Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Gordon Brown’s address to the UN General Assembly

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009.  As a citizen and resident of the UK, I’d hoped to jot down my thoughts on his address earlier but you know, life sometimes gets in the way.  My post on US President Barack Obama’s speech can be found here: Obama addresses the UN General Assembly.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly

[Photo source]

A transcript of his speech can be found at the Labour Matters site.

PM Brown began his speech by taking account of the global economic crisis and immediately asserting his belief that this is a global crisis that can only be solved by nations working together on a global basis and that growth can only be sustained if it is shared. 

It is incredibly curious to me that he would start his speech in such a manner.  I am not a fan of Gordon Brown and I find him to be one of the worst leaders I have ever encountered.  Precisely because he doesn’t lead, he follows, and he is a man desperate for approval from others.  So this opening statement seems to be an attempt to ingratiate himself with the various nations before he begins his address. 

Despite what was a weak start (in my opinion) PM Brown then highlighted the main areas that he wanted to address:

  • climate change
  • terrorism
  • nuclear proliferation
  • global economic recovery
  • poverty and shared prosperity

While he shared nuclear proliferation, climate change and the economic crisis with President Obama, I found it interesting that he included terrorism and poverty as well.

Climate Change

“If the poorest and most vulnerable are going to be able to adapt; if the emerging economies are going to embark on low carbon development paths; if the forest nations are going to slow and stop deforestation - then the richer countries must contribute financially” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

This is so interesting.  While Obama was drawing the line and setting boundaries as to how far the US was prepared to go in solving the world’s problems, Brown was diving right in there.  He said that proposed financing from the British government, drawn from public and private sectors, would be around $100bn a year by 2020.


Or, more accurately, “Why I continue to support an expensive and futile war in Afghanistan”.  He starts off this section by saying that “a safer Afghanistan means a safer world” which sounds good on paper but it doesn’t change the fact that terrorism is still alive and well while innocent civilians and well-intentioned soldiers are getting slaughtered out there.

“It shames us all:

* that the people of Somalia and Sudan are still subject to the most terrible violence.

* that Israel and Palestine have still not found a way to live side by side in security and peace.

* and that for the people of Burma, their elected leader is subjected to a show trial and decades of incarceration.

There is more we can do; there is more we must do. And we must carry forward our efforts to take a more strategic, coherent and effective approach to peacekeeping and peace-building”- Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I hope it’s okay to quote so much of the speech but I actually did like this section of the Prime Minister’s speech.  It was powerful but I fear that he has lumped gross violations of human rights, war time conflict and humanitarian crises under the umbrella term “terrorism”.  It is not helpful at all to do that as it implies the legitimacy of one party over another illegitimate and criminal party.  I’m virtually speechless (as in, I have no more words to blog) as my mind goes into the ramifications of the use of the term ‘terrorism’ versus genocide, ethnic cleansing, political oppression and state sanctioned persecution.  The wording of this section was, as I say, powerful but the issues are sorely muddled in this section of his speech.

Nuclear Proliferation

“Once there were five nuclear-armed powers. Now there are nine, with the real and present danger that more will soon follow. And the risk is not just state aggression, but the acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists…

…all nuclear weapons states must play their part in reducing nuclear weapons as part of an agreement by non nuclear states to renounce them. This is exactly what the Non Proliferation Treaty intended. In line with maintaining our nuclear deterrent I have asked our national security committee to report to me on the potential future reduction of our nuclear weapon submarines from 4 to 3” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

He started out so well and then he utters that last sentence.  Great, should we reduce terrorist’s access to nuclear weapons by 25% (by the same ratio as 4:3) and then see how the world feels about that?  What you are saying is that Britain will basically sacrifice a token submarine but you expect the entire states of Iran and North Korea to complete disarm. 

Don’t get me wrong, I greatly support nuclear disarmament; I just wish Gordon Brown had not even uttered that last sentence.

Global Economic Recovery

“The great lesson of the last year is that only bold and global action prevented a recession becoming a depression. We have delivered a co-ordinated fiscal and monetary response that the ILO estimates has saved 7 to 11 million jobs across the world” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Okay, I have to say at this point that I'm getting a little tired.  Unemployment in the UK is at its highest since 1995 and yet Brown is citing global successes in global economic recovery?  It just seems to me that Brown is sometimes unaware of the 2 million unemployed in the UK and the fact that banks are calling in loans left, right and centre.  Britons are in for a lot more misery before they start to see improvements. 


