Thursday, 16 January 2014

Depression - The Invisible Illness

“Depression is about as close as you get to somewhere between dead and alive, and it's the worst.” 
Elizabeth Wurtzel,Prozac Nation

“It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.” 
Stephen FryMoab Is My Washpot

Depression has often been termed as the ‘invisible’ illness. Often mistaken for a momentary period of sadness or morosity, depression exists on the periphery of a specific category of mental illness, for many years misunderstood and not treated as a real ailment. It might therefore come as a surprise to note that over 350 million people around the world have depression, according to a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Depression is a mental disorder that undermines people’s ability to function well. Although we all have that occasional fluctuation in mood, depression is completely different. Depression forces the individual into a feeling of sadness that persists for long periods and significantly interferes with one’s ability to perform everyday tasks, at home, school or work. Depression is very difficult to diagnose because its symptoms occur in many other diseases/illnesses. Moreover, while some people ‘know’ when they are depressed, others do not realize its toll until it’s too late. The most common symptoms of depression are periods of persistent (often unexplained sadness), marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities, disturbed sleep, change in appetite, chronic fatigue and loss of energy, poor concentration, and in extreme cases, recurrent thoughts of death.

Depressive episodes range from mild, moderate, to severe and has been associated with suicide in many cases. There are two wide categories of depression and these are unipolar depression and what is called ‘bipolar mood’ depression, the latter being a disorder on its own. Depression can be accompanied with manic episodes, in which case it often leads to bipolar disorder in many patients. Manic depression or bipolar disorder involves patients experiencing episodes of an elevated or agitated mood, described as hypomania (individuals appearing energetic, excitable and highly impulsive). The most common treatment for depression consists of basic psychosocial support combined with antidepressant medication or psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy and problem-solving treatment.[1] While the causes of depression are still unclear, experts say depression is caused by a combination of factors, such as the person's genes, their biochemical environment, personal experience and psychological factors.

As a ‘silent’ and ‘invisible’ illness, with most patients choosing not to disclose their illness because of the stigma associated with depression, and the fear or rejection, it is one of the most misunderstood ailments. People with depression are often viewed as being ‘weak’ and they might be told to ‘pull their socks up’ or simply to ‘snap out of it’. The sad truth is that depression is a very ‘real’ illness, and ‘snapping’ out of it is not as easy as it seems. These comments by sometimes insensitive or just plainly uninformed people, are far from helpful for the individual suffering from depression, as the latter feels inadequate and weak, thus affecting their sense of self-esteem and denying them the chance to heal more quickly. The world needs to be educated about depression and generally, there should be more campaigns aiming to shed light on the illness, possibly potentially leading to a culture of ‘empathy’ towards patients.

As for patients suffering from depression, it is important to acknowledge that you really are ill, and try not to bottle up your feelings. Seeking help early on is the best advice for people showing depressive tendencies or symptons. Talking to someone such as a friend or relative is important, as is consulting your GP who might later refer you to a psychiatrist or psychologist. People who have depression are usually high-achievers and might treat their stint of depression lightly. This should be discouraged and people with busy or hectic schedules should even consider taking a spell off work or school. Getting better should be a priority because depression should be treated like any other illness; with the sick person requiring proper medication, rest, and then slowly getting back to the frenetic pace of normal life. Also, as depression takes many forms such as post-natal depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder, it is important to be diagnosed properly and take the suitable medication for each type of depression. As patients suffering from depression might relapse, it is also vital to continue with treatment long after the signs of the illness have disappeared and keep regular visits with your psychiatrist.
It cannot be stressed enough that depression is a ‘real’ illness. More often than not, it’s easy to label people who suffer from depression as seeking attention, unable to cope with life’s ups and downs and also as being weak, lonely and overly dramatic. However, people who suffer from depression suffer as much as someone having a physical illness, or even more. This is because many physical ailments like diabetes, cancer, migraine, hypertension, etc. can be diagnosed and treated. However, depression lurks like a hissing snake in the shadows and can pounce on the victim, unawares. Someone describing his experience of depression said that it ‘happens slowly, then all at once’. Even though treatment exists for depression, in many cases, patients are trapped in their depressive ‘shells’ and take months, and even years to heal completely. People suffering from depression are far from being weak; indeed the most notable persons who have battled with depression are Woody Allen, Charles Baudelaire, William Blake, Winston Churchill, Johnny Depp, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Graham Greene, Audrey Hepburn, Stephen Fry, John Keats, Frantz Kafka, Hugh Laurie, and Mozart, amongst others. This list definitely shows that people with depression can be strong, talented and amazingly inspiring, and that far from stigmatizing them because of their illness, we should strive to understand them.

