MSF in Uganda


The Four Horsemen Rest Within the Security Council

The United Nations and its Security Council were formed at the end of World War II. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, also known as the Permanent Five or P5, include the following five governments: China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These five nations have endowed themselves with protecting the security of the world. But how much peace (and war) have followed them since taking up this mantle.

The P5 won WWII. The Axis powers–chiefly Germany, Japan and Italy–lost. Therefore, the P5 got to dictate the rules. This system of winners rule while the rest of us are seen as causality needs to end.

The P5 are the biggest arms dealers on the planet and pose an incredible risk to all human beings thanks to their massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons. They’ve had over 70 years at the wheel. Maybe it’s time for them to step aside, so the rest of us can solve the world’s problems.


Like many others, I think the Security Council’s record shows that “security” is only for a select few. Together, these five representatives have undeniable power to shape global affairs. Power to unleash global calamity on a Biblical scale: “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.” (John 6:8).

Nuclear war and environmental catastrophe are two realities of today–realities created and owned by the P5. Two millennia after that Biblical prophecy, the UN Security Council has unleashed its own Four Horsemen–War, Death, Famine and Conquest–and must take responsibility for their costs.



War Profiteers

Globally, the P5 are the five biggest arms dealers. Together, they sell a total of 20.45 billion U.S. dollars worth of weapons per year. This is more than triple the next 10 biggest arms dealers, who happen to be P5 allies within NATO. The United States is overwhelmingly the biggest weapons exported, with nearly double the sales of its former Cold War adversary, Russia.


Arms sales per year, in millions of US dollars. Data source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)

Guns, ammunition, tanks, bombs, missiles, battleships, warplanes: these are some of the products the P5 nations are selling all over the world. The P5 aren’t fighting on their own soil. Instead they help protracted conflicts go on far longer than they should.

Two-thirds of UK weapons have been sold to Middle Eastern countries, since 2010, where instability has fed into increased risk of terror threats to Britain and across the West. Since 2010 Britain has sold arms to 39 of the 51 countries ranked “not free” on the Freedom House “Freedom in the world” report, and 22 of the 30 countries on the UK Government’s own human rights watch list.

Russia has supplied arms to several countries where they risk being used to commit serious human rights violations. It does not publish arms export details, but 10 per cent of all Russian arms exports are believed to go to Syria, making it the country’s largest arms supplier. Transfers include missiles and missile launchers, anti-tank missiles for the Russian-made T72 tank, and MIG jet fighters jet aircraft. Russia also supplied AK-style assault rifles to Libya under al-Gaddafi. As of 2004, “Of the estimated 500 million firearms worldwide, approximately 100 million belong to the Kalashnikov family, three-quarters of which are AK-47s”. Russia continues to supply helicopter gunships to Sudan, where they have been used to attack civilians in Darfur and Southern Kordofan.

As the main arms supplier to Egypt, the US authorized the sale of small arms, millions of rounds of ammunition and chemical agents for riot control, despite the security forces’ violent crackdown on protesters. Yemen was also supplied with small arms, chemical agents and armoured vehicles, and Bahrain with small arms. It provides Colombia’s security forces with arms, military aid and training, despite their persistent violations of human rights.

For decades, the United States and Russia fought their Civil War through proxy wars of already struggling nations. Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have all been victims of these powerful countries warmongering and arm dealings. These two nations, like the rest of the P5, continue to wield power through its arms sales. The global arms trade is the worst combination of political conquest and economic gain.


The history of war will continue to maim and injure civilians as weapons, like land mines, continue to lay in peaceful and conflict-ridden lands. On average 5,000 people are killed by land mines each year. Millions of land mines are hidden in the ground in 78 countries. The United States, which doesn’t fear mines itself, has a stockpile of around 10.4 million anti-personal land mines–the 3rd largest arsenal in the world. Once placed in the ground, these weapons are incredibly expensive to clear. Land mines cost somewhere in the region of $3 to produce, and a staggering $1,000 to clear per unit.

In 1997, in response to a global, Nobel Prize-winning campaign, the U.N. adopted an international Mine Ban Treaty, which is currently signed by 162 countries. Under the Mine Ban Treaty, the Parties undertake not to use, produce, stockpile or transfer anti-personnel mines and ensure their destruction. Thirty-six countries, including China, Russia and the United States, which together may hold tens of millions of stockpiled antipersonnel mines, are not yet party to the Convention. The three countries continue to manufacture land mines.

