Tag Archives: Maryam Kar

Last Call for a Resolution

MARYAM KAR

Last Thursday, a new round of talks began in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The P5+1 countries are comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, plus Germany. Observers of the talks seemed quite optimistic given the understanding stance of both the United States and Iran in recent talks.

There is certainly reason for this optimism as a rapprochement between the United States and Iran is seen as more viable now than ever before. During the UN General Assembly in September, there was a historic phone call between President Obama and the newly-elected moderate, President Rouhani. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, are spearheading the current negotiations. This is the highest-level face-to-face interaction between American and Iranian government officials in decades. The involvement of such high-level officials clearly indicates seriousness on the part of both countries in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically.

The Geneva talks were expected to bring a resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which it claims is solely for nuclear energy, medical treatments and research. Other countries, specifically Israel, the US and some Western European allies, are of the opinion that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons and is deceiving the IAEA and the world. And some countries were not shy to express their honest opinions about a resolution. Secretary of State Kerry arrived at the talks after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu was very open about his dissatisfaction of a possible resolution. “This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people”.

Israel seems to have attempted to do everything it needs to stop an agreement, as the talks took an unexpected turn for the worse, when many believed a resolution was near. As Western and Iranian negotiations were putting the finishing touches on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks last minute and the negotiations unraveled. Shortly thereafter, the talks ended with plans to resume again on November 20th. France has become one of the most important allies to Israel after the US, and it seems this triggered the unraveling of the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu was not ready to accept a resolution that would allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and possibly reduce certain sanctions in return for transparency.  Netanyahu, along with neo-conservatives on Capitol Hill, are very much of the belief that the sanctions are working, and should be increased to mount pressure on Iran. Prime Minister Fabius was in agreement with Netanyahu on this point and refused to accept the resolution in its current format.

While the Obama Administration is pushing for a diplomatic solution as a means to protect the US, Israel and its interests in the Middle East, a rift is quickly growing between the US and Israel on its strategy towards Iran. After Netanyahu’s disapproval of a deal before the Geneva talks began, Secretary of State Kerry publically asked certain countries to not jump to conclusions before knowing details of the proposed deal. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest also dismissed criticism from Israel over a deal as “premature”.  Israel’s uncompromising stance, while praised by certain neo-conservative lawmakers back in Washington DC, is becoming more and more unpopular. This window of opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue will not be open forever, and Iran and the US are aware of this.

If a better compromise is reached in the coming weeks, then France and Israel are not judged as harshly. However, if talks do fail, “France may have effectively scuttled any option of ending Iran’s nuclear program without using military force, something no country — including Israel — wants to do.”

This delay in the talks till November 20th could be detrimental if proponents of war and additional sanctions build momentum in Congress. This has put the White House on defense in vocally calling for Congress to approve of a diplomatic solution and an alleviation of sanctions. As Congress debates increasing sanctions, Secretary of State Kerry has stated that he believes it would be a “mistake” and suggested a temporary pause. He was also expected to brief members of the Senate Banking Committee at a closed-door session later in the week on this issue.

Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council says that it is clear that the US Administration and others want a deal signed before a debate on sanctions heats up in Congress again. “Part of the reason why the talks continued until 2 a.m. in the morning on what was in reality the fourth day when they were supposed to be two days is precisely because of the awareness on all sides, except for the French, that if they don’t get something now, it’s going to be more difficult.” Momentum is currently very high to reach an agreement. On November 20th, Iran and the P5+1 countries need to remember that the security of an entire region is at stake. If all parties do not make compromises, everyone will come out a loser in the end.

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Refuge from Climate Change

MARYAM KAR

Kiribati

Kiribati

In 1988, two United Nations organizations, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The scientific intergovernmental organization was later endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 43/53. The role of the IPCC is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in recent years demonstrate a near consensus on climate change and the role that human activity plays in its development. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, given its worldwide scope and capacity to change the face of the planet forever. From Hurricane Katrina, dubbed the most destructive hurricane to strike the US, to the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami that resulted in more than 18,000 deaths, it is clear that erratic weather patterns and major shifts in our climate can have immense effects on our everyday lives.

Last week, a New Zealand court heard the appeal of a very novel type of asylum seeker: a climate change refugee. The individual, who cannot be named due to New Zealand immigration law, is seeking refuge in the country for himself and his family, due to rising sea levels in his home country of Kiribati. “Kiribati, an impoverished string of 33 coral atolls about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, has about 103,000 people and has been identified by scientists as one of the nations that is most vulnerable to climate change. The country’s atolls have an average height above sea level of just 6.5 feet.” According to this individual, his family had to seek higher ground as so-called king tides have become a norm in Kiribati, killing crops, flooding homes and sickening people.

