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Protecting the rights of minorities in Iraq


For minorities to be able to enjoy equal rights and participate in decision-making, an important place to start is providing education in their mother toungue. Inclusion through education was the topic of a workshop held in Erbil by NPA and partners.


The humanitarian crisis and instability in Iraq have disproportionately affected Iraqs most vulnerable people, in particular subjecting minorities more than other ethnic and religious groups in the country. Minorities have been exposed to several influxes of displacement and were targeted especially after the collapse of Saddam regime in 2003.

The mass majority of minorities have left their homes, they have been either displaced to safe zones within the country or decided to leave the country and immigrate.

On April 8th-9th, 2019, a two-day workshop entitled, “Inclusive education and rights of linguistic minorities” took place at the Erbil International hotel in Erbil, Iraq. The workshop was coordinated by the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies (HL-senteret) – in cooperation with Norweigan Peoples Aid (NPA) and our partner organisation Alliance of Iraqi Minorities (AIM).

The purpose of the workshop was to bring together a variety of Civil Society organizations, international scholars, local experts, representatives of linguistic minorities, and from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of education to learn about and identify opportunities for supporting the minorities on that issue.

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Panel from Left to right: Hoger Chato, AIM Executive Manager, Kawa Omer Hamd, Director of Curriculum in the Ministry of Education KRG, Fernand de Varennes, UN special rapporteur on Minority Issues, and Hussam Abdulla, Chairman of the Board AIM. Photograph: Sara Hamdy/NPA

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AIM is focusing on changing the legislation and policy to respect minorities and provide legal protection. In addition to working on the capacity building of government and stakeholders to actively involve key actors in the protection of minorities, and raise public awareness on minority rights.

“For minorities to enjoy equal human rights they have to be active participants in the decision-making process, especially where their rights are concerned with education in their mother tongue.” Hoger Chato explained, AIM Executive Manager, emphasising on the rights of linguistic minorities.

AIM is an Iraqi civil society organization that seeks to protect and promote the rights of Iraqi minorities in a way that respects the rights and interests of all Iraqi people.

UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Fernand de Varennes also attended the workshop, as part of his mandate to raise awareness of minorities rights.

IRC warns 650,000 civilians may be forced to flee if escalation in north-west Syria continues


New York, NY, January 16, 2020 — The humanitarian situation in northwest Syria is reaching catastrophic levels, and with the attacks yesterday on a marketplace and an industrial zone that reportedly killed at least 15 people, and warnings to civilians in central Idlib and Western Aleppo to evacuate the area, 650,000 people could be impacted and at risk of displacement.

International Rescue Committee Middle East Policy Director, Misty Buswell, said, “The situation in northwest Syria was already at breaking point, and the events of the last few days mark a dangerous and deadly turning point in the conflict. An additional 650,000 people, the majority of them women and children, could be forced to flee their homes if the violence continues. This is on top of nearly 350,000 in Idlib who have been displaced since December, bringing the total number who have fled in the last 9 months to nearly three-quarters of a million.

Many of the displaced people are living in tents in the open in freezing winter conditions and urgently need shelter and food, with the ongoing risk of flooding further compounding the misery. Ahmad, a displaced person in Idlib, told the IRC that he lost his home to an airstrike and he and his family have been forced to flee three times in the past six months. The conflict has taken a psychological toll on his children, the youngest of whom was only 4 meters from the house when it was hit. An IRC assessment in Idlib last year found that half of parents reported their children showing signs of severe emotional distress, and the current violence will add to the psychological terror they are experiencing.

Hospitals and health facilities in Idlib were already full, and medical supplies stretched, even before this wave of violence. Doctors have told the IRC that they are seeing a worrying increase in malnutrition cases, particularly among babies, due to displacement, poor food security and increased poverty as a result of the conflict. Increasing insecurity has forced the suspension of three IRC supported health facilities in central Idlib since December, further limiting the lifesaving response, and an IRC partner in Western Aleppo had to stop its protection programs for women and girls yesterday, leaving the most vulnerable without essential protection services. Since the end of April, 1,460 civilians, including 417 children, have been killed as a result of the military escalation, according to the UN.

