Kiribati – A Drowning Paradise in the South Pacific

The island nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific is at risk of disappearing into the sea. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise but the island’s inhabitants aren’t giving up. They are doing what they can to save their island from inundation.

Watch video42:55

Kiribati can hardly be surpassed in terms of charm and natural beauty. There are 33 atolls and one reef island — spread out over an area of 3.5 million square kilometers. All have white, sandy beaches and blue lagoons. Kiribati is the world’s largest state that consists exclusively of atolls. A local resident named Kaboua points to the empty, barren land around him and says, “There used to be a large village here with 70 families.” But these days, this land is only accessible at low tide. At high tide, it’s all under water. Kaboua says that sea levels are rising all the time, and swallowing up the land. That’s why many people here build walls made of stone and driftwood, or sand or rubbish. But these barriers won’t stand up to the increasing number of storm surges. Others are trying to protect against coastal erosion by planting mangrove shrubs or small trees. But another local resident, Vasiti Tebamare, remains optimistic. She works for KiriCAN, an environmental organization. Vasiti says: “The industrialized countries — the United States, China, and Europe — use fossil fuels for their own ends. But what about us?” Kiribati’s government has even bought land on an island in Fiji, so it can evacuate its people in an emergency. But Vasiti and most of the other residents don’t want to leave.

US ready to ‘fight for justice’ in Syria without UN approval – Haley

US ready to ‘fight for justice’ in Syria without UN approval – Haley
The US does not consider itself constrained by the United Nations Security Council and might seek “justice” in Syria on its own terms, the US representative to the UN, Nikki Haley, has said. The US took similar action in Libya in 2011.

READ MORE: Russia vetoes ‘unbalanced’ US resolution on Syrian chemical weapons, but its draft fails

“With the unity of this council, or alone, unrestrained by Russia’s obstructionism, we will continue to fight for justice and accountability in Syria,” Haley said, blasting Russia’s vetoing of the draft resolution on the extension of the Syrian chemical weapons probe on Friday.

The draft, proposed by Japan, envisioned the “technical extension” of the probe for another 30 days. Explaining Russia’s decision to block the resolution, Russian UN envoy Vasily Nebenzya said that there is no sense in prolonging the mission if some glaring flaws in its work are not amended.

“There can be no other way after the JIM’s [the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism] leadership disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation into the sarin use incident in Khan Shaykhun and signed off on baseless accusations against Syria,”he said.

Haley went on to accuse Russia of showing no flexibility in negotiating the conditions of the probe, claiming that Moscow had only “dictated and demanded” while the US had “incorporated elements of the Russian draft” into its own in the hopes of reaching a consensus.

Russia vetoed the US draft on Thursday, with Nebenzya calling it “unbalanced” and solely designed to discredit Russia and its role in the Syrian settlement. Haley subsequently accused the Russian mission of ignoring the US delegation’s attempts to contact it before the vote.

READ MORE: ‘Full of systemic deficiencies’: Russia slams OPCW report on Idlib chemical attack at UNSC

Haley’s remarks on the impossibility of reaching the Russian mission provoked an angry reaction from Moscow, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov calling it “fake diplomacy.” Lavrov said that “it seems we are witnessing a new phenomenon in international relations, as now, apart from fake news, there is also fake diplomacy.”

The rival draft was co-sponsored by Russia and China, and “aimed at the extension and qualitative improvement” of the fact-finding mission, according to Nebenzya. However, it also failed, gaining the support of only four Security Council members.

While both Russia and the US used their veto powers on the respective resolutions, Haley accused Moscow of obstructing the work of the UNSC and its efforts to find “the truth.”

Russia has repeatedly criticized the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM)’s report on the chemical incident in Khan Shaykhun as being filled with “omissions, inconsistences and contradictions.” It also says it does not follow standard procedures for an impartial inquiry as it relies on questionable testimonies provided by rebels and NGOs, some of which are suspected of links to terrorists. In particular, it pointed to experts’ refusal to visit the site of the attack despite security guarantees.