The unyielding, grinding, soul-destroying, so often lethal poverty I saw in Africa convinced me that - unless empowerment through trade justice is matched by empowerment through free education and free health care – then this generation in sub-Saharan Africa will not have the opportunity to rise out of poverty - and will never be fully free” - Prime Minister Brown, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

After a mixed and at times bizarre address Brown closes by stating that several of the Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved in 50 years never mind the remaining 5 years of the undertaking.  This is depressing and morale-destroying in a way that only Gordon Brown can manage but in a way, I do appreciate his honesty.  He does end on a high note though by citing the inception of universal free health care in Burundi, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Nepal, Liberia and Ghana and by calling on other nations to do the same.  Hmmm, perhaps he could implement that in the UK?


Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Gaza: Goldstone Finds Evidence of War Crimes

Link: Palestinians call for Israel to be 'punished' for Gaza offensive [CNN]

You may notice that of all things in this blog, I have stayed clear of blogging about Israel and the Gaza Strip. I have very strong personal reasons for staying well clear of this debate but this article seems too important to ignore.

I don't want it to be true and I don't want to take sides in this debate. The problem is that I have absolute respect for Judge Richard Goldstone, the man who headed the UN investigation into the conflict that incurred this past December and January in Gaza. He formally presented his findings to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today.

"The lack of accountability for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity has reached a crisis point," Goldstone said Tuesday. "This is the time of action." - Judge Richard Goldstone, UN Human Rights Council, Geneva [CNN]

I first heard about Richard Goldstone when he headed the Commission of Inquiry Regarding Public Violence and Intimidation in South Africa regarding the political violence that occurred during the last years of Apartheid. Known as the Goldstone Commission, this enquiry was instrumental in fostering reconciliation at the beginning of the new democratic administration.

It found what we had known for years being that the political violence in the last years of Apartheid was fuelled by a 'Third Force'; by people who wanted the country to be destabilised and ungovernable, who wanted to derail the attempts at reform and the movement towards ending Apartheid.

Goldstone was also a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa from July 1994 to October 2003. The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country of South Africa. This often fills me with pride as South Africa is said to have the most liberal constitution on Earth and they have as their highest court that which protects their constitution and people's human rights.

During his term at the Constitutional Court, Goldstone served as the chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda from 15 August 1994 to September 1996. It was only later that I would hear from him again, however, and that was when he headed the International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo from August 1999 until December 2001. I bought the full report but was unable to complete reading it as my knowledge was not developed at that time. I hope to give it another try soon.

My question is this: if Judge Richard Goldstone is one of the most respected people on Earth, the one person that has been constant in our investigation of the worst humanitarian crises over the past 20 years, why are we so quick to call his enquiry biased and flawed?

"But Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, questioned the report in strong language Tuesday, calling it one-sided and shameful.

"This report is based on carefully picked incidents, cherry-picked for political effect," Leshno-Yaar said. "The authors of this fact-finding report had little thought about finding facts."

Israel did not cooperate in the U.N. investigation, calling it flawed and biased" - CNN

Like I said, I don’t want it to be true.  I think the creation of the state of Israel after the atrocities of World War II was the first major success of the newly formed United Nations and a necessary consequence after the persecution of the Jews but I for one am going to try get my hands on Judge Goldstone’s report and to read his findings.


Friday, 25 September 2009

Vietnam War – The Impact of Media

I'm reading The Girl in the Picture at the moment which is the story of one of the most famous photographs of the Vietnam War:

I’m only right at the beginning but this is the first time I’ve read about events such as the Tet Offensive and the Hui Massacre.  I’ve become really interested in the role of the media during the Vietnam War and the ways in which the American public were manipulated and played by the media.  It makes me very aware of the current media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan and the massive difference in the news as represented by the different news agencies. 
“To see is to believe but in whose context?” – Charlton Heston, Vietnam War: The Impact of Media
The following video narrated by Charlton Heston does have a strong anti-communist bias but I found it quite interesting in that it shows us one thing: we as the public can never know the truth because the media will take images and video footage and make it represent whatever it is they want us to believe.  Were the Americans wrong to go into Vietnam?  Were they guilty of war crimes, massacres and atrocities?  Or did the media completely forsake the American troops, condemning them when the troops and the South Vietnamese needed them most?  Well, I guess it depends which news channel you are watching.
Vietnam War - The Impact of Media
Narrated by Charlton Heston (56 mins)

For the record, my own view on the current war against terrorism is that American and British troops are being led like lambs to the slaughter in a war where there are no clearly identified targets or goals and therefore, no chance of ever succeeding.  Politicians should stop using young men ad women as their personal pawns and toy soldiers.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

What Is A Crime Against Humanity?

