By Aphrael Spindloe
Disclaimer: The blogs on this site are written by our volunteers and guest writers. They do not reflect the views of the WCIA. We hope that sharing a range of views will encourage discussion and debate. Please get in touch if you wish to contribute a blog. Blogs are published in the language the volunteer has chosen to write in (whether that is Welsh or English) and we welcome submissions in both languages.
Hisham Al-Omeisy: A discussion on the Yemen Crisis
On the 22nd March, I was lucky enough to meet political analysist and Yemen consultant Hisham Al-Omeisy; a man who has been critical of both sides in the Yemen Civil war and has spent more than 150 days in captivity due to his criticism of the Houthi movement in the North of Yemen. I cannot begin to describe how in awe I was listening to him speak after the ordeal he has been through and the kind of horrors he has experienced in Yemen. He was so wise and knowledgeable not just of the situation in Yemen but the international situation as well. He is aware of the difficulties there can be for international organisations to attempt to help, however he also points out (and rightly so) that there plenty more that international organisations can do, and the UK has a big part to play in the peace process.
A point he made that struck me as significant was Hisham explaining the people of Yemen are not naïve. In Yemen they are trying to learn politics so as to encourage not only peace but also to appeal to politicians in places like the UK. By doing this the Yemeni people are hoping countries will hold Saudi Arabia accountable as well as to stop selling Saudi Arabia weapons which end up bombing innocent people. For example, insisting on protocols to check new intelligence before bombing. Hisham spoke of an orphanage being blown up near where he lived and schools being blown up to prevent the children being used as child soldiers. I think it’s easy to see how wrong this all is and why the UK must intervene.
It was also discussed about the United Nations constantly pumping aid into Yemen, which is positive but does not deal with the actual issue. Hisham encourages the UN to create a sustainability plan in order to build Yemen into a more democratic and peaceful country. He also explained how ‘Elites don’t understand what we’re going through’, explaining how important it is for politicians to include more people at the decision table; especially as many southern groups in the conflict are excluded in the political processes in Yemen. Even within the two main groups in the conflict there are a variety of factions which will all want to be included in any peace deal. It was noted that this has been known for years and some in the discussion argued this should have been happening all along. However, it is not all black and white. In a conflict zone implementing a sustainability plan can be impossible if areas are cut off by hostilities or destroyed infrastructure. Also if some sustainable work is carried out whilst conflict is still raging, it is uncertain the work done will even survive until the conflict has ended.
Hisham has come to the United Kingdom in an attempt to encourage the people of this country to put in more effort to help the people in Yemen. As the official penholder of the Yemini peace process, the UK has an important part to play in helping Yemen and stopping the conflict. During his visit he has already met with representatives from Ministry of Defence and he also spoke of his opinion on Jeremy Hunt (the UK foreign minister) and his involvement in the process. Hisham believes that Mr Hunt is actually better than UN envoys involved because he is more forceful, in part because he requires a political win at this moment. Arguably, having the United Kingdom as penholders in positive because it means the is more pressure to end the conflict as soon as possible. Otherwise its credibility in international relations will decline even further. Therefor hopefully if the UK can take on board what Hisham has recommended, the it can be more part of the solution than the problem in Yemen.
Hisham Al-Omeisy, political analyst and human rights activist from Yemen, called on all concerned for peace and human rights in the Yemen to put pressure on the UK Government to take a decisive lead in bringing the various parties to the table. He was speaking to a large diverse group at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff at an event on 22nd March 2019 arranged by Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Fellowship of Reconciliation Wales.
Hisham, was critical of both warring factions in the Yemen conflict that has claimed the lives of an estimated 56,000 people . The current attempts at mediation focus on two groups, ignoring the fact that neither is homogenous, with factions within them, and this also excludes groups from the south of the country who are not directly involved. The UK Foreign Secretary should use his position to not only call the protagonists to negotiations, but also hold Saudi Arabia to account for its role in the deaths of civilians in bombing raids on the Yemen. He was critical of the lack of progress made by the United Nations in Yemen. Whilst praising the actions of some international aid agencies he expressed concern that a priority should be establishing aid corridors to reach all parts of the country and creating plans for a sustainable future.
Hisham Al-Omeisy spent 5 months in solitary confinement in Yemen for his criticism, especially of the Houthi forces in the North. He thanked activists with Amnesty International and other human rights groups for the pressure they brought, ensuring his release.
A Yemeni woman from Cardiff in the audience thanked everyone who attended, saying,” It is encouraging that so many people care about the Yemen.”
Here is a blog article about Hisham Al-Omeisy’s talk at the WCIA for more on the Yemen conflict.
The exciting range of debates at the Wales Schools Debating Championships included feminism, genetically modified babies, the role of social deprivation in causing crime, banning child performers and charging people for treatment for health issues caused by lifestyle choices. Talented students from five schools competed for the individual speaker and the team Championships.