1st Published in Le Mauricien -

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

COP19 – Day Two

Day two of COP19 began with Filipino lead negotiator Yeb SaƱo well into his fast for climate action, he was also joined by a number of young people. This was coupled with WWF leading a small march outside the stadium protesting against Poland’s energy policy that favours coal. Here’s an overview of what else happened.
The IPCC’s Working Group I presented its Fifth Assessment Report (previously published in September 2013). It highlighted that humans are the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s and stressed that global warming is “unequivocal”. The Polish Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change criticised Poland’s decision to host the Coal Summit, adding that “Poland should be ashamed of its dirty energy sector.”
The recently launched German Watch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2014 revealed that more than 530, 000 people died as a direct result of approximately 1, 500 weather events. The losses between 1993 and 2012 amounted to more than US$2.5 trillion.
Elsewhere, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) associated itself with the statement made by Fiji on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and that of Nepal made on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LCDs) on the necessity of urgent action on climate change. AOSIS has proposed a plan under the Ad-Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which would complement negotiations on the 2015 agreement with mitigation opportunities.
The ADP also opened with an overview of mandates and progress by the institutions, mechanisms and arrangements under the convention. The co-chair highlighted that it is critical for the ADP to advance its work in Warsaw, and push parties to agree upon a draft negotiating text by May 2015.

Originally published by The Verb: Krishnee Appadoo (c)

Where COP is at

One week into the UN climate change negotiations in Warsaw, here is an overview of what groups are still pushing too and if there has been any movement. Typhoon Haiyan has been an underlying reminder to all negotiators that there is an urgent need for concrete solutions to curb emissions.
COP19 could be seen as the linkage of climate science with climate policy, but the connection is yet to be made within the actual text (for the final agreement). Parties have a mammoth task of negotiating mutual cuts to emissions and financing clean energy funds.
It is hoped that the imminent pledges and commitments will pave the way for an internationally binding climate agreement in Paris in 2015.
There are conflicting goals, national and also regional interests from all of these groups. During these negotiations, it hasn’t been been evident how global consensus will yet be agreed upon with more focus on process negotiations as opposed to examining timelines.
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres expressed the need “to urgently harness all existing momentum and use all the tools we have at our disposal to shift to low-carbon and build resilience to climate change.”
Polish Environment Minister and COP19 President Martin Korolec’s top priority at the conference has been to ensure that the negotiations are democratic and transparent, “making the parties and other partners feel responsible for their contribution.”
The EU is a key player in the negotiations and have been keen to demonstrate leadership towards an ambitious and single legally binding agreement before Paris 2015. They are expected to agree on increasing climate finance and suggest identifying alternative ways of sustaining an industrial and financial system dependent on coal, oil and gas.
There are concerns that the EU’s push to expand carbon markets would simply benefit large polluters. Tamara Gilberston from Carbon Trade Watch argued that “the European Commission and the carbon crooks who turn profits from the failing Emissions”.
Climate finance is the critical issue of these negotiations, particularly loss and damage which is still a vague principle. The US delegation is interested in resolving this, but cautious that any agreement would struggle for ratification within the US Congress.
Expectations for COP19 are still low, yet the awareness of the need for progress in the lead up to Paris is paramount. The UK’s former lead negotiator John Ashton believes that, “we are now in a critical two years… we won’t get another bite of the cherry.” The ball is, and has always been in, the negotiators court – and they have another week to do something about it.
The ball is now in the negotiators’ court and even though COP19 begins on a morose note, it is hoped that Figueres’ plea to “win the Warsaw opportunity” will not fall on deaf ears.

