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Epoch of Post-Brexit: Britain turns attention to Africa

Thu, 06/02/2020 - 16:59

Two important international events for Africa took place over the last 10 days of January 2020: the World Economic Forum in Davos and the UK- Africa Invest Summit.

The first event stuck in memory only by Patrice Motsepe’s ‘Africa loves Trump’ comment. But the London summit gave fruitful results for both parties.

Direct results of the UK- Africa Invest Summit

The event took place on January 20, 2020. 15 African heads of state, including the presidents of Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, representatives of business and international organizations participated in it.

The direct results of the summit are state initiatives worth over £1.5 billion and 27 business deals worth over £6.5 billion.

The main commercial agreements of the summit are:

  • Infrastructure: Egypt (Airbus,Bombardier, GSK), Ghana (BHM, Contracta Construction UK, Tyllium and Ellipse), Kenya (Diageo), Uganda (Lagan Group, Unatrac, Nexus Green), Ivory Coast (NMS Infrastructure), Nigeria (Tex ATC, Trilliant), Mozambique (Baker Hughes, Lloyds Register).      
  • Energy: Ghana (Aqua Africa), Nigeria (Low Energy Designs), Kenya (Globeleq).
  • Minerals: Ethiopia (Kefi Minerals), Kenya (Tullow), Ivory Coast (Aggreko), Tunisia (Anglo-Tunisian Oil and Gas), Nigeria (Savannah).

The most important  government initiatives are the following:

  • Launch of new collaboration tools: Trade Connect (to promote imports), African Investors (growth and investment), Manufacturing Africa (investment in West Africa), UK Center for Cities and Infrastructures.
  • Special programs for women entrepreneurship; digital access programs for Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa (£ 45 million); climate initiatives with Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Senegal, South Africa, Mozambique.
  • Financial aid to South Africa (£ 200m over seven years), Malawi (£ 95m), Ethiopia (£ 45m) to boost economic activity; Nigeria and South Africa to promote investments (£ 25 million); intensifying cooperation with the African Development Bank. 
  • Infrastructure partnership with Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and African Development Bank to attract private investments in sustainable energy, transport and telecommunications.
New Round of UK-Africa Relations

The Summit is particularly important in the context of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. Post-Brexit Britain needs to strengthen its political and economic role in other regions. Particularly in Africa, which has a large potential market and growing political power.

Therefore, this summit is a direct evidence that Britain decides to participate actively in the so-called “struggle for Africa”.

Trade with Africa amounts to 4.2% in 2012 and 2.5% in 2017 of total UK trade. But it’s only 2% as large as Africa’s trade with China, its main partner.

But Britain wants to improve this situation. Representatives of the UK government have informed that by 2022 the UK aims to become the largest investor among the G7 in Africa.

In 2019, the UK trade with Africa increased by 7.5%. The country has 11 agreements with African countries on exports with reduced or zero tariff rates, and 35 countries fall within the trade preferences scheme. 

Britain’s interest on Africa is fully justified. For instance, 8 out of the 15 fastest-growing countries are in Africa and by 2050 one in four buyers will hail from Africa. Furthermore, the political role of Africa is becoming more important: 54 countries of Africa represent almost a third of the votes in the UN General Assembly

Global struggle for Africa

But Africa is a tasty morsel not only for the UK but for China, India, Russia and the EU either. From 2010 to 2018, Chinese leaders visited Africa 79 times. Emmanuel Macron visited the continent nine times since winning the 2017 elections. Russia expressed interest on the continent through a large-scale forum and debt relief. 

In the light of abovementioned, Britain, which has a negative image due to its colonial past and the fears of neo-colonialism trends, needs to offer a qualitatively new type of cooperation.

The UK government will not be able to provide the same level of financial support as China. Therefore, the British strategy should be based on soft power and the conveyance of the British worldview.

In addition, the United States recently declared a 10% reduction in military presence in Africa, and this creates a window of opportunities for other countries, including the UK. For example, France has already indicated its intention to increase its military mission in Mali, so Britain can act in the same direction.

Summing up, Africa is a continent of opportunities now. For the UK, as for the former colonial metropolis, it will be important to create a unique approach to Africa. The continent keeps multi-vector foreign policy. However, Africa needs equal cooperation, but in the case of China or Russia, this does not seem possible. And this leaves room for a stronger British role. 

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 03/02/2020 - 19:22

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The Crime and the TOR-M1 as the Murder Weapon

Wed, 29/01/2020 - 18:16
FILE PHOTO: EDITORS’ NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on their ability to film or take pictures in Tehran.  The Tor-M1 anti-aircraft defense system is displayed in a military parade to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, in Tehran September 22, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

At this point the world knows that Iran’s Air Defense shot down a Boeing 737 800 filled with its own citizens, many Canadian citizens, the Ukrainian crew and nationals from a few other countries shortly after launching a ballistic missile attack on Iraq. Evidence shows that two missiles were fired at the plane. This was to ensure it would be destroyed and is sometimes standard practice by the TOR-M1 operators. These actions are a crime against humanity and should be addressed as criminal negligence.

While criminal negligence addresses the lack of intent to commit the crime, it does not always absolve the accused of a charge of First Degree murder in many legal systems. If the accused is so completely negligent in the commission of the act, in this case, if the crew and commanders of the TOR-M1 missile battery we so negligent that they should and have reasonably considered that a passenger aircraft would be in the target zone a few hours after a ballistic missile attack, then they were to blame for the loss. This is because they had the power and decision making ability to mitigate damage or mitigate the losses by their own actions. A defense for them would be that others and their actions contributed to the murder, so the air traffic control, military commanders and strategists, radio operators and even the technician who repaired the radar on the TOR-M1 as well as the country that might have sold it to Iran and did not properly train the crew could be considered in applying a verdict. The country itself is often deemed liable as their defense force is an arm of their government, and foreign governments can claim on the losses of their nationals. If the country destroys or alters evidence, it is obstruction of justice and is a crime as well.

The TOR-M1 is an earlier versions of a fairly modern system that contains its own missiles, usually eight, and has its own radar and equipment to detect and shoot at any enemy targets. It was designed to shoot down aircraft as well as drones at medium range. Because of this, it can be legitimately assumed that a system that is designed to shoot down drones in addition to aircraft could use its systems to determine the difference between those types of targets. Older SAM systems relied on a network of missiles linked to a main radar hub, that is often linked to a larger network and command structure to find targets via a separate radar system and direct the firing units to their targets. The TOR-M1 in question likely was linked to a larger network as well but has the ability to target and fire its own missiles. While the missiles are smaller than longer-range systems like the BUK-M1 that shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine, they often fire more than one round as they are utilized more often to eliminate fast-moving or smaller targets like drones and perhaps cruise missiles. Because anti-Aircraft systems often have their radars targeted first in an assault, the TOR-M1 unit would have been a viable first target if any assault would be made on their area within Iran’s borders.