The world’s oceans have been rising at an annual rate of 0.1 inches since 1970, and this poses a great risk for low-lying island countries, such as those in the South Pacific. Countries such as Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands are at great risk due to rising ocean levels. Earlier this month, an international panel of climate scientists issued a report saying that it was “extremely likely” that human activity was causing global warming, and predicted that oceans could rise by as much as 3.3 feet by the end of the century. If that were to happen, much of Kiribati would simply disappear.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.” While this definition is very thorough and constructive – given the causes of migration in the past – it does not fully encompass all acceptable causes of migration. In today’s world, people are not only harmed and persecuted by war or violence, but also suffer greatly due to drastic weather patterns in places they call home. While estimates vary on the rate and speed at which our oceans are rising and our climate is changing, there is much concern about vulnerable populations in certain countries. If climate change does continue its course with no fundamental obstacles placed in its place, entire populations of South Pacific island countries should be considered possible future climate change refugees. And this is not taking into consideration other consequences of climate change that include droughts, deforestation and flooding.

According to Renaud et al, there are three types of environmentally driven refugees or migrants. Environmental emergency migrants are people that are displaced due to sudden events, especially disasters. These migrants flee to save their lives due to events such as floods, hurricanes, tsunami waves, and volcanic eruptions. There is also a high chance that these migrants will eventually return to their homes once they no longer in immediate danger. Environmentally forced migrants are people who have to abandon their homes in connection with worsening environmental condition. These migrants are forced to leave because of gradual and often irreversible degradation of the environment, with limited opportunity to return to their homes. The causes of such displacements include: droughts, coastal deterioration, and deforestation. Finally, there are environmentally motivated migrants, who decide to migrate from a deteriorating area anticipating negative environmental changes in the future. This migration is a response to environmental degradation, but it is not an emergency action. Environmental emergency migrants are quite common, given the frequency with which certain countries are hit with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. The theory for the future, however, is that we will be seeing a higher number of environmentally forced migrants, as certain regions will become entirely uninhabitable.

Norman Myers, a British environmentalist, has written extensively on the subject of environmental migrants. In his paper, Environmental Exodus, Myers put the number of climate change refugees at 200 million by 2050. Various NGOs and both the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change and the president of the UN General Assembly in 2008 have mentioned this number. While Myers does point out that this number is in the upper limit, many have questioned the methodology and accuracy of his estimate. Irrespective of whether this estimate is entirely accurate, it is a fact that ocean levels are rising, and many low-lying countries are at risk. It is a fact that droughts, deforestation, tsunamis and massive earthquakes are making certain areas of the world highly volatile places to live. And it is a fact that we need to start paying attention to the consequences of climate change, one being mass migrations around the globe.

Legal experts believe that the appeal of the individual from Kiribati seeking asylum in New Zealand will be denied, given an earlier tribunal decision, which rejected his claim on the grounds that his life wasn’t in jeopardy and many others on Kiribati faced similar problems. The legal principle at the moment, according to Bill Hodge, a constitutional law expert at the University of Auckland, only recognizes the individual risk and not the collective risk. If the man’s appeal is rejected, he will be deported with his wife and three New Zealand-born children, the youngest less than a year old. While this individual is likely to be deported along with his family, he has raised a very important issue which governments must sooner than later make a priority. Climate change is a social problem, and its consequences can be dire for millions in vulnerable locations.

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Austria Votes

Vienna

Vienna, Austria

MARYAM KAR

While the world had been attentively watching the UN General Assembly taking place in New York, politicians in Austria have been busy campaigning for months. The Austrian legislative elections will be held this Sunday, on the 29th, across the country to determine representation in the National Council. On the federal level, Austria has two main elections, one for the head of state (Federal President) every six years, and one for the 183 seats on the National Council (Nationalrat) every five years. The National Council elections are determined by party-list proportional representation, and with 92 seats needed for a majority, a grand coalition of major political parties has been the norm in the last few years.

During the last elections in 2008, a grand coalition was formed between Austria’s two largest parties, the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). SPÖ’s Werner Faymann, who became Chancellor, has governed the coalition. However, since 2008, support for both major parties has fallen noticeably. This in turn has increased support for two other parties, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) known for its right-wing national conservatism, and the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), also a right-wing party. Both parties made significant gains in the 2008 elections, and FPÖ’s popularity has been increasing ever since. The BZÖ lost some of its support after the death of its founder, Jörg Haider, shortly after the elections. Moreover, the BZÖ has seen nine of its twenty-one members in the National Council change their party affiliation in the last five years: five members have joined Team Stronach, a party running for the first time this year, and four others joined forces with the FPÖ.

