Friday, December 11, 2009

Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Offers ‘Hard Truth’

OSLO — President Obama used his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize on Thursday to defend the idea that some wars were necessary and just, remind the world of the burden the United States had borne in the fight against oppression and appeal for greater international efforts for peace.

“We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth: we will not eradicate violent conflicts in our lifetimes,” Mr. Obama said, addressing the paradox of receiving an award for peace as commander in chief of a nation that is escalating the war in Afghanistan as it continues to fight in Iraq. “There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.”

He delivered a mix of realism and idealism, implicitly criticizing both the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as inadequately appreciating the dangers of the world, and President George W. Bush as too quick to set aside fundamental American values in pursuit of security. And he embraced the concept of American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States has a special role as a defender of liberty, even as he promoted multilateralism.

In that way, he continued a pattern evident throughout his public career of favoring pragmatism over absolutes.

The address — delivered at once to a European audience that has grown skeptical about American power and to a domestic audience watching closely to see how he would handle the acceptance of an award that even he acknowledged he did not yet deserve — represented one of the broadest declarations of his foreign policy doctrine. He said that others deserved the award more, noting that his “accomplishments are slight,” but he accepted the prize with a strong endorsement of America’s place in the world.

“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this,” Mr. Obama said. “The United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms.”

The Nobel lecture, a 36-minute address that the president and his aides completed on an overnight flight from Washington, carried echoes of several American presidents, from Jimmy Carter to Mr. Bush, but Mr. Obama singled out one above all: John F. Kennedy.

Mr. Obama cited Mr. Kennedy’s focus on “not a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions.”

Mr. Obama called for more robust international sanctions against nations like Iran and North Korea that defy demands for them to curtail their nuclear programs.

Weeks after being criticized for not speaking out more publicly in defense of human rights while in China, he suggested that quiet diplomacy was sometimes the most productive path, even if it “lacks the satisfying purity of indignation.”

The ceremony was the focal point of a series of events celebrating Mr. Obama’s entry into the ranks of Nobel laureates. On Thursday night, the president and his wife, Michelle, appeared in a window of the Grand Hotel, waving to thousands of people below who had gathered for a torch-light parade.

Trumpets sounded when Mr. Obama walked down the long aisle of a soaring auditorium to deliver his address. He escorted his wife, who took her seat in the front row, before he assumed his position on the stage and faced the king and queen of Norway.

The Nobel chairman, Thorbjorn Jagland, opened the ceremony by explaining how the committee came to its decision two months ago. He said Mr. Obama’s leadership had been a “call to action for all of us.” As he invoked the story of Dr. King, the winner of the prize in 1964, he turned to Mr. Obama, saying, “Dr. King’s dream has come true.”

Mr. Obama pursed his lips and nodded gently as the audience applauded loudly. When he was presented his gold medal and Nobel diploma, he received a standing ovation that stretched for more than a minute. The crowd did not rise again until the conclusion of his remarks.

Mr. Obama’s speech was sober, with his remarks only sparingly interrupted by applause. He was applauded when he renewed his pledge to ban torture and close the prison at the American base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend,” Mr. Obama said. “And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it is easy, but when it is hard.”

To a European audience of academics, diplomats and Nobel laureates, he said there was “a deep ambivalence about military action today,” which he said he suspected was rooted in “a reflexive suspicion of America.” But he offered a forceful defense of the United States, saying the lessons of history should ease those suspicions. And he urged his audience to envision a hopeful future.

“Let us reach for the world that ought to be,” he said, “that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.”

He did not dwell on the specifics of his announcement last week that he would send 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan. But that decision, which attracted scores of peaceful demonstrators here, set the framework that Mr. Obama returned to again and again as he sought to explain his policy as an extension of the post-World War II system that contained the cold war.

“A decade into a new century, this old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats,” Mr. Obama said. “The world may no longer shudder at the prospect of war between two nuclear superpowers, but proliferation may increase the risk of catastrophe. Terrorism has long been a tactic, but modern technology allows a few small men with outsize rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale.”

Mr. Obama, who is scheduled to stay in Oslo for about 26 hours, miffed some Norwegians by not participating in some of the traditional events surrounding the peace prize ceremony, including a luncheon and a concert.

Mr. Obama, sensitive to the criticism, explained the brevity of his visit. “I only wish that my family could stay longer in this wonderful country,” he told reporters, “but I still have a lot of work to do back in Washington, D.C., before the year is done.”

The president is scheduled to return to Washington on Friday.

Japan, UN sign agreement on NWFP development

ISLAMABAD: The Government of Japan signed an agreement today with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to provide $12 million for peace building, governance and economic recovery for the conflict-affected areas of NWFP and parts of FATA.

Official Exchange of Notes to this effect were signed and exchanged between His Excellency Chihiro ATSUMI, Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan, and Toshihiro TANAKA, Country Director, UNDP, Pakistan.

Sibtain Fazal Halim, Secretary of the Economics Affairs Division, the Government of Pakistan, and Shakeel Qadir Khan, Director General of the Provincial Relief, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA), NWFP were also present.

Speaking on the occasion the Japanese Ambassador Chihiro Atsumi stated, 'This development programme by the UNDP will support the rehabilitation and resettlement of the persons wishing to return to a peaceful and secure community. As Pakistan strives to rebuild infrastructure, empower women and bring smiles and hope on the faces of the youth, I hope the region will soon regain the strength that it deserves to have.'

