Sexual Abuse in Peacekeeping: A Not So Simple Answer

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

37-Year-Old Rape Victim, Mali, IDPS Bamako, Photo by Voice Nature World Plus

CENTRAL AFRICA - Since late March, the United Nations (UN) has come under fire on allegations that peacekeepers committed acts of sexual violence against civilian populations. The advocacy group, AIDS-free-world, made several leaked documents public in March of 2016 which implicated French soldiers and UN peacekeepers in acts of sexual abuse against the populations they were sent to protect. A large portion of these claims come from the Central African Republic, where French soldiers were deployed to help quell internal violence that began in 2013. The first allegations pre-date the establishment of the UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was authorized by the UN Security Council in April of 2014. Most of these were directed against French military personnel who were assisting African Union regional stabilization forces. Accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers from France, Gabon and Burundi were, however, reported after the establishment of MINUSCA and implicated the UN and its administration. Though many of these accusations are still under investigation, this information highlights the structural flaws within the UN that would allow such heinous acts to happen in the first place.

The current reports of sexual abuse are not the first the international organization has had to address. Sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions has been an ongoing problem within the UN system dating back to stabilization efforts in Cambodia during 1992. Most subsequent missions have also had at least some reports of misconduct, rape or abuse. With few exceptions, most accused perpetrators receive little to no punishment. This is because the UN itself, being an international organization, lacks any sort of power to legally prosecute individuals. Prosecution of criminal acts must be done by individual countries, and peacekeepers on a mission cannot be prosecuted by the host country in which they serve due to diplomatic immunity. Peacekeepers can only be prosecuted by their home country from which they originate. Most troop contributing countries for peacekeeping operations have, however, been reluctant to investigate and prosecute accused soldiers.

This leaves two questions regarding the widespread misconduct and sexual abuse. First, why has the UN been ineffective in addressing the structural challenges that allow such acts to manifest? Second, why are troop contributing countries reluctant to punish their own soldiers, especially in instances where misconduct is clear? The answers to these questions can come from current UN officials themselves. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, said in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine that “countries aren’t exactly queuing to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.” This means that any measures that the UN might put forth, such as expelling contingents of troops with multiple allegations, would cause a backlash from those who provide troops and cut off a much needed resource. Thus politics often comes into play when addressing these types of allegations at the New York Headquarters.

In terms of holding soldiers accountable in their home country, we often see a lack of political will and capacity. Less than five percent of allegations end up with the home country of the soldiers legally prosecuting them. There has been a long held observation that those countries that do contribute soldiers often prioritize domestic legal matters as opposed to those that happen in a different country. Likewise, most troop contributing countries are unwilling to admit any wrong-doing or are unable pursue trial because the evidence collected by the UN does not meet national standards needed to prosecute. Thus, we are left with a situation where soldiers know they practically have immunity in certain cases of rape and other human rights abuses. Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch himself said: “They know very well that, legally, the hands of national authorities and the United Nations are tied.”

We are left with a sensitive political situation that may threaten the efficacy of current and future peacekeeping operations. While certain solutions, such as the suggestion to collect DNA from all soldiers for paternity testing might have some impact, the international community is still faced with the lack of political will, mostly on the part of troop contributing countries. Pressing or coercing such countries to prosecute their soldiers might backfire, and peacekeeping missions could end up understaffed. Again, this result could actually do more harm than good and might potentially destabilize the country in which justice is sought. The international community might be better served to address these problems by better connecting troop contributing countries to potential solutions. One such example is Hervé Ladsous’s proposal for a specialized military court in countries hosting peacekeeping operations. It was not said who should staff these theoretical courts, but perhaps allocating spots for those who contribute the most soldiers to the host country might create political will to hold peacekeepers who commit heinous acts of abuse accountable.

Contributing Journalist: @AdamWolf
LinkedIn: Adam Wolf

The Resurgence and Spread of Child Marriage in Modern Asia

The Resurgence and Spread of Child Marriage in Modern Asia

The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.

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Even Photos of Drowned Refugee Babies Do Not Dampen Anti-Immigrant Sentiment

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Syrian Refugee Drowned Baby Girl off the coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

EUROPEAN UNION - White House press secretary , Josh Ernest, told media members in 2015, that President Obama directed his team to get prepared to admit at least 10,000 refugees into the United States by the end of the next fiscal year. Since the civil war started in Syria, millions of civilians have been displaced and millions have fled the country. Yet, to date, “U.S. government data shows that just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since the civil war broke out in March of 2011, and the vast majority of those were in the 2014.

