Tuesday, May 29, 2018

‘Spiderman’ saved baby, and honour of migrants

(My salute to migrants - Editorial for The Gulf Today)
While video footage of Malian "Spiderman" Mamoudou Gassama scaling four storeys of a Paris building with his bare hands to save a child dangling from a balcony has catapulted him to global fame, the incident has also brought into sharp focus the plight of millions of migrants, who risk their lives on rough seas and unknown territories just in the hope that one day the sun would shine and they might find a better life.
French President Emmanuel Macron has sent the right signals by hailing the 22-year-old Malian migrant as an "example" and offering him citizenship.
However, Gassama’s act of heroism comes as lawmakers debate a controversial bill in France that would speed up the deportation of economic migrants and failed asylum-seekers, thousands of whom live in sordid camps in the capital.
Like almost all other refugees and migrants, Gassama’s story has also been one of huge challenges. He has been living illegally and working in construction since arriving in September last year following a perilous journey from his homeland to Libya and then Italy.
On his arrival in France after travelling the Mediterranean migrant route, Gassama was just given a mattress on the floor in a room occupied by his brother and three relatives from his home village.
Migrants and refugees are humans too. It’s the strangulating circumstances they are in that force them to look for greener pastures. Exploitation, extreme weather conditions, new cultures and food habits, hostile hosts are just a few of the line of thorns they are forced to overcome.
The birth of a baby boy, aptly named Miracle, on board a ship in the Mediterranean after his migrant mother was rescued trying to make the crossing from Libya last week highlights the length to which migrants go seeking safer places.
‘Miracle’ is said to be the 36th baby to be born on board one of the ships that patrol the Mediterranean.
Migration is not a crime. Slamming doors, closing borders and keeping people out will never ever be a solution. Fair migration laws will benefit all and that’s precisely what the international community should strive for.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Recent Editorials

