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.