I've just discovered The Pinky Show. Well, I discovered the video I'm about to show you a little while ago but I didn't fully appreciate what The Pinky Show actually is. The Pinky Show is a low-tech animated show that attempts to educate people about misrepresented, supressed or ignored issues. They are a non-profit educational project and they hope to challenge and expand people's beliefs.

This project is very much aligned with my own attempts – to put these issues into a format that people (including myself) will understand; to simplify issues yet still maintain their magnitude and importance.

I found this video at the One Peaceful World blog which is a blog about human rights, international law and conflict prevention among other issues.

In this video, Pinky calls up international law expert Peter Weiss who is vice-president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Pinky asks him what a crime against humanity is and how it differs from a war crime.  They also discuss the 'superior orders' defense, torture and the role of the International Criminal Court.

This is a fantastic and educational video.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Obama addresses the UN General Assembly

The 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly opened on 15 September 2009 and the General Debate opened today. During the General Debate, each member nation has the chance to address the General Assembly. Today's proceedings began with addresses by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki-moon and the President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki of Libya. 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil was next to address the UN General Assembly followed by President Barack Obama of the United States of America.

I consider President Obama’s address to be one of the most important as the USA is an extremely powerful nation and the USA are one of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.  I hope to concentrate on the speeches by the representatives of all five permanent members of the Security Council as well as the speech by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa as this holds specific interest to me personally (being that I am a South African expat).

My brief overview of the UN General Assembly and Security Council can be found here: The United Nations: an overview.

President Barack Obama addresses the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly

A full transcript of this speech can be found at First Door on the Left.

Obama began by acknowledging that many have come to view America with distrust and scepticism but then went on to list many of the achievements that he has made during his first nine months as president, most notably being the prohibition of torture by the USA.  It is interesting that he mentions in this paragraph his order to close Guantanamo Bay which is interesting because the future of the unit remains uncertain just four months away from the deadline as they struggle to make decisions on how to deal with the remaining detainees.  I personally felt that this was going to be a broken promise but does Obama’s mention of it mean a renewed commitment or was he just hoping to gain mileage from the promise alone of closing it?

“We’ve also re-engaged the United Nations. We have paid our bills. We have joined the Human Rights Council.  We have signed the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I’m left incredibly uneasy by this later statement by Obama.  I feel that I want to say something like, “what do you mean that the US wasn’t already part of the Human Rights Council, that they hadn’t already fully committed themselves to the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations?”

There is so much that the United Nations is not achieving, so much that they feel powerless to do and yet they give permanent members of the Security Council the freedom to pick and choose which policies and programmes they will abide by?  No, I am sorry.  To me that is akin to not abiding by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Geneva Convention. 

“This is what we have already done. But this is just a beginning. Some of our actions have yielded progress. Some have laid the groundwork for progress in the future. But make no mistake: This cannot solely be America’s endeavour. Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone. We have sought — in word and deed — a new era of engagement with the world. And now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

I think this is a very interesting statement. On the one hand, there is a sense that nations look to the USA to solve all of their problems and provide monetary support.  There seems to be a sentiment (especially in some British media) that the international and domestic financial crisis will not abate until the recession ends in the US, that improvements cannot be made until the US finds a solution.  Obama is saying that nations need to start taking responsibility for their own political situations but he is also saying that nations need to communicate and cooperate in finding global solutions.

On the other hand, there is a extent to which the US has been involved directly in the evolution of certain situations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It is one thing to declare war on a government but what of the people that have been affected by those wars?  I’m not saying I have the answer to that but I certainly have many questions.   There is also the question of aid and financial support.  Aid is never a gift, is it?  US aid always provides revenue that is streamed back into the US as American companies and personnel are utilised.

My personal feelings are completely incongruent and dichotomous.  I feel that each country should be sovereign and should look after their own problems internally before getting involved in the affairs of others and in the same breath, I wonder what will become of the third world countries that were ravaged by slavery and colonisation if assistance is not provided.  Mostly though, I feel that if a country signs an agreement or makes a promise such as the US and United Kingdom respectively did with Zimbabwe, then they should uphold those agreements or promises.

