Monday, November 23, 2015

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records) 

UAE marches ahead in
women empowerment

The appointment of Dr Amal Abdullah Juma Karam Al Qubaisi as Chairperson of the Federal National Council (FNC) is another clear indication that the UAE leads the way as a role model in the region when it comes to women’s empowerment.
Emirati women have already been advancing in multiple fields and their march of progress commenced right with the foundation of the state.
This is the first time, however, that a woman will hold the post of FNC chairperson since the nation's inception in 1971. This is also a first among the Gulf Co-operation Council member states.
It may be recalled that Dr Al Qubaisi became the first woman to be elected to the UAE FNC in an historic vote in 2006.
In 2011, she made history again when she was elected as the first Deputy Speaker of the FNC, and became the first woman to chair a session of the Federal National Council when she deputised for the Speaker, Mohammed Al Murr.
The UAE Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women in accordance with the precepts of Islam.
A cursory glance at the prodigious role women play in the UAE society will reveal how Emirati women are well represented in all echelons of society, including the political arena, diplomatic corps, judiciary, media and the commercial sector.
Four women hold ministerial positions in the Cabinet, including the position of Secretary-General of the Cabinet, and women constitute 17.5 per cent of the UAE's partially elected representative body, the FNC.
Three of the UAE's ambassadors, one Consul-General and the UAE's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York are women.
Four women have been appointed as judges, two as public prosecutors and 17 as assistant public prosecutors and marriage officials.
It is not just that. Women also serve in the armed forces (one at Brigadier level), customs and police. Women constitute 66 per cent of the public sector workforce (the average globally is 48 per cent), with 30 per cent in senior and decision-making positions, close to the level in advanced countries.
One should not forget that it was Late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, who laid the foundation for such a progressive path for women by stating, "Islam affords women their rightful status, and encourages them to work in all sectors, as long as they are afforded appropriate respect.”

Intensify efforts to
eradicate terrorism

There is a dire need for the international community to redouble its efforts to eradicate terrorism and to rid the world of its evils that threaten world peace and security, as suggested by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, at the Group of Twenty (G20) summit.
Horrible crimes such as the ones in Paris come from sick minds that seek to spread chaos throughout the world through the killing of innocent people for no reason.
As King Salman accurately mentioned, the war on terrorism is the responsibility of the entire international community. Terrorism is a global disease that has neither nationality nor religion. It, as well as its funding, must be fought.
The rise in terrorism undoubtedly undermines peace and security and endangers efforts to strengthen the global economy.
In a move that shows its commendable commitment in the global fight against terror, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not only proposed the establishment of the International Centre for the Fight against Terrorism under the United Nations umbrella, but has also donated $110 million for the purpose.
Other countries need to heed King Salman’s call to contribute to and support the organisation so as to make it an international centre for the exchange of terrorism information and research.
It is good to note that the G20 Leaders agreed to show resolute stance in the fight against terrorism. The statement issued after a meeting in the Antalya province of Turkey by the leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies has appropriately stressed that terrorism should not be associated with any religion, nationality or ethnic group.
The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one of the Paris attackers does raise fears that some of the assailants might have entered Europe as part of the huge influx of people fleeing Syria's civil war. However, this should not be a reason to let genuine refugee seekers and migrants suffer.
The continued acts of barbarism perpetrated by Daesh should not be allowed to intimidate the international community, but strengthen the resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions to counter such enemies of humanity.
The terrorists should be left in no doubt that the world community stands together against them.
The heinous action of the terrorist groups and their counterparts represent epidemics that must be eradicated by civilised societies without any delay.

