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Preemptive Love
Founded in 2007 by Jeremy and Jessica Courtney, The Preemptive Love Coalition is a nonprofit that offers relief and job creation to the war-torn countries of Syria and Iraq. Unlike many of its peer organizations, Preemptive Love offers aid as close to the front lines as possible – sometimes just blocks away from active warring.

In 2016, The Coalition made $9.98 million. Of that revenue, $9.75 million was raised through contributions, grants and gifts. Preemptive Love uses that revenue to fund its aid projects.

In contrast to many similar aid organizations in Syria and Iraq, Preemptive Love works to ensure that the services they provide offer local solutions to local problems. As a result, people in an area are not stranded if The Coalition leaves; they will continue to have local sources of aid set up by The Coalition.

Background and Focus

Preemptive Love began by offering medical aid to those affected by the Iraq war, providing families with desperately needed surgeries and therapies for their children. However, while witnessing surgeries performed by doctors from around the world, The Coalition saw that none of the doctors were training the local people to perform these life-saving medical procedures.

In response, Preemptive Love began to bring doctors into Iraq to teach medicine to refugees. The Coalition soon expanded the practice to Syria. Now, there are many clinics run entirely by Iraqi and Syrian doctors and nurses who are capable of performing procedures for which war-torn families previously waited for months.

This led to a new focus for Preemptive Love. First and foremost, The Coalition seeks to provide immediate relief to pressing issues that refugees face. But after providing immediate aid, Preemptive Love stays in those areas and helps the refugees gain the education and tools they need to create a better future for themselves.

When ISIS fully formed in 2013, Preemptive Love saw a unique opportunity to help those affected. The Coalition was already a trusted relief organization thanks to six years of relationships built with the people of Iraq. Beginning in 2014, Preemptive Love began offering relief to people affected by ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.

Current Aid Efforts

Today, The Coalition offers various types of aid in five different categories: food and water, hygiene, medical care, emergency shelter, and various essentials.

For food and water aid, Preemptive Love offers long-lasting food packs, emergency kitchens and clean water. In this effort alone, Preemptive Love has provided 29,292,350 liters of water to families in conflict zones and given 411,690 people a month’s worth of food. The Coalition also offers hygiene kits that include sanitary pads, refugee-made soap, shampoo, detergent and other essentials. Medical care is provided by mobile clinics on the front lines of war in Syria and Iraq, supplying immunizations and training for refugee doctors to serve other refugees. Emergency shelters, as well as supplies to rebuild homes destroyed by war, are provided for families on the run from violence. The Coalition also offers various essentials to help families survive displacement due to war, enabling them to eventually return home.

Empowerment Through Business and Livestock

In addition to aid, Preemptive Love strives to meet and connect with the people of Syria and Iraq to help them lift themselves out of poverty. Preemptive Love creates jobs on a case-by-case basis by identifying skills each refugee already has, then empowering them to create their own income and fuel the economy of their local city.

Preemptive Love has also helped Syrian and Iraqi refugees start many businesses with empowerment grants, tools and business coaching. Sisterhood Soap and Kinsman Soap, organizations run by Iraqi refugees, provide a variety of hand-sewn products created and sold by women who fled from the Syrian civil war. Sales from hand-poured candles benefit widowed women in Baghdad. In addition to businesses, the livestock farming of chickens and sheep has provided nutrition and income for families, who benefit from the consumption and sale of the animals. Thanks to efforts like these, the return of bakeries, ice cream shops, restaurants and salons to cities across Iraq marks a shift to post-war normalcy.

Preemptive Love seeks to help those affected by war in Syria and Iraq regardless of location, socioeconomic factors or religion. Guided by their goal to “Love Anyway,” the nonprofit continues to make significant headway toward their goal of lessening the effects of war in Syria and Iraq.

– Savannah Hawley
Photo: Flickr

golden women visionFor more than 30 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), led by Joseph Kony, terrorized the northern region of Uganda and murdering its people. It is estimated that the LRA has abducted more than 67,000 adolescents to use as child soldiers, sex slaves and porters. Organizations like Golden Women Vision are giving hope back to the citizens of Uganda.

