THE UNITED NATIONS - When Member States signed the United Nations Charter 75 years ago, it was to prevent more existential conflicts and save succeeding generations from a third world war. Conflict prevention is part of the Organization’s DNA and remains a central priority today, a guiding principle behind the UN Secretary-General’s current call for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic.


On Friday, UN-mediated efforts yielded a potentially historic ceasefire accord between the warring parties in Libya, led the UN Support Mission, UNSMIL, hailed by Acting Special Representative and UNSMIL head, Stephanie Williams, as a "decisive and courageous first stop towards a comprehensive settlement".

Saturday is UN Day, when the Charter officially came into force, so we are taking this opportunity to look back at three-quarters of a century of hard and dedicated effort, to prevent conflict and war.


Conflict prevention in five not-always-easy steps


Step one, is to have a finger on the pulse wherever tensions are running high. This requires being on the ground to best understand what is really going on, and how to diffuse it.

The UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) has more than 35 special political missions around the world, to keep an eye out for developing situations.

Second, is to work the political track early, by maintaining connections with Government officials and other key players. For this reason, DPPA officers maintain close contact with key actors in all 193 UN Member States.

The third element is to include many voices, such as those of women and youth, to build consensus and momentum for peace.

Partnerships is the fourth component – including with regional organizations and international financial institutions – to link short-term political work with longer-term peacebuilding and development efforts.
Finally, and most importantly, is to focus political will from all actors, to thwart conflicts.


What are so-called good offices?


With those five building blocks present, prevention works.

However, when they are not, the UN uses its good offices, derived from the UN Charter and developed through extensive practice, toward the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Mediation can be set in motion by the UN chief himself or in response to a request from the Security Council, the General Assembly or a party to a dispute.

As part of its good offices, UN envoys or special advisers are currently working to resolve conflicts in Myanmar, Yemen and Syria.


And special political missions?


Among other things, DPPA manages Special Political Missions (SPMs) in the field to prevent conflict, mediate peace and help countries rebuild post-conflict, throughout the world.

Each mission provides country-specific diplomacy and other activities to avoid and mediate armed conflict. They also coordinate with national and other UN actors on the ground to support complex political transitions.

Recent successes in Colombia and the Southern Philippines, as well as the resolution of the name issue between Greece and North Macedonia, are evidence that the settlement of conflicts is possible “even in an increasingly complex world”, according to Teresa Whitfield, Director of DPPA’s Policy and Mediation Division.


Mediation hurdles


However, divisive geopolitics, the resurgence of populism and increased outside involvement in civil wars, are hampering peacemaking efforts in many places.

“Enthusiasm for mediation as a tool to prevent and resolve armed conflict has never been more vocal, nor mediators busier”, said Ms. Whitfield.

Mediation has long relied on a capacity for human interaction and with the complexity of today’s armed conflicts, mediators have had to develop new tools, practices and strategies.

The UN, along with international and regional non-governmental organizations, States and a broad array of local actors, may all be involved in working to revolve a single conflict.

Mediators today are impeded by a range of challenges, such as conflict fragmentation; the involvement of non-State armed groups; political, economic and ideological agendas; porous borders that facilitate the movement of armed groups; and systemic factors, such as climate change.

Citing renewed divisions between Russia and the United States, new tensions between the US and China as well as Sunni-Shi’a divisions with impacts across and beyond the Arab world, Ms. Whitfield pointed out that negotiations are also “thwarted by a heady, and often toxic, combination of divisive geopolitics”.


The long haul


The demands for mediation to meet the complex challenges of today’s armed conflict are urgent and long-term endeavours, Ms. Whitfield explained.

She upheld that “a mediator will be in for a marathon effort, perhaps a relay, rarely a sprint” and must consider engagements and strategies at multiple levels with numerus actors.

And while working in the shadow of geopolitics, the UN must also be conscious of grounding the legitimacy of a peace process within, as well as beyond, combatants themselves.

For all of this, the UN DPPA official stressed the need to maximize new technologies, paying particular attention to the next generation, while thinking about structural issues for incremental progress towards a sustainable peace.

 

 

Europe

WAN-IFRA and UNESCO join forces to support journalism in face of existential threat

PARIS - UNESCO and the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) are joining forces to address the impending global emergency facing independent journalism.

The announcement of the co-operation was made at the 40th-anniversary celebration of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), an inter-governmental forum for media development.

As the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact, the decimation of journalism in many areas of the world constitutes a growing threat, bringing existing challenges to a tipping point. Each month brings new reports of job losses in journalism and the closure of once-vibrant local media outlets, says WAN-IFRA.

“Professional, independent journalism is critical for providing populations with life-saving information during this crisis and plays an essential role in building and strengthening our democracies, justice and peace,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay. “We are deeply concerned about the pandemic’s impact on local economies threatening the viability of local news media and we are committed to leading global efforts to overcome this challenge.”

As part of the new initiative, a number of joint activities will be undertaken in coordination with a range of partners, including governments, media, civil society, financial institutions, internet companies and other private corporations, philanthropic organisations, individual donors, advertisers and investors.

The two organisations will co-operate to research the extent of the crisis, consult with stakeholders, share knowledge and present policy recommendations that could help support the viability of the news media. WAN-IFRA, with its membership of 3,000 news publishing companies, and 60 national associations representing 18,000 publications in 120 countries, will bring its experience, extensive data and international networks to the initiative.

The envisaged outcomes of the initiative are:

National, donor and corporate policy agendas have established more strongly the value of a range of mechanisms for support to independent media.
Independent media are sharing knowledge on best practices of media viability and resilience, and innovating their business models and their advocacy accordingly.
Knowledge built about challenges and solutions to business models in the global south and is being used by key media development stakeholders (media, state, private sector, Internet companies, civil society).
UNESCO Member States are reflecting on media viability at the global level, impacting on norms through raising awareness of the crisis and the need for remedial actions.
The objective is to help catalyse new forms of sustainable business models, especially for community media and those in the global South, and establish the appropriate mechanisms to ensure urgent support, while respecting media editorial independence and integrity.

“Through this initiative, UNESCO and WAN-IFRA are committed to reaffirming the democratic norms essential to the functioning of society,” said the President of WAN-IFRA, Fernando de Yarza. “We hope to see the agendas of governments, major donors and public policy experts converge on the vital need to strengthen support for a free, independent press thanks to the solutions this work will propose.”

Independent journalism, says WAN-IFRA, will be more critical than ever in shaping the societies that emerge as the world rebuild following this global crisis. If independent journalism is lost as a public good, everyone loses. Without this initiative, much of the news media as we know it may disappear. Much of that which remains will likely be operating with fewer reporters and weakened professional standards and independence.

 

LONDON - The British Society of Editors has acted with alarm at reports that the Government is operating a secretive ‘Clearing House’ to vet Freedom of Information (FoI) requests and share personal information about journalists.

The report by openDemocracy claims some journalists face being blacklisted in an attempt by the government to avoid the requirements under the FoI legislation.

In its special report ‘Art of Darkness,’ openDemocracy sets out how the unit based in Michael Gove’s Cabinet Officer instructs Whitehall departments on how to respond to information requests, acting as a clearing house for as many as 70 departments and public bodies.

Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE which ran its own successful campaign to prevent government from emasculating FoI in 2015, said if proved this was an extremely sinister turn of events.

“Freedom of Information is vital to any functioning democracy and if this government or any other seeks to subvert that basic right of UK citizens to know what is being done in their name then we are all in big trouble.

“That this is coming from a government where the Prime Minister is himself a journalist makes this all the more disturbing. We had hoped that Boris Johnson was on the side of a free press holding politicians to account.

“We will be seeking urgent responses from the government to the validity of these claims and if true to demand that Freedom of Information legislation be adhered to not just in name but in spirit and that the sharing of private details of journalists ceases immediately,” added Murray.

In revealing its findings, openDemocracy said: “Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are supposed to be ‘applicant-blind’: meaning who makes the request should not matter. But it now emerges that government departments and non-departmental public bodies have been referring ‘sensitive’ FOI requests from journalists and researchers to the Clearing House in Gove’s department in a move described by a shadow cabinet minister as “blacklisting”.

“This secretive FOI unit gives advice to other departments “to protect sensitive information” and collates lists of journalists with details about their work. These lists have included journalists from openDemocracy, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and many more.

“The unit has also signed off on FOI responses from other Whitehall departments – effectively centralising control within Gove’s office over what information is released to the public.”

Responding to openDemocracy’s questions about the Clearing House, a government spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Office plays an important role through the FOI Clearing House of ensuring there is a standard approach across government in the way we consider and respond to requests.