The team competition was won by Dagmawi Yosief and Restam Ehmo Agha from Howells Schools with Sophia Wallo and Gethin Jones from Coleg Menai as runners up. Both teams came through very tough semi- finals in the morning when teams form Cardiff Sixth Form College and Ysgol Dyffyn Aman put up very strong performances.
Arianne Banks, who won the individual speaker competition said, “I have really enjoyed speaking in the Council Chamber at the Temple of Peace. Debating has given me life skills which will be valuable in the future.”
All the participants enjoy the competitive element to this style of debating, although member of the winning team Dag said, “It is stressful and I often think after a competition, that’s my last, and then I come back for more.”
WCIA , with long standing funding support from the Hodge Foundation, has run the competition for many years. The aim is to make these opportunities available to as many schools as possible. Next year’s debating training and competition dates will be available soon.
You can watch the debating final video here
Poverty in Wales: A Globalized Perspective
When in November 2018 Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights visited the UK, it was a surprise to many in Government (but less so to UK citizens) that he described the extent of UK poverty as ‘not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.’ The visit highlighted the extent that poverty has affected the UK, and how Globalization has had its own part to play.
I have been a student at Cardiff university since October 2017, and it is clear that policies such as austerity and universal credit has had a significant impact on citizens’ livelihoods. These policies were implemented after the 2008 recession, an economic crisis which led to the UK Government feeling justified in reducing costs in areas such as welfare, health and education. It has been over ten years now, yet the effect of the crash is still evident to see. Foodbank use is growing at an alarming rate as people struggle to find money for both food and bills (even when they are in a job) and it is normalized to witness a large number of homeless people on the streets; neglected by their government who has failed to provide even the simplest provision of shelter (In Cardiff, the Wallich has seen an 81% increase in rough sleeping between 2013/14 and 2015/16) Even though my generation can hardly remember a time before the crash, we are all very aware that the policies of today are not working. Something must change.
Neoliberal cuts to welfare, the Government’s lack of action in relation to the rise in precarious work such as zero hour contracts and rising prices of goods in all sectors, has meant Wales poorest are living in fear of where their next meal will be, or if they will have to go without food so that they can pay their bills to make sure a roof is over their heads for another month. As we privatize more and more of our services, allowing global businesses to take over and ramp up prices (it has become a usual sight at the beginning of each new year to hear of train fare prices rising, often around the 3.5% mark) we are creating an environment that poor people are unable to survive in without adapting to a life of debt and squalor.
Scare techniques are commonly used by certain media outlets, which are often owned by rich people or individuals who do not live in the UK. They create a demonized view of those on benefits, claiming them to be ‘benefit scroungers’. This should be seen as yet another scapegoat which allow multinational corporations who evade tax to keep on hoarding their money, whilst those in poverty have sanctions put on them for simple acts such as not turning up for a work search review.
Yet poor people are still viewed as the problem.
Multinational corporations are also frequently based in other countries such as America. This means that their employees in other countries become a number rather than an individual with aspirations, friends and family. This, unfortunately, makes firing people much easier. If a corporate giant is told that sales are low in an area, then they could simply make people redundant in order to save money and transfer production to areas where sales are high, such as Honda which is planning to move out of the UK by 2021 (Honda suppliers factory Kasai in Merthyr Tydfil has 200 people supplying both Honda and Nissan, this decision to leave the UK means 200 individuals will now be facing uncertainty about whether they will lose their job or not). It becomes a numbers game and unfortunately the lives of employees become increasingly precarious as individuals are viewed as being part of a dispensable workforce.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, though, there are still plenty of ways that Wales can try and help people out of poverty. Putting pressure on the UK Government to make precarious work such as zero hour contracts illegal would mean everyone in work would end up having a stable income. Raising wages from the minimum wage to the Living Wage would mean people should find themselves in a position to afford basic necessities such as food, clothes and shelter. Another step to preventing poverty is by ensuring business pay their taxes. This will require global cooperation to prevent them being able to move their money into offshore accounts, and ultimately both Wales, the UK and the World would become more accountable.
Finally, re-nationalizing is vital and will require cooperation with companies that currently own UK services. One big fear the Government has is that if it forces businesses to do such things as pay tax or give services back to the state, then they will move their service elsewhere; leaving the country derelict. However, if we carry on the way we are, (allowing global corporations to evade tax and the Government to privatize more of our services), then surely people will be unable to give money to these businesses anyway (as they will not be able to afford their products). If this is the case, then there is not much hope that these businesses will be able to stick around anyway.