In 2011, the US intervened in the region to curb the violence in the ongoing civil war in Libya. Under the pretext of a UN mandate to establish a no-fly zone in the country and save civilian lives, the US-led NATO coalition waged a full-fledged campaign that eventually resulted in the slaughter of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and multiple civilian deaths, the number of which varies from 72, according to Human Rights Watch, to more than 1,000 in unconfirmed reports. The country is still in tatters and the war involving tribes and militants is ongoing.

Despite the UN not giving the greenlight for a full-fledged campaign in Syria, US Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that the organization sanctioned action there, justifying it with the struggle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists. Damascus has repeatedly blasted the US for operating on Syrian territory without its consent and in violation of international law, and views the US presence as an invasion.

Courtesy: RT

Saudi Arabia agrees to lift blockade on Yemen as children face starvation & cholera

As children in war-torn Yemen continue to face severe malnutrition and a deadly cholera outbreak, Saudi Arabia has agreed to reopen air and sea ports following a week-long blockade. RT has met with children affected by the dire situation.

Riyadh’s decision, announced earlier on Monday, comes four days after the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that nearly 400,000 children in Yemen are “at risk of death from severe acute malnutrition.” Children are also facing a deadly cholera outbreak, with 50 percent of the cases belonging to those under the age of 15.

The UN and over 20 aid groups warned the blockade – imposed on November 6 – could make things worse in the war-torn country. “The humanitarian situation in Yemen is extremely fragile and any disruption in the pipeline of critical supplies such as food, fuel and medicines has the potential to bring millions of people closer to starvation and death,” the organizations wrote last week.

RT Arabic spoke with two young brothers who have felt the severe impact of the ongoing civil war and the blockade. Forced to quit school, the children now rummage through trash bins looking for tin cans which can bring their family a little bit of money. “We are taking care of our family…we collect cans to buy food and pay the rent, and to feed all our family,” the older brother said.

However, the blockade will now be lifted. “The first step in this process will be taken within 24 hours and involves reopening all the ports in areas controlled by [Yemen’s internationally recognized government, which the coalition backs],” the Saudi mission at the UN said on Monday, as quoted by AP.

The ports referred to by the mission are located in Aden, Mocha and Mukalla. The mission says it has asked the UN to provide a team of experts to determine ways to prevent weapons from being smuggled in.

Yet, Abdu Ilahi al-Harazi from the Special Hospitals Union said that civilians should never be deprived of necessities simply because Riyadh is worried about weapons coming into the country. “Food and medicine are not weapons, they’re things that have nothing to do with weapons. They shouldn’t be manipulated,”he said.

The chair of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh, echoed that sentiment. “There is no logical reason that we couldn’t…take medicine and deal with the issue of cholera. There is no logical reason that we couldn’t…give food and support to those who are starving…the only thing that is holding us back is the fact that the Saudis and their allies, with the help and support of the United States and the West, are putting very effective…blockade which no food, no medicine gets through,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is backed by the US, launched an aerial campaign against Shiite Houthi rebels in March 2015, and later began a ground operation. The coalition is allied to Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to Saudi Arabia when the Houthis took power in Yemen. According to the latest UN figures, the conflict has so far led to the deaths of over 5,000 civilians. More than 8,500 people have been injured in the ongoing fighting.

Courtesy: RT

UN urges Saudi Arabia to end blockade on Yemen

Humanitarian flights have been refused access to Yemen, where millions of people face starvation. Saudi Arabia sealed all entry points to Yemen after Houthi rebels launched a missile attack on Riyadh’s airport.

Saudi Arabien Jizan Grenze Jemen (Getty Images/AFP/F. Nureldine)Saudi military vehicles patrol Saudi-Yemeni broder (Achive photo: 2015)

The United Nations on Tuesday demanded that Saudi Arabia drop its newly tightened blockade on Yemen’s borders.

Saudi Arabia shut down Yemen’s airports, land borders and sea ports on Monday following an attempted ballistic missile attack on an international airport servicing Saudi capital Riyadh. Saudi Arabia said the complete shutdown was a temporary measure but the blockade was slammed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“The situation is catastrophic in Yemen, it is the worst food crisis we are looking at today, seven million people are on the brink of famine, millions of people being kept alive by our humanitarian operations,” a spokesman for the office, Jens Laerke, told reporters in Geneva.

