The Islamic jihad against Christians in Nigeria is proving to be the most barbaric. A new report states that 70% of Christians killed around the world in 2012 were killed in the African nation. Among some of the atrocities committed in March alone, at least 41 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack at a bus station in a predominantly Christian neighborhood.
According to the Rev. Jerome Ituah, “Out of the 52 Catholic churches in Maiduguri diocese, 50 of them have been destroyed by Boko Haram. When two Christian brothers were returning home after Sunday church service, jihadis opened fire on them with machine guns, killing the brothers, as well as three others, and injuring several more Christians.
Another 13 Christian factory workers in Kano were “gruesomely” slain. Said the local bishop: “Reports of the attack reaching us disclosed that on that fateful Saturday at about 7 p.m, Muslim faithful were conducting their prayer close to the affected compound occupied by Christian families, when two taxi cabs stopped in front of the compound and the occupants, who all concealed their arms dashed into the complex and demanded to know why the residents were not part of the 7 p.m. Muslim prayer. They responded by telling the visitors they were Christians and so could not be part of the Muslim gathering. At that point, they separated the men from their wives and children and shot them dead on the spot after ordering the women and children into their homes” to be enslaved.
The bishop added that, “government should show more concern, like it has always done when Muslims are affected; I have not seen that in the case of Christians—that 13 Christians were killed in one straight attack and nothing is heard from the government reflects selective justice because we are aware of compensation paid to Muslim families in situations of this nature.”
However, the Nigeria government recently did go on the offensive to try to contain the jihadis in northern Nigeria—only to be chastised by the Obama administration, in the person of John Kerry, who recently warned the Nigerian government not to violate the “human rights” of the jihadi mass murderers.
Categorized by theme, the rest of March’s Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed by theme and in country alphabetical order, not necessarily according to severity:
Egypt: According to El Watan News, three Christian brothers were shot dead at their home by automatic weapons a few weeks before two were set to have their weddings. The victims’ family was earlier accused of trying to build a church on land they owned because they purchased building material to build a house on that land. The rumors about the building of a church spread during the Friday sermon at the mosque, following which 2,000 Muslims stormed the land and tried to destroy the house, car and tractor, resulting in the murder of the three Christian brothers.
Indonesia: Authorities demolished a church building with a bulldozer in West Java, even as Muslim bystanders cheered and denounced Christians as “infidels.” According to Pastor Leonard Nababan, the government is “criminalising our religion.” The congregation had gathered around the church in an effort to save it; so did Muslims, shouting, “They’re infidels and they’ve built their church without permission,” “Knock the church down now” and “Allahu Akbar.”
Iraq: According to Fox News, before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were more than 300 Christian churches. Today, a decade after the jihad was unleashed on Christians and their churches, only 57 Christian churches remain in the nation. And “The churches that remain are frequent targets of Islamic extremists, who have driven nearly a million Christians out of the land…” An Iraqi-based human rights organization said that “The last 10 years have been the worst for Iraqi Christians because they bore witness to the biggest exodus and migration in the history of Iraq…. More than two-thirds [of Christians] have emigrated.” One of the most dramatic cases of Christian persecution came in late October of 2010, when Al Qaeda members laid siege to Our Lady of Deliverance Church in Baghdad, killing 58 and wounding 78. According to an AP report “Iraq’s Catholic Christians flocked to churches to celebrate Easter Sunday [in March], praying, singing and rejoicing in the resurrection of Christ behind high blast walls and tight security cordons… [emphasis added].”
Libya: A Coptic Christian church located in Benghazi was attacked by armed Muslims. The jihadis severely beat and shaved the beard and mustache of Father Paul, the priest of the church, as a sign of humiliation. They also beat the deacon and nine attendees. Meanwhile, because Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government had done little regarding the systematic abuse of Egyptian citizens in Libya, including the murder of one under torture, Copts demonstrated in front of the Libyan embassy in Cairo—prompting yet another attack on the Benghazi church, which was set on fire.
Pakistan: In response to one Christian man accused of blaspheming Islam’s prophet thousands of Muslims attacked the Christian Joseph Colony of Lahore, burning two churches, one Catholic, the other a Seventh Day Adventist, as often happens in Pakistan in the context of collectively punishing Christians.
