Posts Tagged ‘Agenda 21’

Rendezvous with Gulalai Ismail, Commonwealth Youth Award winner from Pakistan

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, News & Updates, Take Action

file

Photo Source: Google

Gulalai Ismail, a 28-year-old Pakistani human rights activist from Peshawar, has been awarded the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work recently. Gulalai was chosen as the winner from the Asia region out of a shortlist of sixteen extraordinary young people from across the Commonwealth.The award recognizes outstanding young people under 30 whose development projects and programs have had significant impact on their communities, countries and across the globe.

Speaking to me, Gulalai said that we should speak up no matter what, “Silence perpetuates more silence and speaking up will bring change, a smaller and a humble change ” she said.

Congratulations Gulalai for being awarded the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Award for Excellence in Development Work. How does this award affect your work and commitment towards the cause you stand for?

I think this award has increased awareness about the role of young women and girls in promoting democracy, peace and human rights. This award is not just recognition of my work as a person, but recognition of the voices of the women and young people who are working in extremely challenging and life risking situations for their rights and development of their communities. Today, in Pakistan young people makes the largest population dividend, at least 50% of these young people comprises of young women, but unfortunately if we look at the statistics only 18% of women in Pakistan has received more than 10 years of education, 90% of the women are becoming victims of domestic abuse, and millions of girls around the world are forced into early marriages. I believe a decent, peaceful and developed world isn’t possible without investing in gender equality, without making the world a better place for women. This award is the recognition of similar voices.

Can you please tell us a bit about your organization and its work?

Aware Girls is young women led organization, an organization which has been established by girls and young women in 2002 with the purpose of providing a leadership platform to young women where they can get information about their rights, institutes and policies which protect their rights, can strengthen their leadership skills and can act as advocates of change, equality and peace.

Our objectives are to empower young women and girls by strengthening their leadership skills and by creating a conducive environment where young women and girls can exercise their human rights which includes sensitizing communities about different issues and rights of girls and advocating for systems and policies which ensures that young women and girls’ can live a decent life and can exercise their human rights.

We are working on human rights education, girls’ leadership, civic and political empowerment of young women, economic empowerment of young women, sexual and reproductive health rights of young women and on countering and preventing violent extremism in our communities i.e. in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan.

Through our work we are changing the lives of girls for example few years back, Shazia, who was then 14 years old participated in our HIV/AIDS education campaign which inspired her, she took became member of our AIDS Discussion club which was like a leadership incubator for her, she started raising awareness among her peer through peer to peer education about HIV/AIDS prevention. It increased her self-esteem and confidence. When few years later her family told her that she can’t take admission in college because it is against their culture and family values she didn’t accept the decision, she stood for herself and convinced her family that she has to go to college. Today, she is studying in a medical school getting her degree of Lady Health Worker. There are thousands of other stories like this which are encouraging us to keep on going against the odds.

You were just 16 years old when you set up Aware Girls, was it challenging?

Even after working for more than 12 years, it’s challenging. We are still reclaiming our leadership spaces. Our society is yet not comfortable with the idea of a women leader though Pakistan has some amazing women leaders but even then we have to go a long way to create acceptability of women in leadership roles.

There was so much inspiration and sense of responsibility around me, I was determined. I knew one thing only and that was: I have to play my part in making this world a better place, it doesn’t matter how small or big role I play. It would have been really unfair if I would have just let things happen around me and not do anything about it.

How has your father being a human rights activist contributed in your view point considering that it is challenging to voice concerns on extremism and violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?

My father is amazing, he always taught me “Speak up, no matter how shrill your voice is, no matter how huge the opposition is. If you feel like speaking up- just speak up and don’t worry about the consequences”. He himself is a very brave man and has always challenged the structural inequalities in the society, my parents are my inspiration. When we were young, long before 9/11 my father was put in Jail in a Blasphemy Case because he was speaking up for peace and because he was advocating the idea that we shouldn’t support any militant group in Afghanistan. He fought the Blasphemy case for 7 years, only because he spoke for peace and non-violence. But even then he remained brave enough to speak for peace. I come from the family of fighters- so it was kind of okay to start up a venture for empowering women and girls.

We witnessed what happened to Malala Yousafzai when she tried talking about women issues, wasn’t there a threat for you coming from the same place?

Well as I said, we still have a long way to go! It’s not easy to speak up on women rights, to speak against Talibanisation and to speak for Peace while living in the heart of the Province where the militants have a stronghold. But that makes me stronger, becoming weak and fearful is not an option. The only option we have is to be strong enough to reclaim our society; we can’t leave it to the extremists, militants, and to the patriarchal culture.

