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October 26, 2012

War for Peace: The Moral and Legal Case for Intervention in Syria

Syrian-Civil-WarOver the past 19 months, the people of Syria have risen up against a regime that for over four decades has denied its people basic rights and freedoms. In response to demonstrations and protests, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has reacted with overwhelming force, giving way to an estimated 30,000 victims to date. International observers have noted the following:

  • The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria reports that Syrian state agents have violated various provisions of international humanitarian law, failed to distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, and failed to exercise proportionality with respect to civilian losses.
  • Doctors without Borders states that the Syrian government continues to deny basic medical care to injured civilians.
  • Reuters and the AFP report systematic acts of violence against civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.
  • The United Nations-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic describes “…crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity…” at the hands of the State.

The international community has negotiated with and given Assad time, but diplomacy has failed. A military intervention currently is the only way forward to peace. The international community cannot be deterred by Russia’s objection, one that is hypocritical in light of Russia’s shipments of military equipment to Syria. Under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, the international community must act on its moral and legal responsibility to intervene when a people suffers from egregious acts of violence at the hands of their State. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights further requires States to ensure the protection of the right to life, prohibitions on torture, and freedom of thought and expression, all of which have been violated by the Syrian regime.

Syrian Refugee Crisis

In 1999, the world stood at a similar crossroads. A humanitarian crisis engulfed the Balkan Peninsula, but United Nations collective security action on Kosovo was impeded by a Russian veto. Despite this veto, NATO, based on a moral duty transcending Russian interests in the Balkans, undertook military action. Most observers now agree that NATO’s actions were legitimate and justified under international law.

The time is now for military action in Syria, with or without Russia’s consent. The international community, led by NATO or a similar coalition, must make a clear ultimatum to Assad: he may step down now in exchange for immunity or he will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity after a military campaign including air strikes to neutralize Syrian intelligence and strategic bases, the establishment of a no-fly zone, safe havens in Syria and at the Turkish border and material support to the opposition.

The failure to act cannot be justified by citing terrorists within the ranks of the Syrian opposition. While it is true that in recent months, some obscure Salafi Islamic groups have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Syria, it is entirely possible that such groups, unknown before the Syrian uprising, may be creations of the Syrian State. Upon defecting, former Syria Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced that one suicide bombing against a Syrian target was engineered by the regime against an empty target where not one regime soldier was harmed. It should not be surprising if the Islamic Al-Nusra Front, which recently claimed responsibility for an Aleppo air defense base attack where over one hundred captured opposition members were imprisoned, is similarly under the control of the regime, designed to bolster Russian claims of an “Islamic uprising.”

Yet even if groups such as the Al-Nusra Front are bona fide members of the opposition, their recent emergence in the conflict clearly shows that the failure of the international community to act has left a power vacuum that terrorist groups are eager to fill. Given concerns as to what the opposition is genuinely comprised of, the international community can condition its military support on commitments by opposition leaders to guarantee the basic rights of minorities and all religious groups, based on the Universal Declaration for Human Rights or on the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Military and political advisers of NATO or a similar coalition can work with opposition members in establishing a power-sharing model under a new Constitution where Sunni Muslims as well as Alawi and other minorities share power and guarantee the respect for the rule of law.

The road forward will be filled with challenges, but no case can be made for the current status quo of inaction. The ongoing massacre of Syrian civilians gives special urgency to the international community to act on its responsibility to protect.

October 25, 2012

Through a Glass Darkly – The Media’s Role in Humanitarian Crises

Humanitarian crises brought on by civil war or political upheavals like those in Syria and South Sudan have become a common occurrence.  On television news programs and internet news venues, we see horrific images of the suffering these conflicts wreak on civilian populations.  The media have proven a powerful force in shaping the response of individuals, organizations and governments to these periodic crises.

Syrian child refugeeFrom 1992-1995, Somalia and Rwanda experienced internal conflicts that resulted in casualties, diseases, famine, and political chaos of  biblical proportions, impacting the stability of the region and changing the future economic, political and social course of these countries.  It is important to look at the role played by the media during the Somalia and Rwandan crises  and how that influenced the international perceptions of peacekeeping efforts in the region, and the resulting reaction from policy makers in the international community up to the present day.

