating in Tanzania and it is important that this is not ignored. These new constraints on democracy are dangerous and the rights of the Tanzanian people need to be upheld and respected.

India continues to fail its Dalit Women

India’s 2011 census stated that 16% of the Indian population, some 200 million people, are Dalits. Historically, being a Dalit in India means being at the bottom of an outdated and abysmal caste system. This idea still persists and as a result, Dalit people are vulnerable to a host of human rights abuses. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable must also struggle against patriarchal structures. A UN report from February 2018 highlights the fact that the discrimination Dalit women face, alongside factors such as lack of healthcare and sanitation, has resulted in Dalit women living, on average, 14.6 years less than ‘higher’ caste women. This is a shocking statistic. The report emphasises the fact that it is not just being of a lower-caste and one’s gender that acts as a barrier to mobility, opportunity and equality. The colour of one’s skin can also play a factor in how you are treated in India. A fair complexion is praised and promoted across society, through the media and beauty ideals. As a result, racism becomes a pertinent issue. If you are a dark-skinned Dalit women, your prospects in Indian society are not as fortunate as those of higher-caste, fairer women. This is particularly true in terms of employment with statistical evidence demonstrating that Dalit women are less likely to gain employment and when they do, they earn significantly less than their non-Dalit female counterparts. Literacy rates and levels of education of Dalit peoples are also significantly lower than their ‘higher’ caste counterparts. This huge problem persists across the nation and needs continuous attention.

There is a radical Indian feminist push within the country that seeks to move away from more homogenous feminist movements that fail to take into account the further oppression one may face as not just a woman, but a Dalit woman. As a result, we have seen the development of ‘intersectional feminism’ at both a grassroots and international level. Both Dalit and non-Dalit Indian women have used the concept of intersectional feminism to raise the profile of injustices against the Dalits. The ‘Dalit Women Fight‘ in India and the Feminist Dalit Organisation (FEDO) in Nepal are two such groups campaigning for visibility and change. There are other platforms that have established themselves as a means of articulating the voice of Dalit women, notably All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM) which is a movement born from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). Womankind Worldwide is an international women’s organisation that lends its support to groups such as FEDO. The voice of these Dalit women is growing in prominence. This gives hope to those that believe in the improvement of the welfare and wellbeing of Dalit women in a country that has historically seen them marginalised and oppressed.

The position of Dalit women in India, a nation infamous for its failure to protect its women and facilitate true equality, is deplorable. Whilst there are grassroots and international efforts making noise, this is not enough. The Indian government has continuously been the subject of great criticism for the position of its women, minorities and those from ‘lower’ castes, yet they continually fail to do anything substantive about it. The international community needs to raise the profile of Dalit women in India and apply pressure where it is needed to ensure that the future for these women is one of hope and change.

Afghanistan and the Difficult Road to Peace

For more than 17 years Afghanistan has been a nation torn apart by conflict. However, the current President Ashraf Ghani is trying to push for definitive peace and reconciliation between his government and the Taliban. On February the 28th 2018, he made an offer to the Taliban that was seen by some as a ‘game changer’. Ghani would like the Taliban to engage in peace talks and recognise the legitimacy of his government. In exchange, Ghani has said that the Taliban will be recognised as a legitimate political party, may open offices in locations of their choosing, and have some of their prisoners released. The government will also support efforts to remove their leaders from international sanctions lists. At face value, this offer appears to be a turning point, with Ghani pioneering a new vision for Afghanistan’s future. However, is it realistic? Ghani’s offer to work cohesively on peace and reconciliation with the Taliban may be too little too late given the fragility of the current political situation.

Just this week Ghani met with senior diplomats in Uzbekistan to discuss the next steps required in Afghanistan peace talks. The Taliban were absent. They have remained notably silent in response to Ghani’s offer. This could be regarded as indicative of the possibility that the offer may have sparked some kind of conversation amongst Taliban officials and senior members. However, whilst this may be true, it does not mean that there will be a positive outcome. The Taliban are somewhat fractured in their views. Some accept that peace negotiations could happen in Washington however the majority have a deep dislike and distrust of US intervention. A response to Ghani’s offer may not be put on the table for some time. One Taliban southern military commander said that there needs to be a huge descaling and step back by foreign interveners before the Taliban can even participate in talks. This in itself is problematic as the USA has given its unwavering commitment to supporting Afghanistan whilst President Trump has made it very clear that he is unwilling to engage with the Taliban at all. The US is not the only other actor in Afghanistan right now. The Taliban continue to engage in a fatal back-and-forth with ISIS forces that has left many dead. The presence of various different agents in Afghanistan, whether positive or negative, contributes to the complexity of the situation, a complexity that Ghani’s offer does not reflect.

