Inter Press Service Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 29 Nov 2014 01:25:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Citizens of the World, Unite! Sat, 29 Nov 2014 01:25:55 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury chaired the Forum on Nov. 18, 2014 in New York at the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations. Credit: Roger Hamilton-Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin

As politics, economies, conflicts and cultures become increasingly intertwined, will individual identities also begin to transcend national boundaries?

The elusive nature of “global citizenship” was noted by Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Dr. Palitha Kohona, at an IPS Forum on Global Citizenship last week at the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York.We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities." -- Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

“The concept of global citizenship has challenged the minds of humans for a very long time although its exact definition has never really crystallised,” Kohona said.

The idea was famously put forth by Tony Blair during a speech in Chicago in 1999. “We are all internationalists now, whether we like it or not. We cannot refuse to participate in global markets if we want to prosper. We cannot ignore new political ideas in other countries if we want to innovate,” Blair said.

Ambassador Kohona said that even after the collapse of the empires spawned by the Westphalian system, the growth of powerful individual states has not encouraged the development of a genuinely global system.

Kohona stressed the importance of the United Nations as an institution in which to hold up the principle of global citizenship.

“The establishment of the United Nations has created the forum for humanity to make an effort to address common issues together from a global perspective. It is the most effective forum available to all nation states. The United Nations and its agencies have been successful in generating sympathy for the usefulness of approaching many of today’s challenges together.”

The Forum was chaired by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former representative for Bangladesh and the prime mover of the 1999 General Assembly resolution that adopted the U.N. Declaration and the Programme of Action (PoA) on the Culture of Peace.

“When we speak of global citizenship, certain thoughts come to mind,” he said. “The first thing to understand is spirituality. What are our values, what are our commitments as human beings? The second is the belief in the oneness of humanity. We should come out of our narrow boundaries, not only of ourselves but of our communities.”

Despite challenges, many of the panellists agreed that the promotion of global citizenship is advancing against the headwinds of the purported clash of civilisations, declining resources, and cultural cynicism.

IPS Vice-Chair Ambassador Walther Lichem noted that, “Almost to the day 200 years after the initiation of multilateral diplomacy at the Congress of Vienna, we become aware that multilateral diplomacy is increasingly giving way to global governance.”

Lichem noted that global citizenship needs to be seen in the context of a system that espouses norms such as the “responsibility to protect,” a principle that puts the international community above the nation state when it comes to protecting its own citizens.

“Global citizenship is to be understood as a citizenship with human rights as a way of life,” Lichem said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has identified global citizenship as the third priority area in his Global Education First initiative, seeing it as important that students don’t simply learn how to pass exams and get jobs in their own countries, but are instilled with an understanding of the importance of respect and responsibility across cultures, countries and regions.

“Global citizenship is a fight against limbo,” said Erol Avdovic, vice president of the United Nations Correspondents Association. “It is the fight against misconception and against ignoring – or even worse, manipulating – simple facts.”

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, a group that explores the roots of polarisation between societies and cultures was in attendance at the Forum, with spokesperson for the High Representative Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, Nihal Saad noting that education for global citizenship “has the power to shape a sustainable future and better world.

“Educational policies should promote peace, mutual respect and environmental care. It does not suffice for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education should and must bring shared values to life.”

Saad’s sentiments were shared by Monte Joffee, Soka Gakkai International’s USA representative, who said, “Our curriculum needs to include more topics of a global nature so our students can develop empathetic resonance with ‘the other’.

“This does not reach to the core of today’s educational crisis. Speaking only of American education, I must say that the inequalities of educational funding, the levels of despair and hopelessness in too many of our communities… are numbing realities and ‘add-ons’ to the curriculum about global citizenship are not the solution.”

Joffee related the story of Anand Kumar, an Indian mathematician who is well known for his “Super 30” programme in Patna, Bihar. It prepares economically disadvantaged students for the entrance examination for the renowned Indian Institutes of Technology (ITT) engineering schools, with great success.

His programme selects 30 talented candidates from disadvantaged, tutors them, and provides study materials and lodging for a year.

Joffee noted that this story provides a great model for Global Citizenship Education. “Educators must say, ‘I will start right here, with the student right in front of me.’”

Ramu Damodaran from United Nations Department of Public Information Outreach Division also spoke of the importance of academics being given more opportunities to have a voice at the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: People with Disabilities Must Be Counted in the Fight Against HIV Fri, 28 Nov 2014 23:43:18 +0000 Rashmi Chopra Monica Wambui, 37, who is deaf, receives HIV/AIDS information in sign language. Wambui was among more than 40 people with disabilities who attended a workshop organised by the USAID-funded APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde project in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: USAID/George Obanyi

Monica Wambui, 37, who is deaf, receives HIV/AIDS information in sign language. Wambui was among more than 40 people with disabilities who attended a workshop organised by the USAID-funded APHIAplus Nuru ya Bonde project in Nakuru, Kenya. Credit: USAID/George Obanyi

By Rashmi Chopra
NEW YORK, Nov 28 2014 (IPS)

Jane is a young Zambian mother with a physical disability in Lusaka, who uses a wheelchair to get around. She does not let clinics without ramps or without wheelchair accessible toilets and equipment stop her from claiming her right to health care, including HIV prevention services.