Originally published by The Verb - Krishnee Appadoo (c)
Link to original publication:

The Africa Group and Climate Negotiations – The Underdogs

The Africa Group, a coalition of African states, looks out for the continent, and it has much at stake during these UN climate talks in Warsaw. Despite their willingness to participate, they have had little chance to voice their concerns.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agree Africa will suffer the most from climate change compared to the other continents. It is particularly vulnerable “because the capacity to adapt to climate change is limited considerably by widespread poverty.”
Since the formation of the UNFCCC in 1992, African delegates have faced major obstacles to participation. This has varied from their weaker position in the international climate system and their lower individual domestic capacities. Limited diplomatic resources have also diminished their understanding of effective practices within the process. This is why issues central to Africa like adaptation, access to finance and technology still figure prominently on their agenda.
Individual African countries have realised that their individual bargaining power is limited comparatively, hence their decision to negotiate as the African Group which is similar to other regional blocs. The generalist nature of negotiating blocs run risk of some states being marginalised in the climate negotiations. Each African state campaigns for its own voice because even within each coalition, but there will always be winners and losers.
Their understanding of the challenge that climate change poses to their economy is well underpinned through a lived experience. Average temperatures have soared over the past century and are projected to increase by three to four degrees within the next century. This will have undue impacts on crops, disease risk rates and destroy infrastructure.
Droughts in the Horn of Africa (2011) and the Sahel region (2012) exemplified this. It’s easy to see why they are pushing towards an ambitious global climate agreement by 2015.
In Warsaw, they have been advocating for greater adaptation efforts, arguing that developed countries should support them financially and politically. The Green Climate Fund agreement, that has been established over the past negotiations, have pledged to mobilise US$100 billion every year by 2020 to assist countries in adaptation and mitigation. Disappointingly, a report by the African Climate Policy Centre of the UN Economic Commission for Africa shows that, of the $29.2 billion pledged since 2009, only 45 per cent has been committed, 33 per cent allocated and about seven per cent actually disbursed.
As climate negotiations in Warsaw grind slowly along, the frustration is evident from African delegates and NGOs working in the region. This is compounded by the utter lack of interest shown from the likes of Japan, Australia, the US and Canada. Just when the African voice had grown stronger and more meaningful, it is being silenced by the inaction of developing countries.
Whatever the outcome of COP19, it already presages doom for the African continent. Africa will have to, despite its participation here, rely on grassroots and domestic efforts to cope with climate change.
Published for The Verb - Krishnee Appadoo (c) 
Original Link:

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Future of Nuclear Disarmament - Getting There

"The existence of nuclear weapons presents a clear and present danger to life on Earth. Nuclear arms cannot bolster the security of any nation because they represent a threat to the security of the human race. These incredibly destructive weapons are an affront to our common humanity, and the tens of billions of dollars that are dedicated to their development and maintenance should be used instead to alleviate human need and suffering."
-- Oscar Arias Sanchez

The wheels of nuclear disarmament are turning, albeit slowly, but surely. Fraser et al. argue that “there has never been a better time to achieve total nuclear disarmament.” Indeed, the push towards nuclear disarmament is pressing, necessary and increasingly feasible. Two major events seem to herald promising times ahead for the future of nuclear disarmament: the election of a US President who has demonstrated a clear commitment to nuclear weapons abolition and also Iran’s apparent new readiness to address international concerns about its atomic ambitions. It is hoped that political leaders around the world capitalize on this opportunity to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

As it stands now, the number of nuclear warheads globally is about 17, 000 (World Nuclear Stockpile Report, May 2013), down roughly 75 percent over the last thirty years, mostly because significant cuts by the US and Russia. However, more than a decade and a half has elapsed since the Cold War has ended and it is unacceptable that the world’s nuclear stockpile remains at such an alarmingly high level. Last month, Australia’s ambassador to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Christine Hackl, warned that, “without complete disarmament, we will stand to lose the fight against proliferation in the long run.”

At the centre of the fight to achieve a sustainable and effective abolition of nuclear weapons, lies the necessity to negotiate a “comprehensive, irreversible, binding and verifiable treaty” (Fraser et al. April 2009), what has been termed a ‘Nuclear Weapons Convention’ (NWC) which would regulate all relevant aspects of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. Indeed, in the past, this kind of treaty has been at the heart of eliminating whole classes of weapons, from chemical and biological weapons to landmines. While it is true that a number of multilateral treaties have been established with the aim of preventing nuclear proliferation and testing, the two most important being the ‘Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons’ (NPT) and the ‘Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’ (CTBT), it is argued that the NWC, whose aim is to prohibit development, testing, production, stockpiling, transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons, will be a more effective legislative tool to lead towards a nuclear-free world. The NWC has the blessings of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, as well as the firm commitment of two thirds of all governments (indeed, nations that support a nuclear weapons convention make up approximately 81% of the world’s population, with the fence-sitters accounting for 5% and the opponents 14%)[1]. It is therefore believed that the time is ripe to push for the early realization of the NWC so that we can have an enforceable international legal mechanism to prevent the development and use of nuclear weapons.

