US Withdrawal from UN Human Rights Council – Do the Rights of Palestinians Matter Less?

 The United Nations Human Rights Council is a body that seeks to strengthen, promote and protect human rights. A task that is not only important, but seemingly more and more relevant. Anyone living in a democratic nation would almost automatically assume their government would support such a venture. So it would seem at first glance odd that the United States, a country that places freedom and democracy so highly, would withdraw from the Human Rights Council. Yet for anyone watching closely this was no shock at all. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, calling the US departure “disappointing, if not really surprising.”

 


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley deliver remarks to the press on the UN Human Rights Council. Photo by the U.S. Department of State.

 

The US rationale for leaving the Council centres on one topic – the Israel/Palestine conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, firstly accused the Council of a having a “chronic bias” against Israel, and followed up by labelling it a “hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.” This comes after a vote in May deciding to send war crime investigators to Gaza to investigate violations and abuse of civilian protestors. Since protests began in March of this year, Israel has killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. These figures do nothing to sway the American stance – that too much focus is put on Israel by the Human Rights Council.

The withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a consequence of a larger problem, a persisting, one-sided, and frequently inaccurate narrative that runs through American rhetoric. The US government continuously attributes outbreaks of violence to Hamas, the de facto governing body of Palestine widely considered a terrorist group. Following protests and killings in May, spokeswomen for the US State Department claimed any “misery” faced by the people of Gaza was entirely because of Hamas.

Yet this ignores two vital elements to the reality of this conflict. Firstly, those killed in protests are generally unarmed civilians – videos from cellphones continuingly affirming this. In addition, there is no acknowledgement of the role that Israel has played in the suffering of Palestinians. The occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel is the longest in history, dating back to 1967. The Blockade of Gaza Strip has carried on since 2007, banning both necessities, such as blankets or shoes, and seemingly harmless goods, including crayons, chocolate, and shampoo. Israel has been an active participate in the suffering of Palestinians, regardless of what crimes have been committed by Hamas.

What is most concerning is the underlying idea that the politics of the moment trump human rights. The United States have long supported Israel, but that does not invalidate Palestinians entitlement to basic rights and protection. No matter who is at fault in this conflict, there are innocent men, women and children suffering in Gaza. Instead of addressing this head on, the United States has again reverted inwards and avoided international cooperation. The High Commissioner commenting that, “given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

 

By Rachel Buckman

 

Our Internet

“Surveillance is the business model of the internet,” — Bruce Schneider, Harvard Kennedy School of Governnment

2013, Yahoo. 3 billion users.

2014, eBay, 145 million users.

2015, Anthem, 80 million users.

2016, Uber, 57 million users.

2017, Equifax, 143 million users.

As the globe progresses further into the internet era, what will 2018 look like for online privacy? How many breaches will occur? How many people will they affect?

A mere 5 months into 2018, we’ve already begun toppling some of these records. The recently unveiled Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is perhaps one of the most harrowing example. Dating back to 2011, over 87 million Facebook users saw their personal information breached and shared in an attempt to influence public opinion.

Though some of Cambridge Analytica’s highest profile activities were overseas, including the 2016 US elections and Brexit, New Zealand has not been spared. Despite only an estimated 10 people in the country downloaded the app through which user data were illegally obtained, over 64,000 users were impacted as friends’ data were also shared. Intended to provide useful data for academic research, Cambridge Analytica blatantly exploited this policy for sketchy commercial and political purposes, while Facebook did little to enforce its own rules.

Yet what is more concerning is not necessarily the breach itself, but what purpose it was serving. With information on every aspect of your life: friends, family, location, interests, photos etc., Facebook has built a complete profile of who you are. The same ad-driven business model sustains numerous other household names: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.. Companies like Google probably know you better than your friends and family do; indeed, who would lie to Google?