If the TOR-M1 system would be considered to be operating normally, then the likely case would be that the TOR-M1 operators, their command structure and the larger military command and any political directors of the air defense platform are liable, making the country itself liable for their agents and claims can be made by other countries in International Law. Training for the crew of the TOR-M1 is likely extensive, and those operators and the country that trained them have additional liability in the operation of the TOR because they are considered professionals or experts in its operation. Civil aviation authorities that had the knowledge and were aware of the danger would be considered liable as well based on information they knew at the time during a possible conflict scenario. Nationals of Iran would claim under their legal system, but claims might be made on their behalf if it is determined that their legal system lacks justice in the application of the law for those victims, or that victims were coerced or threatened against claiming rights and compensation in the application of their law.

International legal and political pressure should support locals if justice is seen as being skewed or altered to benefit the criminal actors in this case. While actions in mitigating the losses or suffering may alter the quantum of damages owed by the state to local and foreign victims of the crime, assuming other actors beyond the state and their agents contributed to the crime only serves to reduce the claims owed to victims of the crime as it assumes contributory negligence to those that had no control or power in the situation to prevent or halt the actions by the state and its agents. Placing the onus on foreign agents only serves to reduce compensation to victims duly owed their right to justice. As for Canada, Ukraine and other countries that lost its citizens, they should fully compensate their nationals and claim back those funds from Iran directly. To do this they must be clear on who they will claim has liability in this case.

Out of all of the areas of law, it could be said that Criminal Law, while having the highest burden of proof, also has the simplest formula to determine whether or not guilt can be associated with the criminals being charged. In this case Iran admitted to the crime, the weapon was the TOR-M1 and the two missiles fired murdered everyone on the plane. Any language that shifts blame to another focus is just hurting the victims further.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 28/01/2020 - 15:43

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Iraqi human rights activist Al Hamadani praises elimination of Soleimani

Tue, 28/01/2020 - 15:39

TEHRAN, IRAN – (Photo by Pool / Press Office of Iranian Supreme Leader/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Iraqi human rights activist Ammar Al Hamadani is a strong supporter of the State of Israel and seeks the establishment of an Israeli Embassy in Baghdad.  He also supports compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and has done much work in order to promote improved Israeli-Iraqi relations.  Given his strong sympathy for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, he praised US President Donald Trump for eliminating Al Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani, emphasizing that the move greatly assisted not only Israel’s national security but also the well-being of Iraqi protesters like himself, who envision a future where Iraq and Israel are living in peace with one another.    

“Soleimani is a dangerous terrorist,” he declared.  “He murdered and kidnapped Iranian and Iraqi protesters.  He attacked American forces in Iraq, killing American, British and coalition forces.  He attacked the Saudi oil wells.  He destabilized the security and stability of the Arab Gulf states by blackmailing them and interfering in their internal affairs.  He attacked the military base in Kirkuk, killing an American citizen.  He stormed the US Embassy in Baghdad, endangering American diplomats.  Furthermore, he planned to launch a major terror attack against American forces after storming the American Embassy.”

Al Hamadani believes that all of Iran’s actions against the US are designed in order to compel the Americans to return to the nuclear deal and to lift sanctions against Tehran: “US President Donald Trump correctly dealt with the Iranian provocations, using the military solution as well as diplomatic and political means by inviting the Iranian regime to negotiate.”  Al Hamadani does not believe that Iran will attack the US directly but rather will use its proxies against the Americans following the elimination of Soleimani.  He does not think that this will escalate into an Iranian-American war but rather will be a war of attrition, where America’s proxies fight against the mullah’s regimes militias.

In light of this, Al Hamadani urges the United States to support the Iranian and Iraqi protesters, stressing that if Iraq successfully expels Iran from the country, it will greatly weaken the mullah’s regime for it will be harder for Iran to get around the US imposed sanctions.  To date, Iran has been using Iraq in order to bypass US-led sanctions.  He claims by getting Iran expelled by Iraq via supporting the Iraqi protesters, Iran could end up finding itself in a situation where they are forced to renegotiate the nuclear deal so that it is more favorable to the US for they will be heavily pressured by domestic protests and will have lost one of their main proxies, Iraq. 

Al Hamadani emphasizes that the Iranian militias that attacked the US Embassy in Baghdad don’t represent most Iraqi people: “Most Iraqis view the storming of the American Embassy in Baghdad to be a cowardly, treacherous and terrorist act.  They view America to be an ally and friend of Iraq.  This harms the interests of the Iraqi people and threatens its foreign policy.  American forces should remain in Iraq and not withdraw for if they leave Iraq, Iran will occupy Iraq and threaten the security of the State of Israel and its allies in the region.”   For this reason, he urged America to support the Iraqi and Iranian protesters rather than withdraw from the Middle East.     

 

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Water Conflict in Africa: the Largest Hydroelectric Power Station Is the Bone of Contention Between Ethiopia and Egypt

Wed, 22/01/2020 - 18:13

Ethiopia has been building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile River since 2011. During this period relations between Egypt and Ethiopia became strained with mutual threats and accusations. Moreover, there is a risk of water conflict in Africa, which would completely destabilize East Africa.

After construction, GERD will be the largest hydroelectric power station in Africa with a capacity of 6000 MW. The dam will have a height of 145 m and long of 1 708 m. Private and government bonds are the main funding source for the project in order to eliminate pressure on Ethiopia.

During this time, there were 4 rounds of negotiations and several expert groups. The sides exchanged loud statements from time to time. For example, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said at the meeting of the UN General Assembly, that he would “never” allow Ethiopia to impose a “de facto situation” by filling the dam without an agreement. The Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali also did not stay away and emphasized that no force could stop Ethiopia from building a dam and if there were a need to go to war, Ethiopia could get millions readied. So, the threat of real water conflict in Africa still exists. 

But in the last days, some positive changes emerged in this context.

The last round of talks took place on January 13-15 in Washington, DC, by the medium of the United States and the World Bank. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have reached an initial agreement on the Renaissance Dam.

The countries should now agree on the final text of the document. The main agreement will be signed on January 28-29, when the three countries will meet again in the US capital.

The parties agreed that filling of the GERD will take place during the wet season (July-August). The initial filling stage of the GERD will provide for the rapid achievement of a level of 595 meters above sea level. A special mechanism will be developed for further filling stages.

But the agreement does not contain a regulation on the main contradiction – the speed of filling. Ethiopia wants to do this in 6 years, while Egypt insists on a longer term – 10 years.

The dam’s reservoir will hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water and during filling the water flow in the river will be reduced by 25%. The longer period of the filling – the lesser the impact on the flow.

The Nile River has been a controversy in the region for a long time.

It is the most important natural resource for at least 10 countries (with the White and Blue Nile): Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

The first agreements on water politics in the Nile basin appeared in the late nineteenth century. But in this context, the most important is the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Sudan and Egypt. It shared the entire annual Nile flow between Sudan and Egypt – 18.5 and 55.5 billion cubic meters respectively. And this agreement ignored the rights of the rest of the countries to the waters of the Nile.

The Nile is important for Egypt in regard to transport, irrigation and fishing. The Nile covers 90% of Egypt’s water needs, and the Blue Nile formed 60% of the Nile’s flow, on which Ethiopia builds the dam. In addition, Egypt has its own Aswan dam on this river.