“The choice is ours. We can be remembered as a generation that chose to drag the arguments of the 20th century into the 21st; that put off hard choices, refused to look ahead, failed to keep pace because we defined ourselves by what we were against instead of what we were for. Or we can be a generation that chooses to see the shoreline beyond the rough waters ahead; that comes together to serve the common interests of human beings, and finally gives meaning to the promise embedded in the name given to this institution: the United Nations” – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

It seems that Obama is calling for the United Nations to achieve what they originally set out to achieve, to ignore the politics and the spineless diplomacy that continues to allow genocide, war crimes and perpetual humanitarian crises.  If so, I wholeheartedly agree with him.  I wonder if this will be the generation to finally get the United Nations back on track?

Obama reiterated the notion that all nations have rights as well as responsibilities and then he introduced four pillars that he feels are fundamental for the future:

  • non-proliferation and disarmament;
  • the promotion of peace and security;
  • the preservation of our planet; and
  • a global economy that advances opportunity for all people

Obama’s words on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation were powerful yet chilling as he promised to take action on Iran and North Korea if they continue to ignore international standards with respect to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced. We must insist that the future does not belong to fear" – US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Obama went on to discuss the promotion of peace and security and spent quite some time on the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians to great applause from the General Assembly. 

“The United States does Israel no favours when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. And — and nations within this body do the Palestinians no favours when they choose vitriolic attacks against Israel over constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy and its right to exist in peace and security– US President Barack Obama, address to UN General Assembly, 23 September 2009 [transcript]

Obama then discussed climate change. It has been reported that China and India totally owned the US yesterday in the UN climate change debate as they promised ‘aggressive’ cuts in CO2 emissions compared with Obama’s simple acknowledgement of an historical failure to act and an undertaking to take action in the future.

Obama then discussed the global economy moving from the current financial crisis to a commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and a commitment to approach the 2010 summit with a concrete plan to make the goals a reality.

President Barack Obama is an excellent orator and I love to read his speeches as they fill me with hope and determination for the future. The problem is that words and excellent public speaking are not going to achieve real change but I do hope to be pleasantly surprised in the future and to witness Obama having made a real difference.


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Project 2,996: Rosa Gonzalez

Today, I remember Rosa Gonzalez, a victim of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th 2001. I’m writing this today as part of Project 2,996 and you can visit the site to read more tributes to the victims of 9/11.  An amazing 1,081 people (so far) will be remembered formally this year through Project 2,996 but the purpose of the project is to let the world know that we will never forget.  We will never forget the victims or the loss experienced by their families, friends, communities and indeed, the world.
Rosa Gonzalez was a single mother aged 32 and her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer meant the world to her.  She was very much loved by all who knew her and as her brother-in-law Jeffrey said in a tribute to her on the Legacy site, “Rosa was also a beautiful and caring person that certainly did not deserve to die in this way… Rosa was a single mother that really making an effort to better herself and give her daughter the best upbringing possible. Her job with the Port Authority was another step towards success”.

Jeffrey and his wife took Jennifer in after 9/11.  Shortly after the attacks, Rosa Gonzalez phoned her sister Migdalia from the 66th floor of 2 World Trade Center, told her she loved her and asked her sister to take care of her daughter.  The New York Times tribute to Rosa quotes her sister Maria as saying, “Of course, Migdalia will take care of Jennifer.  We will all take care of Jennifer. The situation is, we have to be strong for Jennifer.”
Rosa Gonzalez was one of seven sisters and she lived in New Jersey.  It is clear that everyone who met her was taken by her infectious smile and friendly nature.  As P. Martinez says on the Legacy site, “"I met Rosa a couple of years ago when she was working at the Housing Authority. She was always so happy and up-beat, kind and caring… My heart goes out to her daughter, I hope she'll always know what a great mother she had. I'm sorry Rosa that your life was cut so short”.
It is clear that Rosa stood out in the community and people remembered her once they had met her.  This is evidenced by the number of people that expressed guilt at escaping from the Twin Towers themselves and their sadness of hearing of Rosa’s passing.  I found the comments by her neighbour Cindy to be especially poignant as her grief was clear in her remarks: “It has taken me this long to be able to view this site. Rosa, Maggie and I lived in the same building and I still remember the day I was able to get home and found out Rosa wasn't. Sitting in the apartment with her family, posting pictures, leaving candles and flowers and waiting for any word at all. Although we were not close friends I will always remember the beautiful petite woman that Rosa was. I would give anything to be able to call her again to ask her to turn the music down!! Maggie I will always be here for you if you need me for anything”.
Rosa Gonzalez had been with her friend and colleague Genelle Guzman McMillan as they descended the stairs together and tried to escape from the World Trade Center.  They had been holding hands but were separated as the building came crashing down.  Genelle was the last person pulled out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center alive.
Rosa was one woman out of so many that died that day but she was a kind, caring and friendly woman who left behind heartbroken family, friends and co-workers and most importantly, her 12-year-old daughter Jennifer.  I hope that I have succeeded in paying tribute to Rosa Gonzalez and that her daughter knows that people all around the world are thinking of her and her family on this anniversary of the attacks.  Jennifer also left a tribute at the Legacy site: “hi my names jen rosa was my mother she was a very good person i love u and miss u so much we will never forgat u ever”.
I’ll be posting this one day early so as to assist the people at Project 2,996 in logging the names of this year’s participants.  They have over a thousand entries to log after all!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Power of Literacy