Overall, both Global cooperation and accountability is key if we are to deal with poverty in Wales. In our transnational world we interact with other countries all of the time. If we wish to help end poverty in Wales, then we must make sure we maintain a strong stance in showing that the UK will not accept low employment standards as being the norm; only when we hold the world to account (just as we should hold our own Government to account also) will we be able to make Wales a place with high standards, stronger job security and independent individuals.
Image of ‘Poverty can be eradicated’ by Howard Lake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/howardlake/4103261671
Susie Ventris-Field sets out the elements that should influence Welsh Government’s new international strategy.
Susie Ventris-Field is the Chief Executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs.
Brexit is just weeks away. Uncertainty and short-term thinking dominate the political landscape. This is exactly the right time for long-term and inspiring visions of what our future relationship with the world could be and the most important question for a strategy in uncertain times is not what do you want to do, but what do you want to be?
The UK is one of only six countries across the world that spends 0.7% of its gross national income on international aid, a commitment enshrined in law. But there are prominent voices shaping the ‘global Britain’ discussion that push for Britain to pursue its own trade and investment interests, regardless of this pledge and other international obligations and responsibilities. For example, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson argued that the 0.7% Britain commits to international aid should be spent on furthering political, commercial and economic interests, including spending on defence.
On the domestic front, Britain was one of the authors of the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, the Windrush scandal, long processing times for asylum applications and the use of detention centres has created a ‘hostile environment’ for those seeking sanctuary on our shores, who are fleeing conflict and persecution.
The ‘hostile environment’ also contributes to challenges for the inward migration that Wales needs. For example, universities are facing financial challenges as numbers of international students drop and NHS staff shortages are increasing. Furthermore, the UK’s Immigration Bill doesn’t account for the differentiated needs of the Welsh economy in terms of inward migration.
Against this backdrop, can Wales use its devolved powers to build upon British foreign and trade policy, differentiating itself as a globally responsible and welcoming nation and bringing out the values and qualities that are important to so many people across the nation?
For the first time, Wales has an International Relations and Welsh Language Minister, Eluned Morgan, who has committed to developing a cross-governmental International Strategy for Wales. Trade and investment will, naturally, be dominant features in such a strategy, as will using soft power to further Welsh interests. However, this policy can and should do more. The minister has stated that she wants the new strategy to be based on strong shared values and rooted in civil society efforts spanning decades. Wales has a history of solidarity, international aid and development and campaigns for peace and justice around the world that can inspire a rounded strategy that defines how the country is perceived on the global stage.
Some examples: historically, we have the Message of Peace and Goodwill from the young people of Wales to the world, about to reach its 100th anniversary; the Peace Appeal where, in 1924, 40% of the women in Wales signed a petition to the women of America so they could lobby the President to join the League of Nations; long-standing links between Wales and Somaliland, Uganda and Lesotho; and the Wales anti-apartheid movement.
More recently, the Wales for Africa programme, established by the Welsh Government because people in Wales wanted to make a unique contribution to international development, is still going strong ten years on. It supports skills-sharing, solidarity and international development efforts that contribute to poverty alleviation. Much of the initiative is driven by local communities in both Wales and Africa, in response to mutual needs.
Wales has also shown outward-looking trends in domestic policy. It has been a Fair Trade Nation for ten years, with people across sectors making purchasing decisions on ethical grounds. Wales will hopefully be the world’s first Nation of Sanctuary as a counterpoint to the ‘hostile environment’. We have a Well-being of Future Generations Act that commits the public sector to be, among other goals, globally responsible and a new curriculum for Wales has a central goal that young people will be ‘ethical informed citizens of Wales and the world’.
So how do these diverse elements come together to influence an international strategy? I can suggest three ways.
First, Wales can build its reputation, showcasing its globally responsible domestic policies, hoping to inspire similar behaviours and learning from the practice of others so we can do even better. This recommendation is echoed in the External Affairs Committee report Wales’ future relationship with Europe and the world, published last week, to use international engagement to demonstrate international leadership.
Second, it is vital that Wales’ international strategy protects and builds on the commitment its people have shown to alleviating poverty, as in the Wales for Africa programme. Within this programme, a more strategic approach may be valuable. For example, given the current size of the budget, the strategy could focus on one thematic area or country and certainly offer more opportunities to build stronger relationships across the third, public and private sectors in programme delivery. What should be avoided when taking a more strategic focus is the dilution or redirection of the programme to enhance trade or for economic self-interest. The reputational benefits conferred to Wales by taking our international responsibilities seriously will make the country a place people want to visit and do business with, as well as meeting the wishes of the public in Wales to make a positive contribution.
Third, some key values should permeate the other aspects of the strategy and drive proactive diplomacy. These should include commitments to sustainability, respect for human rights, tolerance, cooperation, peace and justice.