The second proposed pathway towards a nuclear-free world would involve a serious commitment by powerful states to work towards nuclear non-proliferation and for them to cease testing nuclear weapons. It cannot be stressed enough that despite international outrage which is often expressed towards the practice of states such as the US, North Korea and Russia to test nuclear weapons, this has not deterred states from testing their nuclear capabilities. As recently as last month, the US Air Force tested a nuclear-capable Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), an action that prompted the international community to doubt President’s Obama vow to work towards a nuclear-free world.

Earlier this year, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test at its underground testing site. Arguably, the practice of testing nuclear weapons is not only seen as an act of provocation, but also openly and belligerently defies the CTBT, which is a multilateral treaty, by which states agree to ban all nuclear explosions in all environments, for military or civilian purposes. The fact that some states continue to test nuclear weapons demonstrates that they are not committed to contribute to a future world devoid of nuclear weapons. The obvious solution therefore lies in states making a firm pledge to stop the practice of nuclear weapons testing once and for all.

Another path worth pursuing in the quest for nuclear disarmament would be the reform of NPT governance.  A number of countries, including Canada and Ireland have put forward a proposal that would help remediate some deficiencies of the current non-proliferation/disarmament regime. The step forward would be scheduling annual meetings of NPT state parties with a rotating executive “responsible and empowered to assess and take action regarding non-compliance with non-proliferation and disarmament obligations”[2] under the NPT framework. Another proposal involves the creation of an Agency or Council, which would devise clear and effective strategies to help states move towards the abolition of nuclear weapons or take punitive actions against non-complying states.

It has also been suggested that there should be an “authoritative international accounting of warhead and fissile material stockpiles, nuclear weapons delivery system and spending on nuclear forces.”[3] This would help considerably in providing the basis for evaluating progress in the disarmament process and identifying benchmarks for progress. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated in his five-point proposal for disarmament that nuclear powers should be more proactive in providing the “amount of information they publish about the size of their arsenals, stocks of fissile material and specific disarmament achievements.” This indeed would increase transparency and make states more accountable.

Moreover, it is strongly advocated that states should pursue the principle of good faith, which is recognized as an important aspect of international law, when considering nuclear disarmament. In fact, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides that “pacta sunt servanda” which means that every treaty is binding upon the parties to it and it must be performed by them in good faith.[4] Therefore, all states that have ratified the NPT, should take positive steps towards ensuring that they are complying with the treaty, and also engage in negotiations that would create a strict and effective regime for nuclear disarmament.  

The future of nuclear disarmament is not bleak, and with the right amount of commitment and good faith from nuclear powers, the fight towards a nuclear-free world can surely be won. However, states should refrain from only paying lip service to nuclear disarmament and take meaningful and results-orientated steps to be completely rid of nuclear weapons. Only when the international community demonstrates genuine willingness to cooperate among themselves and act accordingly, can we really aspire to a world where we no longer have to live in fear of the threat of nuclear weapons.

Krishnee Appadoo, MA Candidate in International Studies and Diplomacy, SOAS

[1] Towards a Treaty banning Nuclear Weapons, ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,
[2] The Need for a Coherent Nuclear Non-Proliferation/Disarmament Regime – 53rd Session of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, 26 Feb 2010, UN Headquarters, New York
[3] Ibid
[4] Article 26, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Legality of the US intervention in Syria

As the US and its allies prepare for an imminent military intervention in Syria in the aftermath of reports that chemical weapons were used by the Assad regime against innocent civilians in Damascus, it remains to be determined whether this use of force is justified and legal from an international law point of view. Without drawing comparisons with the military intervention of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is argued that the US has no legal basis to intervene in Syria. I recently read somewhere that “inter arma enim silent leges”, which means that in times of war, the law usually falls silent. According to the Obama administration, justifications for a military intervention in Syria include the Geneva Protocol, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Kosovo precedent, and the so-called ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine. However, the arguments of the US fall flat in the face of the UN Charter which bans military intervention without a UN Security Council approval for same, an approval which is likely to be denied by Russian and Chinese veto.