“You have to go the clinic to test yourself, to know your status – you have to force yourself, even crawling, so that the government can see that the clinics are not user-friendly,” she told Human Rights Watch.Faith, 25, a deaf, HIV-positive woman in Zambia, lost her hearing when she contracted cerebral malaria at the age of five. Faith did not know about HIV prevention until she tested positive in 2012.

In local communities, legislatures and at the United Nations, people with disabilities like Jane are demanding their right to equal access to HIV services. Not only today, on World AIDS Day, but every day.

This week we also observe the international day of persons with disabilities. This coincidence of the calendar is not a coincidence for millions of people with disabilities around the globe who may have never received any information on HIV and are unable to access HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

Yet they are at increased risk of HIV infection because of discrimination in schooling, poverty and greater risk of physical and sexual violence.

Faith, 25, a deaf, HIV-positive woman in Zambia, lost her hearing when she contracted cerebral malaria at the age of five. She dropped out of school after only a few years because her family could not afford the transportation costs to send her there, and in any case did not believe she would benefit from schooling.

Today, Faith cannot read and communicates through a mix of formal sign language and informal signs that are understood and translated by her brother.

Faith did not know about HIV prevention until she tested positive in 2012. HIV prevention meetings in her local community are not conducted in sign language. And even if Faith had been able to continue her schooling, she likely would not have learned about HIV because of the lack of accessible materials and peer-based HIV prevention programmes for children with disabilities.

Faith found out that she was HIV-positive after giving birth to her daughter, who is also HIV-positive. Her husband is abusive and often absent. Faith relies on her mother to accompany her to appointments for antiretroviral medication and to help her understand information about care and treatment for her and her baby. There is usually no sign language interpreter at the clinic she visits.

A healthcare worker at her clinic told Faith and her mother that someone like Faith should not be allowed to have any more children.

But these barriers, and stigmatising attitudes, are starting to change.

In its 2014 ‘Gap Report’, UNAIDS recognised people with disabilities as one of the 12 vulnerable populations left behind by the AIDS response.

In Zambia, where more than one in 10 adults are living with HIV, and a similar number of people are estimated to have a disability, the government could recognise people with disabilities as a key population within the national HIV response, who should be prioritised for targeted action.

A disability-inclusive approach to HIV policies and national strategic plans is critical for countries in eastern and southern Africa, which remain the epicentre of the HIV pandemic.

Disabled persons’ organisations (DPOs) as well as other disability and health organisations in the region are also working hard to promote and develop inclusive and targeted HIV and sexual and reproductive health services.

Zambia Deaf Youth and Women (ZDYW), a local organisation from the Copperbelt province for example, has been supporting training of deaf counselors to provide peer-based HIV testing services in the region.

This year the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in Zambia will recognise a number of ‘PEPFAR Champions’ who are promoting equal access to HIV services for people with disabilities.

This is a good start, but more needs to be done, and quicker, to draw broader attention to the needs of individuals with disabilities in HIV services and to integrate HIV issues within all disability work. This requires resources, specific budgetary provisions, donor funding allocations and data collection on disability.

The Zambian HIV/TB activist and advocate for disability rights, Winstone Zulu, would have turned 50 this year that marks half a centenary of Zambia’s independence. In this week that recognises both the global AIDS pandemic and the more than one billion people worldwide who have a disability, Zambia should honor his and others’ struggle for equal access to HIV services, and implement inclusive HIV services as a priority, to ensure that people with disabilities such as Jane and Faith no longer remain invisible in the fight against HIV.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Led by INTERPOL, U.N. Tracks Environmental Criminals Fri, 28 Nov 2014 19:19:48 +0000 Thalif Deen A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A carpenter organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in Cuba's Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Thalif Deen

A coalition of international organisations, led by INTERPOL and backed by the United Nations, is pursuing a growing new brand of criminals – primarily accused of serious environmental crimes – who have mostly escaped the long arm of the law.

Described as a worldwide operation, it is the first of its kind targeting individuals wanted for a wide range of crimes, including logging, poaching and trafficking in animals declared endangered species.

Widespread poaching, particularly in central Africa, has resulted in the loss of at least 60 percent of elephants in that region during the last decade.

Last week, INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organisation, released photographs of nine fugitives charged with these crimes – and who are on the run.

The individuals targeted include, among others, Feisal Mohamed Ali, alleged to be the leader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya, according to the U.N. Daily News.

The international coalition is seeking help from the public for information that could help track down the nine suspects whose cases have been singled out for the initial phase of the investigations.

Rob Parry-Jones, manager of international policy at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), told IPS, “It sends a strong message that environmental crime is not merely an animal being illegally shot here or a tree illegally felled there. Environmental crime is highly organised crime and can have devastating impacts.”

He said INTERPOL’s response is something that WWF has wanted for some time. “It is also something that enforcement agencies have wanted for some time.”

The political platform and enabling environment for INTERPOL and other institutions to undertake the necessary research, and to be in a position to release such findings, is a welcome advance from a few years back when WWF and TRAFFIC first started their campaign to raise the political profile of wildlife crime, Parry-Jones said.

