Earth Day: Action Needed to Clear Deadly Toxins in the World’s Most Polluted City

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

New Delhi, India –According to a study of air quality conducted by the World Health Organization in 2014, New Delhi, The capital of the world’s second most populous country, was found to be the most polluted city on earth. According to the study, New Delhi was found to have the highest levels of particulate matter or PM 2.5, which refers to small solid or liquid particles floating in the ambient air that are known to be harmful to human health. New Delhi’s average PM2.5 level was 153, compared to 14 in New York City and 56 in Beijing, the city that has become famous around the globe for high pollution levels. The WHO’s safety threshold for humans is 10. High levels of particulate pollution are extremely hazardous to human health. The pollution problem in India is not limited to the nation’s capital. India is home to 13 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world and air-pollution related deaths have become the fifth largest killer in the country.

India’s Capital experienced just one week of health air quality over the past two years. (Photo courtesy of Hindustan Times)

Delhi’s air is consistently more toxic than that in Beijing, rigorous statistical comparison of two years’ worth of data from both cities has demonstrated. According to US air quality standards, the air quality in the Indian capital was considered healthy for only 7 out of 730 days. Professor Douw Steyn of the University of British Columbia, an air pollution expert who performed the analysis of New Delhi air said the city’s air was considered health less than 1% of the time.

The data shows that in New Delhi, PM 2.5 levels are above the “hazardous” level 17% of the time, or nearly one out of every five. At these levels, according to the US definition, “everyone may experience serious health effects”. Steyn argued “the cost of pollution reduction is far smaller than the costs of pollution damage and simple technological solutions are easily available. What is needed is political will, which can only come from an informed and engaged population.”

Kamal Meattle, a Delhi-based air pollution activist says the government must do more to respond to the pollution crisis in India’s cities and beyond. “I think the first people to be convinced are the politicians, the bureaucrats and the judges … people who really matter in the sense that they understand the problem is going to create a major health issue and major costs,” he said. India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched a national Air Quality Index (AQI) to monitor pollution levels in major urban cities on a real-time basis. AQI data is currently available in 10 cities across the country including New Delhi. Air pollution in India is a reminder of the high costs of economic development and globalization, especially when industry is left unregulated. Urbanization is also a massive problem in India and a challenge to environmental regulators as the country’s poor continue to move into large, overcrowded urban areas in search of work.

For more information please see:

Hindustan Times – Beijing better than Delhi: Only 7 days of good air in national capital in 2 years – 22 April 2015

BBC News – Breathing poison in the world’s most polluted city – 18 April 2015

The Weather Network – New Delhi has the world’s worst air pollution – 14 April 2015

CNN Money – This Indian city has the world’s worst air – 13 April 2015

Amnesty International Claims Obama Administration’s Failure To Address CIA Torture Report Furthers Impunity

By Lyndsey Kelly
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – Recently, Amnesty International accused U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration of granting “de facto amnesty” to members of the CIA involved in the detention and torture of militants captured after the September 11, 2001 attacks. A recent Senate Intelligence Committee report found that the CIA had a program in place from 2002 to 2006, which involved torturing captives in secret facilities.

It has been four months since the declassification of the report summary, and the United States has yet to take active steps toward ending the impunity associated with the CIA’s detention program.

The human rights group accused the administration of failing to take active measures in addressing the issues contained in the “advanced interrogation techniques.” Amnesty researcher Naureen Shah has claimed the administration’s failure to address these problems is essentially granting immunity to all those involved from prosecution. Amnesty is urging the Justice Department to “reopen and expand its investigation” into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program. In addition, the group demanded that the White House disclose the names, locations and dates of operations of all secret prisons involved in the CIA’s program.

However, in a report to Reuters, Shah said that the Justice Department told the media that it has reviewed the Senate committee report and has found no new evidence of any U.S. criminal laws that were violated. Seven w. Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA responded to the Justice Department’s claims, stating, “Unless the U.S. government makes a concerted effort to end the impunity associated with this secret detention program, the United States’ human rights record will remain tarnished.”

The international community has shared Amnesty International’s concerns over the failure of the United States to address the torture report. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, Ben Emerson, has stated that the US government officials involved in the program should be prosecuted. He further stated, “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. Government, provides no excuse whatsoever.”