“With increasing transparency, we receive increasingly more complex requests under Freedom of Information. We must balance the public need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information and ensure national security.”

Earlier this year, Number 10 was criticised after it barred openDemocracy from COVID press briefings. The Ministry of Defence was also subsequently accused of ‘blacklisting’ DeclassifiedUK after the department refused to provide comment to the investigative website.

The full report at openDemocracy can be read here: https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/uk-government-running-orwellian-unit-to-block-release-of-sensitive-information/

 

BRUSSELS - Statement by Evelyn Regner, on behalf of the members of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

‘‘We, the members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, are deeply concerned by the repeated government attacks on women’s rights and the relentless attempts to roll back the reproductive rights of women in Poland.

This culminated in the recent decision of the Constitutional Tribunal, aiming to further limiting the already restricted grounds on which women can lawfully access abortion in Poland. This will lead to even further increase the proportion of abortions that take place in secret and unsafe conditions, revealing the dark realities of abortion in Poland today. We strongly condemn the Court’s ruling that puts women’s health and lives at risk and is violating its international human rights obligations as stated by the European Court of Human Rights.

In a determined and energetic way, Polish women fought back, as they did on previous occasions, which mobilised the largest protests the country has witnessed since the 1989 collapse of communism. This is a massive demonstration of the empowerment of Polish women despite the conditions they find themselves in after legal and political changes have undermined the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in Poland.

With pride, we look at your courageous fight for your rights and we want to express, as already on previous occasions, our full support of and solidarity with Polish women.

We strongly denounce the violence and attacks that have been committed against peaceful demonstrators during protests.

You, Polish women and fellow protesters, have achieved the suspension of the implementation of the Court ruling. This is a step in the right direction but not the end of the battle.

The upcoming discussions will show how seriously women’s reproductive health and rights are taken. You can be assured that we will monitor closely further developments and that we will, with all the means that we have at our disposal, fully support the fight for your health and rights.’’

 

 

By Patrick Tucker, Defence One, 20 November 2020


Latest cyber wargame shows new uses for honeypots, which have worked against the Russians in the past.


Imagine you’re a young cyber officer in the Russian military looking to break into the defended network of a NATO government. You identify a target, a person whose credentials you could steal to gain access to the network and then perhaps move from node to node, looking for sensitive information to exfiltrate. You send your target a phishing email. The target clicks the link. You’re in! But later on, you learn that the information you stole was meaningless and you may have exposed your own techniques or tools. Your adversary wanted you to succeed in the hack — to get information on you.

This is the value of honeypots, a deceptive cybersecurity practice that NATO used as part of its most recent exercise, NATO Cyber Coalition, which took place in Estonia and other locations from Nov. 16 to 20.

The exercise, coordinated through Estonia’s Cyber Security Training Centre, brought in more than 1,000 participants. Previous exercises have strived to mimic real-world challenges, such as Russian hybrid warfare techniques.

This year, “We put [out] machines that are sacrificial, that are what we call honeypots or honeynets,” said Alberto Domingo, a technical director for Cyberspace at the NATO Supreme Allied Transform Command on a call with reporters and other observers on Friday. “The idea is that the adversary will find it easier to attack these machines without knowing and they will do that and we will be preserving the information for NATO and interacting with this adversary.”

This experiment took the concept a further than standard use of deception techniques, he said by “working with the adversary without his knowing...in order to derive: ‘what is their behavior?’”

The objective is to collect intelligence on the adversary without their being aware of it. “It’s answering the questions of who is the adversary? What type of adversary are we talking about? What do they want and what are they going to do next?” said Domingo.

The use of honeypots by governments is a relatively recent phenomenon.

In April 2017 Deborah Frincke, then NSA’s director of research, discussed how her agency had also begun to experiment with deceptive tactics as a means of gathering intelligence on adversaries.

During a breakfast put together by the National Defense Industry Association, Frincke said that a lot of commercially available cybersecurity software gave adversaries too much room to explore its vulnerabilities. It was too easy, she said, just to buy a copy of the software and hunt for an attack that didn’t set off obvious alarms.

“There are ways we can get defenses right and ways we can get defenses wrong. So if you always put out a system that always tells an adversary always when they’ve beaten it, that’s probably not the most productive way to proceed. If they sometimes will get feedback that’s incorrect, deceptive, that might be a better thing,” said Frincke. She said the NSA was looking at “Where might we go in terms of understanding defenses. We might think about defensive deception, for instance.”

Frinke said honeypots can give you a window into the adversary’s mindset. They can help answer such questions as “what will the adversary tend to do? How long will they keep at a task before they move? Can we use that to determine between a [human] adversary and an automated system?…Can we make them go away, worn out, or become indecisive? That’s getting at what is the cognitive load of the system we’re throwing at them. Can we give them a little more information that might actually be counterproductive to them, especially if it’s sometimes wrong? So you can start playing those games of what the adversary is actually doing…and think about it from a psychosocial standpoint, how much does that buy you?”

Just a month after Frincke gave that talk, Russian GRU actors attempted to breach the presidential campaign of French politician Emmanuel Macron. But unlike the DNC in 2016, the French had advance warning that they were targets. Macron’s team set up their own honeypot defense.

“We created false accounts, with false content, as traps. We did this massively, to create the obligation for them to verify, to determine whether it was a real account,” the campaign’s digital director Mounir Mahjoubi told the New York Times. “I don’t think we prevented them. We just slowed them down,” Mahjoubi said. “Even if it made them lose one minute, we’re happy,”

Ian West, the chief of NATO’s Cybersecurity Centre, wouldn't say whether NATO currently employs honeypots in real-world settings. “We can’t go into what we do or don’t do in terms of our tactics,” West said. “We use every defensive means that’s available to us in order to defend our networks.”

But according to Frincke, the NSA conducted a series of internal exercises, which led to some surprising findings. “Does attacker awareness of defensive deception change its effectiveness? By and large,” she said, “it doesn’t.”

 

 

Mediterranean

By ANDREW RETTMAN

BRUSSELS - Russia is the dominant power in the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey is a rising one, and the West's "golden days" in the region are long gone, according to Italy's former military chief.

"Russia is the pre-eminent naval power in the Mediterranean ... [and] it has earned this role in the field," admiral (retired) Luigi Binelli Mantelli, who was head of Italy's armed forces from 2013 to 2015, told EUobserver in an interview.

Russian conventional firepower included two modern frigates, two submarines, and a destroyer, most of them with land-attack missile systems, permanently stationed in the western Mediterranean, he said.

It was seeking a naval base in Libya and had an "advanced" one in Syria, he added.

It can link its Mediterranean fleet with Black and Caspian Seas units, he noted.

And it can back its fleet with air power from Russia or "forward-deployed aircraft in other countries, such as Syria," Binelli Mantelli said.

The Kremlin also had the political edge, he said.

"In recent years, Russia has displayed a level of assertiveness that recalls the US during the golden days," Binelli Mantelli said, referring to the end of the Cold War, some 30 years ago.

"[Russian president Vladimir] Putin's decisiveness is evident, in terms of both freedom of action at the political and military level, and his ability to create relationships ... with countries in the area," Binelli Mantelli, who was speaking in a purely personal capacity, said.

One of these countries was Turkey, with which Russia is carving up the South Caucasus.

Turkey was also a rising Mediterranean force, the Italian admiral noted.

"It's on its way to acquiring a significant power-projection capability with the new amphibious-assault ship Anadolu, [which] can be configured as a light aircraft carrier," he said, referring to a Turkish-built vessel.

If it put vertical take-off and landing F-35 jets on board, Turkey would "gain additional regional relevance," he added.

And Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also had an edge, Binelli Mantelli said.

His recent war with Azerbaijan to reconquer the Nagorno-Karabakh region from Armenia "provided Erdoğan with an additional strategic testbed for demonstrating his political assertiveness," Binelli Mantelli said.

The South Caucasus peace deal, brokered, last week, by Russia, cemented Putin's role as "primary arbiter" of events, the Italian admiral said.

It came after Putin and Erdoğan helped each other to become "absolute masters of the scene" in conflicts in Libya and Syria.

And it came after Turkish warships intimidated French and Greek ones in other disputes in recent months.


Erdoğan's game


Turkey has been a Nato member since 1952 and, for Binelli Mantelli, it was out of the question that Putin could ever peel away Erdoğan from the Western alliance.

"I am definitely against the idea that Turkey could break away from Nato. I don't see any interest for Ankara to do so," Binelli Mantelli said.

"In the first place, for the free access to intelligence available to Nato nations", which helped Turkey in multiple theatres, he said.