The P5 are the primary sellers of tools of war. They also are the primary hindrances to obtaining justice once the bullets stop flying. The International Criminal Court prosecutes individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Unlike France and the UK, which are a party to the International Criminal Court, China is opposed to the Court (like North Korea and Somalia), the US no longer intends to ratify the treaty (in line with Sudan) and Russia has not ratified its agreement (akin to Syria and Yemen). The majority of P5 nations prefer to protect themselves, preventing justice to be served for crimes against humanity.

They are not world leaders. They are cowards. And should be treated as such.


Certain Death

Unfortunately, the Cold War hasn’t melted away. And neither has the threat of nuclear annihilation.

There are currently 15,375 nuclear devices in the world. Of these, 98 percent (or 15,045) are held by the P5. The U.S. and Russia account for nearly 93 percent of all nuclear weapons. These two nations have it within their power to end the threat of nuclear war.


Data source: Ploughshares Fund

The other three nations with large stockpiles of nuclear weapons–Pakistan, India and Israel–received assistance from the U.S. in developing their own nuclear programs. Rather than creating a safer world following WWII, the P5 have made the world more turbulent. They split into Eastern and Western superpower blocks during the Cold War, which has continued following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite their differences, the Eastern and Western  blocks agree that they should continue holding the balance of power globally. Worst of all, the P5 have a poor track record when it comes to supporting the means for peace.

Last month, UN General Assembly (UNGA) members have defied the P5 by voting to ban nuclear weapons. The UNGA’s First Committee passed an historic resolution to begin negotiations for a legally binding nuclear weapons ban treaty next year. The landmark resolution passed 123 to 38 – with 16 countries abstaining – and succeeded despite smaller states accusing nuclear-armed countries of “pressuring them to oppose the ban.

The most vocal supporters of the treaty included Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria and South Africa. Even North Korea voted in favor of the treaty, which will attempt to bring in a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”

Some nuclear-armed states abstained on the vote, including China, India and Pakistan, while opponents included the United States, Russia, the UK, France and Israel. Green Party MSP John Finnie accused the UK government of giving up on nuclear disarmament:

“Instead of siding with the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations in voting to set up a conference to negotiate ways of prohibiting and eliminating weapons of mass destruction, the UK voted with the nuclear club states who continue to stand in the way of progress on disarmament.”


Global Famine

The most effective strategy to prevent war is to mitigate its causes. One of more overlooked (at least in news media) sparks for war is climate change.

Even the U.S. Department of Defense has recognized the danger, saying that “global climate change will aggravate problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions that threaten stability in a number of countries.” The problem of global climate change is directly linked to rapid industrialization, which provided incredible wealth in a handful of countries. The P5 nations, and their allies, being the biggest beneficiaries.


Although the P5 nations today produce similar levels of greenhouse gas emissions, the trend hasn’t always been like this. China began industrialization far later than other nations but its high population is closing the cumulative gap. It’s also important to remember that much of China’s emissions are linked to the products shipped to European and American consumers. The United States, with its population of 300-plus million and long history of industrialization, has done more to cause climate change than any other nation.


Cumulative national emissions between 1850 and 2007 (MT CO2e). Data source: World Resource Institute

The United States is responsible for at least 27 percent of global emissions. The European Union, including France and the UK, account for another 25 percent. At 8 percent, Russia has the lowest contribution among the P5 nations, although it is still a substantial amount. Like the issue of nuclear weapons, the P5 are among the top 5 polluters and are responsible for the damage caused by high industrialization on those affected by climate change.


A study led by Jacob Schewe of Potsdam finds that “the combination of unmitigated climate change and further population growth will expose a significant fraction of the world population” to “chronic or absolute water scarcity.” Current agricultural models estimate that climate change will directly reduce food production from maize, soybeans, wheat and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of the 21st century, encompassing a loss of between 400 and 2600 petacalories of food supply. But incorporating hydrological models reveals that when accounting for the decline of freshwater availability, there would be an additional loss of 600 to 2900 petacalories – potentially wiping out quantities equivalent to the total present-day food supply.

