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By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2014 (IPS) - While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama ponders broader actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Amnesty International Tuesday accused the group of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Iraq on a “historic scale.”

In a 26-page report, which was based on on-site investigations and interviews with victims and witnesses of mass executions and abductions, the London-based rights group said the threats to ethnic minorities in the areas under ISIS’s control “demand a swift and robust response … to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities who risk being wiped off the map of Iraq.”

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq,” the report said. “Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014.”

Amnesty’s report was released as another major international rights organisation, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), charged ISIS with executing between 560 and 770 men – all or most of them Iraqi army soldiers – in Tikrit after it took control of that city on June 11 as part of its stunning drive across northern and central Iraq. The following day, ISIS itself claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army.”

The new HRW estimate, which was based on testimony from a survivor and analyses of videos and satellite imagery, was triple the death toll HRW had reported at the end of June. The group said the imagery confirmed the existence of three more mass execution sites in and around Tikrit in addition to the two it had reported earlier.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by ISIS.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Council.

The Amnesty and HRW reports came as ISIS posted a video purporting to show its beheading of a U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who had been kidnapped in August 2013 while he was covering the civil war in Syria for Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.’

The grisly video, which is certain to add pressure on the Obama administration to expand recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to include targets in Syria, as well as in Iraq, followed the release of a video of the beheading by ISIS two weeks ago of another U.S. reporter, James Foley. It also came after an emotional videotaped appeal aired last week by Sotloff’s mother to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

Sotloff had appeared in the Foley video, with the purported executioner, who is believed to be a British national, warning that Sotloff would be next to be killed unless Obama ceased conducting air strikes against ISIS positions around Mt. Zinjar and convoys approaching Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

Obama, however, has since broadened the U.S. target list. Dozens of air strikes have been carried out in coordination with ground attacks by Iraqi special forces, Shi’a militias, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a counteroffensive that initially recaptured the giant Mosul dam from ISIS forces and, more recently, reportedly broke the group’s siege of the largely Shi’a Turkomen town of Amerli.

“I’m back, Obama,” the same masked executioner said on the latest video. “I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” he added, while standing over yet another unidentified captive who is believed to be a British citizen.

For its part, the White House released a statement noting that it had seen the video and that the intelligence community was working to determine its authenticity. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Obama, who left Tuesday for the NATO summit in Wales later this week, is expected to urge other members of the alliance to adopt a coordinated strategy of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure against ISIS, which spread from its base in eastern Syria into Iraq’s Al-Anbar province in early 2014 before its sweep down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys into northern and central Iraq beginning in June.

Among other measures, Washington wants its European allies to adhere to U.S. and British policies against ransom payments to free citizens who are captured by ISIS – a practice that has reportedly become a major source of income for the group.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel are also scheduled to visit key allies in the Middle East next week, especially in the Sunni-led Gulf states, to persuade them to crack down harder against their citizens who fund or otherwise support ISIS, offer greater support to a new government in Baghdad, and possibly contribute direct support for expanded international military efforts against the group.

Like the administration itself, U.S. lawmakers, who return here from their summer recess next week, are divided on how aggressively Washington should take military action against ISIS.

While many Republicans are urging Obama to conduct air strikes – and even deploy ground forces – against the group in Syria, as well as Iraq, many Democrats are concerned that such an escalation could well lead to Washington’s becoming bogged down in yet more Middle Eastern conflicts.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: INTER PRESS SERVICE
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By Carey L. Biron
Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS
Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

Men line up to receive food distributed by Coalition for the Homeless volunteers at 35th St, FDR Drive, in New York City. Credit: Zafirah Mohamed Zein/IPS

WASHINGTON, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on racial discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness.

U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services.

The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as CERD or the race convention.

“The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”

This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.

The panel not only called on the U.S. government to “abolish” laws and policies that facilitate the criminalisation of homelessness, but also to create incentives that would push authorities to focus on and bolster alternative policy approaches.

