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Syrian conflict has ‘erased’ children’s dreams -new UN report

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Children stand in the courtyard of a school-turned shelter in Ar-Raqqa, in Syria. ©UNICEF/Bakr Alkasem

Nearly nine years of conflict in Syria have robbed boys and girls of their childhood and subjected them to “unabated violations of their rights”, including being killed, maimed, displaced, forced to fight or subjected to torture, rape and sexual slavery. 

The findings come in the latest report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, released on Thursday. 

“I am appalled by the flagrant disregard for the laws of war and the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all parties involved in the conflict”, said Commission chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro.  

“While the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic has the primary responsibility for the protection of boys and girls in the country, all of the actors in this conflict must do more to protect children and preserve the country’s future generation.”  

Dreams erased 

The three-member Commission was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate and record all violations of international law related to the Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011. 

Its latest report is entitled: They have erased the dreams of my children – a quote taken from a 2012 interview with a woman discussing attacks on her village in Idlib. 

The study is based on approximately 5,000 interviews conducted between September 2011 and October 2019 with Syrian children, but also eyewitnesses, survivors, relatives of survivors, medical professionals, defectors, members of armed groups, healthcare professionals, lawyers and other affected communities. 

The Commission said the use of cluster munitions, so-called thermobaric bombs and chemical weapons by pro-Government forces, have caused scores of child casualties. 

Additionally, children’s experiences in the conflict “have been deeply gendered.”   

Women and girls worst affected 

Women and girls are “disproportionally affected” by sexual violence, and the threat of rape has led to restrictions in their movements. Girls have been confined to their homes, removed from school or faced obstacles to access health care.  

Meanwhile, boys, particularly those 12 and over, have been arrested and kept in detention facilities, and targeted for recruitment by armed groups and militia. 

“The younger ones are very good fighters. They fight with enthusiasm and are fearless. Fighters who are 14 -17 years old are on the frontline”, a person associated with an armed group told the authors. 

The war has also had an impact on access to education, with more than 2.1 million children not regularly attending classes of any form.   

“Urgent efforts are required by the Syrian Government to support as many children as possible to return to education.  Armed groups holding territory also need to act with haste to facilitate access to education,” said Karen AbuZayd, one of the commissioners. 

Commit to protecting children 

The report also expresses concern over the severe impact the conflict has had on children’s long-term physical and mental health.  

Large numbers of young Syrians now have disabilities as well as devastating psychological and development issues. Additionally, fighting has displaced some five million children. 

As the mother in Idlib stated: “They have erased the dreams of my children. They have destroyed what we have built during our whole life; my daughter was so depressed when she found out that our house was burnt down. My other child, a three-year-old boy, is traumatized by the crisis. He is continuously drawing tanks.”   

The Commission members called on all sides to “commit in writing” to granting children special protection during wartime, in line with international law. 

Other recommendations include ending child recruitment and taking child rights into consideration during military planning. 

They stressed that displaced children also require protection, which includes the obligation to repatriate children with family ties to ISIL extremist fighters. 

“States have well defined obligations to protect children, including from statelessness. Failing to abide by such fundamental principles would be a clear derogation of duty,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally. 

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The time is ripe for India and China to compromise and build an alliance

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Image credit: Anadolu Agency

If China, India, and Russia forge an alliance of willing partners, a long-lasting growth period will emerge. The opposite scenario is only beneficial to colonizing forces who constantly seek new ways to destabilize the continent of Asia, stresses ‘The Times of India’.

With Sweden and Finland ever so keen to join the NATO alliance, the number of neutral states is decreasing. This will put additional pressure on India, as Washington is bent on getting Pakistan on its side, as well. After Imran Khan’s departure, the hurdle is removed for a better relationship between US and Pakistan. Washington did not listen to India’s objection to the sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan and will continue with its sale ranging in millions of dollars.

India is busy aligning itself with as many countries as possible, including USA. But it is entirely in India’s and China’s interest to promote peace and stability in the region and explore the new possibility to increase mutual trade and ties when Europe seems to enter an era of constant destabilization.