Yet again, it is innocent women and children who are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and who will suffer the most if this violence escalates further. All parties to the conflict need to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and spare civilians from the worst effects of the fighting. It is critical for the ceasefire that was agreed in northwest Syria to be implemented fully and without further delay. And it is time, once and for all, for the parties to the conflict to come back to the negotiating table and find a peaceful resolution. The very lives of 3 million civilians in northwest Syria depend on it.”

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Texas State football player shot, killed; 2 suspects arrested, search on for others: police


At least two suspects have been arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of a Texas State University football player, who was killed during a drug deal gone wrong this week, authorities said Wednesday.

manhunt was underway for two additional suspects who police said were involved in the shooting death of Khambrail Winters, 20, a Houston native and defensive back for the football team, FOX 4 of Dallas-Fort Worth reported.

Jake Spavital, the team’s head coach, released a statement saying, “Our Texas State University football team is deeply saddened by the death of our team member, and friend.”

“I met with the players this morning to share the news. We will stand together as a team and support one another during this difficult time. Our thoughts and condolences are with Khambrail’s family and loved ones,” he continued.

Police officers responded to calls of gunfire around 9:15 p.m. Tuesday at an apartment complex in San Marcos, Texas, about 30 miles southwest of Austin. Witnesses described the incident as a drug deal gone wrong, according to a statement from the San Marcos Police Department and city officials.

The officers found Winters with a gunshot wound to the chest and emergency personnel attempted life-saving measures, which were unsuccessful, officials said. Winters was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witnesses told police that Winters, and two other people — identified as Enalisa Blackman and Michael Ifeanacho — went to the apartment building with the intention of buying marijuana, a police statement said.

Winters was shot and killed during the deal. Police arrested Blackman and Ifeanacho, who were charged with capital murder and were being held at Hays County Jail.

Authorities said they are still looking to identify two other people involved in the shooting, as well as other witnesses, FOX 4 reported.

Cameras at the apartment building were “not operational,” the statement added.

An investigation is ongoing.


International Centre for Relations & Diplomacy (ICRD) launched in London & Brussels


International Centre for Relations & Diplomacy (ICRD) launched in London & Brussels

A think-tank organisation has been launched in London and Brussels. The organisation known as “International Centre for Relations & Diplomacy” (ICRD) is an independent, non-profit and non-partisan think-tank organisation based in Brussels and London with an international operation.

According to ICRD “Statement of Establishment” the centre seeks to promote progressive strategic dialogues that encourage interaction between international political entities and citizen-based agendas.

The Centre works with different world Parliaments with a prime focus on the European Parliament and local Western European Parliaments in addition to United Nations agencies. Our projects aim to promote conflict resolution through research, dialogue, integration with decision makers, publishing and media outreach.

ICRD’s statement added that, “it strives to achieve our objectives by working interactively with international decision makers at

– United Nations level,

– European Parliament,

– UK and German Parliaments.

– Other Local European & International Parliaments

Additionally, ICRD will be focusing on key international topics such as Brexit, Middle East, and anti-Terrorism, Russia and China and Europe and the US

Investing in internally displaced childrens education is investing in their future


Today, representatives from governments around the world are gathered in New York City to review progress they made toward universal education since 2015. The High Level Political Forum, an annual event where countries present their advancement towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), opens this year with a focus on the education goal, SDG 4. Internally displaced children and youth are among the groups furthest behind in terms of access to education and educational achievement, yet they often receive little to no educational support in emergencies.

At the Forum, UNICEF and IDMC will launch two co-authored policy papers on equitable access to quality education for internally displaced children and on protecting and supporting internally displaced children in urban settings.

We now have a better understanding of the scale of the issue, as the first estimates on the number of school-age children living in internal displacement are available. At the global level, at least 12.6 million children of primary or secondary school-age are displaced within their own country because of conflict or violence alone. Most of them live in sub-Saharan Africa, where even non-displaced children often face challenges in accessing quality education. Millions more are displaced because of disasters, climate change and other causes.

Ways to use and improve this new information on the education of internally displaced children, and recommendations on how governments, humanitarian and development actors can protect their right to quality education, are discussed in the two papers.

As the first assessment of the cost of internal displacement on education was published in February this year, we can now inform development planning and crisis response strategies of the countries affected by internal displacement, and of humanitarian and development organisations, with an estimated budget they would need to cover basic educational needs of all internally displaced children. This budget approximates USD 850 million per year of displacement at the global level, for conflict-affected children only.

