Attacks and violence on the rise: 2017 is a brutal year for many children

Syrian children

Around 27 million of children in war zones have been forced out of school. UNICEF released an alarming report which shows a surge of attacks and violence against children in war zones in 2017, while all the groups in conflicts ignored  international laws designed to protect the most vulnerable.

“Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes. “As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”

Children have been abused by extremist groups in every possible way, including abduction, enslavement, child marriages, raping. Furthermore, the children are being used as weapons of war on the battlefields, often as human shields or suicide bombers.

Those children are located in major conflicts in Africa and Middle East, and often in these countries is difficult to access to food or other basic needs, and many child are suffering malnutrition.

In 2016 the United Nations documented assaults on hundred of schools and universities, which are being used as barracks, centers of interrogation, weapons depots by troops in conflict countries. In 2015 a document known as Safe Schools Declaration, developed with the help of foreign ministries, defence and education officials and the International Committee of the Red Cross, was presented in an international conference in Oslo with the objective to help victims of those attacks. Many countries signed the document, although important  U.N. Security Council’s members as USA, China, UK and Russia refused to cooperate.

In early December, the ACAPS released a report containing alarming prediction for many humanitarian crisis going on, and “violence and insecurity are likely to deteriorate in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Ethiopia, Mali, Somalia and Syria next year“.

In Yemen, where there’s a devastating civil war on since 2015, the United Nations recorder over 13.000 casualties, with 1.300 children among the dead. In a recent report, Save the Children “highlights how the targeting of medical facilities and personnel in 2015 and 2016 has had devastating impacts on children’s health”. The country is experiencing the worst cholera outbreak of modern history, with a million cases expected by the end of 2017 and at least 600,000 children likely to be affected. 

Syria: where ISIS’ weapons come from? A quarter were made in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary

General-purpose machine guns

A new report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) claims nearly a quarter of arms recovered from Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) in Iraq and Syria were made in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The Islamist militants took the weapons from Syrian rebels and other groups who oppose them, whom bought the weapons from United States and Saudi Arabia (both The United States and Saudi Arabia supplied most of this materiel without authorisation, the report claims).

“CAR has traced numerous items deployed by IS forces to initial exports from Bulgaria to Saudi Arabia. These transfers were uniformly subject to non-retransfer clauses concluded between Saudi Arabia and the Government of Bulgaria prior to export. In this respect onward re-transfers by Saudi Arabia of these weapons contravene its commitments to the Government of Bulgaria not to re-export the material in question without Bulgaria’s prior consent”, it wrote on the report.

The 222 pages report shows 33 percent of ISIS’ weapons come from the EU-bloc, following Russia and China, which combined together provided over 50 percent of ISIS’ weapons.

The United States manufactured only 2 per cent of weapons used from IS forces and documented by CAR in the region.

Furthermore, China, Russia and Eastern European states provided around 90 percent of ammunition used by ISIS militants during their fight.

China denies to sell oil to North Korea

Chinese ship

Beijing on Friday rejected accusations it had been sell oil to North Korea in violation of U.N. sanctions, a day after Trump accused China of being caught “red handed” selling oil to Pyongyang. Few hours later, Seoul released information that supports Trump’s claims, but U.S. officials have not confirmed details of this report.

Hua Chunying, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, denies all accusations and told to reporters that the reports “did not accord with facts”.

“In reality, the ship in question has, since August, not docked at a Chinese port and there is no record of it entering or leaving a Chinese port”, said Hua.

“China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfils its international obligations. We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions. If, through investigation, it’s confirmed there are violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations”, added Hua Chunying.

The Chinese boat is among the 10 ships the United States proposed to blacklist for transporting banned item to North Korea, but both China and Russia have asked more time to consider the proposal.

Turkey sends more soldiers in Qatar

The Turkish government has sent new troops to Turkey’s military base in Qatar, as provided by a joint defence agreement between Ankara and Doha.

The troops will join the Turkey’s soldiers based at the Tariq bin Ziyad military base in southern Doha deployed in 2015, announced on Tuesday Qatar’s defence ministry Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah. The camp, which is Turkey’s first military installation in Middle East, has a capacity of 5.000 soldiers and Ankara plans to increase the number of its forces in Qatar to 3.000, to respect the joint defence agreement signed in 2014 with Doha.