The administration has acknowledged that processing resettlement applications is a slow and laborious task, which has kept the United States from accepting as many applicants as it would like to.” (Source: CNN) Many people blame this delay on the onerous requirements refugees from North Africa and the Middle East face, because of security concerns due to these areas being predominantly Muslim and the people from these areas being considered as potential security risks. However, many of these individuals are truly seeking asylum from the increasing violence inflicted upon them because they refuse to bow down to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria otherwise known as ISIS. They, like the rest of the world, find terrorism just as reprehensible as we do.

"An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots – 28,500 or 85% – are pledged by Germany." (Source: UNHCR) Meanwhile, several countries in the Middle East have also absorbed Syrian refugees, notably "Turkey, 249,726 in Iraq, 629,128 in Jordan, 132,375 in Egypt, 1,172,753 in Lebanon, and 24,055 elsewhere in North Africa.” 

Germany which took in 476,000 refugees claims that in 2015 there were actually at least 1 million refugees with asylum claims in their processing system. There have always been migrants trying to make it across the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea seeking a better life in Europe. But, because of the alacrity with which this migration has occurred, and the sheer numbers, most countries have implemented more stringent border control measures. The issue of human trafficking and the exploitation of these refugees, though an equally critical issue, is often ignored and under-reported.

In order to avoid the risks of exploitation, or their inability to come up with the money demanded for transport, desperate people have begun to utilize boats which aren't seaworthy to try and navigate to freedom. It has been reported that in some cases the sinking of boats have been as the result of direct attacks from Greek Coast Guard who try to prevent the refugees from reaching shore by shooting at their vessels. The tragedy is that in fleeing a death they may have faced in their countries of origin, they none-the-less end up dying and buried in watery graves, or washed ashore to be collected like flotsam.

Though refugees have been dying for years because of unseaworthy vessels, the magnitude of the numbers of people drowning as they attempt to cross and illegally enter Europe is now staggering. The perils that they face only recently became a reality when photographer, Nilufer Demir , took a picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, when his body washed ashore in one of the most popular tourist towns in Turkey, Bodrum in Izmir. The photo which was taken in September 2015 raised a public uproar as it circulated the world through news networks, online media, and social media. The tragedy was further compounded, when it was discovered that his older brother also drowned his body washed up on the beach just 50 meters from his baby brother. Turkish coast guards subsequently recovered an additional 10 bodies from the same accident.

A yacht captain in Bodrum, Turkey, who sails along Greek Islands for a tourism company, said everyone knows how it works. People all know where to get together. The bay has become a migration transit point. Yet, they are not stopped until they sail off, and eventually sink as a result of overload, insufficient equipment, “People are desperate. They are already escaping a war; water does not really scare them. When I go to port to pick up a passenger for our tours, someone always offer some money to me to get them to Kos Island. The money they offer is thousands of Euros,” he said. “No sensible person would take such a risk and responsibility. In most cases, people go ahead and buy their own inflatable boat, sometimes a very old fishing boat. They are always overloaded with people, and safety is not the priority. Eventually, in open waters a small mistake sinks the overloaded boat. (Source: Elvan Katmer)

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

Sunken Syrian Refugee Boat off coast of Greece, Photo Courtesy of Notimix

"Some of the worse tragedies in 2015 included:

  1. Two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank after leaving Zuwara in Libya on 27 August
  2. The bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrian migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry in Austria on 27 August
  3. A shipwreck off Italy's Lampedusa island killed about 800 people on 19 April
  4. At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rough seas in early February

Survivors often report violence and abuse by people traffickers, who charge thousands of dollars per person for their services. The chaos in Libya in particular has given traffickers freedom to exploit migrants and refugees desperate to reach Europe.”  (Source: BBC)

Yet, most of the countries which are struggling to absorb the immigrants, many of whom do not speak the language nor understand the cultural nuances required to enable them to assimilate, consider them to be a burden. Because of these limitations, finding and maintaining employment to become contributing members of the societies in which they need to be accepted is all but impossible. This makes refugees easy scapegoats for politicians and right-wing xenophobes and Islamophobians. These individuals and groups through their incendiary rhetoric foment violence against non-citizens with the oft used claims that refugees bring disease, take jobs from nationals, increase the crime rate and are rapist. All these accusations are designed to foment violence against anyone perceived as an immigrant, even if these people are naturalized citizens or second generation nationals who were born in the country.