The Destruction Left Behind

Golden Women Vision works to improve the social-economic status of the people left vulnerable from the insurgency. Even after the conflict ended, the terror continued for many victims. Women were left battered and lost, some without limbs or living with bullet wounds. Widows were left without husbands and single mothers had their children taken by the LRA. These women were at a disadvantage for even basic survival.

“The real victims are the many who are in dire need of even finding what they need to eat on a daily basis,” said Joyce Freda Apio, a Kampala-based transitional justice expert, regarding how the insurgency left many without a source of income and stability.

Giving Women Hope

Sylvia Acan was one of those women severely affected by the insurgency. She lost her family to the conflict and was sexually assaulted at the age of 17. Acan had to marry her attacker when she learned she was pregnant. In an effort to learn to provide for herself, Acan signed up with a nongovernmental organization called Caritas. Caritas trained women affected by the conflict in catering services to help them recover and reintegrate with society.

By 2008, Acan learned how to bake, gained business skills and realized the importance of financial savings. She also realized her skills could positively impact the lives of women around her. The traditionally patriarchal society of northern Uganda limited the potential of women. Many females affected by the insurgency were stuck in the cycle of poverty and hopelessness.

Golden Women Vision

Sylvia Acan is the founder and director of Global Women Vision. She started the organization to change the futures of these women. The community-based organization trains women and girls with income-generating skills like baking, making soap or creating paper beads. With 84 members since its beginnings in 2011, the Golden Women Vision helps victims regain a sense of control and sufficiency. She states that she will “spend the rest of her life on this earth” creating activities and possibilities for the survivors of that brutal time.

Golden Women Vision works to provide women the skills and knowledge necessary for self-sustenance. By teaching women how to create financial independence and security through their own means, they can be more successful throughout life. By forging a positive future and peace within the community, the organization not only teaches the women how to financially survive but also builds bonds with each other.

“There is no one helping us so we are helping ourselves,” Acan said. “The world should see what women are capable of doing.”

– Jenny S Park

Facts About Poverty in Sierra Leone

The nation of Sierra Leone is located on the western coast of Africa with a population of approximately 7,076,641. Since gaining independence from the British Empire on April 27, 1961, Sierra Leone has faced serious challenges in the social, economic and political spheres. Stemming from these challenges, the following are 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone.

10 Facts About Poverty in Sierra Leone

  1. In Sierra Leone, the life expectancy is 39 years for men and 42 for women. These premature deaths are due to limited access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and hygiene and food insecurity. Malnutrition also remains an important contributor to infant morbidity and mortality with 34.1 percent of children under the age of five stunted and 18.7 percent underweight due to food insecurity.
  2. Sierra Leone has a Gender Inequality Index value of 0.662, ranking it 137 out of 146 countries in 2011. Significant gender-based inequality exists in all aspects of life including reproductive health, emotional empowerment, economic activity and governmental representation. Only 9.5 percent of adult women reach secondary or higher level education compared to 20 percent of their male counterparts.