According to the UN report from 2015, Egypt will have faced up to a serious shortage of water by 2025. Therefore, taking the necessary measures for the country as soon as possible is one of the most important tasks.

For Ethiopia, the benefits from GERD are obvious: electricity for rural areas and industrial development. Only 44% of Ethiopia’s population has access to electricity. In addition, the dam will enable Ethiopia to become the largest exporter of electricity in the region together with already-existing Ethiopian projects in this area.

But the question of the water conflict in Africa also lays in the regional role of both countries.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seeks, through various regional initiatives, strengthening of Egypt’s role on the African continent (el-Sisi is the President of the African Union now). For Ethiopia, regional leadership is a long-standing dream. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali makes significant efforts to achieve this dream, held up as “the most active diplomat in the region”.

In current circumstances, Egypt is unlikely to turn the negotiations into a favorable path for it. Sudan, Egypt’s longtime ally, is on the side of Ethiopia. As after a trilateral meeting in March 2012, Sudan declared support of GERD.

For Sudan, the dam is the possibility of cheap electricity and way to regulate the flow of water, which often leads to devastating floods. Therefore, Egypt lacks regional support, and its negotiating position is weak.

As of now, the dam is about ready by 80%. The point is whether Ethiopia will keep its promises on the distribution of water during a drought.

Despite the negotiations lasts, the hope for compromise remains. Ethiopia is most likely to follow its previous negotiating strategy, and Egypt will be forced to agree on a compromise because of the weak position.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 21/01/2020 - 18:24

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Iran Pins Region’s Bloody Protests on West and Israel

Thu, 16/01/2020 - 21:20

Iranian leaders have long boasted that they have taken control of four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Syria, Beirut, and Yemen — simultaneously threatening Israel’s security.

Beirut recently began to rise up in mass popular protests against the “regime” and “corruption.” It is no secret to anyone that the “regime” in Lebanon is now fully controlled by Iranian proxy Hezbollah. For the first time in the history of Lebanon, the state is experiencing a revolution from its far north to its far south, in all regions and within all sects — even within the Shi’ite community and the Hezbollah public.

In Iraq, a protest movement started in October, leading to the deaths of more than 319 people, most of them demonstrators, and the injuring of more than 15,000 according to an official toll. It began with calls for an end to corruption and unemployment, but it developed into a demand for the resignation of the government and a reform of the political system.

In Iran, anti-regime protests started in small towns before continuing on to major cities nationwide, despite severe repression and the growing number of casualties.

It was remarkable that nine offices of Iranian officials, including representatives of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were burned down in the provinces. These offices were seen by the protesters as symbols of the repressive regime and the headquarters of clerics overseeing the implementation of the regime’s policies while looting the people’s money freely.

The anger broke out in Iran after Tehran announced fuel rationing and a gasoline price hike of 50%. But protesters soon were chanting “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to Khamenei,” denouncing Iran’s president and supreme leader; they also chanted “Death to the dictator.”

Amnesty International said in late November that Iranian security forces had killed 106 protesters in just four days, most of them from Ahvaz and Kurdish provinces. Iranian activists said at the time that the death toll had risen to more than 200.

Iran has been monitoring the demonstrations in all these countries closely since their beginning. The state considers them a conspiracy, with Iranian officials accusing Iran’s enemies of being behind the unrest. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote on his official Twitter account: “#Iran and #Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together… Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective.”

Later Khmanenei added: ”I recommend those who care in Iraq and Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the U.S., the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries.”

Iran’s leaders have claimed that there is an “enemy conspiracy,” and that the protests were part of a “plot” by Tehran’s foreign foes — Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.

“Our people have been victorious,” President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on November 20, claiming that the “armed anarchists” who took to the streets across Iran were few in number.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah warned of “civil war” as a possible consequence of the demonstrations spreading throughout the country, expressing his organization’s rejection of the anti-corruption protests.

Nasrallah added in a televised speech: “We do not accept the fall of the government, we do not accept the call for the resignation of the government, nor do we accept the holding of early parliamentary elections.” He also claimed the West and Saudi Arabia were behind the protests.

Fearing the reduction of its influence in Iraq, Iran is intervening to mobilize a brutal response, and according to Iraqi officials, Iran has instructed its militias to assign snipers to shoot at street demonstrators.

Iranian officials and agencies have specifically accused the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel of mobilizing the demonstrations in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Meanwhile government officials in Iraq say Iran pressured the weak Iraqi prime minister not to step down, persuading him that the protests were a foreign conspiracy primarily aimed at harming the Iraq-Iran relationship until there were so many deaths that he considered stepping down. Eventually the pressure from the protests did in fact reach the point that he tendered his resignation.

Iran’s steps underscore the existence of an Iranian plan to stop the popular uprising in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon by insinuating the involvement of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the U.A.E., in addition to non-Arab countries like the U.S., U.K., and Israel in the protest movement. In this way, Iran is seeking to internationalize the unrest.

Regarding the protests in Iraq, Iranian affiliated news agencies have claimed Saudi Arabia is arranging meetings with symbols of the Iraqi opposition abroad. Iran’s Council of Experts stated that the protesters in Iraq were trained “in camps especially in America and Saudi Arabia.” One of the council’s members, Abbas Kaabi, said: “The enemies of the Iraqi and Iranian people — Britain, America, and the Saudis — have been planning for more than a year to provoke unrest and temptation to change the loyalty of the resistance in Iraq for the benefit of America and Saudi Arabia.”

In the same context of Iran accusing the Saudis of directing the Iraqi protest movement, a rumor emerged about a meeting in Amman between the Saudi ambassador in Jordan and Raghad Saddam Hussein, the daughter of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The rumor was picked up by a group of news sites affiliated with the Iranian agenda.

Iranian propaganda has also sought to spread rumors about the involvement of some big names and symbols of Iraq, including the head of the movement against Iranian expansion Abdul Razzaq Shammari. The Iranian intelligence has resorted to promoting its claims through its media trumpets, pointing out that there are official Saudi tendencies seeking to establish a special conference to discuss the future of governance in Iraq, and that this conference will involve several important Iraqi figures.

According to a source in the U.A.E., Shammari has stressed that since the beginning of the protests in October, Tehran has reported schemes and conspiracies in order to abort the popular uprisings. He pointed out that he communicated with figures close to Raghad Saddam and she denied meeting with the Saudi ambassador to Jordan.

After being briefed on the Iranian plot, Shammari also contacted some of the figures whom Tehran has claimed were contacted by Saudi Arabia to form a political project uniting the Sunnis in Iraq by holding a conference bringing together prominent Iraqi figures.

Ironically, among the names of those allegedly invited to the conference are a number of deceased figures; the most prominent of them is the late Saif al-Mashhadani, who died four years ago.

In addition, the Iranian assault on the popular movement has sought to focus on mentioning ex-dictator Hussein’s Baathist party in Iraq and connecting them to the demonstrations. This is in order to intimidate Iraqi Shi’ite demonstrators and to portray the uprisings as belonging to the “banned” Baath party, which is unanimously opposed in Iraq.

