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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Tunisia's guardians of democracy
By Pierre-Henry DESHAYES
Oslo (AFP) Dec 10, 2015


Red Cross meet fails to agree on global plan to track rules of war
Geneva (AFP) Dec 10, 2015 - More than 100 nations attending a global meeting of the Red Cross in Geneva on Thursday failed to approve a new system for monitoring compliance with the rules of war.

The measure had been sought by the government of Switzerland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) but it fell in the face of stiff resistance, a statement said.

"It is disappointing that states could not agree on the original proposal," ICRC president Peter Maurer said.

Though not legally binding, resolutions adopted at the Red Cross's quadrennial meet can have significant impact, given the ICRC's status as the protector of the Geneva Conventions, which form the backbone of international humanitarian law.

The Swiss-ICRC plan called for annual meetings among countries to review both successes and failures in adhering to the rules of war, as laid out in the Geneva Conventions.

There was fierce resistance from a faction of states led by Russia who were concerned that this annual review would be similar to those conducted by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Some countries say the UN council has become excessively politicised and some governments have voiced resentment over the public reviews of their rights records.

Despite these concerns, ICRC sources told AFP their proposed review would not have functioned like another rights council and was not intended to publish details of country-specific transgressions.

"By failing to support this initiative, states missed an opportunity to help to protect millions of people," Maurer said in the statement.

But states did agree on a resolution to find ways to better protect those detained in non-international armed conflicts.

The rights of such detainees have grown increasingly prominent in recent years, including through arrests related to extremist Islamist violence.

The Red Cross resolution on detainees could theoretically have implications for those detained during the current state of emergency in France, for instance.

It would certainly have consequences for the hundreds of alleged Boko Haram suspects detained by Nigeria's military in the country's northeast, who have been held for protracted periods, outside the criminal justice system.

The ICRC said it was striving to "ensure that all people detained in relation to conflicts have equal status, closing a legal loophole."

The Geneva Conventions, ratified by 196 states, have been repeatedly updated by additional protocols since they were comprehensively revised in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II.

The Conventions are meant to protect civilians, combatants and ensure humane behaviour in conflicts, including in the treatment of prisoners.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Thursday to four organisations that helped save Tunisia's transition to democracy through dialogue, a method the laureates are keen to see applied in Syria and Libya.

"Arms can never be a solution, not in Syria nor in Libya. There is a need for dialogue," Abdessatar Ben Moussa, head of Tunisia's Human Rights League, told reporters in Oslo on Wednesday.

"No blood and no fighters."

Along with the Human Rights League, the National Dialogue Quartet is made up of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UTGG), the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), and the Order of Lawyers.

The Quartet will receive the prestigious honour from the hands of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's chairwoman, Kaci Kullmann Five, at a ceremony scheduled to begin at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT) at Oslo's City Hall in the presence of Norway's King Harald and the Norwegian government.

This year's Nobel laureates in the fields of medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics will receive their prizes at a separate ceremony in Stockholm later Thursday.

The Quartet helped save the country's transition to democracy at a sensitive moment in 2013 when the process was in danger of collapsing because of widespread social unrest.

The group orchestrated a lengthy and thorny "national dialogue" between the Islamists of the Ennahda party and their opponents.

- Rare success story -

In honouring the National Dialogue Quartet, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wanted to shine the spotlight on Tunisia as a rare success story to emerge from the Arab Spring, the movement of popular uprisings that started in the country.

While uprisings in neighbouring Libya, Yemen and Syria have led to war and chaos, and to the return of repression in Egypt, Tunisia successfully adopted a new constitution in January 2014 and held democratic elections at the end of last year.

"Tunisia is an exception so far in the Arab Spring countries but this doesn't mean that it may not be replicated in other countries," said Houcine Abassi, secretary general of the powerful UTGG.

"Differences, regardless of the nature of those differences, can always be overcome through dialogue," added Fadhel Mahfoudh, the head of the Order of Lawyers.

But the democratisation process remains fragile, amid the threat of jihadism.

Authorities have declared a state of emergency for the second time this year after a suicide attack on a bus belonging to the president's security entourage killed 12 people on November 24, for which the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has claimed responsibility.

Last week, Amnesty International expressed concern over the subsequent wave of arrests and detentions by the security forces, saying it was "a troubling sign that the authorities are reverting to repressive and abusive measures".

"Freedom cannot accept any sort of sacrifice when it comes to human rights," said Ben Moussa.

"Basically terrorism feeds on the oppression of human rights."