For more information, please see the following:

AMNESTY USA – U.S. Inaction Following CIA Torture Report is De Facto Amnesty for Perpetrators – 21 April 2015.
THE GUARDIAN – CIA Report: ‘Torture is a Crime and Those Responsible Must be Brought to Justice‘ – 10 December 2014
REUTERS – Amnesty International Condemns U.S. Failure to Act on Torture Report – 21 April 2015.

Saudi Arabia Scaling Back Intervention in Yemen

By Kathryn Maureen Ryan
Impunity Watch, Managing Editor

SANAA, Yemen — Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday that it is scaling back its military operations in neighboring Yemen, after more than three weeks of airstrikes that have so far failed to drive back the Shiite rebels who ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi and Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, President of the Revolutionary Committee, assumed power. The announcement could single the end of the largest military operation ever conducted by Saudi Arabia.

A Saudi soldier at the border with Yemen, fires a mortar shell toward Houthi rebels on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of The New York Times)

The Gulf State’s Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri announced that the coalition led by Saudi Arabia would transition to a new operation in Yemen that focuses on addressing a worsening humanitarian crisis, combating terrorism and finding a political solution to end the conflict. Despite the failure of the airstrikes to drive away the Houthi rebels the General claimed the operation was a success and that the campaign had achieved its military objectives by successfully eliminating threats to Saudi security, including the destruction of the Iranian backed Houthi rebels’ supply of missiles and heavy weapons. General Asiri said the objectives of the opposition were achieved”by a very good planning, very precise execution, by the courage of our pilots, our sailors, our soldiers.”

Supporters of Mohammed Ali al-Houthi remained defiant after the announcement from Saudi Arabia. “This announcement of a halt to this operation is nothing but a shameful defeat for Saudi,” said Mohammed Meftah, a pro-Houthis politician. He added that Saudi Arabian government would have to pay billions of dollars in reparations for the damage caused by the airstrikes, saying that state is criminally responsible for the damage.”

United States National Security Council spokesperson Alistair Baskey, said that “the United States welcomes” the Saudi announcement. He added, “we continue to support the resumption of a U.N.-facilitated political process and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance.” officials in the United States have grown uneasy about the Saudi coalition’s objectives and have become concerned that the airstrikes have shifted the security focus away al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and has taken advantage of the chaos in the gulf state.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not make any direct comments on any Navy movements in Yemeni waters, but said the United States has concerns over Iran’s support for the Houthis rebels. Earnest said; “we have seen evidence that the Iranians are supplying weapons and other armed support to the Houthis in Yemen. That support will only contribute to greater violence in that country. These are exactly the kind of destabilizing activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran’s destabilizing activities in the Middle East.” He added “the Iranians are acutely aware of our concerns for their continued support of the Houthis by sending them large shipments of weapons.”

For more information please see:

BBC News – Yemen conflict: Saudi Arabia ends air campaign – 21 April 2015

CNN International – Saudi Arabia launching political solution campaign in Yemen – 21 April 2015

The New York Times – Middle East Advertisement 63 Comments Middle East Saudis Announce Halt to Yemen Bombing Campaign – 21 April 2015

The Washington Post – Saudi Arabia says it will scale back its military campaign in Yemen – 21 April 2015

Syria Deeply: The Balance of Power in Syria: a Q&A with a Prominent Analyst of the Conflict

“There is a manpower issue if you define Assad’s aim as a complete victory, which I don’t think is achievable for the regime, and I don’t think a comprehensive victory is Assad’s objective.”

Recent military setbacks have not weakened President Bashar al-Assad as much as some observers believe, a leading Syria analyst says.

Over the past several weeks, Assad’s forces lost Idlib to the opposition – the second provincial capital to fall to the opposition, after Raqqa two years ago – and ISIS fighters seized the Yarmouk refugee camp on the outskirts of Damascus. In the south, meanwhile, the government is also gradually losing ground to moderate rebels.

Faced with manpower shortages, conflict fatigue, financial and military dependence on foreign allies like Iran and jihadi control over large parts of the north and south, it will be very difficult for Assad to regain control of the country militarily.

On the other hand, the rise of ISIS and other extremist groups in Syria has bolstered Assad’s narrative that he is engaged in a “war against terrorism” and reinforced the stark reality that moderate rebels are not a dominant force on the ground.

