Saturday, May 13, 2017

Beauty of compassion

There are so many amazing people out there whose compassionate actions are lost in the din of negativity encompassing most of our society.
It was around 9am that I noticed an acquaintance, a vendor selling newspapers on the roadside. He had been on the job late after midnight and looked exhausted.
We started a conversation and he mentioned about how today’s youth are technology-driven, but quality newspapers are cherished by elderly Arabs.
He then stated that his sugar level had shot up to 400 and that he was on medication.
He had pain on one of his legs and could not stand for long hours.
Before I could reply, a taxi screeched to a halt nearby. The cabbie stretched out his hand and told the vendor: “I got a sandwich for you.”
When the latter hesitated, the driver insisted: “Take it. I am seeing you here daily. You are like my brother.”
“Do you know him?” I asked the vendor after he grabbed the grub.
“Not really, but this is common. I come across quite a few good people like him.”
I returned home contemplating about the caring taxi driver, when a friend called up and shared an incident.
He had found Dhs800 on a footpath. Unlike many who would have been thrilled, he felt distressed. He was worried some poor person in a hurry must have lost the money. He returned to the spot three to four times that day, but could not trace anyone he could trust as genuine.
He donated the entire amount to his watchman, who was earning a very meagre salary and had health issues.
I saluted him. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records): 
Generous UAE
wins hearts again
Nothing can match the joy of giving. The UAE knows this best and has always led in the field of charity, aid and voluntary initiatives globally.
The country is blessed with a benevolent leadership that relentlessly strives for the happiness of not only its citizens and residents, but beyond too, breaking borders to reach aid to the needy, without any discrimination.
Proving that it never gives up when it comes to giving, the UAE has maintained its position for the fourth consecutive year as one of the largest international donors in the field of official development assistance compared to its gross national income (GNI), occupying first place globally in 2016 for the third time, after occupying the first place in 2013 and 2014.
The Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has declared that according to preliminary data for countries that provided official development assistance during 2016, the UAE has been a top donor country in comparison with its GNI.
Incidentally, the UAE's level of official development assistance during 2016 was about Dhs15.23 billion, representing 1.12 per cent of GNI while more than 54 per cent of this aid was offered in the form of grants.
It should be noted that the UAE is the only Arab country among the top 10 donor countries in the world.
What is gratifying is the fact that the UAE does not provide conditional assistance and neither does for the sake of reciprocal interests. It does so only for the good and stability of all peoples, as Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum has aptly pointed out.
The announcement of the UAE being ranked first development assistance donor in 2016 could not have come at a better time as the nation is marking the Year of Giving and various charitable initiatives are already underway.
President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s designating 2017 as the Year of Giving has, in fact, taken generosity to an unparalleled level.
With continued support for the underprivileged everywhere, the UAE foreign aid surely represents a global model to follow in terms of humanitarian and development work.
“Giving” is a value the nation cherishes and saw personified in the UAE’s Founding Father Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
It is a matter of great pride that the young nation stands tall as the most generous in the world.
France votes for hope
but all’s not over yet
The French election is being keenly watched the world over especially because it is seen as a political war between liberal values and bigotry of the extreme right.
The Brexit vote in the UK, the election of US President Donald Trump who challenged liberal values, and the rise of far right, anti-European Union (EU) Marine Le Pen had all raised serious questions about the path France would choose.The first round, fortunately, has clearly gone in favour of hope and liberal democracy.
The voters have dealt a knock-out blow to established political parties and signaled a thumbs up for centrist Emmanuel Macron as clear favourite to become France’s youngest-ever president.
The result has paved the way for a straight two-way fight between Macron and Le Pen in a run-off on May 7, with opinion polls indicating Macron as  the favourite.
France's political mainstream has united to call on voters to back Macron.
President Francois Hollande too has endorsed Macron citing "the risk for our country" in the event of Le Pen winning power.
Jittery EU now has reasons to feel relieved.