But, for Binelli Mantelli, Erdoğan was, nevertheless, "playing the 'one foot in both shoes' game" with Putin to advance Turkish ambition.

And their games had "destabilised" the status quo.

Russia and Turkey had pushed out "traditional peace-providers, such as the US, Nato, or any other European actor with interests in those countries [Libya and Syria]," Binelli Mantelli said.

"In this sense, I see Nato's relevance being put seriously at stake [in the Mediterranean]," he said.

Part of the change was due to US redeployments, he noted.

"Nowadays, US Sixth Fleet consistency and engagement [in the Mediterranean] is nothing compared to what it was before the collapse of the USSR," Binelli Mantelli said.

The fact the US recently moved warships from Italy to Spain was "emblematic" of a "swing of US interests from the Mediterranean to the African seas," he added.

The French "Force de dissuasion" was still "a significant naval power", the Italian admiral noted.

But the Italian navy was starved of funds, due to Italy's "sea-blindness", he said.


'Sad spectacle'


And even if the French "Force de Frappe" was to be reckoned with on paper, "what matters, anyhow, is the willingness to act", Binelli Mantelli said.

"As I said before: It's a matter of lack of [Western] assertiveness," he said.

Nato, in recent years, had deployed new forces in the Baltic Sea region, but it was "no longer the deterring organisation able and eager to show its muscles in the Mediterranean arena, as it did in the good old times," he added.

Recalling Nato drills such as "Dragon Hammer", in the early 1990s, which involved aircraft carriers and amphibious landings in Turkey to repel potential Russian invasion, Binelli Mantelli said Western powers had drifted "far away" from their former superiority.

"The Western bloc, with Europe leading this unfortunate enterprise ... is becoming less and less credible in its willingness to commit, on the field, rather than through endless diplomatic talks, to international stability [in Europe's southern neighbourhood]," he said.

It was a "sad spectacle", the admiral noted.

"Nato is too much land-centric, forgetting that only great maritime powers have influenced the world throughout history," he said.

 

 

By Michael Young, Malcolm H Kerr, Carnegie Middle East Center, 16 November 2020


A Biden administration may bring crisis-ridden Lebanon a reprieve, even if some things will remain the same.

 

The election of Joe Biden has led to much speculation among the Lebanese about what this might mean for their country and the wider region. Too small to be noticed by U.S. policymakers, Lebanon has always been susceptible to how regional and international rivalries have played out domestically, usually to its detriment.

With 2020 having been a year of tragedy for Lebanon—between the country’s continuing economic breakdown, the horrific explosion of August 4, and the uninterrupted stalemate imposed by a depraved political class—a somewhat less pitiful outlook may actually be in the offing. The Middle East will go through major changes in the four years ahead, some of which may actually calm the fraught atmosphere in Lebanon, even if we shouldn’t expect these to immediately improve the country’s financial and economic situation.

One outcome of the Biden administration’s victory is that it may provoke a change in the behavior of the Gulf states, above all Saudi Arabia. For some time the Saudis have had increasing doubts about the willingness of the United States to defend the kingdom if it is threatened by Iran. The Saudis welcomed the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. However, they also saw that when their oil installations in Abqaiq were attacked in September 2019, allegedly by Yemen’s Ansar Allah but most probably by the Iranians themselves, Washington did not retaliate.

The arrival of a Biden administration will not have reassured the Saudis. The president-elect has criticized the kingdom’s actions in Yemen, its human rights violations, and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which the Central Intelligence Agency concluded was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Riyadh will doubtless feel more vulnerable in the coming years, and one outcome of this could be that the kingdom will try to lower tensions with Iran to avoid conflicts it might lose.

Where might this lead? Perhaps to greater flexibility in Yemen, where the Saudis have already implicitly recognized that their efforts to reverse the gains of Ansar Allah have failed. Today, the Yemen war has been transformed into one in which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are pursuing other aims—whether Riyadh’s priority to protect the Saudi borders or the UAE’s focus on backing southern separatists. Beyond that, Saudi Arabia is looking for an exit, although it wants to avoid a humiliation that could undermine the succession of Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the Saudi-led campaign.

Another place that may feel a change in Saudi attitudes is Lebanon. While the Saudis will not go back to the days when they poured money into the country, a more accommodating approach toward Iran could lead to a revival of Saudi support for S‘ad al-Hariri, who has struggled in recent years to secure Riyadh’s approval. Hariri has maintained open channels to Hezbollah, which cost him with Saudi decisionmakers. But if Saudi Arabia replicates that approach with Iran, this can only enhance Hariri’s credibility. More importantly, as the Saudi-Turkish rivalry has escalated around the region, it would make sense for the Saudis to invest in an ally in Beirut who can rally Sunnis to the kingdom and away from Turkey.

If this scenario were to take place, it could improve Sunni-Shi‘a relations in Lebanon, but also modify Hezbollah’s calculations. The party has held to its alliance with Michel Aoun and his son in law Gebran Bassil. It has done so because Aoun’s position as president has lent official legitimacy to Hezbollah, which will not surrender such an advantage. However, a reinvigorated Hariri may oblige the party to take a more balanced attitude in the contentious relationship between Hariri and Bassil, particularly if it means pushing Bassil toward concessions that facilitate an international aid package for Lebanon.

Certainly, Hezbollah will always aim to exploit a situation in which it can play Hariri and Bassil off one another to its own advantage. However, if Hezbollah faces a galvanized Sunni partner, this could make possible agreements on major decisions that ameliorate the economic situation, which is what Lebanon needs most today. In fact, if the party’s ties with the Sunnis improve, Hezbollah may find that they are far more valuable in its standoff with Washington than relations with a Christian leader under U.S. sanctions.

A second thing that may reassure the Lebanese is that Trump’s departure will momentarily sideline the political actors and think tanks in Washington, many of them close to Israel, that have pushed for a much harder U.S. line on Lebanon.

For some time Israel viewed the Obama administration’s approach to the Middle East, justifiably, as a radical break with previous behavior. By empowering Iran through the nuclear deal signed with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, the United States implicitly recognized Iran’s stakes in the region, and provided it with a means to fund its policies. Israel saw this as a threat, even more so as the agreement lifted restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program by 2025. That’s why it strongly encouraged President Donald Trump to withdraw from the agreement.

There was a Lebanese dimension to this reaction. To anchor their gains against Iran, the Israelis and their friends in Washington sought to extend these to Hezbollah. That is why they have disseminated a narrative in the past two years that Lebanon and Hezbollah are the same thing, a line initially peddled by Israel’s defense minister Avigdor Lieberman. By tightening the noose on Lebanon and supporting a cutoff of financial aid, Israel and its followers hope to create instability, even a civil war, that would neutralize Hezbollah.

A significant step in that direction came last June, when the Republican Study Committee (RSC), made up of conservative Republican members of the House of Representatives, released a national security strategy. One of the objectives in the document is to squeeze Iran and its allies. Among its recommendations is that the United States end security assistance to Lebanon, sanction Hezbollah’s allies, and pass legislation “prohibiting any taxpayer money to the [International Monetary Fund] from going to a bailout of Lebanon.” Such a bailout, the RSC affirmed, would “only reward Hezbollah at a time [when] protesters in Lebanon are demanding an end to corruption and standing against Hezbollah’s rule.”

Since the document repeated almost verbatim what conservative think tankers in Washington had written, it was more than probable that portions of it were drafted by these same think tanks, which have been very influential in shaping the Trump administration’s policies. That these individuals will no longer have the same sway as before may give Lebanon a reprieve from maximalist U.S. policies that would be far more likely to destroy Lebanon and impoverish its population than wrestle it free from Hezbollah’s grip.

It may be going too far to assume a radical shift will take place under the Biden administration. U.S. pressure on Hezbollah will continue, as might the sanctioning of Lebanese politicians. Israel’s preferences will continue to have weight in Washington, particularly in Congress. However, Biden and his team will deal with Iran differently than Trump. They will also be more willing to listen to those, particularly in Europe, who warn against measures that are destined to bring about Lebanon’s ruin. With Biden focused on domestic affairs, it would make no sense for his administration to countenance policies that could turn Lebanon into a failed state, which might impose renewed U.S. intervention in the Middle East.

Lebanon is far from being out of the woods when it comes to the United States. But as the country faces multiple and serious crises—from the economic collapse to the challenges of Covid-19—the notion of making the whole county pay for the crimes of those who have misgoverned it may no longer be valid. Lebanon needs a break, and that message will circulate better once Biden takes office.

 

 

BY MARWAN MUASHER, Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, 09 November 2020


The Biden administration is likely to alter U.S. policy toward the Middle East in three key ways.

