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17 Sep, 2007

World Exclusive: UNWTO Warns Against Iran Conflict

The Deputy Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation, Dr Taleb Rifai said that further hostilities in the Middle East would solve nothing but rather create problems that could cause incalculable damage worldwide.

In this dispatch:










The Deputy Secretary General of the UN World Tourism Organisation has said that the record of the tourism industry in the last ten years has shown that the resilience of this industry is a proven fact, but it is now time for the industry to move beyond complimenting itself on its “resilience,” and become pro-active building blocks of peace as a prerequisite for sustainability. Speaking to Travel Impact Newswire in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of an Islamic conference in Bangkok, Dr Taleb Rifai said that further hostilities in the Middle East would solve nothing but rather create problems that could cause incalculable damage worldwide.

Dr. Rifai was speaking after various delegates at the conference expressed serious concern about the growing tide of security barriers, racial profiling and travel restrictions that have emerged worldwide, many of them targeted at Muslims. Organisers of the conference in Thailand, which has a large Muslim minority, have made it clear that it is being organized as part of efforts by Asian countries to attract more Arab and Islamic investment and visitors towards Asia, and away from Europe and North America, where there is growing concern about rising discrimination and Islamophobia.

Dr. Rifai said: “I think it is absolutely imperative to recognize that many of these problems are real and can be traced back in some shape or form to the ongoing conflicts and instability in the Middle East. The UNWTO has never, nor will it ever take a political position on these conflicts, but there is no doubt that exacerbating the situation by creating more conflicts would solve nothing but rather create incalculable downstream problems by unleashing far more violence effecting the livelihoods of people and creating serious challenges to our industry.”

He added, “While the ability of the industry to manage crises has improved considerably, the industry has paid a high price as a result of several crises. In the past few years, we have been affected by a slew of both man-made and natural disasters, including economic crises, bird flu, tsunamis and earthquakes, terrorism, and many more.

“No sooner that we come to terms with one that another one erupts. The travel and tourism industry is today quickly dealing with these crises, regrouping and recovering. But for us to keep depending on the resilience of the travel and tourism industry is perhaps no longer good enough. We need to give a new definition to the word ‘sustainability’ and supplement it by mentioning ‘peace and stability’ in the same breath. Both are equally important today.”

In his prepared remarks at the conference, Dr. Rifai again cited the economic size of travel and tourism, noting that it had become the largest trading item in the service industry, and was a major creator of jobs and foreign exchange. However, this reporter challenged him to prove that being big also necessarily meant being strong and principled, especially on global geopolitical issues that impact the industry.

This was the question posed to him: “Isn’t it the job of the UN WTO and other international travel industry organisations and associations to save the jobs and livelihoods of the millions who work in and depend on this industry on a daily basis? We have already seen the complications caused by the situation in Iraq, against which no travel & tourism industry leaders spoke out. Of what use is being ‘big’ if our industry leaders again impotently look the other way when global politicians threaten an attack on Iran?”

Responded Dr. Rifai: “Well, I would say that nobody probably expected the situation in Iraq to become what it has become. But, on the other hand, I would agree that we do bear a certain degree of responsibility in giving voice to the fears and concerns of many who live and work in this industry at the grassroots level about the impact on their jobs and livelihood in case of further conflicts.”

He agreed that the primary job of the UN system at large is to preserve global peace and the UN WTO, as a part of the UN system, has to play its role. “Clearly, as the leading global organisation for travel & tourism, comprising of both the public and private sectors, it behooves us to provide the leadership that many seek of us in contributing and promoting world peace and stability.”

When asked what the industry can do, Dr. Rifai said that it would be up to the travel and tourism stakeholders in the various countries and regions to assess the level of threat as they see fit, and take whatever action they feel as being necessary to protect the interests of their visitors, employees, investors and shareholders. He added “Today, this industry is strong and confident, and it will indeed contribute to the wellbeing of people and to peace and stability worldwide. “



VIENNA, Sept 17, 2007 (AFP) – Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik on Monday condemned comments by her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner that the world should prepare for war over the Iranian nuclear crisis.

“My colleague Kouchner is the only one who can tell you what he meant. (But) I can’t comprehend why he is resorting to such martial rhetoric at this time,” Plassnik said on the sidelines of a meeting of the UN’s nuclear agency here. “I am for continued work towards a negotiated solution,” she added.

The French foreign minister said in an interview broadcast Sunday: “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.” He said, “We must negotiate right to the end” with Iran, but underlined that if Tehran possessed an atomic weapon, it would represent “a real danger for the whole world.”

The 144 member states of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are meeting this week in Vienna, with Iran a key topic of discussion. “I am convinced that a negotiated solution can be reached,” Plassnik said Monday. “The international community must follow this path persistently and patiently.”

