Saturday, May 31, 2008
Photo: (LEBANON) A house in Kalaa in Tyre district has been marked by a mine clearance team from the organization Mines Advisory Group (MAG), to warn people of the dangerous unexploded submunitions from cluster munitions which are lying around the house.
(Photo courtesy - John Rodsted/Norwegian People's Aid)
Cluster bomb survivors and civil society groups around the world are celebrating the groundbreaking treaty just agreed to by more than 100 countries at a meeting in Dublin.
This treaty will make it illegal to produce, use, stockpile or transfer all existing and future cluster munitions.
Many are particularly delighted in Article 5, which deals specifically with victim assistance.
“The provisions for victim assistance in this treaty build on and strengthen the provisions in the Mine Ban Treaty,” said Paul Hannon, executive director of Mines Action Canada. “They connect the needs of survivors for assistance to their human rights in international law. This is the first time this has ever happened in a disarmament treaty,” said Mr. Hannon.
“In terms of victim assistance, we got basically everything we asked for,” said a spokesperson for Survivor Corps (formerly Landmine Survivors Network), an organization that specializes in helping landmine and cluster bomb survivors.
NGOs are pleased to see that State Parties will be obligated to provide age and gender sensitive assistance, including medical care, rehabilitation and psychological support.
Part of the credit for such strong language in the new treaty must go to the many cluster bomb and landmine survivors who attended the conference in Dublin and delivered letters of protest to embassies (including Canada’s).
According to Handicap International, more than 90 per cent of all cluster bomb victims are civilians.
One of the advantages negotiators had was the ability to use the 10-year-old Mine Ban Treaty as a model.
Victim assistance advocates and survivors lobbied for stronger wording for this treaty.
“While the Mine Ban Treaty only mentions victim assistance briefly, in the Preamble and Article on international co-operation, this treaty evolves the notion of victim assistance as a key element, by providing a full definition of victims and making the reporting on victim assistance a mandatory requirement for States Parties,” said a spokesperson for Survivor Corps.
One of the disappointments with the original Mine Ban Treaty is that only a small percentage of annual humanitarian mine action funding goes toward victim assistance.
This time around, civil society groups are hoping more funds will be made available to help survivors.
The treaty calls for each State Party to provide a national plan and budget, including time frames to carry out these activities.
This may prove difficult for some developing countries already burdened by poverty, unemployment and debt.
However, like the Mine Ban Treaty, this new document allows State Parties to seek help from the international community.
In order for the new treaty to become international law, 30 countries must sign and ratify it. The treaty will open for signature in Oslo in early December.
Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the treaty may be hampered by the failure of the world’s largest producers, users and stockpilers to sign the treaty.
NGOs hope the treaty will stigmatize the use of cluster bombs, much like the Mine Ban Treaty has done with anti-personnel landmines.
At this point it is not known if Canada will sign and ratify the treaty or if it will increase mine action funding to eliminate these weapons and support survivors.
The Department of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for information.
To see who produces, uses and stockpiles cluster munitions, click here
To sign the People’s Treaty, click here
Photo: Ali Abu Awwad (left) and Robi Damelin speaking to the audience at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.
As the saying goes – the squeaky wheel gets the grease – but if one peace group in the Middle East gets its way, the silent majority may one day drown out the extremists.
Israeli Robi Damelin and Palestinian Ali Abu Awwad are currently touring Canada on behalf of the Parents Circle-Families Forum (PCFC), a grassroots group of bereaved families who are promoting reconciliation as an alternative to violence.
Both have been deeply affected by violence in the Middle East. Ms. Damelin’s son was killed by a Palestinian sniper and Mr. Awwad’s brother was killed by an Israeli soldier. Mr. Awwad himself was shot in the leg and spent four years in an Israeli prison.
Both have earned the “right to hate,” according to Mr. Awwad, yet neither has chosen to do so.
Before a concerned audience of Jews, Muslims and Christians at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, both Ms. Damelin and Mr. Awwad stressed the importance of promoting a non-violent alternative and finding new ways of reaching out and understanding the other side’s position and concerns.
During the question and answer period, many audience members wanted to know how the PCFC could affect change when others have failed in the past.
“I believe the first step is not to know the solution but to be part of it,” said Mr. Awwad. “In the long term, I don't know what will happen, but the only way to resist the occupation is through non-violence. The big questions about right of return – I don't want to put big goals right now.”
Mr. Awwad was very direct in his assessment of the current situation.
“We don’t need any more peace agreements. We already have a stack of those. I don't need somebody to hug me. I need someone to understand what I need to live as a human being.”
Ms. Damelin cautioned people not to take sides, saying it is not helpful.
“There is a tendency to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. The thing is, neither of us is going to disappear in a puff of smoke. One would think that it might be a better idea to work together to support Israel to get out of the Occupied Territories,” she said.
One of the most memorable moments of the evening came when Ms. Damelin stressed the importance of the need to understand each other's historical narrative.
“If you do not understand the Holocaust, you will not understand the Jewish psyche. Israel is not South Africa. Israel is not Northern Ireland. Israel needs a different psyche. The Jews need to trust that their future is safe,” said Ms. Damelin.
One audience member wanted to know why the Israelis do not recognize the suffering of the Palestinians.
“There is a very strong battle fatigue,” said Ms. Damelin. “There is inertia. It has gotten to the point where people don't want to read the news.”
The event was sponsored by World Vision, which has been working in the Middle East for more than 30 years.
To learn more about the PCFC click here
Friday, May 23, 2008
Photo: Tony Clarke (left) and Phil Fontaine announcing the release of a new report about access to safe water in aboriginal communities across Canada.
At a press conference in Ottawa yesterday, Phil Fontaine, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Canadians would be shocked to learn how bad the drinking water is in aboriginal communities across the country.
"Of the 633 First Nations communities in Canada, approximately 100 operate on a boil water advisory," said Mr. Fontaine.
The Assembly of First Nations, along with the Polaris Institute and the Canadian Labour Congress released a report entitled Boiling Point, which examines the water quality in six First Nations communities across the country.
The report says the situation in these communities has reached a crisis level and notes that one of the communities profiled in the report – Lansdowne House in Ontario – has been under a boil water advisory for 13 years.
The other communities profiled are: Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, Que., Pikangikum First Nation, Ont., Fort Chipewyan, Alta., Little Salmon Carmacks, Yukon and Yellow Quill first Nation, Sask.
"I have travelled throughout much of the Third World working on water services and sanitation and I can tell you that in places like Mexico, India or South Africa, that what we see in First Nations communities is very similar to what we have experienced and monitored in those countries, said Tony Clarke, executive director of the Polaris Institute. "We are living with Third World conditions. We are hoping (the report) will be a wake up call for Canadians to rally behind First Nations to demand immediate action to change the situation."
With the birth rate in aboriginal communities more than three times the national average, the need for clean water could not be greater. Mr. Fontaine does not point the finger at any one person, but says there has been gross negligence by successive governments and asks Canadians to join with aboriginal people to ensure they get safe drinking water.
"Our challenge to the government is this: there needs to be adequate financial and human resources to operate and maintain water systems," said Mr. Fontaine.
Because the report focuses on six communities with known problems, it does not show the entire picture.
According to press releases issued by Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Chuck Strahl's office, there have been significant improvements in accessing clean water on First Nations communities.
Of particular note is the fact that the number of high-risk water systems has been reduced from 193 to 85.
Still, it begs the question: what non-aboriginal community would have to put up with a boil water advisory for 13 years?