How ancient Babylon continues to inspire

Babylon, a name that is associated with urban architectural beauty and military might, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List this month. Dating back to one of the largest and most influential empires of the ancient world, Babylon was capital of the Neo-Babylonian Empire between 626 and 539 B.C. and the seat of a number of powerful rulers. 

Babylon is famous for giving the world Hammurabi’s legal code and Nebuchadnezzar’s palace, along with stories that live in the three monotheistic religions of the Middle East and an abundance of imagery for tales all over the world. The ancient empire that inherited cuneiform writing and built the Tower of Babel is the stuff of legend and, most recently, computer games. 

According to Greek texts, Babylon was also home to the Hanging Gardens, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and something of an architectural mystery. Despite lying in ruins today, and the extensive damage it has sustained over the centuries, the ancient city continues to inspire and intrigue. 

The UN World Heritage Committee held its 43rd session between June 30 and July 10 in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku. The committee received and discussed nominations from a number of countries around the world, as it does annually. This year, a record number of 29 new sites were added, so the list of World Heritage Sites now counts 1,121 properties, according to the UNESCO website. 

For a property to be listed, it has to fulfill specific criteria that distinguish it either culturally or naturally, or both. The committee deemed the site of Babylon to be “the most exceptional testimony” of the Babylonian civilization, which “exerted considerable political, scientific, technological, architectural and artistic influence upon the human settlements in the region, and on successive historic periods of antiquity.” 

The designated site includes the ancient city’s surviving structures of walls, gates, palaces and temples, along with the villages and agricultural areas around it. While Babylon has long been a contender for this recognition, and had been nominated in the past, it took until this month for it to be added to the list of World Heritage Sites. 

UNESCO has already produced a detailed report on Babylon, through the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of the Cultural Heritage of Iraq, which had established a Sub-Committee on Babylon to assess the damage and report on the archaeological site where a military base had been operating since 2003. 

The “Report on Damage Assessments in Babylon,” which was published in 2009, outlined the then-recent damage to the ancient city’s layout and standing structures. The report also included recommendations and plans for conservation work on the site, with the purpose of nominating it for inscription as a World Heritage Site. 

Despite sustaining more damage over the past decade, to which looting and extended fighting were major contributing factors, the city of Babylon is not among UNESCO’s endangered World Heritage Sites, unlike the ancient city of Ashur (a site also known as Qal’at Sherqat). 

Having been the capital of the Assyrian Empire for a while, and dating back to the third millennium B.C., Ashur was destroyed by the Babylonians before it enjoyed a brief revival in the first two centuries A.D. Ashur was of particular religious significance, being the city-state that the Assyrians who worshiped the god Ashur considered their religious capital. 

Despite already being in a bad state, the site’s history brought Ashur detrimental attention when Daesh controlled the area. Ashur’s historical significance as a religious site, similarly to that of Nimrud, which was another Neo-Assyrian capital and an important part of ancient Mesopotamian religious history, was the stated motivation Daesh fighters claimed as they inflicted significant damage on them. 

The overall effect amounted to wholesale destruction and, in some cases, the total leveling of such significant monuments in the story of humankind. It would appear that a number of factors have contributed to the relative survival of the ruins of Babylon. The location, 85 kilometers south of Baghdad, might have spared the city’s structures the destruction faced by other sites in the region, especially those in closer proximity to Mosul and the parts of Iraq and Syria that fell under the control of Daesh fighters. 

Back in 2009, the UNESCO damage assessment report suggested that 20th century excavations and controversial preservation efforts accounted for some of the threats to the standing structures, and contributed to challenges for preservation and excavation work. The published draft report of the World Heritage Committee’s most recent meeting states that 85 percent of the Babylon site is yet to be excavated. 

This means that inscription to the World Heritage List might engage a wider pool of specialists in further excavations and preservation work in Babylon. One of the world’s oldest and most famous urban centers may well have the chance to bring new inspiration to human civilization as it grapples with today’s challenges of growing urbanization and the management of natural resources. 

Whether in the complicated process of UNESCO dealings, in ongoing conflicts in the region, or in the hearts of believers and the imagination of storytellers, Babylon is successfully maintaining a place at various intersections of cultures, languages, powers, laws, religions, and living species. 