Unfortunately, Germany is a country that has long been vilified for it human rights violations. Too often the country receives negative news coverage, first because of its barbarous history of Nazism, and second because it has absorbed so many immigrants that many in the government feel over committed. Angela Merkl, the Chancellor of Germany has publicly voiced her opinion that the remainder of the E.U. nations are not making equivalent efforts. In fact, many have closed their borders or implemented such draconian measures as keeping refugees in unsanitary camps, or walling off their borders with barb wire fencing.

Because she is so vociferous and the high incidents of racism and violence against immigrants in Germany, many people perceive the country as callous. But, to only view them in this light doesn’t give the country credit with its successes in assimilating refugees and immigrants. The city of Cologne, which has a population of just over one million, has more than 120,000 practicing Muslim residents and the largest Jewish communities in Germany. (Source: Daily Mail U.K.)

There are many instances in the world where the assimilation of refugees and immigrants has led to more diverse and robust societies However, with increasing global conflicts, conditions in countries in the Middle East and Africa have made it easy to radicalization people as they seek redress for perceived wrongs from their government or foreign powers, or to impose a particular religious view, and even to homogenize and purify their countries and prevent “race mixing.” All of which are shameful, xenophobic, and utterly devoid of compassion.

But, at the heart of each of these dynamics, we must remember that we are dealing with people. With human beings who are just like us and but for circumstances, it would be us. The fact that it is such a massive undertaking to provide the comprehensive help these refugees need should only strengthen our resolve to find a realistic and long-term solution. We must continue to seek and implement solutions to the problems these people face while they still live in their own countries. Whether by more vigorous U.N. or NATO military intervention, or a significant increase in financial support to these war-torn countries through loans from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the problem though admitted costly must be dealt with. As we have seen, averting disaster is infinitely less expensive than trying to deal with it after the fact.

So, in conclusion, we must keep drowning refugee babies and adults foremost in our thoughts and prayers. It is important that this story remain in the trending news cycles, because when barbarism becomes commonplace, and we become inure to it, we are all well on our way to losing our humanity.

Editor-in-Chief: @AyannaNahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias

The Miracle of Healing as a Result of Giving

fogata charity foundation, Fiictured Ms. eva fogata, Founder

fogata charity foundation, Fiictured Ms. eva fogata, Founder

PHILIPPINES - I work with an amazing person who has a young family and is dedicated, kind, but quite unpresuming and quiet. Earlier this year I noticed his absence, but as a private person myself I did not inquire as to the reason. As the months progressed and his absence prolonged, I became more aware of every conversation in which his name was mentioned. It turned out that he was suffering from a totally unexpected and aggressive type of cancer. There weren’t any prior symptoms, and neither he nor anyone in his family was predisposed to this life-threatening disease.

I immediately purchased a get well card and began to pray for him. I believe that prayer works and although at the time I didn’t know that he and his family were ardent believers, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they were people of faith. After several months I was walking through the hallways in the suite of the office and I saw him. I was in such disbelief and relief that I ran up to him. It was truly amazing to see him and to speak with him. It was a miracle that he survived and had returned to work, his cancer in remission.

During several of our subsequent conversations we spoke about faith and giving. After a while he quietly told me that he supported several children in his home country of the Philippines. He believed that education was the only way to help improve the lives of the current and subsequent generations of children born into impoverished circumstances. I was immensely intrigued by this act of generosity and felt that it in some way it was connected on a spiritual level to his miraculous healing.

Then, I discovered that he actually supported over 40 students through the Fogata Scholarship Program. I asked if I could interview the woman who ran the eponymous organization which he and other financial backers supported. He arranged for us to meet when she was next in America.

‪‪How did you get started?

‪‪Eva: Well, I actually started running the program when my husband and I retired and moved back to our home country of the Philippines in 2008. Although, my husband and I are Filipino, we had spent many years living primarily in the States, but traveled back and forth between the two countries. At that time we sponsored a child through a Christian charity. We did this for several years $21/month which by America standards is minimal, but like in many developing nations this amount is unimaginable in the Philippines where annual salaries range from $133 to $1253. (Source: World Salaries)

Prior to the inception of the organization I began seeing lots of ads on the television about several Christian children’s charity funds. I felt like something was trying to get my attention, as if the universe wanted to get my attention, telling me that there was something bigger than me that needed to be accomplished and that I was the only person who could accomplish this task.

How do you accomplish this?

Eva: I make sure that all of the donations go directly to the children who we support. We pay tuition fees for scholarship students directly to the school for the entire year. As expected the costs to outfit each scholarship student is minimal by American standards, but for these students and their families it is something that would otherwise be unattainable.

