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The Peace Walls Must Eventually Come Down

Peace Wall in Belfast (Photo: Nick

In Northern Ireland, there are barriers known as peace walls separating Irish Catholic and British Protestant neighborhoods from each other.  Most of these walls can be found in Belfast, but some were also built in the cities of Londonderry, Lurgan, and Portadown. 

They were originally set up during the era known as the Troubles* from the late 1960s to the 1990s, when riots and violent paramilitary activity between Irish Catholics (who wish to join the Republic of Ireland) and British Protestants (who want to stay with the United Kingdom) were rampant.

As peaceful relations between the two national/religious groups continue to evolve and the threat for violence diminishes, the peace walls should come down. They keep Northern Ireland in negative international spotlight, hinder the region's economic development, and signify one of the world’s longest-lasting conflicts.

The conflict in Northern Ireland that led to these walls being erected has been managed well ever since the Good Friday Agreement of April 10, 1998.** Relations between Irish Catholics and British Protestants are still testy at times, but peace groups have helped young people across the divide establish friendships and engage in peaceful activities together.

Local Engagement with Armed Groups in the Midst of Violence

The armed conflict in Iraq and Syria becomes more complex each day, and good faith negotiations seem ever further away. Those of us on the outside who would like to see compromises so that the killing may stop find it difficult, if not impossible, to find those who represent the armed groups. There are, no doubt, people from different intelligence services who have contacts, but good faith negotiations may not be their central aim.

Wisam Elhamoui and Sinan al-Hawat point out in their study “Civilian interaction with armed groups in the Syrian conflict”:

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, it is important not to lose sight of the significant roles played by unarmed, non-state actors to develop structures for promoting local security and peace and to adapt to the constantly changing demands of the conflict. Huge efforts have been invested in maintaining a civilian voice by activists and locals. They have shown courage and resilience and an incredible capacity to sustain their efforts and aspirations despite huge challenges and lack of support.

At the local level, conflict reduction efforts depend on channels of kinship and earlier social relations.

International Migrants Day: Time for a UN-Led World Conference on Migration and Refugee Flows

December 18 was set by the UN General Assembly to call attention to the role of migrants in the world society. The date was chosen to mark the creation of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The aim of the Convention was to ensure that migrants and their families would continue to be covered by the human rights standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants, and other human rights treaties.

In practice, migrants are often “between two chairs”--no longer of concern to the State they have left and not yet covered by the human rights laws of the State to which they have gone.

Ratifications of the convention have been slow, with several governments making reservations that generally weaken its impact. In 2004, a commission of independent experts was set up to study the reports of governments to the UN on the application of the convention--a commission that is part of the human rights treaty bodies. Reports from each government party to the convention are to be filed once every four years. However, the discussions within the migration treaty body and its subsequent report attract the attention of only a small number of people. The discussion deals with the report of only one government at a time, while migration is always a multinational issue and can have worldwide implications.

Moreover, many States consider that earlier International Labour Organization conventions deal adequately with migrant rights and see no need to sign a new convention.

The Saudi Dilemma

There are two major issues in the Middle East that pose dangers to international trade, security, and economic well-being. In a prior post, I addressed the difficulties and dangers of international jockeying over Syria getting out of control.  Here I address the concern that the combination of despotic, repressive family rule and archaic Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia may lead to continuous civil unrest in Europe and beyond, as well as a severe disruption of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf region with massive economic consequences worldwide.

Saudi Arabia is a tough nut to crack, and in economic terms, a much larger one.

As long as the current royal family stays in power and there is a large profit margin in Saudi oil (and no major breakdown in the Persian Gulf area--from hostilities over Syria, for example), international oil markets are likely to remain stable.

But a portion of the oil profits go to support of a form of Islam (Wahhabi/Salafi) which is deeply opposed to the modern world order in Europe, the United States, Africa, Indonesia, and even in Russia.  

The Drowning and the Displaced

Delegates, including President Obama, at COP21 in Paris (Photo: Presidencia de la República Mexicana,

Record flooding in Chennai this month combined with the UN COP21 Conference has brought climate change once again to the forefront of international discussions. While scientists concede that we cannot link individual events directly to climate change, it is reasonable to infer that the record rainfall and flooding in Chennai is due in part to our deteriorating environment.

However, despite claiming nearly 300 lives, there are signs of hope in Chennai. As schools begin to reopen, we can assume that most citizens will eventually return to their homes. This has not always been the case with weather disasters, and it will likely become even rarer in the future if climate change worsens.

“Environmental refugees” is still a relatively new concept, and the issue was ignored at COP21. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has compiled materials to prepare for large-scale displacement, but there are pressing legal issues in the way of coping with environmental refugees. The Climate Institute points out:

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) defines refugees as victims of persecution, war, or civil conflict who have fled their home countries. Refugee status entitles a person to a safe asylum in another country-or in the absence of this possibility, the provision of assistance and aid 'such as financial grants, food, tools and shelter, schools and clinics.'