    In 2007, the government introduced three gender laws aimed at reducing gender inequality. These acts show progress but enacting and implementing practices of gender equality remain minimal. The president has also given his support to the national campaign for a minimum quota of 30 percent of women in political decision making positions, but the number remains low at only 13.2 percent.
  3. Around 70 percent of youth are unemployed or underemployed. The youth population, aged 15 to 35, makes up one-third of the population of Sierra Leone. This challenge was a major root cause of the outbreak of civil conflict within Sierra Leone. One of the leading reasons for these high rates of unemployment is the persistence of illiteracy and the lack of formal education to provide skills to compete for the limited jobs available.
  4. Approximately 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live below the national poverty line. Remaining among the world’s poorest nations, ranking 180 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, more than 60 percent of Sierra Leoneans live on less than $1.25 a day.
  5. Sierra Leone has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, at an estimated 1,165 deaths per 100,000. According to a report released by the country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation with support from partners, the main causes of maternal deaths were largely bleeding, pregnancy-induced hypertension, infection and unsafe abortions. Almost 20 percent of maternal deaths were among teenagers 15 to 19 years of age.
  6. Sierra Leone holds only a 41 percent adult literacy rate. Many of the schools in Sierra Leone were built shortly after gaining independence and have had little expansion since, leading to inadequate facilities. Government funding for education is extremely limited, making improvements difficult. A lack of education not only diminishes the availability of contemporarily trained skilled laborers and professionals but also negatively affects the agriculture industry where poor farming practices compound with climate change in a cycle of degradation.
  7. Sierra Leone was ravaged from 1991 to 2002 by civil war. Civil war erupted in 1991 after a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front attempted to overthrow the country’s Joseph Momoh Government. The war lasted until 2002, by which time over 50,000 people had died and over two million had been displaced.But, even in the face of these 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone, peace has been fostered within the nation. Since the enactment of a U.N. Peacekeeping intervention on January 18, 2002, Sierra Leone remains firmly on the path toward further consolidation of peace, democracy and long-term sustainable development.
  8. Sierra Leone remains heavily dependent on foreign aid. Although positive economic growth has steadily occurred over the past decade since the end of the civil war, Sierra Leone continues to rely on foreign aid. About 50 percent of public investment programs are financed by external resources.
  9. Recovery and development are being threatened by climate change. Employment in agriculture remains the backbone for citizens’ income in Sierra Leone. Climate change leads to low yields of critical crops and a potential annual loss of between $600 million and $1.1 billion in crop revenues by the end of the century. Resources such as water, soil and forests are being threatened by the ever-growing population, increasing energy consumption, mining activities, the pollution of rivers and massive deforestation related to agricultural practices.
  10. A largely unchanged economic structure with low levels of productivity and major reliance on agriculture hold back further economic recovery. Agriculture provides employment for about 75 percent of the rapidly growing population, but its continuation is threatened by unproductive farming techniques and climate degradation. The country’s infrastructure remains poorly maintained and because of business climate shortcomings stemming from economic instability, there is only a small private sector to spur further economic growth.

These 10 facts about poverty in Sierra Leone are far from the whole story. The country has made tremendous strides since the cessation of conflict to establish stable governance and to facilitate peace and security. Sierra Leone should be cited as a success story in peacebuilding.

– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow
Photo: Flickr

How the Media Misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautifully scenic country filled with small towns, cultural experiences and long-standing traditions. However, it is also a country with a history of genocide, poverty and weak government and oftentimes, the media zeros in the most on the latter aspects. The following is a discussion on how the media misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Facts

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a relatively high crime rate due to petty thefts, violent crimes and even organized crime — a normalized idea in the country. Since the Bosnian War, the country experienced divisiveness and a near 20 percent of Bosnians live in poverty. The destruction of homes, buildings and infrastructure from the Bosnian War served as a large contributor to these societal occurrences. For context, these numbers compare to a United States poverty rate of 12.7 percent in 2016.

A once thriving country, how much has this really changed? What is Bosnia and Herzegovina like beneath the shadow of its most recent war? Below are a few key ways of how the media misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Crime, Community and Division

Like all countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina experience crime; however, despite media attention to the issue, the overall crime rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina has dropped by over nine percent from 2016 to 2017.

Currently, Bosnia and Herzegovina experience residual ethnic tensions leftover from the Bosnian War. This has, at times, filled the country with a great amount of division, especially regarding the current elections which brought ethnic divisions to the surface. To add fuel to this fire, refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan have started entering Bosnia and Herzegovina in droves. This has rocked the balance of the country’s seemingly low ethnic tolerance.

However, despite these facts and how the media misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country prides itself on its religious and ethnic diversity. This is most apparent when speaking with everyday citizens, as opposed to conversing with extremists or minority members.

In an interview with a native to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sanela Hotic, whose family was not only displaced by the Bosnian war but experienced the loss of both her father and brother, expresses memories of her hometown of Bratunac. She recalls it being, “very peaceful and quiet,” saying, “everyone got along and were unified by a sense of community; all parents were everyone’s parents, all kids, everyone’s kids. We were all one.”

She goes on to say that religion did not play a factor in determining whether people got along. In her words, “they just did.” The sense of community spread further than the surface, Sanela explains, citing memories of celebrating both Eid, an Islamic holiday signifying the end the fasting period of Ramadan as well as Christmas with her Christian neighbors.