Tala Jarjour is author of “Sense and Sadness: Syriac Chant in Aleppo”


Iraqi group spreads tolerance and peace through art

Walking into the traditional Baghdadi house, one is amazed by the number of artworks displayed in the yard and on walls of the building’s spacious rooms. 

Beit Tarkeeb, in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood, is a platform for a variety of art forms and where young Iraqis can train, learn and expose their work covering visual arts, performing arts, films, music, literature, photography and interior design. 

“Our goal is to spread the culture of peace and its values. Art is our means to communicate our principles and alternatives to rampant violence wrecking the Iraqi society,” said Zeid Saad, 27, an artist and founding member of Beit Tarkeeb. 

“We are an NGO that promotes contemporary arts for young talents aged 15-35 who wish to express their ideas through a variety of art genres, especially music, acting and dancing.” 

Since its founding in 2015, Beit Tarkeeb has been organising the Baghdad Contemporary Art Festival, which is the only festival in Iraq that features young artists in artistic specialities such as contemporary art, literature, music, cinema and theatre. 

A large installation of twisted and dangling wires captures visitors’ attention because of its unusual shape. “It is the work of a young participant in a recent exhibition who wanted to raise awareness about the problem of poor power supply and the incredible amount of electrical wires on the streets of Baghdad,” Saad explained. 

“Contemporary art is something new in Iraq and not many people understand the message the artists are trying to convey. Each work has an idea behind it and seeks to raise a problem that is affecting the society without directly touching on politics, religion or gender.” 

“Art is not meant to cause conflict or controversy but constructive change. We believe in art’s ability to positively affect fellow Iraqis and foster the aspired change,” Saad added. Artists in Beit Tarkeeb stage surprise musical and theatre performances on the streets of Baghdad. 

“The idea is to share with the public, not to be confined in a closed space,” Saad said. “Beit Tarkeeb succeeded in breaking conventional approaches through its performances, workshops and training courses with the support of European institutions advocating contemporary art.” 

With the support of Germany’s GIZ, the group organises “art therapy” sessions during which participants play music with utensils and housewares. “Through these sessions participants work on expelling negative energy and replacing it with positivity. At the end they perform before an audience which helps them to gain hope and self-confidence,” Saad explained. 

Beit Tarkeeb also offers therapy through reading and discussion of books chosen by therapists. They have a weekly Open Projector Night to present works from local and regional film-makers and Art Lecture Lab once a month, which is a public lecture series presented by specialists and devoted to the study and development of arts and sciences. 

The artists at Beit Tarkeeb come from different backgrounds, different regions and various art fields but they unite under the shared goal of conveying peace. Some came from Mosul, where they lived under the tyrannical rule of the Islamic State. 

Art therapies are designed to deal with post-war traumas and to spread a culture of tolerance and non-violence by promoting the principle of civil peace and preventing acts of reprisals, Saad said. 

National concerns, such as the absence of the rule of law and justice, corruption or widespread unemployment, feature heavily in discussions as well as concerns about tribal justice and punishment and the proliferation of weapons outside government control. 

Atef Jaffal, an 18-year-old contemporary interior designer and volunteer worker with Beit Tarkeeb, speaks about his work with passion. “I want to be part of this place that will propel contemporary art through the great support it is offering the youth without any charge,” he said. 

“Beit Tarkeeb gives young talents complete freedom in practising their art and using the place. That helps develop their artistic skills without pressure or preconditions.” 

Mina Hamed, 16, was rushing to the drawing workshop in the building’s basement carrying her colour tubes, brushes and canvas. “I have been passionate about drawing since childhood. When I learned about the summer sessions at Tarkeeb, I couldn’t wait for school to finish. I wish to study medicine and art. There is no harm in practising both,” she said with a big smile. 

Outside the restored Baghdadi house, contemporary artworks, including sculptures, installations and paintings, are featured on walls and in different corners of the yard. “I am confident that Beit Tarkeeb will constitute a milestone in the course of Iraqi art. We aspire to be the nucleus from which contemporary arts in the country will expand,” Saad said. 