In practice, there are many ways in which these values could be manifested. As a Fair Trade Nation, we care about ethical trade; we want a green economy. Trade and investment elements of the strategy should reflect these commitments. We should make as much as possible of Wales as a Nation of Sanctuary – a welcoming place that people will want to come to, including students and tourists; the vibrant diaspora and refugee constituents here in Wales, from countries like Somaliland, China and Portugal, have expertise and insight and should be involved regularly for their views.
As well as being the right things to do, these kinds of practical steps will make Wales a more attractive place to do business, and to visit.
Eluned Morgan gave an opening speech in the Senedd that included all the right messages. We are now hopeful that Wales will develop an international strategy for a truly globally responsible Wales.
Photo by Duangphorn Wiriya on Unsplash
Women, War & Peace is on display at Storiel, Bangor from 1 March – 27 April 2019
Through March and April 2019, including International Women’s Day #IWD2019 on 8th March, Storiel in Bangor will be hosting ‘Women War and Peace’ – a moving exhibition by world renowned photo journalist Lee Karen Stow with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA).
‘Women War and Peace’ explores the impact of war on the lives of women in Wales and across the world, through their personal portraits and stories – whilst also considering how Welsh women have inspired the search for peace in the 100 years since WW1 ended.
The exhibition includes a number of inspiring Welsh women with differing perspectives on war and peace – from peace campaigners to serving military personnel, and refugees who have fled recent conflicts to find sanctuary in Wales. Lee’s work draws on stories and experiences of women worldwide, from Vietnam to Palestine.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is #BalanceforBetter – a call to accelerate gender balance. WCIA’s exhibition presents not only the disproportionate – and often uncommunicated – impact of war on women world wide, but also the importance many women have played in leading and inspiring peace building efforts from the local to the global.
On 8th March (International Women’s Day) itself, from 12.30 Storiel will be hosting a free lunchtime lecture by Annie Williams presenting ‘Votes for Women – the Bangor Suffragists’ – celebrating International Women’s Day and formally launching the Women, War & Peace exhibition. A choir will assemble to sing the ‘Pankhurst Anthem’ at 1.40pm.
Lee’s portraits are accompanied by a unique document from WCIA’s archives in Wales’ Temple of Peace and Health, the ‘Women’s Petition to America’ of 1923. Signed by 390,296 women across Wales in the aftermath of WW1, and presented to US President Calvin Coolidge in Washington by 4 Welsh women, the petition to the women’s leagues of America called for the United States to join and lead the League of Nations, as a means of bringing an end to all war. Later, in 1926, over 2,000 women joined the North Wales Peace Pilgrimage from Penygroes, Caernarfonshire, to London’s Hyde Park, calling for ‘Law not War’ in the settlement of international disputes – calling for Britain to lead a European disarmament conference.
95 years later, these previoulsy hidden histories – uncovered by WCIA’s Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Wales for Peace’ project – has inspired a campaign led by Gwynedd women, ‘Heddwch Nain Mamgu’ – ‘Our Grandmothers’ Peace’ – to rekindle the vision of the generation who survived WW1, for a world without war.
Among Lee Stow’s striking portraits, 97 year old Ifanwy Williams from Porthmadog is one of the founding members of Heddwch Nain/Mam-gu, and has been a lifelong peace campaigner with Cymdeithas y Cymod, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, founded at the outbreak of WW1. And a short film clip features Iona Price from Tanygrisiau, who said “My initial reaction to this amazing petition was shock and disbelief that I had never heard about it before. A group of us have come together to make sure that we never forget the voices of these women – and that the plea for peace and a world without war would never be silenced.”
Short Film from the 2018 launch of ‘Heddwch Nain Mamgu’
As part of the exhibition, visitors to Storiel can play their own part in history by signing a new petition for a world without war, created by Heddwch Nain as a present day response to present to the United Nations in 2023-4 – 100 years after the original. Since its launch on International Womens Day 2018, it has already garnered 3,500 signatures.
Photojournalist Lee Karen Stow – whose work has been exhibited from the Horniman and International Slavery Museums to the United Nations Headquarters in New York – said “When I began telling women’s stories of war nearly 20 years ago, I was told – if it isn’t documented, then in the eyes of the world it doesn’t exist. Well, these women do exist, their experiences are real. Their stories might have been lost to history, or to time, if they hadn’t been recorded. But these women can inspire all of us today to work towards a better world.”
Susie Ventris-Field, who recently became the first woman to head the Welsh Centre for International Affairs at the Temple of Peace, added “Wales’ has an incredible heritage of community action on global issues, from supporting the creation of the League of Nations 100 years ago after the end of WW1, to building active town and country twinning links or becoming a Fairtrade Nation. We’re delighted to have worked with Lee to bring alive the stories of just some of these women affected by war and peace – to inspire a new generation of internationalists to shape Wales’ role in the world, to shape the future they want to see.”
Visit WCIA’s Women War and Peace exhibition at Storiel from 2nd March to 27th April 2019.