Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records): 
Help Somalia
tackle drought
A severe drought and worsening food crisis are posing a gargantuan challenge to Somalia and the country needs all possible assistance to overcome the situation.
Somalia's newly-elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has declared a "national disaster" due to the drought, which aid agencies say has left some three million people in crisis.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Somalia is at risk of its third famine in 25 years. The last one in 2011 killed some 260,000 people.
According to WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, less than half of the people in Somalia have access to basic health services.
More worrisome is the fact that over 400,000 of those people are malnourished children.
In addition, the drought conditions are causing epidemic-prone diseases to spread. These include diarrhoea, cholera and measles. Nearly 5.5 million people are at risk of contracting the waterborne diseases.
Since early January, more than 6,000 cases of cholera have been reported, as well as over 2,500 cases of suspected measles.
Thousands of desperate people are already streaming into Somalia's capital seeking food and shelter. Refugee camps are overcrowded, filling them beyond capacity. As many as 7,000 internally-displaced people checked into one feeding centre recently.
Several people are also forced to walk for many kilometres despite hunger and lack of energy.
Two consecutive seasons of poor rainfall, more in some areas, have caused large-scale crop failures and high levels of livestock deaths, as per the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Coordination.
It is stated that entire villages have lost their crops or seen their livestock die. The prices of water and locally produced food have risen dramatically in the recent months.
The UN humanitarian appeal for 2017 for Somalia is $864 million to provide assistance to 3.9 million people. But additional funds are needed to cope with the worsening situation, and last month, the UN World Food Programme requested an additional $26 million plan to respond to the drought.
The drought and other shocks have left communities that have already been battered by decades of conflict with little to no resources to fall back on.
President Mohamed has appealed to the international community to urgently respond to the calamity in order to help families and individuals recover from the effects of the drought.
The dire situation calls for a massive and immediate scale-up of humanitarian assistance to the country. Time is running out. 
Lanka needs to expedite
reconciliation efforts
Reports of abuses, including torture, remain widespread in Sri Lanka eight years after the end of a decades-long civil war, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.
This is a serious matter that Colombo needs to address earnestly and urgently.
Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena swept to power two years ago promising justice for the minority Tamil community and a full investigation into alleged atrocities committed under the leadership of his predecessor.
However, the government has remained to slow in addressing the wartime crimes.
It may be recalled that at least 100,000 people died in the conflict between Tamil separatists and government forces that ended in 2009.
Years of denials, stalled investigations and reprisals against the family members of victims have taken their toll.
One should not also forget the fact that previous domestic investigations failed primarily because of deep mistrust.
The UN has been pushing for a special court to investigate allegations that government forces killed up to 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of fighting.
Sirisena had agreed to a UN Human Rights Council resolution in October 2015 which called for special tribunals and reparations for victims and gave Sri Lanka 18 months to establish credible investigations.
Shockingly, the deadline lapsed without those commitments being met.
An earlier UN report had identified patterns of grave violations strongly indicating that both sides had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Some of the details spoke of horrific level of violations and abuses. Among other abuses, it found that tens of thousands of Sri Lankans remained missing after decades of conflict, suggesting enforced disappearances had been part of a systematic policy.
The report also highlighted indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, harrowing accounts of torture and sexual violence, recruitment of children and other grave crimes.
It is not that the government has taken no efforts on reconciliation. It did make some positive advances on constitutional and legal reforms, limited land restitution and symbolic gestures.
Nevertheless, the measures taken so far are inadequate and lack a sense of urgency.
A “special hybrid court,” as suggested by UN, would have helped speed up and strengthen the reconciliation process.
The government and people of Sri Lanka should prioritise justice alongside reconciliation to ensure that the horrors of the past are firmly dealt with, never to recur, as UN officials rightly suggest.
N.Korea continues
to play with fire
North Korea has fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest in yet another action to prove that it does not care about international opinion.
Pyongyang has been vowing retaliation for quite some time over huge US-South Korea military drills it sees as a “rehearsal for invasion.”
Incidentally, Monday's launch has also come ahead of a trip to Japan, China and South Korea by new US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson this month.
Pyongyang test-launched a series of missiles of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February; it also conducted two nuclear tests last year.
While criticising the latest tests, Pyongyang’s best friend, China, has also suggested that South Korea and the United States are partly to blame.
China may be right to some extent, but it also needs to do more to rein in Pyongyang.
Through a unanimously adopted resolution in November, the 15-member UN Security Council had reaffirmed that the DPRK should not conduct any further nuclear tests, launches using ballistic missile technology, or any other provocation.
The UN sanctions targetted revenue sources for the country’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, with the Council for the first time imposing a limit on how much coal the DPRK can export per year.
As per the resolution, total exports of coal from the DPRK to all member states should not exceed $400 million or 7.5 million metric tonnes annually, whichever is lower, beginning Jan.1, 2017. For the remainder of this year, the ceiling is $53.4 million, or one million metric tonnes.
In fact, the UN Council had been forced to meet on nine occasions last year in emergency consultations in response to the DPRK’s nuclear tests and ballistic missile activities.
Shockingly, nothing helped end the provocations.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated that three missiles from the latest North Korean tests landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources. According to him, a fourth missile fell near Japan's exclusive economic zone.
It's the third time that North Korean missiles have fallen in the Japanese zone, beginning last August.
The importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula should never be underestimated.
Provocative actions such as launching of the missiles only serve to ignite more tension in the area. North Korea should fully comply with its international obligations to denuclearise. There’s no other option.
End discrimination
against Rohingya
It is disappointing that Myanmar's military continues to defend its crackdown on Rohingya Muslims who have suffered discrimination and humiliation for too long.
Independent media was barred access to the Rohingya area of Rakhine since an army crackdown began in October.
What is conveniently forgotten is that the government cannot expect to conduct a credible investigation by itself.
Human rights groups have repeatedly stated that satellite photos support their allegations of the mass burning of houses.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who visited Bangladesh where she met members of Myanmar's Rohingya community has rightly called for urgent action by the government of Myanmar to end the suffering of the Rohingya population.
She has revealed that the magnitude of violence that these families witnessed and experienced is far more extensive than originally speculated.
Yanghee Lee has recounted several allegations of horrific attacks including the slitting of some people's throats, indiscriminate shootings, houses being set alight with people tied up inside and very young children being thrown into the fire, as well as gang rapes and other sexual violence.
