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How The State Department is Curbing Violent Extremism
In August 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry wrote a chilling letter where he outlined the roots of violent extremism — “Far too many who join the ranks of violent extremist organizations do so because they have trouble finding meaning or opportunity in their daily lives, because they are deeply frustrated and alienated — and because they hope groups, like Boko Haram, will somehow give them a sense of identity, or purpose, or power.”

Extremist groups, however, exist beyond the continent of Africa; it is a problem that concerns the international community as a whole.

The Department of State created the Foreign Terrorist Organization list, which classifies extremist groups in accordance with section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The FTO serves as the beginning U.S. effort to counter violent extremism.

Traditional measures to prevent the spread of violent extremism include the use of American, regional and global military force. Past strategies, however, do not address the systemic causes of extremism — poverty-stricken communities cannot provide basic necessities for its citizens.

Recently, the U.S. recognized the limitations of a force-only approach. Consequently, The White House hosted a summit on countering violent extremists, which collaborated with international organizations and civil society across the world to cultivate a new strategy.

In late May, the Department of State and the United States Agency for Development unveiled the first ever joint strategy to counter violent extremism.

The innovative diplomatic approach calls for a new application of American resources to counter violent extremism. Specifically, strengthening the capabilities of governments; increasing developmental assistance; furthering research on the origins of current extremist movements; and empowering local anti-extremist advocates.

Furthermore, Secretary Kerry expanded on the joint strategy in his article addressing the importance of community-building and countering violent extremism.

The August 2016 article notes the consequences of corruptions, as a primary contributor to violent extremism. Secretary Kerry made an impassioned plea for global leaders to use the 2 million dollars of annual money lost to corruption towards addressing basic human needs.

Providing a compelling alternative to curbing violent extremism and increasing the quality of life in vulnerable communities requires serious dedication among the international community. Americans can no longer consider the humanitarian travesty of the developing world as a far-way problem that does not concern them, because as recent events have demonstrated, failing to counter violent extremism has reached American shores.

Adam George

Photo: Flickr

south-sudan-peace-talks
On August 11, John Kerry released a statement expressing his disappointment regarding the lack of progress the peace talks in South Sudan are making. Even though the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Government of South Sudan promised to take 60 days to form a transitional government. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development was the mediator of the agreement; however, neither side has approached the peace talks with the level of seriousness they deserve.

The Peace Talks in June were stalled between president Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar. BBC reports that 1.5 million people have been displaced since the fighting began and more than seven million people are currently at risk for both disease and hunger. Moreover, the country is very close to forcing people to live in a debilitating famine because the constant fighting between the two parties prevents farmers from taking care of their crops and animals so that they can make a living and provide food for their communities.

Kerry explained that stalling the peace talks only increases the number of deaths and in his statement, explained that “these killings further undermine the enormous humanitarian response needed to support the 3.9 million South Sudanese who are in desperate need of life-saving food assistance and who continue to live in fear of violence.”

The Head of Special Envoys for South Sudan, Peace Mediation, Seymour Mesfin told the Standard Digital News that he believed that the current talks were making progress and stated that “there is reduced intensity of hostility and release of detainees by the government.”

Even when the talks resumed, however, the violence in the area was still proving to be very unstable and seems to suggest otherwise. In the town of Bunj, in Maban County, Upper Nile State, a humanitarian worker was killed in the midst of a confrontation between deserting soldiers and soldiers from a local militia.

Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: BBC News, Standard Digital, U.S. Department of State
Photo: BBC News

chinese_investment_africa
Earlier this month, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the Annual World Economic Forum on Africa; on the same trip, he visited Nigeria, Kenya, Angola and Ethiopia. Kegiang’s trip was yet another illustration of China’s deepening economic integration and development throughout Africa.

In recent years, Chinese investment in Africa has increased dramatically. China has invested large amounts of credit and aid to Africa out of economic interest in the nation, primarily exploitation of the continent’s many natural resources as well as energy development, among others.

In 2012, China donated $200 million to construct the sleek new African Union headquarters building in Ethiopia, creating a very literal illustration of favorable Chinese-African relations. As of this month, the Chinese investment in Africa has reached $30 billion in the continent in credit, as well as $5 billion in development funding assistance. Additionally, trade between the two entities has reached a whopping $150 billion.

This intimate economic integration and political entwinement alarms many across the globe, as China’s development in Africa has been (and will likely continue to be be) accompanied by concerns regarding labor ethics and environmental consequences. Others have expressed worries about terrorism and its potential spread as African leaders turn away from American diplomacy and instead focus on Chinese economic integration. Three primary consequences of this relationship are of concern:

 

1. Environmental Concerns

China has a notoriously unfavorable reputation when it comes to unethical labor standards and a disregard for environmental pollution and emissions. With exponential growth and thousands of laborers in newly developed African factories, how will the latter concerns be addressed, if at all? Will they pay closer attention to human rights concerns in foreign turf?

