Hopeful not Hopeless
Posted by Br Bill Firman on 11 October 2017
La Salle District of Austrailia, New Zealand, Pakistan & Papua New Guinea
I have sometimes been asked what hope is there for South Sudan?Tribal divisions have become very deep, and almost everybody has lost relatives and friends in this senseless violence.
Amnesty International quotes a staggering, horrible statistic: A survey conducted in 2015 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that 72% of women living in four UNMISS Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites in Juba reported having been raped since the conflict broke out, mostly by police and soldiers.’
Has all respect and order disappeared? Certainly as one local writer, Jacob Lagu, states: ‘War is a dirty business. It inevitably degrades us all. It diminishes our humanity as steadily as we dehumanize our adversaries. We are all locked in conflicting victimhood narratives. Each side believes wholeheartedly that they are the victims of injustice. Each side believes that their adversary is the unrepentant aggressor.’
It seems to me that civil war must surely be the worst kind of war. In a civil war, your enemy is not ‘out there’ but can even be your near neighbour. South Sudanese now ask, ‘Whom can I trust in my own country?’ ‘Where can I go and be safe?’ Hundreds of thousands ask, ‘Will I ever be able to leave this Protection of Civilians camp where I feel like a prisoner?’
Yet, in spite of all this, there are people getting on with life. I have attached photos that show the reality of the poverty of many in South Sudan poor, but not maudlin. Children dressed in rags laugh and play and there are some fine young people growing up with a little help along the way.
In early 2010, a good friend in Australia raised some money to help a young, thin boy, called Augusto. Augusto’s father had died when he was only 18 months old.
He was being raised by his grandmother and the helpful families of his school friends. Augusto’s school fees were paid by overseas donations. Augusto has now just graduated from secondary school with a 73% average, a wonderful achievement giving the personal adversity he had to overcome let alone the turmoil in the country. Now he is trying to find the means to go to University.
Another of our neighbours, Naomi, is soon to graduate as a registered nurse from our Catholic Health Training Institute (CHTI). Her twin brother, Wonderful, (yes, that is his name), is well on the way to becoming a doctor.
There are 80 applicant seeking places in the CHTI for next year. There are currently 110 in the CHTI and so far 145 have graduated after successfully completing the three-year programme. So amid the tales of gloom, there are many good news stories, many lives that are progressing well.
In another photo taken in 2009, there is a small boy called Danny sitting next to Fr. Joseph. Last Saturday, I woke to find our vehicle had a flat tyre. I called Danny who quickly changed the wheel for me. He has one year to go to finish secondary school: he has grown from a happy, inquisitive young boy, into an obliging, sensible young man.
There are plenty of signs of hope as we help produce better educated people. Sadly, many South Sudanese have to learn to live with hunger and the trauma of rape, looting and deaths of loved ones, but they still get on with life. We help them when we can, as do almost 500 missionaries from many countries as well as the UN and many resourceful NGOs delivering essential services.
There is hope because children and young people are especially resilient.
Yes, the scars are deep and, in the trauma healing workshops we conduct, many older people reveal their nightmares and flashbacks. But somehow the children in South Sudan are among the happiest and least complaining I have known.
One does not feel hopeless here. Many people continue to hope and dream of a better future. A new, better-educated generation might just deliver the new South Sudan for which we all hope and pray.
Author: Br Bill Firman
About: Br Bill is the Executive Director of Solidarity with South Sudan.
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 12 2017 (IPS) – More than seven decades after the deployment of deadly atomic bombs in Japan, the UN has passed a historic treaty banning nuclear weapons around the world. Though it has sparked hope for a future without nuclear weapons, uncertainty in the success of the treaty still lingers.
More than 122 countries, representing two-thirds of the 192-member UN, adopted the historic treaty banning nuclear weapons after months of talks.
“We have managed to sow the first seeds of a world free of nuclear weapons…the world has been waiting for this legal norm for 70 years,” said Elayne Whyte Gomez, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica and the president of the UN conference which negotiated the treaty.
Nuclear Disarmament Program Manager for the civil society organization PAX Susi Snyder similarly highlighted the importance of the occasion to IPS, stating: “People have been working for decades on the issue, myself included, and to have a moment that you know, to the very tips of your toes, that history is being made? That’s a moment to feel all the feelings.”
There are approximately 15,000 nuclear warheads globally, more than 90 percent of which belong to the United States and Russia.
Unlike the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) which allowed five countries to possess such arms, the new instrument is an explicit prohibition on the direct or indirect use, threat of use, possession, acquisition, and development of nuclear weapons.
It also for the first time includes obligations to provide assistance to victims of nuclear weapons testing and use as well as environmental remediation of areas contaminated a result of nuclear weapon activities.
“This normative treaty highlights the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons—it is a huge achievement especially for the Hibakusha, the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Arms Control Association’s (ACA) Researcher Alicia Sanders-Zakre told IPS.
Reference to such consequences can be seen throughout the treaty, including the deep concern “about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons” and the persistent risk to humanity posed by the “continued existence of nuclear weapons.”
Though the awareness of nuclear weapons’ devastating humanitarian ramifications is certainly not new, both Snyder and Sanders-Zakre noted that states still legitimize nuclear weapons in their security approaches.
“Some states negotiating the treaty would say that by having a security doctrine of nuclear deterrence, nuclear weapons states legitimize nuclear weapons and distract from their humanitarian consequences…which are often not in the forefront of the security stage,” said Sanders-Zakre.