So much so that Brussels officials broke with protocol on not intervening in national elections and swiftly congratulated Macron despite the fact he still has to beat Le Pen in the run-off.
But worryingly for Brussels, the anti-EU vote in France still adds up to around 46 per cent, with far leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon coming in a close fourth with 19.2 per cent of the tally.
Macron, a former banker and French economy minister, wants to accelerate EU integration, including by giving the eurozone a central parliament, finance minister and budget.
This is in stark contrast to Le Pen who backs an exit from the European single currency and a Brexit-style referendum to pave the way for a French exit from the bloc.
She has gone to the extent of predicting the EU "will die."
Le Pen has pledged to reduce net immigration to just 10,000 and has vowed a "moratorium" on legal immigration. She would also ban the wearing of head scarves and veils in public.
Macron, however, has said he would not look to prohibit head scarves, and has pledged to speed up the review process for asylum requests to a maximum of six months, including appeals.
The final verdict is not out yet. Le Pen could still pull off a surprise victory. If that happens, France would lose its “liberal” tag.

Diplomacy, not war,
best option on N.Korea
The persistent war of words between Pyongyang and Washington is only adding fuel to the fire in the Korean Peninsula instead of dousing tensions.
North Korea's nuclear and missile tests and the deployment of a US aircraft carrier group have spiked worries about which direction the crisis is heading to.
For sure, the last thing anyone wants is to see war break out in the region.
Pyongyang on Tuesday marked a military anniversary with a massive conventional firing drill, which South Korea’s Yonhap news agency stated as the "largest ever," presumed to have been overseen by leader Kim Jong-Un.
The North's Rodong Sinmun — the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea — has warned of dire consequences in the event of a US-led pre-emptive strike.
It promised "the most brutal punishment... in the sky and land as well as at sea and from underwater without any warning or prior notice."
Two missile tests by North Korea this month prompted US President Donald Trump to warn that "all options are on the table" against Pyongyang, including military action.
Trump has already urged UN Security Council ambassadors to consider stronger sanctions against Pyongyang.
The US has long pushed for China to intensify efforts to curb Pyongyang's behaviour. But Beijing has resisted, concerned that a regime collapse could trigger a flood of refugees across the border and leave the US military on its doorstep.
Nevertheless, it has become increasingly concerned as the possibility of a sixth nuclear test by the North looms.
China banned all imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year from Feb.26, cutting off its most important export. The exact impact of that economic pressure is yet to be ascertained.
Chinese media has even raised the possibility of cutting oil shipments to North Korea, if it conducted another nuclear test.
Incidentally, since taking power in 2011, Kim Jong Un has rarely met with Chinese officials and has yet to visit the country that provides his regime with most of its foreign trade and economic assistance.
It is distressing that North Korea is diverting resources to the pursuit of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons while most of its citizens have several unmet needs.
The importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula should never be underestimated. A peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue is the only best option. Aggravating the situation would prove disastrous not only for the region, but the entire world.
US should not pour cold
water on climate action
It is deeply disappointing that Group of Seven (G7) energy ministers could not reach an agreement on a joint statement on climate change as the United States expressed reservations.
Washington "reserved its position" on the text about commitments made by G7 countries under the 2015 Paris climate accord, according to Carlo Calenda, the Italian minister for economic development, who chaired the meeting in Rome.
Lack of unanimity ostensibly prompted Italy, which currently presides over the group, to drop its decision on proposing the joint statement.
What the US forgets is that the Paris Agreement on climate change adopted in December 2015 is unique in its universality, with every single government having signed it.
The pact entered force in less than a year. To date more than 130 parties have ratified it, and the numbers are growing.
As top UN officials emphasise, all nations recognise that implementing the 2030 Agenda goes hand-in-glove with limiting global temperature rise and increasing climate resilience.
The Paris Agreement has a noble aim to cap global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius compared to late 19th-century levels — an effort that scientists say will require massive cuts in carbon emissions from coal and other fossil fuels.
It also pledges to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in aid for poor countries badly exposed to drought, flood, rising seas and other climate impacts.