Shammari added: “The Iranian regime claimed through its accounts and media sites and social media accounts that Saudi Arabia is seeking to prepare for a conference aimed at organizing a special project for the Sunnis in Iraq to kidnap the demand of the street. Also part of Iran’s plot is to intimidate protestors by warning of infiltration by organizations such as ISIS; especially after it emerged that many of its leaders are Baathists.”

Iran has not only attempted to implicate Saudi Arabia in the protest movement of the Iraqi street; it has also tried to implicate the Baathists, and this is intentional because most of the Iraqi people are concerned about the Baathists.

Tehran’s efforts to stop the current uprisings in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are similar to what it did when it stopped the popular movement in Iraq in 2013, under the pretext of standing up to ISIS. Now the pretext being used is to stand up to Western proxies and Saudi Arabia.

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Op-Ed: Standing in solidarity with Bangladeshi anti-rape protesters

Tue, 14/01/2020 - 22:21

Al Jazeera recently reported that a group of Bangladeshi demonstrators are protesting against the recent rape of a student at Dhaka University, one of the most prominent schools within the South Asian country.   According to the report, the demonstrators are demanding justice, something which does not happen enough within the country due to the country’s antiquated rape laws.  Shahela, a demonstrator, declared, “Rape is an unforgivable offense.  In Bangladesh, the punishment for rape is very slow.”  It is time for this to change and we in the international community should stand in solidarity with the protesters. 

According to Voice of America, over 1,000 people have been protesting against Bangladesh’s rape culture and the recent rape of this Bangladeshi student in particular.  The student was walking home from a friend’s home when she was grabbed from behind, gagged, attacked and raped.  She is now hospitalized.  Deutche Welle reported that the protesters are demanding: “No more rape.  We want justice.  We want a higher punishment.”      

In recent times, Bangladesh’s rape culture has only gotten worse and this student at Dhaka University is far from the only victim.  The Dhaka Tribune reported that Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a Bangladeshi human rights organization, reported that the number of rapes doubled within Bangladesh over the past year.  The Dhaka Tribune reported that a total of 1,413 women were either gang-raped or subjected to rape in Bangladesh in 2019.  Dozens of them were killed afterwards and 10 others committed suicide following the rape.

According to the report, the number of rape victims was 732 in 2018 and 818 in 2017.   ASK claims that the number of rape victims in Bangladesh is actually much higher but many victims refrain from reporting such incidents to the police due to the fact that they don’t believe the authorities will grant them justice.   According to the Dhaka Tribune, only 3% of rapists are actually convicted in Bangladesh, even though Bangladeshi law stipulates that rapists are supposed to get a death penalty.  

Farah Kabir, the country director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust, proclaimed: “Civil society organizations must advocate for the reform of rape laws, particularly to broaden the definition of rape. Is it acceptable for an aspiring middle income country and ‘Digital Bangladesh’ to still be bound by colonial era laws dating back to 1855? Rape is rape whether it occurs in the public or private sphere and we call for criminalizing marital rape, especially because we live in a country where the vast majority of women face intimate partner violence from their husbands. If we cannot guarantee basic protection of the 51% of the population who are women, then who are these laws serving and what purpose are they fulfilling? Reform to rape laws we have seen thus far have resulted from the continued advocacy of civil society and there is a need for this movement to continue until rape laws are reformed to ensure gender equality.”

Former Bangladeshi Justice Minister A.F.M Abdur Raham concurred, “The definition of rape is yet to be updated, despite the enactment or amendment of special laws in 1995, 2000 and 2003. My experience in applying the Acid Control Act of 2002 and Acid Crime Prevention Act of 2002 over the years has led me to believe that there could be instructive lessons here for reform of rape laws, in terms of careful drafting and coordination of medical and psycho-social responses with legal responses. Action is necessary to reduce the incidence of rape, to focus on prevention and to ensure justice for victims. It is unfortunate, but whenever there is a discussion on amending any law, the lawmakers and parliamentary representatives think about increasing punishment rather than ensuring justice and prevention of rape incidents. The laws need to be amended but at the same time, we need to work harder to stop such incidents, including taking initiatives to build greater social morality in people.”

In order to demonstrate their solidarity with the Bangladeshi anti-rape protesters, the international community should demand that the Bangladeshi government form an independent commission of inquiry in order to investigate the lack of justice for rape victims within the country and should update Bangladeshi rape laws so that they are in accordance with acceptable international standards and norms.  What is the purpose of having a law stating rapists must get the death penalty if only 3% of rapists are actually convicted and thus face justice?  Indeed, it would be better to live in a society that merely imprisons rapists yet ensures that the vast majority of rapists are locked up behind bars rather than roaming around the streets, continuously terrorizing women and girls.   The international silence over Bangladesh’s rape culture should end now.  After all, Me Too is not an exclusively American movement.  It should be internationalized and include every nation across the planet.  

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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 13/01/2020 - 20:49

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QXSYA8I

 

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What It’s Like Being a Second Generation Refugee

Fri, 10/01/2020 - 18:38

My earliest memories of Israel go back to the October 1973 war, a child, I already “knew” Israel is an invader in what was a sleepy part of planet earth. Despite radio and tv stations everywhere claiming Arab victories,  even then I knew this was fake news, kids know liars from their intonation.

It’s hard to imagine Israel was only 25 years old. Looking back, Lebanon’s media coverage of the war(s), and the coverage of the concept of Israel proper, was probably the least fictional compared to other Arab outlets boasting about victories.

Even then, I don’t think I ever sensed real hope for a return to Yaffa from anyone. My father never looked back, the trauma must have been too painful, everyone in his family admitted to themselves they will never return, not a word uttered about going back, not at home, not in family gatherings, not on TV, the goal had moved to recovering the West Bank and Sinai. The shame was overwhelming hence the denial. The photo of the Bauhaus style family house in Jaffa’s Ajami district that my grandmother kept in her bedside table is engraved in my memory still.

For most people, life went on, everyone I knew was employed and making ends meet, Lebanon welcomed and offered a good start to many migrants. Entrusted with liberating Palestinian lands, the PLO and its factions looked nothing like the humans I knew, they carved a persona associated with Nasser, the Soviet Union, Guevara and other bullies this teenager saw through his Catholic school educated eyes. They wanted a people that look like them, rather than the other way round, refugees don’t have the luxury to elect their leaders after all.

As time went by, the Qadiya, (the Palestinian Cause) took center stage with all despots, destroying Israel was a rallying tool used from Baghdad to Algiers and even Tehran to rally and pacify masses, these despots hijacked, confiscated and traded the Qadiya. When Sadat surprised the world with his courageous visit to the Knesset in Jerusalem, there was hope of recovering the West Bank, Jerusalem and even the Golan Heights, there was hope for peace, I heard adults whispering about driving back to Jaffa, retracing the short trip many Palestinians took to Beirut after the Deir Yassine massacre. Shamir and Sharon aborted all hope, cementing a relationship of hate and domination, soon after, in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, seeing Israeli soldiers parading in Beirut was nauseating, as a teenager, my relationship with Israel was minted. “I am moving on with my life, not looking back, I will build a new life turning my back to the Mediterranean’s eastern shore”, a feeling millions in the region have experienced as they were forced to seek refuge in safer lands. The ideas of the right of return or fair compensation never crossed my mind, I had the luxury to be able to say: The land and the right of return are non-negotiable.

