27 October 2007

The Turkish war on terror

By Liam Carroll

Do terrorists punch above their weight? The latest bout of fighting between the Turkish military and Kurdish Workers Party near to the northern Iraq border is only the most recent example of a relatively small guerilla force of a few thousand fighters potentially instigating a major regional crisis.

A dozen Turkish citizens murdered in cold blood and scores of soldiers ambushed, blown up or killed in combat in one year alone has rightly angered the Turkish public, but like other comparable situations it would be absurd if the death of a hundred or so people led to a virtual Turkish invasion of northern Iraq, as has been threatened, which might lead to the death of far greater numbers of innocents.

An underreported aspect of the current conflict is the fact that the Turkish military has made major incursions into northern Iraq before, in pursuit of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) fighters, and has singularly failed ever to eliminate this enduring guerilla force. In 1997 Turkey sent 50,000 troops into the Kurdish area of Iraq with the support of local Kurdish parties who had also complained of PKK interference in their region, and several thousand troops have since remained. The campaign was unsuccessful, as had previous campaigns been which had shocked fellow NATO members for their high levels of aggression and abuse that included village burnings and torture.

As for the war in Turkey against the PKK, which has lasted over 20 years and resulted in 37,000 deaths and included thousands of village clearances, it has become evident that eliminating the PKK is no simple task. While the authorities in Baghdad, and indeed the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq have condemned the PKK actions and closed offices there, they are probably quite genuine in their protests that they have limited scope for action given the difficult terrain of the region and the considerable burden of other pressing security issues.

In short, after 20 years of a fruitless guerilla war in southeast Turkey and Iraq, and one that has brought massive condemnation upon their heads from allies and human rights organizations for the criminal manner in which they have conducted much of that campaign, Turkey might have to think more seriously about an alternative approach. Difficult as it may be, it has become almost a cliché of conflict resolution, of which the US military commanders in Iraq have become the latest advocates, you cannot have peace without a comprehensive political settlement.

Now, much as we may sympathise with Turkey for the current round of attacks and fatalities, there can be little doubt that they have treated the Kurdish minority, which is in the region of 16 million people or so, extremely harshly in the past. Indeed a comprehensive campaign of repression of Kurdish identity, including language and political expression, predated the resort to force by the PKK by over ten years. Since that time village burnings, torture and extra-judicial killings have become the tools of the Turkish campaign.

Turkey has moved in recent years to improve Kurdish representation in parliament, allow the Kurdish language to be taught in schools and the courts have upheld complaints by Kurds against the security forces. Turkish moves toward EU accession certainly appears to have encouraged the authorities to recognize Kurdish grievances, but reports of continued impunity for crimes committed against Kurds, amongst many other injustices, suggests that they remain far from being respected equals.

Now whether Turkey imagines that it really can make a clean sweep of the PKK with Iraqi Kurdish assistance or not, human rights organizations have warned that it would be premature to imagine that Turkey has made good its relationship with the Kurds domestically. Thus any temporary military success over the PKK now is unlikely to be the end of the matter if it is not accompanied by a long-term political settlement.

More alarmingly, trying to tackle the legacy of past repression through further use of force might end up adding woefully to another Kurdish communities problems if the cycle of violence, which might start as a disciplined counter terrorism operation, were to escalate in a fashion with which we are all too familiar with by now.

Turkey's NATO allies and the KRG are right to urge restraint and must do what they sensibly can to bring the PKK to the negotiating table, however the current crises cannot be entirely separated from historical injustices. This is a point that Turkey should be encouraged to recognize less they let their sense of injury destroy the political gains that have been acquired at great cost, both inside Turkey and out, but are not yet complete and indeed still remain, precipitously fragile.

20 October 2007

Biofuels may cause even more starvation

By Jacqui McCarney

A strange catch for a fisherman, a human body; catching a human in your net is no longer that unusual for fishermen fishing the waters of the Mediterranean. Nor is it unusual for bodies to be washed up, shockingly bloated or half starved on tourist beaches.

Two million people try to enter the European Union illegally each year and 2,000 of them drown in the Mediterranean. Exact figures are uncertain because nobody is counting and nobody seems to care.

These are desperate people, fleeing hunger and famine, in open overcrowded fishing boats at the mercy the open seas, dehydration, sickness and starvation.

Those who survive the misery of the sea journey, often too weakened to stand are nevertheless, processed, held in detention centres and forcibly repatriated to their own countries, back to the certain starvation by countries like Italy and Spain.

Why? When the world has never been richer, when we can produce enough food to feed twice the world's population are people still dying from hunger? This situation has "outraged" Jean Ziegler the Special Rapporteur on the "right to food" at the UN.

He highlighted the problem of worsening starvation at the UN Food and Agricultural organisation (FAO) last Tuesday, October 16th, World Food Day.

The Millennium Development goals and hugely popular Make Poverty History campaign are no more than ashes, far from reducing global hunger, the problem of hunger is growing. Every year more than six million children die from hunger before their fifth birthday and that figure is set to rise over the next few years.