Officially, the cooperation between the Republic of Turkey and Qatar has the goal to fight terrorism and maintaining security in the region. Turkey’s troops will begin military exercises with Qatari Armed Forces to increase joint military capabilities.

Ankara remains a close alley to Doha, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a major supporter to Qatar when Saudi Arabia and other Arab states attempted to isolate Doha, diplomatically and economically, on June 5.

The poorest countries by GDP are pristine paradises everyone should visit

Almost all poorest countries in world by GDP have something in common: they are paradise islands located far away from modern civilization. Statistics Times made a list of countries projected by GDP, and at the last positions we find isolated islands and archipelagos with untouched landscapes and primitive economies.

Most of these islands are former British colonies located in the Central Pacific Ocean and, as many other Pacific island nations, rising sea level presents a major environmental threat. Fishing and agriculture are critical to these economies, which have a low annual growth and need foreign aids in order to survive.

Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federal States of Micronesia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Tonga, Dominica, whose nominal GDP are less than $600 million, are all pristine paradises everyone should visit once in life. The uninhabited atoll islets surrounding their lagoons are a unique attraction to visitors, who can enjoy sightseeing, picnicking, and swimming in beautiful conservation area.

Tuvalu, Inaba. Credit: INABA Tomoaki/cc-by-sa-2.0

 

Caption: The central pacific island of Tarawa in Kiribati. Credit: Government of Kiribati/ Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

These islands are poorly served by flights and public transport are almost nonexistence, although there is internet connection, few tv stations, general hospitals in case of emergency, and of course many restaurants offering a variety of local and foreign dishes. Nevertheless, tourists don’t visit these islands often due to high travel costs, and tourism remains a low source of income (a flight to Tuvalu can cost up to $4.000 per person).

Those isolated countries have poor natural resources, and this is also the main reason the natural landscapes are untouched. Nauru, the only island we haven’t listed here, was very rich of phosphate and mining activities literally devastated this small country in the Micronesia region. During the 1960s the country enjoyed one of the highest per-capita income of any sovereign state in the world, but the phosphate finished in few years and mining seriously damaged the island’s environment. Nauru later become a corrupted country and an illegal money laundering centre, home of refugees and immigration detention facilities operated by the Australian government.

Venezuela’s economy dropped by 16,5% in 2016: many children are starving to death

venezuela flag

Venezuela’s economy dropped by 16,5% in 2016, while the oil sector contracted 9,9%, according to a US Securities and Exchange Commission’s report. The report also showed inflation reached 274 percent in 2016, one of the higher of the world. Venezuela’s government refused to release any key economic indicators for almost two years and investors had to rely on independent estimates provided by international organizations and banks.

The 144-page report confirms that the most oil-dependent economy in the world continues to slump due to low crude prices and has contracted for three years in a row.

The filing comes as the country is facing a dramatic humanitarian crisis. Severe shortages of medicines, medical supplies, and food have intensified since the crisis began, and Maduro’s weak responses have undermined Venezuelans’ rights to health and food.  Many people are starving to death, including children, who are dying at an alarming rate. 

War with Islamic State may be over but ISIS fighters are still an issue

IRPGF in Raqqa city

On 9 December, the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory over the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL), after three years of intense fighting. “Our forces fully control the Iraqi-Syrian border, and thus we can announce the end of the war against Daesh,” said Mr. Abadi.

Two days later was Vladimir Putin to declare victory against both ISIS and Western-backed rebels. “In just over two years, Russia’s armed forces and the Syrian Army have defeated the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists”, said Putin during his visit to Russia’s Hmeymim air base in Syria.

In October a U.S.-backed Syrian force declared victory over ISIS in Raqqa, former capital of the Islamist group, declaring the city free of any extremist presence.

ISIS territory reached its height in 2014, when the group controlled several major cities in Iraq, 9 provinces in Syria and between 100,000 km and 110,000 km of territory in total. By 2017, ISIS has lost control in Iraq and of its major strongholds, and now the Islamist group occupies only a strip of land in Syria, while Islamist fighters try to resist in Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Nigeria, Philippines, North Caucasus, Gaza and in the Sinai province.

