Monthly Archives: March 2012

‘A delicate moment’ – UN special adviser Alexander Downer briefs the PiT network

Peace Exchange tries to maintain a balance between upbeat and motivating posts in this little corner of the Internet.

On this occasion, however, the offering is both sobering and a call to action. Here’s why.

Last Wednesday, UN Special Adviser in Cyprus Alexander Downer met with Peace it Together representatives at the Cyprus Community Media Centre, to brief them on the current state of the negotiations.

In a nutshell, the high-ranking UN official made it clear time was running out on bringing the talks to a positive conclusion, and that deadlock on the critical issue of cross-voting was threatening to bring the peace process to a grinding halt.

Keeping to a tight schedule that permitted him little time beyond an hour’s window, Downer briefed attendees on the developments of the past six months, summarising the progress, or lack thereof, made at talks held in Geneva, Switzerland and Greentree, New York between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.

While there are still sticking points in the chapters under discussion, said Downer, ultimately the bone of contention was the issue of cross-voting, desired by the Greek Cypriot leadership and rejected by the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

“It’s quite a delicate moment. On the property issue, more and more quiet progress is being made, (albeit) painfully slowly,” he observed. “But the cross-voting issue is unresolved.”

Given that he has to submit a report on the situation to UNSG Ban this week, after which Downer and the Secretary-General will meet in mid-April to decide what the next step should be, the UN special adviser was blunt:

“(The two leaderships) are not going to agree on all the core issues in the next nine days, so there is a question mark over the survival of the peace talks, he said.

And, as of June 30 – the last day before the Greek Cypriot government takes over the presidency of the EU Council – if the cross-voting deadlock is allowed to continue, said Downer, the Turkish Cypriot leadership may simply decide to discontinue negotiations, effectively bringing an end to the reconciliation process.

In response, Bulent Kanol of the Management Centre pointed out that, for their part, civil society groups were not being made privy to the crucial issues under discussion, effectively hindering them from acting as agents of positive peacebuilding in their communities.

“Civil society feels powerless,” he said, adding that the political leadership “should not drive forward on (the issue of cross-voting) on their own”.

Furthermore, the UN could get involved in making the negotiations more accessible to civil society, he noted.

Addressing this last point, Downer stressed that what was needed now was urgent, personal responsibility to be taken on the individual level.

“These talks are weeks away from a complete crisis due to only one thing – the cross-voting presidency issue,” he said.

“The future of all people on the island hangs on this issue which has poisoned the whole atmosphere of these talks.”

Adding his own thoughts on the role of the Peace it Together network, Giorgos Andriotis of NGO Support Centre, asked, in the event of a crisis in the talks: “How do we convince people that it’s going to be really hard to restart the process, as it has happened in the past?”

It all comes down to “the issues of substance”, replied Downer. Civil society needed to pose the question: “what do I think about cross-voting, and what do I want from my leaders”.

So, in wrapping up, the Peace Exchange urges its readers to seize the moment.

Let’s not wait to get educated or updated on the key issues passively, but use whatever resources and outlets are available to make the importance of reconciliation stressed to the leaderships of the two communities. Before it is too late.

That’s all for right now, but Peace Exchange will be back with more good stuff very soon.

See you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version of this post here.

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Message from the UN Secretary-General on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Peace Exchange shares with you UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message on the occasion of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination:

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“March 21st is an important opportunity to remember that racism undermines peace, security, justice and social progress. It is a violation of human rights that tears at individuals and rips apart the social fabric.

“As we mark this International Day under the theme of ‘racism and conflict’, my thoughts are with the victims.

“Racism and racial discrimination have been used as weapons to engender fear and hatred. In extreme cases, ruthless leaders instigate prejudice to incite genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“There are many valuable treaties and tools – as well as a comprehensive global framework – to prevent and eradicate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Nevertheless, racism continues to cause suffering for millions of people around the world. It thrives on ignorance, prejudice and stereotypes.

“The United Nations is responding by working to foster inclusion, dialogue and respect for human rights. Where societies have been shattered by conflict, the United Nations strives to promote peace processes and peacebuilding that foster inclusion, dialogue, reconciliation and human rights. Uprooting racism and prejudice is essential for many war-torn societies to heal.