There is quite a lot of negative propaganda on social media against me, we received threats, we have been attacked as well but all of this just makes me stronger, happier! Because then I know that yes, my work is bringing change in my community- be it a smaller change.

What do you think is different between you and her that protect you from the extremist elements?

I think Malala can’t be compared to the work of anyone. She is extra ordinarily brave, she was in Swat and she was raising her voice at a really young age when everyone was afraid of speaking up. She was already an icon in Pakistan, a young leader who put her life at risk. For me, she is a hero not because she was attacked but because of what she did before she was attacked. She is a role model for the world!

What message do you have for women on International women’s day?

Speak up- No matter how shrill your voice is, silence perpetuates more silence and speaking up will bring change, a smaller and a humble change.

Nature’s Fury is Inevitable

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, Publications, Take Action

Against the backdrop of the current political deadlock in Pakistan, many other important issues affecting thousands of people have been sidelined.

The media is all eyes and ears for the fiery speeches, debates and discussions in the power play, and the awareness definitely plays an important role in stabilising the situation.But what about the section of the populace greatly affected and displaced by the current war in north west Pakistan and the floods?PAKISTAN_-_0911_-_Alluvioni_e_Chiesa_(F)

Photo Source: www.asianews.it

At least 193 people have lost their lives and 164 injured across Pakistan during floods in the first week of September. The overflowing rivers are wreaking havoc on already frail infrastructure in many regions in Pakistan.

According to the National Disaster Management (NDMA) report, 28, 538 people have been affected in Punjab and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.The number of people displaced by floods at this moment is still unknown. Sadly, even catastrophes of this magnitude can’t bring our politicians together and prioritise these issues.

Just a glance at the record of floods from 2010 to 2014 shows how major a threat monsoon rains currently are. Surprisingly, in the 2010 floods, the number of individuals affected exceed the total of individuals affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.And the loss of lives is not limited to the figures or numbers reported every time in the media.How many more red flags do we need to realise that climate change is an issue which affects all of us?

It is sad to know that globally, the people most affected by climate change are the ones who are least responsible for it.Perhaps that’s why we’re so resistant to the climate change alarm, which sits comfortably amidst us as we go about our agendas with the ‘business as usual’ approach.There is near-universal agreement among activists that efforts to limit carbon emissions have failed miserably, and that failure doesn’t come because the movement has embraced the oxymoron of “sustainable growth” or because it needs to work more closely with the business community. Rather, it’s because climate change activism is not challenging the key invisible narratives that drive our civilisation.

Being part of the Rio+20 UN Earth Summit held in Brazil, I can say that the willingness to acknowledge the threat and act accordingly is lacking.Now with another UN Summit on climate crisis in September, it is hoped that meaningful action will be taken. We have had enough talks sitting comfortably in the past behind closed doors.Earlier talks have ended mostly without reaching any important conclusion or an action plan. It should be more than just about choosing an exotic destination, inviting world leaders and activists to talk. We have had enough talks and it is no rocket science that we are destroying the biodiversity which allows nature systems to work efficiently.

It is time to take action if we want the seven billion people living on this planet to live with finite resources. No amount of funds can save us if we keep on destroying and polluting the soil, water and air which keep us alive.

The People’s Climate March to be held on September 21 aims at gathering hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Delhi, New York, London , Berlin, Rio de Janeiro and Jakarta; and pressure world leaders who will be gathered for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit to take action on global warming.This is the largest mobilisation in the history of climate change and it wants to send a strong message to the world leaders — it is time to take action.

“People from across the planet will be making sure that leaders gathered in New York know the demand for action comes from every corner. This is the first truly global problem, and it has spawned the first truly global movement,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org.

In Pakistan, the issue of climate change is often sidelined and replaced with more “important issues”, without the acknowledgement that the social, economic and political issues are all intertwined.The earthquakes, the floods, the energy crisis, the rising temperatures, the unavailability of clean drinking water — are these not ‘important’ enough problems? Or is it just that we choose to stay aloof?

 Recently, most Pakistanis rejected the hypothetical UN Study based on a conjectural 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Makran Trench (a meeting point for Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates, off the coast of Pakistan). The study stated that Karachi, home to around 18 million people, could be wiped out by a tsunami if something like that happens.

Karachi experienced a tsunami in the past too. In 1945, around 4000 people lost their lives to it.Instead of being sceptic about it, it is time to take aggressive measures to counter climate change. We are already seeing and feeling its effects. Let’s not shut our eyes to it.