- 'Root causes' -

Two other major attacks had rocked the country before last month's bus bombing: in March, 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and 38 tourists were killed in a beach resort massacre in June.

On Wednesday, five soldiers were injured in a gunfight with jihadists in a mountainous region of the country.

A UN working group has meanwhile estimated at 5,500 the number of Tunisians who have left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya, making the country one of the world's biggest jihadist breeding grounds.

"We need to tackle the root causes of terrorism," said Ben Moussa, singling out "poverty and marginalisation".

That is a difficult task after this year's attacks: the tourism industry accounted for about seven percent of the country's economy and some 400,000 jobs were directly or indirectly linked to the sector, but it has taken a nosedive since the beach massacre.

At the end of October, the number of hotel nights registered in the country had plunged by 60 percent from the previous year, official data showed.

"We succeeded in our democratic transition but we need to succeed in our economic transition," said Ouided Bouchamaoui, the head of UTICA, which is currently at odds with the UGTT over the issue of private sector salary increases.

The Nobel Prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and the sum of eight million Swedish kronor (863,500 euros, $951,500).

Tunisian Nobel laureates blast terror, from Tunis to Paris
Oslo (AFP) Dec 10, 2015 - Tunisia's National Dialogue Quartet on Thursday urged the international community to make the fight against terrorism an "absolute priority", as it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo.

"Today, we are in a great need of dialogue between civilisations, and peaceful coexistence... Today, we need to make the fight against terrorism an absolute priority," said Houcine Abassi, secretary general of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), one of the four members of the Quartet.

At Oslo's City Hall, which was decked out in flowers, Abassi denounced the "barbaric and heinous terrorist acts" in recent months in Tunisia and around the world, pointing to Paris, Beirut, Sharm el-Sheikh and Bamako.

The National Dialogue Quartet, made up of four civil society groups, helped save Tunisia's transition to democracy at a sensitive moment in 2013 when the process was in danger of collapsing because of widespread social unrest.

The UGTT, the Human Rights League, the Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), and the Order of Lawyers orchestrated a lengthy and thorny "national dialogue" between the Islamists of the Ennahda party and their opponents.

- 'A true peace prize' -

"This year's prize is truly a prize for peace, awarded against a backdrop of unrest and war," said Kaci Kullmann Five, head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

One by one, representatives of the four organisations held aloft the Nobel diploma and gold medal to a standing ovation from the specially-invited guests, including Norway's King Harald and members of the Norwegian government.

"Tunis!" cried one member of the audience.

In honouring the Quartet, the Nobel Committee shone the spotlight on Tunisia as a rare success story to emerge from the Arab Spring, which had its beginnings in the North African nation.

After hammering out compromises between groups initially diametrically opposed to each other, Tunisia successfully adopted a new constitution in January 2014 and held democratic elections at the end of last year.

At the same time, uprisings in neighbouring Libya, Yemen and Syria have led to war and chaos, and to the return of repression in Egypt.

Despite its successes, Tunisia's democratisation process remains fragile.

After a suicide attack on a bus belonging to the president's security entourage killed 12 people on November 24 -- which was claimed by Islamic State jihadists -- authorities have declared a nightly curfew in Tunis, temporarily closed the border with Libya and declared a state of emergency for the second time this year.

- Fighting terror 'by respecting rights' -

"We are very worried because each time there's a terrorist act, some... say that if there's terrorism, you have to put human rights aside," Abdessatar Ben Moussa, head of Tunisia's Human Rights League, told AFP in an interview just before the award ceremony.

"The best way to fight terrorism is to respect human rights," he said, echoing concerns expressed last week by Amnesty International.

Earlier this year, the country was hit by two other major attacks: in March, 22 people were killed at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, and in June, 38 tourists were killed when gunmen stormed a beach resort.

In July, a UN working group estimated that 5,500 Tunisians had left to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya, flagging the country as having one of the highest numbers of people travelling to join such conflicts.

Tunisia's economy has been hard hit by this year's attacks, with its tourism industry -- which accounts for about seven percent of the economy and some 400,000 jobs -- particularly struggling since the beach massacre.

At the end of October, the number of overnight hotel stays had plunged by 60 percent from the previous year, official data showed.

The other Nobel prizes, in the fields of medicine, chemistry, physics, literature and economics, were later presented at a separate ceremony in Stockholm by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf, followed by a gala banquet for 1,300 guests.

Each Nobel Prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma and the sum of eight million Swedish kronor (863,500 euros/$951,500), to be shared if there is more than one laureate.


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