Back to reality

 OK, it's cool to have fun, but meanwhile, let's remain aware. Just a few articles read until today.


In the Guardian:

The world must act to stop Syria’s suffering

Emergency personnel carry a wounded man after air strikes by Syrian government forces on a marketplace in the rebel-held area of Douma on Sunday 16 August Emergency personnel carry a wounded man after air strikes by Syrian government forces on a marketplace in the rebel-held area of Douma on Sunday 16 August. Photograph: Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP/Getty Images

We, as concerned academics, legal, humanitarian and media professionals, condemn the Syrian government’s grotesque massacre in its aerial bombardment of a well-known and busy market in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Sunday 16 August 2015. As we write the killing continues.
We call on the UK government to condemn this act and to demand, as per UN resolutions, that the Syrian government immediately and unconditionally stop bombing its civilian population. The death toll has reached over 100 – among them women and children – with at least 200 injured and maimed by the bombings. The UN’s own humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, was in Damascus pushing for more humanitarian access with the Syrian government just before these indiscriminate bombings took place.
Such utter contempt for international conventions by a so-called state actor reaffirms, if any further evidence were needed, that the Syrian government long ago relinquished any claim to legitimacy or sovereign power and should be expelled from the UN altogether. The UN must urgently consider carrying out its chronically underfunded humanitarian work in Syria without having to pander to Bashar al-Assad’s security forces via the ministry of the interior.
Assad’s killing machine has become the norm – and our silence makes us complicit in his crimes. The media has focused on the vile crimes of Isis, yet the overwhelming majority of Syrians continue to be killed and maimed by the Syrian government, which drops crude barrel bombs on the towns and cities that bravely rose up against tyranny and dared to demand their political rights in 2011.
As the Palestinian liberation struggle shows us, it is never acceptable, and is illegal under international law, to bomb civilian areas or to collectively punish populations. No government should be allowed to pursue their political opponents by indiscriminate bombing. We also urge all involved governments to desist from the pointless bombing of civilians in so-called Isis territory, which results in more misery, and instead to intensify all avenues of diplomatic pressure on Iran and Russia to stop propping up the Syrian government and providing it with manpower, loans, weapons and military hardware.

Besieged Syrians in rebel-controlled Douma have continued to maintain their dignity, while the Syrian government wilfully ignored the unanimous UN Resolution 2139 (2014) adopted by the security council (and reaffirmed in the UNSC meeting on 18 August 2015) calling for unfettered humanitarian access to allow food and medical supplies to flow. Once again Syrians are reduced to picking up the mangled body parts of their children from the rubble. The international community has lost its moral compass and as a matter of principle for our humanity, not only for the Syrians who have been abandoned in this conflict, we must act to find it.

Dr Miriyam Aouragh Leverhulme fellow, Communication Media Research Institute, University of Westminster
Dr Sune Haugbolle Associate professor, global studies and sociology, Roskilde University
Dr Rupert Read Reader, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, University of East Anglia
Dr Joschka Ivanka Wessels Postdoctoral researcher, Copenhagen University
Dr Phil Hutchinson Senior lecturer, philosophy, Manchester Metropolitan University
Dr Sara Ababneh Researcher, Amman
Dr Anat Matar Philosophy department, Tel Aviv University
Dr Mandy Turner Director, Kenyon Institute, Jerusalem, and visiting fellow, Middle East Centre, London School of Economics
Bissane El-Sheikh Al-Hayat newspaper, Beirut
Laila Alodaat Crisis response programme manager, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Geneva
Malath Al-zoubi Media specialist, London
Maia Malas Television producer, London
Amr Salahi Syrian exile, London
Safaa Jousif Syria NGO worker, London
Ibrahim Fakhry Syrian activist, Oxford
Clara Connolly Human rights lawyer, London
Nora Ababneh Project director, Internews
Sai Englert Postgraduate representative, national executive council, National Union of Students
Reem Shafiq Doctoral counselling psychology trainee, researcher, London
Nick Evans PhD candidate, Wadham College, Oxford University
Juliette Harkin PhD candidate, School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies, University of East Anglia
Sonny Dubabuse Liverpool
David Phillips Brighton

Re Seumas Milne’s article “It’s not migrants who are the marauders and plunderers” (13 August), most people (I think) would agree that western interference has caused acute misery for the people of the Middle East, but to include Syria with Iraq and Libya is unfair to the Syrian people. This is their revolution.

The Assad regime was responsible for starting this devastating war by a brutal military response to peaceful demonstrations by the people of Homs who were asking for reforms following the arrest and torture of schoolchildren in Daraa for spraying anti-government graffiti on a school wall. The armed struggle that followed was led by young and middle-aged men in Homs who accepted/bought guns from anyone/anywhere in order to defend themselves and their city. Many arms came from army deserters who brought their guns with them, or were stolen from military compounds. Under siege they asked for help from the west because Russia and Iran were supplying Assad with everything he asked for. Nothing that was sent to the revolutionaries was effective against regime’s tanks and fighter jets.
This revolution has been taken away from the Syrian people not only by western interference, but also by Russia and Iran. To not even mention this is puzzling. It does nothing to help the millions of Syrian civilians still suffering both outside and inside Syria, after almost five years of war with no end in sight. The Assad regime has imploded and is now run by Iran. Yes, western interference has “played a crucial role in Syria’s destruction”, but there are millions of Syrians who need our support, not dismissive political one-liners. It is their revolution – they want to return and rebuild, not risk their lives trying to reach Europe.
June Liveley
Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
 Martin Chulov’s report (18 August) of the Syrian regime’s bombing of rebel-held Douma once again poses the conundrum I have been trying to unravel for the last three years: why Bashar al-Assad and his collaborating militias, despite their superiority in military hardware, have continued to suffer more casualties than the rebels lined up against him? The latest figures compiled from various sources, including Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, place the pro-government casualties at 139,525 versus anti-government loss of 135,000.
Mohammad Abdul Qavi
 I find the inability to publish the findings of the Chilcot inquiry forthwith reprehensible. With the second anniversary of the gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta this Friday, which killed upwards of 1,000 innocent civilians, many politicians used the disaster of the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a reason for inertia after this massacre. As one who served in both Gulf wars and tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and having been into Syria a number of times in the last two years, I can say that Syria is nothing like Iraq in 1990 or 2003. The inaction by the international community post-Ghouta has put us in a position where upwards of 300,000 are dead, over 5 million refugees, including 1.5 million seeking shelter in the UK and Europe, Assad still in power and the so-called Islamic State controlling vast tracts of Iraq and Syria. Military action after Ghouta, as requested by President Obama would, in my opinion, have put us in a much better place today.
Parliament, we are told, will vote on extending action to defeat Isis in Syria shortly, and this “fight of our generation”, which we can’t afford to lose, cannot be corrupted by so-called mistakes of 2003. If there are statesmen, politicians and civil servants who are criticised by Chilcot, so be it. We live in a democracy and they should not be able to hide behind legalese to prevent their misjudgments and failings being public. We owe this to my comrades we left on the battlefields of Iraq, whose families now rightly seek closure, and to this nation, to ensure we are not fighting Isis on the streets of Britain for the next 10 years.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (Col Retd)
Shaftesbury, Dorset


Central African Republic still a powder keg, warn clerics awarded peace prize

Trio of religious leaders who founded Central African Republic’s Interfaith Peace Platform fear elections could reignite sectarian violence that has killed thousands

Sergio Vieira de Mello prize winners Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou receive their award in Geneva. Sergio Vieira de Mello prize winners Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou receive their awards in Geneva. Photograph: World Watch Monitor

Relations between minority Muslims and Christians in Central African Republic are slowly improving despite persistent insecurity, but the traumatised population fears elections this year could reignite sectarian violence that has already cost thousands of lives, the country’s three main religious leaders said.
Speaking from Geneva, where the men were awarded the Sergio Vieira de Mello prize on Wednesday as founders of the Interfaith Peace Platform, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, the president of CAR’s Islamic Council, said things were slowly getting better after what one UN official described as “massive ethno-religious cleansing”.
“In Bangui, and even in the countryside, Muslims are starting to get some space to come and go. They are no longer in ghettos like before. Today, the armed groups, as such, are no longer on the offensive. It’s the bandits, the thieves who cause concern,” said Layama.
“Our country is still a powder keg. There are lots of weapons. The armed groups are still there … Given this situation, we wonder how the electoral campaign will unfold? Will the candidates be able to travel around? We think disarmament is an indispensable condition for the vote to be held under good conditions … We are afraid the weapons will get to vote, instead of the people.”
Layama, Bangui’s Catholic Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and the president of the Evangelical Alliance, Pastor Nicolas Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou, set up the Interfaith Peace Platform in 2013.
In March that year, the mainly Muslim rebels of the Seleka alliance swept into CAR’s capital, Bangui, and installed the country’s first Muslim president. The Seleka terrorised the majority Christian population, killing men, women and children until they were forced from power in January last year.
The violence triggered the rise of the predominantly Christian anti-balaka(anti-machete) militia, who in turn killed thousands of Muslims. The conflict forced nearly half a million people into neighbouring countries, displacing half a million more inside CAR, a landlocked former French colony rich in gold, diamonds and timber that has long suffered under corrupt rulers.
Hoping to end vicious cycles of revenge killings and despite the personal risk involved, the three religious leaders visited villages and cities, talking to communities about peace, tolerance and trust.
Nzapalainga said they sought “to defend an ideal, and to save the lives of Christians and Muslims”. It is this work that was honoured by the peace prize, named after the UN diplomat killed alongside colleagues in a 2003 bombing in Baghdad.
The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation said the faith leaders’ international lobbying had also led to the decision to send a 10,000-strong UN peacekeeping force, known as Minusca, to the country in September last year. 
The peacekeeping operation has since been tarnished by allegations of sexual abuse of children and girls by UN soldiers and also by French peacekeepers, who were sent to the country after the 2013 coup.
Earlier this month, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who has described sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers as “a cancer in our system”fired the head of Minusca over the handling of the misconduct allegations.
Guérékoyaméné-Gbangou said some of his compatriots now distrusted Minusca, questioning the soldiers’ motives for being in the country. He said the peacekeepers must respect their UN mandate and enforce discipline.
“We cannot say that the UN troops have been totally rejected by the people,” he said. “Alongside the change at the top of Minusca, we must apply all the [UN] resolutions so that the belligerents understand that the UN force did not come for a walk in the park, but with a mission … Now everything is in the camp of the UN deciders; the secretary general and the security council.”
While expressing optimism that their people could forgive each other over time, the religious leaders warned progress was piecemeal and threatened by growing criminality – as well as the continued presence of armed groups.
Layama said many people were still scared, especially at night, with some communities afraid to go into neighbourhoods dominated by members of the other faith. He called on international partners to help treat the psychological scars left by the bloodletting, and to support the electoral process. Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to be held on 18 October and 22 November.
Alongside stories of chilling brutality, there have been inspiring stories of members of both communities risking all to save lives. Nzapalainga said he was confident “hearts could be disarmed” in a nation due to be visited by Pope Francis in November. 
“We cannot live in the past, we cannot continue with hate, with the desire for revenge, with distrust,” said Nzapalainga. “My prayer is that everyone learns from the past, works hand in hand to eliminate our differences, see what unites us, [and] builds a new republic where everyone has a place … so that every group, every tribe, every ethnicity can call themselves Central African without fear of being stigmatised or excluded.”
“When we see Muslims and Christians together today, we can say the dream is becoming a reality; we collaborate, we walk, we sing, we pray, we move forward together.”

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