TRAFFIC (Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce) is a wildlife trade monitoring network supported by WWF.

Code-named INFRA-Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest), the global operation is supported by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) – which is a collaborative effort of the Secretariat of the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), along with INTERPOL, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organisation.

In a press statement last week, Ben Janse van Rensburg, chief of enforcement support for CITES, said, “This first operation represents a big step forward against wildlife criminal networks.”

He said countries are increasingly treating wildlife crime as a serious offence, and “we will leave no stone unturned to locate and arrest these criminals to ensure they are brought to justice.”

Nathalie Frey, deputy political director at Greenpeace International, told IPS her organisation strongly supports the INTERPOL initiative to strengthen law enforcement against environmental crimes.

“Whilst INTERPOL has been looking more closely into environmental crimes for a number of years, this is the first time we have seen them reach out to the public appealing for further information and leads,” she said.

By giving environmental criminals a name and a face, she said, “it shows that law enforcement agencies are finally starting to take crimes such as illegal logging and fishing as seriously as murder or theft.”

WWF’s Parry-Jones told IPS that addressing environmental crimes effectively across international borders requires legal frameworks that can talk with each other.

Dual criminality where crimes of this scale are recognised in countries’ legal frameworks as serious crimes — a penalty of four-plus year’s imprisonment — brings the crimes within the scope of the U.N. Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (UNTOC), enabling international law enforcement cooperation and mutual legal assistance, he said.

The nature of the crimes illustrates the links with other forms of transnational crime, including people trafficking and arms smuggling, and reinforces the argument over the past few years, both by WWF and TRAFFIC, that environmental crime is a cross-sectoral issue and a serious crime, he added.

Greenpeace’s Frey told IPS environmental crime is “big business”, and at an estimated 70-213 billion dollars per year, the earnings are almost on a par with other criminal activities such as drugs and arms trafficking. That estimate includes logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, illegal fisheries, illegal mining and dumping of toxic waste.

Behind these perpetrators, she pointed out, are large networks of criminal activities, with corruption often permeating the whole supply chain of valuable commodities such as timber or fish.

Illegal logging, for example, is rife in many timber-producing countries, and is one of the main culprits for wiping out vast areas of forest that are often home to endangered species.

“Consumer markets are still awash with illegal wood despite regulations to ban the trade,” Frey said.

This, she said, is reflected in the staggering figures released by INTERPOL that illegal logging accounts for 50-90 percent of forestry in key tropical producer countries.

“Whilst we strongly welcome INTERPOL’s initiative to track down offenders and crack down on corruption it is very important that CITES [the U.N. convention to regulate international trade in endangered species] takes much greater action to encourage its parties to step up enforcement and controls,” Frey said.

She singled out the example of Afrormosia, a valuable tropical hardwood found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

This species is under threat and has been listed as requiring special trade regulation under CITES, yet a blind eye continues to be turned to many cases of illegal trade.

Industrial loggers have a free pass to harvest Afrormosia in the country, despite illegal logging estimated to be almost 90 percent, she said.

CITES is supposed to verify legality, yet hundreds of CITES permits were unaccounted for. Traceability in the country is also non-existent, Frey added.

By allowing the continued trade of species that have been illegally harvested, CITES fails to protect species from extinction, and its lack of controls and weaknesses only serve to fuel environmental crimes, she declared.

According to the U.N. Daily News, wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries.

The extent of the response required to effectively address the threat is often beyond the sole remit of environmental or wildlife law enforcement agencies, or even of one country or region alone, it said.

Last June, the joint U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP)-INTERPOL Environmental Crime Crisis report, pointed to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing global threat.

It called for concerted action aimed at strengthening action against the organised criminal networks profiting from the trade.

According to the report, one terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between 38 and 56 million dollars per year from the illegal trade in charcoal.

“Wildlife and forest crime also play a serious role in threat finance to organized crime and non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations,” it said.

Ivory provides income to militia groups in the DRC and the Central African Republic. And it also provides funds to gangs operating in Sudan, Chad and Niger.

Last week, Uganda complained the loss of about 3,000 pounds of ivory from the vaults of its state-run wildlife protection agency.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Elections Offer Little Solace to Sri Lanka’s Poor Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:19:49 +0000 Amantha Perera Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 28 2014 (IPS)

Priyantha Wakvitta is used to seeing his adopted city, Colombo, transform into a landscape of bright sparkling lights and window dressing towards the end of the year.

This year, he says, he is having a double dose of visual stimulation, with publicity materials for the January Presidential Election competing with Christmas décor at every turn.

Though the presidential race could shape up to be a close one, there is no competition over which event will take Colombo by storm: political propaganda is drowning out the festive mood on every street corner.

“[Politicians] are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school." -- Priyantha Wakvitta, a 50-year-old bread seller in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo
Four days after the elections were announced on Nov. 21, at least 1,800 cutouts of the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been deployed within the limits of the Colombo Municipality, according to national election monitors with the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).

Head of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Rajapaksa has enjoyed massive support around the country for his role in decimating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, thus bringing an end to nearly three decades of civil war in 2009.