“At the same time, I look to all people to join the United Nations in our drive to eliminate racism. We must, individually and collectively, stamp out racism, stigma and prejudice.

“This year, we are spreading the word through social media. Visit our new website, http://www.un.org/en/letsfightracism. Tweet your support with the hashtag #FightRacism. Share the text of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination with the link http://bit.ly/xGOrnX. Post to one of our Facebook pages in English, French or Spanish. Or create your own campaign.

“Join us, on this International Day, in spreading awareness to stop racism.”

GUEST POST: AHDR successfully launches new materials for history educators

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Have you had a good week? Peace Exchange certainly has, and one its highlights was attending the launch of new educational materials by the Association for Historical Dialogue and Research (AHDR) this Monday. Shirin Jetha and Maria Siakalli of AHDR bring you more of the details below.

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“AHDR’s launch of a set of innovative supplementary educational materials took place on  March 12, 2012 at the Home for Cooperation in Nicosia’s Buffer Zone  – the high point of an event entitled ‘Learning History Together’.

“Over 120 participants, including educators from across Cyprus, were in attendance for the historic launch, including representatives from the AHDR board and team, and individuals who had worked on the production of the materials.

“Aiming to break new ground in history education, the new resources were prepared by teams of experts – members and friends of AHDR from Cyprus and abroad – and can be used in a variety of educational settings.

“More specifically, they are intended to foster multiperspectivity and intercultural dialogue – thereby improving historical understanding and critical thinking – and as a means of providing educators with a wealth of additional resources.

“Key topic areas covered include:

  • Thinking Historically about Missing Persons
  • Learning to Investigate the History of Cyprus through Artefacts
  • The Ottoman Period in Cyprus
  • Our Children, Our Games
  • Introducing Oral History, and
  • Home for Cooperation.

“Speaking at the launch, Ms. Androulla Kaminara, Head of the European Commission Representation in Cyprus, noted: ‘This project is about teaching children to ask questions, teaching children to doubt, teaching children to research.  In this respect, what the team has achieved is enormous.’

“Acknowledging the further steps to be taken, Mr. Kostis Ahniotis of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot Teachers’ Platform ‘United Cyprus’, said that while ‘(introducing these materials in schools) will be a very hard task’, at least ‘we now have something in our hands upon which we can base our efforts to move forward’.

“Pledging support of the efforts represented by the launch, Mr. Şener Elcil of ETUCE (European Trade Union Committee for Education), declared the body would assist in the dissemination of AHDR publications in  schools island-wide.

“For their part, AHDR’s board and consultants were delighted with the positive response to, and growing interest in, the materials, and hope educators will indeed begin putting these invaluable resources to use in their classrooms.

“The launch was felt to be a huge success and, for all of us in the AHDR, offered an example of the positive effective of cooperation.

“Thank you to all those who attended the event, with especial gratitude to each of our guest speakers who offered their support of this initiative, as well as to the authors and consultants who worked extensively on producing these inspiring materials.”

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Peace Exchange thanks Shirin and Maria for bringing us the highlights of this event and, as ever, encourages all Peace it Together network members to share their developments as they arise.

That’s all for this week, but Peace Exchange will be bringing you more good stuff very soon.

Until then, enjoy the weekend and… see you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.

GUEST POST: CCMC mixes it up with treats, tips and mingling

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Peace Exchange had a really great, chilled-out evening this Wednesday at a Cyprus Community Media Centre (CCMC) mixer, where there were games, eye-catching information packs and opportunities to network. Katherine Kotsireas of CCMC shares more of the highlights below:

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“CCMC was  immensely excited to receive its guests for our first in a series of Member Mixer events for 2012, the theme of which was CCMC’s ‘Online Mixer’.

“ ‘So, what do you mean by online?’ ” some  guests asked. Well, we considered the event to be a fun immersion into the awesome world of internet tools that can make a huge difference in the advocacy, campaigning and civil society work of our members.

“The inspiration from the ‘Facebook revolutions’ of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia during 2011 was clear evidence of the difference social media can make in the fields of social change and activism.

“So, between snacks, drinks and gifts for our guests, we also gave out a fantastic booklet with effective online tools and tips for civil society.

“Booklet subjects included how to make your blog more effective, third-party applications for handling Twitter, advice for running a Facebook campaign, and much more.