Appreciating UNDP’s effort in this regard, he further stated 'We appreciate the role that the UNDP has been playing in the development of Pakistan, and trust that the ongoing efforts by Pakistan and the UNDP will be a step to bring peace and stability in the area.'

The three-year programme will help IDPs reconstruct their lives as they return home. The conflict in NWFP and FATA resulted in the displacement of 2.7 million people. As peace was restored, 1.6 million people have returned so far.

Many of these return to a life of uncertainty. 53-year-old Khanum Bibi from Malakand is one of them. ‘prior to the conflict, I had managed to support my eight grand children and their widowed mother through some livestock farming and by selling embroidery. The money I saved has been spent on the displacement, my husband and son are dead, I need help to restart my business’. The much-needed and generous support of the Japanese Government will help many like Khanum Bibi.

Early recovery activities will be undertaken. These are essential to bridge the gap between relief which is immediate and rebuilding and rehabilitation which is long term.

Specifically, these early recovery activities include restoring livelihoods through cash for work on rubble removal (estimated at 2,282,500 tons) and involving the community in micro infrastructure projects such as water pumps, water pipelines, footpaths, culverts etc., which have been destroyed.

People will also be trained in different skills and supported financially to undertake small projects or businesses in the farm (agriculture, horticulture) and non-farm sectors (marble quarrying, gem and jewelry, carpentry, tourism) sectors.

This programme will also help the provincial and local authorities to have a coordinated response to the needs of the returnees.

At a more strategic level, UNDP will also work towards gaining a better understating of its structural causes of the conflict while addressing them in a comprehensive manner. For this purpose, peace committees and alternate dispute resolution mechanisms will be established.

The programme will focus on the conflict affected population with a special emphasis on the vulnerable, especially women-headed households; families with disabled members; families that have 10 members and an income of Rs. 7000.

Commenting on the commitment of the Japanese Government towards supporting key early recovery interventions at the time of crisis, Toshihiro Tanaka, Country Director, UNDP stated, 'UNDP and Japan have had a fruitful partnership through which Japan provided support to the national elections in 2008 and made a substantial contribution after the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.

'We were able to provide the critically needed transitional housing for the affectees and undertake rubble removal that lead the way to reconstruction in the affected areas.

'Japan’s timely contribution to help the IDPs will contribute significantly not only towards restoring livelihoods and micro community infrastructure but towards governance support for long-term peace and development of the conflict-affected communities'

Pakistanis mark rights day as abuses reach peak

The International Human Rights Day of 2009 falls amidst the cruel realities being faced by Pakistanis.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is perturbed at the suffering of people in Pakistan owing to the brutality unleashed by militants as well as the destruction caused by internal conflicts in many parts of the country.

A series of bomb attacks carried out by militants killing thousands of civilians as well as members of the security forces has been devastating. Children and women have been most vulnerable to the accesses of militants. Schools have not been spared and women living in the conflict zones are totally immobilised. Pakistan is facing one of its worst challenges to protect the rights of its citizens.

HRCP recognises that it is the primary obligation of the government to protect the lives of civilians against the inhuman accesses of militant groups, yet, it calls for respect for human dignity during any armed operation carried out by government forces. Regrettably, credible reports indicate that the security forces too have committed human rights violations during operations.

The so-called counter-insurgency operations carried out by the military and paramilitary forces have used heavy artillery, killing an unknown number of civilians. Access to independent observers and the press is denied by the security forces. According to government sources, several hundred people have involuntarily disappeared and a large number of families of the missing individuals accuse the security forces and intelligence agencies of perpetrating the crime.

Torture is used by the security forces as a matter of routine. Reports received by HRCP reveal inhuman methods of torture employed by the security establishment in Balochistan. People are blindfolded, hung upside down,
burnt, given electric shocks, whipped, beaten with iron rods, kept under extreme glare of lights and their heads doused in water. Despite, several reports issued by the press, accounts by the victims in courts and to the media and incidents reported by national and international human rights bodies, the government has never responded to these allegations in any constructive or coherent manner. A bland denial is no response – on the contrary it only adds salt to the wounds of the victims.

HRCP is equally concerned about army operations carried out in areas of Fata and Malakand Division. Independent sources have complained about reprisals from armed militias operating under the patronage of security forces. There are verified reports of extrajudicial killings of suspected militants and their family members and arbitrary arrests of several individuals. Mass graves have been identified but the government has failed to investigate these allegations and has not been able to establish the identity of the dead.

It is imperative that in these trying days human rights concerns be expressed in an unambiguous and impartial manner and watchdog bodies orient themselves with the international humanitarian and human rights law during armed conflicts. It is essential that everyone remains entitled to the enjoyment of human rights, whether in time of peace or armed conflicts.

It is important to give particular attention to the education of all members of security and other armed forces, and of all law enforcement agencies, in the international law of human rights and international humanitarian law applicable to armed conflicts. There are limitations on the use of force even during conflict and on opposing forces too. It is prohibited to launch attacks on civilian populations and the use of weapons which cause unnecessary suffering to combatants or which endanger civilian populations in the area of conflict is restricted and in some cases even prohibited.

Finally, HRCP would like to draw the attention of the government that they are obliged, as soon as circumstances permit, to report the number of those killed, injured or missing owing to the conflict. It is essential that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) be given access to prisoners of the conflict, the UNHCR and relief workers get free and unimpeded access to those in need of humanitarian assistance and that independent journalists be allowed to visit areas of conflict without being followed or directed by government agents.