“The main beneficiaries of the failure of moderate rebels groups to organize inside Syria are the Islamist groups and to a lesser extent the regime,” Ayham Kamel, the London-based director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Eurasia Group, told Syria Deeply.

While Assad will be forced to confront difficulties in several parts of the country and is unlikely to achieve a comprehensive victory in Syria in the next few years, he is not as weak as some have suggested, Kamel said.

“I don’t think a comprehensive victory is Assad’s objective. Assad wants to control a large part of Syria that will make him the most coherent authority in the country, and therefore with time able to win the war.”

“A military stalemate does not favor everyone to the same degree – it always favors the incumbents. In this case, it gives a slight edge to Assad but not a decisive victory.”

Kamel spoke to Syria Deeply about the state of Syria’s opposition, the strength of the regime and the implications of a military stalemate.

Syria Deeply: Assad lost Idlib to the opposition last week – the second provincial capital to fall to the opposition, after Raqqa two years ago. ISIS is also creeping into regime-held territory in the west and last week seized parts of the Yarmouk refugee camp near Damascus. Is Assad worse off militarily than he was a year ago?

Kamel: On the military front, the Assad regime will be forced to confront difficulties across a set of geographies because the opposition isn’t going anywhere. Idlib matters, but it’s not a strategic area in Syria. A much more consequential event would be the collapse of Aleppo – it would have weakened the Assad regime in a much more significant way.

ISIS’ offensive on Yarmouk creates logistical restraints and problems for the regime, but it isn’t a critical issue for Assad. The areas around Damascus don’t matter a lot in terms of the balance between the regime and the opposition. Damascus is so important for the regime that it’s willing to commit more troops and more assets to achieve a more decisive victory there. We will likely see a military operation with Palestinian factions assuming de facto control over the security of the camp.

The regime has clear areas where it is much more interested in establishing dominant control rather than skirmishes. Skirmishes are intended to weaken the opposition, which Assad has been able to do over a wide geography, but he cannot, given the restraints he has, control the country militarily as a whole.

It’s very difficult to see a comprehensive victory emerge for the Assad regime in the next two to three years. Given that there are open borders, both between Syria-Jordan and Syria-Turkey, where foreign patrons are continuing to provide the opposition with support, it will be very difficult for Assad to win this war.

The opposition, while weak to a certain extent, remains resilient. It’s not giving up its fight against the Assad regime and its strongest asset is also its weakness – its division into many small groups that are difficult for the regime to defeat as a whole.

On a regional level, Saudi Arabia Qatar and Turkey will broaden their support for rebel groups to undermine Assad. The new leadership in Riyadh is much more determined to constrain the Assad regime and his Shia allies. This important shift in Sunni policy is a direct consequence of the Rise of Riyadh’s Anxiety after the expansion of Houthi forces in Yemen. As result, the likely balance of power in Syria will prevent Assad from consolidating or emerging victorious.

Syria Deeply: How critical is the regime’s manpower shortage?

Kamel: There is a manpower issue if you define Assad’s aim as a complete victory, which I don’t think is achievable for the regime, and I don’t think a comprehensive victory is Assad’s objective. I think he wants to control a large part of Syria that will make him the most coherent authority in the country, and therefore with time able to win the war.

There is a certain extent to which replenishing the troops on the regime side becomes more difficult over time, but I don’t think it will be a critical issue that will shape the balance in favor of the opposition. Mainly because the regime supporters don’t see the opposition as a viable alternative and because, at a popular level, Assad isn’t weaker than he was two years ago and still has popular support. This is mostly due to the fact that large parts of the opposition have been infiltrated by the jihadists/extremists and because the moderates are weaker and therefore less viable in the eyes of many Syrians.

Syria Deeply: What is the future for moderate opposition, who are currently caught in between jihadists and the Syrian regime, inside Syria?

Kamel: The main beneficiaries of recent developments inside Syria are the Islamist groups, irrespective of their extremist ideologies. The Nusra Front in Syria and ISIS between Iraq and Syria are now the best organized and structured rebels groups in the country, and they have squeezed the opposition out.

In the first 18 months of the conflict, the rebel groups on the ground were more moderate and dominant. The failure of the opposition to organize and create a coherent structure in Syria has made them much less effective and created room for ISIS and Nusra to grow.