Do not slam the door
on genuine refugees

Top United Nations officials are absolutely correct when they say that Paris and Beirut terror attacks should not be used as a pretext to slam the doors on genuine refugees and migrants.
Balkan countries have already begun filtering the flow of migrants, granting passage to those fleeing conflict in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but turning back thousands from Africa and Asia.
New border controls in the western Balkans are leaving migrants stranded behind barbed wire as temperatures start to plunge.
UN officials have stated that the measures by Macedonia, Serbia and other states are creating tension at border crossings and leaving some families stranded without adequate shelter.
Children, who account for a growing percentage of the migrants, are particularly at risk from the plunging temperatures.
It is as yet unclear how many children are on the move, but some 214,000 children are currently seeking asylum in Europe, according to Unicef.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has indicated that more than 4,000 refugees and migrants have streamed into Europe each day in November, adding to the influx of 846,000 people - many of them Syrians fleeing war.
Plunging temperatures pose a major challenge putting lives of thousands at risk.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson echoed the sentiments of all peace-loving people when he remarked, ““Those who flee this violence should not be punished twice – first by war or oppressive forces which persecute them at home. And, second, by unjust, dangerous stigma which even shockingly associate the refugees with their attackers. The refugees, if any, understand better than anyone the barbaric cruelty of violent extremism.”
The situation is indeed alarming. It is not since the end of the Second World War that so many people – more than 60 million – been forcibly displaced around the world.
What is needed is better reception centres and claims processing, creative solutions to find sufficient places of refuge through resettlement, private sponsorship, humanitarian visas, family reunification and more opportunities for local integration and access for refugees to job markets.
Europe’s current policies do not evidently rise to the challenge.
As Eliasson elucidates, sealing borders, building fences or taking a strict security approach to the movement of refugees and migrants does not solve the problem.
Instead, there is a need to expand safe and legal paths to safety for refugees and migrants that put middlemen and traffickers out of business.

Climate deal an
achievable goal

The United Nations Agency for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has declared that weather-related disasters have claimed more than 600,000 lives in the last 20 years alone and this a matter of serious concern for the international community.
It is not just that. Floods, storms and other extreme weather events have left 4.1 billion people injured, homeless or in need of emergency assistance.
It is, hence, imperative that the United Nations climate change conference, widely known as COP21, must be a turning point towards a low-emission, climate-resilient future when it starts in a week’s time in Paris.
The talks on Nov.30 are tasked with crafting a 195-nation pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the latest figures, more than 166 countries, which collectively account for more than 90 per cent of emissions, have already submitted national climate plans with targets, known as the INDCs.
UN experts say that if successfully implemented, these national plans could bend the emissions curve down to a projected global temperature rise of approximately 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Although that would mean significant progress, there is still a long way to go.
As per UNISDR data, flooding accounted for 47 per cent of all weather disasters over the last 20 years, affecting more than 2.3 billion people, the vast majority of whom live in Asia.
A full 75 per cent of the 4.1 billion people affected were in either China or India, underscoring the extent to which densely populated areas in those countries were disproportionately vulnerable.
In Copenhagen in 2009, the last time countries sought to craft a climate deal but failed, it was agreed that poorer nations vulnerable to global warming impacts would receive $100 billion per year from 2020.
The money is meant to help them give up fossil fuels and to shore up defence against climate-driven food scarcity, heat waves and storm damage.
The developing nations are seeking assurances that the flow of money will be recession-proof and come from public sources. There is less clarity as yet on this aspect.
Though world leaders have expressed their support for the COP, mere rhetoric will not help. Now the world has a chance to steer towards a low-carbon, climate resilient future. Words should be followed by action on the ground.
Nations participating in the conference should strike a landmark deal on climate change. After all, the matter involves the lives of all human beings on earth.

Diabetes poses
heavy challenge

As the international community marks the World Diabetes Day (WDD) on Saturday, there is a need to digest bitter truths about the dreaded disease.
Diabetes is a chronic ailment, which occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. This leads to an increased concentration of glucose in the blood (hyperglycaemia).
Type 1 diabetes (previously known as insulin-dependent or childhood-onset diabetes) is characterised by a lack of insulin production.
Type 2 diabetes (formerly called non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes) is caused by the body’s ineffective use of insulin. It often results from excess body weight and physical inactivity.
Led by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), World Diabetes Day was created in 1991 by IDF and the World Health Organisation in response to growing concerns about the escalating health threat posed by the disease.
Now, an alliance of 230 diabetes organisations from 160 countries has emphasised on healthy diet as the best way out to tackle the challenge.
Figures are startling. Data from the Diabetes Atlas 2015 disclosed that of the 7.3 billion world population, diabetics from the ages of 20 to 79 were estimated to range from 340 to 536 million.
Of the 1.92 billion newborns to age 14 worldwide, 20.9 million were affected by gestational diabetes (the condition arising among pregnant women), 542,000 children were estimated to be suffering from Type 1 Diabetes (the condition among the young who cannot produce insulin) as 86,000 were recorded as “newly diagnosed cases each year.”
Total deaths due to diabetes were recorded at 5 million.
For the 387 million adult population from the Middle East and North Africa, 35.4 million were estimated to be diabetics while 342,000 died due to the chronic disease.
The matter is so serious that global health spending to treat diabetes and manage complications was estimated to cost $612 billion in 2014 alone.
It is stated that the number of people with diabetes in low- and middle-income countries will continue to grow, posing a threat to sustainable development.
For example by 2035, the number of people with diabetes in the African region is expected to double.
Spreading better awareness about diabetes could a long way in helping save lives and also alleviate suffering. Eating healthy food, physical exercise and avoiding habits like smoking are among the best ways to prevent or control the disease.