With Pakistan flirting with USA, and its economy in dire straits, it is imperative for the leaders of India and China to create a new successful narrative of peaceful co-existence.

BBC’s recent focus on riots in Gujarat is another example of sinister attempts to plant discord between Hindu and Muslim communities of India. Freedom of media is utterly important in democracy, but if BBC was so keen on revealing the atrocities suffered by Indians, it could start by critizing the crucial role of Winston Churchill in causing famine in Bengal, India, when millions died. Or they could focus on the period of colonial subjugation that resulted in our present-day poverty and lack of self-reliance.

Similarly, regular attempts are made to conjure and construct military exercises and drills within India to irritate China. Provocations from both sides should stop, both countries are large enough and have enough territory in their possession. India and China should really start a multi-faceted dialogue, increase trade and co-operation to spread the benefit of technological prowess their young population is demonstrating.

The West will try to destabilize both India and China since they are in the middle of an insolvable war. It is incumbent on both Indian and Chinese leaders not to succumb to such flirtations. Let the Western countries realize that their constant provocation and NATO expansion was seen as a threat by Russia. No matter how hard they will try, this war is unwinnable for both sides.

Therefore, India and China should sit down and resolve their differences, and China being a stronger power, should stop encircling India. It sends an absolutely wrong signal to the Indian leaders. India, on the other hand, should get conscious of the incessant reversals of American foreign policy towards Pakistan, almost never taking into account the security needs of India.

If India, China and Russia stand together in their co-operation, the Europeans might gather courage to refuse overtures of false friendship from USA. America has been pressurizing Europe into getting more involved in a war which a growing number of people find unconvincing and not in their interest, writes ‘The Times if India’ observer Mrutyuanjai Mishra.

India’s relationship with Russia is non-negotiable. Modi government is also sequestering the troubled relationship with China from external third-party interference, taking care, presumably, to leave avenues open for normalising the ties through bilateral channels in a foreseeable future, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer. He notes:

“The sombre mood at the Council for Foreign Affairs in New York during External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s talk (photo) was only to be expected against the backdrop of the India-Canada diplomatic spat over the killing of a Sikh secessionist in Vancouver in June, which, reportedly, was “coordinated” on the Canadian side with Washington based on intelligence inputs from the Five Eyes.

However, the event’s main thrust took an overtly geopolitical overtone with the CFR hosts calling out the Indian minister to weigh in on India’s growing assertiveness on the global stage and its perspectives on the international situation involving Russia and China, and the “limits” to the US-Indian relationship.

It is no secret that the Canadian-Indian spat into which Washington has inserted itself has a deeper geopolitical agenda. The Financial Times, the western daily perceived as closest to the Biden administration, in fact, carried a report last week entitled The west’s Modi problem with a blurb that neatly caught its main theme — “The US and its allies are cultivating India as an economic and diplomatic partner. But its prime minister’s authoritarian streak is becoming harder to ignore.”

The article held out a warning: “India is becoming one of America’s most important foreign partners as a bulwark against China. The US has invested heavily in bolstering relations with New Delhi as part of its broader strategy of enhancing relationships in the Indo-Pacific region. The push has accelerated this year…

Evidently, Jaishankar, whose experience and expertise in navigating the US-Indian relationship through choppy waters as well as balmy autumn alike is second to none in the Indian establishment, has been tasked by Modi to contain the fallout of the spat with Canada on India’s relations with the US.

The West’s discontent about “Modi’s India” is at its core about the country’s independent foreign policies and resistance to becoming an ally in a traditional sense and accordingly tailor its performance on the global stage in accordance with the “rules based order” buttressing the US hegemony in world politics.

The US would have, in normal course, worked for a tradeoff with India but the times have changed and it is itself locked in an all-or-nothing contestation for global supremacy with China (and increasingly in the shadow of a Sino-Russian axis) which is of course a high stakes game where Washington would assign a role for India and have expectations out of Modi’s leadership.