There’s an old saying that people revolt before they starve. This is the future that the highly-industrialized countries, especially the P5, have brought to bear. Climate refugees will join the movements of displaced people who have historically fled conflicts (worsened by the arms sales noted above) and environmental hazards, like earthquakes.


Conquest’s Victims

Environmental forced migrants are people who have to leave due to deteriorating environmental conditions, such as the slow deterioration of their environment due to deforestation or coastal deterioration. Environmental motivated migrants, on the other hand, are people who choose to leave to avoid possible future problems, such as declining crop productivity caused by desertification.

One example where climate change contributed to environmental displacement and ultimately an armed conflict is Syria.

Researchers acknowledge that many factors led to Syria’s uprising, including corrupt leadership, inequality, massive population growth, and the government’s inability to curb human suffering. But a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiled statistics showing that water shortages in the Fertile Crescent in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey killed livestock, drove up food prices, sickened children, and forced 1.5 million rural residents to the outskirts of Syria’s jam-packed cities–just as that country was exploding with immigrants from the Iraq war. The suffering and social chaos caused by the drought were important drivers of the initial unrest.


The five nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt collectively host over 4.7 million Syrian refugees. In contrast, the P5 host around 32 thousand; this equates to around one out of every 200 Syrian refugees. The P5 has a cumulative GDP fourteen times that of the five countries neighboring Syria.


Syrian refugees resettled. Data source: Oxfam

These low figures of refuge offered by the P5 nations are even more shocking when you consider that the P5 nations are supplying weapons and bombing fighters in Syria as well as Iraq. Clearly, the world’s “most powerful” countries are not doing their fair share.


What percentage of its “fair share” each country has actually pledged to resettle. Source: IRIN

Thanks to the legacy of the Iraq invasion led by the U.S. and the U.K., 3.9 million people were already internally displaced in Iraq before the war in Syria started.

Another region of the world where all of these issues–nuclear weapons, climate change, displacement of people–intersect is the Pacific Islands. The Marshall Islands are one of many that highlight these overlapping concerns.

The United States tested their nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s, causing scores of health problems and displacement. Now, climate change may wipe the Marshall Islands off the map, as sea levels rise. The United States in a pathetic excuse for a solution provides Marshall Islanders asylum. Unfortunately, they will become exiles to a nation underwater. Will the U.S. ever learn its lesson?!

The Security Council spend the past seven decades failing to eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation, which they themselves created. Now, the world has to face the threat of climate change; also primarily caused by the P5 nations.

We can’t wait for their slow and inconsequential attempts to correct their own misbehavior. It’s up to all of us to demand change. The world depends on it.

A World That Neglects Refugees

There are more than 15 million refugees around the world. 15 million people who have been forced to leave their home country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. An additional 38 million people are also escaping their home but remain “internally displaced,” resettling or moving inside their country’s borders.


In addition to the rising numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), this year marked the closure of two very different refugee camps. One camp–in France–is the last stop for many Arab and African refugees seeking to make their way to the UK. Another camp–in Kenya–has become the largest refugee camp in the world after its creation 25 years ago.

These two camps, both closing in 2016, point to the tremendous failure of the global community to help refugees find peace.

Calais, France

Last week, French authorities cleared “the Jungle,” a refugee and migrant camp that the New York Times has called “a symbol of Europe’s faltering efforts to handle its migration crisis.” The French government planned to evacuate residents of the encampment in 170 buses, with the intent of resettling the migrants in different regions of France.

Many living in this camp attempt to illegally enter the United Kingdom via the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel by stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains traveling to the UK. There were over 7,000 migrants living in the Jungle, mostly from Eritrea, Somalia and Syria. Most of the refugees do not speak French, and are attempting to enter the British labour market to work rather than claim asylum in France.


Since 2014, more than ten thousand people have died in the Mediterranean Sea en route to Europe, including nearly four thousand this year. Amnesty International has named it “the world’s deadliest sea crossing.” Those who survive the precarious journey must navigate European countries who do not want them and do very little to help them.

When refugees finally arrive to the coast of France, at Calais, they face limited access to water including some showers (sometimes after up to six hours queuing), poor sanitation, limited access to food, and limited heat during cold weather. Substance abuse and petty crime is widespread–not surprising due to the trauma people have faced and the lack of mental health care available to them.