We have minimal administrative expenses and most of these are related to charitable organization reporting and tax filings. Therefore, we are able to control all hard expenditures by taking a hands on approach. I have someone make the uniforms, I personally go to market or have one of our employees purchase all school supplies at the beginning of the school year, we also make sure that students remain supplied throughout the year and purchase all the items that will ensure that they can continue to focus on their education.

What was the inspiration for the Fogata Scholarship Program (FSP)?

Eva: I wanted to establish an organization where I could actually feel and participate in the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. Education is a really big thing in the Philippines, because without it the only hope of joining the workforce and providing for your family is to work as domestic helpers. I think I read that “Participation in the labour force remains relatively low. Only about 65 per cent of the population aged 15 and above is looking for work, one of the lowest levels in the region……This is partly explained by the high value set on further education in the Philippines: young Filipinos typically spend some time in college before entering the labor market, contributing to the lower participation rate. Others in the region go to work earlier.” (Source: CNBC)

Was there any single incident that made you realize the necessity of your program?

Eva: On one of our trips back to the country we were told about 6 children who were abandoned and living in a dilapidated shack. Their mother was a drug addict and had left alone. Drug abuse among the uneducated is very high in the Philippines, especially in rural areas where opportunities are few. Because of this and other concomitant issues the children were not able to attend school. I heard about them and we went to their house to ascertain how we could help.

They were sleeping on dirt floor, were wearing rags, and had no heat or means to cook food. Though we couldn’t remove the children from their home, we did have the mud floor of the hut cemented and a carpenter built sleeping area. We also began to deliver food to them on a weekly basis until the mother finally came back.

Abandonment is very common as a result of drug and alcohol abuse which many people use to relieve the stress of subsistence living. For those who don’t permanently abandon their children, they get caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling guilty for not taking care of their family due to a lack of financial opportunities and continuing to have children despite of their inability to care for them. Family planning isn’t common nor readily accessible, and though this wasn’t the focus of our foundation, we recognized that people who have education and opportunities often delay having children until they are established professionally.

How did you identify candidates for the scholarships?

Eva:I thought about the best method to achieve this and it became apparent that contacting the principals of local elementary and high schools would ensure that the candidates were qualified, currently enrolled, and judged as having a commitment to complete high school and possibly matriculate to a technical school or 2-year college program. In the Philippines. I asked the principal what percentage of the students are most likely to go on to high school given the fact that many families often require their labor to keep the household above starvation threshold. These children are from families where the parents simply work as day laborers, farmers, street vendors. They are consumed with working and earning a living, and often this means that they put the household needs above the needs of their children; not realizing that by choosing to take them out of school they effectively cut off any future possibility of upward mobility.

Who were the first recipients of the Fogata Scholarships?

Eva: Unlike the United States, the cost for elementary and high school education is the responsibility of parents even though these are public institutions. As I mentioned before, the students we gave scholarships to were recommended by the principal of the school. From the list of candidates identified selected we interview the parents. It is vital that the parents are committed to the process and thus must sign a document promising to support their children in completing high school despite any economic considerations.

The support of the family is the single most determining factor in awarding financial support. Though academic achievement is a factor, it is of less importance than a commitment by the parents to ensure their children’s’ academic success.

We paid for their uniforms, school supplies, books, backpack, shoes, miscellaneous expenses, etc. In order to track all expenditures and ensure that all financial and in kind donations go directly to the children, I personally oversee every aspect.

The Philippines is plagued like other nations with the issues of child labor and the lack of protection and safety standards for them, pulling elementary students out of school to work arduous jobs for unimaginable hours seems to be the norm, and I made a decision to do something more than sending a monthly stipend to a charitable organization or merely paying lip service. This was the motivation and I chose to focus on granting scholarships to school age children. In the Philippines elementary school is comprised of grades (1- 6); and high school runs from (7 -13). When I engaged in dialogue with the principal of a local school to ascertain interest in our scholarship program he informed me that the percentage of elementary students who go on to high school is only about 70% while the remaining 30% go out into the workforce in service jobs.

Besides giving financial support do you provide other services to ensure the children’s educational success?

Eva: Yes, another component of the program is nutritional support. As we expanded our organization we started a feeding program because some of the kids are so poor that they only eat one meal a day. Hunger is a major contributor to poor academic success and I concluded that in order to ensure that the elementary students we sponsor would successfully matriculate to high school, we had to make sure that they are properly fed.

We provide lunch for students on Monday through Friday, and to ensure the efficacy of the program we ask the school to weigh the students to determine if they are severely malnutrition, moderate, etc. The students were ranked for the necessity of receiving food and every 3 months the weight of each student was rechecked to evaluate their continued food support. This program has grown exponentially and now serves over 70 students.