In the 1990´s, international media coverage, with its heartbreaking images of starving children, hopeless civilians and teenagers carrying weapons, became viral. The intention was to erase the geographical gap and bring the reality of these invisible people who were suffering thousands of miles away right into the comfortable living rooms of average American households. This media phenomenon, later dubbed the CNN effect,  made Americans aware of the humanitarian crisis in countries like Somalia, the uncountable civilian casualties, the lack of basic human needs and the need for a hero who would bring food, peace and stability to a distant and unnoticed country.

As it turned out, however, this transparency carried a price tag for policy makers and ultimately for the people they were trying to help.

The situations in Somalia and Rwanda shared many elements.  Both were humanitarian crises with failed cease-fire and peace agreements, as well as extensive civilian casualties and human rights violations despite the presence of UN peacekeepers.

The media played an influential role both domestically and internationally.  In the case of Somalia, it helped to create international awareness of the events with the intention of motivating key decision makers to respond. During the Rwandan crisis, however, the local media was used as a weapon to perpetuate fear, hatred and even direct the killings that took place.

Famine in Somalia

In Somalia, the media served up images of unimaginable suffering which persuaded powerful decision makers in the international community to get involved.  Journalists sought out the most sensational stories of suffering, asking aid workers where they might find some “stick action” referring to the emaciated infants who could be filmed at the point of death.  The stories and images they conveyed had the desired effect.  They inspired the American people to demand action. A UN humanitarian mission led by the American military known as Operation Restore Hope was launched.

But close media coverage of the Battle for Mogadishu and the Black Hawk Down incident later caused decision makers to rethink the impact that their presence was having.  In addition, the barrage of images from the Somalia chaos, showing children still starving and warlords still with control, resulted in Somalia Fatigue, the term describing a public weariness of a catastrophe they seemed powerless to deal with.  The very public exposure of these failures by the peacekeeping mission later made policy makers reluctant to react sooner to the petition of the UNAMIR (UN Aid Mission in Rwanda) commander to help stop the unfolding genocide in Rwanda.  It seemed an article of faith among the members of the UN Secretariat that, were the UN to suffer another disaster like Somalia, with more peacekeepers being killed, the organization would suffer a possibly fatal blow to its credibility.  In the process, almost 1 million people lost their lives.

Rwanda Genocide

The situation in Rwanda was also complicated by the fact that international media attention was focused on the historic election of Nelson Mandela to the presidency of South Africa.  Consequently, the major news outlets did not respond fully to the Rwandan genocide until bloated corpses were strewn at the roadside or choking Rwanda’s rivers.

Regardless of the scale of a humanitarian crisis, how we respond to outbreaks of war, whether through aid, military intervention and / or the deployment of peacekeeping missions, depends upon our evaluations of what the media deliver to us.  The emotions generated by images of suffering sent back by the international media can motivate us to action, but can also make us turn away if we feel helpless and overwhelmed.  And if the media is blind, through inattention, to a developing humanitarian tragedy, we may fail to realize the need for action altogether.  The international media are, collectively, our eyes and ears, with regard to events in the world.  It is more imperative than ever that we learn to carefully evaluate the perceptions they create for us and the reactions they invoke.

Click to read Ana Maria’s full research paper.

October 23, 2012

The Peace Revolution Project – Voices from our Future

Osama Moftah from Egypt says:

meditation-on-lake“To define human rights is to define your own rights, from there you can define the rights of the group that you live in, and then you can define human rights for a global community…so, it all starts with you.  If you really want to change the world, it means you have to change yourself first.  You have to know the direction of the path you choose to walk.”

Osama Arhb Moftah, from Egypt, joined Peace Revolution’s Fellowship in June 2010.  He has an MA in International Law, and works as an Election Observer at the Carter Center.  Osama volunteered in the Patch Adams educational and clowning tour in Costa Rica to help people after the earthquake in 2009.

Anu Lawrence from the USA says:

“I think it has probably been said a million times, but it deserves being said once more—without inner peace, it doesn’t matter how much we strive for outer peace, because if we are not personally peaceful, peace becomes redundant.  A Thich Nhat Hanh quote comes to mind—There is no path to peace, peace is the path.  And Gandhi said—We must be the change we wish to see in the world.  So I’ve always tried to live by these ideas.  When I meditate I just feel completely peaceful and connected, and when you’re in this state, how could you be violent? How could you be anything but peaceful—how could you be anything but compassionate?”

Anu Drew Lawrence, from the USA, is a program officer at Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, and volunteers as a mediator in San Diego’s court system with at-risk youth, through the Restorative Justice Mediation Program.  He has also done field research about conflict transformation in Central America, particularly in Guatemala. He joined Peace Revolution’s Fellowship in June 2010.