Conceivably, Jaishankar’s mission is like an iceberg with only a tip that is visible — at least, as of now. Nonetheless, his statements at the CFR in New York provides some reasonable clues. Basically, Jaishankar assembled his thoughts in three interlinked clusters — the emerging world order and US-Indian relations; Russia’s place in the scheme of things; and, the challenge of China’s rise. It presents a rare peep into the architecture of India’s current world view and can be summarised as follows:

First. The world order is changing and the US is also “fundamentally readjusting to the world.” This is partly to be seen as the “long-term consequences” of the defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it principally stems out of the reality that the US’ dominance in the world and its relative power vis-s-vis other powers, has changed through the last decade. Put differently, the US is looking at a world where it is no longer possible for it to work solely with its allies.

Succinctly put, the US is already getting into a world order that has “much more fluid, much more dispersed centres of power” — very often much more regional, sometimes with different issues and different theatres producing their own combinations. That would mean that it is no longer realistic to seek clear-cut, black-and-white, solutions to problems.

Second. The US shouldn’t lost sight of the “enormous possibility” to work with India to enhance each other’s interests where the focus should be on technology, as the balance of power in the world is always a balance of technology. The US needs partners who can secure its interests more effectively and there are only a finite number of partners out there.

Fact is, today Global South is very distrustful of the Global North and it is useful for the US to have friends who think and speak well of America. And India is one of the few countries that have the ability to bridge the polarisation in world politics — East-West, North-South.

Third. Jaishankar subtly fortified the above persuasive argument with an unspoken caveat that the Biden Administration should not make unrealistic demands on India’s independent policies or challenge its core interests lest it is counterproductive.

The point was driven home by calling attention to a stunning geopolitical reality that Russia is turning its back on its three-centuries old search of an European identity and is making strenuous efforts to build new relationships in the Asian continent. Russia is a part of Asia but its pivot is about carving out a strong role as an Asian power. Indeed, this is consequential.

As for India, its relations with Russia have remained “extremely steady since the 1950s.” Notwithstanding the vicissitudes in world politics or current history, both sides took care to keep the relationship “very very steady.” And that is because Delhi and Moscow share an understanding that there is a “structural basis” to the two countries working together, and, therefore, both take “great care to maintain the relationship and ensure that it is working.”

Given the centrality of the Russian-Indian strategic partnership, it is well nigh impossible to isolate India. Jaishankar may have buttressed his point further by giving a lengthy account of India’s standoff with China on the border (in factual terms from an Indian perspective) but, significantly enough, without attributing motives to the Chinese behaviour or even rushing into characterisations of it in picturesque terms of self-aggrandisement.

The intriguing part came when Jaishankar was open-minded enough to rationalise the Chinese Navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean and point-blank refused to mix up India’s QUAD membership with it.

Jaishankar rejected the hackneyed notions propagated by American analysts of a Chinese “string of pearls” around India and instead noted calmly that the steady increase in the Chinese naval presence in the past 20-25 yrs is a reflection of the sharp increase in the size of the Chinese Navy.

India does not see QUAD as necessarily geared for a role to counter China, as it will be “a bit old-fashioned to point towards another country.”

Indeed, the shift in the tone of the Indian narrative following the brief exchanges between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the margins of the recent BRICS Summit has continued.

Jaishankar’s statements made it abundantly clear that India’s relationship with Russia is non-negotiable, whilst the surprising part is that Modi government is also sequestering the troubled relationship with China from external third-party interference, taking care, presumably, to leave avenues open for normalising the ties through bilateral channels in a foreseeable future.

The bottom line is, if the US-Canadian-Five Eyes agenda was to browbeat India’s strategic autonomy, Jaishankar rejected it. Curiously, at one point, he commented sarcastically that India is neither a member of the Five Eyes nor is answerable to the FBI,” M.K. Bhadrakumar stresses.

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Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself

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Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself, stresses Stephen Bryen, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and is a leading expert in security strategy and technology.

The well-respected Israeli think tank, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) has proposed that Israel ask for a security treaty with the United States. The proposal is in an editorial form and has no signatures attached to it. Therefore it isn’t clear if the proposal comes from the INSS Director, Manuel Trajtenberg, or is the consensus of the organization’s research staff. Such a defense treaty has long been opposed by most of Israel’s security establishment on the grounds it would inhibit Israel’s freedom of action and tie Israel irrevocably to the United States.