Government Structure

Since the Bosnian War, Bosnia and Herzegovina has dedicated attention to the restructuring and rebuilding of a functioning government. While this task proved difficult, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina loyally dedicated themselves to seeing this goal through.

There have been several failed attempts at structuring a new government, and none without criticism from media outlets who often fault the nation for its failed attempts. But despite how the media misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina for government failures, citizens have not given up on their country and continue to push for better representatives and new laws.

Tradition

Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to the city of Mostar and its long-standing tradition of bridge diving. This annual event has been a method used for males to impress females for centuries. Within the last few years, the diving tradition has turned into a competition that thousands of people gather to watch.

A “cliff diving” competition, sponsored by Red Bull, will host cliff diving competition finals in Mostar. One can only assume this contest is due to the intense challenge provided by the newly rebuilt bridge of 2003. 

Sightseeing

If someone is looking for things to do on a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, an interesting stop might include the Sarajevo Olympic Stadium. In 1984, the country hosted the Winter Olympics in the capital city of Sarajevo, and the Olympic stadium is still around today and is available for tours that include not only the stadium but also the Olympic mountains.

Further in the sightseeing category is a visit to Guber water in Srebrenica which is said to possess healing effects. This fact is likely due to the high iron content of the water which can be helpful for those dealing with iron deficiency or anemia.

Cuisine

Bosnia and Herzegovina is also known for its Ottoman-Empire-influenced cuisine. Some more famous cuisine items in the country include Turkish coffee and chevap, a pita stuffed with sausages. Bosnia and Herzegovina is also well-known for its variety and quality of desserts, one of which includes baklava, which also exists in Greek cuisine.

Despite how the media misrepresents Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is a culturally flourishing nation home to many religions, ethnicities and communities bound together by a sense of unity. In the coming years, Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to rebuild itself while the world watches their continued progress.

– Alexandra Ferrigno
Photo: Flickr

Ethiopian-Eritrean Border
On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Ethiopia announced that after 16 years of what the BBC has called a “no peace no war” stalemate between the nation and its neighbor Eritrea, Ethiopia will finally accept the Algiers Agreement — a treaty to bring peace to the Horn of Africa and the Ethiopian-Eritrean Border Dispute.

History of the Ethiopian-Eritrean Border Dispute

Ethiopia and Eritrea split into two nations after nearly 30 years of brutal civil war that resulted in Eritrea’s declaring independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Despite this conclusion, peace was short-lived. From 1998-2000, fighting resumed between the two nations over a border dispute centered around both nations’ claim to the town of Badme.

The dispute was rooted in the nations’ differing interpretation of colonial documents demarcating the line between Ethiopia and its subsidiary Eritrea. The Ethiopian-Eritrean 1998-2002 war became Africa’s bloodiest border war on record; in just two years, an estimated 80,000 people lost their lives.

The war culminated in the creation of the December 12, 2000 Algiers Agreement, which stated that both nations would cease fighting and accept the verdict offered by the newly created Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).

In 2002, the EEBC ruled that the disputed towns along the Ethiopian-Eritrean border, Badme among others, belonged to Eritrea. Under its former, and now deceased, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia accepted the EEBC’s ruling only “in principle” which lead to the “no peace no war” stalemate that has characterized the Horn of Africa ever since.

Although the Algiers Agreement stated that the two nations would end all hostilities and accept the ruling of the EEBC, Ethiopia refused to pull its troops out of the border towns it still claimed ownership over. Occasional deadly clashes have continued to plague the Ethiopian-Eritrean border region ever since; the most recent occurred in June of 2016, when fighting at Badme resulted in several hundred deaths.

Ethiopia Accepts the Algiers Agreement

However, the hostile climate along Ethiopian-Eritrean border may have just changed. On Tuesday, June 5, 2018, Ethiopia, under its current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announced that it would officially accept the border decision of the 2000 Algiers Agreement and remove all Ethiopian troops from Badme and the other contested towns.

At his inauguration this past April, Ahmed vowed to improve relations between his nation and Eritrea, and his pledge to end all hostilities over the Ethiopian-Eritrean border dispute was an unexpectedly large step in this direction.