Sadly, in March, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order rolling back some of the previous Democratic administration's policies on carbon emissions and climate change.
Trump has also made it clear that he did not intend to honour promises made by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, to provide financial aid under the Paris accord.
Nevertheless, the heartening factor is that almost all European Union countries remain strongly committed to the Paris accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change is indisputably a growing and potent threat. The indications are crystal clear. Last year was once again the hottest on record. Sea ice is at a historic low and sea levels are at a historic high.
UN officials insist that the consequences of climate change include food insecurity, water scarcity, poverty and displacement.
Limiting global temperature rise and increasing climate resilience is the need of the hour. As experts repeatedly point out, addressing climate change is a massive opportunity that humanity cannot afford to miss.
One only hopes that Washington does not play spoilsport in this well-meaning global endeavour.
Egypt church attacks
an abhorrent crime
Sunday’s terrorist attacks in Egypt that targeted the Mar Girgis church in the city of Tanta north of Cairo and Saint Mark's Church in the coastal city of Alexandria are abhorrent, inhuman acts that contravene all humanitarian and religious values and principles.
Such cowardly actions by militants with depraved mindsets pose a threat not only to Egyptians but also to the entire world and hence underline the need for international unity to erase the scourge of terrorism.
The aim of the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that claimed several innocent lives is to drive a wedge between people of different faiths who have been living peacefully together for generations.
The criminals chose a time when the crowds were heavy, as the worshippers had been celebrating Palm Sunday.
Incidentally, Pope Francis is due to visit Cairo on April 28-29.
Copts, who make up about one tenth of Egypt’s population of more than 92 million and who celebrate Easter next weekend, had been targeted earlier too by militants.
Previously, the deadliest attack against Egypt's Christians was a New Year's Day bombing in 2011 in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, for centuries the seat of the Orthodox Coptic church. At least 21 were killed in that attack.
In December, a suicide bombing claimed by Daesh killed 29 worshippers during Sunday mass in Cairo. The group later released a video threatening Egypt’s Christians with more attacks.
The bombing of the church took place within a compound that also held the seat of the Coptic papacy.
A spate of militant attacks in the Sinai Peninsula, including the murder of a Copt in the city of El Arish whose house was also burned, have led Coptic families to flee their homes.
Peace-loving UAE has always supported Egypt in its efforts to stem terrorism and preserve its security and stability.
Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, has rightly affirmed the solidarity of the UAE and Egypt, standing by the side of the brotherly nation in confronting this criminal and malicious act.
The extremists should be made to understand that the Egyptian spirit is much stronger and cannot be cowed down by guns.
The solidarity of the Egyptian people and the country’s ability to uphold its national unity will surely help defeat abhorrent terrorism.
The perpetrators of the heinous crimes need to be brought to justice at the earliest.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Recent editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Trump’s move adds
fuel to climate crisis
US President Donald Trump’s signing of an order to undo former president Barack Obama’s regulations to curb climate change has come at a time when world temperatures hit record highs in 2016 for the third year in a row.
The main target of Trump’s deeply disappointing action is Obama's Clean Power Plan, which required states to slash carbon emissions from power plants and was key to the US pledge under Paris to cut emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The order also lifts a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands.
The Obama administration had imposed the moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year programme must be modernised to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change.
Trump has not made it clear whether he would pull out of the Paris Agreement, agreed by almost 200 nations and which seeks a shift from fossil fuels as the cornerstone of efforts to limit heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
The fear is that less action by the United States, the Number Two greenhouse gas emitter, will cause other nations to roll back their own goals.
A report by the US Department of Energy in January said 43 per cent of the workforce in electric power generation, or about 374,000 workers, were employed in the solar sector. Fossil fuels accounted for just 22 per cent of jobs in the sector.
It is heartening, though, that China has promised to stick to its climate commitments. China is the No.1 emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases but also the top investor in solar, wind and other renewable energy.
Beijing has committed to carrying out its pledges under the Paris climate agreement negotiated in 2015.