 

2. Potential spread of terrorist growth

U.S. diplomacy with Africa has included much counter-terrorism rhetoric and initiative. Secretary of State John Kerry has performed multinational tours of the continent on several occasions, explicitly asserting a counter-terrorist agenda. If African leaders embrace Chinese diplomacy and turn a blind eye toward U.S. efforts, experts predict that such efforts will result in more leniency in counter-terrorism efforts.

 

3. Human rights regression

In an Al-Jazeera article, some consider U.S.-Africa relations to be quite critical. Writer Abdullahi Halakhe states “African leaders’ uncritical embrace of China to spite unequal relations with the West could roll back the modest progress toward democracy, good governance and improvement in human rights.” In other words, some believe that China’s policies of “noninterference” in foreign nations’ domestic affairs is more appealing to African leaders and might result in backwards progress in the human rights arena, against the efforts the U.S. has concerted in conditional policies with leaders.

Arielle Swett

Sources: Aljazeera America, Reuters
Photo: The Chine Africa Project

USAID
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced in a press release this week that it will launch new coastal programs valued at more than $170 million in an effort to support impoverished coastal communities.

The announcement occurred at the Our Ocean Conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. Such initiatives as sustainable fisheries, marine conservation, the combating of illegal fishing and wildlife trafficking as well as coastal adaptation are elements of the programs. The initiatives are directed toward countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and the Pacific islands and countries.

USAID Assistant Administrator on Economic Growth, Education and Environment Eric Postel noted that nearly 40 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of coastline.

“Preserving the earth’s priceless marine life and safeguarding our world’s valuable coastal resources for human use and future generations is vital,” Postel said.

Because over 1 billion people rely upon fish as a protein source, marine and coastal conservation is thought of as crucial to protect current and future generations. Development goals, including food security and nutrition, protection against climate change and poverty reduction, are sought to be addressed through the conservation and management of coastal and marine resources.

Specifically, some of the targeted initiatives of the programs include attempts to help citizens of the Meghna River estuary of Bangladesh, Maldive, Caribbean Pacific Island and Ghana citizens, as well as continued support for the Permanent Secretariat of the Coral Triangle Initiative for Food Security, Fisheries, and Climate Change.

Created by President John F. Kennedy through an executive order in 1961, USAID works to “end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.” Through its work in over 100 countries, the agency works to promote such activities as economic prosperity, education, global health, human rights and food security and agriculture.

— Ethan Safran

Sources: All Africa, USAID 1, USAID 2
Photo: Foreign Policy

kerry_peace_effort_middle_east_opt
Although the Oslo Accord was designed to facilitate the peace negotiations in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine under the supervision of the UN, some are starting to believe that the whole process will ultimately result in failure due to two decades of no deals being reached.

In an Al Jazeera article, Mairav Zonszein said that despite U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s goal to help both sides reach an agreement, Israel appears to be controlling the region anyway.

“Prospects for negotiating a two-state solution to conclude the Oslo peace process, launched in 1993, appear more remote than they were 21 years ago,” said Zonszein. “The difference, perhaps, may be in the balance of pressure operating on both sides then compared with now.”

According to Zonszein, Israel considers itself a sovereign nation and dominates the lives of all Palestinians who live under its occupation. In fact, Israel is so powerful that even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Palestine, is required to seek permission to leave the West Bank.

While the Palestinians (and the international community, including the U.S.) demand that the boundaries drafted in 1967 should be considered by Israel to grant statehood to Palestine, Israel continues to expand settlements beyond those boundaries.

“The original premise of the Oslo Accord was that a decades-old conflict could be resolved through bilateral negotiations in a framework based on relevant UN resolutions, out of the understanding that is must be a win-win situation for both sides,” Zonszein argued.

However, the only winner in the region turned out to be Israel. After realizing that the talks between Israel and Palestine are going nowhere, Kerry proposed a new idea to resolve yet another of the many problems the two sides have with each other.

“In a last-ditch effort to stop Israel reneging on a promise to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners, the U.S. briefly threw in possibly the biggest bargaining chip in its hand: the release of Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard,” said Jonathan Cook in a Counterpunch article.

Cook argues that both Israel and the U.S. have been involved in negotiations that did nothing but distract the true developments within the region.

Cook also references Richard Falk, professor emeritus in international law at Princeton University, who claims that the Israeli policies were created to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from their own homeland.

This is the reason the Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as an official Jewish state in the first place.