Looking Forward

Ending border hostilities could be a huge leap forward in ensuring peace and prosperity in the Horn of Africa. The Eritrean government has long justified its authoritarian and militaristic regime as necessary to protect Eritreans from the continued hostilities of its neighbor Ethiopia, but as Abraham T. Zere of Al Jazeera wrote, “Today, there is a real opportunity to reach a peaceful resolution of this long-standing conflict.”

With Ethiopia offering up the potential for peace, Eritrea has the chance to accept this olive branch and move forward to create a more peaceful and prosperous future for all.

– Abigail Dunn
Photo: Flickr

Congo child soldiers
Since the 1990s, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has experienced extreme violence between armed forces and diverse groups of rebels. Many armed forces have since recruited thousands of child soldiers. Today, the U.N. has declared the recruitment of Congo child soldiers an “endemic.

The Situation

The head of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, has stated that “This situation is unacceptable and has been going on for much too long with impunity. Recruiting children into armed groups is a crime, and destroys the lives of the victims who are forced to do things that no child should be involved in.” MONUSCO reported that an estimated 8,546 children were recruited into diverse armed groups in the DRC between 2009 to 2015. By recruiting more and more Congo child soldiers, it will only create a cycle of violence passed down to further generations. Not only are children forced to leave their families, but they are used as fighters and sex slaves, often leaving them in a position deprived of all educational attainment and daily trauma. Nevertheless, when child soldiers return back to their communities, they are often shunned by their families and are unable to reintegrate into all aspects of society.

Recruitment of Girls

Many children are forced into a life of violence unwillingly, but in some cases, children believe that by joining armed groups, it will give them an escape of a life plagued by poverty. It’s often difficult to obtain accurate data on the number of girls recruited by the DRC’s armed groups however, Child Soldiers International states that almost 7 percent of child soldiers are girls. This number is seemingly disproportionate, leaving many girls unaccounted for.

A Huffington Post interview indicates that many girls cannot afford the fees of local schools and believe that joining local militia groups would ensure security, food and a life outside of poverty. Nevertheless, many parents of girls believe that their daughter’s recruitment will protect their village from plundering and attacks. However, as one past girl soldier interviewed says,  “I would wake up and find myself naked…They gave us drugs so that we would not get tired of all of them using us.” Young girls soon find out that recruitment means a life of sexual abuse and slavery.

The Future

It must be noted, that with the help of the DRC’s government and international efforts, the recruitment of Congo child soldiers is steadily declining. In 2009, the DRC adopted the “Law for the Protection of Children,” making the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict illegal. In 2012, the government also signed a “Plan of Action with the United Nations to prevent and put an end to the recruitment and use of children, as well as other serious violations of children’s rights committed by security forces.” In this way, the country has begun to take serious measures against the recruitment of child soldiers.  Furthermore, many organizations such as Child Soldiers International are working to ensure that past child soldiers receive an education and are working to integrate them back into society.

– Emma Martin
Photo: Flickr

Iraq War Facts
The Iraq War began in 2003 under the Bush administration. A common misconception among the Iraq War facts is that the war was a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks; however, there was no evidence of Iraq’s connection with the attack. The United States intended to abolish Saddam Hussein’s regime and confiscate any weapons of mass destruction.

The war went on for eight years until President Obama officially announced that he would be withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011. However, when ISIL began taking control of Iraqi land in 2014, U.S. military advisors returned to the country to combat the spread of the Islamic State. To understand the return and current presence of the United States in Iraq, it is important to know the following Iraq War facts.

Purpose

When the U.S. began the war with Iraq in 2003, the purpose was to take down Saddam Hussein from the Iraqi government; however, the United States’ current presence in Iraq is largely due to the permanent threat of terrorism in the Middle East caused by terrorist groups such as ISIL.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a terrorist organization that follows radical Sunni Islam. It first gained global attention in 2014 with its presence in Iraq and Syria but also spread around the world to countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

ISIL initiatives were largely funded by oil revenue made on the black market. The group took control of oil fields in both Syria and Iraq and would sell this oil to fund their activities. Since then, they have lost much of their control of these oil fields to the Iraqi army and their revenue has decreased.