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Reza Aghazadeh, told the IAEA meeting that Western countries “have always chosen the path of confrontation instead of the path of understanding and cordial relations toward the great nation of Iran.”



New York, 14 September 2007 – Dozens of young musicians representing many of the world’s regions and cultures will harmonize to form a new Orchestra for the United Nations, it was announced today. “The Orchestra is a unique project which will galvanize support for the UN through music and multimedia projects focused on the UN’s ideals, values and priorities,” Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyotaka Akasaka said.

UN Volunteers (UNV) Executive Director Ad De Raad, the Director of the United in Music Foundation Geert Boogaard and Mr. Akasaka signed an agreement to launch the new orchestra, officially named “United in Music: The Orchestra for the United Nations.”

When performing abroad, guest musicians from the countries being visited will perform with the Orchestra, which will not be a classical ensemble. “We often need a thousand words to get a simple message across and sometimes we only need one language: music,” said Mr. Boogaard, who conceived of the Orchestra and with the backing of the Dutch Government approached the UN. “I view music as a way to inspire people to embrace the ideals of the United Nations and to feel the need for voluntary action.”

He has managed the 40-member Ricciotti Ensemble, and produced hundreds of their concerts in numerous unusual locations, ranging from the cathedral tower in Utrecht, the Netherlands, to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to war-torn Bosnia. Under today’s agreement, the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) will provide guidance on the UN’s goals, priorities, themes, observances and international events, while UNV will recruit professionally trained musicians of various nationalities.



Geneva, September 15, 2007 – The UN investigator on racism yesterday condemned a rising trend of Islamaphobia, especially in Europe, where he said it was being exploited by some right-wing political parties. Doudou Diene, UN special rapporteur on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, also accused Switzerland’s most popular party, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP/UDC), of inciting hatred. He urged the withdrawal of the party’s controversial campaign poster calling for expulsion of foreigners who commit serous crimes, depicting three white sheep booting out a black sheep under the headline “For the Security of All”.

“In the current context, Islamaphobia constitutes the most serious form of religious defamation,” Diene said in a speech and report to the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states were holding a debate on religious defamation. More and more political leaders and influential media and intellectuals were “equating Islam with violence and terrorism,” and some were seeking to “silence religious practices by banning the construction of mosques”, Diene said.

Pakistan, speaking for the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), called the rise of Islamaphobia “alarming”. “Recent acts of defamation in the shape of blasphemous sketches in Sweden and posters in Switzerland reinforce this conclusion. Such blasphemy should not be encouraged in the name of freedom of expression,” Pakistan’s envoy Masood Khan said. He said the OIC, which groups 57 Muslim countries and represents 1.3 billion Muslims, condemned terrorism in all its forms. “The international media continues to use the misguided actions of a small extremist minority as an excuse to malign the entire Muslim world, as well as the religion of Islam,” he said.

Diene, a Senegalese lawyer, said in his 21-page report to the Council that Islamaphobia had grown since the September 11 2001 attacks on the US. Worldwide, an increasing number of traditional democratic parties were “resorting to the language of fear and exclusion, scapegoating and targeting ethnic or religious minorities in general, and immigrants and refugees in particular”, he said.

In Europe, Muslims faced growing difficulties to establish places of worship and carry out their religious practices such as dietary regimens and burials, according to the UN envoy. “Political parties with open anti-Islamic platforms have joined governmental coalitions in several countries and started to put in place their political agendas. In sum, Islamophobia is in the process of permeating all facets of social life.”

The Swiss SVP/UDC has launched a referendum to ban construction of minarets in the Alpine country, home to 350,000 Muslims. A similar move is underway in Cologne, Germany. Switzerland’s delegation defended its system of direct democracy, where multiple issues are put to referendum each year, saying it showed great political transparency although “sometimes with exaggerated, regrettable views being expressed.



Published on Sunday, September 16, 2007 by the Observer/UK

The man once regarded as the world’s most powerful banker has bluntly declared that the Iraq war was ‘largely’ about oil.

Appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987 and retired last year after serving four presidents, Alan Greenspan has been the leading Republican economist for a generation and his utterings instantly moved world markets.

In his long-awaited memoir — out on 17 September in the US — Greenspan, 81, who served as chairman of the US Federal Reserve for almost two decades, writes: ‘I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.’

In “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World”, he is also crystal clear on his opinion of his last two bosses, harshly criticizing George W Bush for ‘abandoning fiscal constraint’ and praising Bill Clinton’s anti-deficit policies during the Nineties as ‘an act of political courage’. He also speaks of Clinton’s sharp and ‘curious’ mind, and ‘old-fashioned’ caution about the dangers of debt.