By Oumayma Omar


How is Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi using music to fight terrorism? have reported how Iraqi musician and conductor Karim Wasfi is working to bring music to war-torn countries. Since 2015, and after witnessing violence and destruction in his homeland, the respected cellist left the concert halls and began to perform amongst rubble. 

His campaign, called Music for Peace, aims to counter the intimidation of insurgents and lend support to victims of civil unrest. “It was a message to encourage people to continue, and to continue to be human. To continue be connected and attached to life.” Wasfi explains. 

"To do it at [a war-torn] spot was to turn every element in life into a theatre, acting in full connectivity against radicalisation and against terror.” The 47-year-old has performed at approximately 25 destroyed sites, including Mosul, which suffered an attack in 2017 by the so-called Islamic State. 

The strike blew up the Al-Nuri mosque along with its 850-year-old leaning Al Hadba minaret. According to Wasfi, music is an essential tool for empowerment and engagement in society. He believes that the younger generation shouldn’t appreciate the art form passively, but instead consider it a catalyst for positive leadership and a brighter future. 

“At the societal level, at the community level, education and enlightenment is the only empowering driving force behind preserving a momentum,” he says. Wasfi adds that, despite war and its aftermath, culture will always be present and active in the Middle East region. 

“Culture will never die in Iraq,” he says. “Or even in the region, where there is a rich history of civilisations, of shared cultures, and exposure to other cultures of integration.” 

With his Peace Through Arts Global Foundation, Wasfi plans to continue to create lasting change, fighting for his ideals whilst spreading his message of positivity worldwide “When this area dries out of oil, we can flood the whole world with culture,” he says.


Why Britain's record jobs and pay miracle is not what it seems

Britain has witnessed a remarkable period of high employment, with the number of people in work at its highest since the 1970s. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the unemployment holding steady at 3.8%, its lowest rate on record. 

Wages have also increased at their fastest rate in more than a decade, data published on Tuesday shows. But the reality of Britain’s labour market is less rosy and more complex than some of the headline figures suggest. 

Half the new jobs are in self-employed, insecure work 

Half of the past year’s employment growth has been in self-employment, typically far more insecure and often less well-paid than staff roles, according to the Resolution Foundation. 

“One of the big changes in the job market over the past year has been the return of growing self-employment. The number of self-employed workers has increased by 167,000,” the thinktank said. 

It is part of a growing trend over the past decade, with increased numbers of young people employed in the gig economy and rising numbers of over-65s continuing to work on a freelance basis. 

Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist at Royal London, said self-employment could sometimes be a “victory for fitting work around life,” but an ONS study last year found the average self-employed worker took home far less money a week than their counterpart in a staff job. 

“On the other hand, it’s 1.5 million people who may be earning less, not paying enough into their pension and experiencing cash flow issues that put them at risk of debt,” added O’Connor. 

The number of people employed in staff jobs actually dropped by an alarming 85,000 people in the three months to May. That fall is the biggest drop in employee numbers since November 2011. 

The overall employment rate also fell by 0.1%, despite a small rise in absolute numbers as the population grew faster. 

But the ONS is keen to point out the number of people on zero-hour contracts or working just a few hours a week remains tiny as a proportion of overall jobs, amid fears it could be distorting employment figures. 

Incomes are still £5 lower than a decade ago 

Pay may be on the rise and increasing faster than inflation now, but earnings are still scarred by the financial crisis and Britain’s weak recovery in the years since. 

As the Resolution Foundation thinktank tweeted: “Recent good news has not changed the long-term picture of a decade of poor pay growth: real weekly earnings are still £5 below the pre-crisis peak.” 

ONS officials admitted in May the economy “has not exactly been booming for everyone.” 

It said wage growth was “quite slow” by historical standards, perhaps reflecting a shift in the balance of power from employees to employers in recent decades or Britain’s increasingly poor record improving productivity. 

The majority of people in poverty in Britain in recent years have been in work rather than unemployed, with employment failing to guarantee decent incomes. 

Brexit is limiting pay growth – and no-deal could ruin the party 

“With unemployment so low, salaries could be even higher,” said Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors. 