Troops

Although troops were withdrawn from Iraq in 2014, there are still over 5,000 American soldiers in Iraq due to the ongoing “war on terror” in the Middle East. Interestingly, though, it was found that these numbers were not exactly accurate. Pentagon officials acknowledged only over half of the troops are actually present in Iraq — one of the most shocking Iraq war facts as a report found that the actual amount was 8,892.

This number is more than 75 percent more than originally stated. While these figures could seem high, they are relatively small when compared to the number of troops present under the Bush administration. A decade ago, the combined troop total approached 200,000.

The War

Since their return in August 2014, the U.S.-led coalition has conducted more than 13,300 airstrikes against ISIL targets in the area. Through the years, these airstrikes have led to the Iraqi military regaining much of its land from ISIL. Iraq’s government announced the end of the war against the Islamic State in December 2017, over three years after they first began taking control of Iraqi land.

The Islamic State has now lost most of the territory they once took control of. In a statement, the military said it “fully liberated” all of Iraq’s territory and retook full control of the border. According to the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, 98 percent of territory once claimed by the jihadist group has been reclaimed.

Moving Forward

Since the victory over the Islamic State, the U.S. has announced that it will reduce the number of troops in Iraq. That being said, the United States will not fully leave Iraq despite the fact that ISIL no longer controls Iraqi land.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis issued a statement saying, “Despite these successes, our fight is not over. Even without a physical caliphate, ISIS remains a threat to stability in the recently liberated areas, as well as in our homelands.” This belief is largely due to the terror that has been created through attacks around the world. Today, the goal is to fight the Islamic State from spreading its influence.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

Countries with Child Soldiers
The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a ‘child’ as a person below the age of eighteen years. Children across the world have been used as soldiers in state and non-state military warfare, including World Wars I and II.

The 1970s saw a rise of humanitarian groups that raised the awareness of protecting children from the onslaughts of war, and it was during this time that the word “child soldier” appeared as an unacceptable condition. Though the 2002 Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court made enlistment of children under fifteen a war-crime, countries with child soldiers have consistently fallen behind in addressing this issue.

The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that, at present, approximately 300,000 children are used as child soldiers in more than 20 countries in the world, and forty percent of these children are girls. According to the U.N.’s 2017 studies, these are some of the countries with child soldiers:

Countries with Child Soldiers

  1. Central African Republic (CAR): The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) helped release more than 2,800 child soldiers in CAR in 2014. Poverty leads children from a lot of families to join the militia for food and money. Children as young as 8 years old are used as soldiers by groups in Christian militias known as Anti-Balaka and Muslim Séléka coalition. Soldiering involves being used as human shields, messengers, fighters and sex slaves.
  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): The Congolese National Army and the rebel Congress for the Defense of the People have been active recruiters of child soldiers. Young boys and girls are abducted and used as fighters and sex slaves by groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army. This occurs not only in DRC, but also southern Sudan, northeastern Congo and the CAR.
  3. Somalia: Children as young as ten are often abducted and coerced into soldiering. The Transitional Federal Government and Islamist group al-Shabaab are known to carry out these recruitments which lead to “horrific abuses,” according Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports. These violations include forced recruitment, rape, forced marriage, religious/political teaching, suicide-bombing, combat and weapons training.
  4. Colombia: Thousands of children are recruited by guerillas and paramilitary forces like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, the Camilist Union-National Liberation Army, and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia. HRW reveals, “At least one of every four irregular combatants in Colombia’s civil war is under eighteen years old.” These children are recruited, trained and expected to carry explosives and executions.
  5. Myanmar: The HRW report, ‘Sold to be Soldiers’ (2007), states that a large portion of the Tatmadaw consists of underage soldiers. In a lot of instances, young boys are lured or coerced into joining the Tatmadaw. In addition to this horrific occurrence, there are numerous non-state armed groups like the Karenni Army, the Karen National Liberation Army and others that use child soldiers.
  6. Afghanistan: The U.N. reports the use of young children as fighters and suicide-bombers in Afghanistan. In Child Soldiers, David Rosen points out the prevalence of underage soldiers in groups like The Afghan National Police, Haqqani, Taliban, Islamic groups called Hezb-i-Islami and Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia, and Tora Bora front.
  7. Iraq: The Sunni and Shia Arab groups fighting in the region — along with other militias involved in the battle for Mosul — are reported to recruit child soldiers. According to HRW reports, Yezidi and Kurdish boys and girls are used as combatants by groups like the Shingal Resistance Units and People’s Defense Forces.
  8. Yemen: Children as young as 14 are deployed here as soldiers by the Yemeni Government to combat the Houthi rebels. UNICEF regards this as more of a socio-cultural problem, as in Yemeni culture, manhood begins at the age of 14 and such adulthood demands the taking up of a weapon. In 2015, the U.N. reported 850 recruitments of children as soldiers. Armed groups like Al-Qaeda also use children for warfare and as sex slaves.
  9. Syria: The civil war in Syria has led to the deployment of many children as young as seven as soldiers by armed groups. Rebel factions fighting against the government and Islamic groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya, Tawhid Brigade and the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham use child soldiers. These children are used to ferry ammunitions, fight, tend to the wounded, spy, act as snipers and suicide-bombers, and torture and execute prisoners.
  10. Sudan and South Sudan: More than a dozen armed groups, including pro-government militias, groups affiliated to the Sudan Liberation Army, and Sudanese Armed Forces, in Sudan, recruit children. In South Sudan, the South Sudanese Armed Forces and other opposition groups continue to deploy child soldiers. HRW notes that children as young as thirteen are abducted, detained and forced into soldiering.

