“Nicaragua’s upheaval has claimed hundreds of lives and changed everything for Valesk a Valle, Lesther Alemán and Douglas Costa.” – Tom Costa
Three months ago, Valeska Valle was a church-going dance freak whose best friend was her dog.
Douglas Costa plotted to take a master’s at the University of Oxford.
And Lesther Alemán was a communications student who harboured not-so-secret dreams of donning his country’s blue-and-white presidential sash.
Then came the outbreak of what some call the Nicaraguan spring on 18 April – and everything changed.
“I’m no longer the same Valeska I was on 17 April,” said Valle, during an interview at the Managua hideout to which she and her fellow student protest leaders have retreated since their uprising against Daniel Ortega began almost 12 weeks ago.
The upheaval – which has so far claimed more than 300 lives and looks set to intensify this week with three-days of protests and a nationwide strike – has transformed Valle, Costa and Alemán into reluctant renegades and, in doing so, turned their lives upside down.
Valle, who is 22, said relatives had shunned her since she announced she was popping out to buy Coca-Cola on 18 April but instead slipped off to take a front-line role in the struggle against the man she calls “el Tirano”.
“Most of my siblings have turned their backs on me,” said Valle, a final year accounting student who was born and raised in Masaya, a one-time Sandinista stronghold that has become one of the key focuses of resistance. “Of my seven brothers and sisters, five told me it would be better if I said I was an only child. Most of us here have been rejected by our families.”
GAZA, April 5 (Reuters) – Israeli fire killed a Palestinian at the Gaza border on Thursday and another died of wounds suffered several days ago, health officials said, bringing to 19 the number of Palestinian dead from a week of frontier protests.
The Israeli military said one of its aircraft targeted an armed militant near the security fence along the Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians are holding a six-week-long protest in tent encampments along the fenced border of the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, an enclave of 2 million ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.
The demonstrators are pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.
The latest deaths are likely to add to international concerns over the violence, which human rights groups have said involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into the deaths on the first day of the protest last Friday, and B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, urged Israeli soldiers to “refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.” Orders to do so were “manifestly illegal,” it said.
The United States, however, directed its criticism at the protest leaders. “We condemn leaders and protestors who call for violence or who send protestors – including children – to the fence, knowing that they may be injured or killed,” President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said in a statement on Thursday.
Sixteen Palestinians died after being shot by Israeli troops on the first day of the demonstrations, Palestinian medical officials said, and another was killed on Tuesday.
A 33-year-old man, hit by Israeli fire a few days ago near one of the tent cities, died on Thursday, the officials said.
Israel says it is doing what is necessary to defend its border. The military said that its troops had used live fire only against people trying to sabotage the border fence or rolling burning tyres and throwing rocks.
On Thursday, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, Israel’s chief military spokesman, cautioned that Israel might attack deeper inside Gaza if the demonstrations did not stop.
“We have information that tomorrow, under a smoke screen and civilian cover, Hamas intends to carry out terrorist attacks against our civilians and troops, and cross the fence,” he said.
“We have no interest in harming women and children who are protesting. They are not our enemies. We have one intention, not to allow terrorist attacks against our civilians and troops on the other side of the fence.”
LETHAL FORCE Many of the demonstrators who turned out for the first wave of protests along the border returned to their homes and jobs over the week. But organisers expect large crowds again on Friday, the Muslim sabbath.
Protesters on Thursday were bringing more tents and thousands of tyres to burn, in what has become known as “The Friday of Tyres.” They say they intend to use mirrors and laser pointers to distract Israeli sharpshooters.
“Friday is going to be a special day, they will see that we are not afraid,” said one Palestinian youth as he delivered tyres to the area. But Ahmed Ali, a 55-year-old teacher, said that while he wanted his family to see the tent camp, he would not come back on Friday.
“I taught my children one day we will be returning to Jaffa, our home, but I can’t allow them to throw stones because the Israelis won’t hesitate to kill them,” he said.
Hamas said on Thursday it would pay $3,000 to the family of anyone killed in the protests, $500 for critical injuries and $200 for more minor injuries. Israeli leaders say that such payments serve to instigate violence.
Visiting the frontier this week, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned protesters that “every person who comes close to the fence is endangering their lives.”
The protest action is set to wind up on May 15, when Palestinians mark the “Naqba,” or “Catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes during violence that culminated in war in May 1948 between the newly created state of Israel and its Arab neighbours.
Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing it would lose its Jewish majority.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell Editing by Richard Balmforth and Peter Cooney)
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 23 2018 (IPS) – It is not known exactly how many child soldiers there are in the world, but current estimates tell us that in 2018, the number is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
Children have been used in hostilities – including as human bombs –by state and non-state groups in at least 18 conflicts since 2016 alone.
Today, a staggering 46 nations continue to attract and enlist people under 18 into their militaries.
These are some of the statistics from the Child Soldiers World Index – a newly released database that examines UN member states for their use of child soldiers in the armed forces and non-state groups.
The statistics are indeed concerning, with even the UN declaring that the number of at risk children is increasing at an “alarming rate.”
So what exactly is driving children to become involved with armed groups? And, what can be done to get a grip on the crisis?
These are the questions that the United Nations University (UNU), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Luxemburg and Switzerland have been working to answer by conducting field research on child recruitment practices in Mali, Iraq and Nigeria.
THE ROLE OF “RADICALISATION”
According to the report, entitled ‘Cradled by Conflict: Children in Contemporary Conflict’, a mistake that policy makers are making is focusing too much on the idea that child soldiers join armed groups because they have been ‘radicalised.’
“Currently there is a tendency to attribute child involvement in conflicts to them becoming radicalised and swept up in this violent ideology… but this is rarely the primary factor motivating child association in armed groups,” the project’s leader researcher Siobhan O’Neil told IPS.
For example, the report found that ideology was hardly a factor in Mali where child solider recruitment is often paired with a narrative of radicalisation.
“In Mali, the intercommunal conflicts over resources and cattle, issues made worse by climate change and state corruption– were far more likely to drive children to armed groups,” O’Neil said.
Even in cases where ideology does play a role in a child’s trajectory towards an armed group, it is usually only one of a number of motivating or facilitating factors.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram has conflated its religious ideology with a rejection of the Nigerian state, the latter of which, the report found “may be the greater driver of association with Boko Haram for Nigerians who have experienced state oppression and violence.”
“NO CHOICE BUT TO JOIN”
UNU’s research also challenges a re-occurring perception that children can simply avoid joining armed groups.
The report stressed that for many children, especially those living within an occupied territory, neutrality is not an option.
“That’s a fallacy. It’s virtually impossible for children to remain unaffiliated in a war zone,” Kato Van Broeckhoven, a co-author of the research, told IPS.
“When an armed group is the only employer – like they are in parts of Syria and Nigeria – and they have physical control of a region, joining may be the only realistic way to survive,” she continued.
“PRO-SOCIAL REASONS TO JOIN”
The report also found that for some children, armed groups are attractive because they offer a sense of ‘community’, a sense of ‘significance’, and a feeling of ‘order amid chaos’.
For example in both Mali and Nigeria, where strict hierarchical societies are the norm, armed groups can provide a way for young people to express themselves and attain a level of status beyond what society would usually allow someone of their age.
Addressing what this research means for policy makers and programs on the ground, O’Neil told IPS that “ultimately, what we see is that there is no mono-causal reason for children getting involved in armed groups.”
“It’s important any intervention programs geared towards preventing them becoming involved, assisting them with release and reintegration recognise that and take a holistic approach to addressing children’s needs and risks,” she continued.
The report argues that many current interventions aimed at assisting child soldiers have leaned towards an ‘ideological approach’ – one that aims to ‘prevent’ and ‘counter’ violent extremism.
In the absence of evidence that links radical ideology to children becoming involved in armed groups, O’Neil and her fellow researchers say that any ‘ideological approach’ to intervention should only be used when there is clear evidence that it would be preventative.
Otherwise, as the report noted, “it’s a one size, fits none’ approach.
In the report, researchers urged for more effective international efforts to prevent and respond to child recruitment and use by armed groups including:
(1) avoid programmes focused primarily on ideological factors; (2) only incorporate ideological components where individually necessary and where they can be embedded into larger, holistic efforts to address the needs and risks of children; (3) ensure all interventions are empirically based; (4) rigorously assess interventions over the long term; and (5) engage children not just as beneficiaries, but as partners.
The ‘Cradled to Conflict’ report and the Child Soldiers World Index data was launched on the International Day against the use of Child Soldiers, and the anniversary of the OPAC treaty – the world’s first international treaty wholly focused on ending the military exploitation of children.
GENEVA (August 21, 2017) Nigerian activist, Rebecca Dalihas won the prestigious Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation Award for her work in re-integrating women and orphans abducted by Boko Haram militants into their home communities.
The award was presented at a ceremony Monday commemorating World Humanitarian Day (August 19) at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva.
It is given every two years in memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in a terrorist attack on August 19, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq, along with 21 others. The prize aims to draw world attention to the courageous, often unnoticed, humanitarian work of an individual, group or organization in areas of conflict.
“Rebecca Dali is a very courageous woman in a corner in Africa, in northeastern Nigeria, who is doing work under very difficult circumstances,” said Anne Willem Bijleveld, the chairman of the board of the de Mello Foundation.
He told VOA that some of the women and girls who are liberated want to return to their communities, but their communities and families often do not want them back because they have been raped, have had children, and been subjected to sexual violence by Boko Haram.
“Rebecca Dali did a tremendous job in re-establishing dialogue and reconciliation to get these girls back into their communities, to get them back where they came from and that they can continue with their life again,” Bijleveld said.
Aiding widows, orphans for years Dali was born on October 1, 1960, the same day Nigeria got its independence. She overcame extreme poverty in childhood and a rape at age six to earn a Ph.D in later years in ethics and philosophy.
She got married in 1979 to a man who, she said, “allowed me to do what I like to do.” She has six children. Her fourth, a son, was lost on August 21, 2011 in the aftermath of the Jos crisis, when clashes erupted between Muslim and Christian ethnic groups.
Dali formed her non-profit organization Center for Caring Empowerment and Peace Initiative in northern Nigeria in 1989 to aid widows and orphans caught in situations of violence, who often struggle to survive.
She has established three Livelihood Centers that teach women marketable skills, such as sewing, computers, and cosmetology. “When they graduate, we give them seed money so they can start their own business,” she said.
When the Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009, she turned her attention to the victims of this Islamist radical group. She told VOA tens of thousands of destitute widows and orphans were left behind when their men were killed.
“In our society, women are not dignified. Even if their husbands are killed, then the family usually will take away all the things that they own,” she said. “So, in the Boko Haram, they are double victimized. So, I train these widows in my Livelihood Centers.”
Dali’s husband, Reverend Samuel Dali, was president of the Church of the Brethren, which was attended by most of the 276 Chibok girls abducted by Boko Haram in April 2014.
The government has taken charge of the Chibok girls who have been released, so Dali said her group is focusing on helping the many other women and children who were abducted by Boko Haram. She said those who managed to escape have been treated as pariahs by their communities.
“They are stigmatized. People rejected them. Their husbands rejected them. The society rejected them. Their parents sometimes reject them,” she said.
Dali said her organization has provided the victims with food and shelter and paid for children’s schooling. She added that the women and girls received trauma care and were encouraged to tell their distressing stories.
“Then, we go and lobby in the society among the local people, so that they will allow them to stay in the society,” she said.
The award carries a cash prize of about $5,000, which Bijleveld terms “a symbolic amount.” She may also win more support from the publicity.
Dali said she is heartened by the recognition she and her organization have received from the de Mello Foundation. “The award came to me as a miracle from God,” she said. “So, it will urge me to do more. It is really going to help me,” she said.
Vatican City, Aug 7, 2017 / 07:26 am (CNA/EWTN News).- After a bloody attack at a Catholic Church in southern Nigeria left 11 dead and several more wounded, Pope Francis conveyed his sympathy to the victims and their families, assuring the community of his prayer.
In an Aug. 7 telegram addressed to Bishop Hilary Paul Odili Okeke of Nnewi, Pope Francis said he was “deeply saddened to learn of the loss of life and injury following the violent attack in Saint Philip’s Catholic Church, Ozubulu.”
The Pope extended his “heartfelt condolences to you and to all the faithful of the Diocese of Nnewi, in particular the families of the deceased and all those affected by this tragedy,” and offered blessings of “consolation and strength” upon the entire diocese.
The telegram, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, came after gunmen stormed St Philip’s Catholic Church in the city of Ozubulu early Sunday morning, killing at least 11 people and wounding 18 more.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack. According to BBC News, local terror group Boko Haram, which has burned hundreds of churches and killed thousands during it’s more than decade-long insurgency in the country’s north-eastern region, was not involved.
Rather, the attack is believed to have been the result of either a private feud or that it was linked to drug-trafficking.
Reports conflict as to whether there were one or two gunmen involved, however, police have begun a manhunt in the area in the hopes of finding those responsible.