But as the post-war years revealed themselves as a time of hardship of a very different nature – economic rather than political – his popularity has waned.

His main challenger in the presidential race, Maithripala Sirisena, was until recently the general secretary of Rajapaksa’s own political party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Last week Sirisena stepped out of government and into the role of Rajapaksa’s contender as the common opposition candidate.

The election is turning out to be a keen contest; already there have been eight defections from the ruling coalition’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), while the powerful nationalist party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, once the government’s staunch ally, has declared its opposition to the Rajapaksas.

The poster campaign around the capital city and throughout the country is a bid to win hearts and minds, but the beaming cutouts of politicians have left people like Wakvitta at best annoyed, at worst disgusted.

“They are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school,” said the 50-year-old father of two, originally from the southern district of Galle, but self employed in the capital for the last decade.

Wakvitta is an enterprising man. He runs his own small bakery in a Colombo suburb and makes a living by distributing bread to households. He used to make a profit of around 30,000 rupees, or roughly 250 dollars, a month. But that figure has been going down steadily over the last year.

He tried to branch out to a small vegetable business earlier this year, but burnt his hands and lost his 100,000-rupee investment, the equivalent of about 700 dollars, no small sum in a country where the average annual income is about 550,000 rupees or 4,100 dollars.

“People don’t have money, they are finding it hard to make ends meet,” Wakvitta said.

Though Sri Lanka has maintained an impressive economic growth rate of 7.5 percent and the Rajapaksa government has a string of high-profile infrastructure projects under its belt, including a new seaport and airport, low-income earners say they are struggling to survive.

The national poverty rate is 6.7 percent but most rural areas report higher figures. In Wakvitta’s native Galle District it is 9.9 percent, in the south-central district of Moneragala it is 20.8 percent and in Rathnapura, capital of the southwestern Sabaragamuwa Province, it is 10.4 percent, according to government data.

The problems the poor face are multi-faceted; while wages have remained static, basic commodities have quietly increased in price. Most significant among them has been the upward trend in the cost of rice, a dietary staple here.

Fueled by an 11-month drought that has caused a loss of almost a third of the planted area, the 2014 rice harvest is expected to be at least 20 percent less than last year’s four million metric tons, and a six-year low.

Rice prices have risen 33 percent according to the World Food Programme (WFP), and vegetable and fish prices have also shown periodic upward movement primarily due to inclement weather.

Token gestures or sound economic policies?

Cognizant of the hardships faced by the Sri Lankan masses, political parties across the spectrum frequently use the election run-up to promise the earth to the average voter – from subsidies to assistance packages – pledging to make life easier for those who form the majority of the electorate.

But Ajith Dissanayake, who is from the southern Galle District and makes a living from paddy cultivation, says that token gestures will not do.

“Election handouts will not work, there needs to be some kind of concerted plan to help the poor,” he told IPS.

In the northern regions of the country, where the population is still trying to shake off the residual nightmare of nearly 30 years of civil war, the situation is even worse.

The conflict ended in May 2009, and since then the government has injected over three billion dollars into the reconstruction effort in the Northern Province, largely for major infrastructure projects.

But the region is mired in abject poverty. The Mullaithivu District, which witnessed the last bloody battles in the protracted conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE over five years ago, is the poorest in the nation, with a poverty ratio of 28.3 percent.

The adjoining Kilinochchi District has a recorded poverty headcount of 12.7 percent.

“It is very difficult, it is like we are fighting another conflict: this time with poverty,” said Thiyagarasa Chandirakumar, a 38-year-old disabled father of two from Oddusuddan, a small village located deep inside Mullaithivu.

He told IPS that despite new electrification programmes, many in his village are still waiting for the supply to light up their homes.

“Most of us don’t have the money to get new connections, we don’t even have money sometimes to take a bus,” explained Chandirakumar, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a wartime injury.

Both Wakvitta and Chandirakumar have simple requests from the candidates standing for the highest office in the country: “Make sure our lives are better off than they were before,” Wakvitta said.

That request, however, is unlikely to be realised any time soon. News of the snap election, coupled with the surprise announcement this past week of a common opposition candidate, has thrown the country into a period of uncertainly, at least in the short term.

Two days after elections were announced, the Colombo Stock Market took a nose-dive, with the All Share Price Index falling by 2.3 percent on Monday, Nov. 24 – the worst slide since August 2013.

Analysts say that investors are likely to hold off for the time being, with long-term policy measures also taking a back seat to what promises to be a fierce contest.

“Investors – whether local or foreign – like certainty,” Anushka Wijesinha, an economist with the national think-tank the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

“Policy and political certainty have been established fairly well over the last few years and any disruption to this would no doubt be viewed negatively by investors. So, the recent political developments will be watched closely,” he added.

Wijesinha also said that elections should be more about long term policies than about handouts aimed at wining votes.

“This calls for a shift from the heavy focus on subsidies, welfare payments, and other generous transfers for rural populations – which may help alleviate poverty in the short term – to improving skills, productivity and access to new economic opportunities, which help raise living standards on a more sustained basis,” he said.

