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Visiting the Palestinian village of Duma

01/08/2015 Leave a comment

The room in which toddler Ali Dawabshe lost his life (photo credit: Murad Bakri)

Walking through the burned down remains of the house, talking to the relatives and knowing that this was intentional is truly a heavy experience. I have seen my fair share of blood and destruction from the immediate aftermath of Taliban rocket attacks in Afghanistan to the Hezbollah terrorist attack in Burgas that killed seven Israelis and one Bulgarian. But burning down a toddler while he is sleeping is pure evil…

Earlier this morning I met with President Abbas agreed with Abu Mazen that what is most important now is to make sure that the perpetrators are quickly apprehended and brought to justice. This is key. People need to see that terrorists are treated equally before the law.  On behalf of the Middle East Quartet Envoys, I also extended our condolences and condemnation of the terrorist attack.

President Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have spoken clearly against this attack and called for justice. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “terror is terror – and we need to fight it wherever it arises”. President Rivlin has said that “what we request [to fight terror] from our neighbours, from our opponents and our enemies of the last 100 years – that what we ask of them we must first ask of ourselves”.

The UN Secretary-General has condemned the act and pointed out that “continued failures to effectively address impunity for repeated acts of settler violence have led to another horrific incident involving the death of an innocent life”. In a press statement the UN Security Council  has strongly condemned “all such acts of violence, which have affected both the Palestinian and Israeli people”.

The European Union has called this cold-blooded killing “a tragic reminder of the dramatic situation in the region that highlights the urgent need for a political solution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict”. The United States has also condemned the vicious attack.

The world has condemned this latest tragedy. It must now come together to stand not just against terrorism, but also against incitement.

For what its worth none of our words, statements or condemnations will bring little Ali back. But our words and actions can prevent the destruction of more lives. In this process the UN has a key role to play globally, in the Middle East, but also here on the ground where we must work both with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to revive the political process and the prospects of a two state solution based on justice, security and mutual recognition.

The visit to Duma today was a poignant reminder of that responsibility. In Bulgarian ‘duma’ (дума) means ‘word’. Words can kill, but words can also save lives.

My thoughts after meeting Grand Ayatollah Sistani today

19/07/2014 1 comment
Briefing the media after my meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najjaf

Briefing the media after my meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najjaf

Today, I delivered a letter from the United Nations Secretary-General to His Eminence Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani  welcoming his support for the protection of civilians in the current conflict, and his stance against sectarianism. This was my third meeting with the Shia religious authority, whom I hold in great respect. He is a humanist with a strong commitment not just to Iraq, but to preserving its multi-cultural, ethnic and religious richness. He has often spoken how democracy is the only way forward and of the need for everyone to abide by the Constitution. Over the last few weeks he has taken a firm stand calling on all to protect civilians in the conflict, particularly minorities.

In our two hour discussion we went through a host of issues related to the current situation in Iraq. Starting with the need to provide urgent humanitarian aid to those displaced by the fighting. I noted our particular concern with the fate of women and children. Today, Iraq has over 1 million displaced people. A very large number of them– some 300,000 are hosted in the three provinces of the Kurdish region. Tens of thousands have fled to Najaf and Karbala and further South, many are stuck in the ares of fighting.

The UN is mounting a mammoth effort to help the refugees. We have received substantial support from the Saudi Arabia in a historic first– His Majesty King Abdullah has donated USD 500 million to the UN’s humanitarian effort in Iraq. We are working closely with the authorities both in Baghdad and Erbil in order to increase our ability to reach as many affected people as possible.

We also discussed at length the constitutional process and the need to swiftly move to elect a new President this week, as well as a new Government soon after. His Eminence is acutely aware of all the constitutional deadlines and keenly follows the process. It is inspiring to see a religious leader who firmly believes in the separation of state and religion, speak so clearly of the responsibility of political leaders for the future of their country. We also agreed that the future Government should be acceptable to all communities and must quickly focus on a vision to save Iraq from terrorism, sectarianism and division. To many this may be an obvious truth, but it is a necessary discussion in country made up of a complicated ethnic and religious mix. In such an environment all politicians must be keenly aware that their statements reverberate across communal lines, therefore they must moderate the debate– not further radicalise it. The UN has consistently called and worked for reducing radicalisation and bringing all back to the political process, back to the constitutional framework. The problems that Iraq faces today– problems that could easily break the country apart, cannot be resolved except through dialogue and politics. Just a few months back the country went through parliamentary elections with over 62% of people casting their votes. In their infinite wisdom the people of Iraq did not give a full majority to anyone, therefore forcing politicians from all ends of the spectrum to work together. It was encouraging to see that the Shia Marjaiya share this understanding.