The ONS has previously noted “it would be expected that labour shortages would put pressure on wages to increase,” with employers usually forced to pay more to attract or keep increasingly scarce talent. 

by Tom Belger


Calling the AMAR Foundation, the real life International Rescue

Having fun, dressing up and fund-raising at the same time. Hussein Al-Alak and Tracy Hollowood recount their adventures of running around Salford's Media City, to aid the ongoing efforts of the AMAR Foundation

On the 27th June, Hussein and Tracy took part on Salford's Run Media City, to support AMAR's efforts across Iraq and in this exclusive interview with Sile Martin - on Manchester's ALL FM - Hussein and Tracy explain their reasons for supporting AMAR's work and recall their recent Run Media City fundraiser. 

This was the second Run Media City, which Hussein and Tracy have run for the AMAR Foundation. In 2018, they first took part on the run dressed as Anthony and Cleopatra and for this year's Run Media City, they ran as characters from the popular Gerry Anderson TV show Thunderbirds.

In their interview with Sile Martin, the AMAR Foundation are described as being the real life International Rescue, whose humanitarian based services are helping Iraqi citizens to rebuild their lives, after experiencing years of devastating conflict. 


When Islamic State came, the monks had just finished hiding the manuscripts

The first time a band of Islamic State militants “visited” the monks, they presented the monks with a kind of suggestion, in a nonthreatening manner: “Why don’t you become a Muslim?” Already, the four monks at the ancient Syriac Catholic Mar Behnam Monastery in Khidr, Iraq, had felt they were under siege. 

Ten days earlier, on June 10, 2014, five carloads of militants roared through the peaceful road leading to Mar Behnam, announcing through megaphones that the Islamic State was in control. Not long before that, the Iraqi army had withdrawn from a checkpoint near the monastery, located southeast of Mosul. 

“Visits” from the terrorists the next few weeks intensified: banging on the monastery doors and accusations of the monks being infidels. “Quite frankly, we were more than frightened,” said Syriac Catholic Father Youssef Sakat, who had served as Mar Behnam’s superior. The monks kept up with their regular daily routine of prayer and Mass in the monastery, which dates back to the fourth century. 

They prayed for protection through the intercession of St. Behnam, a martyr, with faith that “we were in a blessed place,” mindful that generations of Syriac Catholic Christians had also faced persecution, and still the faith had endured, Father Sakat told Catholic News Service. The monastery “was built by local people, stone by stone,” he said of Mar Behnam. “I’m sure they put their hearts into their work. I feel it was made with love.” 

Under Father Sakat’s direction since 2012, Mar Behnam had flourished, welcoming up to 250 visitors on weekends — even from around the world — for retreats and lodging with the goal of helping people to better understand the monastic life. The monks would engage the children in lively faith-based activities. “We wanted to show them that Mar Behnam is their home, too,” Father Sakat said. 

A Muslim friend the monks trusted was keeping them abreast of the worsening situation, but even he was becoming fearful. “I’m sorry, Father, I can’t come to the monastery anymore,” he told the priest. “Even I’m being watched. It’s becoming very dangerous. They want to kill you.” 

All the while, Father Sakat was deeply concerned about how to safeguard the chalices and other sacramentals and the monastery’s extensive collection of religious manuscripts from inevitable destruction by the militants. The 630 manuscripts, dating from the 12th to 18th centuries, were written in a range of languages, including Syriac, Greek, French and Latin. 

Twice, Father Sakat tried to leave by car, with the intention of taking manuscripts to Qaraqosh, nine miles away. Each time, the militants at the Islamic State checkpoint near Mar Behnam told the priest that he was not allowed to take anything from the monastery. “It doesn’t belong to you,” they said. On his third attempt, he was ordered to return to the monastery: “If we see you outside, we will kill you.” 

On their own, the monks could not come up with a solution, Father Sakat said. He recalled that on July 19, late in the afternoon, “I felt in my heart: I have to hide them now.” He chose a long, narrow closet under a stairwell that was used to store cleaning supplies. “It was the Lord who directed us,” Father Sakat said. 