Despite the end of the war ushering in renewed hopes of development, income disparities have stubbornly persisted. According to government data, the country’s richest 20 percent still enjoy close to half of the nation’s income, while the poorest 20 percent only share five percent of national wealth among them.

For those like Wakvitta and Chandirakumar, the future looks bleak, with or without elections. Both know for sure that in the short term nothing much will change for the better.

“Hopefully whoever becomes the next president will take the bold steps needed to help people like me,” Wakvitta said as he sped away on his motorbike, looking for his next customer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Indigenous Community Beats Drought and Malnutrition in Honduras Thu, 27 Nov 2014 18:02:20 +0000 Thelma Mejia The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The brand-new kitchen that Estanisla Reyes and her husband built working 15 days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The new ecological stoves cook the food with which the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo, in northern Honduras, put an end to child malnutrition in just two years. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
PUEBLO NUEVO, Honduras , Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

In the heart of the Pijol mountains in the northern Honduran province of Yoro, the Tolupan indigenous community of Pueblo Nuevo has a lot to celebrate: famine is no longer a problem for them, and their youngest children were rescued from the grip of child malnutrition.

The Tolupan indigenous people in Pueblo Nuevo are no longer suffering from the drought that hit much of the country this year, severely affecting the production of staple crops like beans and maize, as a result of climate change and the global El Niño weather phenomenon.

For the last two years, the Tolupan of Pueblo Nuevo have had food reserves that they store in a community warehouse. The “black Junes” are a thing of the past, the villagers told this IPS reporter who spent a day with them.

“From June to August, things were always really hard, we didn’t have enough food, we had to eat roots. It was a time of subsistence, we always said: black June is on its way,” said the leader of the tribe, 27-year-old Tomás Cruz, a schoolteacher.“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage - that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us.” -- Estanisla Reyes

“But today we can smile and say: black June is gone. Now we have food for our children, who had serious malnutrition problems here because there wasn’t enough food,” he added.

The transformation was brought about with the help of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS), with funding from Canada. The programme employs proven technologies such as improved crop varieties and low-cost irrigation and drainage systems to bolster food security and nutrition in critical areas.

An assessment by the SPFS identified serious malnutrition problems in 73 of Honduras’ 298 municipalities.

Pueblo Nuevo and six other Tolupan communities in the municipality of Victoria in Yoro were among the villages with severe nutritional and food security problems.

In the seven tribes, as the Tolupan refer to their settlements, 217 cases of malnutrition were detected among children under five. The other six communities are El Comunal, San Juancito, Piedra Blanca, Guanchías, El Portillo and Buenos Aires.

But Pueblo Nuevo was the model community, because in two years it managed to eliminate malnutrition among its children. Pueblo Nuevo, home to 750 people, is a new settlement created after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998, claiming 20,000 lives and causing severe damage to infrastructure and the economy.

According to official figures, one out of four children under five in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition, equivalent to 240,000 of the over 800,000 children under five in this country of 8.4 million people.

The population of the country is 90 percent mestizo or mixed-race, two percent white, three percent Garifuna and six percent indigenous, according to official statistics.

Becoming a model community

César Alfaro, the SPFS-FAO expert working in the area, told IPS that Pueblo Nuevo’s experience was a success because the tribe understood that they had to change their way of life, implementing good practices in cropping, hygiene and food security.

The villagers, for their part, said Alfaro’s support was key to the community’s transformation.

“When we got here [to Pueblo Nuevo] nobody wanted to come,” Alfaro said. “The teachers said they couldn’t hold a celebration because there was manure everywhere. The indigenous villagers lived in chaos, they slept with the livestock in the middle of all the filth.”

But Pueblo Nuevo is now a clean village, the locals have improved their wattle- and-daub huts, the walls are shiny and white, they divided their living spaces with the animals on one side and the kitchen with ecological stoves on the other, and they even have separate bedrooms.

Located 200 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa, the village is an example of teamwork. Each indigenous hut now has a family garden, a chicken coop, and clean water, purified at a treatment plant run by the community.

The malnourished children were put on good diets, under close medical supervision, and their parents now have basic knowledge and awareness about food, nutrition and the environment, which they are proud to talk about.

One of the mothers, Estanisla Reyes, 37, told IPS that her five-year-old daughter Angeline Nicole, the youngest of her three children, had malnutrition problems in the past.

“And how could we not be malnourished if we weren’t living well, if we didn’t work the land the way we should have? Our houses full of mud and garbage – that hurt our health, but now we understand. My little girl is healthy now, say the doctors, who used to scold us for not taking good care of them but who now congratulate us,” she said, smiling.

She and her husband built the walls of their new kitchen, which forms part of the house, unlike their old kitchen, working 12 hours a day for 15 days. “My husband made the mix, and I brought the water, and polished the walls – many families worked like that,” she said proudly.

Another mother, Adela Maradiaga, said “our lives changed. I came in as a volunteer because I’m from another tribe. I was surprised when I found out that my daughter was also malnourished. Then the Pueblo Nuevo tribe accepted me, and with the food we grow in our garden, our children are nourished and we are too.” She added that her children no longer have stomach troubles or a cough.