Republished from http://www.dawn.com/news/1132137/how-many-disasters-does-pakistan-need-to-focus-on-climate-change

Better to lead than to dictate

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

264350_10151447009699527_1145090830_n

Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf  addressing the crown in Islamabad.

Photo Source: Google

I grew up in a time when the debates regarding political correctness carried immense importance. The 21st century claims to be a century of development and prosperity. For whom, the selected few? I still don’t know. Again the definitions of these vague terms vary from person to person depending on their interests and agendas.

I am caught in bewilderment as I write now. Watching Imran Khan, Chairman Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf is a spectacle that puzzles me and at the same time makes me feel sad about where we are heading. As I said earlier I have to be politically correct but in times like these we can’t look at things in black and white. What is right and what is wrong I can’t tell much as I am not a political scientist who is aware of various forms of governments and what would or should be the “best” system according to which a country should be governed.

The demands made by Mr.Khan that drew attention of many and created unrest according to some are in no way wrong but it is the implementation that puzzles me. Here are the demands of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf headed by Imran Khan but above all he wants the Prime Minister to resign.

  1. We demand the present Election Commissioners resign immediately as they have lost the confidence of the nation. The system of the selection of Chairman and members of the ECP should be changed to ensure the ECP functions as a truly independent body as guaranteed in the Constitution.
  2. We demand an immediate verification of thumbprints in the four constituencies identified by PTI and the process should be concluded within 2 weeks.
  3.  We demand that all perpetrators found guilty of or complicit in rigging in the 2013 elections must be brought to justice – from the identified ROs and Presiding Officers to those identified as having cast multiple votes.
  4. We demand that for future elections all ROs must be legally accountable to the ECP, as stated in the Constitution, for their performance in conduct of elections.
  5. We demand that post-election appeals must be held in the time stipulated – 120 days – by law and those not complying must be held accountable.
  6. All future elections must be held under biometric system & EVMs must be introduced for the voting with a paper trail.
  7.  As a step towards genuine neutral Caretakers, they must not be permitted to hold any public office for 2 years after their serving as Caretakers.
  8.  That the SC decision of giving overseas Pakistanis the right to vote must immediately be implemented.
  9. We invite all parties who want electoral reforms to form a committee with PTI and come up with a comprehensive electoral reform package for Parliament to pass.

My entire life I have seen people marching against dictatorships, considering it a ruthless form of government. I remember how actively I participated in the discussions when we had to oust General Musharraf. Pakistan Peoples Party’ s slogan loudly said “democracy is the best revenge.” And so we entered a democratic system which had to be a government of the people by the people and for the people. That was my understanding of democracy too a while ago.

So the successful transition from one democratic system to another led to Pakistan Muslim League (N) turn after five years of Pakistan Peoples Party in power. It isn’t a government by the people as there was rigging, massive rigging. It isn’t a government of the people as nepotism led to a many important seats being taken by the relatives of PML (N) and yes it is not a government for the people as many don’t get justice let aside basic human rights. There is dissatisfaction between people over rising food prices, unbearable taxation, unemployment and the list goes on. We weren’t happy then and we aren’t happy now.

Imran Khan came on the forefront telling people to adopt civil disobedience as a way to overthrow the current democratically elected government as it is not delivering what it is meant to. Sadly no government ever delivered what it promised during the election campaigns. I am not hoping for a Utopian world but till how long this political game for more going to continue?

He gave many references of Egypt wanting to make Islamabad’s Red Zone area, Tahrir square. He has been giving examples of Egypt every now and then. I just want to ask him that are you aware how the people of Egypt feel at the present moment with President Abdel Fatah al Sisi? Just a different name that didn’t change anything much.  Are you aware of their struggle and what it led to? All these institutions, these empty buildings, empty of a conscience didn’t deliver what many gathered for, hoping to see a better future. As I write a face on Mohammad Mahmoud street’s graffiti looks into my eyes, face of Jalal Meghazi. He was born in 1992 and lost his life fighting to see Hosni Mobarak’s removal. Those passionate eyes tell me that I died for nothing. The slogans, people gathering in big numbers wanting justice, i can draw similarities.

423766_10151172317528164_1515931468_n

Jalal Meghazi from Mohammad Mahmood street in Cairo, Egypt 

Photo Source: Anam Gill

The power play with its strings elsewhere can only fool the ones gathering or hoping to see better days. Sometimes I feel that the general population is just used or misused for propagating the political interests of the unseen. It was never about justice. Someone rightly said that justice is what love looks like in public. We never want to lose the people we love as they carry an important place in our hearts.