These are spine-chilling, merciless actions that call for severe punishment to the perpetrators.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier issued a flash report, based on its interviews with the people who fled Myanmar, in which it documented mass gang-rape, killings, including of babies and young children, brutal beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.
Fears are also growing for the lives of several thousand children in northwest Myanmar suffering from severe malnutrition but denied vital aid.
UN agencies were unable to maintain lifesaving services for more than 3,000 registered children, mostly Rohingya, in two townships of Rakhine state after the military sealed off the area.
Following an international outcry, the military allowed the UN to resume limited aid operations in Buthidaung township in December and last month in Maungdaw North. But many children originally receiving aid still have not been reached.
“We have reports of children who died from malnutrition,” Chris Lewa, director of Arakan Project, an NGO operating for years in northern Rakhine, informed The Independent newspaper.
Arakan Project estimates that some 200 people were killed by the military. Other estimates range up to 1,000.
The Myanmar government should prevent any further serious human rights violations and also conduct a thorough and unbiased investigation into incidents that occurred earlier.
Civilians bear brunt of
fighting in Iraq, Syria
More and more civilians are bearing the brunt of intense fighting in recent days in Iraq and Syria. Thousands of people have been displaced, with many left hungry and terrified.
As per the International Organisation for Migration, the offensive by US-backed Iraqi forces to retake west Mosul from Daesh terrorists has displaced more than 45,000 people in little more than a week.
A total of 66,000 people have been displaced by recent fighting along two fronts in neighbouring Syria's north, according to the United Nation's humanitarian coordination agency.
This includes nearly 40,000 people from Al Bab city and nearby Tadef town, as well as 26,000 people from communities to the east of Al Bab in northern Aleppo province.
More than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured last month alone in Iraq. The latest figures from the UN Assistance Mission in the country reveal that at least 392 civilians were killed and another 613 were injured in acts of terrorism, violence and armed conflict.
Families escaping the battle for west Mosul have arrived in droves at sites for the displaced in the past week.
Unicef Regional Emergency Adviser Bastien Vigneau has been quoted as saying that some 15,000 children have fled western Mosul over the previous week.
Children are very scared of the sound of the bombs, which is stated as one of the main reasons their parents decided to flee. They fled with very little luggage and in most cases with a bare minimum of clothes. The children and their families arrived mostly by buses organised by the military.
In Syria, the situation for civilians is similarly challenging. Long queues of families are still forming in Manbij at checkpoints leading to the town. Pick-up trucks could be seen with displaced children and women.
Residents of Syria's second city, under regime control since December, have been without proper drinking water for 48 days after terrorists cut the supply.
Since war broke out in Syria in March 2011, more than half of its pre-war population has been forced to flee their homes.
Aleppo province alone hosts tens of thousands of displaced Syrians, many in camps near the Turkish border.
Fleeing families face very difficult circumstances and all steps should be initiated to help alleviate their suffering.
With the number of displaced people increasing by the day, protecting civilians and helping them at their hour of need should be top priority for the global community.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Mexican anger over
wall plan justified
Separation walls have no place in a globalised world, where integration of diverse communities remains the key word. The world should celebrate diversity not just virtually but in practical terms too.
That it can be done has been aptly proved by the great nation, the UAE, where people of over 200 different nationalities live and work in perfect harmony.
In this background, US President Donald Trump’s divisive plans like building a multi-billion-dollar border separation wall or taxing Mexican imports have naturally drawn the fury of not only Mexico and Latin America, but the rest of the world too.
The White House has stated Trump could build the wall with a new 20 per cent tax on goods from Mexico.
Surprisingly, the US president's office later retracted, saying it was not endorsing the border adjustment tax and it was merely an example of a way of making Mexico pay up.
The separation wall idea enraged Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto so much that he scrapped a planned trip to meet Trump.
Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray has already cautioned that such a tax would make Mexican imports more expensive for US consumers and they would end up paying for the wall.
He has also made it clear that Mexico is willing to talk with the US in order to maintain good relations, but paying for Trump's border wall is not negotiable.
Trump’s plans have already ignited global worries. New Zealand medical device firm Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, for example, has declared that it would consider switching factories making products bound for the US from Mexico to New Zealand if the Trump administration taxes Mexican imports.
The company, a major global supplier of specialised respiratory equipment for hospitals, is one of the first companies with Mexican operations to disclose how it would respond to the proposed tariff on imports.
The situation on the ground reflects a different reality contradicting Trump’s arguments.
Under pressure from former president Barack Obama's administration after a massive surge of unaccompanied child migrants in 2014, Mexico launched a crackdown on illegal immigration at its border with Guatemala.
It deported 147,370 migrants last year, compared to 80,900 in 2013, according to interior ministry figures.
While Trump wants Mexico to pay for the wall, there are now more Mexicans returning home than migrating to the United States.
Unjustified protectionism and closure of borders will change the peaceful order of the world and come with grave consequences. Washington should stop playing with fire.
Devastating cruelty
against Rohingya
The UN human rights office has presented accounts of one of the most persecuted communities in the world, the Rohingya of Myanmar, and it makes chilling reading.
Words cannot suffice to describe the suffering endured by Rohingya victims at the hands of Myanmar security forces.
The killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food — the testimonies presented by witnesses to UN officials could leave tears in the eyes of even stone-hearted individuals.
One woman told UN investigators how her eight-month baby boy had his throat slit. Another was raped by soldiers and saw her five-year-old daughter killed as she tried to stop them.
The security forces committed mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya Muslims and burned their villages since October in a campaign, that as UN officials themselves fear, amounts to crimes against humanity and possible ethnic cleansing.
There is sufficient proof to prove the dastardly crimes as the investigators have taken photographs of bullet and knife wounds, burns, and injuries resulting from beatings with rifle butts or bamboo sticks.
It is shocking how human beings could treat innocent and helpless people so brutally.
Four UN investigators gathered testimony last month from 220 Rohingya victims and witnesses who fled the lockdown area in Maungdaw in Rakhine for the Cox's Bazar district in Bangladesh.
Nearly half reported a family member had been killed or disappeared while 101 women reported having been raped or subjected to sexual violence, it said.
As UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein has stated, the devastating cruelty to which the Rohingya children have been subjected is unbearable.
UN mission leader Linnea Arvidsson has also indicated that the testimonies point to a persecution on ethnic grounds, which is similar to what has been, in other contexts, described as ethnic cleansing.
The UN report has made it clear that the attacks on the Rohingya seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.
Myanmar should accept responsibility for committing grave human rights violations against its own people.
The UN Human Rights Council should refer the issue to the UN Security Council, which has the power to pass it on to the International Criminal Court.
Justice has been delayed for the Rohingya, now at least don’t deny them justice.

UAE-India bond
gets stronger
Relations between the UAE and India have remained historically strong thanks to the solid foundation laid by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces His Highness Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s upcoming visit to India as the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day parade this week is expected to push the UAE- relationship to a much higher level.
As per reports, the two countries will sign as many as 16 agreements during the high-profile visit of Sheikh Mohamed.
The recent months have witnessed a rapid expansion in the ties as is evident in the growing bilateral cooperation, continuous communication and exchange of visits by top leadership from both sides.
Figures speak volumes about the strength of the relationship.
Over 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE and love the country as their second home.
Trade between the UAE and India, including oil trade, reached $50 billion in 2015, up from $180 million in the 1970s, according to Ahmed Al Banna, the UAE Ambassador to India, who has described the growth of economic relations with India as exceptional.
As he pointed out, UAE companies contribute significantly towards development in India. Abu Dhabi-based National Marine Dredging Company, NMDC, signed a $316 million contract last year for engineering, procurement and construction of the new LNG terminal in Gujarat, and that Dubai's DP World is a market leader in Indian container terminal operations.
The Indian government earlier invited UAE companies to participate in the “Make in India” initiative which offered scope for UAE investors in as many as 25 sectors including infrastructure, energy including renewable energy, defence, railways and highways.
The investments between the two countries are expected to get bigger in line with the growth of the Indian economy by 7 per cent, which is more than the growth rate of any other country in the world.
In an interview with reputed Arabic language daily,                   Al Khaleej, Navdeep Suri, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, has asserted that the Indian government respects and appreciates Sheikh Mohamed's wise and balanced vision, which is enshrined in the values of tolerance, stability and moderation.
The mutual trust and confidence makes the UAE-India bond exemplary.
The economic, cultural and people-to-people ties between the two countries are so deep-rooted that they offer a glittering example on the power of mutual respect and understanding.