Climate Security: Building on the Momentum of the Paris Agreement

The Paris climate summit known as COP21 came to an end on Saturday afternoon, December 12, 2015. This was a day later than originally planned to allow for last-minute compromises and an agreement with a few States, mainly Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, so that they would not block a consensus agreement.

All 195 States plus the European Union had to agree. A treaty is not something that can be created by a majority vote as can be done in a UN General Assembly resolution. On April 22, 2016, there will be a high-level signature ceremony. The Treaty must be ratified by 55 States and will come into force in 2020.

The treaty arising from COP21 will replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new treaty is relatively short and clear. However, it is the “Preamble” of 140 paragraphs--not legally binding but where all the analysis and aims are set out--that caused difficulties to reach consensus among States with diverse interpretations of “national interest,” of short- and longer-term perspectives, and of differing access to national expertise.

The preamble has been under negotiations for the past two years. Although most points had been agreed upon well before the Paris conference, some crucial aspects had to be negotiated during the two-week session among heads of government and teams of negotiators, often with a Foreign Minister present.

Bring Back $500 or Starve,

There are too many issues in the world. While I can blog, read, or talk about them, I think taking an action makes a stronger impact; whether it impacts an entire population or one person, every life is valuable and dear to my heart.

That being said, I am an advocate for ending human trafficking and personally passionate about women and children. I volunteer for a non-profit organization in Orange County, which works in sync with Saddleback Church’s Justice and Trafficking Initiative. My role is to make contact by profiling the victims of sex trafficking and to help them get out of the life.

One night, my advocacy partner and I were walking in a dark alley in California. We saw a petite blonde girl who was very beautiful. She had a black dress on and looked scared. I approached her from a distance and had the following conversation:

Me: Hey. It is going to be a cold night huh? What’s your name?

Her: Yeah. My name is Belle.* I gotta work right now. I can’t talk.

Me: You like your job?

Her: Well, I have never done it. Tonight is my first night.

Me: How old are you?

Her: 18

“She is not 18,” I thought to myself. She looked like she was 14 or 15.

Her: Look, I really can’t talk. They are following me since it is my first night. I have to do this.

Syria: Global Solutions Urgently Needed

By Christiaan Triebert - Flickr: Azaz, Syria, CC BY 2.0,

Citizens for Global Solutions addresses a diverse set of global needs. Each deserves attention. But two difficult problems signal possibly severe ruptures to international trade, security, and economic well-being. Both are in the Middle East.

One is the possibility that nation-state jockeying for position in the resolution of the Syria crisis will get out of control and lead to broad physical and economic confrontations.

The other is that the combination of despotic, repressive family rule and archaic, backward-looking Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia may lead to continuous civil unrest in Europe and beyond, as well as a severe disruption of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf region with massive economic consequences worldwide.

Solutions to these challenges are hard to find. This post is not intended to spur rash or emotional action among concerned citizens. But awareness and some attempt at constructive orientation are needed. 

This post will deal with the Syrian situation. A follow-up post will address Saudi Arabia.

By recent count, over 230 warplanes from five nations are assigned to Syria. The United States accounts for about 150 of them. Russia has aircraft in the area and has launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. A melange of armed forces backed by various sources divide and devastate Syria.

Why "Daesh" (and Solidarity) Matters

After the November terrorist attacks in Paris, President Francois Hollande referred to the group more commonly known as ISIL or ISIS as "Daesh." The name has been used intermittently by both government officials and media outlets, but to many, this usage was a pointed statement.

Daesh is the Arabic acronym used for ISIS, standing for “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham.” The Boston Globe reported last year that,

The term 'Daesh' is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, 'Daesh' can also be understood as a play on words—and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from 'to trample down and crush' to 'a bigot who imposes his view on others.'

Crossing Cultural and Linguistic Boundaries: International Volunteer Day

Peace Corps volunteers work in the Gambia to create sustainable gardens

Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectations of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose.     --UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

December 5 has been selected as the International Volunteer Day by a 1985 UN General Assembly resolution. This year, Volunteer Day comes as government representatives and NGO volunteers are meeting in Paris to develop a new international climate agreement at COP 21.  The NGO representatives are fewer in number than originally planned due to the recent Paris attacks and consequent tightened security. However, those that are present are doubly active as world media attention focuses on the conference and its outcome.

As with all major UN conferences, negotiations among governments have been going on for two years with a good deal of input from NGO representatives. At the Paris stage, there is a preliminary “Final Document and Action Plan” of some 30 pages with a good number of square brackets around words or sentences on which there is no agreement. Negotiations concern making the document shorter so that the main ideas will stand out better and to remove square brackets. If a suitable word is not found, often the whole sentence will be dropped.