Last week the Speaker of the new Parliament was elected. It came after some weeks of internal debate between the parties, however the team they chose to lead the new Council of Representatives has hit the ground running. This week a new President should be elected. Slowly but surely the political wheels start turning. With every turn the chances of the people of Iraq to return to some semblance of normality increase. The UN stands ready to support this process with every means at our disposal. We will not leave Iraq alone at this crucial time. Speaking from experience, including my own country, I can vouch that if the international community looks away from a nascent democracy in transition– things start going wrong. Iraq needs the support of the world and the world owes the Iraqi people the support they require. They should not stand against terrorism, sectarianism and violence alone. Yes, most of the work needs to be done in-country, however the situation in Iraq remains intimately connected to the problems of the region. Resolving the Iraqi crisis through peaceful and political means can help reduce the tensions in the region. Allowing the crisis to continue unabated will spell disaster for the region.

So, despite the grim reality of over 5000 people killed since the beginning of the year and 1 million displaced I remain hopeful that the country has enough strength in itself to pull back from the brink. The election of a Speaker, the prospect of a new President, the negotiations for a new Government– all this should give us some hope. Most importantly and not just in the meetings in Najjaf today, increasingly I see a realisation that the legitimate concerns of all communities– Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and minorities should be addressed with a sense of urgency. Adopting fundamentally needed legislation related to the budget, revenue sharing, devolution of authority– this is just a glimpse of the list of laws that need to be discussed by the new Parliament. Looking into policies of social inclusion, addressing pockets of poverty, reforming the public administration and ensuring the rule of law and protection of human rights– again, all of these are challenges that the UN sought to address and will continue to work on with the Iraqis. Not to mention the coveted census and the unfinished constitutional agenda. Had all of these challenges been addressed throughout the last decade, maybe we would not be where we are today…

Categories: thoughts, UN Tags: , , ,

New Socialist Government Wants to Restart Controversial, Outdated and Expensive Belene Nuclear Project

30/05/2013 1 comment
Socialist leader Stanishev and PM Oresharski form unstable government with the support of xenophobic and nationalist Ataka

Socialist leader Stanishev and PM Oresharski form unstable government with the support of ultra-nationalist party Ataka

In February the Bulgarian Parliament voted by a crushing majority of 114 to 40 to cancel the controversial project to build a second nuclear power station at Belene with Russian technology. This decision should have been taken years ago. The project is outdated and expensive and this has been proven over and over again. It has already cost too much financially and politically to the Bulgarian tax payer. There is much speculation that over the last 30 years it has generated corruption, mismanagement and dependencies.

In March last year the Government put and to the project. This was endorsed by Parliament, but the opposition challenged it in a failed referendum. Those who argued that the Borisov government and the GERB centre-right majority in Parliament would not end this project were once again proven wrong today.

Bulgaria needs to invest in innovation, SMEs that create jobs and support a middle class. The country needs a modern energy infrastructure that is up to the highest standards of safety and is integrated into the European grid. Last but not least it needs to break away from the shackles of energy dependence, diversify and invest in energy efficiency.

Soon after this decision the Socialist opposition, in collaboration with those who had benefitted from the corruption that Belene had fed for decades, brought down the Government and early elections were called. Yesterday they formed a weak and unstable government that relies on the support of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms and a xenophobic and ultra-nationalist party called Ataka. In its first statement the new government declared is that it wants to restart the Belene project… During the election much was said about growth, jobs and prosperity. Today the truth however has emerged. The Bulgarian Socialist Party has no idea how to move the country forward, its leadership is interested only in Belene. One ought to ask why? The answer is not that complicated. For more than three decades Belene has bled the Bulgarian treasury and economy. Billions were spent on a project that is outdated and defunct. Many of those who whisper in their ears made money out of this project. But there is another reason. Ultra-nationalist Ataka openly declared that they want the project restarted. Today PM Oresharski is paying the price for that one vote that got his government elected. Welcome to the coalition politics. When you sell your soul to the devil, he will come to collect it.

The people of Bulgaria will quickly see through this plot and should not allow it to materialise. My country has the potential to be a hub of innovation and growth in a region of economic turmoil. Why? Because its finances are stable, its credit ratings increased through the crisis, and the Bulgarian people are prone to innovation and enterprise. However that can happen only if they are left to their own devices. That should be the main priority of any government, no matter what side of the political spectre it comes from.

This post is based on an earlier entry, which I wrote when Parliament voted to end the controversial project.