Monday, July 06, 2009

IDPs in Pakistan – Largest in the World

Pakistan today is faced by a humanitarian crisis perhaps greater than terrorism, the threat posed by a whopping number of 3.4 million persons, internally displaced by the ongoing military operations against the Taliban on its soil. This number, announced by UNICEF, made this one of the largest internal displacements of a population in the world, along with Rwanda. This issue became securitised when militants were able to pass as IDPs and escape fighting which raised the question of how many innocents had been mistaken for militants and punished.

The exhausted IDPs arrive in IDP camps in places like Peshawar and Mardan and find inadequate accommodation, food and health care, leaving behind their harvest and source of income, realise that the government has no long term R&R plan for them, and can thus be easily tapped by Taliban fighters to form a new generation of militants/radicalised IDPs. The fear is that inadvertently the mass IDP displacement could serve as a cover for militant movement and Southern Punjab which is serving as a hotbed for terrorism, may become a base for militants. This led the Punjab government to decide to not permit IDPs within its territory, only give financial support to the camps in the Frontier, ask IDPs seeking shelter with relatives to be registered and their hosts to complete a surety bond.

But there is also fear that this backlash against IDPs may create ethnic tensions and stoke ethnic clashes that could create more endemic problems for Pakistan than its war against terrorism, and failing to address this humanitarian crisis is a public failure that the Pakistan state cannot afford. Ultimately, the most important thing for Pakistan right now is a national consensus against militancy. When the army operation launched in May, most Pakistanis were in favor of crushing the high-handed Taliban. Within days of the IDP crisis gaining momentum, many began to re-evaluate whether the army crackdown was worth the humanitarian toll it has inflicted. As IDPs in camps battle illness and starvation, Pakistan’s will to fight against militants is in danger of waning.

Source – ‘Estranged from their own land’ – Huma Yusuf –, June 12, 2009

Internal Displacement in Sudan

Numerous conflicts inside Sudan over the last few years, there have been huge number of internal displacements. In fact, an estimated 4.9 million people have been displaced and together they make the world’s largest internally displaced population.

About 2.24 million people out of the 4 million who fled south Sudan are expected to have returned following the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2005. But as seen elsewhere, the returnees have faced numerous hindrances upon coming back home. In most cases, the home could never be identified again. Livelihood and basic opportunities have also been scarce. Inter-communal violence has also caused significant new displacement in Southern Sudan, with 187,000 people newly displaced in 2008. Therefore, more than ten per cent of the return initiatives thus far have been unsuccessful.

There are tensions in “three areas” between the north and the south. Fresh conflicts in May 2008 in Abyei led to further displacement of more than 50,000 people and near destruction of the town. At the end of 2008 it was estimated that over 200,000 people remained internally displaced in Blue Nile State, and more than 100,000 in Southern Kordofan. The total number of IDPs in Darfur stands now at a minimum of 2.7 million (January 2009) due to repeated renewal of conflicts, with a fresh input of 317,000 people displaced in 2008. In the first three months of 2009, a further 65,000 people were displaced. There are severe limitations on rural livelihood strategies simultaneously with threats to life and this has resulted in rapid population growths in Darfur’s major towns and IDP camps.

All these have led to more and more people wanting to settle down in Khartoum, which is relatively peaceful. But living conditions for the mobile crowd are far from improving. Khartoum continues to host 1.2 million displaced people from all over Sudan. Social services are very difficult to access and livelihood choices are severely limited.

For more information, please refer:
Sudan: 4.9 million IDPs across Sudan face ongoing turmoil$file/Sudan_Overview_May09.pdf

Will this International Community Actually Help Innocents from Becoming Refugees?

Kusal Perera,
[Sri Lanka]

The international community, the UN Security Council, The Commonwealth Member Countries, the SAARC are all organizations and forums at different levels that could have prevailed on Sri Lanka if they were really serious about innocent people being killed in thousands and thus over the human carnage that most nakedly unfolded, in the bloody conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers. This catastrophe started unfolding in a very savage manner especially from January this year, after Tamil Tigers accepted defeat by leaving Killinochchi and retreating to their acclaimed stronghold, the Mullaitivu. Thus from January 2009 to May 17th, at least 04 months in full was available for these international forces to stop the human carnage that rolled out, killing a minimum of 12,000 civilians and throwing out 217,000 civilians behind barbed wire IDP camps.