The political situation in Afghanistan is one that is not conducive to peace talks between a ‘legitimate government’ and the Taliban. The government wishes the Taliban to recognise the Afghan government’s legitimacy. However, this current government came into being after 2014 elections that were fraught with accusations of voter fraud on both sides. The US ultimately stepped in and brokered a deal between Ghani and his opposition. Whilst Ghani has a clear and positive vision for his nation, this stands on shaky grounds. Furthermore, the current extension of the parliamentary mandate has been criticised as illegal by some. Parliamentary elections were meant to take place in 2016 but were then pushed back to July 2018 with the predicted date now set for October 2018. Most in the international community do not even see 2018 as a possibility. This due to multiple problems surrounding organisation of elections and disagreements within the government. Consequently, a picture emerges of a less than strong government. This is compounded by the Taliban’s continued growth in control and influence over parts of Afghanistan. Their control has doubled since 2015. The government is therefore speaking to a sizeable group that operates outside of their authority. The government is  not as strong as their offer implies.

Once you frame the offer from Ghani within this context, suddenly nothing about peace talks in Afghanistan seems clear or straightforward. He presents the incumbent government as the future for Afghanistan but the reality is that the situation is incredibly complex and conflict continues. The only way forward is for Afghanistan’s government to work with the Taliban and whilst Ghani’s offer seems like a positive step, one has to question its viability at the present moment.

The ‘Good Guys’ & Sexual Abuse and Exploitation

There has been a tide of stories in the international press and a definitive buzz surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct by aid workers at some of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations, most notably Oxfam. People expressed anger that the very same organisations that advocate an end to human rights abuses, including sexual violence and the exploitation of vulnerable peoples, are engaging in these practices. Now this buzz has died down. The international media is consumed by the next salient issue. Yet this does not mean that the issue is no longer as important as it was several weeks ago. The business of humanitarian workers committing acts of sexual misconduct, exploitation and violence has been a problem for decades, a sinister part of both aid and peace efforts.

Sexual violence against women and girls, particularly in conflict, is a topic that has rooted itself firmly in academia and on the agendas of international bodies. The London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security was opened.  The United Nations also contributed to work on sexual violence in conflict and since 2009 the Secretary-General includes the issue in the UN annual report. Yet the same attention has not been afforded to those on the supposedly ‘right’ side of these debates and initiatives. Brian Concannon who is executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Justice in Haiti claimed that Oxfam is just one of 23 organisations in Haiti that have allegedly engaged in sexual exploitation which hints at the scale of the problem. UN Peacekeepers across multiple missions including Cambodia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have also come under fire for their role as perpetrators in the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable peoples. Allegations have been made since the early 2000s but there has been little done to both stop it and punish those who are guilty. Ultimately, a dark shadow is cast over the positive work done by the UN and other humanitarian organisations.

In light of the recent allegations, Oxfam has established an internal safeguarding mission to address such serious reports. With regard to the UN, peacekeepers have been ‘expelled’ from missions in response to allegations against them although it is still the responsibility of their nation states to punish them. It would be wrong to say that the international community is making no effort to stem these continuous wrongdoings but they definitely are not doing enough. The actions of organisations should not just be reactive, punitive measures. There need to be concrete, regulatory mechanisms in place that disallow sexual misconduct and, in the unfortunate circumstance that it happens, justice must be meeted out. The international community needs to support these mechanisms and each nation should champion them, showing an awareness of the actions of their citizens overseas. A large part of the continuation of sexual exploitation and abuse is down to the lack of measures or the ineffectiveness of those that exist, especially if nation states do not actively support the regulation of peacekeepers or aid workers. The UN and indeed all these organisations have a responsibility to be vocal, to be firm and to take definitive action for the sake of those they seek to protect.

Supporting Initiatives of Change & ‘The Man who Built Peace’

This June, the NCF will be partnering with Initiatives of Change, formerly known as Moral Re-armament, on the launch of their new, award-winning documentary, ‘The Man who Built Peace’, celebrating the life of the IOC’s founder Frank Buchman. A pioneer and revolutionary thinker in the sphere of international peace, Buchman has been praised for his efforts in post-World War II reconciliation. Driven by moral purpose and his relationship with God, his legacy is one that speaks to the pursuance of peace through “personal change and reconciliation” with the belief that all people should move beyond faith, race, location and other factors to find peace. Buchman’s contributions to peace efforts have been publicly praised by numerous nations such as Japan, Germany, France and the Philippines in addition to recognition from individuals in Morocco and Tunisia for his role in their peaceful decolonization. ‘The Man who Built Peace’ is a project that began over six years ago and provides archival footage, testimonies and shares the message of Buchman and Initiatives of Change. The views and values of both Buchman and Initiatives of Change align closely with the NCF’s own ethos of total inclusivity and peace in working towards a better future for people everywhere. The NCF supports the documentary and promotes celebrating the life of such a visionary who worked tirelessly for a better future.

The film will be launching on June the 7th 2018 at the Royal Geographical Society with subsequent viewings happening across UK cities. More information can be found on the link at the bottom of the page. You may also find the option to sponsor a screening or donate to the project to contribute to the celebration of Buchman, this event and Initiatives of Change.

More information can be found on the Initiatives of Change website at:
http://uk.iofc.org/man-who-built-peace

 

(Photo credit: Initiatives of Change, http://uk.iofc.org/frank-buchman)

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.

The DPRK

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.

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.

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.

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)