Posts Tagged ‘#AnamGill’

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

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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.

Justice Deferred is Justice Denied

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

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Photo Source: Google

On Wednesday the Federal Government of Pakistan temporarily deferred execution of a 14-year old Shafqat Hussain just few hours before he was set to be hanged. In Pakistan the use of torture evidence and execution of juveniles is illegal. Surely the legal system has specific procedures for dealing with juvenile delinquents yet Shafqat Hussain was arrested and tortured to confess to killing of a child.

The only evidence the courts had was his confession he made after nine days of being tortured in a police cell. He was not tried as a juvenile nor was he given access to a lawyer.

Moments like these make me recall the famous quotation; peace is not the absence of war but the presence of justice. Justice is a fascinating word. We hope to get justice in an unjust world, made unjust by our power hunger, selfishness and greed. Where is the compassion we are seeking? Why are we seeking it in the first place?

What a shame that it took the weight of civil society and an uproar to push the Minister into deferring the execution just hours before he was due to be taken to the gallows. We seek the judicial system for justice and what if the same system is flawed as an entity? We don’t know how many other juveniles are facing the same fate.

Being a signatory of child rights conventions, Pakistan should take measures to meet standards of juvenile justice. Sarah Coleman, Child Protection Chief, UNICEF

The existing Juvenile Justice Ordinance 2000, consisting of only 15 sections, does not cover many important aspects pertaining to child delinquencies, the ordinance needs to be improved. Barrister Salman Safdar

Shafqat Hussain was kept in solitary confinement, blindfolded and beaten brutally by the police. He was being electrocuted and stubbed lit cigarettes on his arms while being asked to confess to the crime.

 I was tortured so severely and continuously that my mind ‘just stopped’. I have no recollection of the trial. Shafqat Hussain

It is important to note that after a seven-year moratorium, Pakistan has reintroduced the death penalty and has also introduced military courts. It will begin executions where clemency and appeals are no longer an option. Following the 2014 Peshawar school attacks that killed over 100 children, the death penalty was reintroduced last December.  According to Amnesty International since 2012, 24 people have been executed including three whose convictions were unrelated to terrorism.

Is this shameful retreat to the gallows a way to resolve Pakistan’s persistent security and law -and -order problems? Those who argue the shallow logic of an eye for an eye, it is worthy to note that the charges of blasphemy, adultery and apostasy are also punishable by death. It is indeed a moral catastrophe for Pakistan. The death penalty and military courts are not known to be the deterrents of crime, especially the military courts where the judges and prosecutors come from army ranks. This indeed is a controversial addition to the flawed judicial system along with Anti-terrorism Courts.

Two months after Pakistan’s Interior Ministry stayed the execution of Shafqat Hussain and ordered an inquiry into why a juvenile was given a death sentence, Pakistan’s Anti-terrorism Court issues a fresh execution order.

Draconian courts like these operate on the premise that the accused is guilty unless proven innocent. Shafqat Hussain who has spent 11 years on death row was not a militant and had nothing to do with terrorism. He worked as a caretaker of an apartment building during his brief freedom in Karachi.

In an era of injustice, shameful violence and intolerance it is our duty to raise our voices for sanity and compassion.  We can’t call Pakistan just and democratic when it provides assistance to banned armed outfits, violent sectarian groups and puts innocent juveniles on death row.

“You Have Not come here to just enjoy Lima”

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, Cameroon, General Information, Ghana, Green Economy, India, News, News & Updates, Publications, Regions, Sierra Leone, Take Action, Trinidad and Tobago

1017932Manuel Pulgar Vidal , President of COP20 addressing the audience in Lima

Photo Source: Google

“This is the time to take decisions…we want to give a clear and strong message that we want to take this process forward…you have not come here to just enjoy Lima…we must not accept to leave Lima with empty hands ” Manuel Pulgar Vidal said in a passionate appeal to the negotiators on the second last day of COP 20.

Vidal who was acting as the President of the conference or COP 20 (Conference of Parties) shared the disappointed of many that no progress was made on the negotiating text. With just one more day to go till the end of the conference and negotiations it was indeed saddening to see another deadlock looming on the horizon.

When we talk about global climate agreement one question that pops out is; with the global political crisis, where most countries are at war with each other both physically and otherwise, will they ever be able to negotiate in terms of climate justice?  I have been asking this question a lot and have never come across a sane explanation. In an extremely unjust world ruled by people who value profit is it even possible to talk about climate justice? Are we just fooling ourselves trying to make a difference by attending these important meetings visited by the many heads of states who are good at posing for photographs with the delegates but not drafting sound agreements?

Climate talks have remained deadlocked be it Brazil or Lima. Defeated in Brazil we thought we have a battle to fight in Lima where we may win and now we are looking forward to Paris in 2015. Is it just about wasting another year? When it comes to climate can we really afford to waste these many years? What are we waiting for?

These glorious opportunities that bring so many countries together should be made use of properly without wasting too much time, money and energy. There was an Ad-hoc Working Group on Durban Platform (ADP) at the COP 20 that was supposed to decide how various countries will contribute in the fight against climate change. The contributions that will be determined nationally are called Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs will form the backbone of the global climate agreement that is expected to be finalized at the next climate conference in Paris in 2015.

Unfortunately there are disagreements existing on several issues related to INDCs. Regarding the actions that have to be taken by developed countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2020 there isn’t a clear understanding. By using the jargons many countries try to get away without presenting a clear action plan. The mitigation/adaptation debate over the INDCs and whether these contributions should be put to an international review had been slow.

