Peace award for UNIC Director

28 September 2014
Receiving the award

UNIC New Delhi Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman was awarded the Brahma Kumaris – Sister Shanti Award for “extraordinary ordinary and commitment to humanity” at a ceremony in New Delhi on 28 September.

Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman said she was humbled by the award, and that it was the “spirit of the UN Charter” as well as UNIC’s motto – UN-India Connect! – which guided and defined her work.

Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman was one of three awardees at the special ceremony.

The United Nations and the Brahma Kumaris have similar aims," Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman said in her acceptance speech. "Peace is one of the three pillars of the United Nations and it is our constant endeavour to promote it."

And “when I stand here and look at your faith in peace, tolerance and harmony, it gives me hope. Your work gives us strength,” Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman added. 

“Through this act of coming together for a common purpose, the United Nations, with organizations such as yours, strives to contribute to the cause of peace.

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First International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons observed in New Delhi

25 September 2014
At the event

On 25 September, the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), New Delhi, marked the very first observance of the International Day for Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons with a seminar hosted by Lady Shri Ram College's (LSR) new Aung San Suu Kyi Centre for Peace. This observance also dovetailed into UNIC’s ongoing annual Peace to Non-violence Campaign. 

Highlighting the UN perspective on the issue of elimination of nuclear weapons, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message said:  “What matters most is not which path is taken, but that the chosen path is heading in the right direction – toward the internationally agreed goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons.”

Validating that direction was the seminar inaugurated by UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman, and featuring JNU Professor Dr. CSR Murthy and LSR Professor Dr. Veena Ravi Kumar, who discussed the politics and morality of nuclear weapons, and the role of the UN in the world’s nuclear history. 

Siddharth Trivedi, Coordinator of LSR’s Conflict Transformation and Peace-Building course, also spoke on the occasion. Given that the very first UN General Assembly resolution ever passed was on the issue of nuclear weapons, the panelists noted the centrality of the question of nuclear disarmament to the UN agenda. Ranging from Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace Speech to the Rajiv Gandhi Plan for a Nuclear-free World, from the legality of nuclear weapons according to the ICJ to the various compulsions that shaped India’s path to nuclear status, the talks were both expansive and detailed. 

Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman opened the session with the Secretary-General’s message on this Day, describing it as an opportunity for the world community to reaffirm its commitment to complete nuclear disarmament. She was followed by Dr. Murthy who described the role of the UN as forum, a funnel and a front for nuclear disarmament, outlining key issues of politics of nation states around nuclear weapons. 

Dr. Ravi Kumar, speaking on the ethics of nuclear weapons, pointed out the evolving but constant moral grounding of India’s nuclear doctrine – from maintaining a nuclear option to today’s no-first-use policy, India has managed a moral justification for all its choices in the field of nuclear capability. Finally, Mr. Trivedi reminded the audience that 17,000 nuclear weapons still exist today and more than half of the world’s population lives in countries under the nuclear umbrella. 

The session closed with a number of deeply insightful and highly incisive questions from the audience, comprised of a number of political science students, and students of LSR’s Conflict Transformation and Peace-building course. A student raised a question regarding the fate of Scotland’s nuclear installations had the Scots chosen independence from Britain, leading into the far less hypothetical situation of the potential transfer of nuclear facilities in Pakistan. This was followed by a discussion of the threat to West Asian stability posed by Israel’s nuclear capabilities. 

The event ended with remarks by Mrs. Mehra-Kerpelman responding to some of the speeches.

Police reform an urgent need, say activists

23 September 2014
Participants at the event

The Guild for Service, headed by Dr. V. Mohini Giri, led an energetic discussion at the UN House in New Delhi on policing, the laws and policies that govern them, as well as the systemic issues that need to be reviewed and revised.

An array of activists, researchers, policy experts, students and others attended the seminar to help evolve a concrete framework of action. They included Dr. Syeda Hameed, former member of the Planning Commission; Shamina Shafiq, member  of the National Commission for Women; Ved Marwah, former Governor of Manipur and Jharkhand and former Delhi Police Commissioner; and Maja Daruwala of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. 

The Commissioner of Police (Delhi), B.S. Bassi also attended along with several colleagues to listen to the views and suggestions offered and to respond to citizens’ concerns.

In democracies, the police must act to advance public safety while treating people with respect, UNIC New Delhi Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman said in her address.” They must also be accountable, for while they have the power to coerce, they are also bound by laws that restrict and control the arbitrary application of those powers.”

“Much of this depends on the quality and implementation of laws and policies, the extent of independence that police forces enjoy and, let us not forget, the conditions in which they are expected to function, and function effectively,” Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman added.

“The starting point for any reform, it seems to me, is to evaluate the superstructure within which the police operates, and then to address systemic challenges, rather than evolve short-term solutions.”

Ms. Daruwala provided a comprehensive backgrounder on attempts to undertake police reform, including firm directives given by the Supreme Court of India. “We can’t judge police performance simply by crime figures,” she emphasized.

The Supreme Court directives address some of the core issues of policing, including the need to separate investigation and law-and-order functions and the need for a Police Complaints Authority – crucial to ensure accountability.

Quite apart from whether these directives are followed or not, Ms. Daruwala said, the police can themselves take steps to improve their functioning and efficiency and to be regarded as a friendly, receptive force. “To begin with, we need police stations that are welcoming,” she said. “We need to have a policing plan, and we need the police to be insulated from political interference.”