It’s become very clear that the exiled moderate opposition, who have a view that is much more secular towards establishing a system in Syria, are almost irrelevant – they have no forces on the ground, no one is speaking to them in an active way, and the west and regional powers aren’t approaching them as real players in the Syrian conflict. They weren’t even invited to the last Arab Summit. There has clearly been a very clear change in direction since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

The entire army that fought in Idlib with Nusra was comprised of conservative Islamists. The Fatah army in the north isn’t exactly the legion of moderates that we envisioned in the beginning of the revolution. Nusra has made it very clear that they don’t want representatives from the Syrian National Council to come back. Their project doesn’t legitimize the Syrian opposition – they want to sideline them in any way they can. Jabhat al-Nusra will likely set up something quasi-Islamist in terms of a political or governance system in the areas they control.

Also, it would have been very difficult for Nusra to operate freely in the opposition’s southern strongholds without coordination or support from external regional powers. These are areas close to the Jordanian border, where there is logistical support to the rebel groups, and it’s very difficult to see Jabhat al-Nusra play a prominent role in military operations that isn’t a function of at least some acceptance by regional powers in the Middle East.

The regime has benefited from the opposition’s failure to organize. While the regime is uncomfortable with how effective Nusra and ISIS are militarily, it is most likely to tolerate them over the short term because this reinforces the regime’s narrative since the beginning of the conflict – the idea that there wasn’t a revolution and that the current conflict was entirely an Islamist plot to destroy Syria.

Syria Deeply: It seems unlikely that any side in Syria will win the war militarily. Is there any chance that a military stalemate will spur some kind of peace negotiation or settlement? What do you expect to see in the months to come?

Kamel: A big part of this depends on regional dynamics. If we reach a nuclear agreement between Iran and the West, it will strengthen Assad’s resolve and his troops’ morale, and he will have more financial transfers from Iran. I don’t think the Iranians are about to give up on Assad.

The Yemen conflict has also made Syria much more important in the regional play. We are clearly headed towards the point of time where the Iranians are going to provide Assad with more support to balance against the recent waves in terms of the southern offensive and the northern one in Idlib. There could be a confrontation in the next four to six months that pushes rebels in certain locations, but I wouldn’t read it as an end to the conflict or a win for Assad.

Locally, there is movement towards fatigue. We are at the beginning phase of fatigue. Conflict fatigue is increasingly part of the dialogue, even when it comes to the population. When it came to local ceasefire in a lot of localities, there was strong support from local civilians on both sides – of the opposition and the regime.

Syria Deeply: Conversations: A Syrian Refugee’s Life in Jordan

“We face many common hardships. We have almost the same stories. We’re not entitled to work legally. It’s difficult for refugees to get work permits in Jordan. We all struggle to continue our studies. We feel like outsiders, confined by all these rules.”

It was the summer of 2011; my schoolmates and I were ordinary students who were preparing for exams and anticipating the summer vacation. But this was going to be my last Syrian summer.

Homs, my neighborhood – the old part of the city – bordered an area loyal to the Syrian government. In the long run, this meant only trouble for us.

Normally, we whiled away our days by hanging about outside, just living our lives. We heard news about events elsewhere, but it didn’t affect us at first. Everything remained as usual for us. Then, one day, people in our area decided to hold a sit-in in the main square of the city to peacefully protest the deaths of seven people. The sit-in started in the afternoon; the organizers wanted to make it last for three days. Hundreds of people came from many different areas of the city to participate.

I still remember how calm and placid the city looked that day – until the shooting happened, just after midnight. When the gunshots were fired, people ran around crying for help. Women and children were bawling as the salvo of shots rang out.

Not long after, a group of gunmen came to our neighborhood and arrested most of the young men who had participated in the sit-in.

The next day, as I was walking around, I felt like the air was filled with death. I couldn’t breathe without inhaling sadness. I could barely look at the places where my friends and I had spent our time – good times, normal times.

The entire scene was colored black by my eyes.

The situation deteriorated. Soon, we understood what it meant to be bombed. As a student, all I worried about was the destruction of my school. I neither knew nor understood why anyone would target, let alone harm, Syria’s future leaders.