Team Stronach has also been able to hurt the FPÖ’s current popularity in the polls. Team Stronach, is headed and funded by Austrian-Canadian businessman and billionaire, Frank Stronach. His party calls for a return to the Schilling or an anti-euro alternative, a 25% flat-rate income tax, and an end to conscription. While many see Frank Stronach as an outsider, the party polls between 10 to 12% in Gallup polls, while only existing since September of last year.

The Green party (Die Grünen) currently holds twenty seats in the National Council and has solidified their position as the fourth-largest party in opinion polls. Their charter states that their vision is that of a “caring society of free people in a healthy environment”. Die Grünen campaign diligently for immigrants and minorities, and are therefore highly scrutinized by the FPÖ.

And the FPÖ has not been immune to immense scrutiny itself. Headed by Heinz Christian Strache, the FPÖ is known for its nationalistic right-wing ideologies that border on white supremacy. Previous campaign slogans include “Love for the homeland, over Moroccan thieves” (Heimatliebe statt Marokkaner Diebe), “Go back home over Islam” (Daham statt Islam), and “Vienna cannot turn into Istanbul” (Wien darf nicht Istanbul werden). For many liberals, it is very disconcerting how popular Strache and the FPÖ have become with the youth. Strache’s Facebook page has over 160,000 followers, he frequents clubs and bars to socialize with young voters, and ironically, he recently came out with a rap song to support his nationalistic campaign.

While it is highly unlikely that the FPÖ will get a majority win in the upcoming elections this Sunday, there is still concern for how many seats they will gain, and whether a coalition will have to be formed with them. It seems that Strache’s social media presence and youthful attitude has won him a lot of popularity, and maybe it’s time for the other parties to also take cue. Otherwise, Austria will become yet another European country moving to the extreme right – a position that has proven disastrous in the past.

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Undermining the Olympic Spirit: Russia’s Anti-LGBT Bill

MARYAM KAR

The 2014 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place from February 7th to 23rd in Sochi, Russia. The Olympics are the largest sporting event worldwide, bringing together millions of people from across the globe. The Games provide an exquisite platform where cultures meet and friendly competition thrives. However, the upcoming Olympics in Russia have been the cause of much controversy recently. Over three months ago, Russia’s lower house of parliament passed a law against the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”. The vote had 436 in favor, 0 against it. The new legislation was implemented two months ago, after President Vladimir Putin signed it into law. The controversial bill makes the public discussion of gay rights and relationships illegal anywhere children might hear it. There are significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing “information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships.” Numerous Russian and international human rights organizations have come out in protest of the new discriminatory laws, claiming that it is bound to increase homophobia in the country. There is also concern for LGBT athletes and visitors to the country in 2014.

Amidst public outcry and pleas of boycott from various organizations, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement stating that they had “received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games.” The IOC went on to say that the “Games themselves should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media and of course, athletes.” While having the IOC address concerns for the LGBT community during the Games is a positive step, there is still much doubt in people’s minds as to what the laws will really mean in February. The architect of this controversial law is Vitaly Milonov, a St. Petersburg politician, who initially implemented a local version of the bill in his city. Milonov has come out and said that it is not true that Russia will not be enforcing the law during the Sochi Games, and that Russian laws should be enforced there, irrespective of who is breaking them.

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One Too Many Missed Opportunities

MARYAM KAR

When talking about elections in Iran, many people think back to what ensued following the 2009 presidential elections: mass demonstrations and outrage over a rigged election, which resulted in hundreds being imprisoned, tortured, put on mock trials, and killed. The 2009 elections left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth, especially Iranians living in Iran. The main opponent of Ahmadinejad in the 2009 election was Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who became the leader of the Green Movement. The peaceful demonstrations were squashed, and as of February 14, 2011, reformist candidates Mousavi and Karroubi, and their spouses, have been under house arrest. The events following the 2009 elections left many bitter. This resentment clearly carried over to the presidential elections this June, where many in Iran added their voice to those living abroad to boycott the elections, as the results for them were predetermined.

However, on June 14th, 2013, the results of the election took many by surprise. Of the eight candidates pre-approved by the Guardian Council to run, moderate candidate, Hassan Rouhani was elected as the new President of Iran. Holding a PhD degree in Law from Glasgow Caledonian University, Rouhani is seen as a moderate cleric who promised to improve relations with the West during his campaign. The question now remains: should Rouhani be taken up on his promise of renewed talks with the West, and how influential can he be in this undertaking? Continue reading

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