Beginning at 8 p.m., the monks worked together, carefully placing the sacramentals and manuscripts into nine steel barrels used for storing grain. With cinderblocks from a monastery renovation project, they built a false wall in the closet, hiding the barrels behind it. With a cement mixture, they painted all the walls to give them the same appearance. Cleaning supplies were put back in place in the closet. The monks even left the closet door ajar, so as not to rouse suspicions of any Islamist intruder. 

They finished their work at 3 a.m. At 1:30 p.m., four Islamic State militants barged through the Mar Behnam door with a sheikh. The monks were given three choices: either become Muslim, pay the jizya tax or leave. “We prefer to leave,” Father Sakat told the Islamists. They were allowed 15 minutes to vacate. Father Sakat was ordered to turn over all the keys to the monastery and vehicles. 

Banished from his beloved monastery, as he walked out the door, “I looked back and told Mar (St.) Behnam, ‘I did what I had to do. Now I entrust them under your intercession, by the power of God. Keep them safe. They are under your protection,'” Father Sakat recounted of his plea to safeguard the sacramentals and manuscripts. The monks were ordered into one of the militants’ vehicles. 

Two miles from the monastery, the militants left the monks on the road, warning: “Whoever looks back, we will shoot him.” The monks walked several hours to Qaraqosh. Their reprieve from terrorism was not for long. Soon that city and other Christian villages in the Ninevah Plain also fell to Islamic State. 

In June 2015, the Syriac Catholic patriarch called Father Sakat to Lebanon for his new mission, helping Iraqi Christian refugees who had come to Lebanon from Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. Now the priest heads the Syriac Catholic Holy Family center in an area of Beirut where many Iraqi Christians settled, with the hope of being resettled in Western countries. 

Initially, there were 1,200 Syriac Catholic families, totaling 6,700 people. Many are now scattered all over the world; 600 families remain in Lebanon, waiting. In March 2015, the Islamic State blew up part of Mar Behnam, and the monastery remained under the militants’ control until the area was liberated in October 2017. 

When Father Sakat visited the monastery that December, he said he was shocked at the destruction. Graffiti covered the walls. The pillars of the altar were incinerated. One by one, all religious phrases, crosses and symbols inscribed into the monastery’s stones were drilled out and defaced, including the names of priests inscribed on tombs. Religious statues were smashed, a statue of Mary beheaded. 

“It’s like they want to erase all the history of Christianity,” Father Sakat said. Father Sakat stood with anticipation as the wall concealing the manuscripts was chiseled away with a jackhammer, to reveal, intact, the nine steel barrels containing the sacramentals and manuscripts. 

The manuscripts were individually packed, this time into car trunks to transport them to the Queen of Peace Syriac Catholic Church in Irbil for safekeeping. Restoration of the monastery is currently in progress, but “it needs some time,” Father Sakat said. “I’m waiting for the Lord’s will, to go back (to Mar Behnam),” he added. 

by Doreen Abi Raad


Iraq’s Yazidis remain displaced five years after ISIS genocide

Five years after ISIS launched its genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Yazidi, the religious minority remain displaced from their ancestral homeland. For centuries, the ethno-religious group – which emerged from Iran 4,000 years ago – lived in relative obscurity in an arid corner of northwest Iraq around the rugged Sinjar mountain. 

The closed faith has no written book and reveres a peacock angel, which ISIS interpreted as sacrilege. When the terrorists swept across northern Iraq in summer 2014, they killed about 1,280 Yazidi and kidnapped an estimated 6,400, mostly women and children. The rest of the population was forcibly displaced in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and beyond. 

Of the 550,000 Yazidis in Iraq before 2014, about 100,000 have emigrated and 360,000 remain internally displaced. ISIS and the war to drive it out destroyed much of the region’s infrastructure and agriculture, while hundreds of kidnapped women and children remain missing. Only a few thousand have been able to return to Sinjar, where most homes remain in ruins and services such as electricity, hospitals and clean water are scarce. 

More than 70 grave sites have been identified across Sinjar containing the remains of ISIS victims, 12 of which have been exhumed as part of an inquiry carried out by the UN, Iraq’s government and other agencies. Roughly 3,300 Yazidis have returned from ISIS captivity in the past five years, only 10 per cent of them men. The vast majority of remaining returnees are women and girls forced by ISIS into slavery and raped. 