Few of us are under any illusions about the connection between the wealth in the Northern hemisphere and the starvation in the Southern hemisphere. Climate change is the latest addition to the already deadly mix of unfair trade agreements, liberalized trade rules and third world debt. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has estimated that by 2050, there may be 150million environmental refugees – people forced to leave lands because of increasing desertification and land degradation linked to global climate change.

Despite fine speeches, even fewer can still believe that Western governments had or have ever had any serious intention of tackling world hunger, or of even of fostering the conditions in which hunger would be reduced.

Any remnants of hope in the good intentions of western governments towards the poor of the world could be dashed forever in April 2008.

That will be when the UK carries out its part of the EU directive on Biofuels. The government will mandate 2.5 per cent to all transport fuels to be biofuels rising to 5% in 2010 and over 10% by 2020.

Biofuels are presented by European governments as being part of their solution to climate change. Yet, it is increasingly clear that they destroy forests, displace people, cause starvation and damage the climate. When our government claims to be going green, they are in fact causing huge suffering.

Leading up to this year's World Food Day, Jean Ziegler, has been highlighting the growing impact of biofuels on those most of risk of starvation. He says "It's a total disaster for those who are starving". Lester Brown from the Earth Policy Institute, has said "the stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world's 2 billion poorest people."

Already food prices are rising, peasant farmers are been pushed off their lands, forests are being cleared, water is been diverted for mass growing of crops for fuel and slave wages are paid to local people while the agro – industrial monopolies grow rich with the help of western governments.

Jean Ziegler sees the problem of the growing number of hunger refugees, increasingly linked to climate change, and emerging negative impact of biofuels on the right to food, as one than can not be solved until western governments begin to take responsibility for ending global starvation.

Therefore, he is calling for those fleeing hunger to be given refugee status. He is calling for an end to the criminalisation of migration which leads to increasing violations of the right to life and the right to food. It is only by recognising "refugees from hunger" that western governments will feel a real need to find solutions.

He is also, along with an increasing number of non-government organisations, calling for a global 5 year moratorium on the expansion of biofuels, until the potential social, environmental and human rights impacts can be fully examined.

Here is the UK consumers increasingly want the choice to consume ethically, yet after April there will be no choice about using biofuels. Those biofuels may well be causing people starve. How ethical is that?

13 October 2007

Keeping peace in space?

By Marguerite Finn

Q. What can a peace activist from North Yorkshire, Sir Menzies Campbell and an American nun possibly have in common?

The answer is a mutual repugnance against the militarization of space. Today is the last day of Keep Space for Peace week during which these three people, representing an 'activist', 'political' and 'scientific' approach, have been campaigning for a common goal.

Q. What does the 'militarization of space' actually mean?

It all began fifty years ago, in October 1957, when the launch of the Sputnik Satellite changed the world forever. Even then, Sputnik aroused fears of an arms race in outer space and the friendly peep, peep of the satellite as it passed over Norfolk was translated by the more paranoid members of US Space Command into a future threat to the interests of the USA.

Ten years later, in October 1967, the UN passed the Outer Space Treaty, which sought to ensure the peaceful uses of space for the benefit of all mankind. The United States however, has rapidly and unilaterally continued to militarise its own considerable space assets. It has utilized space to fight wars on Earth and to develop a prompt global strike capacity to achieve "full spectrum dominance" in land, sea, air and space. A statement on 3rd October 2007, from the Womens International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in Geneva, says "These provocative policies are instigating a new and deadly arms race which will devour resources needed for sustenance of human life, bring death and devastation and very possibly lead to a global war more devastating than the Earth has yet known".

Q. What does a peace activist from North Yorkshire have to do with any of this?

The peace activist is midwife, Lindis Percy and she will be actively protesting today, outside the USAF base at Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, against the militarization of space. The UK Government quietly slipped out a statement in July giving the US permission to install additional equipment at Menwith Hill to support its missile defence system. Later this month, nearby USAF Fylingdales will switch on its upgraded radar to "contribute to the US ballistic missile system." The base will be part of a deadly space weapons system known as Operation Phoenix, which Lindis believes must be stopped, in the interests of human security and peace.

Q. And where does a senior politician like Sir Menzies Campbell come in?

In an article published in the Yorkshire Post on 20 September 2007, Sir Menzies castigates politicians and commentators who work themselves into a frenzy about power-sharing in Europe "and yet remain largely silent over the transfer of British sovereignty in crucial areas of national security to the United States". As he says, "There has been no public debate in Britain about the desirability or workability of missile defence, let alone the strategic assumptions that underpin it". What perturbs Sir Menzies is the continuation and expansion of American enclaves on British soil, protected from Parliamentary scrutiny or public debate. US bases like Menwith Hill and Feltwell in Norfolk are effectively outside the control of the British authorities. Sir Menzies argues, "The drive towards missile defence in Washington is driven by a mixture of industrial and military interests - the British Parliament has the duty to question whether such motivations are compatible with British interests".