Besides the slogans we are also brainwashed to believe that you don’t get freedom easily you have to give your life for it. This has always been central for gathering crowds and I don’t out rightly reject that but gathering after leaders who want to lead me into an abyss is not what I want,  these Pied Pipers with various names and agendas. However this doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge the efforts of all those freedom fighters who gave their lives struggling for justice and freedom.

Years after witnessing all the struggles in the past should make us more conscientious and aware of the fact that using force should not be an option.  We say we are civilized beings so we must act like one and talk things out. Dialogue is essential but it is also important to note that in dialogue both parties should be ready to listen to each other and try to resolve the matter keeping aside the ego and personal interests.  When governments are operated by foreign elements due to their strategic importance they should not be called sovereign states. We live in a globalized world and living in isolation should not be an option either. We are living in a time when we know what is right and what is wrong especially when it deals with the matters regarding justice and peace, the words highly exploited in today’s world.

Nobody anywhere in the world likes to be kicked into darkness. People everywhere in the world want to live in peace and if the forces that play an important role in creating wars and unrest think they can get away with it, they should know that the empty slogans of justice and peace don’t fool us anymore. Enough of these theories and intellectual content, act like you are pro peace and justice and that would be enough. Noam Chomsky said “The general population doesn’t know what is happening and it doesn’t even know that it doesn’t know.” Yes when we don’t know anything we make ourselves available to people who can make use of us. So let us open our eyes and try to find the truth.

Truth is a relative term I know but we can try at least or the best we can do is to be righteous in our own capacity. Give our little contribution whenever possible propagating justice and peace in our own little circles and that might turn out to be a catalyst for change.

Sierra Leone: Diamonds Are Not Forever

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Books & Magazine, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

What_price_for_those_diamonds__by_Joe_Leo

Photo Source: Amnesty International

The recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa declared a global health emergency by World Health Organization made me recall the time I spent in Sierra Leone and Liberia few years back. At that time the two countries were in a rebuilding phase from the long civil war which ended in 2002.

A clear incident flashed before me when the catchy names of these countries were shown in the tickers while watching world news. Seeing the resilience of many people I met on my journey was not only inspirational but also unbelievable. Watching all those war amputees, both young and old, telling me that we are no more at war and we hope to see a better future was extraordinary.

I remember I had to buy a tooth brush and my host, Christy, took me to a shop that not only had Swiss cheese but also Belgian chocolates on sale. I was surprised to see a small shop in Sierra Leone having fancy stuff on sale while the rest of the country was in a dilapidated state. Later Christy took me to the place from where she used to buy things. It was an open space with tables and it was shocking to see all the chicken parts on sale and lentils sold in small (the tiniest I have ever seen) pouches. When asked about the shop where she took me earlier, she told me that it was for the UN peacekeepers in the country as people like us cannot afford to buy things from there.

I am always bothered to see the polar extremes in various places that I have been to and also the polar extremes in my country of birth, Pakistan. Yes polar extremes exist everywhere and yes they have become an accepted reality.  I can visualize how things can be in those countries with the deadly outbreak that resulted in approximately 930 deaths in West Africa.

The other day I was reading that a man in Saudi Arabia who contracted the disease during his business trip died in Jeddah. Moreover major airlines like British Airways and Emirates have halted flights to affected countries. Many expatriates are leaving the countries. Blockades have been established in many places, shutting down the affected communities. Also in the news, a Roman Catholic Priest repatriated with one of the nuns is now in a stable condition in Madrid where the sixth floor of the hospital was evacuated for their treatment.

So what about the ones who are left behind in a place where the virus is gnawing at them?  Lacking medical equipment and training to handle the disease many of the doctors have fled the affected areas. The outbreak must be costing the war scarred economy millions of dollars but above all it is killing people, it is costing their lives.  International aid organizations would be ready to help but with the imposition of ban on travel and trade whether many will be helped is still a question.

Stephen Morrison, the director of Global Health Policy Centre while talking to Newsweek said that the containment of the disease is becoming impossible for the governments to handle. The WHO health officials said that the threat is serious but can be controlled blaming the region’s poor public health infrastructure. What if it is not just West Africa? What if an unknown deadly virus erupts somewhere and cannot be controlled?  Many countries around the world have poor public health infrastructure because sadly health is not governments’ number one priority. In this case the developing world becomes an easy prey with little resources to fight. We can spend billions on defense fighting each other but when it comes to defending ourselves from the unknown ailments which are a result of our mal practices in general  for example cancer, we don’t know what to do.

