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Foreign involvements in Syria: A barrier towards meaningful solution

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Syrians have been passing five consecutive years under fierce conflict and there is yet no sign of peace. However, the failed meetings and the “talk-shop” conferences among local and regional parties led by the global powers have been continuing in usual intervals.

Questions arose as to how long will it take to reach “peace”? How much more blood will be spilled? How many refugees had to risk their lives into Europe? How many more meetings and conferences in lavish vicinities are required to agree to life by disagreeing deaths?

UN RESOLUTION 2015: TOO AMBITIOUS TO REVOLVE INTO REALITY

Meetings, conferences and ceasefire-agreements have been taking place since the beginning of Syrian war, without any success. Last December (2015), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) endorsed a road map for a peace process in Syria, adopting unanimously the resolution 2254 (2015). The resolution called for an immediate ceasefire, endorsing a non-sectarian government in Syria within “6 months”, and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new Constitution. The resolution also endorsed for UN-monitored elections within “18 months” pursuant to the new Constitution, reiterating the call for the Syrian people to decide the future of Syria.

However, although 10 months have already gone-by since the UN resolution, the formation of the said non-sectarian government in Syria still seems far away. Furthermore, it appears from the current conflict-rattled Syrian scenario that the expected new Constitution and the UN-monitored elections that were projected in the abovementioned UN resolution are just too ambitious to be taken seriously, atleast not in near future.

PROLONGED SYRIAN WAR

Syrian civilian mass have been suffering a prolonged brutal war. The prolonging of the war was possible because of certain factors: (i) almost all sides have foreign support in order to prolong the war, (ii) the sides are well matched and (iii) each faction has sufficient willpower and resources to continue the war for a longer period.

Indeed, each side is truly well matched. If one side’s willpower is at the peak, the other sides have either the best military resources or financial resources or foreign backup to fill up their lacking in other aspects. While groups like al-Nusra and ISIS (and Hezbolla as well), who are driven by the thought of paving their way to paradise, lack no determination or willpower to continue the war, the ‘Sunni Arab’ rebels have backups from regional powers (mainly Saudis, Qataris and Turks) to carry on their part of the campaign. The ‘socialist kurdi’ rebels (within Syria) are backed by the West (mainly the U.S.). On the otherside, the Assad regime, which is largely manpowered by its army’s Alawite (shia) fighters and Lebanese shia-oriented armed organization Hezbolla, has the blessings of Russians and Iranians to continue its part.

IRAQ: OCCUPATION, DESERTION OF SUNNIS & RISE OF ISIS

Foreign involvements in the Middle Eastern region are nothing new. The U.S. led foreign involvement (occupation) in Iraq – by using the excuse of saving the world from Saddam Hossain’s chemical weapons – is a burning example of what the impact of a foreign intervention could look like for any Middle Eastern country. When the U.S. was largely leaving the occupation, they, instead of leaving a harmonized Iraq, left an Iraq that was unstable, sectarian and chaotic.

During U.S.’s full-fledged Iraq occupation, the U.S. troops, with the help of Iraqi ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes, largely defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS) by 2008. But the desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes by the U.S. (on its large departure of troops from Iraq) in the hands of a shia-oriented sectarian government caused the tribes to lose their trust completely on the U.S. and the Iraqi regime. Out of the widespread tortures that they faced from the sectarian Iraqi regime and out of their distrust for the regime, one large part of the ‘Sunni Arab’ population in Iraq started to vision for an independent state or, atleast, for an autonomous region for their own. For this reason, even before the rise of ISIS, they had been aiming to form a separate ‘Sunni Arab’ state, which would be completely independent from Iraq. Right before the emergence of ISIS, the continuous protests in places like Fallujah (a city within Anbar province of Iraq) and the breakout of armed protests every now and then increasingly showed their frustration towards the sectarian regime in Bagdad. The uncompromising nature of those protests portrayed that they won’t settle down unless they earn their independent state or, atleast, an autonomous ‘Sunni Arab’ region for their own within a reformed non-sectarian federal Iraq.

Although this part of the ‘Sunni Arab’ population did not work for any state or non-state actors in primary, their desperation towards independence (or atleast autonomy) had pushed them for searching helping-hands in achieving their purpose. In other words, this portion of ‘Sunni Arab’ population seemed to be ready to help any groups or sides whosoever could help them back with their vision of independence.