Quebec mosque attack
a despicable act
The shooting at a Quebec City mosque during evening prayers that left six people dead is an abhorrent act of violence that deserves to be condemned in the strongest terms.
The victims of the despicable attack were innocent Muslim worshippers.
The aim of the attackers was visibly to break the spirit of peace and tolerance among the people of Quebec.
Canada is known as an open society that welcomes immigrants and people from all religions without any prejudice.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard have both correctly characterised the attack as a terrorist act.
Trudeau’s statement reflects his government’s sincerity in maintaining harmony among various sections.
As he mentioned: "It is heart-wrenching to see such senseless violence. Diversity is our strength, and religious tolerance is a value that we, as Canadians, hold dear. Muslim-Canadians are an important part of our national fabric, and these senseless acts have no place in our communities, cities and country."
The shooting has come at a time when Canada has vowed to open its arms to Muslims and refugees after US President Donald Trump's controversial immigration ban prompted travel chaos and outrage around the world.
Trudeau had reacted to Trump's visa ban by tweeting: "To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."
He also posted a picture of himself greeting a Syrian child at Toronto's airport in late 2015. Trudeau oversaw the arrival of more than 39,000 Syrian refugees soon after he was elected.
It is heartening that Couillard has vowed to ensure the security of the people of Quebec. "Quebec categorically rejects this barbaric violence," he wrote. "Solidarity with Quebec people of Muslim faith."
Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume, who appeared visibly shaken, also rightly expressed the view that no person should pay with his or her life for their race or colour.
The mosque was already the target of hate last June during the Holy Month of Ramadan. Other mosques in Canada have been targeted with racist graffiti in recent months.
In this era of rising extremism and widening conflicts characterised by a fundamental disregard for human life, the need for tolerance can never be underestimated.
With solidarity rallies planned across Quebec, peace-loving people from all sections and faiths should stand united to take on the forces of hatred and division.
After all, hatred has no place in a sane society. 

