Victims ignored amid UN bickering about chemical weapons in Syria

Victims ignored amid UN bickering about chemical weapons in Syria
The United Nation vehicle carrying the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors is seen in Damascus, Syria. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 04 February 2021

Victims ignored amid UN bickering about chemical weapons in Syria

Victims ignored amid UN bickering about chemical weapons in Syria
  • Disarmament chief calls for unity among Security Council members so those who use such weapons are held accountable
  • Despite Izumi Nakamitsu’s plea for ‘a bridge back to common sense,’ members continue to point fingers and blame each other

NEW YORK: The victims of chemical-weapon attacks in Syria were barely mentioned during a UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Assad regime’s failure to comply with a resolution ordering the destruction of all such weapons.
As those victims were relegated to the sidelines, member states engaged in another, all-too familiar round of in-fighting as they traded accusations and vilified each other.
This was the 88th time the Security Council had gathered to discuss the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. Members were briefed by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s under-secretary-general and high representative for disarmament affairs, on the implementation of Resolution 2118.
It was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014, and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It banned Syria from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, Syria submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) a formal initial declaration about its chemical-weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its stockpiles.
Nakamitsu told the Security Council on Wednesday that, more than seven years later, the declaration “cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).”
“Gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” have been identified that cast doubt on the true extent of the elimination of chemical weapons during the Civil War, she added.
While “some progress” has been made, resulting in the closure of three issues relating to the initial declaration, Nakamitsu said 19 issues remain outstanding as investigations continue into allegations of the use of chemical weapons in a “variety of incidents.”
One of those issues concerns a facility Syrian authorities said has never been used to produce chemical weapons. However information and evidence gathered by the OPCW since 2014 indicates that the production or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents did indeed take place there, Nakamitsu said. The organization ordered the Syrian government to disclose the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at the site but it has yet to respond.
“I say this every month because it bears consistent repeating,” said Nakamitsu. “There is an urgent need to not only identify but hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons in violation of international law. Without such an action, we are allowing the use of chemical weapons to take place with impunity.”
She also reminded council members of the need to heal geopolitical rifts and find common ground as a matter of priority.
“To address today’s roiling peace and security threats, we need to find a bridge back to common sense,” she said. “We need a united Security Council.”
Despite Nakamitsu’s plea, council members immediately displayed anything but unity.
Russia came to the defense of the Assad regime and attempted to discredit the OPCW report and its “unbelievable 19 issues.”
“This country is living (under a) Damocles’s sword of accusations of CWC noncompliance — this time in the form of outstanding issues of the initial declaration,” said Vassily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN.
He warned member states that “squeezing Syria” could demotivate the regime in the country from cooperating with the OPCW, with whom he said it has acted as a “responsible partner … but the more concessions it makes, the more accusations it encounters.”
Nebenzya criticized the OPCW and what he called “the illegitimate nature” of its Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), then proceeded to highlight “other facts that our Western colleagues prefer keeping silent about.”
He accused Western delegations of blocking proposals by his country to investigate certain sites in Syria. Had these investigations taken place, he said, all of the council’s questions would have been answered. 
The envoy also blamed “our Western colleagues” for never speaking up when the Syrian regime does something positive, and described their focus on the 19 outstanding issues relating to Syria’s initial declaration as “manifest slyness and a shift in emphasis.”
He accused the OPCW of bias and urged the Security Council to maintain its objectivity, saying: “We often hear urgent calls on Syria to ‘cooperate more.’ In response to that may we ask: what do you mean by ‘more?’ It seems that the only thing to meet these requirements would be Syria ‘acknowledging its guilt’ and publicly confessing to all deadly sins.”
He added: “What will be the point for Damascus to continue cooperating with the organization? After all, what is your goal: to ‘crush’ Syria as you did with Iraq on far-fetched pretexts, or ensure that Syrian soil is free of chemical weapons?”
Richard Mills, the acting US ambassador to the UN, said: “The Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, and then subsequently sought to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining both the responsibility and work of the OPCW.”
He accused Russia of shielding the Assad regime by “spreading disinformation, attacking the professional work of the OPCW, and otherwise seeking to undermine efforts by responsible nations to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons.”
The US and 45 co-sponsors have submitted a draft decision to the OPCW’s Conference of the States Parties in response to the Syrian regime’s failure to comply with measures requested by the OPCW Executive Council, demanding that the regime take action to address the situation.
“Unsurprisingly, Syria failed to complete any of the measures set forth in the decision,” said Mills, who called on the Conference of States Parties to take appropriate action when it reconvenes in the spring “so that we send a strong message to the Assad regime and its supporters that the use of chemical weapons in direct contravention of the Chemical Weapons Convention has consequences.”


Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar
Updated 18 min 43 sec ago

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar

Yemeni government says restores ties with Qatar
  • Both sides agreed to unify diplomatic positions on Yemen

LONDON: Yemen’s internationally recognized government on Sunday restored diplomatic ties with Qatar, the foreign ministry announced.
Both sides agreed to resume bilateral relations and coordinate positions regarding political regional and international developments.
They also said they would unify diplomatic positions on Yemen, and work to achieve peace and stability in the region.
The announcement came following talks in Doha, between Yemen’s foreign minister, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman.
Bin Mubarak delivered a message from Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim, thanking Doha for its humanitarian and development support for Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt ended a three-year rift with Qatar following a Gulf summit in the historic Saudi city of AlUla in January.
During the meeting, Sheikh Mohammed underlined the need for a political solution to end the six-year war in Yemen.
He renewed Qatar’s support for unity, security and territorial integrity of Yemen, including supporting the efforts of UN envoy Martin Griffiths to bring peace and stability.
Kuwait last month hosted bilateral talks with Qatar and Egypt, and with Qatar and the UAE, aimed at resolving individual issues.

(With Reuters)


The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
Updated 34 min 47 sec ago

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative

The Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa initiative
  • El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society

CAIRO: Sarah El-Amin, the Egyptian woman behind the Happy Africa Organization, previously worked in philanthropy through a charitable institution, and as an investigative journalist. 

El-Amin was doing well as a journalist, but after the sudden death of her mother she decided to travel to Kenya to study. It was during this time that the idea of the organization came to her.

She started working to convey the true image of Egypt across the African continent through her community work with tribes in remote areas, which took eight hours to reach from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

“My focus in my work abroad was serving the neediest areas in Africa, and I carried out many successful projects in Kenya,” El-Amin told Arab News.

“I was cited as an example of an Egyptian girl who overcame obstacles. During my trip abroad, I succeeded and was able to establish the organization with the support of a number of Egyptians abroad,” she said.

During her stay abroad and following the implementation of many projects, a number of Egyptian expatriates shared their experiences with El-Amin and together they came up with a plan.

“I could not do anything on my own without the collective effort of all the members of the Egyptian community in Kenya supporting me,” she said.

El-Amin chose Kenya to launch the initiative because she had already formed a community of volunteers there to serve the society.

She volunteered to work in a center for treating AIDS patients in Kenya, with the help of Italian experts and volunteers. 

She said that she named the foundation Happy Africa Organization because it aimed to ensure the happiness of African people with the support of Egyptians, financially and through other initiatives in different sectors.

El-Amin recently returned to Egypt, where the country’s Emigration and Expatriates Affair Minister Nabila Makram, and Maya Mursi, chairman of the National Council for Women, presented her with the Al Ta’ Marbouta Shield for her services to humanity.

The Ministry of Immigration has launched an official initiative, “The Power of Egyptian Women Abroad,” with El-Amin as its ambassador.

“The initiative aims to involve Egyptian women abroad in supporting the project to develop Egyptian villages to improve the lives of Egyptians,” El-Amin said.


Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
Zainab Al-Eqabi was picked to star in The Body Shop's Self-Love Uprising campaign. (Instagram)
Updated 2 min 51 sec ago

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere

Meet the Iraqi para-athlete inspiring confidence in women everywhere
  • There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society
  • Zainab Al-Eqabi, 30, is a beacon of body positivity and source of motivation

DUBAI: When Iraqi sports enthusiast Zainab Al-Eqabi was seven years old, a bomb went off near her Baghdad home. Al-Eqabi, now 30, lost one of her legs as a result of the explosion.