Greenspan’s damning comments about the war come as a survey of Iraqis, which was released last week, claims that up to 1.2 million people may have died because of the conflict in Iraq — lending weight to a 2006 survey in the Lancet that reported similarly high levels.

Read the full story: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/world/story/0,,2170237,00.html



The head of a trades union of American flight attendants has painted a sorry picture of the devastation caused to the lives of thousands of union members “by the exploitation of corporate bankruptcy” and the downstream impact of management efforts routinely characaterised as “rationalising costs” and “improving efficiency.”

Testifying before the US House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law Oversight Hearing, Greg Davidowitch, Master Executive Council President at United Airlines, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, (AFA-CWA), provided a detailed history of how flight attendants had seen their pay, pensions, healthcare and jobs “obliterated” while management executives had walked away with millions.

The testimony was given on September 6, 2007 as part of the congressional hearings on the subject “American Workers in Crisis: Does the Chapter 11 Business Bankruptcy Law Treat Employees and Retirees Fairly?.” Posted in full at http://www.unitedafa.org/mec/president/ltrs/details.asp?ID=209, it offers an eye-opening perspective rarely presented in the business or aviation media which tends to highlight the viewpoints of investors and managers.

It is also a warning to the Asia-Pacific aviation industry as it undergoes the same process of deregulatory change as the United States two decades ago, and the consequences staff could face in the event of a crisis-driven downturn.

Speaking on behalf of AFA-CWA’s 55,000 members at 20 airlines in the US, Mr Davidowitch said, “The lives of so many airline workers and retirees have been devastated by the exploitation of corporate bankruptcy. I spent 38 months of my life, day in and day out, battling unfettered corporate greed as management used the bankruptcy laws like a weapon to obliterate pay, pensions, healthcare and the jobs of hard-working Americans.

“Something must be done to help level the playing field so that bankruptcy is no longer a ‘business strategy’ that simply transfers money to executives’ pockets and leaves the rank-and-file employees with nothing more than slashed pay, diminished health care, destroyed retirement security, bitterness, mounting debts and the prospect of personal bankruptcy.”

Mr Davidowitch outlined the history of how the US airline industry went into the slump after decades of growth and expansion, with the attacks of 9/11 providing a further reason to justify the cost-cuts. “United Airlines was driven into bankruptcy by the Bush Administration,” he said. “The decision of the Air Transportation Stabilization Board (ATSB) to reject United Airlines’ request for $1.8 billion in loan guarantees was the opening salvo by the White House in an unprecedented attack on not just United Airlines employees, but also on the jobs, wages and working conditions of workers throughout the airline industry.

The ATSB was set up by Congress to help the airline industry recover from the economic impact of the 9/11 attacks. “As one of the two airlines whose planes were hijacked for use in that devastating attack – attacks that included the horrible murder of flight attendants, pilots and passengers – United Airlines was in a unique position to need the assistance that the ATSB was created to provide.”

Mr Davidowitch said that even at that time, agreements had already been reached with AFA-CWA and the other unions at the airline to generate $5.8 billion in labor cost savings over 5 and a half years. However, he said, “the White House realized that it could use the ATSB as a tool for re-engineering the airline industry, particularly airline labor costs. As one of the only industries remaining with a majority of union jobs, the Bush Administration seized the opportunity to exploit bankruptcy as a business strategy for social engineering. It was an opportunity to destroy the voice of the hard-working people of the middle class by cutting union jobs and obliterating the protections and benefits negotiated and earned by union members.”

He said the White House wanted “to force an economic reshaping of the airline industry. As far back as the Reagan Administration, Republican-appointed Secretaries of Transportation had complained that the only thing wrong with the airline industry was that airline workers are paid too much.

“Forcing United into bankruptcy was the Administration’s way of pushing costs far lower than would have been possible or necessary in any other scenario. They knew the economics of this competitive industry would do the rest – forcing similar cost cutting at all the major airlines. Their strategy – unfortunately for airline workers – was devastatingly effective.

In the subsequent “cascade of similar actions throughout the industry,” 140,000 airline workers have lost their jobs. Workers who were not forced out lost their pensions. Wages were cut by 20-40 percent, changes in work rules led them to work many more hours at reduced pay, and to be away from their homes and their families for more days every month. Medical benefits, even retiree medical benefits were slashed. There have been over 150 airline bankruptcies since the industry was deregulated in 1978, with at least twenty-one in just the six years since September 11, he said.

Worth reading in full, the testimony will make an interesting study topic in management schools analysing the impact of globalisation and economic liberalisation, and also provide a much-needed counterweight to consultants and investors promoting this agenda.

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