Thus, “if negotiations collapse, it should be clear that, while both sides were supposed to be talking, one side – Israel – was vigorously and unilaterally acting to further its goals,” Cook said.

At this point, only time will tell whether or not the Israelis and Palestinians will one day reach a deal that has already been delayed by two decades.

– Juan Campos

Sources: Al Jazeera, CounterPunch
Photo: Al Jazeera

US_Human_Rights_Report
The United States State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in late February. After examining data from the past year, the U.S. named Syria as the country with the worst human rights violation in 2013 for its chemical weapons attack in August 2013.

In the introduction to the report, Secretary of State John Kerry specifically names Syria, Russia, China, Ukraine, Cuba, Egypt and South Sudan as nations in which extreme human rights violations are taking place.

Kerry also reflects on the fact that this year is the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Kerry notes the commitment of not only the State Department and U.S. government agencies to improving human rights, but also “U.S. citizens, international nongovernmental organizations, foreign governments, human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, scholars and others.”

Furthermore, Kerry notes, “As Secretary of State, I meet with many brave individuals who risk their lives daily to advance human rights, in spite of the threat of violence and government attempts to silence their voice.”

There has been a noticeable reaction to the release of the Human Rights Report, especially the emphasis on human rights violations in Syria. The chemical attack on August 21, 2013 resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people, including about 400 children. These figures are a product of U.S. intelligence, but the British-run Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported data that suggested the death toll may have actually been under 1,000.

The great deal of violence in Syria appears to have become intensified n 2012, after a number of groups boycotted the May 2012 parliamentary elections, sparking a civil war. Syrian President Bashar Asad’s authoritarian regime has used force to put down protests, as well as air and ground military assaults on a wide of range of areas including cities and residential areas.

In terms of the number of the abuses in the country, the reports cites rape and domestic violence against women, genital mutilation, reproductive rights, child abuse, forced and early marriage, sexual exploitation of children, human trafficking, discrimination against persons with disabilities, discrimination against national, racial and ethnic minorities as well as abuses against people because of sexual orientation or gender. Activists also believe that there has been discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, but that these cases may not be reported.

The Human Rights Report also seems to foreshadow the recent crisis that has broken out in Ukraine, due to the people’s desire to have more of a say in their government and refusal to live under a government so strongly influenced by Russia.

In 2013, the Ukrainian government used violence against journalists and other members of the media. Furthermore, the governments of both countries have recently started implementing a harsher punishment for any peaceful protests against human rights violations.

More recently, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to flee Kiev, the capital, and was reported to have taken refuge at a Kremlin sanatorium located outside of Moscow.

Finally, Kerry highlighted the connection between issues of national security and human rights, citing that, “The places where we face some of the greatest national security challenges today are also places where governments deny basic human rights to their nations’ people, and that is no coincidence.”

Julie Guacci

Sources: ABC News, BBC News, U.S. State Department, CBS News
Photo: US News

John_Kerry_Vatican
United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, met with the Vatican on January 14 for an hour and a half to discuss issues facing the Middle East. Kerry and the Vatican Secretary of State, Archbishop Pietro Parolinm covered topics that ranged from Israel and Palestinian relations, the Syrian civil war and a possible meeting between Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.

John Kerry is the first Roman Catholic Secretary of State to visit the Vatican since the 1980’s. Kerry stopped by the Vatican on his way from Paris where he was at the Syrian Peace Talks with the UN.

The Pope has been very critical of the United States, debating whether they should invade Syria saying, “Violence and war are never the way to peace.” The current state of Syria was discussed at length, with the Vatican issuing a statement of support of the peace talks. Both men said the talks, ‘covered broad topics’ and were a ‘comprehensive conversation.’

Kerry hinted that there are plans in the works for a meeting between Obama and Pope Francis who have both expressed interest in addressing extreme poverty on a global scale. Pope Francis has further caught the attention of United States conservatives who criticized him for his focus on addressing poverty.

In a statement outlining his vision for the future of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said, “The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open, there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor…may we never abandon them.”

Pope Francis has brought positive change with his plan to address global poverty. It is a welcome and refreshing change to have the religious leader proclaim that Catholics should focus more on helping the poor. The pope leads a religion with an estimated 1.2 billion people across the world.

– Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: Christian Today, USA Today, The Washington Post
Photo: Religion News Service

Sunglasses John Kerry
This past Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a new U.S. initiative aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence in humanitarian emergencies worldwide. Known as “Safe from Start,” the $10 million will be funded to allow the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other humanitarian organizations to hire specialized staff, start new programs, and “develop innovative methods” to protect women and girls at the onset of emergencies around the world.