Investing in continued education for displaced children is not only economically sensible, as it supports their future income and ability to contribute to the economy. It is also a crucial step in mitigating the negative consequences of internal displacement on their mental and physical health, their security and social life and, eventually, the stability of entire communities.

This year could be a significant year for the visibility of educational challenges linked with internal displacement. IDMC will soon publish a background paper to UNESCOs upcoming Global Education Monitoring Report, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa; the region where most internally displaced children live, with over 8 million IDPs under 18 recorded in 2018 in only 23 countries affected by conflict and violence. In October, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced people will publish a dedicated report on education. With this encouraging momentum on an issue that has been largely overlooked until now, we invite other interested organisations to join forces with usto disseminate, improve and use this new body of evidence on internally displaced children and their educational challenges.

_This blog is also published on the Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training (NORRAG). _

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Nashville Blast Investigation Leads US Agents to Suburban Home


NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – Federal agents investigating the explosion of a motor home in Nashville were searching a two-story suburban house Saturday for clues to the blast, which injured three people in the heart of America’s country music capital on Christmas Day.

Federal agents were also trying to identify apparent human remains found near the exploded vehicle.

The motor home, parked on a downtown street of the Southern U.S. state of Tennessee’s largest city, exploded at dawn Friday, moments after police responded to reports of gunfire noticed it and heard an automated message emanating from the vehicle warning of a bomb.

The blast destroyed several vehicles, damaged more than 40 businesses and left a trail of glass from shattered windows.

Following up on what they said were more than 500 leads, local police and agents from the FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were searching a two-story, red-brick house on Bakertown Road in Antioch, Tennessee, 18 kilometers southeast of Nashville, paying particular attention to its basement, according to a Reuters witness.

Officials on Saturday declined to name a person of interest in connection with the explosion, but CBS News reported that the investigation has homed in on a 63-year-old man who recently lived at the Bakertown address, public records showed. According to a document posted online, on Nov. 25 he signed over the property to a woman in Los Angeles at no cost to her. The document was signed by the man, but not by the woman.

Google Street View images of the house from 2019 show what appears to be a white motor home in the driveway. Neighbors told local TV station WKRN that the recreational vehicle had been parked there for years and is now gone.

“Once we have processed the scene, we will look at the evidence and anything that we have recovered from this residence and see how that fits into this investigation,” FBI spokesperson Darrell Debusk, who was at the house Saturday, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“At this point we’re not prepared to identify any single individual,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Doug Korneski said at a news conference Saturday.

Korneski told reporters that investigators were “vigorously working on” identifying what appeared to be human remains found in the wreckage. He declined to say whether investigators believe the remains belong to the person behind what officials say was “an intentional act.”

Korneski said the FBI’s Quantico, Virginia-based Behavioral Analysis Unit was helping determine the motivation of the person responsible.

The vehicle was parked outside an AT&T office, and the blast caused widespread telephone, internet and TV service outages in central Tennessee and parts of several neighboring states, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia.

A recording, then a blast

Before Friday’s blast, police and witnesses described hearing a crackle of gunfire followed by an apparently computer-generated female voice coming from the RV reciting a minute-by-minute countdown to an impending bombing.

Police rushed to evacuate nearby homes and buildings and called for a bomb squad, which was en route when the RV blew up.

Police later posted a photo of the motor home, which they said had arrived in the area about five hours before the explosion.

Officials said 41 businesses were damaged and three people were hospitalized with relatively minor injuries. City authorities hailed police officers who they said likely prevented more casualties by acting quickly to clear the area.

Dozens of agents from the FBI and the ATF were surveying the scene on Saturday. Parked cars and trees were blackened and an exploded water pipe that had been spraying overnight had covered trees in a layer of ice.

“All the windows came in from the living room into the bedroom. The front door became unhinged,” Buck McCoy, who lives on the block where the blast occurred, told WKRN.

Communications problems

Among those hit by communications problems as a result of damage to the AT&T building from the blast were police departments, emergency services and Nashville International Airport, which temporarily halted flights Friday afternoon.

AT&T said on Saturday that a fire reignited at the building overnight, forcing it to be evacuated, but workers were able to drill access holes into the building to connect generators to critical equipment that it hoped to have back online in hours.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee visited the scene on Saturday and said in a Twitter post it was a miracle that no one was killed. In a letter to President Donald Trump, Lee requested a federal emergency declaration to aid relief efforts.