Here are some recent editorials I wrote for The Gulf Today. (Posted for my records):
Trump, Kim should seize
peace opportunity
After a few turbulent days of diplomatic brinkmanship that sent tensions soaring, there is some positive news from across the Korean peninsula.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has committed to complete denuclearisation and to a landmark summit with US President Donald Trump, as per a statement by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Though Trump rattled a sabre on Thursday by cancelling the planned June 12 meeting with Kim in Singapore citing "open hostility" from Pyongyang, fortunately, within 24 hours he reversed course, saying it could still go ahead.
The “Will they, won’t they?” question has been answered with “Yes, they will.”
The need to protect the momentum and seize the opportunities available to find a peaceful path forward should never be underestimated.
What is heartening is that the peace process has sustained, despite the on and off hiccups. Just last year, Trump and Kim were trading war threats and insults after Pyongyang tested its most powerful nuclear weapon to date and missiles it said were capable of reaching the US mainland.
There are still stark differences between the two sides. Washington wants North Korea to give up all its nukes in a verifiable way as quickly as possible in return for sanctions and economic relief.
Pyongyang has a different view of what denuclearisation might look like and remains deeply worried that abandoning that deterrent would leave the country vulnerable to regime change.
Scepticism reigns on whether Kim would actually ever fully abandon his nuclear arsenal. Moon has also indicated that North Korea is not yet convinced it can trust security guarantees from the United States.
If successful, recent efforts towards lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula would formally end one of the world’s longest unresolved conflicts, which began in June 1950. An armistice brought about a ceasefire in 1953, but the war never officially ended because the parties failed to reach agreement over a peace treaty.
Discussions across the table, however heated, are any time better and safer for humanity than firing of ballistic missiles and calling names via social media. Direct talks between the leaders of the United States and North Korea are crucial to resolving the crucial nuclear issue.
Sustainable peace and denuclearisation are the ultimate goals. All sides involved should seize the historical opportunity to settle matters through honest and productive dialogue.
Any other path is strewn with huge risks not only for the Korean peninsula, but the rest of the world too.
No place for hatred
in a sane society
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, once stated Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unfortunately, that virtuous message seems to have lost its way before reaching Nottingham city in Britain.
It is appalling to note that three out of five of Nottingham's Muslims have been victims of hate crime. Many victims specifically cite Islamophobia and religion as the motivation behind the offences.
As per a report in                         The Independent, Citizens UK, in collaboration with academics from Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham, collected the experiences of 1,202 people in Nottingham, including the frequency, causes and locations of hate crime.
The report, titled “Still No Place For Hate,” found more than a third (35 per cent) of all people surveyed in the city had experienced a hate crime, an increase of six per cent since the last report in 2014.
“I wear the Islamic dress and the perpetrator was shouting that I was hiding a bomb,” one respondent said. “On another incident whilst driving in my car, a passerby was shouting and calling me Bin Laden.”
“Regularly am followed when I go out in a hijab and abused the whole journey back home,” a woman reported. “Regularly get abuse online and on Facebook.”
There is no place for such hatred in a sane society. Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination.
The rights to equality and non-discrimination are cornerstones of human rights law. Yet blatant racism, xenophobia and religious hatred continue to remain the bane of certain societies.
It should never be forgotten that discrimination against individuals affects the society as a whole.
Sajid Mohammed, leader of Citizens UK subsidiary Nottingham Citizens, has pointed out that “Everyone from the new Home Secretary to Nottingham school girls as young as 12 have ended up victims of hateful slurs.”
Communities can and must change this dreadful trend. There should be zero tolerance towards hate crime. Trust in the police will be eroded if hate crime cases are not handled with the seriousness they deserve.
The report serves as a perfect reminder that the authorities need to do much more to challenge hate. Leaders should be sincere in working with the community and find ways to better promote tolerance and respect for diversity.
They should realise that if there is no harmony in society, they will also have to pay a price, if not today, some day.
Air pollution
a global threat
More than 90 per cent of the global population is breathing in high levels of pollutants, says the World Health Organization (WHO) and that is as good as saying almost entire humanity is affected.
The implication is that air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. Considering the seriousness of the subject, the global community needs to take rapid and coordinated remedial measures.
New data from WHO shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Updated estimations reveal an alarming death toll of 7 million people every year caused by ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution.
Sadly, the poorest and most marginalised people bear the brunt of the problem.
As Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, points out, it is unacceptable that over 3 billion people – mostly women and children – are still breathing deadly smoke every day from using polluting stoves and fuels in their homes.
Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period.
More than 90 per cent of air pollution-related deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low and middle-income countries of the Eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.
As per WHO officials, ambient air pollution levels are lowest in high-income countries, particularly in Europe, the Americas and the Western Pacific. Europe also has the highest number of places reporting data. Unfortunately, Africa and some of the Western Pacific have a serious lack of air pollution data.
Not all is lost, however. The positive news is that more and more governments are committing to monitor and reduce air pollution.
Air quality can be improved by implementing policy measures such as banning the use of coal for “space heating” in buildings, using clean fuels for electricity production and improving efficiency of motor vehicle engines.
Cities like Copenhagen and Bogotà have improved air quality by prioritising dedicated networks of urban public transport, walking and cycling. There is a lesson for others to learn here.
It is true that air pollution does not recognise borders.
WHO experts have rightly stated that improving air quality demands sustained and coordinated government action at all levels. Countries need to work together on solutions for sustainable transport, more efficient and renewable energy production and use and waste management.
Protect civilians
caught in conflict
With more than 128 million people worldwide requiring immediate humanitarian aid, mostly due to war and violence, the international community should do more to protect civilians caught in conflict.
As per United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, last year alone, more than 26,000 civilians were killed or injured in many countries affected by conflict, including Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq.
It is in this background that the UAE’s call on the UN Security Council and Member States to join in protecting civilians and upholding international law by focusing on prevention to address the root causes of conflict assumes deep significance.
There is a need to recognise that regional conflicts require regional solutions and reinvigorate the Council to ensure that it takes both action in response to conflicts and follows through on its existing resolutions.
As Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, UAE's Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York, explicitly pointed out at the Open Debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the failure of the Council to respond decisively to conflict around the world has exacted a profound human toll.
What is called for is a re-energised unity of purpose within the Council and renewed action to maintain international peace and security.
With the conflict in Syria, for example, now entering its 8th year, the world is experiencing the challenge of multiple armed conflicts that have severe implications for civilian communities. These conflicts have in many instances been worsened and prolonged by the Security Council’s failure to act.
The Syrian people have been denied humanitarian assistance for too long largely due to the inaction of the Council to pass any resolutions or implement adopted resolutions on Syria.
The Israeli occupation forces have been inflicting much suffering on Palestinians for decades. Israel’s recent actions at the Gaza Fence, which include attacks on doctors and paramedics, clearly violated the protection for medical personnel assisting wounded civilians guaranteed under the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law.
Ambassador Nusseibeh rightly condemned Iran’s arming of various non-state actors in order to avoid sovereign accountability for its actions, thereby putting the region at greater risk.
The UN Council needs to take bold steps towards countering the threats posed by non-state actors to better address 21st century challenges. States such as Iran should be held accountable for their attempts to violate international law and continued violations of the UN Council’s resolutions.