According to the policy proposal, the reason for Israel to pursue a defense treaty is ostensibly because Saudi Arabia is pursuing such a treaty and that without Israel also applying for a defense treaty, the Saudi proposal won’t be accepted. It is quite true that there is serious opposition to Saudi Arabia in the US Congress, mainly on the basis of human rights complaints. A defense treaty would require a two thirds vote of approval in the US Senate. Saudi Arabia on its own would fail to get Senate approval and “bundling” an Israeli treaty with a Saudi one, is probably not possible, even though INSS somehow thinks it can be done.

It is by no means clear why Israel would want a defense treaty, given its strong need to have freedom of action toward Iran. Similarly it is hard to see how Saudi Arabia would benefit from a US defense treaty, since the US is unlikely to bomb Tehran.

There are other complications for Israel as well. Would a defense treaty apply to attacks by non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or attacks originating from the Palestinian West Bank? The US would never agree to a text that obliged it to come to Israel’s aid under terrorist attack. In fact, the US response to terror attacks against Israel and Israeli citizens has always been subdued at best.

Presumably a defense treaty would protect Israel from a Russian attack, but a direct Russian attack is extremely unlikely. However, the Russians would see a defense treaty between the US and Israel as Israel taking sides in the bigger geostrategic struggle between Washington and Moscow. This could encourage the Russians to step up arms supplies to Syria and Iran, something that does not serve Israel’s interests. In practice Israel and Russia have found practical ways to cooperate and to try and avoid confrontation.

INSS makes the point that a defense treaty might facilitate defense technology cooperation with the United States. In many ways Israel is a brain trust already for the United States and is able to pioneer in many areas important to US security.

INSS says that “As an official ally, Israel’s access to advanced American weaponry and unique technologies would be guaranteed for the long term, thereby maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge over time.” Unfortunately defense treaties do not guarantee or assure access to US weapons or unique technologies. Technology sharing is always a matter of national interest that is defined by time and circumstances.

What isn’t clear is why INSS decided that Israel needs a defense treaty now?

If it was to help out Saudi Arabia there is no reason to believe it would do so. There is little evidence that favors a US-Israel defense treaty, unless the real idea is to make Israel depend on the US for its future security.

If that is the point, Israel should be wary of depending on US help. It has to defend itself, Stephen Bryen concludes.

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Can Europe survive Trump 2.0?

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Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Here’s something the European mind can’t fully comprehend: “Come November 2024, Donald Trump may be headed back into the White House,” states POLITICO.

It’s a nightmare scenario for Europeans who bore the brunt of the former U.S. president’s antagonism during his four years in office and hoped to never have to think about him again.

Back in early 2016, when a slightly less grizzled POLITICO journalist was asked to do the rounds of European embassies and think tanks to ask about Trump getting elected, several officials haughtily explained that the question wasn’t worth answering because he had no chance.

Not so in 2023. Europeans are wide awake to the possibility of a Trump redux, and most of the officials POLITICO spoke to for this article called for the bloc to prepare.

“Europe must be ready to face any situation linked to the results of the U.S. elections,” former French President François Hollande told POLITICO in response to emailed questions.

“In a democracy, there is always the risk that the worst candidate can be elected,” he added. “The people decide. Trump has been president. He can become president again, even if today he faces a lot of legal trouble. What we need to prepare for is the United States distancing itself from European affairs and the possible unraveling of the transatlantic alliance.”

Several European diplomats struck the same note of stoic realism. “It’s increasingly on people’s minds. We need to plan for every eventuality and avoid the situation in 2016, where we were unprepared for both Brexit and Trump,” said a second European diplomat who was granted anonymity to discuss politics in another country.

Asked whether a second Trump presidency would be different from the first, the second diplomat said Europe should brace for the worst. “Who will sign up to work with him given his record on how he treats people and how he betrays them? How can he have a strong team? With everyone he pretty much parted ways. And everyone wrote books bashing him. Even the nut jobs wrote books.”