 

Whereas large sectors of Arab public opinion held the view prior to the U.S. elections that it made no difference whether Joe Biden or Donald Trump became president, when it comes to issues facing the Arab world, a close examination suggests otherwise. There is no doubt that the United States is seen largely in a monolithic, and negative, way in Arab countries because of its longstanding support for Israel. However, there are three key areas affecting the region that will, most probably, be dealt with differently under the Biden administration than under the outgoing Trump administration.

First, the approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict will change. The Trump administration adopted a policy of total support for the Israeli position, driven by its wish to attract the evangelical vote in the United States, as well as by the personal and ideological relationship of Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son in law, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The net result was a one-sided plan, erroneously dubbed “the deal of the century,” that gave Israel a green light to annex large areas of the West Bank. This was in direct contravention not only to international law but also to United Nations resolutions of which the United States had approved. More dangerously, such a step, if implemented, would kill the two-state solution and negatively affect Jordan’s security.

It is probably true that the Biden administration will not regard the Middle East as a priority, and will focus, instead, on the huge domestic divide in the United States. But while a new administration will not reverse some key steps adopted by its predecessor, including the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it will surely abandon the Trump peace plan. In that way it will deny Israel the green light it had to disregard international law and prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Furthermore, a Biden administration is unlikely to exert pressure on Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel—Sudan, for example—without asking anything from Israel in return. These agreements are giving Israelis the false impression that they need not reach a deal with the Palestinians, with whom they share the same land, and can achieve peace and stability in the region without working for such an agreement. Biden might not regard working on the Arab-Israeli issue a priority, but nor will he be willing to go along with the illusion that there can be stability without genuine peace.

Second, on universal values and human rights, it is rare for any country in the world to place a rights-based approach to international affairs above its national interests. The United Sates is no exception. However, Trump has belittled the idea of human rights and pluralistic values to the point that many countries in the region read this as implicit consent for abusing their population. The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a notable example of this. While Biden is not expected to totally reverse Trump’s policy, his presidency may at least put up an orange light to such practices.

Third, on dealing with Iran, many Gulf states supported Trump because of the hardline position he adopted and because they saw the nuclear agreement that president Barack Obama concluded with Tehran as having failed to halt Iranian interference in the affairs of Arab countries. Biden will not be able to turn the clock back to the Obama period and ignore this legitimate fear among many Arab states. He will have to factor their feelings of threat into any renegotiation of a deal. Iran’s dire economic situation, caused by U.S. sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic, might push the country’s leaders to adopt a more lenient position.

There is a stark fact that many Arabs have not recognized, namely that the Middle East has stopped being a high priority for the United States. This reality predated Trump. The decline in the importance of Arab oil, coupled with the blowback from the Iraq war, has convinced many Americans that their interventions in the region have not brought stability. Even their support for authoritarian regimes failed to do so, given the Arab uprisings that began in 2010 and 2011. Nor was it a coincidence that the United States started “pivoting” towards China during the Obama years, in an effort to channel its energies toward a rising economic superpower. That will also have an effect in the Arab world, where efforts by some governments to try to check China’s rising regional economic influence in order to appease the Trump administration might be eased.

The United States’ declining interest in the Middle East does not mean that the peoples of the region should brush aside the results of the election, or view Republicans and Democrats as two sides of the same coin. A president Biden might not affect the region positively, but the departure of Trump will take away an approach that allowed Israel to annex more Palestinian and Arab land and violate human rights under American cover. Indeed, Trump allowed many countries to violate human rights on his watch. We might take some solace in the fact that we may soon see changes in such behavior.

 

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM - Israel moved ahead on Sunday with a settler housing plan in a sensitive area near East Jerusalem, a step critics said was aimed at shoring up the project before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

On its website, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) invited contractor bids for building 1,257 homes in Givat Hamatos, under a plan revived in February by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after it had been effectively frozen by international opposition.

Bidding ends on Jan. 18, the ILA said, two days before Biden is to be sworn in to replace President Donald Trump, whose administration has been supportive of Israeli settlement on occupied land Palestinians seek for a state.

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement that settlements were illegal under international law and the tender was part of Israeli efforts “to kill the internationally-backed two-state solution”.

Opponents of the project say it would sever parts of East Jerusalem from the nearby Palestinian town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, an issue European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell raised, saying he was “deeply worried” by the tender.

“This is a key location between Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. Any settlement construction will cause serious damage to the prospects for a viable and contiguous Palestinian State,” Borrell said in a statement.

The ILA gave no date for the start of construction.

Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, accused Netanyahu’s government of “taking advantage of the final weeks of the Trump administration in order to set facts on the ground” at Givat Hamatos.

Israel cites historical, political and biblical links to the West Bank and over 440,000 Israeli settlers live there, among three million Palestinians.

As vice president in Democrat Barack Obama’s administration, Biden, on a visit to Israel and the West Bank in 2010, publicly scolded Israel over a plan it announced during his trip to build 1,600 homes in the Ramat Shlomo settlement.

But Biden said during the recent presidential campaign that he will not reverse Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, whose future status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Israel’s capital.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said Washington no longer viewed Jewish settlements in areas captured in the 1967 Middle East war as “inconsistent with international law”. He is to visit Israel as part of a foreign trip now under way.

North Africa

Menas Associates, London, 19 November 2020

The question of whether Algeria might trigger a war in the Western Sahara sounds far-fetched, and we believe it is. However, under the current prevailing circumstances in Algeria, the question should not be dismissed quite so lightly.

Several of our Algerian sources believe that the latest incident — which involved the Polisario blockading the strategic ‘West Coast’ road that crosses the Western Sahara buffer zone, or ‘no man’s land’, between Guerguerat and the Mauritanian border — is a deliberate act of provocation by elements within the Algerian regime.

Menas Associates does not share this view, but recognises, for reasons explained in the forthcoming issue of Sahara Focus, that it cannot be dismissed. Those who hold it are basing their suppositions on the fact that the Algerian regime is currently more alienated from its people than at any time since it came to power in 1962. It may therefore see a conflict with the old enemy of Morocco as a way of galvanising nationalism and bringing the regime and the populace together in common cause. That will never happen because the regime is too hated by the bulk of Algerians. However — in the same way that the regime miscalculated the 1 November referendum on the amended Constitution — it is conceivable that there are some in its ranks who have such little understanding of the reality of the country’s political crisis that they might still be clinging to such hopes.

More significantly, the latest events come at a time when Algeria is without leadership. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is seriously ill with COVID-19 and hospitalised in Berlin, with no constitutionally authorised member of government to deputise for him. There is confusion about who, if anyone, is currently running the country.

Given the Algerian regime’s long record of fabricating such incidents, it is unsurprising that the events at Guerguerat should raise suspicions that rogue elements within the regime might use this power vacuum to provoke a confrontation with Morocco for their own purposes.

Most spats between the two countries are generally for domestic consumption, or to send a message to the UN, and generally die down within a few weeks. We would not usually even comment on such usual incidents in Sahara Focus except for the fact that the Guerguerat blockade is not simply a Maghreb matter: it has had an immediate and considerable impact on both Mauritania and countries in the ECOWAS region. Moreover, if serious fighting does break out, which we still think is unlikely, it will have a direct impact on northern Mauritania.


Algeria releases top generals to ‘assist’ management of developing crisis


As we write, we are receiving news from Algeria that the country is facing an even more serious crisis.

At around midday on 18 November the appeal court released from prison: the former DRS head, General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène; his successor, General Athmane ‘Bachir’ Tartag; former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s influential younger brother, Saïd Bouteflika; and the Parti des Travailleurs (PT) leader, Louisa Hanoune. The first three were all serving very long prison sentences while Hanoune’s sentence had already been substantially reduced.

The official reason for their release is so that they can have a retrial. According to our own sources, however, the real reason is because the current vacuum of political leadership is so serious that General Mediène — the self-styled ‘God of Algeria’ and one of the most hated and feared members of the regime, who, in practically ruled Algeria for most of the Bouteflika era until his demise in 2015 — is needed to help manage the current political crisis.

This latest crisis is being made more urgent by three new developments.

- There are strong rumours, which might now appear to be true, that President Tebboune is in a worse medical condition and is reportedly in a coma after possibly having a stroke;

- The second is that the Chief of Staff of the Army, General Saïd Chengriha, who is probably the strongest person in the country in President Tebboune’s absence, is rumoured to have been take to France earlier in the day in a serious medical condition. We emphasise that this has not yet been verified because the regime has drawn a veil of silence over both Tebboune’s and Chengriha’s states of health;

- The third element of the developing crisis is the security situation along Algeria’s border with Morocco.

 

This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, the monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region.