Bloggers Unite is an initiative by the founders of BlogCatalog to generate interest in important issues by getting bloggers to write about a particular subject on one day of the month. I see this as an effort to learn something new and to think about an issue long enough to write something meaningful and worthwhile about it and therefore, it is a valuable addition to my project to learn more about issues in an effort to understand them.

This is especially relevant in this edition of Bloggers Unite as I believe we tend to take literacy and its benefits for granted and struggle to comprehend the effects that a lack of literacy can have. On to International Literacy Day then.

UNESCO and International Literacy Day

In 1965, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) proclaimed September 8 to be International Literacy Day and it was first observed in 1966.

The aim of International Literacy Day is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies.

Although the programme has been running for 43 years, literacy is still a huge problem worldwide. This prompted the United Nations to declare the United Nations Literacy Decade which is lead by UNESCO and runs from 2003 to 2012. The overall target for the decade is to increase literacy rates by 50% by 2015 and this falls in line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals regarding the reduction of poverty.

On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO takes the opportunity to remind the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. On the UNESCO website, the following chilling observation is made:

“Despite many and varied efforts, literacy remains an elusive target: some 776 million adults lack minimum literacy skills which means that one in five adults is still not literate; 75 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out” - UNESCO

Each year there is a different theme to International Literacy Day and this year the theme is The Power of Literacy.

The Power of Literacy

Literacy is power. Literacy gives individuals the power to make basic choices in their lives and to lead their lives as they want to. That possibly sounds simplistic but a little choice goes a long way.

Image Source

Women and Literacy

Of the 776 million adults that lacks literacy skills, UNESCO notes that two thirds of those are women. That means that around the world, 517 million women are unable to gain skilled employment (if they are permitted to work at all) and they remain powerless to break the cycle of dependence and subservience as they lack the basic skills to empower themselves and make better choices for themselves. Note, I’m not implying that illiterate women make bad choices, I’m simply saying that there are less choices available to them.

This is not just a third world problem either. It applies across societies from Saudi Arabia where women are told what to wear and are prohibited from working or gaining an education to so-called first world countries where a lack of literacy can keep women dependent on a welfare state or working in the most menial of jobs.

The Asia-Pacific Region and Literacy

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) website states that the Asia-Pacific region is home to three-quarters of the world’s illiterate population. They say that illiteracy is both a cause and consequence of poverty, deprivation and under-development. Literacy is not just about reading and writing; literacy gives individuals the tools with which to understand their environment and equips them with problem-solving skills. Literacy leads to improved cognitive functioning and enables people to interact more effectively within their communities.

Think about all the things that we take for granted: voting, banking, reading road signs, following written instructions or using a computer. These are basic necessities that can be made available to individuals through basic literacy but they are part of the world that is closed off to the illiterate.

“[The education of women] acts as a catalyst in virtually every dimension of development and poverty alleviation, with outcomes such as reduced fertility, reduced infant mortality, improved child survival, better family health, increased educational attainment, higher productivity, and general improvement in the nation's economic situation.” - UNESCAP

Literacy and Socio-Economic Indicators

In 1980 the Nicaraguan government embarked on the Sandinista Literacy Campaign as prior to the campaign, between 75% and 90% of the rural population was illiterate. The Literacy Campaign was a resounding success and was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Literacy Award.

The campaign presented a unique opportunity to study the effect of literacy on various socio-economic indicators. “The Impact of Women's Literacy on Child Health and its Interaction with Access to Health Services” by Sandiford, Cassel, Montenegro and Sanchez was published in the Population Studies in March 2005. This excellent study of 4434 women studied the effects of literacy on nutrition and child survival. There were three test groups: women educated through formal primary education, women who became literate through adult education and illiterate and semi-literate women.