“It hasn’t been an easy journey,” the pharmacist-turned-athlete told Arab News. It was the support of family and friends, as well as her own inner strength, that got her through. And despite the odds stacked against her, Al-Eqabi has taken her athleticism to a new level and has gone on to compete in several sports competitions in the UAE.

However, the 30-year-old admits that she has not always been an athlete — it was not until a doctor recommended that she should start swimming to ease her back pain, which was induced by her prosthetic leg, that she took up sports.

Al-Eqabi says that it “was a turning point” in her life.

“Swimming was not as difficult and scary as I thought at all, and it kind of opened up the doors to other sports,” she said. She competed in two triathlons as a cyclist in the UAE, and in 2020 joined the Dubai Fitness Challenge, during which she hauled a 2,000kg Jeep.

On top of an intense training schedule, a full-time job as a pharmacist and giving motivational speeches, Al-Eqabi makes a point of posting inspiring photographs of herself on Instagram — where she has accrued 1.5 million followers — with the aim of breaking stereotypes, combatting prejudices and contributing to a more confident society.

FASTFACTS

• Zainab Al-Eqabi lost her leg in a bomb blast in Baghdad when she was seven.

• She started swimming on her doctor’s advice to ease her back pain, which was induced by her prosthetic leg.

• On top of an intense training schedule, she works full-time as a pharmacist and gives motivational speeches.

• She competed in two triathlons as a cyclist in the UAE.

• In 2020, she joined the Dubai Fitness Challenge, during which she hauled a 2,000kg Jeep.

• Al-Eqabi has taken her athleticism to a new level and participated in several sports competitions in the UAE.

“In the Middle East, there’s this stigma on people with special needs or any kind of disability,” she said. “When I used to tell people that I have a prosthetic leg, they wouldn’t understand. They didn’t understand that I have an amputation. So, I decided to create a Facebook page called ‘Disabled and Proud’ and just started to note down stories from my daily life,” she said.

She recalled one instance when a woman confided in her that her disabled son had become more social and confident since he started following Al-Eqabi on social media.

“There are so many people with disabilities who feel shy or embarrassed, or they just choose not to integrate into society. They limit their activity and involvement, just because of what they’re going through,” she said. “I hated that. So that’s what made me start posting on social media.”

Naturally, Al-Eqabi was the perfect fit when The Body Shop was searching for regional faces to represent its new Global Self Love Movement campaign, which promotes self-esteem and body positivity.

“I can really relate to this campaign. Self-love is a treasure that we all need to keep developing so that we can have the best relationship with our own self. I’m honestly so proud to be a part of this campaign,” she said.

When it comes to her own beauty routine, she follows a diligent skin care regimen because she believes that taking care of our bodies is important. Most days, she goes bare-faced, simply applying moisturizer and sunscreen and using a face mask once a week. On the days that she is not swimming, she will swipe a few coats of mascara on her lashes.

Ultimately though, Al-Eqabi’s secret to feeling her best is getting plenty of sleep and exercise. “Working out just makes you really feel good,” she said.

Al-Eqabi has had to put many of her plans on hold due to the pandemic. However, she continues to be a beacon of body positivity.

“I want to tell the person with a disability, don’t let it stop you, because at the end of the day you need to live your life. It doesn’t make sense to be excluded and to go through that by yourself. This is your life. You deserve to live it and enjoy it.”

 


Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done
Activists stage a sit-in near the government's headquarters in Amman to protest against the alleged killing of a Jordanian woman by her father for reasons related to 'family honor' on July 21, 2020. (Supplied)
Updated 18 sec ago

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done

Jordanian women have come a long way, but much work remains to be done
  • According to official estimates, Jordan’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2020 stood at 23.9 percent, up 4.8 percent compared with the same period of 2019

AMMAN: Despite improvements in the status of women in Jordan, more still needs to be done to address gender-based violence and increase women’s engagement in both society and the labor market, according to rights activists.

In remarks to Arab News on the occasion of International Women’s Day, women’s rights activists argued that Jordan has achieved “considerable” progress over the past 20 years in combating discrimination against women by revisiting laws and taking on the “social taboos” that keep Jordanian women out of the workforce.