Sudan: According to Morning Star News, Khartoum’s jihad continues to “rid the area of non-Arabs and Christianity”: the Evangelical Church in the Nuba was “reduced … to ashes” after an aerial bombardment. Days later, another bombing campaign left two dead and twelve injured, in the Christian-majority region. “These bombardments are major sources of fear among the people in South Kordofan,” said a church leader.
Turkey: The 5th century Studios Monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, is set to go from being a branch of the Hagia Sophia—Christianity’s grandest cathedral, which was transformed into a mosque, after the Islamic conquest and is currently a museum—to being an active mosque. Many Turkish Muslims continue calling for the return of the Hagia Sophia itself to a mosque.
Apostasy, Blasphemy, Proselytism
Holland: A 43-year-old Iranian Muslim convert to Christianity was found murdered. According to the Farsi Christian News Network, the victim went to church the afternoon he was killed: “The shocking news of this senseless murder has brought grief and sorrow to the local Christians, Iranian-Christian community, and asylum seekers across the country.” Christians constitute a large percentage of the Iranians seeking asylum in Holland. (Islamic Sharia law calls for the killing of apostates, and converts to Christianity are regularly targeted in the Islamic world.)
Iran: During a major conference, a Shi’ite leader claimed that Islam was under attack by Christianity in Iran: “Christian booklets and brochures are being sent to people’s doors for free in many areas… Christianity is being preached in many shops in the Islamic city of Mashhad. Also Christian booklets are sent to people’s addresses without restrictions.” But a Mohabat News spokesperson said “Of course, the Islamic cleric did not provide any supporting evidence for his claim. However, it seems their sole purpose in bringing up and repeating these claims is to provoke security authorities against, and provide the means for increased pressure on Iranian Christians converts.”
Kazakhstan: Vyacheslav Cherkasov , a Christian street evangelist, was detained for offering Christian literature to passersby and fined the equivalent of one month’s wages on charges of “violating the rules” regarding “importing, publishing and distribution of religious literature” which came into force in 2011. The court ordered the destruction of his 121 pieces of Christian literature, including Bibles and children’s Bibles, in the first such ruling since the nation gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Local Council of Churches Baptists said in published remarks: “We were shocked—this is sacrilege and illegality.”
Pakistan: The blasphemy case against Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Christian girl who was earlier arrested for “blasphemy” when a Muslim cleric falsely claimed that she burned a Koran, has been reopened. According to a BosNewsLife report, “A police investigator asked the Supreme Court in Islamabad to reopen the case” against the Christian girl, “saying he was pressured by the government to drop charges against her after an international outcry.” She and her family are currently in hiding. A court is also considering a death sentence against 47-year-old Martha Bibi, a Christian and mother, due to alleged “derogatory remarks” about Muslim prophet Muhammad. Another Christian man was arrested after a Muslim accused him of blasphemy. But his arrest was not enough to appease the 3000 strong mob that went on to collectively punish the nation’s Christians, burning two churches, some 200 Christian homes, and stealing their property.
Somalia: Muslim militants murdered yet another Christian. Ahmed Ali Jimale, 42, was killed by two men as he stood outside his house, near a police station. Among other things, the man was accused of apostasy—on the widespread assumption that all Somalis are born Muslims—and, because he worked as a teacher, of “introducing the children to foreign Christian religion”; Muslim militants had warned him that “we shall come for your head.” A friend of the slain said “Jimale was a good man who helped our community. His widow is very scared and afraid, not knowing what will happen.” He also leaves behind four children, ages 10, 8, 6, and 4.
[General Abuse and Suppression of Non-Muslims as “Tolerated” Citizens]
Egypt: Muslim rioters in town of Kom Ombo threw firebombs and rocks at police after Friday mosque prayers in an effort to storm a church where they claimed a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity was hiding. Violence began when a 36 year-old Muslim woman, who had been missing for five days, was allegedly seen outside the church with a female Christian friend. Days later, hundreds of Muslims marched in the town of al-Wasta, to protest the disappearance of another young Muslim girl and accuse the priest of St. George’s Church of using “black magic” to lure her to Christianity. They hurled stones at the church; Coptic shops were forced to close down; Salfis threatened to kidnap a Christian girl if their Muslim girl did not return. However, Watani newspaper had already reported that the Muslim girl sent an open letter to her family, posted on the Internet, saying that she ran away because she was sexually abused by her uncles, was forced to marry a man she did not want, and that she had left Egypt and was married to a Muslim man. Unrelatedly a Fox News report states that “Islamic hard-liners stormed a mosque in suburban Cairo, turning it into [a] torture chamber for Christians who had been demonstrating against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in the latest case of violent persecution that experts fear will only get worse.” And according to a Voice of Russia report, “up to 100,000 Christians have left Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Some of those have arrived in Moscow.”