Fast forward 36 years, on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe), my father surprised me when he spoke on the right of return for the first time, in a few well-chosen words, he set my compass straight: The right of return is sacred, Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian people, Israel is an invader, anything less than a one state solution is unacceptable.

Not one day goes by for him without a thought set in Jaffa. How can we, refugees, skip a day of yearning to return when we read and see daily trespasses onto a dehumanized people stripped of their dignity by tourists from around the world who are invited to settle and expel the indigenous inhabitants, that is how we Palestinian refugees see it. Injustice and the pain of exodus have an inextinguishable flame it seems, and the flame is alive with my children, third generation refugees, born less than a mile from where the Balfour Declaration is saved.

Many moderate Palestinians paid too high a cost for speaking up on the issue, on one side the establishments (with an s for we have two competing Palestinian authorities mired in problems on both sides of the 48 Palestine) fear their grip on the Qadiya is weakening, attacks come from every side of the spectrum. Remaining committed to a return to Palestine is not an easy choice for the next generations, surely the refusal to naturalize Palestinians wherever they are in the Arab countries has kept that flame burning bright.

The idea of peaceful coexistence has proven an illusion until now, but we must be ready to return, accept a one state solution, and we must start planning now; Before long, Israel will celebrate 100 years of occupation, will it be able to maintain apartheid state practices? Until a fair one state solution is accepted by Palestinians, the injustice and dehumanization Israel is committing on a daily basis against Palestinians living under occupation or as refugees will continue to haunt Jewish people in Israel and beyond.

 

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Elections in Ireland by April 24?

Thu, 09/01/2020 - 18:13

Seamless border at risk:  on the left, County Armagh, NI, UK; on the right, County Louth, Republic of Ireland (Google Maps)

The timing of elections in Ireland could be decided in early January

The leaders of Ireland’s main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, will meet in early January to decide the date of general elections. Although not required until spring 2021, snap elections could take place in January or February or closer to Easter, perhaps April 24.

Leo Varadkar‘s Fine Gael party has led the government for nine years. It has come under domestic pressure on issues like housing, health care, and the divergent paths of the economy in different regions. Ireland’s larger question is on the Brexit negotiations and managing the new border between it and the UK.

Trouble at Home

Adversaries gathered on RTE Radio 1 to debate the issues. Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne described the choice in the upcoming election between the “current, tired government and a gaggle of independents” and a “very progressive centrist government” of Fianna Fáil, Labor, Greens, and possibly Social Democrats. Pressed whether such a coalition would be viable, Byrne argued it would be “stronger and more stable” than the current government.

Byrne promised major investment in public services.  Key issues are health and housing, along with transportation, education, mental health, and the rural communities.

Fine Gael’s Catherine Noone defended the government, explaining that unemployment of 4.8 percent is historically low and that affordable housing units are being built. But independent senator Alice Mary Higgins emphasized that economic fortunes vary between the more prosperous “Dublin bubble” and the smaller towns.  Young adults are leaving rural areas, facing half-shuttered main streets and unemployment exceeding 20 and sometimes 30 percent.

Higgins said the 2020s need to be a “decade of action” on climate change, sustainable development, and a stronger role for government with insurance, housing, and energy. She and Sinn Fein senator Paul Gavan warn against the idea that the choice is between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In their judgment the two parties are similarly tied to the vested interests of industry. The Irish election may shape up like a presidential election between two candidates, Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin, instead of among a variety of parties.

Brexit: What’s Next?

International pressures loom over these domestic issues – above all, Brexit. Varadkar will travel in January to the World Economic Forum in Davos and in March to Boston and Washington. During February and March, the EU will be determining its Brexit positions, in preparation for the EU summit in Brussels on 26-27 March.

University of Pennsylvania’s Brendan O’Leary has raised some of these questions from short-term and long-term perspectives. He discussed at American University in Washington that “Brexit” had always been a misnomer. It wasn’t the large island of Britain that was to leave the EU, but the whole of the United Kingdom – “UKexit”. But the prospect of reintroducing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland threatens the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (aka Belfast Agreement) and raises fears of a return to the violence of the past. Proposals now put that border between Northern Ireland and Britain instead, creating a new problem for the UK. Meanwhile, the Good Friday Agreement ensures that citizens of Northern Ireland – but not of England or Scotland – will remain citizens of the European Union.

The withdrawal agreement and the terms of a future relationship – and even a timeline for deciding them – have yet to be fully determined. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has a new parliamentary majority to support him. But an agreement of anything more than just trade would require unanimity from EU members. Ominously for Johnson, long-term questions about the future of Northern Ireland and Scotland leaving the UK lie just over the horizon.

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Operation Vengeance

Wed, 08/01/2020 - 21:06
The U.S. Assassinated the Japanese Admiral Who Planned Pearl Harbor by Shooting Him Down

With the current escalation of tensions between the US and its Allies in the Middle East against Iran and its proxy forces in the region, there have been questions around the legitimacy of actions taken by both sides. With escalating actions against US and Western interests in the Persian Gulf and a final act against the US Embassy in Baghdad, an act that mirrored the actions against US diplomats during the Revolution in Iran and in Libya, the US responded with force.

It is a clear violation of International Law to deny protection to foreign embassies, and it is a more severe violation to take physical action against any foreign embassy or its officials. This standard was reached by the international community so that diplomacy could be commenced without the fear of physical reprisals against members of foreign dignitaries attempting to negotiate peace or de-escalate conflict. The standard under international law is that a foreign embassy is considered a part of that country, and entering or invading it is tantamount to entering their soil. Part of this law is that the host nation must also defend the embassy and their staff against any threats of violence. Without these rules, international diplomacy would suffer greatly. Every country in the world complies by these rules, and it is extremely rare that a country would opt to challenge this status quo under international law.

Another question of international law is whether or not the violence taken against citizen protesters in Iran and Iraq that challenges Iran’s government and their proxy forces is in itself illegal under international law. The death of protesters lead to the removal of Iraq’s Prime Minister and President recently in response to Iran’s role in Iraq. Approximately 1500 protesters in Iran have been murdered recently as well. Those victims in both countries should be immediately considered in any response and dialogue if there is a discussion of the current tensions between the governments in conflict. If they are not respected, then any claim of actions under international law should be measured against illegal actions against innocent protesters.