Even before that, there were calls going out to the international community, to the EU, to the UN and to most other humanitarian agencies, asking them to intervene in this conflict on the basis there is an imminent humanitarian crisis that needs independent intervention. This call for independent intervention from the outside world went out louder when the GoSL systematically closed all access to international and national aid organizations, humanitarian organizations and to the media in reaching the war affected areas and the people caught in the war. A war behind iron curtains can never be within humanitarian limits and decency.

Yet in a typically bureaucratic manner, all international organizations from the UN Security Council to the EU and the SL Aid Group, including all humanitarian agencies, worked hard to find protocols, international charters and covenants that could lay the blame square on both the GoSL and the Tamil Tigers equally and request for adherence to international law. It is not that they did not know such statements from distant cities would provide the government with time and space to continue with its military offensives how ever ruthless they could be.

This isn't the first time these international organizations and associations have been into this business of allowing armed conflicts to grow savage at the expense of human life. The Rwandan conflict is one classic example of how the UN Security Council and the international community played on their own agenda at the expense of innocent human lives. In less than 100 days, over 01 million Tutsi civilians were hacked, butchered and cut to death in one of the most callous neglects in world diplomacy, while the UN Security Council members were arguing on who is right and who is wrong and whether it is right to intervene and how. They went into long discussions and debates over coffee and tea, for they had all the time in the world in their plush offices. But not those Tutsi men, women and children, the young and the old who were dying at the hands of Hutu power on the roads, in their homes, at workplaces and in hide outs they thought they would be safe.

The US Secretary of State under the Clinton administration, Madam Madeleine Albright writing her autobiography in her retirement says, [quote] As I look back at the records of the meetings held that first week, I am struck by the lack of information about the killing that had begun against unarmed Rwandan civilians, as opposed to the fighting between Hutu and Tutsi militias. Many Western embassies had been evacuated, including our own (US), so official reporting was curtailed. Dallaire (head of the UN Peace keeping force) was making dire reports to the UN headquarters, but the oral summaries provided to the Security Council lacked detail and failed to convey the full dimensions of the disaster. As a result, the Council hoped unrealistically that each new day would bring a cease fire.[unquote] – (Madam Secretary / page 188; emphasis and explanations within brackets added)

That is simply how these big powers play their role as international leaders. After all that massacre, after 01 million innocent lives had been unnecessarily hacked to death, Albright says, [unquote] My deepest regret from years in public service is the failure of the United States and the international community to act sooner to halt those crimes. President Clinton later apologized for our lack of action, as did I. [unquote] – (ibid – p/185; emphasis added)

It's easy for them to tender apologies and lay the chapter of mass killings aside. So is it with all the other conflicts she lists in her memoirs. Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan were all extreme cases of conflict that had received priority over Rwanda according to Albright. It was 1993 and 16 years ago that she lists all these conflict ridden countries. Israel and the Gaza, is not there though. That's despite the UN Security Council adopting 131 Resolutions on the Israel – Palestinian conflict, but has never invoked Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Israel is thus given freedom to behave the way it wants. Burma and Aung San Suki wasn't even listed. The Military Junta carries on regardless.

How many has the UN Security Council and the international community solved or at least positively intervened in paving a way out of the conflicts, from this list in Madam Secretary's memoirs ? None for sure. In fact the list is longer and broader now. There is Iraq, Iran and North Korea on a different plateau. Afghanistan has now turned the conflict into an Afghanistan – Pakistan – India conflict. Robert Mugabe continues with his Zimbabwe reeling with armed conflicts while enjoying inflation at over 2,000 per cent. President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan is indicted in the ICC while the international community allows Darfur to turn into a playing field for human catastrophe. The list is definitely long and bloody.

The Sri Lankan conflict could not receive from these cumbersome agencies any treatment that would be different to what they have always been doling out. In all these international agencies, from the UN to IMF and World Bank, the US dollar has big interests in how they act. All international agencies have to accede to super power interests and that is no secret. Who are they ? They are all big time arms manufacturers and dealers. The US between the years 2000 – 2007 has been leading the military hardware market with US $ 134.84 billion which was 37% of the market share. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the US, UK, France, Russia, and China together in 2002 shared 88% of the reported sales in conventional arms.

Imagine this planet earth in soothing peace. Imagine no armed conflicts any where, but only dialogue and negotiations in managing conflicts. Can these five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council afford to lose US $ 273.5 billion to their national economies? As former US President Jimmy Carter said during his presidential campaign in 1976, [quote] We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.[unquote]

They would rather say "sorry" again after everything is over. The Sri Lankan government has on its own finished the conflict with a huge human carnage. Now they issue statements, ambiguous in tone but thanking the government of SL for finishing off "terrorism". For they wouldn't lose this tiny arms market immediately and there are other conflicts they moderate on their own agenda, any way. It's ridiculous to expect international big time players including the UN to help stop human tragedies. They wouldn't.