“If these channels, these lifelines, are not kept open it is catastrophic for people who are already in what we have already called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Laerke said.

Laerke said fuel prices had immediately jumped up 60 percent and cooking gas prices doubled.           Read more:Yemen’s war explained in 4 key points

Collective punishment

The UN rights office said it would study whether the blockade constituted an unlawful collective punishment, and said it hoped the measures were short term.

The World Health Organization said the Saudi blockade would stymie its efforts to fight cholera in Yemen, where more than 900,000 people are infected and more than 2,100 people have died.

The Saudi-led coalition said it sealed Yemen’s borders to plug gaps that enable “smuggling of missiles and military equipment to the Houthi militias,” which launched the ballistic missile attack on Riyadh’s airport.

Human Rights Watch said the missile launch was “most likely a war crime” but urged Saudi Arabia against restricting aid access to Yemen.

“This unlawful attack is no justification for Saudi Arabia to exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe by further restricting aid and access to the country,” it said.

The UN said all of its humanitarian flights to Yemen had been grounded after they were refused clearance. Doctors Without Borders said its flight from Djibouti to the Yemeni capital Sanaa had also been canceled for the same reason.

Watch video00:52

#ISpeakforButhaina: Picture of girl in Yemen goes viral

Saudis lash out at Iran

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday accused Iran of “direct military aggression” by allegedly giving the missiles to Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

“The involvement of Iran in supplying missiles to the Houthis is a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime,” the Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying during a telephone conversation with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

This “could be considered an act of war,” he said.

Iran denied involvement in the attack on Riyadh’s airport, saying Salman was needlessly stoking regional tensions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “The Saudis are acting like hooligans in the region, are making the region unsafe and then end up trying to blame Iran for their dangerous policy.”

Aiports considered ‘legitimate targets’

Late Monday evening a Houthi-linked army spokesman in the Yemeni capital threatened escalation against Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, saying the rebels consider the two countries’ airports “legitimate targets.”

Colonel Aziz Rashed told reporters that his military experts could develop missiles with ranges exceeding 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).

More than 8,650 people have been killed in Yemen since Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in support of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government in 2015.

The latest tensions came amid a massive purge of Saudi Arabia’s elite in a supposed anti-corruption push.

aw/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

MIKE PENCE VOWS TO END ‘UNPRECEDENTED ASSAULT ON CHRISTIANITY’ IN MIDDLE EAST WITH U.N. FUNDING

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Vice President Mike Pence has pledged that the Trump administration will come to the rescue of Christians in the Middle East, as persecution of religious minorities in the region continues.

He said that Washington will move funding away from the United Nations to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, in order to directly assist Christian communities in the Middle East.

“Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” the vice president said at a speech to the In Defense of Christians conference.

“Across the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.”

He took aim at the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), which overran large areas of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and forced thousands of Christians to flee, and imprisoned or executed them if they remained. He said the group’s fighters had committed “vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ.”

Pence said Washington would take “the fight to terrorists on our terms, on their soil” and “hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source, so it can no longer threaten our people or anyone who calls the Middle East home.”

The president’s team has predominantly focused on talking about helping Christians in the Middle East, as opposed to Muslims in the region affected by radical Islamist groups. Critics of the government accused it of targeting Muslims in a proposed travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries that President Donald Trump said was only touted for security reasons.

10_27_Mike_PenceJared Kushner (L), senior advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) attend a joint statement in the Rose Garden held by U.S. President Donald Trump and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC.WIN MCNAMEE/GETTY

Pence explained the divergence of funds from the U.N., saying that it was an “ineffective” use of U.S. money.

“Here is the sad reality: the United Nations claims that more than 160 projects are in Christian areas. But for a third of those projects, there are no Christians to help,” the vice-president said.

Christian leaders have said that followers of the religion are experiencing some of the worst persecution in its history.

A report recently released by Christian organization Aid To The Church In Need said the U.N. was not meeting the requirements of Christians in the Middle East and failing to provide “the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the Catholic Herald reported.