“In the face of conflict and disaster, we should strive to protect women and girls from sexual assault and other violence,” Kerry emphasized in a press release. The statement also mentions that the U.S. will coordinate with other donors and stakeholders to develop a framework for action and accountability to ensure that efforts to address gender-based violence are routinely prioritized as a life-saving interference, along with other vital humanitarian help.

The initiative builds on the framework established by the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally. The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will be responsible for the initiative.

Most conflict-ridden countries such as Syria, Egypt, or the Democratic Republic of Congo are reporting high rates of rape. Seen as a tool to terrorize villages and break the will of the opposition, rape has been routinely incorporated as a weapon of war during conflicts. According to Save the Children, up to 80 percent of war rape victims are under 18, while an Oxfam report states that rape is the “most extensive form of violence” women and girls are currently facing in Syria.

Although the press release mentions women and girls as the primary victims of gender-based violence, the U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally states that this type of aggression can also be directed towards men and boys, as well as sexual and gender minorities.

According to this document, gender-based violence is “violence directed at an individual based on his or her biological sex, gender identity, or perceived adherence to socially defined norms of masculinity and femininity.” It includes physical, sexual, and psychological abuse, as well as threats, coercion, arbitrary loss of liberty, and economic hardship.

– Nayomi Chibana
Feature Writer

Sources: U.S. Department of State, CNS News, Huffington Post
Photo: Cloture Club

Foreign Aid Quotes
Although Congress is known to disagree amongst itself, there is one issue that many members of the Democratic and Republican Party do agree on: the importance of foreign aid. Here are 10 quotes made by members of Congress stressing the need to continue funding foreign aid.

1. “Foreign aid must be viewed as an investment, not an expense…but when foreign aid is carefully guided and targeted at a specific issue, it can and must be effective.” – U.S. Representative Kay Granger (R-TX), Huffington Post, June 2011

2. “The world we live in takes a multifaceted approach. To the American taxpayer: We need to be investing in improving people’s lives before the terrorists try to take over.” – U.S. Senator, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Foreign Policy magazine, February 2011

3. “For development to play its full role in our national security structure, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) must be a strong agency with the resources to accomplish the missions we give it. But during the last two decades, decision-makers have not made it easy for USAID to perform its vital function. Even as we have rediscovered the importance of foreign assistance, we find ourselves with a frail foundation to support a robust development strategy. I believe the starting point for any future design of our assistance programs and organization should not be the status quo, but rather the period in which we had a well functioning and well-resourced aid agency.” – U.S. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN), Statement on Foreign Assistance Revitalization and Accountability Act, July 2009

4.“The right question to ask is: are we really spending too much on non-defense programs? The answer is clearly no. Non-defense discretionary spending levels are essentially unchanged from 2001. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to afford them today.” – U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), June 2011

5.”The real problem in America’s spending is not foreign aid, which is a very small part of our budget.” – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Town Hall meeting, July 2011

6. “We face tremendous foreign policy and national security challenges worldwide, from helping countries manage peaceful, democratic transitions in the Middle East, to preventing violence, conflict, and terrorism from engulfing key partners, and to leading humanitarian responses to forestall drought, famine, and natural disasters. We are only able to achieve these aims with a strong State Department and USAID.” – U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Press release, July 2011

7. “Leaders of both parties have affirmed that U.S. power is a three-legged stool of military might, diplomatic skill and development. The foreign aid bill’s diplomatic and development objectives pay dividends by helping avoid military deployments to protect U.S. interests, which are far more costly in both life and treasure. Robust engagement is no less necessary to achieve strategic security imperatives in this belt-tightening atmosphere. Investments in health, education, humanitarian aid for refugees and disaster victims and micro-loans for entrepreneurs are critical to fostering stability around the world. It would be senseless to let our response to a fiscal challenge create a national security crisis.” – U.S. Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY), Op-Ed in Politico, February 2011

8. “Our top military leaders are adamant that International Affairs programs are a critical to our national security. Our top business leaders are adamant that these programs are critical to our economic future. I’ve seen firsthand how these programs work beyond the frontline states and these cuts will seriously restrict our ability to keep Americans safe and advance our economic interests.” – Former U.S. Congressman and Ambassador Mark Green, July 2011

9. “Foreign aid is important. If it’s done right, it spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way.” – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Town Hall meeting, July 2011

10. (In support of continuing aid to Egypt) “Cut off all aid immediately and you will take an economy that is already floundering and probably drive it into chaos, and that is not in anyone’s national security interests.” – Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J

Mary Penn

Sources: Huffington Post, InterAction
Photo: Politico

 

Read Humanitarian Quotes.

Syrian Lost Generation
A lost generation of children is quite the dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted everyday, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports is inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, requires immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR