Yet another innocent humanitarian beheaded


Seeing yet another picture of an innocent humanitarian beheaded by ISIS, my mind seesaws between hawk and dove. Civil wars statistically last twice as long as they otherwise would when an outside agent intervenes, yet something about this doesn’t feel like simply another civil war. I can’t help wondering what makes ISIS any different than Nazis on the march? Then I think about an all-out war against them… what it would mean, what it would take… and my heart just freezes.

We are seriously in trouble now.

There is so much to say about how this happened, but most of it has been said. We have so much to atone for, and that alone takes you to your knees. But our question still has to be, “So what do we do now?”

I don’t know what we should do now. But no one else does either. No politician knows for sure and no military commander knows for sure. If anything should be obvious by now, it’s that. It isn’t simply bad political decisions or military strategies that got us here. It’s karma that got us here. The US -and other westerners, let us not forget- became a warmongering nation, attacking a country that hadn’t even attacked us … and look what it led to. God forgive us. And God help us now.

I’m going deep into my heart, into my prayerfulness, and into atonement for the arrogance and recklessness of our  bellicose countries. I pray for forgiveness for irresponsibly sending people to die in another country, in a foreign war, for no reason. For there, at that level of Atonement, I know we enter a place where God’s ears are open and miracles do happen. “God shall not be mocked” means that He isn’t. Until America owns up to what it has become and what it has done — allowing war to become a huge business empire, maintained by military contractors and politicians alike to fight wars that should not have been fought for no more reason than money and oil – then Cause and Effect will continue to operate, and the blowback will increase, and a great country will be brought to its knees.

There is an alternative: We can fall to our knees right now…

Who is going to pay for international development?

The world does not require another inventory of financial problems and solutions. It needs a list of priorities

The time is coming for the big ideas in targets such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to be enhanced into politically realistic commitments.


There is simply not enough time or resources to do everything so what should the world’s development finance priorities be?

Addis Ababa is hosting a UN financing for development conference in July 2015, and the timing of the talks, before the goals are announced in September, is a strong message from member states that if credible financial commitments are not made, the whole exercise to refresh the millennium development goals (MDGs) would be little more than words on a page.

One thing is clear: the agenda is broad. How should progress be paid for? What is the role of the private sector? Who should keep an eye on sources of finance? Isn’t it now finally time for structural reform in global financial institutions, such as the World Bank? And what proportion of development should be paid for out of domestic as opposed to international resources?

With such a large number of issues defined as «development», it is hard to draft declarations that are useful for overburdened decision-makers who are used to being presented with shopping lists in which all the points are considered equally important to achieving improvements.

But politics is prioritisation. Politicians and bureaucrats love a map of options to choose from, usually collapsing for the path of least resistance. And anyway, there is simply not enough time or resources to do everything.

So when development finance experts arrive in Ethiopia next year, they should remember that the world does not need another list of financial problems and solutions, another meta analysis of the situation. It needs priorities.

First, identify the most important issues. One of the main problems of the MDGs, as noted in incalculable analyses, was their failure to bring the major structural issues to the table. I know of no one who thinks that aid is the most important contribution that wealthier countries can make to development, but the nebulous terms of MDG eight allowed politicians to get away with aid promises (which in some cases they didn’t keep) rather than setting an audacious agenda for transformational change in global financial governance, dealing with illicit financial flows, for example, taking bold steps towards international tax reform, and introducing better mechanisms for working out debt repayments.

Today it is even clearer than 15 years ago that such major structural issues need to be managed if the world is to adopt a sustainable path. Such issues could be unequivocally prioritised in the UN finance for development declaration next year. Aid is not unimportant, but it is less important, and could be lower in the list.

Second, achievability. One of the most depressing conversations I can remember was during a NGO coordination meeting in Barcelona with an adviser from Mali. Reflecting on the way cotton subsidies abroad had all but destroyed Mali’s cotton industry, its one big chance to emerge from aid dependency; I asked why they weren’t campaigning harder on the issue. He replied that it was useless – incentives in subsidising countries were too strong to overcome; better to work on things with a chance of progress.

The same analysis needs to be applied to the prioritisation of goals and commitments in development finance. Some issues remain fairly stubborn – such as subsidies in richer countries – but the international context for progress on other systemic issues is better than ever, as people in rich countries clamour for fairer burden-sharing in times of austerity.

The achievability test is also key to the public vs. private debate. The role of the private sector, both domestic and multinational, is critical to development outcomes. But our ambitions with regard to making it a partner in the SDG process should be proportionate to a sensible analysis of achievability. Rather than focusing on getting commitments from the private sector, which follows a particular set of incentives, it may be more sensible to set out how public actions can encourage – and sometimes force – companies and banks to be as pro-development as possible.

Prioritising some issues doesn’t mean forgetting others – it means allocating time and resources most appropriately after an assessment of importance and achievability, just as has happened for the SDGs.