The response and death of a foreign General operating in a military mission on foreign soil has taken place in the past, it was called Operation Vengeance. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was shot down during the Solomon Islands campaign during the Second World War after American intelligence discovered that he would be flying over a combat zone during the campaign. His transport bomber was shot down by American planes and he was killed. It was taken as a response to his role in planning attacks on the United States, mainly Pearl Harbor. While the question of proportional response is currently in debate over recent actions in Iraq, there was a clear mandate for American forces to kill one of Japan’s most important commanders, an individual that had cost so many American and Allied lives. This also gave a boost to American morale, as well as enabled for a tactically better position for US forces in the campaign in the Pacific.

When operating in a military capacity on foreign soil, the risk of loss is real and is common in conflict zones. Power plays a great role in International Law, with the acceptance of a legal norm that one who asks for protection under International Law must have clean hands, meaning that you cannot ask the law for protection while violating that same law. Diplomacy must be paramount of course, and it is why dialogue and resisting threats against consular officials must be respected under International Law. Without these age old norms established between nations in conflict in the past, the world would become a much more precarious and dangerous place.

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2019 Review: Main Political Events in Africa

Tue, 07/01/2020 - 16:00

Africa welcomed 2019 with reports about the coup in Gabon and ushered it out with elections in Guinea-Bissau. In the meantime, there have been enough challenges since January 2019. In order to analyze the main political events in Africa, they are divided into 5 categories: political situation and elections, security background, peace initiatives, regional integration and international cooperation.

The political situation.
  1. Uprisings in Algeria and Sudan.

In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after months of mass protests. He had held office as the president for 20 years. But the protests are still ongoing; activists demand a full political reboot of the country.

In Sudan, mass protests began in December 2018. On April 11, 2019, Bashir was ousted in a military coup d’état. On August 17, the military administration and leaders of the Sudanese civil opposition signed an agreement and formed a sovereign council to govern the country.

  1. Ethnic crisis in Ethiopia.

Against the background of the transition to liberal democracy, Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government has to find a solution for ethnic tensions in Ethiopia. These tensions spiraled into a coup attempt (in Amhara region on the night of June 22), periodical manifestations (in October 2019) and regional referendum (Sidama people voted for their own region in November).

  1. The escalation of the political situation in Guinea.

In mid-October 2019, protests began in Guinea against the decision of President Alpha Conde. His second term ends next year. But his opponents say the president wants to make amendments to Constitution, which will allow him to run for a third term in 2020. Protests take place every week as opposition forces urge people to manifest until the president gives up his intentions.

Elections.
  1. Nigeria – Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential election in February (56%). His opponent, Atiku Abubakar, intended to challenge the election, but the court rejected his petition.
  2. South Africa – In May, 57.5% of people voted in favor of the African National Congress (ANC) in the general election, Cyril Ramaphosa became the president.
  3. Botswana – The Botswana Democratic Party achieved a majority of seats in the National Assembly and Mokgweetsi Masisi became the president.
  4. Tunisia – The presidential election was held in September. Kais Saied beat off Nabil Karoui (76.9%). Significantly, Said was not among the predicted favorites of the presidential race.
  5. Mauritania – Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has achieved victory, he is nominee and successor of the previous head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The protests burnt out in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, people demanded to challenge the elections. Meanwhile, Ghazouani took an oath as president.

Security background.
  1. Ongoing conflicts.

Conflicts still run in Nigeria (Boko Haram), DRC, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Libya, Somalia, CAR. Certainly, such factors as bad governance, competition for natural resources, ethnic heterogeneity, lack of political will complicate the solution.

  1. Protests in South Africa.

On September 1, riots and robberies broke out in Johannesburg and the protesters burned foreign-owned stores. In response, Nigerians began smashing South African shops in at least three states in Nigeria. Also, Kenya, the African Union Commission, Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana condemned the attacks.

  1. Military operation in the Sahel.

In November, France launched the military operation Bourgou 4 in Burkina Faso. France carries out the operation in the area of three borders between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. Moreover, France has already deployed 4,500 militants in the Sahel region.

  1. Kremlin’s hand in Africa.

In June, the Guardian received secret documents, which cast light upon Russian influence in Africa. Military company The Wagner Group under the leadership of Yevgeny Prigozhin operated in the CAR, Sudan, Madagascar, Libya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, South Sudan, Chad, Zambia, and DRC. Moreover, secret documents indicate that Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Libya and Ethiopia are countries for further possible “cooperation”.

Peace initiatives.
  1. Peace between Rwanda and Uganda.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) signed a peace agreement in the capital of Angola to end diplomatic feuds.

The relations between the two neighboring countries had been strained over the past three years for a variety of reasons. Among them are interference in internal affairs, support for opposition forces within the neighboring country.

The feud between Uganda and Rwanda diminished regional capacity to deal with other crises in the Great Lakes region. In addition, the crisis also brought economic losses: limited movement across the Uganda-Rwanda border reduced trade within EAC.

  1. Peace in Mozambique.

On August 1, political forces FRELIMO and RENAMO signed a peace agreement to solve the conflict, which had been lasting since the Cold War. The agreement enabled the election, which took place on October 15.

So, FRELIMO won the elections and Filipe Nucie would be the president for next term. However, RENAMO is contesting the election results.

  1. Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon.

In early October, the country hosted a “National Dialogue” aimed at ending the Anglophone Crisis. The agreements on special status for two English-speaking regions, the election of local governors, and the return of the previous name of the country are among Dialogue’s results. In December, Cameroon passed a law on the special status of these provinces, enabling them to develop their own education and justice policies.

Regional integration.
  1. Free trade zone.

In July African states signed the agreement for creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). The FTA will become effective on May 1, 2020, with headquarter in Accra, Ghana.

The agreement provides a single trade market and movement of capital and people. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member states of the African Union.

  1. The new currency for ECOWAS.

From 2020, 8 members of  ECOWAS will use new currency – “ECO” (like Euro for the EU) instead of the franc. The change applies to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo in the first turn and then will target all other members of ECOWAS.

There are many obstacles approaching implementing the decision, but countries won’t be required to keep half of their foreign exchange reserves in the French Treasury. In addition, France’s influence on the currency management bodies of the countries will also be minimized.

International cooperation.
  1. Forum in Russia.

On October 23-24, the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum took place in Sochi. The participants signed more than 50 deals, at a total value of more than 800 billion rubles. Moreover, African countries received 300 cooperation offers in different fields.

The event was a signal of Russia’s willingness to participate actively in the “battle for Africa”. Although the focus was on economic cooperation, the Forum became an instrument to promote the main goal of Russia in Africa. It’s political influence through the control over natural resources and military support.

  1. The awarding the Nobel Peace Prize 2019 to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

His major achievement is solving the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, which has destabilized the region for 20 years. In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles of a peace agreement to end the long “no peace, no war” stalemate between the two countries. 

In short, 2019 was full of challenges for Africa. However, some of the above-mentioned main political events in Africa can be estimated as positive steps towards the continent’s peaceful growth.