Q. What does the American nun say?

Quite a bit. As well as being a member of the religious congregation the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, Dr Rosalie Bertell has a doctorate in biometrics and has worked in the field of environmental health since 1969. In her gentle and persistent way she has rocked the male-dominated world of nuclear physics and the military-industrial complex. Her latest book, Planet Earth – the Latest Weapon of War, warns us against the weaponisation of space.

As well as documenting the adverse effects of military experiments on the earth’s atmosphere, Rosalie shows how the habit of choosing violence as a first response to a threat has manifested itself as an addictive and ultimately self-destructive policy. She explains that, as in overcoming any addiction, the first step is for society to admit that we have become addicted to war. "Wars require the cooperation of civil society - involving universities, trades unions, governments and media. All of this cooperation could be withdrawn by a society determined to change the course of violence". Rosalie's vision is for a world where reverence for life is valued more than the ability to kill efficiently.

When three disparate voices argue together for the same thing, surely it is time to listen?

7 October 2007

Let the refugees in

By Juliette Harkin

"I went to the House of God and returned yet I found nothing like my home" - An Iraqi Proverb

You can take a ride from central Damascus in a small 'micro' van packed with workers and travel to Sayyida Zeinab, a popular district of Damascus and home for mainly Shi'a Iraqi refugees. At the entrance to the gold domed mosque foreign women can don the black Abaya, the long black cover worn by some Iraqi and Iranian women, and visit the holy shrine of Zeinab, which houses her remains. Zeinab was the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed, daughter of Ali the fourth Caliphate. Shi'a Muslims make the pilgrimige to mourn the assassination of the fourth Caliph and the 'betrayal' against Ali's family at a time that saw the Shi'a and Sunni split of Islam.

Syria has received many waves of Iraqi refugees throughout recent history, from those fleeing the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam's regime, the first Gulf war, the crippling sanctions and now the current violence as a result of the second American-led war on Iraq.

A steady flow of Iraqi refugees arrive in Syria and Jordan, the earlier and relatively wealthy now joined by the impoverished, by those who fled with nothing, in fear of their lives – journalists, those who worked with the occupation forces, foreign embassies or NGO's, victims of torture, and anyone living in the wrong side of the new sectarian divides that carve up Iraq’s towns. They are all waiting to go home and hoping to make a life until their country is safe.

Umm Ashraf and Abu Ashraf (the mother and father of Ashraf), a retired Iraqi couple are still waiting, as Christians they were too scared to return. I first met them in 2003; they greeted me warmly, shaking my hand saying what sounded like a thousand ways in Arabic to say hello, ask after my health and thank God. They invited me for tea and sweet biscuits. They had just returned from church in the picturesque old Christian quarter known as Baab Tooma in the old city of Damascus.

Abu Ashraf said they hoped to join their daughter and her family in Australia. They showed me a brochure of Australia and seemed happy that they would leave the confines of living in one room. They missed home and worried constantly about their son and family still in Baghdad.

This summer Sharouk Dillaa, an Iraqi involved in women's human rights came to talk in Norwich. She reeled off some extremely grim figures. One hundred women every day lose their husbands to the sectarian violence on the streets or the brutality of the occupation. There are five million Iraqi war orphans and every day four hundred more children are orphaned.

Over four million Iraqi's have had to leave their homes. The UNHCR is describing this as "the world's fastest growing displacement crisis".

Amnesty International issued a report in September 2007 urging those responsible for going to war with Iraq to now help in the resettlement of Iraqi's who cannot return to their war torn countries. Amnesty says there is a "moral obligation" to intervene and provide the necessary funds and a safe haven for a nation of people totally traumatised by war, in fear of their lives and lacking the basic food and health needs.

The international community is largely ignoring this dire situation. Promising insufficient funds and setting tiny quotas, countries like the UK and the USA are put to shame by the relative generosity of Syria and Jordan. Amnesty International commended Syria for taking in 1.4 million Iraqis and Jordan over 500,000. By contrast, the UK will allow just 750 refugees to resettle in the UK under its Gateway Protection Programme. The USA is reneging on its commitment to take in 25,000 and now talks of maybe taking in… just 2,000.

Our politicians assume we don't want any more foreigners here in Britain, taking our jobs and welfare benefits. Jordan and Syria suffer high levels of absolute poverty yet Jordanian officials recently estimated that they spent $1 billion on coping with the Iraqi refugees. Syria has allowed all Iraqi children free education, emergency medical treatment and offered a safe haven for families from a war that they have always opposed.

Today Abu and Umm Ashraf are still in Damascus, living in one room, waiting. They are the lucky ones, they have food and shelter and their son in Baghdad is still alive. Their country is in ruins. Shame on us for closing our doors to refugees who watch in despair as their country is completely destroyed by the war that the British government initiated.

Iraqi names have been changed to protect their privacy.