After more than 12 months of the crisis, a group of government supporters came to our neighborhood and announced on a loudspeaker, “Every single family has to leave the area, unless you want to be killed. We’re coming tomorrow, and we hope to find nobody here.”

Three people refused to leave. We never heard from them again.

My family and I fled the neighborhood, and eventually the country. For a while, we moved from the western part of the city to the eastern part, which was safer. Eventually, we left Syria and went to Jordan, because the situation had become too unpredictable and unstable.

Peering out the window en route to Jordan, I was happy to be moving, glad I would be meeting new people. But I felt I was leaving something significant – a part of my life and memories. I was leaving behind many relatives and people I knew, and I was heading to an unknown place and situation.

Maybe it would get better. Maybe it would get worse.

We knew the first task was rebuilding our lives in Jordan. I got a job at a huge automobile company. I asked my Jordanian workmates about the local cultural practices. Most of them were friendly and helpful. They explained to me specific nuances in their cultures, and they tried to help me with our Arabic dialects. Jordanian accents are similar to ours, but some words have different meanings, and some Jordanians used phrases that I hadn’t heard before. At first I found this strange, but after a while of living and walking in Amman’s city center, I felt differently. Encountering people from different cultures and backgrounds, I felt the soul of coexistence, love and peace, which were all basically derived from Islam. I realized, as a family, we were an adaptable group of people. I knew we could cope with living in a new and different society.

With the huge influx of Syrians, Jordanian attitudes toward Syrians have changed, however. They believe the Syrians are now taking their job opportunities and driving up the cost of living.

I think that’s why Jordanians have started treating us like strangers day by day.

The reality of life in Jordan is not at all like I imagined it would be. Life here is different from Syria. Everything is expensive. Nobody helps me or my family financially. I have shelved the idea of going back to school and have started working instead.

I had to get a job, of course. It’s true that the work opportunities were not spectacular for me because I am both a foreigner and 14, but it’s much better than nothing. I work at a huge automobile company in the spare parts store, secretly and illegally. I take a serious approach in my dealings with technicians, and that is what makes them think that I am much older than my age.

Although I am working, I am not convinced this is what I should be doing. At some point, I realized I wasn’t on the right track. However, if I accept a defeatist status as an outsider, without access to any kind of further education, I will destroy any chance I might have of a decent future.

By chance, my mum found a learning program where she can volunteer as a teacher, and she told me about the online higher education courses organized by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) program. At first I was worried I wouldn’t be able to return to class because of my work schedule, but fortunately JC:HEM is designed for people who have to work to get by.

My first day at the JRS learning center was so exciting; I met many people from different countries. Literally, it was my first meeting with people from Africa. I did not know that they are very fun, spontaneous people. Without any problem, I got to know more about their cultures and what is happening in their countries. I didn’t experience any discomfort. Instead, I feel close to them, even more than those who were once part of my daily life. Perhaps it’s because living through a crisis brings people – especially outsiders – closer.

We face many common hardships. We have almost the same stories. We’re not entitled to work legally. It’s difficult for refugees to get work permits in Jordan. We all struggle to continue our studies. We feel like outsiders, confined by all these rules.

Everyone should work hard to get what they want. It’s also reassuring that there are so many people who want to help refugees. I always tell people that the work should be done by refugees themselves. However, they say that it is not our fault, we are victims, and we need help. But I don’t believe that’s the correct strategy to create communities that can survive on their own two feet.

After completing two certificate courses, I’m proud to say that I am now enrolled in a three-year online diploma program. I’m also proud to say that my English has improved, and now I can communicate with many people from all over the world. Learning another language has made me a better communicator and more open-minded. I hope that one day I will be able to leave Jordan and study media in an international university. I aspire to be a journalist with my own channel that reflects only the truth about what is going on in the field. The law in Jordan does not allow me to enroll at a regular school or even to take the high school examination because I am now too old to enroll in public schools and I am too young to apply for the high school examination.

My dream to study media at university is impossible without a high school diploma, but my circumstances prevent me from studying for my diploma in Jordan.

Back in the summer of 2011 in Syria, my schoolmates and I were ordinary students who were preparing for exams and anticipating the summer vacation. But that was my last Syrian summer. Now it’s a Jordanian winter.

This piece came out of a writing workshop set up by Jesuit Refugee Service and the JC:HEM program in Jordan