Sierra Leone is apparently at peace today bearing deep scars. It is ranked 180 of 187 on the latest Human Development Index. With a low literacy rate where 20 percent of children die before their fifth birthday, to date thousands of survivors lack medical or psychological treatment. Almost two third of the population lives on less than one dollar a day. Relatively stable countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia yet again face another shock.

I cannot forget the beautiful beaches and hills of Sierra Leone. A country rich is natural resources is fighting yet another battle. If only the resources and wealth of a country are put to good use many of the ills plaguing the country can be dealt with effectively. Changing the game which has been played for years benefiting just a few is the need of the day.

Here I would like to talk a little about the famous blood diamonds.  According to World Diamond Council which represents the commercial diamond trade, blood or conflict diamonds are traded illegally to fund conflict in war-torn regions, particularly in West and Central Africa. Conflict diamonds are defined by United Nations as “…diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.”

diamond mine near Kenema, SL 2001 Getty images

Diamond mine near Kenema, Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Getty Images

It has been told by the experts that the illegal sale of blood diamonds has produced billions of dollars to fund conflicts and civil wars in various African nations including, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola. In response to the greed and genocide, Kimberley Process Certification System was created in 2002 to regulate diamond trade and keep blood diamonds from entering the legitimate market. The Kimberley Process was put into practice by United Nations. Proponents of Kimberley Process claim 99 percent of world diamonds are now legitimate however the critics claim that this program does not prevent diamonds from being easily smuggled. It should be noted here that Africa supplies 60 percent of the world’s diamond supply.

Some people all over the world love to wear diamonds, a stone that has been made valuable at the cost of somebody’s life. We don’t know where these diamonds come from. We don’t want to think about it as long as we get a dazzling stone around our necks or fingers.  Today we have been blinded by our need for more. Today development depends on more production and more consumption. If only we realize how this need for more is causing harm to this planet. We are at war with ourselves and should not blame anyone else for the mess which we face all over the world, a mess that has various shapes and sizes. Our focus is entirely on faster, newer and cheaper that we have actually lost ground on things like safer, healthier and fair. We are motivated to find solutions but those solutions aren’t the most need solving. We are playing the game with one goal and that is the need for more.  In this game of more we need to change our goal and that would be towards betterment, better health, better jobs and a better chance to survive on this planet. The laws and rules that define development need to be redefined.

Flashing the stones, glamorizing material goods and manufacturing things which we don’t need at all in this game of more make us forget the worsening health indicators, the growing income inequality and the melting of polar icecaps to name a few. Today water is on sale and maybe in the years to come we will have air for sale too, if we don’t change the game. We have become individuals with insatiable appetites accumulating more and more. 40 percent of Earth’s resources are owned by 1 percent of the population. The combined wealth of three richest individuals in the world exceeds the GDP of the 47 poorest countries. The world contains only 497 multi billionaires while half of its population survives on less than 2 dollars per day. It is time we start thinking of the connected self where we all are inter dependent.

Mass Mutilation Sieera Leone

Mass mutilation Sierra Leone

Photo Source: Google

These glittering diamonds which people like to flaunt are extracted by thousands of men, women and children who are used as slaves in countries like Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone a group known as the Revolutionary United Front threatened, killed and mutilated people living and working in diamond villages until they were able to take control of the mines. About 20,000 innocent lives suffered bodily mutilation, 75,000 killed and 2 million fled Sierra Leone according to PBS Online NewsHour. These conflicts combined have displaced millions and resulted in more than 4 million deaths according to National Geographic News.

Now when I think of it, we can survive without diamonds. No?  It can be seen that the lack of political will among member states has made the Kimberley Process ineffective.  According to Amy Barry of Global Witness while talking to CNN, Zimbabwe is a test case for Kimberley Process. She alleged that Robert Mugabe’s regime benefited from the sale of blood diamonds despite it being a member of Kimberley Process. However the conflict trade costing the lives of millions of people is not limited to diamonds. Rebel fighters and army units from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have hijacked the trade in mineral ores used in mobile phones and computer production according to Global Witness. This has subjected the local population to extortion, rape, massacres and forced labor. Later on the conflict minerals are laundered into global supply chain by export houses before it is being transformed into refined metals by large international smelting firms.