 

NEW YORK - Following years of political instability and conflict, Libya is making substantial progress on the path to peace, the top UN official in the country told the Security Council on Thursday.

Stephanie Williams, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN’s mission in Libya, UNSMIL, outlined recent developments including a nationwide ceasefire agreed last month and the start of political dialogue last week in neighbouring Tunisia.

“After many years of oppression, division, chaos, misery and conflict, Libyans are coming together for the sake of Libya, for the sake of their children and grandchildren, to chart a Libyan vision for the way forward that has the opportunity to preserve the country’s unity and reassert its sovereignty,” she said, speaking via video link.


Guns silenced, civilians protected


Ms. Williams recalled that the historic truce for Libya was reached in Geneva on 23 October, where a Joint Military Commission, comprising representatives from the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA), “set their differences aside and, guided by their patriotic spirit, responded to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.”

The agreement provides for the withdrawal of all military units and armed groups from the frontlines, as well as for mercenaries and foreign fighters to depart Libya, within 90 days.

With the ceasefire holding, UNSMIL has facilitated dialogue between the GNA, located in the west of the country, and the LNA, which holds power over larges areas in the east.

The Joint Military Commission has developed terms for a ceasefire- monitoring mechanism, while a coastal road critical for travel and the transportation of goods has been reopened, and a prisoner exchange programme is ongoing.

“The sharp decrease in the number of civilian casualties compared to the second quarter of 2020 is another reminder that when the guns are silenced, civilians are protected,” said Ms. Williams.


Roadmap to elections


Meanwhile, Libya is now back to producing oil following the lifting of a months-long blockade, and a project to unify and restructure forces protecting petroleum facilities is underway.

Ms. Williams convened the parties in Tunis last week, paving the start of political dialogue. The 75 participants, 16 of them women, represented Libya’s main geographical, social and political constituencies. The outcome was a political roadmap that includes elections on 24 December 2021, the 70th anniversary of Libya’s independence.

“Libyans have made it clear. Organization of presidential and parliamentary elections is their demand and must be our common objective,” she said.


No time for complacency


However, the top UN official warned “there is no time for complacency” as the situation in Libya remains volatile.

Although the Joint Military Commission seeks to operationalize the ceasefire agreement, the sides have yet to withdraw their forces, while arrangements for the distribution of oil revenues will depend on progress on the political track.

Ms. Williams also urged the international community to fully respect and support the various agreements made by the parties, stating “This Council has tools at its disposal including to prevent obstructionists from jeopardizing this rare opportunity to restore peace in Libya. I call on you to use them.”

In his address to the Council, Libya’s UN Ambassador, Taher Al-Sunni, emphasized several points for the current political dialogues to succeed, such as the need for a binding resolution to support what the Libyans agree on in their various dialogues.

Mr. Al-Sunni also spoke out against foreign intervention in his country.

“We call on the Security Council and international community to take this opportunity and to show goodwill by supporting the will of the Libyan people and their right to self-determination; not to use Libya as a way to settle scores”, he said, speaking through an interpreter.


Security and shared prosperity


While optimistic about Libya’s future, Ms. Williams said she remains “clear-eyed” about the challenges that lie ahead.

“Ten years of war cannot be solved in one week of political talks, but we hear more now the language of peace rather than the language of war,” she told ambassadors.

“Only shared responsibility, nurtured by patriotism and love of the country, can lead to the shared security and prosperity for which so many Libyans yearn. Libyans deserve, if not the support, then at least the non-interference of the main international actors as they seek to forge a sovereign political path forward for future Libyan generations.”

 

 

TUNIS - Talks to draw up a blueprint for a new political era in Libya began in Tunisia on Monday, following a peace deal struck by Libya’s warring sides last month.

“You have gathered today to continue forging a new era of peace and stability for Libya. You have the opportunity to end a tragic conflict and create a future of dignity and hope”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a video message to participants of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.

“Now it is your turn to shape the future of your country. Your commitment to this process will help restore Libyan sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of Libyan institutions. As you engage in dialogue to resolve your differences, your determination will be tested.


Future ‘is now in your hands’


“However, compromise is the only approach that will pave the road to national unity”, he said. “The future of Libya is now in your hands.”

Tunisian President Qais Said, opening the meeting, said the talks would lead to a new legitimacy for Libya.

The country has been beset by chaos and conflict since the downfall of long-time Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, culminating in a civil war and the siege of the Libyan capital Tripoli which began in April last year.

The head of the UN mission in Libya, Stephanie Williams, told the meeting that it was a time of rare optimism, a glimmer of hope after many years of crisis.


New national vote


“The overriding aim of the National Political Programme is to renew political legitimacy by holding national elections, within an agreed timeframe”, she said.

Acting UN Special Representative Williams presided over a breakthrough peace agreement between five senior commanders from either side, at a meeting in Geneva last month. She arrived at the political talks in Tunis fresh from another successful round of military negotiations in the Libyan city of Ghadames, she said.

“Every day cooperation is increasing, and the transformation of the 5+5 into the ‘group of 10’ is more than just a slogan; it is a reality”, Ms. Williams said.

“The new government will launch national reconciliation, combat corruption, and restore public services. Its progress will be monitored; its work will be reviewed on a regular basis by mechanisms that can hold it to account.”


Executive body


In a statement released late on Sunday, Ms. Williams said that over the past two days she had been taking note of the participants’ suggestions about what the political talks should aim to achieve, including the creation of an executive authority capable of organizing elections and implementing the political, economic and military reforms necessary to bring some normalcy back to Libyans’ lives.

The participants had stressed the importance of designing a thorough roadmap for the political process and to develop a national charter based on the principles of accountability, justice and human rights and a firm commitment to a civilian state.

 

 

NEW YORK - The UN chief has expressed “grave concern” at the possible consequences which could arise from an operation reportedly launched by the Moroccan Government on the southern border of Western Sahara, in response to a reported highway blockade by supporters of the pro-independence Frente POLISARIO.

In recent days, the UN has been involved in multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation of the situation in Western Sahara’s Buffer Strip in the Guerguerat area, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General said in a statement issued on Friday.

According to Stéphane Dujarric, UN chief António Guterres has warned against violations of the ceasefire that was agreed upon in 1991 and the serious consequences of any changes to the status quo.

“The Secretary-General regrets that these efforts have proved unsuccessful and expresses grave concern regarding the possible consequences of the latest developments”, the statement said.


Long history


In late 1975, fighting broke out between Morocco and the Frente POLISARIO, known in English as the Polisario Front, as the Spanish colonial administration of Western Sahara was ending.

A ceasefire was reached on 6 September 1991 and a UN mission – known as MINURSO – was tasked with monitoring it and organizing a referendum on self-determination in Western Sahara.

However, in the absence of an agreement between the parties, the referendum was not held.

In August 2017, the UN chief appointed former German President Horst Köhler as his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara.

During his tenure Mr. Köhler convened two roundtable meetings on in December 2018 and March 2019 that created a new momentum in the political process.


Standing strong


The UN spokesperson upheld that the Secretary-General “remains committed” to doing his utmost to avoid the collapse of the 1991 ceasefire and is determined to “do everything possible to remove all obstacles to the resumption of the political process”.

“MINURSO is committed to continue implementing its mandate and the Secretary-General calls on the parties to provide full freedom of movement for the Mission in accordance with its mandate”, the statement concluded.

 

 

Research Papers & Reports

NEW YORK - Approximately once every minute and 40 seconds, a child or young person under the age of 20 was infected with HIV last year, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has reported, calling on governments to “protect, sustain and accelerate” efforts to combat childhood HIV.

Prevention efforts and treatment for children remain some of the lowest amongst key affected populations, and in 2019, a little less than half of children worldwide did not have access to life-saving treatment, UNICEF said in a new report on Wednesday.

Nearly 320,000 children and adolescents were newly infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and 110,000 children died of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) last year.

“Children are still getting infected at alarming rates, and they are still dying from AIDS. This was even before COVID-19 interrupted vital HIV treatment and prevention services putting countless more lives at risk”, said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.


Life-saving HIV services hit by COVID-19


According to UNICEF, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened inequalities in access to life-saving HIV) services for children, adolescents and pregnant mothers everywhere, and there are serious concerns that one-third of high HIV burden countries could face coronavirus-related disruptions.

“Even as the world struggles in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic, hundreds of thousands of children continue to suffer the ravages of the HIV epidemic”, said Ms. Fore.

Data from the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), cited in the report, shows the impact of control measures, supply chain disruptions, lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and the redeployment of healthcare workers on HIV services.