After the rise of ISIS, this portion of ‘Sunni Arab’ population had started to collaborate with the militant organization for fulfilling their own purpose, without accepting and embracing the ideology of the militant organization. On the otherhand, the other part of the Iraqi ‘Sunni Arab’ population, which was exceptionally frustrated from the tortures by the shia militias, had directly jointed ISIS after accepting and embracing their ideology. Thus, it appears that the U.S. occupation of Iraq, followed by the desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes by the U.S. in the hands of a shia-oriented sectarian regime of Iraq, had caused the ‘Sunni Arab’ population (largely) to walk in line with the ISIS strategy.

RUSSIA & U.S. IN SYRIA: SEEKING NOT A SOLUTION, BUT OWN INTERESTS

Such a situation in Iraq, where both the parts of ‘Sunni Arab’ population are either collaborating with ISIS or directly working under ISIS, is impacting occurrences in Syria as well. This is because, ISIS operates in both the countries, with recruits and resources of ISIS in Iraq taken to Syria every now and then for military operations.

Moreover, the recent increased military operations all over Iraq against ISIS are signalling that a more alarming imperial vision is in making. The U.S. has been backing the Iraqi troops and shia militias across Iraq in order to push ISIS out of the Iraqi cities towards the Iraqi borders with Syria. The ongoing operation in Mosul, which seems to have started without taking adequate time for military preparations or sufficient time for removing the civilians out of the area, is another of such imperial vision where the U.S. is hastening to push the ISIS fighters out of Iraq towards Syria, so that it becomes easier to weaken the Assad regime further in line with the imperial vision of the U.S. While it is true that the Assad regime has committed atrocities across Syria, this does not legitimize the U.S.’s attempt of using ISIS against the Assad regime.

On the otherside, out of its adamant ambition of keeping Syria under its geopolitical influence, Russia is utterly backing Assad’s army, which has been massacring villages after villages and bombarding civilian areas indiscriminately by the excuse of fighting rebels and, in some cases, militants.

While both the coalitions, one led by Russia and the other by the U.S., claim to be working to find a solution for the Syrian conflict, the reality appears different from their actions. The U.S.-led Western alliance, the Saudi-led Sunni alliance and the broader coalition between these two alliances could not deliver any set plan for Syria in last five years. On the otherhand, the other coalition – involving Assad regime, Iraqi regime, Iran and Russia – claim that they have a plan. Though, no one else otherthan themselves knows what the plan is!

SCHEMES IN IRAQ & SYRIA

The Middle East is of strategic importance to the world, particularly because of its supply of oil. Many analysts believe that the U.S.’s plan is to engineer a conflict between the two major regional foes, namely Iran and Saudi Arabia, in order to make accessibility of the region risky for adamant Russia and energy-starved China, both of which are trying to reshape the current global order that is led and dominated by the U.S. On the otherhand, many other analysts say that it is Russia, not the U.S., which wants to engineer such a conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and then get the U.S. embroiled into the mess and drive up the cost of oil, benefitting Russia that is suffering from lower global oil price.

There is another analysis regarding the regionwide conflict in the Middle East. The Western powers want to redraw the map of the region in such a way that serves their current-day interests. There is a widespread view that a Kurdish state, which would be carved out of Tukey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, is within the western powers’ working desk. Moreover, a comparatively smaller number of analysts believe that two further states, a Sunni Arab state and a Shia Arab state, might as well emerge out of Iraq, making Iraq obliterated as a nation state from the world map. However, all these analyses, and perhaps willingness, might go into vein as two regional countries, namely Turkey and Iran, might put their full efforts into spoiling such abovementioned attempts of carving out new nation states for the sake of their own national territorial integrity and their greater regional geopolitical interests.

WRAPPING UP

One reality-check regarding any international involvements in an independent country is that foreign interventions themselves are the real problems. One burning example of ‘problems brought by the foreign involvements’ in the an independent country could be found in the rise of ISIS in Iraq, which, as mentioned earlier, was caused by the U.S.’s occupation of Iraq and its subsequent desertion of the ‘Sunni Arab’ tribes.

The actions and apparent intensions of the global and regional powers with regard to Syria clearly show that foreign involvements in the country are doing more damage than solving problems. Infact, foreign involvements are solving no problems at all. Rather, the prolonging of the Syrian war seems to be largely caused by the foreign engagements in the country.

Because of such foreign involvements, the ongoing destructive process in Syria reached the point of no return. No efforts can save Syria if foreign involvements are not completely eliminated. Continuation of such involvements will only be followed by the final disintegration of the country.