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Chinas crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang is sure to backfire


By Michael Auslin – After repeated denials, Chinese officials finally admitted last month that they have set up internment camps in the far-western province of Xinjiang, where up to one million ethnic Uighurs, almost all of whom are Muslim, are being held. Under Chinas anti-terrorism law and religious affairs regulation, the government in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region publicly introduced the Regulation on De-extremification. What itdescribes is a new gulag, where re-education and the suppression of Uighur identity is its main goal.

There are approximately 25 million Muslims in China today, but these new draconian laws in Xinjiang are aimed solely at the ethnic Uighurs, of which there are just over 11 million. Unlike the Hui, another major Muslim ethnic group who have largely assimilated into Chinese society, Uighurs have resisted intermarriage, speak their own Turkic language, and advocated for some level of autonomy, making them a target for suppression. Over the decades, Beijings heavy-handed approach has helped outside Islamist elements make inroads among Uighur youth, and spurred the formation of radical groups. As a result, the Uighurs have remained a largely colonised people, and Xinjiang has become the epicentre of Chinese Muslim resistance to Beijing.

Uighur activists have conducted numerous violent attacks since 1990, including bus bombings in Shanghai and Kunming, multiple sword and knife attacks at train stations in major cities, and a car bombing in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic centre of China. Ties between Uighur radicals, previously known as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda are among the reasons Beijing has cracked down on them so strongly.

That some Uighurs are extremists is undeniable. But the new measures introduced by the Chinese authorities do not just aim to prevent religious violence. At first glance, many of the new regulations concern activities that bedevil Western states, such as the forced wearing of the burqa in Muslim communities; or which occur in Islamist-run territories around the Middle East, such as ethnic cleansing by forcing those of other faiths out of their homes. Yet read a little further, and the real objectives of the regulations are soon revealed. In order to contain and eradicate extremification, the state will make religion more Chinese…and actively guide religion to become compatible with socialist society (Sec. 1, Article 4). In other words, the goal is to Sinicize Islam and make it serve the state.


To achieve this, those suspected of being extremists or being susceptible to extremist ideology are being interned in military school-style camps, with regimented daily schedules. The provincial regulation mandates Maoist-style ideological education, psychological rehabilitation and behaviour correction and the use of informants throughout society. The totalitarian reach of the law is shown by the fact that it is now illegal in Xinjiang to reject or refuse public goods and services such as radio and television. Reminiscent of the Stalinist era, it is now a crime simply to opt out of listening to state propaganda.

Xinjiang has become, in essence, a police state, controlled by a massive paramilitary force; ubiquitous, intrusive surveillance, including advanced facial recognition technology; regular roundups of suspected radicals; and a stifling of civil society. Sinification takes various forms, including the authorities cutting short the dresses of Muslim women. More controversially, reports from Chinese state media suggest mandatory heath examinations in Xinjiang have allowed the state to collect DNA from Uighurs, in order to build a genetic database that will allow even tighter control. And then there are the internment camps.

To understand the driving motive behind the new laws, it is important to remember that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is, fundamentally, an empire. Over the centuries, Chinas Han majority, which today makes up 91 per cent of the Chinese population, has pressured and actively suppressed ethnic minorities. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) continued these assimilationist policies as part of a strategy for ruling one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse polities on earth. From Tibetans to Tatars, and from Kazakhs to Uzbeks, todays Chinese empire is built on the control of dozens of minority groups and the tight monitoring of their religions and cultures. Maintaining the integrity of the state is a priority for president Xi Jinping second only to ensuring the Partys own survival and both aims are inextricably linked.

Uighurs portray themselves as freedom fighters, challenging Beijing for their independence, little different from Tibetans or Taiwanese, other than being ethnically distinct and Muslim. Any viable separatist movement in the region alarms the central government, as other autonomy movements are watching closely what happens in Xinjiang. If Xi relaxes his grip there, activists in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet are sure to take advantage to press their own claims.

The Uighurs and Xinjiang pose another problem for the central government, this one geopolitical. Xinjiang sits squarely along Beijings One Belt, One Road (OBOR) corridor. President Xi Jinpings flagship foreign policy initiative, OBOR aims to be a $1 trillion (£780 billion) infrastructure development which will create land and maritime-based trade routes reaching all the way from China to Western Europe.