Some might think: What’s the big deal with getting more personalized ads? That might not even be a bad thing. Yet we need not venture far to see the potentially negative consequences. Authoritarian countries have already begun experimenting, such as China, which has recently rolled out a social credit scheme. Such a system punishes behavior, often by restricting access to fundamental human rights. The dystopian TV anthology, Black Mirror, also comes to mind. One particular episode, “Nosedive”, is set in a world where life is driven by getting good feedback from others on an app. Disturbingly, a similar app already exists in real life in the form of “Peeple”, which has received significant criticism for cyber-bullying and harassment on the platform.

 

Photo by ev on Unsplash


Though these scenarios, both real and fictional, seem distant, we as global citizens need to actively reject them to prevent them from affecting our lives. So, what action can we take to combat them in a world increasingly saturated with the internet?

For one, enable 2-factor authentication on your online accounts, which prevents parties from breaking into your account with your password alone. Never reuse passwords, as a single breach might affect multiple accounts if you do so. Consider using a password manager, many of which are free of charge, or simply jot your passwords down on a physical notebook.

Ever get annoyed by apps asking for permission? Go into your phone’s setting and revoke access for non-essential functions, with the added bonus of better performance and battery life. Visit Facebook and check what apps you have connected, and maybe remove some of them. You’ll be surprised by how many services accumulate over the years, many of them you may not even remember granting access to.

These are but some of the easier steps everyone should take. Many around the world are deleting their Facebook accounts to protest its attitude towards privacy, while others are forgoing Google, opting for search engines that don’t track its users, for instance DuckDuckGo. These actions might not be realistic for many of us, yet it’s always important to keep your privacy at the forefront of your mind whenever you are online, which is most of our time these days.

So ask yourself, what will 2018 look like for your online privacy? From instituting the guidelines above to educating others about this vital issue, there is so much we can do for ourselves, our communities, and society at large. As citizens of the internet, make your voice heard, and make your actions matter.

By Justin Chen


 

The Venezuelan Crisis

At this very minute, a dire economic crisis is in full force in Venezuela, a South American country which many New Zealanders would find difficult to place on a map. Basic food and medical supplies have become scarce commodities, the currency has devalued to the point of worthlessness and the government is on the verge of collapse. But how did this happen in one of the world’s most resource-rich countries? It seems almost implausible that, in a world where the price of oil increases as finite supplies are depleted, that the country with the largest oil reserves would be suffering from such a crippling economic situation.

Basic necessities, from rice to toilet paper to paracetamol, are scarce resources in Venezuela. People queue for hours for small quantities of food, access to which may be manipulated by corruption or theft. Soldiers guard supermarkets to prevent rots. Government inaction has been blamed for deaths due to malnutrition or easily treatable illnesses. In fact, there are reports that conditions in Venezuela are akin to those in refugee camps, not a developed country. However, despite reports of that a humanitarian crisis is occurring, the Venezuelan government has declined international aid, blaming globalization and the 2014 fall in the price of oil, and rejecting any international interference.

 

An individual demonstrating, symbolically wearing chains. Photo by Carlos Díaz.

 

Venezuela’s difficult political history is often difficult to extricate from the complex economic issues the country faces. However, many trace the route of the crisis to 2014, when high oil prices dropped, drastically reducing the value of Venezuela’s most important export, oil, and causing a recession. Burdened with historical debt with decreasing resources to pay it, the government limited imports to save costs. Due to a reliance on imports during more prosperous times, Venezuela has little domestic food production resources and thus shortages began.

Venezuela challenges our traditional perception of what a country in crisis looks like. Humanitarian disasters happen in developing states which lack infrastructure and resources, not one of a continent’s most resource-rich countries. Perhaps the most important idea which can be taken from it is that globalization and high levels of overseas imports may not always bring prosperity. As interdependence increases, so too does the risk to smaller countries, to countries who borrow heavily and to countries who turn away from traditional methods of domestic production to more lucrative developments.  