In Pueblo Nuevo they are also proud that they don’t have to hire themselves out to work, or sell their livestock to ranchers or merchants in the area to eat. “We used to pawn our things, but now we sell them maize, beans, fruit and avocados,” said Narciso “Chicho” Garay.

The tribe no longer uses the slash-and-burn technique to clear the land, and they now use organic fertiliser and recycle their garbage. They have a community savings fund where they deposit part of their earnings, which has made it possible to have clean drinking water and provisions.

They managed to improve the yield per hectare of beans from 600 to 1,800 kg, and of maize from 900 to 3,000 kg, and now they know that a family of six needs 2,400 to 2,800 kg of maize a year, for example.

Sandro Martínez, the mayor of Victoria, is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the changes in Pueblo Nuevo, because he was born and grew up near the Tolupan indigenous people and did not hesitate to ask FAO to bring its food security programme to the native villages.

“A famine in those villages in 2010 prompted me to look for help, and we found it. It wasn’t easy to start working with the Tolupan community; the success lies in respecting their way of government represented by the leader of the tribe, as well as their cosmovision. Now they say they’re rich because they no longer have to work for a boss,” he told IPS.

There are seven indigenous groups in Honduras: the Lenca, Pech, Tolupan, Chorti, Tawahka and Misquito, besides the Garífunas, who are the descendants of slaves intermixed with native populations. The Tolupan number 18,000 divided into 31 tribes, governed by a chief who leads a council that makes the decisions.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Democratising the Fight against Malnutrition Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:07:43 +0000 Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

Women play an important role in guaranteeing sufficient food supply for their families. They are among the stakeholders whose voice needs to be heard in the debate on nutrition. Credit: FIAN International

By Geneviève Lavoie-Mathieu
ROME, Nov 27 2014 (IPS)

There is a new dimension to the issue of malnutrition – governments, civil society and the private sector have started to come together around a common nutrition agenda.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the launch of the “Zero Hunger Challenge” by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in June 2012 opened the way for new stakeholders to work together in tackling malnutrition.

These new stakeholders include civil society organisations and their presence was felt at the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) held from Nov. 19 to 21 in Rome."Malnutrition can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate … food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition” – Declaration of the Civil Society Organisations’ Forum to ICN2

More than half of the world’s population is adversely affected by malnutrition according to FAO. Worldwide, 200 million children suffer from under-nutrition while two billion women and children suffer from anaemia and other types of nutrition deficiencies.

Addressing ICN2, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that “the time is now for bold action to shoulder the challenge of Zero Hunger and ensure adequate nutrition for all.” More than 20 years after the first Conference on Nutrition (ICN), held in 1992, ICN2 marked “the beginning of our renewed effort,” he added.

But the difference this time was that the private sector and civil society organisations were included in ICN2 and the process leading to it, from web consultations and pre-conference events to roundtables, plenary and side events.

“This civil society meeting is historical,” said Flavio Valente, Secretary-General of FIAN International, an organisation advocating for the right to adequate food. “It is the first time that civil society constituencies have worked with FAO, WHO and the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to discuss nutrition.”

This gave the opportunity to social movements, “including a vast array of stakeholders such as peasants, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women, pastoralists, landless people and urban poor to have their voices heard and be able to discuss with NGOs, academics and nutritionists,” Valente explained.

According to a Concept Note on the participation of non-State actors in ICN2, evidence shows that encouraging participants enables greater transparency, inclusion and plurality in policy discussion, which leads to a greater sense of ownership and consensus.

As such, “the preparation for the ICN2 was a first step in building alliances between civil society organisations (CSOs)  and social movements involved in working with food, nutrition, health and agriculture,” Valente told IPS.

This means that “governments have already started to listen to our joint demands and proposals, in particular those related to the governance of food and nutrition,” he explained.

A powerful Declaration submitted by the CSO Forum on the final day of ICN2 called for a commitment to “developing a coherent, accountable and participatory governance mechanism, safeguarded against undue corporate influence … based on principles of human rights, social justice, transparency and democracy, and directly engaging civil society, in particular the populations and communities which are most affected by different forms of malnutrition.”

According to Valente, malnutrition is the result of political decisions and public policies that do not guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.

In this context, the CSOs stated that “food is the expression of values, cultures, social relations and people’s self-determination, and … the act of feeding oneself and others embodies our sovereignty, ownership and empowerment.”

Malnutrition, they said, can only be addressed “in the context of vibrant and flourishing local food systems that are deeply ecologically rooted, environmentally sound and culturally and socially appropriate. We are convinced that food sovereignty is a fundamental precondition to ensure food security and guarantee the human right to adequate food and nutrition.”

At a high-level meeting in April last year on the United Nations’ vision for a post-2015 strategy against world hunger, the FAO Director-General said that since the world produces enough food to feed everyone, emphasis needs to be placed on access to food and to adequate nutrition at the local level. “We need food systems to be more efficient and equitable,” he said.

However, Valente told IPS that CSOs believe that one of the main obstacles to making progress in terms of addressing nutrition-related problems “has been the refusal of States to recognise several of the root causes of malnutrition in all its forms.”