David Javier Santos from Lima, Peru says:

meditation-on-rock“Stillness is very helpful because it can give you your inner eyes. We always see with our physical eyes and sometimes we have a lot of things in our head. It is like we are wearing glasses and these glasses are covered with a lot of things that don’t allow us see the truth. With meditation, with stillness, you can clean those glasses.  It is like clearing our perception, so we can be sure we are seeing the truth. Contentment gives you a sense that you don’t need more that what you have, all the answers are within you, so you don’t have to search for anything.”

David Javier Santos is a young and bright engineer in Lima, Peru.  He has been a volunteer at a Pinoteca, an association of young people who work to help improve the education of Peruvian children. They also teach children moral and civic values.

Suha Ayyash from Palestine says:

“I never thought about what peace means, because where I come from in the Middle East—Palestine—I always heard about peace treaties, peace processes, the Oslo agreement, etc.; peace was always something that was coming, but never here.  It was always something very political and the major conflicts never reached an end.  Then I started meditating through the program* and little by little I started to understand and now have a taste of peace, of something that is intangible, that you cannot describe, but that you can feel.  I felt it.

In Islam we have a term, sakhina.  The closest word to it in English would be stillness.  I’ve always wanted this sakhina.  I was able to achieve it through prayers, but I found another way to find it, too—through  meditation.  Meditation is the most practical tool on the Earth which can help people achieve and double-up the effect of stillness, or sakhina.  This is what I’m learning, this is what I’m getting, and this is what I’m sharing.”

Suha Ayyash is a Palestinian living in Jordan.  Suha is a young documentary filmmaker and her latest documentary is “HipHop Nafitha” which was part of  the Cape Winelands Film Festival selection this year.

Iulia Socea from Cluj, Romania says:

“Inner peace is something that should become a habit, it should become a part of our life, something natural. To make it a habit takes a lot of time and we have already learned bad habits in the past. We have learned to respond with anger, we have learned to respond with bad words because this is what we saw and automatically we repeat what we saw around us. But now we need to change these habits, create new automatic responses. So it needs to become a daily process.”

Iulia Socea from Cluj, Romania is a trainer and trainer coordinator for the Peace Action Training and Research Institute of Romania.  Her volunteer work involved training youth in the field of nonviolence, conflict transformation, peace-building and violence prevention, as well as different youth projects tackling these topics.

Joan Baez Youth Peace Interview

About the Peace Revolution Project

We aim to empower young people via a unique process related to youth development, helping young people make informed and moral choices about how they live their lives and actively participate in society. Through its online social platform, Peace Revolution promotes the practice of inner peace as a common denominator for people throughout the world to build cross-cultural partnerships and ultimately, through individual change and cooperation with others, establish an international network of active agents for change.

October 23, 2012

The Emerging Role of Faith Based Organizations in Global Development – Part 2

tsunami 2004After being flown over some islands that were hit by the 2004 tsunami, Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary General, made a very moving statement. “In my whole entire life, I have never seen such utter destruction,” he remarked. The scale of the disaster was lucidly imagined by his next few words. “Mile after mile, you wonder—where are the people?” The scale of this disaster was so large that for miles Annan could not see a trace of humanity. Buried in the rubble or swept away by the tsunami’s violent waves from the Indian Ocean, humanity’s routine had been altered. A whopping 275,000 people were estimated to be dead, hundreds of thousands injured, and millions more homeless. Never before had the world seen a disaster of such proportions.

So devastating was the 2004 tsunami that it remains a key reference point for learning how to coordinate a huge relief operation involving a lot of actors. This natural disaster also pointed to the fact that everywhere in the world mankind is still moved to respond proportionately when nature exerts its disproportionate force. Of the $6.8 billion (US dollars) that was raised within a month, $1 billion was from private and corporate donations and the rest from governments. Donations of every kind—monetary, in-kind, manpower, and others—came from virtually every corner of the globe. Among the many agencies that responded were Faith Based Organizations (FBOs).