Genuine concerns over
Duterte’s drug war
Some 7,600 people have been killed since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched his war on drugs seven months ago, more than 2,500 in what police say were shootouts during raids and sting operations.
There is a genuine concern over the alarming number of deaths and this needs to be addressed.
Duterte came to power vowing to wipe out drugs and cautioning traffickers that they risked death if they did not mend their ways.
On one occasion Duterte vowed that 100,000 people would be killed and so many bodies would be dumped in Manila Bay that the fish there would grow fat from feeding on them.
While the war on drugs is by itself a mission with a good intent, it is the methods being adopted that are under question.
On Thursday, Duterte declared he would issue an executive order for military support in his fight against illicit drugs, which he said was a national security threat and he would "kill more" people if he had to.
This comment comes as another cause for worry.
All police operations in the drug crackdown have been suspended due to deep-rooted corruption.
A series of scandals emerged over the past month in which police were caught committing murder, kidnapping, extortion and robbery using the drug war as cover.
Duterte has placed an anti-drugs agency in charge of the campaign and says he wants the armed forces to play a supportive role.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has cautioned that involving the military is a wrong move because the armed forces have a track record of extrajudicial killings.
The group claims that using military personnel for civilian policing anywhere heightens the risk of unnecessary or excessive force and inappropriate military tactics.
Amnesty International has also accused the police of systemic human rights abuses in the drug war, including shooting dead defenceless people, fabricating evidence, paying assassins to murder drug addicts and stealing from those they killed.
Amnesty claims it documented victims as young as eight years old.
It may be recalled that two UN human rights experts earlier urged Manila to stop the “extra-judicial executions and killings.”
A furious Duterte retorted that the Philippines might leave the United Nations, accusing it of failing to fulfil its mandate.
The Duterte government will do well to address the concerns by ensuring that the law-enforcement efforts do not stray away from human rights obligations.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records)
Road safety every
driver’s responsibility
Caution is a key word in every motorist’s dictionary. Motorists should observe safe driving rules especially during challenging weather conditions, like foggy days. As they say, “Your destination is reward for safe driving.”
Almost a fortnight ago, Metha Bin Udai, CEO of RTA’s Traffic and Roads Agency, called on motorists to exercise every caution during the days and weeks ahead, which had the potential of thick fog blankets and possibly rainfall.
Such occasions are always associated with escalating traffic accidents due to wet roads.
While most motorists do comply with such valuable suggestions, it is sad that there are a few who throw caution to the winds while driving, putting not only their own lives in risk, but also of others on the road.
Dubai Police reported 144 traffic accidents due to the thick fog that blanketed the Emirate on Thursday morning. The Command and Control Centre of Dubai Police also received 1,257 calls on that single day.
Major Mohammed Juma Aman, Acting Director of the centre, has rightly urged motorists to be vigilant when driving during such weather conditions and fog.
As he suggests, motorists should always use signals while shifting lanes, besides using fog lights.
Motorists should check weather conditions on various media platforms. Employees would do well to start their journey to work well ahead of time in order to avoid accidents during foggy conditions.
Every motorist should heed RTA officials’ suggestions including that drivers continually check their vehicles and maintain them properly especially headlights, wipers, tyres and brakes as they contribute to boosting driver’s visibility and control of the vehicle during rainy spells.
Motorists should also reduce speed, maintain sufficient distance between vehicles and anticipate the stoppage of traffic at any moment.
Speaking on the mobile phone while driving is a very dangerous habit that should be avoided at any cost.
Among the other helpful tips from the RTA officials are that the drivers should not use full beam, and stop vehicles on or near the driving lane to avoid causing serial accidents with vehicles coming from behind.
They should also avoid sudden burst of speed.
Low horizontal visibility caused by fog in various coastal and inland areas of the country could prove dangerous if motorists do not take adequate care.
The UAE is driving ahead on all fronts. Motorists should add another glory to the nation by strictly following the rules and making the roads safest in the world.