Iran: According to Fox News, a UN report indicates that “Iran’s hard-line regime has intensified its violent crackdown on Christians and other religious minorities, even imprisoning nursing mothers for practicing their faith…” The March report provides a “rare, detailed view into the shocking treatment of Christians in Iran, where American Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving an eight-year sentence for his alleged work with Christians.” According to a UN expert on human rights in Iran, “The persecution of Christians has increased. It seems to target new converts and those who run house churches…. more than 300 Christians have been arrested since June 2010, according to the report.” Most recently, Five members of the Church of Iran denomination appeared before a judge and “charged with disturbing public order, evangelizing, action against national security and an internet activity against the system.”
Pakistan: After 3,000 Muslims attacked a Christian village—burning two churches and some 200 homes—the government punished Christians for protesting. According to the Daily Times, “Christians around the country are incensed by the recurring theme of blasphemy allegation followed by attacks and burning down of their vulnerable communities. They have held protests across the country in a concerted effort to vent their disgust at the recent incident and to show solidarity with the victims… Lahore police used the opportunity to beat the innocent Christian protesters. They shot tear gas shells at them and beat them with sticks. Yet when the Muslim attack took place they stood back and watched till the town had been razed to the ground…Muslims of Jhelum city have threatened to burn Christians home in response to the protests. Now the community is living in fear of reprisals for their simple act of condemning violence and the blasphemy laws of Pakistan.”
Sweden: According to Charisma News, “Christians in Iran face arrest, torture, even death. But that doesn’t seem to matter to Swedish immigration officials. Sweden wants to send Iranian Christian asylum seekers, who left Islam, back to Iran where they could be killed. Iran is one of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians. As apostates from Islam, they face grave danger in this country. But their requests for asylum status that could save their lives have been denied.”
Syria: According to a Catholic leader, up to 30,000 Christians have fled the city of Aleppo, and two priests were abducted and held for a ransom of 15 million Syrian pounds each. Christians are regularly kidnapped and beheaded by jihadi rebels. Also, a short English-language video appeared where Fr. Fadi al-Hamzi told of how his uncle was recently murdered: “They killed him because he is Christian, they refuse to have any Christians in Syria. … I’m not afraid; my uncle died, he’s immortal now. I can be like him.” When asked if he was worried if Christians would be massacred if the U.S.-supported jihadis overthrew the government, the priest said , “Yes, yes, this will be… they don’t want us here.” Christians were in Syria 600 years before Islam conquered the nation.
About this Series
Because the persecution of Christians in the Islamic world is on its way to reaching pandemic proportions, “Muslim Persecution of Christians” was developed to collate some—by no means all—of the instances of persecution that surface each month. It serves two purposes:
1) Intrinsically, to document that which the mainstream media does not: the habitual, increasingly chronic, Muslim persecution of Christians.
2) Instrumentally, to show that such persecution is not “random,” but systematic and interrelated—that it is rooted in a worldview inspired by Sharia.
Accordingly, whatever the anecdote of persecution, it typically fits under a specific theme, including hatred for churches and other Christian symbols; apostasy and blasphemy laws; sexual abuse of Christian women; forced conversions to Islam; theft and plunder in lieu of jizya (tribute); overall expectations for Christians to behave like cowed “dhimmis” (barely tolerated citizens); and simple violence and murder. Oftentimes it is a combination thereof.
Because these accounts of persecution span different ethnicities, languages, and locales—from Morocco in the west, to India in the east, and throughout the West, wherever there are Muslims—it should be clear that one thing alone binds them: Islam—whether the strict application of Islamic Sharia law, or the supremacist culture born of it.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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