The population of Christians in the Middle East has declined over the past century. But the insecurity faced by Christians in recent years has seen their population decrease even more. As of July 2015, a third of Syria’s 600,000 Christians had fled; Lebanon’s Christian population share has shrunk from 78 percent to 34 percent over the previous century; and only a third of the 1.5 million Christians who lived in Iraq in 2003 remain today, according to The New York Times.

10_27_Christians_Middle_EastLyon’s Archbishop Cardinal Philippe Barbarin stands next to an Islamic State (IS) group graffiti during a visit to the Church of the Annunciation in east Mosul on July 25, 2017.SAFIN HAMED/AFP/GETTY

Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus lauded Pence’s words.

“A year ago the United States used the right word to describe what was happening to Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. That word was genocide. Tonight, those words were put into action,” the group’s Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said in a statement.

Others were more skeptical about the U.S. pledge. Diana Sarkisian, who works for A Demand For Action, an advocacy organization for minority groups in the Middle East, tweeted: “Mike Pence makes big promises to defend Christians in ME (Middle East). Yeah, heard that one before.”

Courtesy: Newsweek

Audrey Azoulay of France selected as next UNESCO head

UNESCO has announced that Azoulay will be presented to the general assembly as the successor to outgoing UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. France has said Azoulay would “overcome political divisions.”

Audrey Azoulay, French candidate for UNESCO (picture alliance/dpa/ZUMAPRESS/AFBV)

UNESCO executives chose Audrey Azoulay of France as the next head of the United Nations’ cultural agency on Friday to replace outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova. The board’s pick will now go to the UNESCO general assembly for final approval next month.

Azoulay, 45, a former French culture minister, was one of three finalists selected to stand, narrowed from a field of seven candidates at the beginning of the week. The finalists also included Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, Qatar’s former culture minister, and former Egyptian government minister Moushira Khattab.

Azoulay eventually won the vote 30-28 over al-Kawari.

The first vote taken on Friday resulted in the elimination of the Egyptian candidate. Afterwards, an official probe was requested, as accusations of vote-buying were lodged.

‘Don’t leave: Reform!’

Azoulay was promoted by France on Thursday as a candidate who could “overcome political divisions for the sake solely of UNESCO’s essential missions.” She has worked in banking, but says she was formed in a professional regard by the film industry, in which she was involved as financial director, then deputy director, of the CNC (National Cinema Center), the guardian of French film production.

As French culture minister from February 2016 to May 2017 under former President Francois Hollande, among her accomplishments was securing a budget increase for her ministry after years of reductions.

Following the announcement of her election, Azoulay said the appropriate response to UNESCO’s problems was to carry out reform, not to leave — a reference to this week’s decision by the US and Israel to quit the agency.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel welcomed the election of Azoulay on Saturday and said that she had the full support of the German government for her reform agenda.

“Unesco works better when it effectively fulfills its responsibilities to promote international cultural exchange and the protection of cultural artifacts,” he said.

Irina Bokova (Getty Images/AFP/J. Demarthon)Finding a successor to Bokova has been a tense process

Heated debate ahead of vote

The politically charged campaign at UNESCO had already seen four rounds of voting ahead of Friday’s meeting. The search for a successor took place under regional tensions, as Arab states believed the position of director general should go to an Arab country for the first time — but they were not in agreement as to which. Nations were divided between backers of oil-rich Qatar and its poorer rival Egypt, which is part of a Saudi-led coalition that has been blockading Qatar since June over its alleged support for radical Islamists and ties to Iran.

Lebanon’s candidate for the post, Vera El-Khoury, bowed out at the fourth round, telling the AFP news agency the power game at play in the race had shown UNESCO members “did not give a damn” about the candidates’ programs.

Qatar lobbied intensely for the post and has increased its financial contribution to support UNESCO in recent years. Its candidate, however, was dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism, notably those made by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish rights organization, which claimed that while he was culture minister, al-Kawari had remained silent over the presence of anti-Semitic books at a fair in Doha.