Heinous, cowardly
attack in Kandahar
The terrorist attack that resulted in the wounding of the UAE Ambassador to Afghanistan, Juma Mohammed Abdullah Al Ka'abi, and the death of a number of Emiratis who were on a noble mission in the city of Kandahar is a brutal, cowardly and heinous act carried out by enemies of humanity.
The UAE martyrs — Mohammed Ali Zainal Al Bastaki, Abdullah Mohammed Essa Obaid Al Kaabi, Ahmed Rashid Salim Ali Al Mazroui, Ahmed Abdul Rahman Ahmad Al Tunaiji, and Abdul Hamid Sultan Abdullah Ibrahim Al Hammadi — were actually on a mission to carry out humanitarian, educational and development projects in the Republic of Afghanistan.
They were there as part of the UAE programme to provide help and support to the brotherly people of Afghanistan.
The UAE envoy’s visit also included a plan to lay the foundation stone for the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Institute for technical education in Kabul, to be funded by Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation.
As pointed out by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the perpetrators of this heinous terrorist act do not know the meaning of humanity and its noble values.
Sheikh Mohammed has rightly and forcefully affirmed that the UAE will continue to provide humanitarian and development assistance to affected communities and support people in need regardless of challenges.
It should not be forgotten that over the last five years, the UAE had contributed over $400 million in security, economic, humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan.
The Abu Dhabi Fund for Development provided $149.6 million for implementing a 4,000 unit social housing project in Kabul. Dubai Cares pledged $ 1.3 million for primary education, pre-schooling development programmes and eradication of illiteracy in Afghanistan.
The UAE’s humanitarian aid programmes are intended to help the poor and those in need around the world and such mindless violence will not steer the country away from its acts of benevolence for which it is admired by the entire world.
Indiscriminate attacks against civilians and diplomatic envoys are deemed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
International efforts should be intensified to combat terrorism.
Only venomous minds filled with malevolence towards righteous human values can contemplate or carry out such attacks.
The perpetrators of the cruel act should be swiftly brought to book.
The never-ending
woes of migrants
The woes of migrants who risk their lives to reach what they presume are safer places never seem to end. Harsh winter and xenophobic attitudes in some of the countries where they seek shelter compound their problems.
The International Organisation for Migration has reported that 358,403 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2016 through Dec.21, arriving mostly in Greece and Italy.
"Deaths in the Mediterranean this year reached 4,913," according to the organisation’s Missing Migrants Project, with 13 new fatalities reported since its last report on Dec.20.
Sadly, the 4,913 deaths in the Mediterranean through Dec.21 indicate a 2016 average daily death toll of nearly 14 men, women and children per day.
On another front, according to the UN refugee agency, Serbia's centres for housing migrants are completely full, leaving more than a 1,000 facing a winter sleeping rough in the Balkan country that has become a bottleneck as the European Union sealed its borders.
At least 7,000 migrants mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are said to be trapped in Serbia, many spending months in a country culturally and financially ill-equipped to care for them and where few of them want to stay.
Aid agencies estimate more than 100 new migrants are entering Serbia every day, while only around 20 are allowed to enter Hungary — Serbia's only neighbour in Europe's Schengen visa-free area.
Shockingly, about half of those are children, and every 10th child is classified as unaccompanied, according to Save the Children officials.
As former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently underscored, every migrant is a human being with human rights and to protect those rights stronger international cooperation is needed among countries of origin, transit and destination that is guided by international law and standards.
A record 65.3 million people were uprooted worldwide last year, with Syria and Africa responsible for a large part of a 50 per cent surge in just five years, the United Nations refugee agency mentioned in a report in June.
That means 1 in every 113 people on the planet is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced person.
As the New Year begins, one only hopes that policies driven by xenophobic rhetoric and the scapegoating of migrants end. The fact remains that migration is inevitable.
Compassion is the key word when it comes to handling migrants. The only way forward is initiating effective steps to better integrate migrants in the societies.
The plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority has been turning from bad to worse and it is disheartening that the world community is yet to initiate any concrete measures that could make the Myanmar government see reason.
End repression
of the Rohingya
Human rights group Amnesty International has rightly warned that the actions of Myanmar's military may constitute crimes against humanity based on accounts of violence against the helpless Rohingya.
According to Amnesty, in one incident on Nov.12, following an alleged skirmish between the army and villagers armed mostly with simple weapons, helicopter gunships descended on a village and sprayed bullets indiscriminately, killing civilians fleeing in a panic.
Satellite images Amnesty obtained showed 1,200 burned structures, which was is in line with images released by Human Rights Watch in November that showed 1,500 burned homes.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had also recently accused de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi of allowing genocide on her watch.
On Monday, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman highlighted reports from many sources alleging arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings including of children, rape by soldiers, burning of Rohingya villages as well as destruction of homes and places of worship.
Myanmar, which has vehemently denied the allegations of abuse, has responded by angrily summoning Malaysia's ambassador and banning its workers from going to the country.
Myanmar's army went on a counterinsurgency offensive in the Rakhine state after an October attack there on police outposts that killed nine officers.
Rakhine, located in Myanmar's west, has long been home to simmering tensions between the Rohingya and the country's Buddhist majority population.
The last major outbreak of violence in 2012 left hundreds dead and drove 140,000 people into internal displacement camps.
Just last week, UN rights commissioner Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein criticised the Myanmar government's callous handling of the crisis, describing it as "a lesson in how to make a bad situation worse.”
He made it clear that the repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, was highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the government's obligations under international human rights law.
Myanmar's more than one million Rohingya are among the most persecuted people in the world and deserve international support.
The crisis has affected the entire region. There is a need to make the Myanmar military accountable for its actions against the vulnerable Rohingya.

