“Children and anybody with a free spirit have become terrorists in the eyes of the world.” My Syrian friend and I are discussing the current situation in Idlib. We are both exasperated that the world is standing idly by as thousands of innocent people are murdered or made homeless. Idlib, a governorate in North West Syria, is often portrayed as home exclusively to terrorists and violent Islamist extremists. My friend’s reference to “a free spirit” is his description of the people who participated in the Syrian revolution: those who dared to demand a free and peaceful life including the right to participate in democratic elections and to exercise freedom of speech and assembly without fear of being arbitrarily detained, tortured, executed or otherwise disappeared into the Syrian regime’s nightmarish prison system.
New discussions have been taking place about the future of the displaced Rohingya population in Bangladesh, and their potential repatriation journey back over the border to Myanmar. The progression of the repatriation process however, as the UN has reiterated, remains frustratingly slow. A lack of guarantees, respect, and honesty on the Burmese government’s part is maintaining a firm unwillingness among Rohingya community leaders to make the decision to return home. But the Rohingya are not the only displaced minority demanding security guarantees and respect for their rights from the Burmese government. Elsewhere in the country, as well as across the Thai and Chinese borders other displaced ethnic groups – such as Kachin and Karen – are being faced with the same dilemma. Either to remain in squalid refugee camps, or make the journey home and risk returning to renewed violence and repression.
Some positive news! A solid step has been taken towards the wider global push for an increased protection of rural workers rights. In Geneva on Friday 28th September 2018, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a resolution culminating in the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.
With 33 votes in favour, 3 against (one of which being the UK), and 11 abstentions, the declaration will now be taken to the 3rd committee session of the UN General Assembly in New York in October, where it will be open for adoption by all UN member states. Once adopted, it will serve to strengthen the obligations of governments in upholding the rights of its nations rural populations: of peasants, indigenous communities, migrant workers, and small-scale farmers alike. Some argue that we must be wary of such expansions of rights. I disagree.
May 2017 saw Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention uniting to take part in a hunger strike. Every Friday during the strike, street protests were held in solidarity and various other events took place under the motto ‘salt and water’. Some of my friends from Nablus, viewing horses as inextricable from ‘non-horsey’ aspects of life (their lives are absorbed by riding horses; taking selfies with horses; racing horses; breeding horses; bathing horses…) demonstrated solidarity non-violently by riding their horses into Nablus city centre, carrying Palestinian flags and calling for solidarity with the prisoners.
There was some apprehension as a Chinese ‘Heavenly Palace’ fell to Earth last week. The 8.5 tonne Tiangong-1 space station, adrift since China’s space agency lost connection with it two years ago, made an ‘uncontrolled’ re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere early on Easter Monday.
Fortunately there was never much cause for concern, the European Space Agency calculating the chances of being hit by debris as ’10 million times smaller than the yearly chance of being hit by lightning’. Most of the station burned up on contact with Earth’s atmosphere and the remaining fragments plunged into the South Pacific. But the episode had a eerie resonance, symbolising something of the West’s prevailing perception of China as an enigmatic, technologically advanced state, glowing with – rather like its wayward satellite – a nebulous sense of danger.
Content warning: mentions drone attacks, conflict, and terrorism.
While the US President, Donald Trump, has made it clear that the US presence in Syria was to carry out the extermination of Daesh, Russia’s intentions have always been to support their ally, Bashar al-Assad. Last September the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made a surprise visit to Syria to announce that Russia had succeeded in its mission. While both might be correct, it is Putin who is in a more difficult position and the risk that Russia will be dragged further in has become ever more likely.
Syria was an opportunity for Putin’s Russia to flex its muscles on the international stage again after creating trouble in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. Having already interfered in the election in the US and potentially in other elections in Europe, Russia remains largely unchallenged. Sanctions brought about by the US Congress do little to curb the ambitious plans of a nation seeking to relive past glories. Russia continues to forge relations with former satellite states and the lack of US involvement in NATO does nothing to deter the risk of another cold war breaking out in Eastern Europe. Yet, as with so many Western states, Russia has found itself stuck in the political and religious quagmire that is the Middle East.
On September 25th, Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe called for one of those snap elections we all know and love. Unlike Theresa May, when the results were announced almost a month later on October 22nd, Abe managed to pull through and secure himself a majority in the Diet.