Despite pro-immigration movements in many UK communities, the British government has done little to help the situation. The British government has permitted less than 300 children from the camp to reach its shores since mid-October; French president François Hollande is insisting that the UK accept more.

Refugees living in the Jungle have been recipients of physical and verbal attacks. Buildings at the camp have also been subjected to arson attacks. Local shop owners have also allegedly discriminated against persons based on their perceived race by forbidding these persons from shopping at their shops.


French protesters in Calais hold banners saying "Reimmigrate" and "Diversity is a code word for white genocide", 8 November 2015

French protesters in Calais hold banners saying “Reimmigrate” and “Diversity is a code word for white genocide”, 8 November 2015

Until Europe sees the refugee crisis as their moral responsibility, there will be sustainable solution. Men, women and children will continue to seek refuge wherever they can. Rather than building more walls that make the journey of a refugee more dangerous, the governments of Europe need to build bridges. Bridges to a better future for all people.

Instead, it looks like France has moved everyone and destroyed the evidence.

Dadaab, Kenya

To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a ‘nursery for terrorists’; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort. This is the multifaceted view found within the book City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp
by Ben Rawlence. It is a timely read as Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, situated within the inhospitable desert of northern Kenya, would be closed by the end of 2016, President Uhuru Kenyatta has declared.

In May 2016, Kenya announced that “hosting refugees has to come to an end”, that Somali asylum seekers would no longer automatically get refugee status and that the Department of Refugee Affairs, responsible for registering and screening individual asylum applications, would be disbanded. The nation’s Interior Ministry announced it was shutting down the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps due to “very heavy” economic, security and environmental issues.

Dagahaley refugee camp makes up part of the Dadaab settlement

Dagahaley refugee camp makes up part of the Dadaab settlement.

Around 185,000 people, mostly refugees from South Sudan, live in the Kakuma camp. More than 350,000 people, mostly Somali refugees, are living at Dadaab camp. Overcrowding and the constant flow of people make exact population figures hard to come by. Dadaab, which is 80 km from Somalia’s border, was set up by the United Nations in 1991 to help Somalis fleeing violence and famine in their home country. Now, 25 years later, thousands of families live in Dadaab with children born in Kenya who have never been to Somalia. Yet, the Kenyan government wants them to go back despite the dangers they will face.

In July and August 2016, respondents to a survey by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Dagahaley camp expressed their fears of being made to return to Somalia:

  • 83% rate Somalia as “very unsafe”
  • 86% do not want to return
  • 97% say risk of sexual violence in Somalia is high
  • 97% rate the risk of forced recruitment into armed groups in Somalia is high

Since the start of the so-called “voluntary” repatriation process, a number of refugees told the Human Rights Watch they had returned destitute to destroyed Somali villages without health care provision and schools, or faced danger as armed groups continue to clash in and around their villages, including towns. After doing their best to survive, they fled back to Kenya, once again as refugees. The Kenyan authorities are in clear violation of international humanitarian law, most notably the principle of non-refoulement, which forbids refugees from being returned or expelled to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. Human Rights Watch has criticized the repatriation drive noting that repatriation is not voluntary, refugees feel intimidated and refugees are not properly informed.


How many of the more than 20,000 Somali refugees who have “voluntarily” returned are now displaced internally in unsustainable and unsafe areas of Somalia because they thought if they didn’t “choose” to go with money and assistance, they would be dumped there with nothing in the next few months? How many of the 1,000 people per day the Kenyan government is now sending back will be heading into danger? asks Human Rights Watch.

The closure of Dadaab is not just about Kenya. It’s a story of a world that ignores refugees. A world that doesn’t see their plight and doesn’t respond with compassion. The world community, especially the former colonial powers, welcome an incredibly small number of refugees while formerly colonized countries, with far fewer resources, must accommodate waves of refugees from neighboring war zones.


@MSF tweet

After 25 years of slow action by outside nations, Kenya has taken the drastic step of closing all of its refugee camps. Other more durable solutions, such as smaller camps in Kenya, increased resettlement to third countries, or integration of refugees into Kenyan communities, should be urgently considered. Every country needs to take their fair share of the responsibility for helping refugees.

“It is unacceptable that – without any other solution being offered – thousands are essentially being pushed back into conflict and acute crisis: the very conditions they fled,” concludes Liesbeth Aelbrecht, Head of Mission for MSF in Kenya.”Kenya should not shoulder this burden alone. Funding from donor countries needs to be directed to providing sustained assistance in the country of refuge, not to supporting what will essentially be a forced return to a warzone.”