“This makes it very difficult to elaborate global and national public policies that effectively tackle the structural issues and therefore could be able to not only treat but also prevent new cases of malnutrition.”

What needs to be addressed, he said, are not only the “symptoms of malnutrition”, but also resource grabbing, the unsustainable dominant food system, the agro-industrial model and bilateral and multilateral trade agreements that significantly limit the policy space of national governments on food and nutrition-related issues.

But, according to Valente, “things are changing” – civil society organisations have organised around food and nutrition issues, the food sovereignty movement has grown in resistance since the 1980s and societies are now demanding action from their governments in an organised way.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informed Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shale Oil Threatens the High Prices Enjoyed by OPEC Wed, 26 Nov 2014 21:10:05 +0000 Humberto Marquez Ranking of recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, which have revolutionised the global map of fossil fuels. Credit: ProfesionalMovil

Ranking of recoverable shale oil and gas reserves, which have revolutionised the global map of fossil fuels. Credit: ProfesionalMovil

By Humberto Márquez
CARACAS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Shale fever and the political chess among major oil producers and consumers have put OPEC in one of the most difficult junctures in its 54 years of history.

“OPEC was spoiled for several years by high prices of around 100 dollars a barrel,” Elie Habalián, a former Venezuelan OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) governor, told IPS. “If it had had the foresight to keep prices down to around 70 dollars a barrel, shale oil would not have begun to pose such stiff competition.”

The 12-member group – made up of Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela – may agree to cut output, which would entail sacrificing markets, during its Nov. 27 ministerial meeting in Vienna – the 166th held since the organisation was founded in September 1960.

Oil prices, which climbed after 2003 to over 140 dollars a barrel in 2008, plunged as a result of the global financial crisis that broke out that year, but recovered this decade and have remained at around 100 dollars a barrel.

In the meantime, the production of unconventional oil and gas began to expand in the United States. Shale, a common type of sedimentary rock made up largely of compacted silt and clay, is an unconventional source of natural gas and oil, which is trapped in shale formations and recovered by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.

“Fracking” involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, a technique that opens and extends fractures in the shale rock to release the natural gas and oil on a massive scale.

With the technology and capital available in the 20th century, these unconventional resources were not recoverable.

Habalián pointed out that after the 1973 Arab oil embargo, “the West and Japan adopted a strategy to achieve a stable market under their control rather than under that of the exporting countries.”

That strategy has run into surprises. For example, 40 years ago no one foresaw that China, along with India and other emerging powers, would become a fast-growing economy with a voracious appetite for fossil fuels, which gave a boost to producers of oil and gas.

“But with the high prices, while the exporters financed geopolitical campaigns, like the conflicts in the Middle East or the influence of Venezuela in Latin America under the presidency of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), the big corporations were investing in technology and new areas of business,” said Habalián.

The shale boom “has merely accelerated the results of that permanent strategy by the West. Shale oil is here to stay, the price will drop as the technology advances, and that will bring down the prices of, and set a cap on, OPEC’s oil,” the expert said.

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit:

Map of proven global reserves of conventional oil, where new actors have also reduced OPEC’s grip. Credit:

Fracking is a costly procedure that requires high crude prices to make it profitable. It is also criticised for its environmental effects, as it involves consumption of enormous amounts of water and the creation of cracks in the rocks deep below the surface, with consequences that have yet to be determined.

Shale oil is already a major actor in the global energy market, with daily output of 3.5 million barrels, mainly in the United States, which recently overtook Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s largest oil producer, with more than nine million barrels a day.

For decades Saudi Arabia was the biggest producer and the de facto leader of OPEC, because to its production of nearly 10 million barrels a day is added a spare production capacity of two million barrels which has enabled it to increase or reduce output in periods of market scarcity or abundance.

The market, of some 91 million barrels consumed daily, of which OPEC contributes one-third, is showing signs of being oversupplied because of the rising offer of shale oil, Europe’s fragile economic recovery, and the slowdown of emerging economies, from China to Brazil.

Crude oil is about 30 percent cheaper than one year ago. The European benchmark North Sea Brent stands at 80 dollars a barrel, compared to 110 dollars a barrel at the close of 2013. The U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate is trading at 75 dollars a barrel, and Venezuela’s dense cocktail at less than 70 dollars a barrel, down from a high of more than 100 dollars a barrel.

Saudi Arabia “appears determined to respond aggressively in defence of its market share, even if that means lower prices for a few years,” Kenneth Ramírez, a professor of geopolitics and oil at the Central University of Venezuela, told IPS.

The Saudis are thus apparently facing off with Iran, their rival in the Islamic world – and which, like Venezuela, Russia or Nigeria, needs the biggest possible influx of revenue in the short term – and would discourage, with flows of low-cost conventional oil, the development of its big future rival: shale oil.

In addition, according to analyses like those of Habalián and Ramírez, low prices and a market with a greater supply of crude would “punish” nations like Syria or its big supporter, Russia, which is clashing with the West over the conflict centred in Ukraine.

In the immediate future, OPEC could opt for the Saudi proposal of maintaining the status quo and letting oil prices slide to 70 dollars a barrel or lower, with the aim of slowing down the development of shale oil while waiting for a recovery of Europe or China and other emerging economies.