Friday, January 6, 2017

My article in Panorama about 8-time Guinness winner (Bruce Lee of Mumbai)


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records) 
Bury acrimony, 
move forward

Months of bitter, venomous presidential poll campaign, where mudslinging remained a norm, has come to a stunning end, exposing deep divisions within the world’s lone superpower.
The wide margin of victory for Donald Trump negated the hollow predictions of polls, pundits and a large section of media, which grossly failed to gauge the pulse of ordinary Americans yearning for change.
The verdict reflected the voters’ worry over economy, jobs and lifestyle.
Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the "greatest jobs president that God ever created."
His fiery words during his campaign targeting a large section, including women and immigrants, left a bitter taste, meaning the nation needs healing time.
So does the rest of the world.
The vote outcome initially sending shockwaves through global markets is one glaring example.
Share markets plunged and the dollar tumbled. The Mexican peso fell to a record low. Japanese and South Korean authorities had to even call crisis talks.
Fortunately, though uncertainty remains over Trump's trade, immigration and geopolitical policies and the future of globalization itself, investors appeared somewhat comforted by his victory speech, in which he praised rival Hillary Clinton and urged Americans to "come together as one united people."
The Republican tycoon has not outlined any lucid plans or a line-up of people to implement radical promises that he has made.
He has stated he would dismantle the health insurance open to the uninsured introduced by President Barack Obama.
His threat to jail opponent Clinton, build a wall on the border with Mexican money or sharp criticism of NATO are issues that caught the world by shock and surprise.
Now that he takes over as president, it is imperative that Trump acts in a statesmanly manner on subjects like these.
In a globalised world, separation walls are not the answer. What is called for is intensified, positive engagement among nations. Washington should continue to promote democratic values and stand by its allies as a guarantor of peace.
Trump’s sober victory message pledging to reach out to opponents and extend hands of friendship abroad does come as a balm.
Lack of government experience may pose a challenge for the oldest man ever elected president.
Nevertheless, he has taken off on a positive note and should continue on that track, burying all the acrimony and conflict-ridden rhetoric that came as part of the poll campaign.

Need to address anxiety
over move on rupee

While the Indian government's sudden scrapping of the high denomination notes may be seen as a bold step, the severe hardship caused to the common people and the persisting confusion raises questions about the way the decision has been implemented.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier announced the demonetisation of Rs1,000 and Rs500 notes in what he termed was a crackdown on "black money.”
Anxiety and confusion has gripped millions in the country as well as expatriates.
Serpentine queues outside banks where people waited for long hours to get lower denomination currency and new banknotes to pay for their daily basic needs are apparent indication of the worry among the people.
Several banks had to seek help from thousands of police personnel to manage huge queues.
Many were not able to buy groceries and essential items, ATM centres were crowded and shop owners were said to be refusing the notes.
Although a few people were able to exchange their old money for new notes, the strict caps on account withdrawals posed additional challenges.
Trading of farm commodities around the country was also disrupted and in many markets farmers were struggling to sell their produce.
Prices of perishable fruits and vegetables fell as traders were unable to sell them to vendors, who pay in cash.
Adding a tragic twist to the episode, a farmer in southern India committed suicide fearing she would be left penniless after the government's shock decision.
Kandukuri Vinoda, 55, had a large amount of cash at her home in 1,000 and 500 rupee notes and panicked that her savings had become worthless. She had ostensibly sold some land last month and had been paid in cash.
Some also see a political reason behind the announcement. Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav argues that the Modi government took the decision with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
Terming the decision as imposition of "undeclared economic emergency,” Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has also alleged that the Modi government is diverting attention of voters from failures of his government.
Interestingly, the first demonetisation had happened under the British rule in 1946 and the first one after the Independence on Jan.16-17, 1978 when the Morarji Desai government demonetised bank notes of Rs1000, 5000 and 10,000 notes.
While the overall goal to tackle black money is appreciated, the Modi government could do well by providing enough breathing time for honest and common people to make alternative arrangements.

Give high priority to
low carbon future

The Marrakesh Conference, in which parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are discussing how to advance action to combat climate change, offers an ideal opportunity to sustain momentum on climate action.
The international community should not let go of the golden chance to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.
Adopted by 196 States that are party to the UNFCCC last December, the Paris Agreement, aims to strengthen the response by keeping the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In October, the accord cleared the final threshold of 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions required for the accord to come into effect within one month.
The conference comes just four days after the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.
Before the meeting wraps up on Nov.18, the parties should lay out a viable plan for providing at least $100 billion a year to developing countries to support climate action.
While the Paris Agreement did give clear pathways in respect to decisive action, many details regarding how to move forward as one global community in that common direction still remain unresolved.
The changing climate can directly impact billions of people as the risks of extreme weather events grow.
Fourteen of the 15 hottest years recorded have all been in the 21st century.
Global sea-surface temperatures reached record levels in 2014, even in the absence of a “fully developed El NiƱo” weather pattern.
In a study released ahead of the Morocco conference, researchers from 13 global organisations found the average compliance of donor governments with UN climate finance transparency requirements had declined from 58 per cent per country report filed in 2014 to 52 per cent in 2016.
The world's poorest countries are battling increasingly extreme weather. But, as experts point out, the aid on offer globally to help them cope is still a pittance.
This is a matter of concern that needs to be addressed.
Rich countries should dig deeper to help poor respond to the climate crisis.
The world certainly has no choice but to shift to a low-emission, climate-resilient path.
The Marrakesh Conference should pave the way to move on a more sustainable course and a safer future.
It is clearly time to delete empty words and shift to decisive action.