I started a feeding program because hunger is a major contributor to poor performance in school. Some of the students who participate in the feeding program are so poor that they were only eating one meal a day.

What is the rate of successful for Fogata Scholarship recipients?

Eva: In 2008 the year that we started the program we awarded a $500 to support 10 elementary school students who were matriculating to high school. Then, in 2010 we added an additional 26 students. In March 2014 all finished the program and 7 continued on to post-secondary trade school called Tesda and are successfully employed in their fields of endeavor. 5 work in hotel restaurant services (HRS), while 2 others are Information Technology (IT) professionals.

This coming March 2016 another 6 student will graduate from a 2-year program. 2 will receive degrees in IT, while the other 3 will receive degrees in HRS. The hospitality industry is a strong market sector in the Philippines and competition is fierce for opportunities to work on cruise ships in professional and non-professional capacities. 1 student will graduate from a four-year university with a degree in Mass Communication.

Anything else that you would like readers to know?

Eva: Yes, that though this may seem like a small organization we can each effect a positive difference in the lives of others, especially those less fortunate. Many times people may think that the problems in the world are so many and they are just one person, but I learned through this process of founding and running the Fogata Scholarship foundation that what we view as small efforts others take as great gifts.

Also, it is important that people understand that this organization is legitimate and operates under the auspices of the Filipino United Network. We have adopted a hands-on approach which engenders confidence through transparency and enables us to actively engage in our belief that “it takes a village to raise a child.” We have been successful in implementing a charity that is based on developing self-sufficiency versus dependency on government support. At the Fogata Scholarship foundation our philosophy, moto, and drive is to “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

And what of the man who inspired this interview?

His name is Amante Bustamante, and like Eva he is Filipino. I asked him if he felt somehow because of his generosity and giving that he had been blessed and spiritually repaid during the deepest, darkest moment in his life when confronted with the awful specter of dying of cancer. Amazingly, he never connected the two, but acknowledged that it required a great deal of faith and belief in God, strength, and the support and love of his family to attain healing and remission.

What made you choose to support the Fogata Scholarship Program?

Amante: I didn’t engage in this for any personal gain or tax write off. I recognized that because of the opportunities that my middle class upbringing afforded me and my siblings that I was able to finish school, come to America become a partner in a successful IT company, which helped my family advance. I realized that the only way that less fortunate Filipinos would achieve these types of opportunities was to give the rising generation a chance to achieve economic freedom which is why I chose to financially support elementary and high school students.

Education is the most effective means to achieve freedom from poverty and thus upward mobility. It isn’t about becoming wealthy, though this may be one result, but it is about preparing the way so that the next generation will be able to improve themselves and pay it forward thus ensuring that this positive cycle continues.

My ultimate joy with being involved as a supporter of the Fogata Scholarship foundation is that I have virtually met through Facebook a few of the scholarship recipients and have witnessed just how effective our financial support has been in helping them to mature and find professional jobs. Through the years I have had the pleasure of watching children who have benefited from this scholarship program mature into adulthood and then they themselves also begin to give to others and improve the destinies of their families by making education a cornerstone of their “new life.”

Have you chosen to support other charities?

Amante: As I mentioned, I moved here from the Philippines and after years of working in the IT industry in the Northern Virginia region I was fortunate to have the opportunity to become a partner with Ashburn Consulting, LLC. As our partnership coalesced we discovered that each of us shared a strong desire to give back. Each of us, unbeknownst to the others, were supporting charitable causes both in the States and internationally. It was then that we decided to promote a culture of altruism by providing opportunities for the employees to participate in "charitable giving."

My partners and I decided to actualize the commitment to our credo of "giving back to the community that we serve, either by giving our time and talents or by providing financial support." So, in addition to providing Ashburn employees with the means to allocate a percentage of their salaries toward investments, retirement, and education, we also established a selection of charities to which they can donate. Supporting a particular charity or cause isn't mandatory, but we have discovered that the culture of altruism at the company inspires everyone.

The Conclusion?

Was Amante's recovery from cancer a result of unselfishly giving of his time and resources in the years prior to his illness? Perhaps his life was spared because of his passion for humanity and his commitment to the advancement of his fellow citizens through education? We may never know the answer or whether the miracle of his healing was the result of giving; but it should inspire all of us to stretch and grow, to give and live beyond ourselves and our circle, without hope of return, and only because, it is the right thing to do.

Editor-in-Chief: @ayannanahmias
LinkedIn: Ayanna Nahmias