The Fight of International Aid Organizations

Wars, absence of education, poverty, religious/political conditioning and abduction are some of the causes that contribute to this social crime. UNICEF and ILO have been working with government ministries to stop the use of child soldiers by both state and non-state parties. Programs sponsored by UNICEF and various human rights groups aim towards rehabilitation of child soldiers, building community networks, funding and providing education.

Child Soldiers International has been working with local organizations and advocating the protection of children and reintegration of former child soldiers. HRW has been creating information databases on recruitment patterns of a number of agencies in these countries. Though change is slow, the attempt to improve the condition of millions of children in countries with child soldiers remains consistent.

– Jayendrina Singha Ray
Photo: Flickr

Bosnian War factsThe Bosnian War was incredibly brutal and impacted millions of lives. Below are 10 important Bosnian War facts: how it began, what happened and how it ended.

Top 10 Bosnian War Facts

  1. In the 1980s the decline of the Yugoslavian economy began to affect the state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. People wanted to see the end of communism, and various ethnic groups were vying for control of the area. By the early 1990s, the Serbs, Muslims and Croats living in Bosnia each desired to appropriate Bosnia and Herzegovina’s territory for their own countries and take control of the government and political field.
  2. Bosnian Croats and Muslims feared that Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, the leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia, would take their land, so they called for the independence of Herzeg-Bosnia. Bosnia and Herzegovina declared its independence on March 3, 1992. It was recognized by the U.S. and the European Community on April 7, 1992.
  3. On April 6, 1992, the Serbs began the Siege of Sarajevo, which lasted until Feb. 29, 1996. The Serbian paramilitary forces began the siege by holding positions inside the city and in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. By the first week of May, the Serbs had surrounded the whole city. This cut Sarajevo off from food, medicine, water, electricity, fuel and other supplies. The Serbs began firing on Sarajevo with advanced artillery but faced heavy defense from those mobilized with weapons within the city. Because the Serbs were facing opposition, they began to terrorize the city with intense gunfire and snipers. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted for 47 months and remains the longest siege in modern history.
  4. With Sarajevo, as well as several other cities isolated by force, the supply of food, utilities and communication became extremely limited and spread thin throughout the territory. This caused many cases of malnutrition and many citizens lost up to 33 pounds while some others lost their lives due to lack of access to supplies.
  5. Bosnian Serbs began the ethnic cleansing of large areas occupied by non-Serbs, primarily Muslims. The genocide destroyed entire villages and thousands of Bosnians were forced out of their homes and taken to detention camps where they were raped, tortured, deported or killed. The Serbians used rape in the Bosnian War as a tactic to increase terror.
  6. One of the most lethal Bosnian War facts came when Gen. Ratko Mladic led Serbian troops in capturing Srebrenica and killed more than 8,000 Muslims. Srebrenica had been previously declared by the U.N. as a safe area. The U.N. later indicted Radovan Karadžić, the orchestrator of the attack on Sarajevo, and General Mladic for genocidal war crimes.
  7. The Bosnian government was unable to access updated and necessary weaponry that the Serbian and Croatian armies maintained due to an international arms embargo imposed throughout the Bosnian War.
  8. Although the U.N. Protection Force occasionally sent troops to supervise humanitarian aid and protect declared safe areas, the U.N. overall refused to intercede in the Bosnian War.
  9. After NATO’s negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995, a final peace agreement was imposed and declared to bring an end to the Bosnian War. NATO enforced this through airstrikes until the leaders agreed to the ceasefire and signed the Dayton Peace Accords in Paris on Dec. 14, 1995.
  10. Throughout the Bosnian War, more than 250,000 people lost their lives and many more were displaced from their homes.