The closed-off Yazidi sect would have once excommunicated them for having sex outside marriage. Rulings by the faith’s five-member High Spiritual Council stated women and children captured by ISIS were welcome back, but not children born of ISIS fathers. Children are considered Yazidi only if both their parents are also of the faith. 

The council includes both the worldwide “prince” of Yazidis and Baba Sheikh, their religious chief, based in Sheikhan near the holy site of Lalish, nestled in the mountains of northern Iraq. Yazidis are organised into three castes – sheikhs, pirs, and murids – and cannot wed across them or outside the sect. Over time, the faith has integrated elements of other religions: children are baptised in holy water like Christians, boys are circumcised and men can take up to four wives like Muslims. 

Of the world’s nearly 1.5 million Yazidis, the largest number lived in Iraq, with smaller numbers in Kurdish-speaking parts of Turkey and Syria. Over decades of migration, sizeable Yazidi populations have sprung up across Europe too, chiefly in Germany, which is home to about 150,000. Other communities can be found in Sweden, France, Belgium and Russia.


Collecting evidence to use in holding Daesh accountable for crimes against humanity

The following statement was given by Susan Dickson, UK Legal Adviser to the UN, at the Security Council Briefing on UNITAD and Daesh accountability on the 15th July 2019. 

Mr President, I would like to start by thanking Special Advisor Karim Khan for his informative update on the recent progress made by the UN Investigative Team. I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and welcome the recent appointment of his Iraqi deputy, Dr Salama. The United Kingdom is grateful to them and to their team for the excellent work that they have undertaken so far. 

The United Kingdom emphasises the importance of recruiting further Iraqi members of the team as soon as possible. This recruitment, alongside training and development opportunities, will provide an important legacy for Iraq in building capacity and sharing expertise. 

Mr President, we welcome the strong and positive engagement of the team with the Government of Iraq, both in Baghdad and here in New York. We are grateful to the Government of Iraq for their continued commitment to and support for UNITAD’s work. This message of commitment was conveyed strongly to the Council during our recent visit to Baghdad from the highest levels of the Government of Iraq. 

We also welcome the continued collaboration between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government with the team to agree modalities for cooperation. Over the next reporting period, we encourage the team to redouble and prioritise its engagement with the Government of Iraq to ensure the greatest possible use of evidence collected in Iraqi domestic proceedings, including allowing for the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide under domestic law. 

This would constitute a remarkable step forward for promoting accountability for survivors and the families of Daesh’s victims. 

Maintaining and strengthening this close engagement with the Government of Iraq, the International Community, Non-Governmental Organisations and the people of Iraq will be essential over the coming months. 

Mr President, less than 12 months after UNITAD received its first budget, the team has made remarkable progress. Over the last six months, they have established a new official headquarters, developed an investigative strategy, conducted excavations in Sinjar, as well as making important progress towards putting in place the necessary systems to ensure evidence is safely stored. 

We welcome this progress and hope that their digital storage system will be fully up and running by the time of our next briefing. We also look forward to the planned excavation in Mosul, and to the remaining field operation units become fully operational soon. 

Mr President, the Council’s recent visit was also an important reminder to us all of the scale of the task ahead for the Government of Iraq in transitioning into a post-conflict environment. Reconciliation, reconstruction and accountability for all survivors of Daesh violence is essential. The enormity of the task ahead for UNITAD in gathering further evidence is also clear. 

The collection of forensic, physical and biological material from mass grave sites in Iraq is an essential first step for providing closure for the families of their victims. We urge the team to continue to focus on this important task, and to share further details on their investigative strategy as it develops, as well as any challenges that they may face. 

The United Kingdom also acknowledges the valuable work the team has undertaken so far in gathering witness testimonies. We urge all UN bodies in Iraq to work collaboratively to ensure they avoid duplication of effort and to mitigate the risks around the potential re-traumatising of victims. In this regard, we urge UNAMI, UNITAD and the UN Iraq Team of Experts to work together to coordinate their efforts and to share best practice and technical expertise. 