 

By Grace Thurlow

The life of a participant and facilitator at Aōtearoa Youth Declaration

My time as a participant:

My time with UN Youth began in 2015 at Aōtearoa Youth Declaration where I was placed in the Culture & Heritage focus group. My positive experience here led on to me attending the event again in both 2016 and 2017 as part of the Governance focus group.

Contemplating on my experience at Youth Declaration, my time as a participant is summarised into two points: community and education.

Because the focus group you are in is one that you have shown a passion for, you have the chance to find people with similar interests and for those 4 days, they become your new best friends because nothing could bring you closer than spending all day contemplating solutions to problems that plague our society. The friends I made at Youth Declaration I am still friends with today; this experience helps you to form unbreakable bonds and memories that will last a lifetime.

Looking back I now recognise just how influential and impactful my facilitators were; to have people who were always willing to discuss any problems you had or answer any questions about University was so important and enabled me to feel a lot more comfortable. In a sense, it is like gaining mentors; which is such a valuable thing to have in life

The skills you gain as a participant are remarkable. When I first heard of Aōtearoa Youth Declaration I had no idea that I would come out of it with an increased sense of confidence and knowledge in policy development. The event opens your mind up to a range of ideas and perspectives that elsewhere you would not have heard.

You have the ability to have such fantastic dialogue about issues that you are passionate about and that makes the experience unique from anything I had done before.

 

 

My first time as a facilitator at AYD:

I went into the 2018 Youth Declaration with no expectations or idea of how different my experience was going to be compared to a participant.

People always say that volunteer experiences in organisations like this are incredibly rewarding, but I had no idea just how rewarding it could be. When you have the ability to be put in the place of someone who you personally know has the ability to make such a difference is surreal, but if anything it encouraged me to be the best facilitator I could be.

I was not expecting such a 180-degree difference in my experience compared to being a participant but you really do look at the conference with a whole other perspective. Being a conference assistant allows you to have a better understanding of just how impactful this event is and shows just how amazing it is to have all these rangitahi in one room debating the issues of our generation; it really makes you feel both proud and privileged to be there and witness this greatness.

The work that you put into making this time incredible for the participants is absolutely worth it in the long run, especially when you finish all your statements and you see their faces when they realise how much they have learnt and put to use over the last 4 days. Once you start growing as a focus group you really start to build bonds and I can now understand why events like these form relationships that can last a lifetime.

These 4 days have been the most incredible days for me and I have loved every second of them. The work that goes on behind the scenes is incomprehensible and as a participant I never knew the effort and passion that goes into making this event such a success until now; the committee works tirelessly, welfare is always gearing to go, media team constantly taking photographs and recording the experience and the committee facilitators always willing to go the extra mile for their participant.

I can not recommend volunteering enough especially at Aōtearoa Youth Declaration; the people you meet, the knowledge you gain and the fun you have is unbelievable and I would like to thank all the participants, volunteers and especially the committee for a fabulous event.

 

 

By Julia Caulfield

A Day Spent in Parliament

Our accessibility to those sitting in Parliament is astounding and my experience last week was an exceptional example of the openness our MP’s show.

Last week I had the privilege of shadowing Marja Lubeck, a list MP for the Labour Party from the Rodney electorate. It was such an incredible experience and opportunity to go behind the scenes and see the day to day workings of Parliament.

My day started with a breakfast at Parliament in cooperation with Autism New Zealand for World Autism Awareness, where we heard from Keir and the difficulties he himself faced living with Autism and that his parents faced as well as how LEGO was vital in helping him to communicate.

Sitting in this room I felt so insignificant listening to so many change-makers and people who tirelessly worked to raise awareness for Autism.

It was incredibly affirming to see the Minister for Social Development and Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni speak in response to Autism NZ’s concerns surrounding education and health and show what the ministry is doing in regards to development in these areas.

It was great to be able to crush any idea I had that MP’s just sit behind their desks all day, but that they actually get out and interact with people who are deeply affected by the decisions that they make.