Therefore, would it not be better to end all sorts of international interventions by all international parties in Syria? Would it not be better to leave the Syrians alone to solve their own problems? Innocent people in Syria and Iraq are suffering from the ongoing conflict. The influx of refugees in Europe is a sheer reflection of this reality. These sufferings will only end when the U.S., which is backing one warring side, and Russia, which is backing the other side, will end their interference in the country. The country is better off without foreign involvements. Let Syrians solve their own problems. Let the international powers – Russia, the West and the Middle Eastern powers – not interfere anymore in Syria. Only then a constructive, meaningful and permanent solution could be reached sooner.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

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Middle East

Biden’s Opportunity To Reset Relatons With The Muslim World Begins In Istanbul

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When President Obama delivered his famous speech at Cairo University in June of 2009, it was an historic moment. The symbolism of a sitting U.S President speaking to Muslims, and not about them, was refreshing and enormously impactful. America’s first African American President opened his speech with “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning, between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” 

It appeared to many the world was changing and with American leadership, the global community was embarking on a new era of understanding between East and West.

Obama’s speech hit all the right notes: he acknowledged the contributions of Muslims throughout history. He recognized the common humanity between Muslims and people of other faiths. He disavowed the narrative of an inevitable civilizational divide. And he emphasized the need to support democratic reforms in the Muslim world. He reiterated the right of Palestinians to a dignified living, promised to leave “Iraq to Iraqis,” and sought to prioritize diplomacy over war in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. 

A year and half later Obama’s message would be tested by the Arab Spring. As Muslim communities across the Arab world rose up against autocratic rule demanding freedom and democracy, the Obama White House struggled to support the people. The optimism that followed his Cairo speech had fizzled.  

The pledge to establish a “new beginning” was neglected during Obama’s presidency and then destroyed by President Trump’s divisive policies. Since his inauguration, Trump has taken a wrecking ball to America’s relationship with Muslims at home and around the world. He claimed that “Islam hates us,” and on his first day in office fulfilled his campaign promise to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries. On election day this year, he tweeted warning that his rival, Joe Biden, will increase “refugees from terrorist nations.”  President Trump’s one serious claim of progress toward Middle East peace, the Abraham Accords, was viewed by many as little more than a last-ditch effort to deliver a foreign policy victory for Trump in time for his reelection bid. The Accords willfully left out the Palestinians, the most crucial stakeholders in the conflict, leaving a hollow agreement with few guarantees for a lasting peace. 

More than a decade after the Cairo speech, the divide between East and West seems to have only deepened.  Muslims feel the world is at war with them – fueled not only by American military actions but by the continued persecution of Muslims in Burma, Kashmir, China and elsewhere. There is a sense that Islam’s most revered symbols are under attack, and that Muslim identity is suspect in the eyes of many in the West.

However, the picture is not entirely dark. As the Trump era comes to a close, there is an opportunity for President-elect Biden to pick up where Obama left off in 2009: a chance to reset the partnership between America and the Muslim world.  This opportunity passes straight through Istanbul. If in 2009 Egypt represented “the heart of the Arab world”, to reset ties with the Muslim world today, Biden will need Turkey. 

The centrality of Turkey to the Muslim world and The East today is undisputed. Tens of thousands of Muslim dissidents and human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Libya have taken refuge in Turkey.  Istanbul has become a hub of diaspora intellectual activism. Because of a leadership vacuum in the Muslim world, Turkey continues to emerge as the champion of Muslims under persecution, and that role resonates with Muslims around the world. 

Turkey took the lead in launching the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005 to combat extremism and broker deeper understanding between Muslim societies and the West, this project now comprises 146 members including member states and international organizations.  The pluralistic Islam practiced in Turkey today is more representative of Muslim communities around the world and starkly different from the Wahhabi-influenced regimes of the Arabian Gulf, with whom Trump became very friendly during his tenure. 

Turkey is also a critical NATO ally, with the second largest military contribution. Trump’s continual attacks on NATO have challenged and weakened the world’s strongest military alliance. Biden will need Turkey’s assistance to strengthen NATO to meet new regional challenges, especially with Russia, as well. 

Although Turkey’s human rights record is not perfect and its democracy has been tested since the failed military coup of 2016, the government has shown commitment to democratic principles, and its institutions and civil society continue to be lightyears ahead of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle Eastern.

Turkey today can be the bridge between the West and the Muslim World, mending the deepened rift and launching that new beginning promised by Obama eleven years ago.  When Biden used the word inshallah, which means “God-willing” in Arabic, during a presidential debate, Muslims in America and abroad took note. Muslim American turnout in critical battleground states like Michigan was decisive in his favor. Biden should capitalize on the momentum of his gesture to re-engage with the Muslim world and repair America’s image around the world. The destination of his first foreign trip could even be to Istanbul, to listen and to signal change. It would represent the metaphoric start of a new chapter.