Japan is now swinging heavily to the right. With Abe possessing a mandate to attempt implementation of his main objective – revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution – is the country about to embark on a dangerous path of no return?
by Stu Lucy
What with the circulation of fake news becoming increasingly more prevalent, sometimes you read an article and feel the need to double check its authenticity. But this one came from the BBC, and The New York Post were running it too. The Independent. Newsweek. CNN. So it must be true. I am of course talking about the news that Robert Mugabe, the authoritarian nonagenarian head of state of Zimbabwe, had recently been appointed goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organisation (WHO). Mugabe, really?
Everywhere we turn to some sort of crisis or damage control is taking place. North Korea’s recent testing of a hydrogen bomb, the massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Hurricane Harvey devastating parts of Texas, the cholera epidemic and famine in Yemen, the failure of Brexit negotiations, US President Trump’s ever divisive actions, the list goes on. Our global problems are racking up and cracks are starting to appear.
Many of these problems have been long coming, but are now gathering lethal momentum. The world seems to be constantly on edge, waiting with baited breath for the next catastrophe or attack, humanitarian or economical, to happen. New problems are being created or the foundations of future conflicts being laid. What is probably most frustrating is that many are avoidable.
Content warning: mentions violence, execution, massacre, abortion, domestic violence
‘For example, what does the billboard say,
Come and play, come and play
Forget about the movement’
Freedom – Rage Against The Machine
A UN-declared famine is threatening the lives of over a million people in South Sudan, with 100,000 of those facing immediate starvation. It has been six years since a famine was last declared, but the difference is that this famine is the result of structural violence.
I have been living in Berlin for around two months now and generally the transition from the UK to mainland Europe has been a relatively easy process. If we put rising rent prices, endless German bureaucracy, and the future of Brexit aside, Berlin in some ways is a safe haven for a young black Brit such as myself.
Undoubtedly, my ability to move, live and work in Germany is not possible without an immense amount of privilege. I, unlike many people, do not face the same amount of adversity by simply being here; irrespective of my feelings towards my nationality, having a British passport is a golden ticket I didn’t have to work for. However, even with its numerous working and academic advantages, my citizenship does not defend me against the microaggressions of prejudice and racism that I receive almost on a daily basis.
Content warning: mentions genocide, conflict, death.
“The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilisation.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
As Aleppo draws its last few timid breaths, the global community sits back and watches as four years of war, suppression and ignorance engulf an ancient city, certain to go down, alongside the likes of Srebrenica, Rwanda and Darfur, as an abject failure of Western governments to fight the oppression of human rights and democracy that they have so carefully and vocally pronounced their desire to protect.
by Zoe Harding
Is anyone else starting to feel a little bit sorry for David Cameron? At this point it’s starting to look like the only redeeming feature of his 2016 so far has been that the accusation of pig fellatio is no longer the worst thing that’s happened to him in office. On the 12th of September he quit as a Conservative MP, claiming that he ‘didn’t want to be a distraction’ for Theresa May, and on the 14th we found out why.
A report released by a Foreign Affairs Select Committee found that ‘Through his decision-making in the national security council, former Prime Minister David Cameron was ultimately responsible for the failure to develop a coherent Libya Strategy.’ It alleges that Cameron’s decision to commit military force to intervene in the Libyan revolution was poorly planned and done without considering the consequences, and ultimately led to a power vacuum that was eventually filled by Daesh. Very distracting.
by Jonathan Bartley & Caroline Lucas
This week’s House of Commons vote to renew Trident and the scrapping of the Department for Energy and Climate Change are the latest reminders of the scale of the task we face together as progressives.
The future looks far more dangerous and insecure even than it did just a few weeks ago. The UN has found our welfare system seriously wanting. Over a million people still rely on food banks. And hate crime is on the rise.
by Zoe Harding
You know what? Everyone’s writing about how my racist Gran and 17,000,000 of her mates have screwed the UK over. Instead, let’s talk about something positive.
On June 23rd 2016, while the eyes of the world were decisively elsewhere, the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos emerged from negotiations in Havana with the left-wing FARC rebel group and announced a ceasefire. This ceasefire is the first major break in a fifty-year conflict which has claimed 200,000 lives and left Colombia a mess of drug trafficking and insurgencies. While the deal is nothing more than a ceasefire, it has been hailed by many Colombians as the first step in a peace process that’s been a long time coming.