Even today, as a result of these Bosnian War facts, the territory remains highly divided between two sections: Muslim-Croat and the Serbian Republic. Both sections face a continuous fight against poverty, unemployment and ethnic discord.

Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid Is a Matter of National Security
In February of 2018, the Trump administration released a budget proposal indicating deep 29 percent budget cuts to the state department and steady 13 percent increases to the defense department. These state department cuts materialize into $16.2 billion taken away from the previous $55.6 billion allocated in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. The Trump Administration justifies the cuts by stating that aid will remain in the accounts of “friends” of our future foreign policy decisions.

Ramifications of the 2018 Budget Proposal

Meanwhile, the proposed budget increases the amount of money spent on national defense by 13 percent, raising the $600 billion budget to nearly $690 billion. The increased defense budget will be used to completely update the United States’ nuclear arsenal and increase the amount of ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska working to address the increased threat of the Korean Peninsula.

Assessing nuclear threats is a fair concern and position for the United States government to take, however it should not come at the expense of drastically decreasing foreign aid. In truth, foreign aid is a matter of national security.

Foreign Aid is a Matter of National Security

While it may not appear obvious at first, foreign aid is known and regarded by many U.S. military officials as beneficial to United States foreign policy and national security. To illustrate, in 2017-retired General Mike Mullen and retired Admiral James Jones wrote a piece explaining the hands-on benefits they saw foreign aid bring in leading American troops.

Both officials explain that military power alone cannot prevent despair within vulnerable countries from turning into outbursts of violence and instability. Robust foreign aid should not be looked upon as a no-strings-attached giveaway to the poorest nations in the world, but rather as stability enhancement to places most susceptible to radical influence.

Threat of Extremism

The generals explain that countries with limited social hope and foreign assistance are the most prone to radicalization that materializes into extremism. Terror organizations like Al Qaeda, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and ISIS take root in countries with common characteristics — instability and poor governance. These terror cells bring about a sense of social support that citizens do not believe their public officials and service programs will be able to provide them.

The former military officials further explain that Congress can, and should, fully fund the International Affairs Budget, as the funding leads to active approaches from the U.S. government, non-government organizations and in-country support to provide services that meet citizens’ basic needs.

Foreign Aid and the Military

Moreover, foreign aid goes hand-in-hand with a strong military. Without support after a strong U.S. military presence, countries can remain unstable and vulnerable to extremist influence. Therefore, foreign aid creates proactive conflict-prevention strategies which are far less expensive in resources and expended lives than reactionary use of United States Armed Forces.

In 2013, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis bluntly summarized the words of the retired officials and explains why foreign aid is a matter of national security: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately. So I think it’s a cost benefit ratio. The more that we put into the State Department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget…”

Diplomacy is ultimately less expensive than the wars that a lack of diplomacy brings about. While a strong military is considerably important in 2018 and beyond, cutting foreign aid to increase military spending weakens our strength as a nation, a role model and peacekeeper.

The words of these military officials should be kept in mind in future policy decisions so as to clearly explain why foreign aid is a matter of national security.

– Daniel Levy
Photo: Unsplash