International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi commented that the US would need UN Security Council approval to be able to proceed with military intervention in Syria. This is a testing time for the UN and its Security Council. Britain and other allies such as France have begun talks in New York as to a Security Council resolution approving military intervention in Syria. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, as well as its foreign secretary, William Hague, have indicated that they would seek approval from the UN before launching any attack. However, Cameron has argued that Britain has always wanted that the UN Security Council lives up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that," the Prime Minister said.

The US would back their attack in Syria on the doctrine of ‘pre-emptive force’ to protect US allies. The US, France, and other allies would likely use the justification of collective self-defence and also vouch for intervention based on humanitarian grounds, especially since neighbouring states such as Jordan and Turkey might be threatened by the Assad’s regime possible use of chemical weapons. As noble a concept is intervention based on humanitarian grounds to protect innocent civilians, it is nevertheless one that is unacceptable if applied unilaterally and without approval by the international community. The UN Charter forbids the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" but allows for the use of force in self-defence.” Furthermore, Article 51 reads, in part that "[n]othing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations." However, none of these provisions have prevented the US and its allies to resort to the use of force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The US might push for a Chapter VII resolution, as was used in the case of Libya in 2011 where a no-fly zone was enforced in the wake of a potential massacre in Bengazhi. However, having said that, it seems very unlikely that the US and other like-minded governments could convince Russia and China that Chapter VII applies in the case of Syria. Both Moscow and Beijing were angered that the resolution used in the case of Libya was a green light to removing General Ghadafi. Issuing a similar ‘carte blanche’ to the US and its allies would be a definite no for both Russia and China.

At the present moment, the trigger that could convince UN Security Council members to approve the resolution to allow military intervention in Syria would be the fact that the US and the West claims that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against innocent civilians in Syria. However, there is not tangible proof as to whether this is actually true: it is very difficult to determine whether it was the rebels or the Assad regime who resorted to the use of chemical weapons. Dr Wilmer Leon, of Harvard University has explained that, it might be a fact that the Syrian government has the weapons, and that they are the only ones that have them. But this is not taking into account all the defections from the government over to the militants. Leon argues that it is quite possible that in government operatives leaving the government and moving over to fight with the rebels those chemical weapons could have gone with as the way that the people went.For the most part unilateral intervention into another country has been conducted by the US without a legal basis, and more often than not, the results of such actions have not proven to be good. 

The gassing of innocent civilians during an internal conflict is wrong, and not just from a moral perspective. The perpetrators of such an ignominious should be brought to trial and punished for their criminal wrongs. There exist an international criminal court, the ICC, which an institution which now has the world's more brutal political and military leaders looking over their shoulder for fear they might be extradited to the Hague to answer for their crimes. If Bashar-al-Assad has ordered for chemical weapons to be used against innocent civilians, and there is strong evidence that he has done so, then he should be made answerable and accountable for his crime in front of the ICC and put on trial on the charge of crimes against humanity. This logical step is far removed from unilateral and illegal military intervention by a nation which considers itself as the world ‘policeman’.

The civilian death toll from external military intervention will in all likelihood exceed that which prompts the intervention in the first place. It is likely that, as the past lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq have attested; military intervention might end up killing more Syrians than the Assad regime itself. This stance is no way to pay tribute to those killed by their own government. If admittedly, as the US and its allies argue, humanitarian grounds should trump international law, then why does the US apply the concept of humanitarian basis selectively? There are conflicts raging in North and Central African countries such as Egypt, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, etc. Why has the US refrained from intervening there, where children and women have been killed over the recent years due to internal civil wars and all sorts of political conflicts? In my humble opinion, the US always has had an agenda backing its military interventions. There is no guarantee that the use of force by the US and its allies in Syria will be a blanket righting of wrongs. If anything, the use of force might escalate the Syrian conflict into something more dangerous, which can have serious political ramifications on relations between the West and other countries like China and Russia, maybe paving the way for a second Cold War of sorts. 

The intervention in Syria is neither legal nor legitimate. But the US will find a way to have the final word on this and the impact of this intervention only presages more doom for innocent civilians caught between the cross-fire of the conflict in Syria.