Marja is a member of the Education and Workforce Select committee which I was lucky enough to sit in on; they were looking at an amendment to a bill on the term ‘teacher’ which at the outset may sound boring but was in fact incredibly interesting (to me anyway!)

I was able to see the MP who proposed the amendment speak on it, giving her reason why it was important to her. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about the select committee process.

 

Julia with Marja Lubeck

 

Wednesday was a light day for Marja so we had a bit of downtime in her office and were able to talk about her time in Parliament.  It was really valuable to hear from a new MP, how she was finding Parliament and the rules that govern what she is able to do.

We discussed civics education and the importance of it as well as the talk on lowering the voting age; it was very surreal to be discussing these ideas with someone who decides the law surrounding these topics.

Before question time we walked over to where the media gather in wait for MP’s in order to ask questions about the latest hot topics; it was shocking to watch the media swarm over MP’s and hound them for answers.

Marja was kind enough to quickly introduce me to Jacinda Ardern and I think it is such a testament to the friendliness of our MP’s that we are able to meet the Prime Minister with such ease, especially if we look to the United States as a comparison.

Question Time as always, was enlightening with the Government and opposition fighting it out; it was particularly interesting with the recent news about Claire Curran and RNZ.

It was enjoyable to watch a school group’s faces when there was shouting and name-calling being heard; they were so incredibly shocked because we are led to think that Parliament is such a civilised place- yet when you are fighting for what you believe is right, it isn’t so much.

I had the most incredible day with Marja and I thank her and Nick for being incredibly hospitable towards me and ensuring I had an enjoyable day!

 

By Julia Caulfield

The Syrian Refugee Crisis

2018 marks seven years since the beginning of one of the worst refugee crises in living memory. Warring factions, the rise of extremist groups and an international community plagued by indecision and conflicting agendas have culminated in one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II. Millions of Syrians have lost their homes, their communities, their relatives and their lives. Millions are displaced, living in substandard and dangerous conditions, unable to access adequate sanitation and healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of children are unable to go to school. Moreover, for the people who have fled to neighbouring states or as far afield as Europe, there remains the constant question of when, if ever, they will be able to return to their homes.

 

Despite promises, allocation of resources and military intervention, the international community has failed to stop the escalation of the crisis in Syria. Refugees may express their desire to return to their homeland. However, it is unclear what will be left of the homes and the life they once knew when they return. A generation of children has been born as refugees, with no experience or understanding outside of a life of instability. It is unclear what will become of them and what sort of futures they may have.

 

Views of the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan,

 

It is all too easy to dissociate from the horrors happening in a far-away place. In New Zealand, a peaceful and stable country, our only understanding of the crisis unfolding in Syria comes through our TV screens. We can turn the screen off and turn away from a situation so unimaginable to us that we almost believe it is not real. We cannot fathom how nervous and unsure the refugees taken in by New Zealand must feel when they arrive in our tiny island nation. We cannot understand the horrors they may have faced and the hardship they endured before arriving here. A refugee’s journey does not stop once they have reached the physical safety of a country like New Zealand. They face adjusting to a new culture, society and way of life which is vastly different to what they know. They face language barriers, limited employment prospects and isolation.

 

While no individual human being can stop a crisis on their own, we can come together and do what we can to help. New Zealand may be a long way from Syria; however, New Zealanders can support the refugees who arrive here to adjust to their new home. We have the power to show to our new neighbours that we care about them and the horrors they have fled, that they will be welcome among us, no matter ethnicity, religion, culture or language.

 

It is easy for individuals to say that there is nothing they can do – someone else will fix the world. It is much harder to tell yourself that when you are sitting opposite someone who has faced hardships worse than you will ever know. You can turn off your humanity by pressing a button on your TV remote, but it is much harder to turn your back on a person sitting across the table from you.