Challenges remain


Paediatric HIV treatment and viral load testing in children in some countries fell by 50 to 70 per cent, and new treatment initiation by 25 to 50 per cent in April and May, coinciding with partial and full lockdowns to control the novel coronavirus.

Health facility deliveries and maternal treatment were also reported to have reduced by 20 to 60 per cent, maternal HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy (ART) initiation by 25 to 50 per cent, and infant testing services by approximately 10 per cent.

Though the easing of control measures and the strategic targeting of children and pregnant mothers have successfully led to a rebound of services in recent months, challenges remain, and the world is still far from achieving the global 2020 paediatric HIV targets, said UNICEF.


Regional disparities


Despite some progress in the decades-long fight against HIV and AIDS, deep regional disparities persist among all populations, especially for children.

While the Middle East and North Africa region recorded 81 per cent paediatric ART coverage, only 46 per cent and 32 per cent were covered in Latin America and the Caribbean, West and Central Africa, respectively.

The South Asia region recorded 76 per cent coverage, Eastern and Southern Africa 58 per cent, and East Asia and the Pacific 50 per cent.

 

 

 

GENEVA - Israel’s military operations and prolonged closure of Gaza, has caused economic damage of $16.7 billion between 2007 and 2018, driving the poverty rate up almost fourfold compared to what it might have otherwise been, the UN trade and development agency UNCTAD said in a report published on Wednesday.

Gaza’s economy was on the verge of collapse, notes the report for the UN General Assembly, entitled “Economic costs of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people: The Gaza Strip under closure and restrictions”.

The damage from Israel’s military operations was equivalent to around six times the Palestinian enclave’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, or 107 per cent of the total Palestinian GDP, the report said.


Driver of poverty


Gaza’s poverty rate stood at 40 per cent in 2007 but it would have fallen to 15 per cent in 2017 if not for the prolonged military operations, but instead, it has risen to 56 per cent, it said.

The depth of inequality was also far more severe than it could have been.

The “poverty gap”, a measure of how far from the poverty line households are on average, was 20 per cent in 2017, but would have been around 4.2 per cent if not for the impact of military operations, the report said.

Between 2007 and 2017, Gaza’s economy grew by 5 per cent, or less than half a percentage point per year, and its share in the overall Palestinian economy halved from 37 per cent to 18 per cent, UNCTAD’s Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Mahmoud Elkhafif, told a press conference.


Prolonged impact of military action


The report aimed to quantify the impact of three major rounds of Israeli military hostilities since 2008 and the prolonged economic and movement restrictions imposed since Hamas took control in the Gaza Strip.

“The result is the near collapse of the regional Gaza economy while trade is severely restricted from the rest of the Palestinian economy and the world”, the report said.


Blockade plea


“Lifting what amounts to the blockade of Gaza is essential for it to trade freely with the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the world and restore the right to free movement for business, medical care, education, recreation and family bonds. Only by fully lifting the debilitating closure, in line with Security Council resolution 1860 (2009), can we hope to sustainably resolve the humanitarian crisis.”

Most people in Gaza had no access to safe water, regular and reliable electricity supply or even a proper sewage system, the report said.

UNCTAD’s analysis of the potential economic upside of ending Israeli military operations and travel restrictions did not include wider benefits to the Palestinian people, such as the income from a natural gas field off the shores of Gaza.


More investment


The report recommended the Palestinian government should be allowed to develop those energy resources, and Gaza’s economic potential should be boosted with investments in seaports, airports and water and electricity projects.

Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Globalization and Development Strategies, said the 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza were now facing a health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he added that there was “cautious optimism” that the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden could lead to a positive change of tone in Washington, DC.

“That obviously raises hopes that there may be changes in the relationship between Israel and Palestine,” he said.

 

LONDON - Lethal cluster munitions are still being used in old and new conflicts around the world, from Syria to Libya, to Nagorno-Karabakh, a UN-backed civil society report said on Wednesday.

Over the last decade, the hair-trigger devices have caused more than 4,300 recorded casualties in 20 countries, according to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2020, although it said that the true number is likely much higher.

Between August 2010 and July 2020, cluster munitions were deployed in seven countries that have not signed the global disarmament treaty banning them: Cambodia, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

While their use over the last decade in these countries has been largely “sporadic” or “isolated”, Syria has been the exception, given their “continual use since 2012”, said Monitor contributor Steve Goose, head of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division.

According to the Monitor, Syria has consistently accounted for more than 80 per cent of all cluster munition casualties worldwide, with children making up around four in 10 of all victims.


‘Unacceptable’ use


Researchers also identified the lethal use of the weapons in Libya last year, and their use by both Armenia and Azerbaijan, in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

“The sustained use of banned cluster munitions in Syria and new use in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh, is unacceptable”, said Marion Loddo, editorial manager of the Monitor.

It was imperative for the 110 States that have joined the global treaty banning cluster munitions to “speak out to condemn the civilian death toll and the threat to lives and livelihoods”, from areas that are still contaminated with the weapons, Ms. Loddo added.

Allegations of new cluster munition use in Yemen and in the contested region of Kashmir on the India-Pakistan border were also examined, but no “conclusive determination” was possible, the Monitor said.

Despite concerns that a total of 286 new cluster munition casualties were recorded in 2019 - a 92 per cent increase on 2018, linked mainly to attacks in Syria - it remains far below the annual total of 971 casualties recorded in 2016, the Monitor said.


Indiscriminate ‘bomblets’


Cluster munitions are released either from the air or launched from the ground in a canister containing hundreds of “bomblets” which scatter indiscriminately over wide areas. They are not aimed at a specific target and up to 40 per cent of the explosive devices fail to detonate initially, with devastating results for anyone who comes across them.

The release of the report comes as States Parties to the convention gather virtually to discuss further steps on bringing more States onboard with the treaty to ban cluster munitions, which entered into force in 2010.


Stockpiles wiped out


Highlighting the success of the Convention in “making a real difference in saving lives and limbs and livelihoods”, Monitor contributor Steve Goose reiterated that since States agreed to start destroying their stockpiles in line with the Convention, 36 of them have destroyed 1.5 million cluster munitions containing more than 178 million sub-munitions have been destroyed.

This represents the destruction of 99 per cent of the total global cluster munitions stocks declared by States, Mr. Goose said, noting that 18 countries have stopped producing them including the UK and France, but 16 others outside the convention continue to make them, including two that are actively “researching and developing “new types”.


Deadly harvest


In total, 26 countries and other areas have been contaminated by cluster munition remnants, including 10 States Parties to the Convention, which also prohibits the use, production and transfer of the weapons.

Over the past decade, six State Parties have completed clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, the Monitor said, most recently Croatia and Montenegro in July 2020.

In 2019 alone, at least 82 square kilometres of contaminated land was cleared by States, resulting in the destruction of more than 96,500 cluster munition remnants, both increases from 2018.

 

 

ROME - n a new study released today, researchers say that land inequality is rising in most countries. Worse, new measures and analysis proves that land inequality is significantly higher than previously recorded, with data reporting a 41 percent increase compared to traditional census data.

The report, Uneven Ground: land inequality at the heart of unequal societies, is the first of its kind, shedding new light on the scale and speed of this growing phenomenon and providing the most comprehensive picture available today. The report was informed by 17 specially commissioned research papers as well as analysis of existing data and literature under a wide partnership led by the International Land Coalition, and in close collaboration with Oxfam.

“In the framework of this project, a new way to measure land inequality was developed that goes beyond land size distribution captured through traditional agricultural census.” said Ward Anseeuw, co-author of the report and coordinator of the initiative.

Historically, methods to measure land inequality excluded vital pieces of information, such as the value of land, multiple ownership and landlessness, as well as the control a person or an entity has over it. “These findings radically alter our understanding of the extent and far reaching consequences land inequality has, proving that not only is it a bigger problem than we thought but it’s undermining the stability and development of sustainable societies,” Anseeuw added.

 

The shocking state of land inequality

 

New measurements show that the top 10 percent of the rural population captures 60 percent of agricultural land value, while the bottom 50 percent of the rural populations only control 3 percent of land value.

The study finds that land inequality directly threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 2.5 billion people involved in smallholder agriculture, as well the world’s poorest 1.4 billion people, most of whom depend largely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

“Growing inequality is the greatest obstacle to poverty eradication; in countries like Guatemala, extreme inequality costs lives,” asserts Oxfam Guatemala Country Director, Ana María Mendez. “In rural Guatemala, extreme land inequality undermines the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and small-farmer communities and exacerbates the climate crisis. Today, as we confront the coronavirus pandemic and catastrophic hurricanes fueled by climate change, the impact of land inequality is even more stark, and the imperative to tackle the problem is urgent” she added.