Child and infant mortality and malnutrition were found to be significantly lower amongst the adult-educated population than amongst those that remained illiterate.

The significance of this study is that literacy is powerful and improves the lives of those people who gain it. While the study did favour those that had received education earlier in life, the impact of adult-education on formerly illiterate women was significant.

Literacy and Breaking the Chains of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

As mentioned earlier, illiteracy is both a cause and a consequence of poverty, deprivation and under-development. Right across the globe, this leads to a phenomenon known as the self-fulfilling prophecy as the children of illiterate parents come to believe that they will not be able to escape the fate that has fallen upon their parents.

Literacy is power and can assist in breaking the chains of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Literacy empowers individuals and gives them access to a greater range of choices. Those educated as adults are better able to support their children and ensure their survival. Basic literacy paves the way for further education and the learning of new skills for both adults and children. Literacy builds communities and ensure that individuals are more productive and that they in turn can continue to support both their families and the community at large.

Perhaps the biggest power of literacy is that it builds a person’s self-confidence and spirit. This power alone can break the cycle and enable people to achieve greater things than their parents were able to achieve. The light that you see in a learner’s eyes, be they an adult or a child, is a light that continues to burn as they master the environment around them.

Visit the UNESCO International Literacy Prize Winners 2009 and see how you can get involved in improving literacy worldwide. Better yet, look up an adult education programme in your neighbourhood and get involved. With just a little time and patience, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to teach an adult to read! With practice and application, it is a skill they will never forget.


Sunday, 6 September 2009

Project 2,996 – Last Call for Participants

An amazing 687 people have signed up to remember the lives of the people that were lost in the 9/11 attacks.  This is a great accomplishment and a wonderful increase over the number of people that participated last year.  They still need more participants so if you are reading this for the first time, then please consider visiting the Project 2,996 site and volunteer to write a short memorial.


Saturday, 5 September 2009

NATO Airstrike Kills Over 40 Civilians

It is just over ten years since NATO led sustained airstrikes against Serbia and NATO has bombed two hijacked fuel tankers in Kabul today killing over forty civilians.  Do we not learn from the mistakes and tragedies of the past?

AFP/Getty Images [source]

Link: NATO airstrike kills more than 90 in Afghanistan [CNN]

In Kabul, Afghanistan today NATO carried out airstrikes on a pair of hijacked fuel tankers.  Ninety people were killed, including Taliban militants but reports from Afghan officials say that almost half of the victims were civilians.

The spokeswoman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, Captain Elizabeth Mathias, has claimed that they had believed there were no civilians near the fuel tankers at the time of the attack.  It is difficult to know who is telling the truth because Afghan officials might have motives for inflating the number of civilian dead and of course NATO officials are going to say that they believed there were no civilians in the area.

I have a friend who lived in Serbia at the time of the 1999 NATO attacks.  Over the years that I have come to know her, I’ve learned that she is just like me.  We like the same music, share similar social and political interests and for several years we’ve shared a dream of one day meeting up in her town of Novi Sad.

In the years I have known her, I’ve also come to know about the devastation that Novi Sad experienced during the NATO bombings. 

“Devastated by NATO bombardment, during the Kosovo War of 1999, Novi Sad was left without all of its three Danube bridges, communications, water, and electricity. Residential areas were cluster bombed several times while its oil refinery was bombarded daily, causing severe pollution and widespread ecological damage” - Wikipedia

Apart from the immediate injuries and deaths and the continuing suffering due to pollution and environmental damage, there is also lasting psychological damage.  The residents experienced almost three months of sustained attacks; that is three months of fear and trauma.

So when Captain Elizabeth Mathias says of today’s attacks:

"Because of the prevalence of reports of civilian casualties, we don't want to be seen as ignoring the situation," Mathias said. "We don't want to wait. If something happened, we want to apologize." - CNN

I have to say that it is not enough.  It is not good enough and they have not done enough to protect civilian lives or ensure that human beings do not experience pain, suffering, fear, trauma and loss of life.  The human cost of this war has been unacceptable and while I support the men and women that choose to fight for their country, I do hope that one day all parties are brought to account for the deaths and injury to military personnel and civilians on all sides.

“Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries” – Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip

I just get the feeling sometimes that if we had declared war on an English speaking country such as Australia or even South Africa that maybe people would care. If we were bombing France or Sweden, maybe people would take more notice. This war and the killing of civilians will continue for as long as we think of the Afghan people as somewhat different to us, as somehow less than human.

© A Passion to Understand

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