Mr President, in November 2019, the United Kingdom will be hosting a conference on preventing sexual violence called “Time for Justice: Putting Survivors First.” We hope that all Council members will send senior representatives from their Governments to signify their commitment to PSVI, and to ensuring accountability for the perpetrators and support for survivors, their children and relatives. 

When Resolution 2379 was adopted unanimously in September 2017, it demonstrated the Council’s full support for efforts to bring Daesh to justice. Since its inception, when Nadia Murad addressed the Council, survivors and victims have been at the heart of the team’s efforts. 

We commend the team’s approach in emphasising there is no hierarchy of victims and the recognition that all Iraqis suffered at the hands of Daesh. Their work will be important in supporting the Government of Iraq and its efforts towards national reconciliation. 

The United Kingdom is proud to support the important work of the investigative team and I am pleased to announce today an additional £1 million in funding to the Investigative Team, taking the total contribution from the United Kingdom so far to £2 million. 

We thank the growing number of Member States who have also pledged support to the team and we encourage other countries to consider financial and in-kind support to ensure the team can continue with – and accelerate – its valuable work. 

Mr President, in concluding, I would like to reiterate the United Kingdom’s full support for the efforts of the Special Adviser and his team. We look forward to the unanimous renewal of the team’s mandate in September. I thank you, Mr President.


Cyclists gear up for rides in London and Manchester in support of Palestinian rights

Hundreds of human rights campaigners from across the UK are set to take part in The Big Ride for Palestine 2019, an annual event which combines a love of cycling and solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

The event is supported by a number of campaigning organizations including Palestine Solidarity Campaign, War on Want, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Campaign Against Arms Trade. This year’s event will comprise two cycling rides. 

The first ride is 36 miles and will take place in London on Saturday July, 27, 2019 and will be welcomed to East London with a big evening event organized by Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign featuring food, music and speakers including acclaimed comedian Mark Thomas. 

The second ride is 44 miles and will take place in Manchester on Saturday 3rd August, also ending with an evening event celebrating Palestinian culture. The event aims to raise awareness of the human rights abuses suffered by the Palestinian people, with a particular focus on the plight of children living in Gaza – a besieged 139 square mile area of land within which almost 2 million Palestinians live. 

More than 40% of these people are under 15 years old. The event is also raising money for the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA); a charity that specializes in working with children who have been traumatized by living under a military occupation. 

Since 2015, The Big Ride has raised nearly £150,000 for sports equipment used in the healing and rehabilitation of children, a project run in partnership with MECA. This year’s ride also marks the fifth anniversary of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza which took place in July and August 2014. This assault killed over 2,200 Palestinians, of whom 551 were children. 

Dr Mona El Farra, Gaza Director of MECA, said: “With every mile they cycle, those participating in The Big Ride are protesting against 72 years of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. They are sending a message to the Palestinian people, and to the people of Gaza in particular, that they are not abandoned. They are bringing hope to millions of Palestinian children for whom life has been scarred by trauma and fear – we greatly appreciate and salute this act of solidarity.” 

Ellen Logan, an organizer of The Big Ride, said: “I’ve witnessed the daily oppression of the Palestinian people; the discrimination, the violence, the inhumanity of the situation. I returned wanting to get involved in something that highlighted the appalling apartheid practices I saw, and that’s why I’m part of The Big Ride. We are reaching a lot of people and raising crucial awareness of the injustices that Palestinians face on a daily basis”. 

Sign-ups are still open for The Big Ride 2019, more information can be found here.


Why we should all be over the Moon about Apollo

“That’s one small step for Man, one giant leap for Mankind” was the quote from Neil Armstrong as he stepped onto the Lunar surface at Tranquility Base, in the early hours of the morning July 21st here in London and late in the evening July 20th in the USA . 

Yet, as Robert Stone says in his film, ‘Chasing The Moon’, “it took millions of steps to take one giant leap.” 

Over 400,000 people worked on the Apollo, Mercury, and Gemini programs and it is worth noting that many of the leading roles in this effort were held by British and Commonwealth citizens with input from British, Canadian, Indian, and Australian companies and more. 

It is also worth noting that at its height the Apollo program represented 4% of the US Government’s annual budget. A huge investment, yes, but also one that created a host of new technologies and industries that have driven and that continue to drive our economies today. 

