Monday, June 30, 2014

The Tragedy of Iraq

Published on Friday, June 20, 2014 by Truthdig

Heed the Voices for Peace Amid the Tragedy of Iraq

by Amy Goodman

A sign seen at a 2007 anti-war protest. (Photo: Thiago Santos/cc/flickr)
The militia group known as ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has swept across Iraq, conquering city after city and stopping short of Baghdad in what has been described as a “lightning advance,” summarily executing people in its wake. ISIS emerged from the festering civil war in Syria, and has exploited the instability in that country, along with the weak and famously corrupt central Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. 

One person who knows something about the region, and who is heard far too little in the U.S. media, is Lakhdar Brahimi. He recently stepped down as the United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria. He worked for two years in that position, overseeing the Geneva talks aimed at bringing peace to Syria. He resigned after recognizing the abject failure of the peace process. 

When interviewed this week on the “Democracy Now!” news hour, he repeated a warning he has been voicing: “The situation in Syria is like an infected wound: If it is not treated properly, it will spread. And this is what is happening.” At 80 years of age, Brahimi is a man with wide experience. An Algerian freedom fighter against the French occupation, he would later become Algeria’s foreign minister, then a U.N. envoy in numerous conflict areas, including Haiti, South Africa and Afghanistan. He is a member of “The Elders,” a group of retired diplomats recruited by Nelson Mandela to work globally for peace. I asked Brahimi what he felt was the greatest mistake made by the U.S. in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Using the careful language of a career diplomat, he said: “The biggest mistake was to invade Iraq. Having invaded Iraq, I would be probably very, very unfair, but I am tempted to say that every time there was a choice between something right and something wrong, not very often the right option was taken.” 

Brahimi echoes many critics who say the Bush administration erred in dissolving the Iraqi army after the government of Saddam Hussein was toppled. In the decade that has followed, tens of billions of dollars in weapons and military hardware have been sold, leased or given to the Iraqi government from the United States alone. Public notices of the arms deals are scattered across U.S. government websites, but include a rush shipment of 300 Hellfire missiles, along with existing deals for small arms and ammunition, up-armored Humvees, Apache attack helicopters and Iraq’s first shipment of F-16 fighter jets. All these weapons are en route to the Maliki government, which is widely condemned for alienating the Sunni population in Iraq, sowing sectarianism and conflict.

Sami Rasouli is another of those voices not heard in the U.S. media. He returned to Iraq full time, founding the group Muslim Peacemaker Teams to help rebuild his country. Speaking from Najaf, Iraq, about the U.S. military, he told me: “I think they should leave the area, not to intervene ... and pull out their forces, and let the Arabs and the countries of the area solve their problem. But it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to take some time, but eventually they will figure out a way.”

The voices of Iraqis on the ground and peace activists here at home teach us important lessons. In 2001, it was Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who stood alone on the floor of Congress in opposition to war in retaliation for the attacks of Sept. 11. This week, she tweeted: “Let’s be clear: US is war weary. There is no military solution to sectarian conflict in Iraq.” Then there are the new voices. Her colleague, Hawaii congressmember Colleen Hanabusa, a Buddhist, introduced an amendment to prevent combat operations in Iraq, saying, “I have opposed U.S. involvement in Iraq since 2002, and believe that further military involvement lacks an effective objective or a solid endgame.”

President Obama himself opposed the war in Iraq. He should remember that today. 

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column. 
© 2014 Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award and dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Human Rights in Trouble

What began as a financial crisis is rapidly turning into a global human rights crisis. 
Just as greater poverty and misery are threatening the realization of economic and social rights, the repression of growing social protest is threatening civil and political rights. A rising tide of xenophobia and discrimination is also already threatening the well being of migrants and minorities. Yet despite the human rights dimensions of the crisis, government responses have largely failed to take their obligations in this regard into account. Austerity measures being implemented in countries such as Spain and Irelandare exacerbating the marginalization of vulnerable sectors rather than protecting their inherent human rights.

At the Center for Economic and Social Rights, we are working to ensure that human rights are not forgotten as governments meet to discuss what can be done. We call on governments and policy-makers to take into account their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights for immediate crisis responses and longer-term decisions about economic policy and economic governance. 

Challenging complacency about the impacts of the crisis
A human rights approach challenges complacency over the terrible consequences of the economic crisis on human lives and human dignity. Many organizations are estimating how many millions of people will lose their homes, their livelihoods, their incomes, their health and education. 
Photograph of Guatemalan girl and brother courtesy of Charlie Wright / Northwright

Monday, June 9, 2014

Are We Aware? What Can We Do?

Published on Friday, May 30, 2014 by Common Dreams

'The Cause Is Us': World on Verge of Sixth Extinction
Species loss soaring at 'pace not seen in tens of millions of years.'  (Andrea Germanos, staff writer)

A golden lion tamarin, which is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 
(Photo: Jo Christian Oterhals/cc/flickr)

A new study showing that the human activity has driven current rates of species extinction to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate is "alarming" and "should be a clarion call" to work towards greater conservation efforts, an environmental group charges.

The study, published Thursday by the journal Science and led by conservation expert Stuart Pimm, also warns that without drastic action, the sixth mass extinction could be imminent. 

From habitat loss to invasive species to climate change to overfishing, humans are contributing to the plummet in biodiversity.

"This important study confirms that species are going extinct at a pace not seen in tens of millions of years, and unlike past extinction events, the cause is us," stated Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study.

While new technology like smart phone apps and crowd-sourcing have increased the amount of data collected on species, much still remains a mystery.
"Most species remain unknown to science, and they likely face greater threats than the ones we do know," Pimm said in a statement.

"The gap between what we know and don't know about Earth's biodiversity is still tremendous," added study co-author Lucas N. Joppa, a conservation scientist at Microsoft’s Computational Science Laboratory in Cambridge, UK, "but technology is going to play a major role in closing it and helping us conserve biodiversity more intelligently and efficiently."

While the study illustrates a dramatic pace in biodiversity loss, Greenwald emphasized that it also highlights the successes of conservation efforts, such as the 50-year-old Wilderness Act and the Endangered Species Act. 

"Were it not for the huge effort over the past 50 years to protect wilderness, we would have had a 20 percent higher extinction rate," Greenwald told Common Dreams. "Protecting places, standing up for places, leaving some places untouched does make a difference," he said. As for what people can do to help those conservation efforts, Greenwald said people should let their legislators know that they support protecting areas as wilderness or parks, "because that is really what this study shows" — that the conservation laws and efforts over the past several decades have helped thwart further losses. 

"The findings of this study are alarming to say the least," Greenwald's statement continues. "But it also shows we can make a difference if we choose to and should be a clarion call to take action to protect more habitat for species besides our own and to check our own population growth and consumption."

As Greenwald said, the cause of the problem is us, but the solution, too, lies with us.

"We are on the verge of the sixth extinction," Pimm told the Associated Press. "Whether we avoid it or not will depend on our actions."

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.