Incidentally, Trump earlier called climate change a hoax created by China.
China's 2015 spending of $103 billion was more than double the US level of $44 billion, according to the UN Environment Programme.
While a vast investment shift from fossil fuels to clean energy is currently underway with benefits ranging from less air pollution to more jobs, Trump’s move has triggered undesirable turbulence.
It is disappointing that the world’s most powerful country has taken such a dangerous stance on the subject.
With one stroke, Trump has pre-empted earnest global efforts to build a sustainable, carbon-free future not only for ourselves, but also for generations to come.
Verdict against hatred
in the Dutch polls
At a time when extreme far-right and hardline forces are rearing their heads and more countries in the West are opting for walls than bridges, some positive news has emerged from the Netherlands.
Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte has successfully fought off the challenge of anti-Islam and anti-European Union rival Geert Wilders in the battle of the ballot.
Following last year's shock Brexit referendum and Donald Trump's victory in the US, the Dutch vote was being closely scrutinised as a gauge of the rise of populism on the continent ahead of crucial elections in France and Germany.
A win for Wilders would have largely been seen as a boost for French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, running second in opinion polls before a presidential election in April and May, and for populist parties elsewhere that want to curb immigration and weaken or break up the European Union.
At 80 per cent, the turnout was the highest in a decade in an election that was a test of whether the Dutch wanted to end decades of liberalism and choose the anti-immigrant path by voting for Wilders.
Good sense prevailed and the poll verdict has left peace-loving people around the world heave a sigh of relief.
Wilders had led in opinion polls until late in the campaign and had hoped to pull off an anti-establishment triumph in the first of three key elections in the European Union this year.
In a serious threat to liberalism, Wilders had even pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques and leave the European Union if he won the polls.
The poll results prove that his divisive tone cut no ice with the Dutch voters.
Outgoing French President Francois Hollande has called the result a "clear victory against extremism," and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called it "an inspiration for many."
French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who is facing Le Pen in a two-way run-off on May 7, has stated: "The Netherlands is showing us that a breakthrough for the extreme right is not a foregone conclusion and that progressives are gaining momentum."
Incidentally, the euro gained as the results of Wednesday's vote showed a clear win for Rutte.
In a globalised world, what is needed is unity among nations and peoples and not the repulsive separation walls and hate-filled ideologies. The Dutch voters deserve praise for their verdict against divisive forces.
Brexit triggers
new anxieties
London and Brussels have activated their divorce proceedings, but the path ahead is ostensibly strewn with obstacles.
By triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, Britain and European Union (EU) are expected to have a two-year process in which the terms of exit will be negotiated.
Unless both sides agree to extend the deadline, Britain will leave in March 2019.
There are three million EU citizens living in Britain and one million British people within the bloc's nations whose future is entangled with the tough decisions the two sides are expected to make.
Also looming large over negotiations is the so-called "exit bill" Britain will have to pay, estimated to be as much as 60 billion euros.
The first battle lines have already surfaced. France and Germany have put up a common front against British Prime Minister Theresa May's call to negotiate the exit and the new relationship at the same time, setting up a major stumbling block before negotiations even begin.
French President Francois Hollande has made it clear that Britain must agree on the conditions of its exit from the EU before the bloc's members discuss other issues such as a trade deal.
May’s warning that a failure to clinch a deal on trade would weaken the fight against terrorism has not gone well with Brussels.
While EU officials have cautioned Britain against using security as a bargaining chip in the talks, Brexit minister David Davis has denied the statement is a threat.
There have been huge business fall-outs as well. Since May's Brexit notification, the prestigious Lloyd's of London insurance market has declared it would open a new Brussels subsidiary to ensure smooth operations in the EU.
Several banks have also announced plans to increase their operations in continental Europe as a safeguard once Britain leaves the single market.
A first response from the EU to Britain handing in its notice is expected to come from EU President Donald Tusk on Friday when he issues draft "negotiating guidelines."