Being part of this rouge trade just for the sake of profits or to be more apt money is nothing but inhumane. We should realize the fact that we are not immortals who will be on this planet forever. It is important to realize that we are all connected and a suffering in any part of the world is the suffering of humankind.  Right now we might get away by thinking that it is the people of Palestine who are at stake or child soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo or polar bears in the Arctic but it will not be too late when we will be in the same boat. It is important to change the game which gives us a false economic model based on the need for more. We need to think with reason and say no to things which we don’t need instead of blindly accumulating stuff at the cost of others. The economic model which we need to follow should be sustainable keeping in mind better survival on this planet instead of making more or having more.

It is not an easy task for sure but neither is this impossible. By thinking and adopting a collective and selfless approach we can surely come out of the many self created problems. Let’s change the game by adopting less is better and prevent the downfall of humanity.

 

   

The Invisible Child Soldiers

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, E-Magazine, General Information, Green Economy, News, News & Updates, Publications, Take Action

Guy Oliver IRINPhoto Source: Guy Oliver/IRIN

Becoming a soldier at the age of seven on the orders of his uncle, a chief in the North Kivu Province in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dikembe Muamba* stole his first gun at the age of 10. Dikembe Muamba* told IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) that he led 50 people both children and adults as a captain at the age of 14.

Spending few years as his uncle’s bodyguard he was later enlisted into PARECO (Alliance of Resistant Congolese Patriots) which emerged in 2007 from diverse and varied communities of North Kivu province like Hutu, Hunde, Nande, Nyanga and Tembo .

Muamba and many other children, having the right to live a decent living, can tell you how many battles they have fought without hesitation. For Muamba it was 45 but he is not sure how many people he killed, he reluctantly adds that the youngest person he ever killed was a girl who was about 6 years old and she was shooting at him.

Formerly known as Zaire, Democratic Republic of Congo is no stranger to instability and conflict. For decades the political violence has wrecked the country. After the Rwandan Civil war in 1994 the violence intensified.  Extraordinarily complex the conflict that involved huge numbers of rebel groups fighting each other, children are being  snatched by rebel groups from their parents to become soldiers. The estimates given by UN states that 15 to 30% of all newly conscripted combatants are under the age of 18 in the DRC army. It is also estimated that one in ten children or 30,000 child soldiers are found in DRC. Scarring them mentally and physically for life the child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo are forced to commit the most appalling acts of murder. Female child soldiers are frequently used as sexual slaves by the commanders.

When we talk about the military use of children it should be noted that there are around 120,000 child soldiers in Africa according to UNICEF. That comprises half the total of 300,000 around the world including countries like Colombia, Myanmar, Afghanistan and many other places. The dangers for children have been heightened by the recent developments in warfare. During the last decade the estimated figures of child victims killed, physically and psychologically traumatized and left homeless have crossed millions.

Is this the civilized world we dreamt of?  With numerous other injustices spread across the globe the facts and figures related to child soldiers come as an abysmal truth, very hard to face. Maybe it is very easy for me writing about it by quoting these statistics, how difficult it would have been to live the hell which these children have been forced to live. This unimaginable truth makes me cringe and once again I am haunted by the stories of decapitation and mutilation done by young children. Instead of a pen and paper they were introduced to weapons. When they were supposed to learn to love, they were taught to hate. The never ending cycle of violence didn’t solve any problem so far it just made the situation worse with each passing day.

We have many examples in history where child soldiers have been extensively involved in military campaigns and combats. Since 1970s a number of international conventions came into effect trying to limit the participation of children in armed conflicts nevertheless it has been reported that the participation of children in armed conflicts is widespread.  According to UNOCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa. Many of these children are forced into conflict due to poverty, sold by their parents, tricked and kidnapped.  In Burundi hundreds of child soldiers served in an armed rebel Hutu group in 2004. Children younger than 16 were also recruited in the Burundese military. In Central African Republic between 2001 and 2003 children served in armed rebel groups. In Chad child soldiers are fighting with Chadian military and rebel forces. In Cote d’Ivoire during 2002 civil war, children were recruited by both sides. Child soldiers were also used by Rwandan government forces and paramilitaries in 2002. Visiting Sierra Leone and Liberia during the rebuilding phase made me visit some camps with war amputees, young people without arms and legs told their stories of rapes, murders and other tortures. Years of their lives have been wasted by the wars. This war talk which makes some label many other like myself as idealists and irrational beings, just because we think that war is not a solution and it fuels misery, should visit these places and listen to the stories of these invisible people.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is rich in natural resources and has the world’s second largest rain forest. This second largest country in Africa with 75 million falls at the bottom of two major indices. Languishing at the bottom of 2012 UNDP Human Development Index and Global Hunger Index, Democratic Republic of Congo is struggling with the issues of HIV and AIDS. With all these serious issues affecting the nation the child soldiers coming in the backdrop makes Democratic Republic of Congo a vulnerable state in need of stability and reforms. Having one of the highest rates of child soldiers all over the world Democratic Republic of Congo has ratified a number of international treaties protecting the rights of children yet the figures indicating child victims to war and abuse tell a different story.