Changes in the way that development is financed could be treated as goals in themselves, with a 15-year horizon and short-term monitoring mechanisms, just like the SDGs. This is the approach suggested by the in many ways visionary report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda. These commitments will, inevitably, fall more on wealthier and more powerful countries, and could be seen as a key part of the «universality» agenda, in which all countries, not just developing countries, have clear and binding targets.

Next year is a chance to write the next page of the development finance book. As well as a reaffirmation of the critical importance of international public action to achieve collectively agreed objectives (of which international public finance is a part), we also need not just a wish-list but a prioritised plan of action with a specific timeframe for changes in global finance.

The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Goodbye Madiba

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The great Mandela gone:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus, William Ernest Henley

This poem played an important role in Nelson Mandela’s life during his imprisonment in Robben Island, Republic of South Africa.

World Congress Against the Death Penalty

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In the inaugural conference of the 5th Congress which took place in Madrid (12-15 July 2013), the Iraqi minister of Justice asserted:

«The death penalty (in Iraq) applies only for serious crimes, as acts of terrorism and violent crimes. »

But for Nasser Abood who tops the Iraq Coalition Against the Death Penalty, these arguments do not stand:

« After China and Iran, Iraq is the third country (in the area) to run the death penalty. The problem is that most people who are sentenced to death are innocent but have confessed under constraint of torture and violence. In addition there is discrimination in implementing the death penalty for religious reasons, while militias’ activities of those who govern the country, go unpunished. The Iraqi government applies capital punishment to adjust political accounts or on behalf of religious faith. It is easy to focus into others responsibility for acts of terrorism (…) who might be convicted at all costs. »

Nasser Abood points out that five people were executed although innocent. He feels very lonely and without political support:

«Unfortunately, the government does not support the abolition of the death penalty. »

At northeast, in the Iraqi Kurdistan, the situation seems different. In Erbil, Mustapha Chouaf, coordinator of the Coalition of Kurdistan against the death penalty, a moratorium on executions is real. The last execution took place three years ago:

«When we speak of Iraq we should actually speak of two distinct geographical entities: Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraq. In Iraqi Kurdistan the death penalty does not apply, not so in the rest of Iraq. For example, in Iraqi Kurdistan, there are people incarcerated over 18 years, but they are not executed. There is awareness that Kurdistan should stop executions permanently. In Iraq, where the number of executions of persons who committed terrorist attacks has multiplied, the number of these attacks has been increasing. Executions did not reduce violence. So the death penalty is useless. »

Mustapha Chouaf has proposed to parliament of Iraqi Kurdistan a project to commute death sentences to 20 years imprisonment penalties. Over time, he would like to apply the abolition to all crimes by law. In the region the reluctance to such proposal is important while politicians hide behind the arguments of public opinion pressure or religious arguments. And it is Jordan who wants to be an example –as explains Mohhammad Altaraune, Judge of the High Criminal Court in Amman, and who also leads the Arab Coalition Against the Death Penalty:

«The last execution took place three years ago, when death penalty was abolished for ten rules, and, in cooperation with Parliament and civil society, we hope to abolish it for verified crimes as well. There is no reluctance from community if people are aware of the importance of resisting to the death penalty. »

Except Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and Yemen, with the largest number of death penalty executions in the region –not to talk of Syria at war–, the remaining states in the region spot a moratorium, but they remain very reluctant to take a conclusive step towards the death penalty abolition –including Egypt and Lebanon.

Business and Human Rights, a difficult bridal

After six years in office the UN Special Representative for Business and Human Rights, Professor John Ruggie, acknowledges that he has made ​​progress in his job since his appointment in 2005, but he has been mainly driven by many NGOs that accused for decades the companies’ manners in some countries, particularly international businesses. Carlos Lopez, a senior legal advisor to the International Commission of Jurists, an NGO based in Geneva, reports that national and international corporations – and the states from which they originate – are opposed to excessively restrictive obligations or texts.

These firms consider that these rules could affect their ability to compete against other companies from China, India or Russia, which have different standards. But precisely a hundred years ago, the International Labour Organisation was created to establish standards that everyone would agree to meet.

It goes now beyond the rights of workers. Some suggest e.g. a set of standards, such as the right to a healthy environment. But businesses and their respective states do not want to hear about it. They say we must leave the markets go without putting rules that may impede business operations. Otherwise, facing too many binding rules (eg. taxes), they are afraid they will make less profit. There’s the rub.

A country where standards should urgently be implemented is the Democratic Republic of Congo. Navanethem Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has repeatedly criticized the serious violations of human rights in the region, breaches connected to the mining activities and the extraction of natural resources, which are often contracted with transnational industries.

Many armed groups control these areas and they do it for economic reasons. They want to make a lucrative profit because these regions are rich in minerals. It is very well described in the meddling report to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is precisely in these pockets controlled by armed groups that mining is organized. They manage resource exploitation in situations of terrible abuse that could be defined as international crimes. In addition, international companies and companies located in other countries buy these minerals and are therefore involved in transactions. So there are different levels of involvement of foreign companies. And the international community does little to change that.

Yet the situation in DRC is closely followed by the Security Council. It has established codes of conduct and asks corporations to pay particular attention to the fact that minerals mined in the DRC do not benefit armed groups and do not help fueling the conflict. Companies should have clearer objectives in terms of respect for human rights. It should set more rules to ensure that the entire chain, all activities in any way, do not violate human rights. And that in addition they do not contribute to ensure that others do so.

Last June John Ruggie’s mandate ended. The first Special Representative of the UN for Business and Human Rights has succeeded anyway adopting common principles. However, he did not want that these principles were binding. Thus, only the goodwill shall prevail. That is a bit thin in the competitive world of these often lawlessness areas where victims have often no remedy at law.

The Horn of Africa, a recurring scenario of drought and famine

Refugees from Somalia have to walk for days to reach Dadaab camp

The Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya are grappling with the arrival of thousands of people fleeing drought and fighting in neighboring Somalia. Many, especially children, fail to survive the long journey.

Some 2,000 people have been arriving every day in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps from Somalia, Ethiopia and drought-stricken areas in Kenya. Many walk for weeks to get there. Young children, in particular, often don’t survive the long journey or succumb to exhaustion and severe malnutrition even after reaching the camps. The Dadaab camps are currently home to some 350,000 people.

Crop failure, droughts and floods are not the only causes of hunger. Corruption, mismanagement and bad governance are mainly to blame for catastrophes such as the current famine in the Horn of Africa.

Every day, between 1,000 and 2,000 refugees from Somalia come to the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya. They are fleeing from hunger – and from a nation which isn’t a country at all. The situation is so chaotic in southern Somalia, that it’s even dangerous for aid workers to go there. Rebel groups are spreading fear and terror among the population, blocking desperately needed food aid and making any possible help from the outside world impossible.

Add to this the extreme drought. The result is that many who are already living at the poverty level and below are robbed of their last chance to survive. The food scarcity is causing prices to soar. Whoever can’t pay them starves. Millet is a very important foodstuff in Somalia and is twice as expensive as it was just a short time ago. The people don’t have any choices anymore.

Democracy can battle hunger

But there’s no government to blame for the catastrophe in Somalia. The country is a classic example of a failed state. There is neither a government nor an administration. In these cases, hunger crises are practically inevitable.

The Indian economist and Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen proved that acute famine hardly occurs anymore in democracies. However, chronic hunger can prevail under democratically elected governments, as well. This means many people remain undernourished, but they don’t die in large numbers as a result.

Over a billion people worldwide are starving. This leads to a high level of childhood mortality, physical and mental handicaps and hopeless poverty.

Ethiopia can’t battle the problem

The catastrophe currently raging in the Horn of Africa is not daily hunger, though, but rather a famine of biblical dimensions. There are people starving to death during their flight, children who often don’t survive the weeks-long march to the Kenyan refugee camps in Dadaab, or who die shortly after arriving because they are already too weakened to survive.

They come from Somalia or Ethiopia, where the government is also in a desperate battle against hunger.

Ethiopia has invested enormously in the agrarian sector in the past 10 years. Every year, the number of starving has sunk by one to one-and-a-half percent, but beginning at a very high level.

However, the measures aren’t enough. Ethiopia belongs to the poorest countries in the world. The rapid growth in population makes it difficult to expand the agricultural sector sufficiently and ensure food security. A devastating drought like the one right now cannot be thwarted by investments in rural development. Those people who have lost their land or animals due to the drought can only resort to fleeing.

Promises need to be fulfilled

In the long-term, consistent investments in agriculture and poverty reduction is the only thing which could prevent hunger catastrophes like this one. And these need to be investments that are transparent and sustainable – without the funds seeping away through corruption and nepotism. All that, without leaving Africa back in the hands of agribusiness or predatory countries that acquire African land for monocultures and speculation on cereals (China, South Korea); by facilitating and promoting the capitalization of small-scale agricultural projects, local and traditional (encouraging microfinance at all possible levels to generate self-sustaining economies that will fuel food self-sufficiency) — instead of capital investments seeking a return on investment in the short-term.

African Union’s so-called Maputo agreement is welcomed for sure. In 2003, African countries pledged to invest 10 percent of their entire budget into agriculture. Unfortunately, Kenya for example, where the drought is threatening hundreds of thousands of people, has not kept this promise. Additional funds or food reserves need to be put aside for acute crises like this one. Or the international donor community has to be asked for help. But this additional aid by the international community has flowed fairly sparsely – despite all the promises. And it is by far not enough to battle a catastrophe of this degree. UN agencies have a mandate by the governments to help these people, but not the necessary funds.

Many aid organizations are already warning of the next famine: in South Sudan, which has just become independent. The UN’s youngest member nation is marked by a shortage of funds, lacking government competence and growing corruption. The downward spiral continues to turn.

Related Posts: The Horn of Africa – An everlasting battleground