Bringing Hell to Syria

More than 400,000 deaths.

Four million refugees plus 7.6 million Syrians displaced within their country.

Widespread bombardment of cultural heritage sites and urban centers.

Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe by Charles Glass Verso 177 pp.

Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe
by Charles Glass
Verso 173 pp.

These are some of the costs of the war in Syria. A war that has now waged for over five years and doesn’t appear to be stopping. The human cost is tremendous. And the causes are many. In the book Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe, Charles Glass looks at how this war came about. The current conflict traces its roots to over 100 years of external influence, such as the Sykes-Picot Agreement which saw French and British powers drawing the borders of present-day Syria. Glass summarizes this history succinctly as evidenced below.

Just as “Aleppo has been destroyed…The country is being destroyed” (pp. 125), activist and professor Zaidoun al-Zoabi laments. In the chapter, “The Revolution Died in Aleppo,” Glass encapsulates the elements of class, geography, religion, politics which fostered the war and the destruction of Aleppo:

“Syria’s war is anything it’s fighters want it to be. It is a class war of the suburban proletariat against a state army financed by the bourgeoisie. It is a sectarian war in which the Sunni Arab majority is fighting to displace an Alawi ruling class. It is a holy war of Sunni Muslims against all manifestations of Shiism, especially the Alawite variety. The social understanding on which Allepo prided itself are unravelling Muslim fundamentalists have targeted Christian churches and Shiite mosques. Arabs have fought Kurds. Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis have crossed the border to fight each other in Syria.” (pp.122)

The violent suppression of the 2011 revolution by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quickly lead many to take up arms. These fighters formed different groups and began a civil war. Outside interests and military powers attached themselves to either government or rebel forces. All sides killed civilians and helped destroy the country. The Arab Spring turned to the Syrian Winter.

Cold War thinking lives on today with proxy wars – instigated by a major power which does not itself become involved – being fought in Syria as well as Iraq and Yemen. The war in Syria is no longer about Syrian needs. Powerful nations have exasperated these wars to serve their own interests, as Glass writes:

“Syria has become the venue of what [Mokhtar Lamani] called “a proxy war” or wars: the United States versus Russia; the Sunni theocracies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar against the Shiite theocrats of Iran; and Turkey versus Arab nationalist over the attempted restoration of Turkey’s pre-World War I dominance. The original demands for reform and justice of the peaceful protesters at the start of the uprising in 2011 are as forgotten as, two years and millions of deaths into the Great War, was Austria-Hungary’s July 23, 1914, ultimatum to Serbia.” (pp. 54)

Rebel groups received training in Jordan and Turkey thanks to covert help from the United States, Britain and France. Arms are paid by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, flowing through the porous borders of Turkey. These open borders help the Islamic State (ISIS) fund its operations by selling stolen oil and antiquities.

On the other side, the Syrian Army receives the help of the Russian air force, as well as strategic and financial assistance from Iran, as well as Shiites in Bahrain, Yemen and Lebanon.

What is clear is that the Syrian people are losing. Various nations are playing a chess game with real lives at stake and no side is willing to cooperate to end this mess. The rise of competing violent ideologies in the region will have untold consequences going forward:

“The growth of Iranian influence on the Syrian government pits two theocratic ideologies, the late Ayatollah Khomeini’s ‘wali al faqih’, or “rule of (Islamic) jurists,” versus the Saudi-inspired Wahhabi fundamentalism of ISIS as well as the Turkish-backed, al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. This has led many Syrians who don’t subscribe to Sunni or Shiite fundamentalist ideology to welcome Russian military engagement. In recent weeks, Russia has pledged to continue military support for Assad’s forces. Many Syrians welcome this less to confront ISIS and its like-minded jihadi rivals than to offset the Iranians and their clients from Hezbollah, the Iraqi militias, and Afghanistan’s Shiite Hazaras.” (pp. 141)

In the epilogue, Glass calls for a strategy. Not a strategy of revenge, but one of diplomacy. The world powers – USA and Russia, Saudi Arabia and Iran – are largely to blame for fighting this proxy war at the expense of the Syrian people. They need to look for peace to end this war.