In 2001 Democratic Republic of Congo ratified UN Security Council Resolution 1341 which called for an end to recruitment of children, ensuring their rehabilitation and reintegration. All the ratifications proved nothing but a public relations exercise.  The UN Security Council convenes regularly to discuss reports and pass resolutions under the title of children in armed conflicts. These various resolutions being passed in the late 2000 that request action plans for monitoring, reporting and compliance are not enough. With regards to Article 77.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions which was adopted in 1977 it was mentioned that the parties should take “feasible” measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 don’t take part in armed conflicts. Instead of stating the “feasibility” there should be a complete ban on the recruitment of children in armed forces. The various written documents endorsing child protection should not just be a matter of closed room discussions and written documentation. The difficulty is in the implementation of all these laws. With the lawlessness in the affected countries and rising corruption the proper implementation is nowhere in sight.

In an October 2013 report of UN Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) it was mentioned that in the past five years about 10,000 children have been separated from armed groups. In the same period nearly 1000 more children were conscripted and their use in the armed groups has remained “systemic”.

AFPPhoto Source: AFP

Use of children in armed forces is one of the most repugnant practices around the world and according to UNICEF’s definition of a child soldier the minimum age has now been changed from under 15 to less than 18 years of age. The phenomenon of having children in combat is not new in the history and throughout history we can find many examples where child combatants have wasted their lives in this malice. A notable example in the history can be of Hitler Jugden (Hitler Youth) during World War II.

As a human race, presumably we have evolved from our barbaric stage many years ago and as we embark on the 21st , more civilized century we should sign a pact where we promise to let go our old savage ways. With the technological and other advancements where the human species have discovered so many hidden secrets these same species fail to acknowledge and understand a basic truth about life. That truth is very simple and does not need an equation to decipher and it states that we need to live in peace with each other. We need to instill love and empathy for each other. Let us for once try to put the broken pieces together when we can.

Let us take a step forward honoring Article 12 of Conventions on the Rights of the Child which calls on states to recognize the right of children to participate in the processes that affect them. Their right is currently snatched away from them even in the reintegration programs of the former child soldiers. It is about moving past the dominant view of the child soldiers as passive victims to their meaningful participation. It should be about looking past their identity as victims and asking them about the complexity of their past and envisioning a future that builds on the positive and negative experiences they had in the past. When it comes to reintegration of child soldiers it is important to look beyond the victim-perpetrator binary. These children should be given space to discuss the feelings of guilt and remorse placing it in the context of war, insecurity and poverty. It is about putting a positive and productive approach into practice. The life changing experiences of war are a complex subject to deal with and no doubt need sound programs and initiatives.

The International Criminal Court’s 2012 conviction of militia leader Thomas Lubanga for recruiting child soldiers under the age of 15 years in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2002 – 2003 sends a strong message. The message is clear that those who will recruit children in armed conflicts will be held accountable. There are many Thomas Lubangas out there who need to be held accountable for their misdeeds.

Since the war ended in 2002 the armed conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo involving national army and various other armed groups have unlawfully recruited boys and girls using them in various hostilities. The intensification of the conflict in late 2011 to early 2012 led to new waves of child recruitment in armed groups.

There is a need to deal with this growing issue where many national and international forces are working in solidity with the mafia warlords. The use of small arms should also be monitored and curtailed which makes it easier for young children to use weapons. The source of the entire problem is the illegal arms trade that gives power to this growing militia everywhere. Through willingness from national and international community and proper check and balance this issue can be dealt and the suffering of thousands of invisible children can be brought to an end.