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Covid-19 Vaccine: A Mutual Partnership between Morocco and China

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Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Kingdom of Morocco (1958), a strong and rapid strategic development of mutual ties categorized contemporary collaboration.

On August 31th 2020, King Mohammed VI held telephone talks with Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, which falls within the framework of the existing friendship between the two countries, which was strengthened through the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China. A strategic partnership was signed by the King and Chinese President during the royal visit to Beijing in May 2016.

The phone talks between King Mohammed VI and the President of the People’s Republic of China touched on the development of bilateral relations in all fields, especially political dialogue, economic cooperation, and cultural and humanitarian exchanges. King Mohammed VI and President Xi Jinping also discussed the partnership between the two countries in combating “Covid-19”.

According to Moroccan Newsmedia, Minister of Health Khalid Ait Taleb is expressed his satisfaction with the signing up of a cooperation agreement between Morocco and China National Biotec Group Limited (CNBG) on the COVID-19 vaccine trials. This shared Moroccan-Chinese collaboration will allow the Kingdom of Morocco to be among the prior served in terms of the vaccine against the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, he added, under his Majesty, The Kingdom of Morocco would be able to take part in creating vaccines in sense of the exchange of Chinese expertise. Though, to strengthen the Sino-Morocco strategic partnership, to boost both countries’ international solidarity and promote health cooperation.

The issue of discovering an anti-“Covid-19” vaccine still raises several controversies, and altercations especially since the kingdom of Morocco issued its participation in the clinical trials of the Chinese vaccine, but without giving any details about how these trials were conducted, or, knowing its initial outcomes.

Accordingly, despite those who attempt to question it, China’s vaccines constitute a trendy choice because they are affordable and can be distributed in a substantial and more successful capacity. Yet, several states which face similar economic issues, people, and ambiance-based impediments are likely to see China’s vaccines as the obvious choice. That does not mean it will be the sole state they do trade with, as several of the states have more than one trade partner.

Though, Chinese vaccines have a competitive price and making capacity, allowing developing countries like Morocco a way out of the pandemic as fast as possible. Unlike European companies, is not only about business; China has also agreed to give billions of vaccines.

China has timely released the latest vaccines information, China’s vaccines are gaining international steam and a growing number of states are following up to obtain them. Whilst the achievements of Moderna and Pzifer are widely lauded, in the end, these companies only complete a part of the jigsaw in ending the COVID-19 crisis. Not everyone has the privilege or infrastructure to buy them. Therefore, the accomplishment of SinoVac, CanSino, and SinoPharm are set to play a significant role in making a difference for billions of people around the world.

According to Jamal Eddine Bouzidi, a doctor specializing in chest diseases, allergies, and immunology, president of the Moroccan Association for Fighting Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases, pointed out: “They say that the Chinese vaccine is purely safe, but to make sure of that.” You must wait for a long time because there are side effects that may appear after a period of up to two years or after months at least. Therefore, we might say that it is 100% safe. “

He added, “All vaccines that are produced around the globe go through many phases in the laboratory, then they are analyzed and checked on mammals and followed by humans. And when tested on humans, they also go through three stages; and during each stage, the number” of people subject to testing, so that the effects are discovered. Side effects of the vaccine and its effectiveness. “

Under such circumstances, The Moroccan minister noted that the vaccine, according to the statements of Chinese officials, is successful at a rate of between 97 and 98 percent, and is given in two doses with a difference of 14 days, and the antibodies are manufactured within a month and can sustain in the blood to defend the body for two years. “The vaccine experiments will originally involve volunteers as of next week,” the official said.

Ait Taleb highlighted that the agreements reached will allow Morocco to have its vaccine as soon as possible with the help of our Chinese health expertise. The signing of the agreements will allow Morocco to launch its first experience of clinical trials.

Meanwhile, Al-Bouzidi considered that what is being said is the “only guess”, indicating that the near-term side effects of this vaccine are high temperature, a little fatigue, slight pain at the injection site, and some tremors. The long-term symptoms are not yet known.

As acknowledged by Chinese officials, “Jun Mao” said the signing of the agreements paves the “excellence of strategic relations between China and Morocco in terms of cooperation against COVID-19, which is entering a new phase.” The Chinese diplomat Mao reaffirmed that Rabat and Beijing’s commitment to deepening their cooperation through the clinical trials. He said he hopes the newly-signed agreement will yield “decent results” as soon as possible for the peoples of the two countries.

In conclusion, China has big expectations for the Kingdom of Morocco as the latter has an extreme pond of resources to spur its anticipated vision and China’s economic growth. As a superpower, China’s motive in partnership with Africa through the creation of more legality and impartial world order places the East Asian giant is a powerful stand to provide more substantial aid to Africa under win-win cooperation.