For details on world armament market visit -

Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda (2000) [Duration: 55 minutes]

Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty

Of the modern day marvels that mark the fulcrum of ‘power equations’ and ‘development’ globally, nuclear power finds itself in the most coveted zenith. It is in this context that mining of Uranium is critical to the unfolding of such ‘power equations’. Uranium was not a useful element when it was initially discovered during the 18th century but it was after the success of the atom bomb during the World War II that it became a key ingredient towards generation of not only cheap electricity but also nuclear power. Among the numerous radioactive elements that contaminate the earth’s surface and that of the atmosphere when mined, uranium is abundantly available in the Jharkhand region and is therefore uncontrollably mined and milled. The region also faces additional problems of radioactive waste management. It is in the wake of this uranium mining in the East Singbhum district of Jharkhand that the psycho-social, political, economic as well as the physical health of the ethnic communities had been suffering in the region for long.

Winner of the Grand Pix of 8th Earth Vision (at the Earth Environment Film Festival), the documentary by Shriprakash, ‘Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda’ remains one such vignette of displacement and dispossession (as a result of uranium mining) that takes one through a journey of the quintessential adivasi land of Jadugoda (originally known as ‘Jaragoda’) in the state of Jharkhand. The name ‘Jadugoda’ according to a version was only a replacement to the former since the natives believed that evil spirits and black magic has now grasped the thick-forested land they once called home, so much so that their land was cursed despite being resourcefully rich.

Set against the backdrop of the land of Jadugoda, (situated in the eastern peninsular area of the Indian sub-continent in the state of Jharkhand) portrayed in a visual essay of forests and rivers and home to adivasis (such as the Santhals, Hoas, Oraons, Mundas) the film bears testimony to the land that has now come to witness one of the deadliest decays of modern-day inventions. Rich in minerals and natural resources, the tribal region continues to suffer state repression and exploitation of both its natural as well the human resources. Displaced from their ancestral land by force and made to live in inhabitable radioactive environment, the adivasis have their voices heard through the film.

The film smoothly delves into the dynamics of radioactive mining and the way it engulfs the entire tribal community. The extent of their exploitation becomes even more visible as the lenses zero in on to Kalipada Murmu, a native who recounts that the community is not even once warned by the UCIL management of the detrimental after effects of uranium mining. Mangal Soren maintains that they are not provided with precautionary devices such as masks or respirators to protect themselves from the harmful radiation while mining as casual workers. He additionally holds, “Only the engineers get the masks and respirators.” The adivasi men, women and children suffer from birth deformities, congenital diseases, hyperkerotosis, skin diseases, tumors, downs syndrome and other abnormalities that are but the result of radiation. It is principally in this region that the number of disabilities out-numbers the national average. Also peculiar to the region is the problem of sterile couples together with the rampant rate of natural abortion due to excessive radiation. The UCIL authorities have an altogether different version on the occurrence of the aforesaid diseases when R.N. Singh, a supervisor says, “It is due to alcoholism and the extreme unhygienic conditions the tribal people live in that they suffer from diseases like cancer.” The film further elucidates another major quandary in Jadugoda, i.e. the management of radioactive waste; the way in which radioactive waste is dumped into the Subarnarekha river at Jadugoda, from even distant mines of Hyderabad and Mysore. As the camera pans on the rainwater overflow at the tailing dam it is seen that as it enters the rice fields, those in turn get washed away with the radioactive substance thereby facilitating radiation to enter the human body through the food chain. Dr. U.C. Mishra’s (Bhaba Atomic Research Centre) remarks, “You can handle uranium by bare hands and nothing will happen to you,” remains a significant prototype of the functioning of the so called scientific research centers in India and that of responsibility of the Indian government.

The film through its occasional rejoinders in the form of sharp tribal songs coupled with crisp dialogues set against the bright contrast of the tribal culture manages to underscore the high voltage drama of the black overtones of the socio-political struggle of the adivasis. The film thus not only reflects personal narratives but also remains phenomenal in articulating the plight of people living in the Jadugoda region; the saga of their ‘landlessness’, ‘alienation’ and ‘exploitation’ in enunciating their vision of belongingness and commitment to the land that has now turned into monochromes of surrealism.