 

Hidden hands – the unseen drivers of land inequality

 

Global inequality experts blame the upward trend of land inequality partly on the increased interest from corporate and financial actors, such as investment funds, in agricultural land investments. As corporate and financial investments grow, ownership and control of land becomes more concentrated and increasingly opaque.

Today, the largest 1 percent of farms operate more than 70 percent of the world’s farmland and are integrated into the corporate food system, while over 80 percent are smallholdings of less than two hectares that are generally excluded from global food chains. This phenomenon has even reached European shores with less than 3 percent of farms now accounting for more than half of the farmed land in the EU.


Land inequality is central to other forms of inequality, and to many global crises and trends


The report further brings new evidence to light on how tackling land inequality is imperative to effectively respond to the most pressing challenges of our times and has the potential to deliver significant positive outcomes for humanity and the planet. If not addressed and the trend continues, increasing land inequality will have significant negative consequences for all societies, on economic and social development, on the environment and on democracy and peace.Yet the authors insist that land concentration is not inevitable.


“What we’re seeing is that land inequality is fundamentally a product of elite control, corporate interests, and political choices. And although the importance of land inequality is widely accepted, the tools to address it remain weakly implemented and vested interests in existing land distribution patterns, hard to shift,” said Giulia Baldinelli of ILC and co-author of the report.

Nevertheless, the study finds that change is necessary and the urgency of addressing land inequality is fuelled by the same urgency with which people are demanding action on contemporary global crises.

“As we move towards a post-Covid world, we will see increased pressure for fast economic gain at the expense of people and nature,” Mike Taylor, Director of the International Land Coalition Secretariat warned. Adding, “there is always, however, a more inclusive path to re-building our economies, that emphasises sustainable use of natural resources, respects human rights and addresses systemic causes of inequality.”

The International Land Coalition is a global network of over 250 organisations around the globe working together to put people at the centre of land governance, responding to the needs and protecting the rights of women, men and communities who live on and from the land. For more information, visit: www.landcoatition.org and www.unevenground.org

 

Africa

By Anita Powell

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia's prime minister has rejected calls for dialogue to end an internal conflict that has already killed hundreds and displaced more than 40,000 people in the key U.S. ally in East Africa — a stance that has alarmed diplomats from Addis Ababa to Washington about the potential for escalating conflict.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — who last year was granted a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in ending a long-simmering conflict between his country and neighboring Eritrea — released a statement addressed not to his actual opponents, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), but to the international community.

"As a sovereign state, Ethiopia has every right to uphold and enforce its own laws within its own territory," Abiy said of the conflict that started in early November when the TPLF attacked federal forces. "And that is exactly what we are doing."

Also this week, Abiy's predecessor penned a provocative statement in Foreign Policy magazine, rejecting regional and international calls seeking dialogue. Abiy's office quickly retweeted large chunks of the article, titled, "Ethiopia's Government and the TPLF Leadership Are Not Morally Equivalent."

"I truly believe," former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn wrote, "that most people recommending this approach" — meaning dialogue and negotiation — "are well-intentioned outsiders who are merely echoing the conventional wisdom of how one should resolve conflicts in Africa."


Diplomats publicly urge dialogue


The three-week-old crisis between the federal government and armed officials in the Tigray region has already alarmed diplomats around the world, who have almost unanimously urged the young prime minister to resolve it peacefully. Officials at the State Department — both current officials and those who will represent U.S. policy under President-elect Joe Biden — continue to publicly urge dialogue.

"I'm deeply concerned about the risk of violence against civilians, including potential war crimes, in the fighting around Mekelle in Ethiopia," Jake Sullivan, Biden's choice for national security adviser, tweeted on Wednesday.

Ethiopia's Human Rights Commission on Tuesday issued a preliminary report alleging at least 600 people had been killed in the Tigray region town of Mai-Kadra on November 9, echoing similar findings by a November 12 Amnesty International report.

"Both sides should immediately begin dialogue facilitated by the AU [African Union]," said Sullivan.

The 55-body organization is headquartered in Addis Ababa. Last week, AU President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also South Africa's president, named three former African heads of state as high-level envoys to try to mediate for the AU.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday echoed his support for the AU mediation efforts.

"The secretary-general reiterates the full support of the United Nations to the initiative of the chairperson of the African Union, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to facilitate peaceful solutions," said spokesman Farhan Haq. "He urges all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate tensions."

Ben Rhodes, the longest-serving member of former President Barack Obama's foreign policy team, and Sullivan's co-chair at National Security Action, a political NGO, agreed on the importance of dialogue.

"Hard to overstate the danger of continued escalation in Ethiopia," he said. "The coming weeks will be enormously consequential. Hopefully, Ethiopians internalize this message and de-escalate from the current course — dialogue is an available option."

Their calls have been echoed by the U.S. State Department's Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Tibor Nagy, who last week said: "At a point where mediation will become useful — i.e., that the two parties indicate an interest in mediation — you can bet that the United States would be there in an instant. ... At this point, neither party, from everything we hear, is interested in mediation."


'Long and proud history'


But, as Abiy and Hailemariam point out, Ethiopia's history is a long and complex one, in which power has long been dominated by groups from the Amhara and Tigray regions. Abiy, a member of the majority Oromo group, and the first Oromo to occupy a position of such importance, has tried to redress that imbalance since he took office in 2018.

And so Abiy's statement began, tellingly, with the declaration that "Ethiopia is a country with a long and proud history of statehood." It is, as Ethiopian officials are wont to point out, the only African nation never to have been colonized, and was a founding member of the AU and of the U.N.

In both recent and ancient history — from the 1896 battle of Adwa, in which Ethiopian forces soundly defeated Italian forces, thus preventing them from staking a colonial claim, to the forceful sentiments of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that Ethiopia was "not the West's whipping boy" — the East African nation has stood firm and proud against foreign interference.

But the internal dynamic is more complicated, says analyst Ahmed Soliman, a researcher from London-based Chatham House.

"The divisions within Ethiopia — political and ethnic — have extremely deep roots," he told VOA. "There are structural issues here that really haven't been sufficiently addressed, while I recognize there hasn't been time to sufficiently resolve them so far, given the number of other competing priorities during the last few years."

Meles himself was born in the Tigrayan city of Adwa, and was a member of the 1991 force that swept into the capital and deposed the military junta that ran the country. His government established the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which incorporated key leaders from the TPLF. He served from 1991 until his death in 2012.

His long tenure taught TPLF leadership how to market themselves to the international community, Hailemariam argues in his Foreign Policy article.

"A TPLF-dominated coalition ruled Ethiopia shrewdly for 27 years," Hailemariam writes. "After being forced to give up the reins of power due to popular protests against our economic and political mismanagement — which I was a part of — the TPLF leadership designed and is now executing a strategy meant to capitalize on the propensity of the international community to fall into its default mode of bothsidesism and calls for a negotiated settlement. The TPLF's leaders are savvy operators who know how susceptible the international community is to such manipulation."

"I think Hailemariam is echoing the federal government's position," Soliman said, "which is that they're not negotiating with the TPLF as they are a criminal element that needs to be removed to restore the constitutional order."

What the TPLF is thinking remains unclear. A communications blackout and travel restrictions have made it difficult for anyone to verify its claims. Nagy, a former ambassador to Ethiopia who holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Mekelle, which is in Tigray's capital, postulated: "It seems like they were doing this more to depose the prime minister from power and to reassert themselves into the prominent position that they had atop the Ethiopian political spectrum for the last 27 years," he said. "So, hopefully, right now I think that their tactic has had the opposite effect from what they were planning.

"But again, I want to make it very clear that this is not about Tigray," Ambassador Nagy added. "There is no equivalency here. This is not two sovereign states fighting against each other. This is a faction of the government running a region in Ethiopia that has decided to undertake hostilities against the central government, and it has not – in my view – had the effect that they thought that they were going to get."

So what now? Soliman says there may be only one way to break the cycle.

"There needs to be a coming together and a discussion about the responsibilities of opposing political forces moving forward and a genuine attempt to reach some form of consensus through commitment to inclusive dialogue," he said. "I don't see conflict and zero-sum thinking as being the way forward for resolving these internal divisions and for there to be peace in Ethiopia in the region moving forward."

 

 

GENEVA - Refugee resettlement numbers will be at a “record low” this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Wednesday, with only 15,425 people resettled in the first nine months of 2020, compared to more than 50,000 in 2019.

In 2016, resettlement numbers globally stood at 126,291, according to agency figures. “Current rates point to one of the lowest levels of resettlement witnessed in almost two decades. This is a blow for refugee protection and for the ability to save lives and protect those most at risk”, said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs.