They explained that these changes were the result of changes in society, underlining the need for more efforts at the institutional level toward improving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Rana Husseini, a renowned women’s rights activist, said: “With regard to the achievements of the women’s rights movement, I would say that one of the most important accomplishments was the appointment of women in decision-making positions such as ministers, criminal prosecutors, ambassadors and judges. Now, you see women almost everywhere. This is a sign that society is more open now toward accepting and wanting women to be in positions of leadership.”

Despite changes to social structures and improvements in women’s rights in Jordan, the award-winning journalist said there are still problems related to women’s labor force participation and their employment status, citing the high unemployment rates among females.

According to official estimates, Jordan’s unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2020 stood at 23.9 percent, up 4.8 percent compared with the same period of 2019. The rate of unemployed males who hold a bachelor’s degree and higher reached 25.2 percent, while the percentage of unemployed females who hold at least the same degree increased to 77 percent.

“Despite efforts, economic participation among women is still weak,” Husseini said, adding that there were still many jobs occupied exclusively by men.

“There is still discrimination in the workplace. Job owners prefer to hire men to get around issues related to maternity leave and childcare.”

Honor crimes

On average, 10 to 15 women are killed annually in Jordan in the name of honor, Husseini said.

Husseini, who authored the hard-hitting book, “Murder in the Name of Honor,” explained that the figure has seen a “significant drop.”

“The number of the so-called ‘honor crimes’ reported in Jordan during the 1980s and 1990s was between 20 to 25, sometimes reaching 30 every year. Now, after all the work that has been done by activists, awareness campaigns, the government and all those involved in the fight, the number has dropped to 10 to 15 cases."  

She explained that Jordan has amended laws related to violence against women, toughening penalties and thus reducing honor crimes.

I would say that one of the most important accomplishments was the appointment of women in decision-making positions.

Rana Husseini, Activist

“There have also been changes to some important clauses pertaining to violence against women, such as articles 98 and 308 of the penal code. Article 308 used to allow a person who sexually assaults a woman to escape punishment if he married the victim. Now, this is no longer the case. The other change is that perpetrators of so-called ‘honor crimes’ are not receiving lenient sentences as they used to in the past. Now, the criminal courts and justice system are really treating violence against women and children very seriously, and they are bringing cases to court with strong evidence to implicate the defendants.”

Husseini explained that Jordanian laws no longer allow a lenient sentence for perpetrators of honor crimes.

“But we still have a problem with the waiving of rights that families can exercise while at court to reduce the sentence.

“Violence against women is not a phenomenon specific to Jordan or the Middle East region but one that is found all over the world. The difference in our region is that women are killed by their families and relatives,” Husseini added.  

COVID-19 pandemic

Jordanian women’s rights leaders said that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated women’s troubles, worsening women’s economic participation and increasing gender-based violence.  

According to the Sisterhood is Global Initiative (SIGI), an independent organization seeking women’s advancement and empowerment through a range of education and advocacy programs, many women have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and have been subject to domestic violence.  

“The outbreak has proved the centrality of women in the society. The burdens of Jordanian women, especially those on the front lines, have increased during the pandemic, with many of them losing their jobs and suffering various forms of violence from their husbands, fathers and brothers. They have remained silent, in part to protect their families and children but also out of their deep belief that the current circumstances are exceptional and full of economic and social challenges,” SIGI said in a recent report.

Husseini said that lockdowns and curfews have been hindering NGOs and protection teams from performing regular check-up visits to vulnerable families and centers for victims of domestic violence and “family honor.”  

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, UN Women said that emerging data and reports from those on the front lines have shown that all forms of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified.

A recent study by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia concluded that the pandemic is expected to result in the loss of 1.7 million jobs in the Middle East region, including approximately 700,000 jobs held by women.


Father of drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi meets pope in Iraq

Father of drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi meets pope in Iraq
Updated 5 min 15 sec ago

Father of drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi meets pope in Iraq

Father of drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi meets pope in Iraq
  • Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him
  • Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family

IRBIL: Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.
Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.


Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pope for his words.
The Kurdi family, who fail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants in 2015 by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished. The image of Alan's body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.