From computing to communications, to new medicines and more. The US Government estimates that for every dollar spent four dollars’ worth of value was created and more so today. 

A sound investment as after all, we must never forget that 100% of the monies ‘spent in space’ are not! They are of course spent down here on Earth in our economies providing high tech employment and jobs and growth. Spinning off new technologies that benefit our lives. The Apollo program brought a more modern world to us all. 

It is one of the shining examples of the truth that investing in science and engineering works, and that this can be a great role for government. Those funds in turn fuel growth in our own economy and provide jobs here at home that attract talent from around the world to our universities and institutions and companies that drive British Industry ever forwards. 

The Apollo programme also gave us a new avenue for diplomacy – space! Some see the Apollo programme as the height of the competition between superpowers, the much vaunted space race. 

However, other sounder minds also note this as the beginnings of the end of the cold war. With superpower cooperation in space laying the seeds for our modern world today diplomatically. 

Everyone quite rightly remembers JFK’s speech to Rice University in September of 1962 declaring the goal of putting a person on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth before the decade was out. 

This led the US and its Allies from a near standing start to putting a person on the Moon in less than 7 years. A monumental achievement for any nation and for the human race as a whole.

After all, the Soviets had the first satellite, the first man to orbit the earth, the first woman to orbit the earth, the first spacewalk, the first space station, the first robotic landing on the Moon…it was a race…but look at what competition can achieve! 

It was a race, but it also became diplomacy. After the Bay of Pigs, JFK met with Khrushchev in Vienna and offered to team up with the Soviets to go to the Moon together. Khrushchev declined then. 

However, Nixon tried again with Brezhnev in 1972 as the Apollo programme was ending and the Apollo Soyuz program was born. 

So at the very height of the Cold War in 1974, Americans and Russians were peacefully working together on a joint mission in space. Cold war rivals became new world allies. 

From this came the Shuttle Mir program in the 1990s and from there to the International Space Station today. 

When you speak with some of the Cosmonauts of that era, they will tell you that the Cold War ended for them in 1972 when the first Americans arrived to work together with them in Star City. 

Since 2000 Russians, Americans and ourselves have been living and working continuously and most importantly peacefully together in space. Who would have thought that landing on the Moon could lead to an era such as this? Even in the deepest darkness there is always light. 

Space unites Humanity today, just as humanity came together as one that night in July 1969 to watch the Apollo 11 landing live, the largest global audience at its time. As the astronauts departed the Moon they left a plaque stating, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind." 

Non Americans note. They chose to leave the message ‘for all mankind’. Apollo was by far the best foot forward for all humanity. 

The Apollo programme gave us a new human perspective, a new human race up there where there are no borders. 

All who have seen the Earth no matter from which nation experience the Overview Effect. Seeing the beauty of Earth changes, them, literally, for the better. 

Indeed, the greatest gift we received from the Apollo programme was not the Moon, but rather the Earth! 

The crew of Apollo 8 circumnavigated the Moon in December of 1968, indeed Christmas Eve itself, and took the iconic ‘Earth Rise’ photo, an image directly credited with starting the environmental movement here at home. 

This was the first time the entire human race collectively saw the beauty of our home planet against the backdrop of the deepest darkness of space. 

Our Earth shines like a jewel in space. The jewel of all creation. “We went to the Moon and discovered the Earth” as Frank Borman, Commander, Apollo 8, said so succinctly. 

Whomever could forgive the way we treat the world in which we live? The world on which all our odds depend. There is no second planet Earth that we yet know of. We have just this one and the Apollo program taught us this lesson so very well. 

Today space gives us the tools, and satellites and sensors to identify and to effectively fight environmental damage and more. It gives us the ultimate vantage from which to monitor and to protect our environment. 

The first powered flight by the Wright Brothers was a Kitty Hawk in December 1903. The first Transatlantic flight was 1919. We were on the Moon by 1969. Since 2000 there have been permanently people living and working in space. Less than 100 years later. What will the next 100 years bring as we mark this 50th Anniversary of Apollo? 

That depends entirely upon us… 

Baroness Emma Nicholson is the founder and Chairman of the AMAR Foundation


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