The CERD findings were actually the second time this year that new U.S. laws around the criminalisation of homelessness have been criticised at the international level. Similar concerns were expressed by the Human Rights Committee, which warned the cumulative effect was “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”.

“These are human rights experts who have seen human rights abuses all over the globe, but still when they hear about these issues in the United States it boggles their mind,” Eric S. Tars, a senior attorney with the National Law Center on Poverty & Homelessness, told IPS.

The CERD panel underscored these concerns by requesting additional information from the U.S. government before the country’s next such review, in 2017. The other issues so highlighted included racial profiling and gun violence, areas that have typically received far more interest from policymakers and the media.

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By Karlos Zurutuza
Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS
Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Rukia (in the foreground) recovers after a successful fistula operation at Malalai Maternity Hospital in Badakhshan, Afganistan (August 2014). Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

KABUL, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - “The smell of faeces and urine isolates them completely. Their husbands abandon them and they become stigmatised forever” – Dr Pashtoon Kohistani barely needs two lines to sum up the drama of those women affected by obstetric fistula.

Alongside the health centre in Badakhshan – 290 km northeast of Kabul – Malalai Maternity Hospital is the only health centre in Afghanistan with a section devoted to coping with a disease that is seemingly endemic to the most disadvantaged members of the population: women, young, poor and illiterate.

“Given that a caesarean birth is not an option for most Afghan women, the child dies inside them while they try to give birth. They end up tearing their vagina and urethra,” Dr Kohistani told IPS. “Urinary, and sometimes faecal incontinence too, is the most immediate effect,” added the surgeon as she strolled through the hospital corridors where only women wait to be seen by a doctor, or just come to visit a sick relative.

“Pressure mounts on them from every side, even from their mothers-in-law. They have to hear things such as `I had five children without ever seeing a doctor´. Many of these poor girls end up committing suicide” – Dr Nazifah Hamra

They are of practically all ages. Some show obvious signs of pain while others look almost relaxed. In fact, they are in one of the very few places in Afghanistan where the total lack of male presence allows them to uncover their hair, take off their burka and even roll up their sleeves to beat the heat.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: INTER PRESS SERVICE
By Alice Slater
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Alice Slater is New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: INTER PRESS SERVICE
By Mandeep S.Tiwana
Mandeep Tiwana
Mandeep Tiwana

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that too often principle is being abandoned at the United Nations Human Rights Council and that every time this happens the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers.

JOHANNESBURG, Sep 2 2014 (IPS) - The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.

The high death toll caused by indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Israeli military has resulted in what may very likely be war crimes. The United Nations has said that 443 (over 70 percent) of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: IPS
By Janah Ncube
An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS
An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

An irrigated field in Kakamas, South Africa. Due to weak land tenure found in many African countries, large land transfers place local communities at significant risk of dispossession or expropriation. Credit: Patrick Burnett/IPS

NAIROBI, Sep 1 2014 (IPS) - Agriculture in Africa is in urgent need of investment. Nearly 550 million people there are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, while half of the total population on the continent live in rural areas.

The adoption of a framework called the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Program (CAADP) by Africa’s leaders in 2003 confirmed that agriculture is crucial to the continent’s development prospects. African governments recently reiterated this commitment at the Malabo Summit in Guinea during June of this year.

The need for private sector investment in Africa is manifest, but the quality of those inflows of capital is vital if it is to enhance the livelihoods of millions of food producers in Africa.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: IPS
By Catherine Wilson
Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS
Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Several Pacific Island states are struggling to provide their far-flung populations with access to fresh water. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

LOTOFAGA VILLAGE, Samoa, Sep 1 2014 (IPS) - Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, but inadequate fresh water sources, poor infrastructure and climate change are leaving some communities without enough water to meet basic needs.

Laisene Nafatali lives in Lotofaga village, home to 5,000 people on the south coast of Upolu, the main island of Samoa, a Polynesian island state located northeast of Fiji in the central South Pacific region.

(Read)NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY: IPS
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