“One of the things we notice is that our members are doing such great work and we believe more people need to know about it and get involved. By boosting the skills of our members and helping them expand their online digital footprint we are also expanding the space for real social change in Cyprus!

“Many of the people who filled our Community Space on the night also enthusiastically participated in a game to find their ‘digital footprint’ – a treasure hunt for hidden paper footprints. The person with the most ‘feet’ received a special pack on Mobile Phone Advocacy containing a book and a DVD.

“Throughout the evening, conversations flowed, ideas were swapped and spontaneous team-ups were created.

“We are honoured to find within our member organisations and potential member organisations, an abundance of wonderful, dedicated friends, and were exhilarated to see them mingle, mix, joke, laugh, initiate or consolidate friendships.

“These friends and our extended family of media makers, with their creative passion and quirky individualism, are the real CCMC.

“As Orestis Tringides from IKME noted: ‘It was great to meet with friends, old and new, and share thoughts and feelings that bring us closer together, because although we may be colleagues or share common passions and ideas, above all we are together, and we need to invest in this togetherness and make it flourish.

” ‘The information provided by CCMC during the event was indeed useful for personal, organisational and inter-organisational development, but events and get-togethers like this help to build the very essential social infrastructure among us, upon which everything else can be built,’ he added.

“So thank  you to all who attended for your support and warmth for CCMC. As Mehmet Nevzat Erdoğan from the Management Centre so kindly posted on our Facebook page: ‘i ♥ you ccmc! you make Cyprus a better place’.”

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Peace Exchange thanks Katherine for her warm and lively account of the evening. It’s a pleasure whenever PiT network members share about their activities directly, so keep these guest posts coming!

That’s all for this week, but there’ll be more good stuff very soon.

Till then, enjoy the weekend and… see you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.

Act now, act together for the Sahel

A children’s fable tells the story of an ant and a grasshopper during the balmy days of summer.

While the ant labours in the hot sun, gathering up grains from a nearby farmer’s field, the grasshopper sings and idles about ignoring the passage of time.

But it is the ant who has the final laugh, as the bitter austerity of winter humbles the grasshopper who had done nothing to provide for the lean months while the opportunity existed.

This is a call to all Peace Exchange readers to be ants, not grasshoppers when it comes to the plight of the countries of Africa’s Sahel – Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, parts of Senegal, Northern Cameroon and Northern Nigeria – where at least 10 million are struggling to get sufficient food this year, chiefly due to drought.

As United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) head Helen Clark noted after a joint UNDP/OCHA Mission to Niger late last month:

“The emergency situation now unfolding, and expected to peak between March and August, is the latest in a series of recurring and deadly food shortages in the Sahel. It comes just two years after the region’s last severe food security and nutrition crisis in 2010.”

Nonetheless, the vigilant Niger Government, as Clark noted in her debriefing remarks, has been “quick to appreciate and react to the implications of last year’s rain shortfall and poor harvest.

“Alerted through its early warning system, the Government expressed concern as early as August last year, developed an emergency response plan, and directed some of its own resources to avert a worsening situation.”

And part of February’s OCHA-UNDP mission was to assist in meeting the immediate emergency needs of the people of Niger, while also addressing the underlying structural causes of food insecurity, so as to break the cycle of chronic drought in the region.

However, only around 10 per cent of the more than $400 million required for Niger has been raised so far, and more must flow in if the situation is not to get even worse.

“I think a stepped-up international response is really urgent now, stressed Clark.

“So, that’s a matter for governments, and it’s a matter for ordinary citizens in countries which care, to start looking at which of the charities you support are active in these countries, and look to give a little to many people to make a difference.”

This is a perfect opportunity to harness the network of support and multifaceted cooperation that lies at the heart of the Peace it Together network.

We can all – by sharing this post on our various social networks, by getting informed on the issue, by lobbying for aid where possible and, yes, by donating time or resources directly – “act now, act together” for the Sahel, as Clark puts it.

You can get more information on this unfolding crisis here. For direct giving, some charities to consider donating to include UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children and Mercy Corps.

That’s all for this time, but we’ll be back with more good stuff very soon.

Until then, stay warm, have a great weekend and… see you in the next post!

You can read a Greek version of this post here, and a Turkish version here.