FBOs have done a remarkable job in providing stop-gap mechanisms in humanitarian disasters. In fact, a 1953 analysis concludes that “Ninety percent of post-war relief was provided by religious agencies.” A good number of the FBOs involved in humanitarian relief today have their origins in these earlier efforts. In playing so prominent a part in humanitarian relief work, FBOs gain more relevance on the world stage. Historically, some FBOs were motivated by the need to provide some relief for refugees, especially during and after World War I and World War II. They also lobbied government as advocates for better relief in distressed communities. These interventions have continued up to the present day.

digging wells in liberiaTo a great extent almost all FBOs delivering humanitarian aid have signed onto a number of international standards such as the Red-Cross Code of Conduct or the SPHERE standards for Water and Sanitation interventions. During my early days in Liberia, many meetings on Water and Sanitation did not end without a government representative flashing a photo of a water well built by a renowned FBO in one of the communities at the end of that country’s civil war. The photo made the rounds in these meetings because the water well was so shallow that it dried up not many weeks after being built. The government pointed to the technical and design failures, and using some generalizations would occasionally make retributive statements about the quality of work of almost all non-government organizations (NGOs) like Faith-Based Organizations. This motivated the government to pass technical standards and guidelines for acceptable water and sanitation facilities in Liberia.

Along with the new guidelines, a clear message was passed—that everyone was subject to the same standard of measurement. There were obviously a number of factors that could have led to a particular FBO to build a very shallow water-well in an area where the well was going to dry up quickly, one being that they dug the well during the rainy season, hitting the water table sooner than in the dry season. In general however, the emergence of a code of conduct and other standards in Liberia marked an important milestone in the evolution of humanitarian relief efforts. A good number of FBOs abide by these standards and often impose even stricter standards on themselves in terms of accountability and preferential status for the poor to receive Water and Sanitation relief.

It’s in Your Hands

A good percentage of aid passes through FBOs to reach communities in need of humanitarian support. This aid is mostly from private donations. Some FBOs apply different policies on how much government support they can receive, and so can add government aid to private donations. It seems clear that there is an inevitable and expected role for FBOs to play in providing relief. FBOs can provide humanitarian relief using a well-coordinated approach working together with governments and organizations to effectively deliver support to affected people.

Now, recalling Part 1 of this discussion, we pose many questions about the role of Faith-Based Organizations in development and cover the small-scale direct relief to individuals provided by FBOs. Part 2, then, covers the larger scale component of support provided through big scale humanitarian interventions. In my view these form one side of the equation—the side that is reactive and tries to deal with the effects of either a man-made or natural problem. I believe that there is often a bigger issue at hand. Whether this bigger issue is structural, policy or market related, or something as difficult to categorize as climate change, it is often linked to some loop holes in the system. Herein is the challenge! How can FBOs do more preventative work like their ongoing advocacy and lobbying efforts rather than reactive work?

The example of the Dutch Interchurch Aid organization’s 1983 warning of a looming hunger crisis in Ethiopia is worth considering. As expected their warning was ignored until it became a big media-driven crisis in the 1990s. More of this early-warning action on issues of poverty and suffering can be critical in finding solutions.

The neglect by policymakers in the areas of poverty and suffering should motivate FBOs to make more critical alliances and partnerships in at risk regions with the aim of building and strengthening an early warning system, vital to early detection of need and the policy failures allowing that need to exist and grow. As allies with other institutions, FBOs can create additional leverage to head off crises arising from poverty and eliminate, or at least drastically limit, the attendant suffering. We may still have to be reactive when responding to a humanitarian crisis brought about by a natural disaster, but to reiterate what Nelson Mandela said,

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
~ Nelson Mandela


October 23, 2012

Peace for Africa

In the past we used to have village elders meet and resolve issues regarding brotherly differences to attain peace. And, by doing that, achieved peace. However, these days we have elders who are not interested in achieving this peace, but instead have turned the village square meeting into a gathering of evil men. I have seen injustice being perpetrated. When our people discovered that we would not achieve peace through this means, young people resorted to using violence and aggression to settle their difference. Africa – where is peace? Who shall give us peace.

May God bless Bishop Desmond  Tutu, a legend of our time, the lion of our generation.You will live long. Africa will always remember your footprints. God bless Africa.

October 23, 2012

Reconciliation on Cyprus

Dear Desmond Tutu –

As a Christian, I have had this burning desire to communicate with you regarding Cyprus and the prospect of setting out a truth and reconciliation commission as after 40 yrs of division, I found on a recent visit that there’s a strong desire to come together and move on among Greeks, Cypriots and Turks!

In the North they are already responding to each other – sharing worship and praise and each others language, and just need a kick start to create the political will.  I have had this in my heart for some time now and asked God what can I do about it! I’m just an electrician ready to retire!  So I am just being obedient and sharing this with you in the hope you are able to respond.

May the lord bless you and keep you Bob Bate Durban