Disclaimer: mentions violence against women, casual racism
Last week, the Internet was sent into its usual frenzy over the latest political correctness issue. Amidst the now sadly all-too-common Western-centric controversies, such as actress Rose McGowan raising the issue of the use of casual violence against women in movie posters to market ‘X-Men: The Apocalypse’, the Internet also reacted strongly to a television advert from China that was making its rounds on social media. The ad, featuring national detergent brand Qiaobi, contained levels of racism considered disturbingly casual by most standards.
In the commercial, a pouch of Qiaobi cleaning liquid is forced into a black actor’s mouth by a Chinese woman, who goes on to bundle him head-first into a washing machine. After a few cycles, she opens the lid and in his place, a Chinese man emerges instead. He proceeds to wink at the camera before the tagline appears onscreen: “Change begins with Qiaobi”.
by Zoe Harding
TW: Sexual assault, rape, genocide.
Last week, we looked at the UN’s recent history of sexual assault and corruption on peacekeeping operations around the world. Despite the best efforts of two secretary-generals and nearly 20 years of reported crimes, the UN has yet to eliminate the persistent problems of ‘transactional sex’ and straight-up assault from among its peacekeeper forces. The crimes are committed both by members of various national militaries contributed to UN forces and by civilian employees, all of whom are currently essentially immune to prosecution. But what is the United Nations doing about it? What other action could be taken?
The United Nations isn’t ignoring this problem, and after the forced resignation of Babacar Gaye, (commander of the particularly abusive MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic) in August 2015 the organisation has actively begun implementing new measures to prevent this kind of peacekeeper abuse. Unfortunately, the action that’s been taken so far hasn’t been particularly heartening.
by Zoe Harding
TW: Sexual assault, rape, genocide.
Founded in 1948, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations is intended to ‘help countries torn by conflict to create the conditions for lasting peace.’ Their role is not as direct military intervention during conflicts; instead, they observe ongoing peace processes and stop ceasefires and peace treaties from collapsing back into armed conflict, while also working to help refugees and the displaced. Peacekeepers aren’t just soldiers- they also employ aid workers, diplomats, medics, engineers and negotiators. They’re the ‘world’s army’, with their distinctive blue helmets and white-painted vehicles, and in their prime they’ve stood up to global superpowers and stabilised seemingly irredeemable trouble spots.
Despite very public failures like the disastrous Somalia mission and the failed attempts to prevent genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, the United Nations continues to operate peacekeeping missions around the world. They work to protect and improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world – those living in some of the world’s worst war zones.
Unfortunately, that’s the problem.
Ban Ki-moon wonders if he’ll look much better
wearing a bindi. He Googles to see if they sell
them at the airport. Everyone has been having
so much fun, and now it’s his turn. Darling!
he cries. I’ve booked a ticket to a ‘foam party’!
Ban Ki-moon poses his questions to a forum,
in a thread titled KOS BOYS.
Hello, I am the former Secretary-General of the United Nations…
The replies come flooding in. People are so kind!
Ban Ki-moon learns what minesweeping is.
Darling! he cries. These young men tell me
that you can buy hydration tablets! Imagine!
They have little pictures of chickens on them!
But Ban Ki-moon isn’t finished yet.
He wants to see the wonders of the world,
the odd ruin, a place to get that fetching
UV paint he’s seeing so much of.
He consults the KOS BOYS, who tell him that
nipple tassels and strawberry-flavoured lubricant
should see him through fine. So he opens up
Amazon — he knows it’s a bit corrupt,
but fuck it, he’s got Prime — and orders everything.
His wife pokes at the lubricant when it arrives.
Ban Ki-moon is going to have the best time.
Paulfitness92 tells him he’s going to get
absolutely fucking wankered mate absolutely trollied
which Ban Ki-moon thinks sounds very appealing!
Ban Ki-moon books his tickets. Ban Ki-moon finds
his shorts, crumpled at the back of the wardrobe.
Ban Ki-moon checks his emails and gets ready for work.
Ban Ki-moon kisses his wife goodbye for the day.
There’s been another catastrophic humanitarian crisis!
Featured image © Reuters
by Robyn Banks
This International Women’s day was supposed to be devoted to refugee women. Well, it was in name — the EU parliament website published a series of articles highlighting the plight of women refugees, such as the fact that two in five are underage. But as EU leaders hammered out a deal on the long night between Mother’s day and International Women’s day, it seemed that the only thing the EU really planned on doing to help women refugees was to use them as fodder for a Brussels photo exhibit.