A number of speakers recounted experiences that pointed to the need for greater sensitivity on the part of the police, not merely senior police officials but also the constabulary. Many urged that training and awareness programmes focus on the disconnect between citizens and the police. 

Several speakers also drew attention to the less than adequate conditions that police personnel live and work in. “If a constable is overworked, goes back to an inhospitable dwelling and has no time for his family, how can we expect him to give us a patient hearing?” asked one member of the audience.

The Police Commissioner promised to take all of the concerns into account, and also invited them to inspect the systems, training programmes and day-to-day functioning of the police. He also welcomed social audits of the training curriculum. “My plan and objective is to continue to keep people safe,” he added.

The seminar concluded with all the participants resolving to foster mutual respect to bring about better police-community relations. “Let us cooperate with the police and let the police ensure that citizens can walk into police stations with confidence,” said Dr. Hameed.

UNIC-FEJI media seminar on climate change

16 September 2014
Participants at the seminar

 

On 15 and 16 September, in collaboration with the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India (FEJI), the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) New Delhi organized a media seminar for journalists from across India to better comprehend the issues around climate change. UNIC brought together more than 25 journalists and almost 20 eminent experts over the course of five sessions in two days. 15 journalists came in from cities as far as Guwahati, Bangalore, Jaipur, Chennai, Mumbai, Bhubhaneshwar, and others; many journalists from Delhi and the environs also participated. In advance of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on 23 September 2014 in New York, the seminar provided a timely intervention to help journalists grasp and communicate the urgency of climate change to their readers. 

Dr. R.K. Pachauri inaugurated the seminar which got off to a roaring start. The panel explored the scientific evidence of the occurrence and impacts of climate change. We have seen and will continue to see an increase in extreme weather events like floods, droughts, storm surges and heat waves, a rise in sea-levels and consequent salinization of coastal fresh water resources, and drastic changes in temperature and rainfall. Heat waves like that of Moscow in 2010, which are currently 1 in 20 year events, maybe become likely once in 2 years.

“We have one chance in this generation to save the planet, and that’s in Paris in 2015.”  - Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator, India.

Dr. J. Srinivasan of the Indian Institute of Science debunked a vast array of myths that climate deniers have sought to propagate, pointing out the massive funding from fossil fuel lobbies and others that goes into funding climate denial. He warned that the journalistic urge for balance can sometimes end up misleading the public when it gives equal credit and time to unscientific or politically motivated versions of the climate change story. In the true spirit of scientific rigor, the speakers made it clear that specific weather events (which occur on a timescale of days, months or years), cannot be said to be directly caused by global climate change (which is observed over decades and centuries). Predictions too are made in probabilities, but as a speaker eloquently pointed out, “If a doctor tells you there’s a 95% chance of contracting an infection, you take precautions based on the 95%, rather than relying on the 5% off-chance of not getting sick.” 

After understanding the physical phenomenon of climate change, including its distinction from weather variability, the next session focused on the Economic Case for Low-Carbon strategies. The session dealt with India’s steps towards adopting renewable energy, including the vast opportunities that lie in forms like solar and wind. It emphasized that it is firmly in India’s interests to carve out a new path to growth that does not involve aping the carbon-heavy environment-unfriendly industrialization of the West. In terms of energy infrastructure, it was noted that it is crucial to avoid ‘lock-ins’, or the construction of heavy infrastructure in dated industries like coal and natural gas, that would force India to continue to use dirty fuels for the next few decades, or the timespan of the plants etc. It is also essential in any economic assessments to account for externalities, which become the costs of inaction, such as health costs relating to increase in vector-borne diseases, among others. 

The next session dealt specifically with energy efficiency as a key component in the quest for energy security, with representatives from the UN Industrial Development addressing constraints like quality of raw materials, fragmented industry standards and the development of technology. 

The second day dealt in depth with the challenges of food security and health, with the first session revolving around the challenges posed by a changing climate to Indian food production, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. As with many of the deep injustices of climate change, those most vulnerable to negative shocks are those who are already socially and economically marginalized, and have contributed least to causing the problem. The adoption of adaptation measures is vital to reduce the damage caused by climate change, including steps like changing crop patterns, drought-resistant seeds, information dissemination regarding weather patterns and farmer training on dealing with weather variability.

In closing, the Valedictory Session chaired by UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman heard from Ms. Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment, and Prof. K. Srinath Reddy, Director of the Public Health Foundation of India. Dr. Reddy spoke wide-rangingly about the connections of climate change with human health, insects and pests, grain-fed vs. grass-fed livestock, and even tobacco companies. He stressed that connecting the dots was central to a journalist’s mandate to report thoroughly and comprehensively. 

“The tragedy and the irony of climate change is that the poorest are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The poorest who do not contribute to the cause of climate change, the poor who give us the opportunity to breathe – because of their poverty they do not add emissions to climate change. - Sunita Narain, Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment

The participants found the seminar to be exceedingly useful in terms of understanding the nuances behind the science, politics and art of climate change. The outstation journalists in particular, deeply appreciated the opportunity to interact with policy-makers, practitioners and academics around this issue, and look forward to publishing a number of stories stemming from the Seminar, strengthening and deepening the national and international conversation about the imperative need to respond to climate change.

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