Outspoken US President Donald Trump has been vocal in his support of Britain’s vote to leave the EU. He has even hinted that other countries may follow suit.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is clearly not amused. He has mentioned in a lighter vein that he is ready to encourage Ohio or Texas to leave the United States should Trump continue to celebrate Brexit.
Considering the complexities involved in the divorce process, what is certain about the future path of Brexit is uncertainty.
UAE’s special care for
kids with disabilities
The UAE Cabinet’s approval of a national strategy to promote the rights of children with disabilities and a strategy for motherhood and childhood demonstrates the leadership’s aim to achieve happiness for all segments of the community based on a vision towards building a happy and sustainable society.
The Strategic Plan for the Rights of Children with Disabilities 2017-2021 is derived from the UAE vision 2021 and the idea is particularly noble because it aims at providing a long healthy life, an optimal education system and an integrated lifestyle.
The strategy is the first of its kind at the federal level and has come after a detailed study involving a number of relevant organisations across the country.
Incidentally, a national task force will develop action plans and coordinate the implementation of the strategy.
As Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum himself outlined, the UAE attaches special importance to supporting children with disabilities and enabling them to play a constructive and effective role in the development and the achievement of UAE national agenda and vision for 2021.
The strategic plan aims to provide the best quality medical care and social services to children with disabilities and contribute to their integration into society.
It may be recalled that earlier Dubai took measures to cater to disabled passengers at all terminals of Dubai Airports, including Al Maktoum Airport, by installing special counters that help make travelling through the airport easy, enjoyable and comfortable.
The move turned out to be the first in the Middle East and one of the few in the world.
The sixth International Government Communication Forum (IGCF 2017) this week hosted a special interactive session for people with disabilities.
The session concluded with several valuable recommendations that provide people with disabilities an opportunity to express their abilities. The recommendations included the need to involve people with hearing disabilities and mobility challenges in all initiatives that help enable them and reflect their requirements and rights.
One of the recommendations focused on teaching the sign language in schools, so that all members of society can communicate seamlessly in sign language with people with disabilities towards building a happy and sustainable society.
People with disabilities represent an integral component of UAE’s society and have the right to enjoy a happy and dignified life like other community groups. It is heartening that all effective measures are initiated to validate this point.
Need to accelerate
Syria peace efforts
The brutal war in Syria has entered its seventh year and it is highly unfortunate that no concrete peace solution has as yet emerged.
The Syrian people have watched huge parts of their country reduced to rubble. The suffering of civilians has been enormous.
According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O‘Brien, almost five million people – the majority of them women and children – have fled the violence and deprivation and are now living as refugees.
Thousands of people who set out on perilous journeys to escape the war also perished on the way.
More than six million people are displaced within Syria. They are among the 13.5 million people in Syria who are in dire need of humanitarian aid.
UN officials stress that families and entire communities are struggling to meet their most basic food needs. While food shortages worsen, an endless supply of bombs and artillery shells continue to extinguish lives. A generation of children in Syria has known nothing but brutal conflict.
It is in this background that the need to accelerate the peace efforts gains extra significance.
The UAE has been one country that never hesitates when it comes to making a positive and effective contribution to alleviate the suffering of others.
Speaking at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva, has made it clear that the country supports all recommendations that could pave the way to resolving the conflict in Syria.
These include ending blockades, halting indiscriminate attacks on populated civilian areas, funding and supporting humanitarian operations and delivery of aid to affected areas, the immediate and unconditional release of detainees, and facilitating access to the missing as a result of enforced disappearances.
Generosity has remained a hallmark of the UAE. It should be noted that the UAE has provided $800 million in humanitarian aid since the outbreak of the conflict six years ago, and is preparing to receive 15,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years.
There is a dire need to stop all acts of violence against civilians and provide safe corridors for the swift delivery of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people in besieged areas.
As the UAE Ambassador has suggested, neighbouring countries need to stand by Syria and provide additional support to absorb refugees and displaced persons to alleviate their suffering.

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.