Need to strengthen
global war on terror

With each passing day, it is increasingly clear, as Chinese President Xi Jinping points out, that terrorism is the common enemy of all human beings.
So much so that leaders participating at the Asia- Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which normally focuses on trade and business issues, departed from convention and called on governments to urgently increase cooperation in the fight against terrorism as they wrapped up their annual talks in Manila.
The group's 21 leaders have justly vowed to prevent terrorism from undermining values that underpin their economies, with the summit declaration strongly condemning all acts, methods, and practices of terrorism.
The terrorists are responsible for thousands of crimes and abuses against people from all faiths, ethnicities and nationalities, and without regard to any basic value of humanity.
The most recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad, last month’s apparent bombing of a Russian plane over Egypt, and the mounting threat from Daesh, which controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq, highlight the need for a strong and united global effort to eliminate the scourge.
The Daesh group’s latest crime against humanity came in the form of its killing two hostages, Chinese Fan Jinghui and Norwegian Ole-Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad.
While the Norwegian prime minister's office is still verifying the photographs, China has confirmed Fan's “inhuman” death in a statement posted on the foreign ministry website and vowed to bring his killers to justice.
The global war against terror should be relentless, but there is also a need for caution on the part of Western nations in the sense that innocent refugees or migrants should not be targeted for hate crime.
Many refugees are themselves fleeing extremism and terrorism and it is imperative that Europe treats them with compassion.
The continued acts of barbarism perpetrated by Daesh should not be allowed to intimidate the international community, but strengthen the resolve that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions to counter such enemies of humanity.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has stressed rightly that violent conflicts and extremism are often rooted in a mix of exclusion, inequality, mismanagement of natural resources, corruption, oppression, governance failures, and the frustration and alienation that accompany a lack of jobs and opportunities. These issues need to be addressed with all sincerity.
The international community should intensify its collective efforts to uproot terrorism and find drastic solutions to combat the phenomenon, which contravenes all human and moral values.

Israel snubs world
community again

In yet another snub to the international community and Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has approved the marketing of land for the construction of 436 homes in Ramat Shlomo and another 18 in Ramot in East Jerusalem.
The building of the housing units in the settlement of Ramat Shlomo on land Israel occupied in 1967 was approved in 2012. But the project was later frozen in an attempt to avoid friction with Washington.
The latest move is a slap in the face of Israel’s close ally, America, especially because US Vice-President Joe Biden had publicly chided Israel when construction plans for Ramat Shlomo, which is in territory Palestinians seek for a future state, were first announced in 2010 while he was visiting occupied Jerusalem.
Israel’s continuation of settlement-building is a blatant violation of international law primarily aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Just on Monday, Robert Piper, UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, cautioned that Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes violated international law.
Peaceful protests against demolitions are answered with bullets. On Monday, two Palestinians were killed and nine others injured while protesting against the demolitions. Twenty Palestinians, eight of them children, have been left homeless in four days.
Since June 1, 2014, the Israeli authorities have demolished, sealed or destroyed with explosives 16 structures, displacing 90 Palestinians, including 51 children, according to the UN.
In addition, at least 12 adjacent apartments were damaged, temporarily displacing at least 55 people.
The continuing demolitions fuel a sense of despair among innocent Palestinians for which Israel holds sole responsibility.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rightly stated recently that the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, are the worst and most critical since 1948 as a result of the Israeli occupation and practices.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had also recently stressed that settlement construction is illegal under international law and further complicates efforts to find a solution to end the conflict.
The present situation calls for a decisive intervention by the international community to rein in the occupation forces before it is too late.
The demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israelis is a violation of the most basic human rights and will only aggravate the security situation. Such demolitions are unjust since innocent people are left to suffer for the acts of others. 

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