 

SG visits a classroom in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan

 

By Grace Thurlow

5 Exciting Outcomes of the Paris Climate Agreement So Far

Today’s saturation of bad news and its constant reminders of our “impending doom”, has undoubtedly created a worldwide need for reassurance and progress. One ground-breaking leap forward for the planet was the formation of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. Created within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the accord is committed to igniting international response and action. The overall goal is to limit global warming to well-below 2 degrees this century, while also improving the ability of countries to manage the forthcoming impacts.

 

SG delivers remarks at the closing ceremony of COP21

 

Despite Trump’s internationally criticised withdrawal in June 2017, the agreement is driving the incredible change vital to our world’s survival. So, to help restore your faith in humanity and lift some spirits, here are 5 examples from across the globe of the Paris Agreement in action.

  1.   France became the first country in the world to make it illegal to produce or drill for oil and gas in the country and its overseas territories. They are working towards closing all coal-fired power plants by 2021 – two years earlier than initially planned. Along with shutting their oil and gas productions down, France will also be banning the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.
  2. India is also making incredible progress under the Paris Agreement. Last June, more than 1.5 million volunteers came together to plant 66 million trees in just under 12 hours! In this record-breaking bid to fight climate change, over 20 different sapling species were planted along the Narmada river. As the third largest carbon emissions producer in the world, India is working towards increasing its forests by 5 million hectares before 2030.
  3. Following the Paris Agreement, over 100 cities across the globe are now predominantly powered by renewable energy! A report published by environmental impact research organization CPD in February this year, states that there are currently 40 cities operating on 100% clean energy. The data also shows that the number of cities getting 70% of their total electricity supply from renewable energy (one of which is Auckland!) has more than doubled since 2015. As CDP director, Kyra Appleby,  states “Cities not only want to shift to renewable energy but, most importantly – they can”
  4. In Germany, free public transport has been proposed to help to reduce road traffic and combat pollution. Before the year is up, Germany will have tested this proposal in five cities across the country, which includes the old capital Bonn. The most successful measures will then be implemented in all other cities affected by pollution.
  5. Twelve major cities will be buying only zero-emission buses from 2025, while also making major areas within their boundaries free of fossil fuel emissions by 2030. These cities – which include Paris, London, Cape Town and Auckland – are creating tougher environmental targets to acknowledge the urgency of achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals. Striving to curb greenhouse gas emissions, these cities will promote walking, cycling and public transport, while also creating more parks, pedestrian zones and roads only for electric cars.

Don’t lose hope on humanity just yet. If these examples of progress prove anything, it’s that when people unite, powerful change happens.

 

By Laura Weir

 

UN Condemns Trump’s Refugee Order

In a joint statement, two UN Agencies have condemned President Trump’s executive order banning refugees from from entering the United States. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are highlighting the serious consequences of the move, set to last at least 120 days.

“The needs of refugees and migrants worldwide have never been greater, and the U.S. resettlement program is one of the most important in the world.

The longstanding U.S. policy of welcoming refugees has created a win-win situation: it has saved the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the world who have in turn enriched and strengthened their new societies. The contribution of refugees and migrants to their new homes worldwide has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Resettlement places provided by every country are vital. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and IOM, the International Organization for Migration, hope that the U.S. will continue its strong leadership role and long tradition of protecting those who are fleeing conflict and persecution.”

Syrian refugees strike in front of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 3 September 2015.

“UNHCR and IOM remain committed to working with the U.S. Administration towards the goal we share to ensure safe and secure resettlement and immigration programmes.

We strongly believe that refugees should receive equal treatment for protection and assistance, and opportunities for resettlement, regardless of their religion, nationality or race.

We will continue to engage actively and constructively with the U.S. Government, as we have done for decades, to protect those who need it most, and to offer our support on asylum and migration matters.”

UNHRC & IOM

Support Refugees in New Zealand

The Red Cross is accepting donations for goods to help turn houses into homes for former refugees, check out their website for more information on how you can help.

*Correction*
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the ban on refugees was only for refugees from a list of seven Muslim-majority countries, in fact the ban is on refugees from all countries.