Adding to the unease is a sense that a reelected Trump may feel invincible. The former president has been impeached twice and faces several criminal indictments, including one for denying the results of the 2020 election. If none of this prevents him from taking office, several European officials argued, why should he feel any constraints on his behavior at all?

The prospect of Trump’s return is particularly vexing for Germany, a frequent target of his attacks. Having been caught completely unprepared for his election in 2016, German politicians are eager not to repeat the same mistake — hence Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s recent trip to Texas, where she met with Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

Norbert Röttgen, the senior member of the German parliament, said: “To prepare for Trump’s return the German federal government should urgently collaborate with its European partners to develop an independent defense policy. Unfortunately, I see no signs of this initiative within the government.”

Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a European lawmaker in Poland’s Law and Justice party, said his camp would welcome Trump’s reelection. “Our experience with Trump 1 was good,” he said. “Under Trump, we got progress on the physical presence of American troops in Poland, as well as the base which we have baptized Fort Trump.”

Meanwhile, several European officials underscored efforts already undertaken by EU governments to bolster the Continent’s strategic independence.

They argued that European powers have not only coordinated massive weapons deliveries to Ukraine, surpassing the U.S. in the total value of support delivered; European countries have also significantly ramped up production of ammunition on the Continent in an effort coordinated by France’s Thierry Breton, who’s the European commissioner in charge of industrial policy.

“The Europeans have already done a lot, more than most people could have imagined,” said Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia. “Just look at the amount of European weaponry on the battlefield in Ukraine.”

But there’s a big difference between spending marginally more on defense and seriously preparing for what Trump could reap in Europe — not least if he tries to follow through with his promise to strike a deal with Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

Such a move would not only pull the rug out from under the Ukrainians, who might feel huge pressure to give up part of their territory, but also be humiliating for the European powers that have cast their lot in with Kyiv.

In such circumstances, it would be “difficult to imagine” Europeans staying united on Ukraine,” said François Heisbourg, senior adviser for Europe at the International Institute for Security Studies. “They could try to help Ukraine, but all of a sudden they would be against the United States because it’s a deal negotiated by Trump. It’s a very black scenario.”

In 2018, Trump raised the possibility of pulling Washington out of NATO and letting the Europeans fend for themselves.

The upshot is that a reelected Trump could do anything, including pulling out of NATO. That’s a terrifying prospect for Europeans who have relied on a U.S. security guarantee for the past 78 years — so much so that few diplomats and officials are willing to theorize about what it could mean for Europe’s future.

Security analysts who are willing to go there paint an alarming picture: Suddenly deprived of U.S. strategic leadership, European countries would face huge, daunting questions about how to reorganize the security alliance. Who would be in charge? Would NATO continue to exist? Would European countries make sacrifices to their social welfare model to accommodate much higher defense spending?

Then there is the question of leadership: Who would be in charge of a European security alliance? Paris? Berlin? Warsaw? A rotating selection of European capitals? And where would Europe’s military leadership be housed, given what Rasmus Hindren, a Finnish security expert, called a “lack of strategic culture” in the EU’s executive branch? A solution is difficult to imagine, he said, given hostility between European powers and the fact that some countries, like Poland, trust Washington more than they do Brussels.

In the event of a Trump-ocalypse in transatlantic relations, Speck sees an effective split emerging in Europe’s security architecture. Eastern European countries that share a border with Russia and others that feel immediately concerned by Moscow’s ambitions, such as the Nordics plus Turkey and Romania, would have a natural inclination to band together in a de facto security alliance. “You have the makings here of a kind of coalition to block Russia’s advance,” he said.

Such a group would add pressure on others in Europe to form their own blocs, pushing the Continent’s countries further apart. Put differently, one possibility for a post-U.S. security order in Europe could look a lot like what existed before World War I: a series of interlocking alliances at risk of tumbling into war with each other.

Scenarios like that remain, for now, distant possibilities, but it’s a sign of the times that they are no longer unthinkable. For Europe’s leaders, Trump’s potential return is turning out to be a waking nightmare: They see it approaching but can’t seem to do anything about it, concludes POLITICO.

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