But the key issue is the effectiveness of these initiatives. Some of these events, for example, the peace efforts in Mozambique and Cameroon, the new currency and the African Free Trade Area, have already faced several obstacles. The basic prerequisite for overcoming these obstacles is the political will of the leaders. A clear demonstration of this is the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which has ended the 20-year conflict.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 21:59

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QZV1LYM

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Thu, 02/01/2020 - 21:41

https://www.quiz-maker.com/QALD8PW

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 24/12/2019 - 16:30

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QXFJWP1

 

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Op-Ed: London terror attack highlights how ISIS has grown in Asia

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:08

After the collapse of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has attacked the London Bridge, killing two people and wounding three others.  According to the Islamic Theology on Counter-terrorism website, Usma Khan, a British Muslim of Pakistani Kashmiri descent, implemented the terror attack and was apparently part of an ISIS sleeper cell in the UK.  9 other people have been arrested in connection with this terror attack and two of them are of Bangladeshi origin.

The background of the latest ISIS terrorist who targeted the West and that of the other 9 terrorists connected to the terror incident highlights how much the war against ISIS is far from over and that ISIS merely transformed into an underground movement, which can strike terror anywhere in the world.  Furthermore, while the ISIS Caliphate in the Middle East may have fallen, ISIS is now on the ascent in Asia and the recent terror attack in London highlights how this can adversely affect the West.

Earlier this year, ISIS proclaimed that they now have a province in Kashmir.  The name of the ISIS province in Kashmir is Wilayah of Wind.  A few months after that, Foreign Affairs published an article claiming that the number of ISIS fighters, suicide bombers, training programs and propaganda videos originating in Asia have grown steadily.   Nevertheless, despite this, there is a lack of public awareness in the United States regarding the extent to which ISIS has grown in Asia following the collapse of the Caliphate. 

This is why the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka took people by surprise.  And this is also why it is not just a coincidence that the ISIS terrorist who stood behind the London Bridge terror attack was of Pakistani Kashmiri origin.  Since the collapse of the Caliphate, ISIS has been looking for new bases.  Given Hindu-Muslim tensions in the Indian subcontinent, it does appear natural that ISIS would consider the Kashmir region a good place to set up camp and would inspire a Pakistani Kashmiri to implement a terror attack on the London Bridge. 

However, Kashmir is not the only region in Asia that radical Islam has made inroads in.  Recently, four Muslims gang raped and murdered Dr. Priyanka Reddy and then burned her body alive in Hyderabad, India.  While news agencies across the world have reported on this brutal gang rape, not many have publicized the fact that this Hindu woman was a victim of radical Islamist violence and was targeted specifically because she was not Muslim.  She was not merely a victim of India’s rape culture like the American media portrayed her to be.  In fact, radical Muslims have been systematically raping Hindu girls ever since Article 370 on Kashmir was lifted.  Therefore, the gang rape and murder of Priyanka Reddy should be viewed in the framework of this.   Thus, what ISIS did to the Yezidis in Syria and Iraq could also easily happen to Hindus in the Indian subcontinent. 

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, noted that anti-Hindu violence has been on the ascent recently in Bangladesh.  Many of these attacks are implemented by ISIS and other radical Islamists.  According to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, following the ISIS Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, ISIS declared a new emir of the Bengal region, otherwise known as Bangladesh.  This was around the same period of time that ISIS declared a new province in Kashmir.   Thus, it could indicate where else in Asia ISIS could potentially expand into.    

Furthermore, Basu noted that the Bangladeshi government is turning a blind eye to ISIS incitement: “Sheikh Hasina permitted two ISIS convicts responsible for the Holy Artisan terror attack to show up in a Dhaka courtroom wearing hats with the ISIS logo on them.   How did one of the most talked about terrorists carry a cap emblazoned with the ISIS logo onto it to a Dhaka courtroom and then proceed to put it on for all to see?  How did the person then continue wearing the cap while surrounded by law enforcers?  And finally, where did the caps come from?  These burning questions were on the minds of everyone in court and on social media.” 

“I urge the international community to save the minorities of Bangladesh from ISIS and its enablers,” Basu proclaimed. “Sheik Hasina seeks to ethnically cleanse Hindus, Buddhists and Christians from Bangladesh and for this reason, turns a blind eye to the approaching ISIS menace. If the international community does not take action, within the next decade, there will be no more minorities in Bangladesh. There is no any alternative except uprooting Sheikh Hasina from power and restoring democracy within Bangladesh.  If the West wants to prevent the next London terror attack, they cannot ignore what happens in Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other areas of Asia.  Therefore, I call upon the world to wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late.”

 

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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 02/12/2019 - 16:11

http://www.quiz-maker.com/QJU1F0M

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Op-Ed: Where is the outrage over the plight of persecuted Christians?

Wed, 27/11/2019 - 16:00

 

If one watches CNN, the Trump impeachment hearings and the British elections dominate headlines.  Next down on the list is the earthquake that recently struck Albania and global warming.  It as if with the collapse of the ISIS Caliphate, the world believes that Christians are no longer being persecuted and it is time to move onto other issues.  However, this portrayal given by CNN and other major American media outlets does not reflect the reality presently.   From Syria and Iran to Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Korean Peninsula, Christians are still being persecuted for their faith.

In a recent interview, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who recently won $47 million dollars in a lawsuit against the Iranian regime, stated that the Iranian regime intensely persecutes Evangelical Christians for it is illegal to evangelize in the Islamic Republic.  He related that legal churches such as the Assembly of God Church Central Tehran, where he worked, were told that if they evangelized, the authorities would shut down their church.  For this reason, Pastor Abedini decided to set up an unground church movement, which became the largest church in Iran within three years: “We had hundreds of churches in 30 cities.” 

When he led the House Church Movement, Pastor Abedini also helped foreign Christians who came to Iran: “I helped 300 South Korean missionaries in Iran.  The South Koreans sent 300 missionaries to Iran in order to start churches but they could not start anything after two years.  Most of the Muslims lied to them in order to take their money.  They were used and abused.  Then I helped them to evangelize the Muslims.  I invited them to come and to teach in my churches.  I had 300 underground churches in Iran.    We helped them a lot until one night, those 300 missionaries got arrested and deported back to South Korea.  Their security was terrible.  The Iranian government easily found them.”

For the crime of spreading Christ’s gospel, Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison (of which he served three and a half) and spent several months under house arrest.  Prior to that, he was arrested 12 times.  However, the last imprisonment was the worst for him: “I saw a real hell with my own eyes.  They tortured me every day, every minute, every second.  So many of my friends were tortured and they destroyed so many families.  I slept in the cold underground.  I slept with an open window in the winter.  They made the cell wet in the winter and forced me to sleep on the wet floor.  They wanted me to die.  They told people to kill and rape me.  They said I deserved death.  They encouraged and even forced other prisoners to attack me physically but since I was into martial arts, I defended myself.  The guards also attacked me.  I was beaten. My interrogator who beat me asked me to write I raped and beat my female church members.  They wanted to show the news agencies that this is the American pastor lifestyle.  When I resisted, they started to beat me.  People die after getting a bleeding stomach like I had.  For two months, I could not go to the restroom.  I had a stomach like a pregnant woman.  It was a miracle I did not die.  They threatened to execute me a thousand times.”