Xinjiangs geostrategic location along the Belt and Road means it is the access point to much of Central Asia. Just as importantly, Xinjiang contains vast natural resources, with estimates of up to 5 billion barrels of oil and up to 13 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. Any effective resistance to Chinese control over Xinjiang, let along the formation of an independent Islamic republic, would pose a huge threat to Beijings plans to increase its influence throughout Eurasia.

Hunger continues to rise in the Near East and North Africa


Hunger continues to rise in the Near East and North Africa where over 52 million people are undernourished

Conflicts and widening rural-urban gaps hamper the regions efforts to end hunger by 2030

8 May 2019, Cairo/Rome – Hunger in the Near East and North Africa region (NENA) continues to rise as conflicts and protracted crises have spread and worsened since 2011, threatening the regions efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including Zero Hunger.

The Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition in the Near East and North Africa, published today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), indicates that 52 million people in the region are suffering from chronic undernourishment.

Conflict continues to be the main driver of hunger across the region. More than two-thirds of hungry people in NENA, approximately 34 million people, live in conflict-affected countries, compared to 18 million hungry people in countries that are not impacted directly by conflict.

Stunting, wasting, and undernutrition are also far worse in conflict countries than in the other countries.

“Conflicts and civil instability have long-lasting impacts on the food and nutrition security of both affected and surrounding countries in the regions” said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for the Near East and North Africa.

“The impact of conflict has been disrupting food and livestock production in some countries and consequently affecting the availability of food across the region,” he added.

“Rising hunger is also compounded by rapid population growth, scarce and fragile natural resources, the growing threat of climate change, increasing unemployment rates, decreased agricultural productivity and diminished rural infrastructure and services” Ould Ahmed underscored.

The report highlights that the region is not facing just a hunger crisis as some of the highest rates of obesity are also found in countries within the region, putting pressure on peoples health, lifestyles and national health systems and economies. Addressing obesity requires food systems that ensure that people have access to healthy nutritious food and also increased public awareness and information on the risks associated with overweight and obesity.

Green Card Lottery Reopens; Past Winners Still in Limbo


As the U.S. government officially opens its diversity visa lottery program at the start of a new fiscal year, thousands of past winners from Afghanistan, Egypt, Peru, Iran and other nations continue to endure processing delays that are dimming hopes of a new life in America.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday that registration for the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program for 2023 — popularly known as green card lottery — had begun. Congress authorized 55,000 green cards per year for immigrants around the world to promote diversity in the U.S.

Registration starts well before any given fiscal year — in this case, 2023 — to allow time for processing applications. But delays have become chronic and spawned legal action.

While accepting new applications, U.S. officials acknowledge a severe backlog in processing existing ones, many of which were filed during the former Trump administration and have been slowed by the pandemic.

For people like Samar, a 35-year-old historian from Egypt and a 2021 diversity visa winner, the window for getting authorization to travel to the U.S. is closing. An outspoken critic of human rights violations in her home country, she asked VOA not to reveal her last name.

“My fiscal year (deadline) ended on September 30, 2021. (The U.S. government) has not replied to the majority of my inquiries about my (diversity visa) case,” Samar said. “This immigration opportunity is not a luxury for my family. … My family and I have experienced police harassment since 2016. … This immigration opportunity will help me and my family start a humane and safe life.”

Visa eligibility does not transfer to the following year. The entire process must be completed in a year. With time running out, the mother of three decided to join other diversity visa winners in a lawsuit against the U.S. government in hopes of getting travel documents.

In an email to VOA, a State Department spokesperson said, “Being randomly chosen as a selectee does not guarantee that you will receive a visa or a visa interview. Selection merely means that the person is eligible to participate in the DV program.”

The explanation is of little comfort to Samar.

“My husband and I have been applying for (diversity visas) since 2000. We have three kids. We followed all procedures and submitted all required forms and documents,” she said. “We even tried to leave for the EU but couldn’t get a visa.”

Turbulent years

The diversity visa program has had bumpy years of late.

In 2017, then-President Donald Trump announced a series of actions that blocked people from Muslim-majority countries from coming to the United States.

Then, in March 2020, Trump shut down consulates around the world amid the coronavirus pandemic. His administration subsequently announced a ban on certain immigrant visas, arguing it was needed to protect the American economy.

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