Syrians have been resettled in the biggest numbers so far this year (41 per cent) followed by refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (16 per cent).

Of more than 15,000 people resettled between January and September, three in 10 were survivors of violence or torture.


Undeniably vulnerable


Other individuals have come from Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan and “most had legal and physical protection needs, were survivors of violence or torture or were women and children at risk”, UNHCR said.

Although the COVID-19 crisis has caused delays in the number of vulnerable people being moved to a third country as some States have put a temporary freeze on resettlement, Ms. Triggs highlighted that the 50,000 quota for the whole year was “disappointingly low” in the first place.


Libyan emergency


Specifically, the pandemic had “put on hold” the life-saving evacuation of refugees from Libya on 12 March, with resettlement only restarting on 15 October.

“Some 280 refugees who were previously evacuated to emergency transit facilities in Niger and Rwanda are currently waiting to depart to resettlement countries, while 354 people are waiting for decisions from resettlement countries”, the agency noted.

More positively, UNHCR noted that refugees affected by the Beirut port explosion in August were prioritised for resettlement by several countries, once lockdown measures were lifted. In total, 1,027 refugees departed from Lebanon to nine resettlement countries between August and September.

Throughout the year, UNHCR staff identified, processed and submitted resettlement files for more than 31,000 refugees from around 50 countries.

With only half of that number successfully resettled so far this year, it has urged countries to take in as many refugees as possible now, so that those in need of international protection do not lose their place in next year’s quota.


Legal pathways


“Expanding safe and legal pathways to protection, including through resettlement, saves refugees’ lives and it can also mitigate their resort to dangerous journeys by land or sea,” Ms. Triggs said.

Resettlement is the transfer of refugees from an asylum country to another State that has agreed to admit them and grant the permanent right to stay.

In a call for more countries to join the Global Compact on Refugees that was affirmed by the UN General Assembly in 2018, UNHCR highlighted the programme’s twin aims of providing better protection for refugees and support for countries that host large refugee populations.

UNHCR is mandated by its Statute and the UN General Assembly to undertake resettlement. There were 20.4 million refugees of concern to UNHCR around the world at the end of 2019 and but fewer than one per cent of refugees are resettled each year.

Of the 1.4 million people requiring resettlement, Africa has the greatest needs (667,432), followed by Europe (420,000), the Middle East and North Africa region (249,705), Asia/Pacific (98,281) and the Americas (4,990).

 

NEW YORK - It will take a variety of different actors to confront and deal with the “daunting challenges” in the Sahel region, the head of UN peacekeeping told the Security Council on Monday.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix noted that counterterrorism efforts in the region have “actually intensified”.

“We welcome the increased coordination of security players on the ground…for a more visible presence of defence and security forces in the region as well as stepped-up pressure on terrorist groups”, he said in his virtual briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five (G5) Sahel nations, namely Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.


Support Joint Force


compliment to peacebuilding efforts, Mr. Lacroix urged that the Joint Force’s police component be strengthened to improve military oversight as well as to support institution-building, prison reform and the “human rights compliance framework”.

He also underlined that the operational and logistical support of the UN stabilization mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for the Joint Force remains “critical”, particularly what he referred to as “life support consumables”, which have “proven essential”, especially during the rainy season.

However, the UN official highlighted the need for more “predictable funding” for the G5 Force to ensure that its robust counter-terror operations can continue without interruption.

“The G5 Sahel Joint Force plays a critical role in the regional response to violent extremism”, he attested, “It is essential that it receives the assistance it requires to carry out its mandated tasks”.


'Unprecedented humanitarian crisis'


Mindful of the disastrous implications that an inadequately addressed security situation in the Sahel may have on West Africa, the UN peacekeeping chief pointed out that “despite encouraging progress” made by the Joint Force, “much more remains to be done”.

“As calls for the mobilization of additional resources to support the G5 Sahel’s fight against terrorism continue, so do calls for increased mobilization to tackle poverty and the unprecedented humanitarian crisis that the region currently faces”, he asserted.

“Strengthening the Joint Force is indeed only one aspect of the international community’s support”.


Good governance needed


Speaking on behalf of the G5 States, the Ambassador of Mali, Issa Konfourou,

highlighted the need for “good governance” and stressed that the regional heads of State remain committed to supporting and conducting counter-terror operations with full regard for human rights.

He also cited “positive trends” regarding “better coordination of military operations” within and beyond the G5 Force, noting successes in stopping terror operations, especially along borders.

A French military helicopter flies to Abeche in eastern Chad. (file)
Meanwhile, Koen Vervaeke, Managing Director for Africa, European External Action Service upheld that a “disturbing” confluence of events and forces throughout the Sahel requires a more “ambitious and demanding” approach to regional problems, including more inclusive and responsive governance.

He reaffirmed financial and other support for both MINUSMA and the G5 Force, and pushed for regional government reform, including through higher levels of civilian leadership and the full restoration of State authority.

Speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, Canadian Ambassador Robert Keith Rae, said that the Commission’s efforts to tackle development and security challenges, in part through greater empowerment of women and youth, also addresses diverse “cross border risks” and called for greater access to credit, including by women entrepreneurs.

In implementing the regional goal of ensuring that conflict does not spread further – putting future development efforts at risk – Mr. Rae underscored that successful peacebuilding requires the respect of human rights and investigations of rights abuses, including those related to sexual and gender-based violence.

 

By Giulia Paravicini

ADDIS ABABA - The leader of Ethiopia’s rebellious Tigray region confirmed on Sunday that his forces had fired rockets at the airport in Eritrea’s capital, a major escalation that raises fears of a wider war in the Horn of Africa region.

Accusing neighbouring Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of troops into Tigray in support of an Ethiopian government offensive, Debretsion Gebremichael said his forces were under attack “on several fronts.”

“Our country is attacking us with a foreign country, Eritrea. Treason!,” Debretsion said in text messages to Reuters, without providing further details or evidence of his claims.

With access restricted and most communications down in Tigray, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides about the 12-day conflict.

Government officials in Eritrea and the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa could not be reached for comment.

Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed tweeted Sunday that Ethiopia was more than capable of achieving its objectives in Tigray “by itself” but did not specifically address Debretsion’s claims.

Last week, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed told Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.”

Abiy launched the campaign in Tigray on Nov. 4 after accusing local forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern state, which borders Eritrea and Sudan and is home to some 5 million people.

The government accuses Tigray’s leaders of treason and says its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law. Tigrayans dominated the governing coalition before Abiy, an Oromo, came to power in 2018. They say he has marginalised them since, which Abiy denies.

The conflict has killed hundreds on both sides and threatens to destabilize other parts of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. At least 20,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan, the United Nations said on Sunday.

The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, warned on Nov. 5 that any involvement by Eritrea in the conflict could in turn draw in Sudan.

Egypt and Sudan launched a joint military exercise on Saturday, according to Egypt’s defence ministry. The neighbours are deepening their ties amid a dispute with Ethiopia over the giant dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.

Mehari Taddele Meru, a professor at the European University Institute, said the conflict would “turn the Horn of Africa into an international theatre of war” and that by drawing in rival regional forces it would “change the nature and terms of the proxy wars already being fought in Yemen, North Africa and the Middle East.”


DEVASTATING WAR


Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating 1998-2000 war. Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Ethiopia’s neighbour, but Eritrea’s government remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their leading role in that war.

Five regional diplomats told Reuters that at least three rockets were fired at Eritrea’s capital from Ethiopia on Saturday night.

At least two of the rockets hit Asmara airport, three of the diplomats said. However, the U.S. Embassy in Asmara said in an alert to U.S. citizens on Sunday that there was no indication the airport had been hit.

Debretsion told Reuters that Eritrea had sent 16 divisions to Ethiopia but did not provide specific troop numbers. Eritrea has a vast standing army which the United States’ CIA puts at 200,000 personnel.

Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), also accused Ethiopia of deploying drones from a military base in Eritrea belonging to the United Arab Emirates.

“Abiy is now enlisting the support of UAE drones based in Assab in his devastating war against the people of Tigray,” party spokesman Getachew Reda said in a tweet on Sunday.

Reuters could not independently confirm that and UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Several Ethiopian refugees arriving in the Sudanese town of Hamdayat told Reuters on Saturday that their areas had been shelled from Eritrea. Reuters could not independently verify this.

“We were shelled by artillery volleys from across the Eritrean border,” said Naksiam Guru, a 22-year-old refugee.

Fighting has spilled into Ethiopia’s Amhara state, whose local forces are fighting with federal troops in Tigray. Late on Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes.

The government says the strikes aim to destroy equipment controlled by insurgent Tigray forces, who experts say possess significant military hardware.