For a long time, people in the EU from both left and right have been questioning if what they see is really what they get, and nothing is more exemplary of this dishonesty than the EU’s recent deal with Turkey. On two days when much fanfare was made about Mothers, about the trauma of women refugees, about family reunification, we learned about the EUs most absurd plan to date. The plan involves a one in, one out scheme whereby boats crossing to Greece from Turkey carrying ‘irregular’ or ‘illegal’ migrants — e.g. everybody not using official channels, refugee or otherwise — would be intercepted and forcibly turned back. In return for paying their life savings and risking their lives to make the dangerous crossing to Europe by dinghy, they will be sent to the ‘back of the queue’ for asylum seeking.
by Klimacamp im Rheinland
In August, the 6th Climate Camp in the Rhineland (Germany) will take place. From the 7-17th August there will be 10 days full of workshops, networking, exploring sustainable lifestyles, and direct action.
Why a Climate Camp, anyway?
With its three open cast mines and five power plants, the Rhineland coalfield is Europe’s biggest emittant of carbon dioxide. The power plant Niederaußem alone emits about 29 million tons of CO2 per year. That is almost one ton per second — more than one person in Bangladesh causes in a whole year. While the ailing power company RWE can make a lot of profit with that, it means the loss of their livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people especially in the global south. This year’s Climate Camp will most likely take place in the immediate vicinity to the open cast mine Garzweiler, right where the destruction of the global climate begins.
by Robyn Banks
The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on the 8th March in 1975, but the day actually has its roots in a variety of strikes and class struggles across industrialised nations long before.
On March 8th in 1857 there was a strike at a New York City garment factory. Here women and girls between the ages of 13 and 25, mostly Jewish, Russian and Italian immigrants, worked 81 hours a week for three dollars, of which one and a quarter went for room and board. The strike was sparked when factory foremen, noticing that the women were less ‘energetic’ if they were allowed to eat before working, changed the factory opening time to 5AM. For a day the factory workers marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by police. Fifty one years later, on March 8th 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again in honour of the 1867 March, this time demanding the vote, an end to sweatshops and child labour. And then, in November 1909, came the uprising of the 20,000.
Remembrance is a solemn and moving national event. Even more so this year as we look back on 100 years of wars since the beginning of the war to end all wars. I wear my red poppy with sorrow and my white poppy with hope.
Whatever we feel or know about the horrors of war, Remembrance Day itself day is about a generation who wanted to make a difference, and put their own bodies in mortal and horrific danger to do so. They trusted their leaders, if not to keep them safe, at least to keep them doing the right thing, and perhaps to take care of their families, and themselves if they survived. Community solidarity through shared grief is almost palpable at some Remembrance Events, as we are reminded that no family escapes if war comes to their county.
Few would deny the trauma or tragedy of war, or the need to help survivors, yet these can get lost in the pomp and ceremony, or worse, the glorification of war.
by George Appleyard and Louise Wiggins
The second in our series of articles from progressive and campaigning societies at UEA.
The UEA Model United Nation society was set up in 2012 and has been enabling students to engage in lively debates and negotiations over exciting world issues ever since. Members can debate matters on the UN agenda, allowing them to improve their communication and negotiation skills while engaging in current affairs. Members will also have the opportunity to analyse the way the UN works and develop their own opinions and ideas for solutions to the world’s biggest problems.
In the first year of its inception the society took a delegation of students, which had been fully trained and prepared, to the world famous London International Model United Nations Conference. Students had the opportunity to meet like-minded delegates from around the globe and contest the most important issues surrounding the notorious Millenium Development Goals. It was a great mix of serious debate and some incredible social activities.
by Mattie Carter.
The constant stream of images and information from the Gaza strip can be almost overwhelming at times. Perhaps more than any other time in this long, seemingly unending conflict, there appears to be somewhat of a consensus among politically informed people, particularly the young, that Israel’s use of force has been disproportionate. However, despite this, the rhetoric on both sides is reaching a fever pitch and, whichever side you have more sympathy with, the solution seems further and further away from fruition. Despite a ceasefire brokered by Egypt (at the time of writing), there seems to be little real trust in the public that talks between the two sides will be anything more than a public relations gesture nor that the violence won’t soon begin again.