Sharjah’s spellbinding
world of words

Books open the doors of true wisdom and the visionary leaders of Sharjah know this best.
The Emirate revels in opening a new chapter in the love for the written word every year through its hugely-popular Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).
It is amazing to note that more than 650,000 visitors have already attended the first four days of this year’s SIBF, which is a record in its 35-year history.
This is a clear indication that the current edition of the fair is set to break the record for overall number of visitors at a single edition, surpassing last year’s SIBF which welcomed one million visitors by its close.
With 1,681 publishing houses taking active part and 1,417 activities taking place, the venue has not only been bustling with activity, but is also generating healthy reading habits among people, mainly the younger generation.
As Ahmed Bin Rakkad Al Ameri, Chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, has pointed out, the “Year of Reading 2016” initiative and numerous other literary-themed campaigns and activities organised by government bodies have encouraged more and more residents and tourists to throng SIBF.
The popularity of SIBF can also be the gauged by the fact that Sharjah was recently named as Sao Paulo International Book Fair’s Guest of Honour for 2018, in the presence of His Highness Dr Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
Incidentally, Sao Paulo International Book Fair is one of largest and highly popular events in Latin America.
The Sao Paulo honour underlines Sharjah’s status as a cultural leader in the Arab world.
One of the most interesting observations at a SIBF panel session was that eBooks have failed to replace paper books despite persisting demand from a section of the society.
Though a large part of the local population is under 25 years and love electronic gadgets, experts say that one cannot expect more than 20-30 per cent of them going for eBooks. This is indeed positive news for true knowledge-seekers.
The panel also pointed out the lack of a proper distribution system as a major roadblock and this needs to be addressed.
Making quality books accessible to youngsters at affordable prices has been SIBF’s grand source of attraction.
Sheikh Sultan’s own words reflect the vision: “We believe that books must be available to all and from this concept we turn book fairs into an oasis of knowledge and enlightenment.” 

Ensure protection of
civilians in Mosul

News that Daesh militants in Iraq have abducted thousands of men, women and children from areas around Mosul and using them as "human shields" is deeply distressing.
There are also reports that several innocent people have been killed for refusing to comply with Daesh orders or previously belonging to Iraqi security forces.
Forced out by gunpoint, many such hapless people are being moved to strategic places where Daesh fighters are located.
Though Iraqi forces are advancing from several directions, they are still well outside the city itself and need to take extreme care to protect innocent civilians.
Families are at extreme risk of being caught in crossfire or targeted by snipers.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi girls, boys and women may also be under siege or held as human shields.
Iraq is already facing one of the world’s biggest internal displacement situations.
Since January 2014, some 3.38 million people have fled their homes – among them, families that have been displaced multiple times.
Last week, the UN rights office reported dozens of execution-style killings in villages near Mosul, including the shooting of a physically disabled girl who failed to keep up on a forced march.
Shockingly, environmental pollution is also adding complexity and danger to the humanitarian crisis sparked by the offensive in Mosul.
UN officials have indicated that fumes from burning stockpiles of sulphur dioxide, and oil wells that have been set ablaze, have led to further suffering for civilians in northern Iraq.
Some civilians have been experiencing near-suffocation and respiratory illnesses due to what UN officials say is Daesh’s “scorched earth policy.”
Armed groups set 19 oil wells on fire near Al Qayyarah, a town just southeast of Mosul. As a result, citizens and armed forces were exposed to toxic fumes.
The burning crude oil released a wide range of pollutants, including soot and gases that caused skin irritation and shortness of breath.
A sound counter-strategy to meet such Daesh atrocities should be in place at all times.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, as of Thursday, 15,804 people had been displaced since the operation began on Oct.17.
Going by this trend, a massive displacement cannot be ruled out and hence it is imperative that the international community gears up to face the potential challenge of a huge humanitarian crisis.
It is important for all parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law and to ensure the protection of civilians.