Precarious time

The vote came a day after the United States and Israel made the shock announcement that their countries would be withdrawing from the UN’s education, science and cultural organization, over the agency’s alleged anti-Israel bias.

Read more: “A severe blow”: Reactions to the US withdrawal from UNESCO

“We will be carefully watching how the organization and the new director-general steers the agency,” Charge d’Affaires Chris Hegadorn, the ranking US representative to UNESCO, told AP. “Ideally, it steers it in a way that US interests and UNESCO’s mandate will converge.”

The move was seen as a blow to the body which is not only responsible for cultural protection measures such as the naming of World Heritage sites – places deemed to be “of outstanding value to humanity” and worthy of assistance in their preservation – but also for programs that empower girls through education, Holocaust awareness programs and climate change initiatives.

ct/eg (AP, AFP, dpa)

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What is the Iran nuclear deal?

The Iran nuclear deal was a historic diplomatic achievement to prevent Tehran’s pathway to a bomb. Here’s our brief breakdown of what you need to know about the deal.

Österreich Wien Atomverhandlungen USA Iran (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

The Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was reached in July 2015 between Iran and international powers after nearly 20 months of negotiations.

Under the JCPOA, Iran and the United States, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and France (known as the P5+1), as well as the European Union, agreed to lift crippling international sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for Tehran dismantling its nuclear program.

The JCPOA went into effect in October 2015, followed in January 2016 by implementation day after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verified Iran’s nuclear program to be peaceful.

That led to the lifting of UN and national nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, including those on finance, trade and energy. As part of the deal, tens of billions of dollars in Iran’s frozen assets were released.

Sanctions can be “snapped back” if Iran violates the deal. The IAEA, which monitors the deal, has repeatedly confirmed Iran is complying with all aspects of the JCPOA.

Read: What are Trump’s objections to the Iran nuclear deal?

The JCPOA allows Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program for commercial, medical and industrial purposes in line with international non-proliferation standards.

Importantly, the JCPOA is strictly about Iran’s nuclear program. It does not address other issues such as its ballistic missile program, human rights abuses, support for terrorist organizations and alleged “destabilization” activities in the Middle East.

The EU and the United States have separate sanctions and trade restrictions related to these issues. A separate UN Security Council resolution addresses Iran’s ballistic missile program.

At the time of the deal, US intelligence estimated it would take Iran as little three months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon.

Through the JCPOA, the potential pathways for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon were blocked.

Infografik Iran's nuclear facilities covered under the nuclear deal Iran's nuclear facilities covered under the nuclear deal

The uranium pathways

One pathway was through a uranium bomb. Iran has two uranium enrichment facilities suitable for this: at Natanz and Fordow.

Under the JCPOA, no enrichment is allowed at Fordow for 15 years.

For 10 years, the Natanz facility is allowed about 5,000 centrifuges compared to about 20,000 before the nuclear deal. The centrifuges that are allowed are the oldest and least efficient.

Iran also reduced its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent to 300 kilograms for 15 years. Before the deal, Iran had enough uranium to build ten nuclear bombs – 300 kilograms is not enough to build one bomb.

Iran also committed to keep uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent enrichment level needed to make a nuclear weapon.  The low-enriched uranium was shipped to Russia.

Iran also has a Russian built nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Iran also has a Russian-built nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

The plutonium pathway

The third pathway to a nuclear bomb was through weapons-grade plutonium at the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor.

Under the JCPOA, the heavy water reactor at Arak was redesigned so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium. Also, spent fuel rods that could be used to develop a nuclear bomb are sent out of the country.

For 15 years, Iran will not be allowed to build a heavy water reactor or accumulate excess heavy water.

Covert pathway

The JCPOA includes a robust monitoring, verification and inspection regime carried out by the IAEA. The inspections regime allows the IAEA to monitor declared nuclear facilities, storage facilities and supply chains.

This allows international inspectors to identify if Iran is covertly developing nuclear weapons at undeclared sites or military facilities.

If the IAEA suspects covert activity, an additional protocol to the JCPOA allows inspectors access to any site, including military facilities.

This requires that Iran allow access to any site within 24 days if a majority of signatories to the accord agree.

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