The new treaty aims to strip nuclear weapons of their prestige by making them unacceptable under international law.
Not Without a Fight The world’s nine nuclear-armed states as well as the majority of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) members boycotted the negotiations, except for the Netherlands which voted against the document.
Among the most vocal critics is the United States who, since the beginning of the talks, said that the process was not “realistic,” especially in the wake of rising tensions between the North American nation and North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons, but we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclearweapons?” asked U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
In a joint statement, the U.S., United Kingdom, and France announced that they do not ever intend to sign, ratify, or become party to the treaty.
“A purported ban on nuclear weapons that does not address the security concerns that continue to make nuclear deterrence necessary cannot result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon and will not enhance any country’s security, nor international peace and security,” they stated, reiterating their continued commitment to the NPT.
Snyder told IPS that it was not surprising that such nations did not participate due to a desire to retain the political power associated with nuclear weapons. However, she criticised the joint move as it may be in violation of the NPT.
Article 6 of the NPT, which the majority of member States have signed, states that each party must “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”
Snyder noted that negotiations were considered by the majority to be an “effective measure” in the pursuit of disarmament.
“While this prohibition is not the final effort to achieve and maintain a nuclear weapons free world, it is certainly a key element of a world without nuclear weapons. It was an absence that is embarrassing for the nuclear armed states, demonstrating their commitment to inhumane weapons over humanity,” she continued.
However, nuclear-armed nations would argue that they are not violating the NPT as they do not consider that the prohibition will result in the elimination of nuclear weapons and is thus not an “effective measure,” said Sanders-Zakre.
The treaty reflects a growing divide between nuclear and non-nuclear weapon states on visions of disarmament.
Between a Nuke and a Hard Place? Additional frustrations have arisen concerning the treaty’s prohibition on the stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons on territories as it puts many NATO members in nuclear sharing agreements in a sticky situation.
Five nations, including Germany and Turkey, currently host U.S. nuclear weapons as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing policy. In order for NATO members to join, they will have to reverse or withdraw from their obligations.
“One the one hand, the treaty seeks to be universal to include many members. But at the same time, it is a prohibition treaty and having a member of a prohibition treaty that has nuclear weapons on their soil would be contradictory,” Sanders-Zakre told IPS.
But can a nuclear ban treaty be successful without such nations? Snyder and Sanders-Zakre say yes.
“The treaty sets a norm, and the nuclear armed states have a history of following norms even when they don’t sign up to the treaties behind them,” said Snyder, referencing the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) which, despite not being ratified by all nations and not entering into force, has set a norm in which nuclear testing is condemned.
“That norm will grow from this treaty as well, and will likely result in ongoing substantive condemnation of the activities of the nuclear armed states that are not disarmament,” Snyder continued.
Sanders-Zakre noted that there might be some obstacles in the way before the treaty’s entry into force, including potential lobbying by nuclear weapon states to dissuade others from ratifying the instrument or a general decrease in political momentum.
But, with or without the nuclear weapon states, the treaty will mark a significant normative step towards disarmament if all 122 states which negotiated the instrument sign and ratify.
“My hope is that this treaty will be the first step towards more productive disarmament dialogue, and that it will serve as a wake-up call to nuclear weapon states that have not seriously been pursuing disarmament negotiations for quite some time,” Sanders-Zakre said.
Snyder similarly described the historic occasion as the first step of many, stating: “This treaty will help towards the elimination of nuclear weapons—it’s not the last thing that will get them out of the world forever, but it helps by reaffirming the complete illegitimacy of such inhumane weapons and offers a pathway for elimination.”
The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will be open for signature by member states on 20 September, marking the beginning of the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. It will enter into legal force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 countries.
Earlier this year, atomic scientists set the Doomsday Clock to two and a half minutes before midnight, reflecting a fear that the world is closer to a nuclear disaster than it has been since 1953 after the U.S. and Soviet Union tested hydrogen bombs.
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UNITED NATIONS, Jun 20 2017 (IPS) – Around 20 people are newly displaced every minute of the day, according to a new report.
In its annual Global Trends report, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR has recorded unprecedented and concerning levels of displacement around the world.
“We are used to looking at the world and seeing progress, but there is no progress to be made in terms of conflict and violence that is producing people who have had to flee,” said the Director of UNHCR’s New York Office Ninette Kelley, ahead of World Refugee Day.
In just two decades, the population of forcibly displaced persons doubled from 32 million in 1997 to 65 million in 2016, larger than the total population of the United Kingdom.
Of this figure, almost 23 million are refugees while over 40 million are displaced within their own countries. Approximately two-thirds of refugees have been displaced for generations.
Despite the slight decrease in displacement in the last year, the numbers are still “depressing” and “unacceptable,” Kelley told IPS.
“Each individual number really reflects a deep level of human loss and trouble and is experienced every minute and every second of every day,” she stated.
Much of the growth was concentrated between 2012 and 2015, and driven largely by the Syrian conflict which, now in its seventh year, has forcibly displaced over 12 million representing over half of the Middle Eastern nation’s population.
However, the biggest new concern is now South Sudan where renewed conflict and food insecurity is driving the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.
At the end of 2016, 3.3 million South Sudanese were displaced, equivalent to one in four people, and the figures have only continued to rise in 2017.