Pastor Abedini also noted that the Iranian regime employs sexual violence against Evangelical Christians like him: “They had a plan to kidnap my sister in the bible school and to confine her next to me and to rape her and to let me watch her getting raped.  Fortunately, she was saved and went to the US.  England refused to protect her. So many of my female church members, they raped them and got them pregnant and then forced them to do an abortion.  And then they were in prison for years where they were tortured and had half of their face destroyed.”     

Pastor Abedini was even denied basic human rights like the right to sleep and to eat properly: “Every time I fell asleep, they did not let me sleep.  They forced me to eat when I was sleepy.   I was going to die.  I was so sleepy I did not want to eat.  It made me crazy.  Every night at 6pm, they brought other prisoners, tens of them and beat them and broke their bones right behind the door of my cell in order to let me see and hear.  I could hear people yelling for help.  They let me hear and watch.  They did this in order to make me weak so that I can deny Christ and to give away church members IDs.  I was in solitary confinement.  No other prisoner was my friend for if they befriended me, they would be tortured and be unable to see their family.  Every day five days per day, they blasted a loudspeaker in my cell.  It drove me crazy.”

While Pastor Abedini is now a free man, many other Christians remain imprisoned and persecuted in the Islamic Republic of Iran merely for following their faith.  Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is presently jailed in Iran for holding prayer services in the Farsi language.  9 other Christians are facing 5 years in prison for attending a church service in someone’s home.  UK Ambassador Miriam Shearman told the Christian Institute recently, “We remain deeply concerned by Iran’s failure to uphold international legal obligations and its arbitrary detention of citizens and duel nationals on unclear charges, denied due process and subject to mistreatment.”  Iran is one of the worst countries for Christians on earth.  Open Doors ranks Iran as the ninth worst country for Christians on the planet.

In the areas controlled by Turkey in Syria, Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, noted that as we speak, Christians, Kurds and Yezidis are being ethnically cleansed from the region.  He told US President Donald Trump that if he thinks the region is peaceful now, he should speak to the Kurds, Yezidis and Christians who were forced out of their homes by Erdogan’s government: “The jihadists supported by Turkey view the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds as pro-Assad because they refused to join the Syrian Revolution.  They are punishing the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds right now.  They want to change the demographics according to what Turkey wants.  They are doing atrocities, wiping out churches, homes, cities and taking over, house by house.  They view Christians, Kurds and Yezidis as non-believers that must be eliminated and are a threat to the Khalifa of Turkey.  An Armenian religious leader was killed by groups belonging to Turkey.   A 14-year-old girl from Afrin was kidnapped and taken away.  They bomb homes.  They kidnap, rape and kill in order to force people to leave.”  

Further east, Pakistan Today reported that 1,000 Christians and Hindus are abducted and forcefully converted to Islam every year in the predominately Muslim country.  A report from Church in Need UK reported that many Christian parents in Pakistan are compelled to give their children Muslim names so they won’t be abused.  As Bishop Shukardin proclaimed, “Most of the minorities and especially the Christians are afraid of attacks and fear persecution.  If the West strikes against Muslims anywhere in the world, enraged Muslims in Pakistan often attack churches.  The minorities are considered infidels and they are depicted negatively in the textbooks, which promote prejudice against minorities.  The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only complete religion and that salvation can only be found in the Quran.”

This month alone, International Christian Concern reported that a mob of 50 Muslims murdered Sonia Sarwar, a Pakistani Christian teenager.  International Christian Concern reported that the attack was aimed at displacing 10 Christian families from Lahore.  In a separate instance this month, a Pakistani Christian home was burned to the ground because its owners refused to sell it to Muslims.   Manzoor Masih told International Christian Concern: “I never thought we would face so much hatred for not selling our home.  It is really heart-breaking.”   And Gonilla Gill, a Pakistani Christian journalist, was forced to resign because she could no longer handle the pressure from co-workers to leave her faith: “People are vile.  They talk rubbish about my faith.  However, I will not lose hope and will remain steadfast in my religion.”

Sadly, the situation is not much better in Bangladesh.  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stated in a recent interview: “One event that illustrates the vulnerability of Christians occurred in July 2018.  A young woman named Shirpa was attacked by three young radical Muslim men.  They forced their way into her home, where they tried to rape her.  They also verbally attacked her and threatened to kill her and another person in their home if she did not take off her clothes.  The assailants took a video of her naked and then threatened they would post it on Facebook if she ever told anyone about the incident.   In the end, tragically, Shirpa killed herself, leaving behind a husband and two children.  This is not an isolated example. In 2018, there were six attacks on churches in Bangladesh.   Several Christians were injured in an attack upon a church in Chittagong Hill Tracts.”    

Further east in the Korean Peninsula, Open Doors USA reported that Christians in North Korea are viewed as a hostile element that have to be eradicated: “If Christians are discovered, not only are they deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot.  Their families will share their fate as well.   Christians do not even have the slightest space in society.  On the contrary, they are publicly warned against.   Meeting other Christians in order to worship is almost impossible and if some believers dare to do so, it has to be done in utmost secrecy.”  While Open Doors USA reported that there was hope in 2018 that diplomatic efforts would lead to an improvement in the plight of Christians in North Korea, this hope has now faded.  Like following the Iranian nuclear deal, renewed diplomatic efforts with the North Korean regime have done nothing in order to improve human rights and minority rights in the Korean peninsula.  

While many acknowledge that Christians are persecuted in the Muslim world and in communist dictatorships like North Korea, a recent UN General Assembly resolution highlighted that religious persecution can also take place in democratic countries like South Korea.  According to this recent resolution, members of the Shincheonji Church, a newly rising denomination in South Korea that have recently graduated 100,000 theologians in a special ceremony, have fallen victim to deprogramming.  Deprogramming occurs where members of the church are abducted, imprisoned and tortured until they renounce their faith at the instigation of another rival church, in this case the Christian Council of Korea: “Deprogramming involves several instances of serious violence including forced use of drugs and rape.  Deprogramming is considered a crime in the US, Europe and in Japan.  In fact, one of the few countries where deprogramming is still going on is the Republic of Korea, not coincidentally a country where many new religious movements and new churches flourish.” 

According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, over 1,200 South Koreans suffered from deaths, family breakdown and mental trauma due to forced conversions committed by the Christian Council of Korea.   In a letter signed by 15 international NGOs to South Korean President Moon Jae, they proclaimed: “South Korea may be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated.”  They asked the South Korean President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forceful deprogramming, to put a stop to this obnoxious practice and to hold those fully accountable.”   Even though deprogramming has taken the lives of victims since 2007, the South Korean government has not yet responded to the issue.  In the United States and around the world, there is very little public awareness on the subject. 

The time has come for the United States, the EU, the UN and the international community to start paying attention to the persecution of Christians worldwide.  The time has come for the American media to stop neglecting what happens in Asia and to start to pay attention to what happens outside of the America’s and Europe.   A faith is presently being persecuted for their beliefs and the world has turned a blind eye to it.  It is time for this to change.  

 

The post Op-Ed: Where is the outrage over the plight of persecuted Christians? appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

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