ISIS has proved to be incapable to maintain a degree of operational capability in its territory and with the defeat of Raqqa and other major cities, the militants have no longer a stable home to stay. The victory over the self-declared caliphate, however, leaves many open questions on ISIS militants and on hundreds foreign fighters and sympathisers, who abandoned the Islamic State months before it started to crumble.

Around 40,000 people travelled from around the world to take up arms for the ISIS group as it occupied territory in Syria, and it’s unclear how many survived the battles and how many are still fighting. Analysts and experts around the world are trying to estimate how many have survived, but the numbers are uncertain.

“The issue is: how many have died? How many are still there and willing to fight? How many have gone elsewhere to fight?” said Seth Jones, director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the Rand Corporation.

Escape routers are still open and during the last battles many Islamist fighters were able to blend in with civilian refugees or bribe their way to sneak into Turkey.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, said that about 500 are still in the Iraq-Syria theatre, while France officials affirmed that 250 already returned to France. 

Many fighter have no other choice but to still fight for the caliphate in Iraq and Syria, while other militants may join other extremist groups and/or relocate in other war zones. The only thing sure is that those militants have gained battle experience, have nothing to lose and it’s unknown where, when and how they will attack.

Russia and Iraq may have declared victory over Islamic State, but ISIS ideology and franchises are still alive and, as  and  write on Foreign Affair, there’s a possibility that ISIS could rise again.

 

Russia has the potential to cut off internet to NATO countries

Russian Navy ship in Vladivostok.

The Russian navy has the potential to damage the West’s economy and way of life, says Sir Stuart Peach, senior NATO figure and head of Britain’s armed forces. Stuart Peach warns that Russia could cut off the internet to NATO countries and inflict serious damage to the telecom infrastructure sharing.

Russian ships have been spotted in the Atlantic Ocean near the cables that guarantee communications between United Stated and the Old Continent (as well as other parts of the world).

“There is a new risk to our way of life, which is the vulnerability of the cables that crisscross the sea beds. Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut and disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living,” said Sir Stuart Peach during the annual RUSI conference.

Stuart Peach also urged NATO to build new and modern submarines in order to respond Russia’s navy modernisation.  

The think tank Policy Exchange has recently published a report which said that 97 percent of global communication are carried by cables lying under the Oceans.

Many analysts, however, think the presence of the Russian navy could be just trying to gather intelligence and intercept communication.

 

Putin’s bluff on Syria: private contractors will replace soldiers

Vladimir Putin

On 11 December, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria and declared victory, as the Russian military accomplished its goal of saving President Bashar al-Assad from ouster. Few hours later the White House decided to let Assad hold on to the presidency until elections in Syria are held again, contradicting a previous statements that called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down from his position as a precondition to a peace process.

However, some analysts show scepticism on Putin move. Bessma Momani, a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and the University of Waterloo, reminds us “Putin has made similar announcements twice before, and at one point was forced to renege and redeploy Russian forces after Syria’s Bashar al-Assad lost control of territory they had helped win over”. He also added “Mr. Putin’s showboating in Syria serves to create more hollow nationalism for the Russian public’s consumption”.

Furthermore, for those soldiers who are leaving, it appears that they are being replaced by private contractors, as Associeted Press reports.  The Russian campaign in Syria draws to a close but the private contractors will probably stay.

China’s Big Brother is here and will grow fast in the next years

Digital technology has become increasingly pervasive in China, with the government planning to cover the entire nation with surveillance cameras capable to gather personal information in real time.

Beijing promised to build the world’s largest surveillance system, and in the next three years 400 million new cameras will be installed, along with the 170 million already in use. These cameras will also contain the most sophisticate technology available: the surveillance system’s AI can read faces,  age, gender and ethnicity.

The BBC’s John Sudworth meet the Guangdong’s police to demonstrate if China’s Big Brother is really effective. The surveillance system took 7 minutes to discover Sudworth in the city centre and to send the alarm to police officers.

“Citizens has nothing to fear”, said a policewomen to Sudworth, explaining they “will only extract their data when they need our help”. Although not everyone is convinced by the surveillance system. Ji Feng, a poet and government critic, thinks the surveillance on dissidents may intensify.