The frustrating slow pace of the Lima negotiations does disappoint many around the globe including the developing world that is mostly on the receiving end. Developing world is most affected by the decisions made by the developed world that even ship its waste to the global South. Also some countries in the developing world  clearly have other priorities.

According to Al Jazeera “China has said emissions will peak by 2030, while India chose to put economic growth ahead of emissions caps.”

How many more conferences and drafts do we need to understand and acknowledge the unforeseen adversity in the years to come?

AlJazeera reported :

 “ In Peru, the venue for this year’s crucial climate change conference, illegal logging continues at unprecedented rates.”

 “The capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, is a city under threat as it is sinking at a rate of seven centimetres every year. By 2030, according to experts, half of the city will be below sea level. Step Vassen reports from the Indonesian capital.”

 “In South Sudan, many people are chopping down trees just to exist. The country’s oilfields generate billions of dollars a year, but all the oil is exported, leaving millions of people to rely on wood and charcoal for fuel. The current rate of deforestation will mean no forest will be left in South Sudan within three or four decades.”

And the list goes on. The empty slogans made by the politicians demanding actions against climate change in not enough. Someone rightly said that with great power comes great responsibility. Here I would like to make an urgent appeal to the world leaders/politicians to take up this responsibility without wasting more time.

Exercising the Divine Obligation

Written by Anam Gill on . Posted in Anam's blog: Global issues, General Information, News, Uncategorized

At some point in our life we do tend to question humanity. In my lifetime I have questioned this virtue many times revolving around the basic ethics of altruism. Someone rightly said ignorance is bliss and knowing too much can only make you suffer. But how can we stay aloof in a world bombarded with news talking about the crimes committed on fellow beings just because they have a different color, race, religion, gender and so on.

We love to brag about peace, social cohesion, justice and it is true that there have been incidents where your faith in humanity is restored but then comes the reality check.

A few days ago I read about the brutal killing of a Christian couple in the suburb of  Lahore, Pakistan. Shahzad Masih, twenty eight years old and his five months pregnant wife Shama Masih, twenty four, were brutally tortured and later set ablaze by an enraged mob at a brick kiln.

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 The deceased Shama and Shahzad Masih

Photo Source: Dawn.com

According to a newspaper source:

 “The entire episode took place in the presence of policemen and on the orders of a local Panchayat comprising notables and clerics of the area,” said Javed Shahbaz, a close relative of the deceased couple.

On Tuesday, November 4th, the prayer leader at the mosque of Chak No 59 of  Kot Radha Kishan, a suburb of Lahore made a provocative announcement on the loudspeaker urging all the male members in the area to gather at the kiln where the couple worked.

 “O villagers, I have a sad news for you. A Christian woman has burned the holy Quran. Therefore, all reasonable men and even young male children (of this village) are requested to converge at the brick kiln as early as possible so that a decision could be made ” Sadiq, a 55-year-old man quoted the cleric making the announcement.

 Within an hour people poured in big numbers at the kiln. It is also reported that earlier that day the couple was locked up in a room to stop them from fleeing bonded labor by the owner of the kiln over monetary dispute. While the angry mob attacked the ‘blasphemers’ the police stood there helpless. The blasphemers have left three children under the age of six.

 This is not the first incident of blasphemy to be reported where before the matter is taken to the court the incited mob headed by a cleric heads out to attack the ‘blasphemers’. The state institutions always claim not being able to handle the situation leaving everything at the hands of the charged groups. The same state institution looked different when protests were being staged in the capital to oust the democratically elected government, that time they weren’t ‘helpless’ and could handle the situation.

 It is no secret anymore that many accusations of blasphemy are used to settle personal scores or to harass the religious minorities. Interestingly the Council of Islamic Ideology, that advises the parliament on Islamic aspects of laws, stated that no amendment to the blasphemy laws will be considered.The blasphemy cases have been stacking despite many assurances. According to the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies the blasphemy cases have been registered due to nonsensical reasons that a sane mind can’t decipher.

The hostile stories of blasphemy cases where people rather entire villages are set ablaze remind me of a troop of Savanna baboons in Kenya, the Keekorok troop.  Dr Robert Sapolsky studied the troop for 30 years identifying stress and hierarchy in baboons. These amazing yet Machiavellian creatures required a kind of baboon political shrewdness. The study showed that the most cunning and aggressive males gained top ranks in the hierarchy and all the perks like personal groomer, females for their choosing and all the food to eat.

In the troop every male knew where he stands in the society and whom he could torture. The tough and snarly baboons once fought with a neighboring baboon troop over a garbage dump containing meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis. The strong baboons did get to eat all the food but that led to selective killing of dictatorial and vilest males. A social and behavioral transformation occurred after that which was unique in the notoriously aggressive primate. The calamity had a profound effect on the Dr Sapolsky’s research. Every alpha male was gone and the Keekorok troop was transformed left with more females and socially affiliated males that altered the atmosphere of the Keekorok troop.

So what does this alteration teach an average person? Don’t treat somebody badly just because you are having a bad day and don’t just place on somebody in any sort of manner.  Social connection and harmony is a very powerful thing and this is what the baboons taught us. If they were able to transform sort of an engraved in stone social system we don’t have any excuse saying that human social systems have certain inevitability. We now have a haunting question from Dr Sapolsky’s life work that is are we brave enough to learn from a baboon? After the complete transformation the Keekorok troop not only survived rather thrived with a congenial atmosphere and without stress. Can we?

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

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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.

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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

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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.