*A pseudo name used

desd

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

Written by admin on . Posted in General Information, News

In its 57th meeting in December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, 2005- 2014, ’emphasizing that education is an indispensable element for achieving sustainable development’. It also designated UNESCO as the lead agency to promote and implement the Decade. The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (DESD) seeks to mobilize the educational resources of the world to help create a more sustainable future. Many paths to sustainability (e.g. sustainable agriculture and forestry, research and technology transfer, finance, sustainable production and consumption) exist and are mentioned in the 40 chapters of Agenda 21, the official document of the 1992 Earth Summit. Education is one of these paths. Education alone cannot achieve a more sustainable future; however, without education and learning for sustainable development, we will not be able to reach that goal. The vision of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a world where everyone has the opportunity to benefit from quality education and learn the values, behaviour and lifestyles required for a sustainable future and for positive societal transformation. ESD is for everyone, at all stages of life and in all possible learning contexts. ESD employs a partnership approach that engages multiple sectors and stakeholders – including media agencies and the private sector – and utilizes all forms and methods of public awareness raising, education and training to promote a broad understanding of sustainable development. ESD equally addresses all three pillars of sustainable development – society, environment and economy – with culture as an essential additional and underlying dimension. By embracing these elements in a holistic and integrated manner, ESD enables all individuals to fully develop the knowledge, perspectives, values and skills necessary to take part in decisions to improve the quality of life both locally and globally on terms which are most relevant to their daily lives.

Why a Decade of Education for Sustainable Developement?

Education is a motor for change. That is why in December 2002, the United Nations General Assembly, through its Resolution 57/254, declared a Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). It also designated UNESCO as the lead agency for the promotion of this Decade.

What do we expect from the Decade?

Throughout the Decade, education for sustainable development will contribute to enabling citizens to face the challenges of the present and future and leaders to make relevant decisions for a viable world. These actors will:

  • have acquired various skills (critical and creative thinking, communication, conflict management and problem solving strategies, project assessment) to take an active part in and contribute to the life of society,
  • be respectful of the Earth and life in all its diversity,
  • and be committed to promoting democracy in a society without exclusion and where peace prevails.

This vision of the world is not an utopia but an ideal towards which to work, by:

  • taking into account education in sustainable development plans,
  • creating public awareness of the importance of sustainable development,
  • having regular and substantial coverage of sustainable development issues in the media.

How to implement the Decade?

To attain the objectives mentionned above, the Decade will focus on:

  • Promoting and improving quality education: Basic education needs to focus on sharing knowledge, skills, values and perspectives throughout a lifetime of learning in such a way that it encourages sustainable livelihoods and supports citizens to live sustainable lives. 
  • Reorienting educational programmes: Rethinking and revising education from nursery school through university to include a clear focus on the development of knowledge, skills, perspectives and values related to sustainability is important to current and future societies.
  • Building public understanding and awareness: Achieving the goals of sustainable development requires widespread community education and a responsible media committed to encouraging an informed and active citizenry.
  • Providing practical training: All sectors of the workforce can contribute to local, regional and national sustainability. Business and industry are, thus, key sites for on-going vocational and professional training, so that all sectors of the workforce can have the knowledge and skills necessary to make decisions and perform their work in a sustainable manner.

This Decade will also seek to create synergies with the other global initiatives that preceded it, like the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) that centered on the reduction of poverty; Education For All (EFA) that focuses on the universal access to education; and the United Nations Literacy Decade (UNLD) that aimed to provide adults with education. All share a common vision: education is the key to sustainable development.

What are the main challenges of education for sustainable future?
In spite of multiple efforts to strengthen ESD, many challenges remain. In particular, there is a need:
  • to integrate sustainable science and education;
  • to strengthen co-ordination and collaboration between different levels of education for SD; and
  • to mitigate information and knowledge gaps between different parts of the world.

This Decade will be a success if we not only contribute to it together as governments, international organizations, associations, communities, educators, private sector and citizens, but also, if we manage to take up the following challenges:

  • Going beyond environmental education to reach education for sustainable development: the concept of sustainable development being closely related throughout its evolution to the question of the protection of the planet, environmental education today is widely known and practiced. The Decade is not limited, however, to environmental education. Developing adequate teaching contents is, thus, a challenge to take up immediately.
  • Drawing up an inventory of what exists for the Decade: many countries have carried out education for sustainable development programmes or activities. Identifying these, evaluating the results, and disseminating information about them will allow us to accelerate the integration of this new vision of education into national plans.
  • Mobilizing the media: the media represents a powerful means of awareness-raising and dissemination about the principles and values of sustainable development, as well as about promising experiences. Making the media an ally for transmitting quality information to citizens is a pledge of success for the Decade.
  • Establishing partnerships and creating synergies among the initiatives and programmes: no institution, even at global scale, can manage to achieve the goals of sustainable development on its own. Only united together, from North to South, East to West, can we be sure to build a viable world for us and for generations to come.

 

Sources: http://www.desd.org/About%20ESD.htm http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/leading-the-international-agenda/education-for-sustainable-development/about-us/ http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001416/141629e.pdf