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The Muslim world’s changing dynamics: Pakistan struggles to retain its footing

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Increasing strains between Pakistan and its traditional Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is about more than Gulf states opportunistically targeting India’s far more lucrative market.

At the heart of the tensions, that potentially complicate Pakistan’s economic recovery, is also India’s ability to enhance Gulf states’ capacity to hedge their bets amid uncertainty about the continued US commitment to regional security.

India is a key member of the Quad that also includes the United States, Australia and Japan and could play a role in a future more multilateral regional security architecture in the Gulf.

Designed as the backbone of an Indo-Pacific strategy intended to counter China across a swath of maritime Asia, Gulf states are unlikely to pick sides but remain keen on ensuring that they maintain close ties with both sides of the widening divide.

The mounting strains with Pakistan are also the latest iteration of a global battle for Muslim religious soft power that pits Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Turkey, Iran, and Asian players like Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Islamic movement.

A combination of geo- and domestic politics is complicating efforts by major Muslim-majority states in Asia to walk a middle line. Pakistan, home to the world’s largest Shiite Muslim minority, has reached out to Turkey while seeking to balance relations with its neighbour, Iran.

The pressure on Pakistan is multi-fold.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan charged recently that the United States and one other unidentified country were pressing him to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

Pakistani and Israeli media named Saudi Arabia as the unidentified country. Representing the world’s second most populous Muslim nation, Pakistani recognition, following in the footsteps of the UAE and Bahrain, would be significant.

Pakistan twice in the last year signalled a widening rift with the kingdom.

Mr. Khan had planned to participate a year ago in an Islamic summit hosted by Malaysia and attended by Saudi Arabia’s detractors, Turkey, Iran and Qatar, but not the kingdom and a majority of Muslim states. The Pakistani prime minister cancelled his participation at the last moment under Saudi pressure.

More recently, Pakistan again challenged Saudi leadership of the Muslim world when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi complained about lack of support of the Saudi-dominated Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Pakistan in its conflict with India over Kashmir. The OIC groups the world’s 57 Muslim-majority nations. Mr. Qureshi suggested that his country would seek to rally support beyond the realm of the kingdom.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Pakistan earlier this year, made a point of repeatedly reiterating his country’s support for Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute.

By openly challenging the kingdom, Mr. Qureshi was hitting Saudi Arabia where it hurts most as it seeks to repair its image tarnished by allegations of abuse of human rights, manoeuvres to get off on the right foot with incoming US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration, and fends off challenges to its leadership of the Muslim world.

Pakistan has not helped itself by recently failing to ensure that it would be removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force, an international anti-money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog, despite progress in the country’s legal infrastructure and enforcement.

Grey listing causes reputational damage and makes foreign investors and international banks more cautious in their dealings with countries that have not been granted a clean bill of health.

Responding to Mr. Qureshi’s challenge, Saudi Arabia demanded that Pakistan repay a US$1 billion loan extended to help the South Asian nation ease its financial crisis. The kingdom has also dragged its feet on renewing a US$3.2 billion oil credit facility that expired in May.

In what Pakistan will interpret as UAE support for Saudi Arabia, the Emirates last week included Pakistan on its version of US President Donald J. Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Inclusion on the list of 13 Muslim countries whose nationals will no longer be issued visas for travel to the UAE increases pressure on Pakistan, which relies heavily on exporting labour to generate remittances and alleviate unemployment.

Some Pakistanis fear that a potential improvement in Saudi-Turkish relations could see their country fall through geopolitical cracks.

In the first face-to-face meeting between senior Saudi and Turkish officials since the October 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, the two countries’ foreign ministers, Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Mevlut Cavusoglu, held bilateral talks this weekend, on the sidelines of an OIC conference in the African state of Niger.

“A strong Turkey-Saudi partnership benefits not only our countries but the whole region,” Mr. Cavusoglu tweeted after the meeting.

The meeting came days after Saudi King Salman telephoned Mr. Erdogan on the eve of a virtual summit hosted by the kingdom of the Group of 20 (G20) that brings together the world’s largest economies.

“The Muslim world is changing and alliances are shifting and entering new, unchartered territories,” said analyst Sahar Khan.

Added Imtiaz Ali, another analyst: “In the short term, Riyadh will continue exploiting Islamabad’s economic vulnerabilities… But in the longer term, Riyadh cannot ignore the rise of India in the region, and the two countries may become close allies – something that will mostly likely increase the strain on Pakistan-Saudi relations.”

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