To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

Ethiopian refugees who fled the Tigray conflict are seen at a market in the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref state on January 5, 2021. (AFP / ASHRAF SHAZLY)
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Updated 07 January 2021

To help the poor the cycle of fragility and conflict must end, UN warns

  • One in five people in the Middle East and North Africa lives close to a major conflict zone, according to World Bank
  • Iran uses proxies to “weaponize instability” in an effort to create conflicts and crises in other states, says US envoy

NEW YORK: For the first time in 22 years, extreme poverty is on the rise around the world. The increase is being fueled by a pandemic that has intensified a host of social and economic ills that were already causing problems before the coronavirus emerged.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted and worsened the fragility of war-torn countries. It has undermined public health, contributed to mass unemployment, threatened food security, resulted in increased levels of violence against women and, in the words of Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, “reinforced or even created political and social divisions.”

The UN estimates that economic contraction caused by the pandemic is expected to push an additional 18 to 27 million people into extreme poverty in nations blighted by conflict. Worldwide, 51 million people are already internally displaced.

Armed conflicts and social, economic and environmental fragility are among the greatest hurdles to implementation of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 global objectives, set in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty in all its forms and improve lives of all the peoples of the world.

With less than 10 years left to achieve the goals, Tunisia, which holds the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, organized a high-level virtual debate on Wednesday to examine and discuss the challenges that face efforts to maintain peace and security in war-torn or otherwise-fragile countries.

The debate underscored the link between fragility and conflict, with “transboundary threats” such as climate change, terrorism, organized crime and the rapid increase in numbers of armed groups continuing to contribute to instability. This is especially true in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east.

Tunisian president Kais Saied, who presided over Wednesday’s debate, urged the participants to tackle the root causes of conflicts, along with the factors that exacerbate them.

These include “marginalization, exclusion, poverty, the weakening of human development and state institutions, transnational organized crime, the impact of climate change, and the threat the pandemic poses to social cohesion,” he said.

The solution, he added, lies in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance, and ensuring the inclusive participation of people from all segments of society, including women and young people.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “Conflicts have become more complex, fueled by greater regionalization, the proliferation of non-state armed groups, and their linkages with criminal and even terrorist interests. They last longer and become more difficult to resolve.”

Citing the Fragility and Conflict Report published by the World Bank last year, he noted that one in five residents of the Middle East and North Africa lives in close proximity to a major conflict. As a result, the number of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance has reached levels unseen since the Second World War.

The report also predicted that by 2030, two-thirds of people living in extreme poverty worldwide will reside in fragile or war-torn countries.

These trends, Guterres said, have locked many nations into a vicious circle: ongoing hostilities contribute to greater levels of poverty and institutional fragility, which in turn make societies even more fragile and vulnerable to conflict, with the result that the prospects for peace dwindle.

The connection between conflict and fragility has been particularly apparent in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, where the situation has been exacerbated by climate change, terrorism and the proliferation of armed groups.

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou — in whose country more than 100 villagers were killed by gunmen last weekend — called on Security Council members to help the region overcome its fragility, “the primary victims of which are women and children.” He added that he hopes the region will figure prominently on the council’s agenda.

US ambassador Craft said that within fragile states, “weak institutions, corruption, diminished respect for the rule of law, and authoritarianism increased the risk for violent conflict and instability and opened the doors for more cycles of political subversion and violence.”

She singled out Iran as a malign presence that aims to “weaponize instability” and use it against other states.

“Iran undermines the stability of its neighbors by using fragile state or non-state actors as proxies, contributing to protracted conflicts and complex humanitarian crises,” she said.

The participants in the debate also reiterated a call by Guterres early last year for a global ceasefire so that international efforts and resources can focus on fighting the pandemic. The call has largely been ignored.

To break the cycle of poverty and war, Guterres urged the adoption of two principles enshrined in the SDGs.

The first is interdependence, as there can be “no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.” He added that a “holistic approach” to building and sustaining peace “with targeted and tailored investments across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, is essential.”

The second principle is inclusion. The promotion of sustainable development, and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, requires the international community to honor a pledge “to leave no one behind,” he said.


Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

Updated 15 August 2022

Dutch court to announce ruling in MH17 murder trial on Nov. 17

  • The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region

AMSTERDAM: The Dutch court handling the murder trial of four suspects in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 said on Monday it would hand down its verdict on Nov. 17.
Prosecutors say the one Ukrainian and three Russian defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to fire a rocket at the plane on July 17, 2014. All 298 people on board were killed.
The prosecution is seeking life terms for all suspects.
Lawyers for Oleg Pulatov, the only defendant who has chosen to participate in the proceedings through counsel, have argued that the trial was unfair and prosecutors did not properly examine alternative theories about the cause of the crash or the involvement of Pulatov.
The other suspects, named as Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, are being tried in absentia. Under Dutch law Pulatov, while he is also at large, is not considered to be tried in absentia because he is represented through lawyers he has instructed.
The Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was hit over Ukraine’s rebel-held Donetsk region by what international investigators say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile. The eastern region has also become a key focus of Russia’s nearly six-month-old war in Ukraine.
Most of the victims on board MH17 were Dutch nationals. The Dutch government holds Russia responsible for the crash. Authorities in Moscow deny any involvement.
The MH17 case has seriously strained the Netherlands’ diplomatic relations with Moscow, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started on Feb. 24.


3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

Updated 15 August 2022

3 injured in shooting at amusement park near Chicago

GURNEE, Illinois:Three people were injured in a shooting in the parking lot of an amusement park north of Chicago that sent visitors scrambling for safety, authorities said.
Officers responded about 7:50 p.m. Sunday after 911 calls reporting shots fired at Six Flags Great America, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Chicago, the Gurnee Police Department said.
“The shooting ... was not a random act, and appeared to be a targeted incident that occurred outside the park,” police said in statement posted to Facebook.
According to an initial investigation, police said a white sedan entered the parking lot and drove toward the park’s front entrance. People got out of the car and shot at another person in the parking lot before driving away, police said.
Additional detail about the suspects, including the number of people who fired shots, wasn’t immediately released. Police were investigating.
A 17-year-old boy from Aurora, Illinois, had a thigh wound and a 19-year-old woman from Appleton, Wisconsin, had a leg wound, police said. They were taken to a hospital and their wounds were described as non-life-threatening. A third victim had a shoulder injury and declined to be taken to a hospital.
In a statement, Six Flags Great America said park security responded immediately along with Gurnee officers.
WGN News in Chicago spoke with Laurie Walker and her daughter, Grace, who were inside the park when the shooting occurred. Walker said they were waiting in line for an attraction around 7:50 p.m. when she noticed people running.
“There is an active shooter, get down, get down,” Walker said she heard someone shouting. “We didn’t know what was going on, so we get down.”
Walker and her daughter climbed two fences to get where she could call her husband. Walker told WGN she was able to leave the park a short while later.
Gurnee is in Lake County, about 5 miles south of the Wisconsin border. It’s about 20 miles north of Highland Park, where seven people died in a mass shooting during a July Fourth parade.


Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

Updated 15 August 2022

Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi on more corruption charges

BANGKOK: A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on more corruption charges on Monday and sentenced her to an additional six years in prison, a legal official said.

The trial was held behind closed doors, with no access for media or the public, and her lawyers were forbidden by a gag order from revealing information about the proceedings.

In the four corruption cases decided Monday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position to rent public land at below market prices and to have built a residence with donations meant for charitable purposes. She received sentences of three years for each of the four counts, but the sentences for three of them will be served concurrently, giving her a total of six more years in prison.

She denied all the charges, and her lawyers are expected to appeal.

She already had been sentenced to 11 years in prison on sedition, corruption and other charges at earlier trials after the military ousted her elected government and detained her in February 2021.

Analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before the military holds an election it has promised for next year.


‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

Updated 15 August 2022

‘Day of conquest’ as Taliban mark first year in power

  • Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power
  • For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships

KABUL: Taliban fighters chanted victory slogans next to the US embassy in Kabul on Monday as they marked the first anniversary of their return to power in Afghanistan following a turbulent year that saw women’s rights crushed and a humanitarian crisis worsen.
Exactly a year ago, the hard-line Islamists captured Kabul after a nationwide lightning offensive against government forces just as US-led troops were ending two decades of intervention in a conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives.
“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, a fighter who entered the capital on August 15 last year just hours after then-president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
“It’s the day of victory and happiness for the Afghan Muslims and people. It is the day of conquest and victory of the white flag,” government spokesman Bilal Karimi said on Twitter.
The chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces continued until August 31, with tens of thousands of people rushing to Kabul’s airport hoping to be evacuated on any flight out of Afghanistan.
Images of crowds storming the airport, climbing atop aircraft — and some clinging to a departing US military cargo plane as it rolled down the runway — aired on news bulletins around the world.
Authorities have so far not announced any official celebration to mark the anniversary, but state television said it would have a special program later on Monday to mark the event.
Many Taliban fighters gathered in Kabul’s central Massoud Square, where they displayed the regime’s white banners and performed a traditional dance, some holding weapons and others taking pictures on their mobile phones.
“We all are happy that we are celebrating our independence in front of the US embassy,” Aminullah Sufi Omar said.
Taliban fighters expressed happiness that their movement was now in power — even as aid agencies say that half the country’s 38 million people face extreme poverty.
“The time when we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.
For many ordinary Afghans, however, the return of the Taliban has only increased hardships — especially for women.
Initially, the Taliban promised a softer version of the harsh Islamist rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But many restrictions have been imposed on women to comply with the movement’s austere vision of Islam.
Tens of thousands of girls have been shut out of secondary schools, while women have been barred from returning to many government jobs.
And in May, they were ordered to fully cover up in public, including their faces, ideally with an all-encompassing burqa.
“From the day they have come, life has lost its meaning,” said Ogai Amail, a resident of Kabul.
“Everything has been snatched from us, they have even entered our personal space,” she added.
Taliban fighters on Saturday dispersed a rare women’s rights rally by firing gun shots into the air and beating some protesters.
“Our call for justice was silenced with gunfire, but today we are pleading from inside our home,” Munisa Mubariz said on Monday.
She was among about 30 women who gathered at an undisclosed location to stage an indoor protest.
The women, who mostly had their faces uncovered, posted photographs online of themselves holding banners, including one that read: “Afghanistan’s history is tarnished with the closure of girls’ schools.”
While Afghans acknowledge a decline in violence since the Taliban seized power, the humanitarian crisis has left many helpless.
“People coming to our shops are complaining so much of high prices that we shopkeepers have started hating ourselves,” said Noor Mohammad, a shopkeeper from Kandahar, the de facto power center of the Taliban.
The country is in economic crisis, with its overseas assets frozen by Washington and aid curtailed in order to keep funds out of the Taliban’s hands.
No country has officially recognized the new government.
“All those powers who came here have lost here, but today we want good relations with everybody,” said fighter Hazi Mubariz.
For Taliban fighters the joy of victory overshadows the current economic crisis.
“We might be poor, we might be facing hardships, but the white flag of Islam will now fly high forever in Afghanistan,” said a fighter guarding a public park in Kabul.


Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

Updated 15 August 2022

Pandemic pushed millions more into poverty in the Philippines — government

  • Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028

MANILA: About 2.3 million people in the Philippines were pushed into poverty between 2018 and 2021, largely due to the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, the statistics agency said on Monday.
The number of people living in poverty in 2021 rose to a total of almost 20 million or 18.1 percent of the population from 16.7 percent in 2018, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said, overshooting the government’s target of 15.5 percent-17.5 percent.
Recently inaugurated President Ferdinand Marcos Jr aims to slash the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his single six-year term in 2028 — a target that remains achievable despite soaring inflation, according to Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan.
He said the government’s strategy will focus on fully reopening the economy, investing in human capital and social protection, and transforming production sectors to generate more and quality jobs and competitive products.
“We can reduce poverty incidence by 5 percentage points at midterm, and another 4 percentage points by 2028,” Balisacan told a media briefing.
The PSA — which defines poverty as including those Filipinos whose per capita income cannot sufficiently meet individual basic food and non-food needs — releases these statistics every three years.
Balisacan said that before the pandemic, in 2018, the country had achieved its goal of lifting 6 million Filipinos out of poverty, four years ahead of a 2022 target.
But COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 and a long-running issue of poor households having limited access to regular and productive jobs had plunged many Filipinos back into difficulty, he said.