Venezuela has tried to push another option, with an intense tour by Foreign Minister Rafael Ramírez to the capitals of oil producing countries, from Mexico City to Moscow through Tehran, but conspicuously avoiding Riyadh. The idea is to cut production to shore up prices, betting that the capacity to extract shale oil will decline in a few years.

One component that contributes to a move in that direction, said Habalián, is the pressure from environmentalists, especially in the United States and Canada, who oppose the extraction of shale oil and gas because of its impact on water sources, the injection of chemicals and the fracturing of rock deep underground.

A third option, said Ramírez, would be to ratify OPEC’s production ceiling of 30 million barrels a day, which would remove a small portion of the partners’ current excess supply “and although it would have a small impact on prices, it would send a signal that the organisation is not on the ropes.”

But in the medium to long term, Habalián observed, a new energy architecture in line with the market stability sought by the West continues to be bolstered, in the face of an OPEC strained by political and budgetary urgencies.

Editedo by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Internal Ruling Party Wrangles Stall Development in Zimbabwe Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:39:32 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Supporters (wearing red) of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai after witnessing their party losing to President Robert Mugabe in last year's elections. They now face another disappointment as the fight to succeed Mugabe turns attention away from development. Credit : Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

With the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union Patriotic Front party in Zimbabwe seized with internal conflicts, attention to key development areas here have shifted despite the imminent end of December 2015 deadline for global attainment of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The eight MDGs targeted to be achieved by 31 December 2015 form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and the world’s leading development institutions.“Every development area is at a standstill here as ZANU-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline” – Agrippa Chiwawa, an independent development expert

But, caught up in the succession fight among ruling party politicians as the country’s 90-year old President Robert Mugabe – who has ruled this Southern African nation for the last 34 years – reportedly  battles ill health ahead of the party’s elective congress in December, development experts say the Zimbabwean government has apparently shifted attention from development to party politics.

“Every development area is at a standstill here as Zanu-PF politicians are scrambling to succeed the aged Mugabe here and they have apparently forgotten about all the MDGs that the country also needs to attain before the 2015 deadline,” independent development expert Agrippa Chiwawa told IPS.

The battle to succeed Mugabe pits Justice Minister Emerson Mnangagwa and the country’s Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who is currently receiving a battering from the former’s faction which has won sympathy from the country’s first family, with First Lady Grace Mugabe venomously calling for the immediate resignation of Mujuru before the ZANU-PF congress.

Chiwawa told IPS that despite the government having contained recent strikes by medical doctors here through appeasing them by reviewing their salaries, the public health sector is in a state of decay amid acute shortages of treatment drugs.

Elmond Bandauko, an independent political analyst, agrees with Chiwawa. “Internal fights within the ZANU-PF party are stumbling blocks to national, social and economic prosperity; the ZANU-PF government is concentrating on its party succession battles as the economy is on its knees and there is no projected solution to the economic woes the country faces at the moment,” he told IPS.

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Fighting over who will succeed 90-year-old Robert Mugabe at the head of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has relegated agriculture, like other development issues, to the side-lines if not outright neglect. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

“Policy makers from the ZANU-PF government, who are supposed to be holding debates and parliamentary sessions and special meetings on how to move the country forward, are wasting time on political tiffs that do not save the interests of ordinary Zimbabweans,” Bandauko added.

Even the country’s education system has not been spared by the ruling party political milieu, according to educationists here.

“Nobody is talking about revamping the education system here as government officials responsible are busy consolidating their powers in the ruling party while national examinations are fast losing credibility amid leakages of exam papers before they are written, subsequently tarnishing the image of our country’s quality of education,” a top government official in the Ministry of Education told IPS on the condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation.

Even the country’s ordinary subsistence farmers, like Edson Ngulube from Masvingo Province in Mwenezi district, are feeling the pinch of the failure of politicians. “We can’t beat hunger and poverty without support from government with farming inputs,” Ngulube told IPS.

Yet for many Zimbabweans like Ngulube, reaching the MDGs offers the means to a better life – a life with access to adequate food and income.

Burdened with over half of its population starving, based on one of the U.N. MDGs, Zimbabwe nevertheless committed itself to eradicating hunger by 2015. But, with the Zanu-PF government deeply engrossed in tense power wrangles to succeed Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be way off the mark for reaching this target.

In addition, in September, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri went on record as saying that Zimbabwe could fail to meet the target to eradicating hunger by 2015 owing to conflict and natural disasters.

Zimbabwe’s 2012 National Census showed that more than two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 13 million people live in rural areas and, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), this year about 25 percent of them need food aid or they will starve, and between now and 2015, 2.2 million Zimbabweans will need food support.

Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Joseph Made is, however, confident the country is set to end hunger before the 2015 deadline. “We have land and we have hardworking people utilising land and for us there is no reason to doubt that by 2015 we would have eradicated hunger,” Made told IPS.

Claris Madhuku, director for the Platform for Youth Development (PYD), a democracy lobby group in Zimbabwe, perceive things rather differently.

“What actuates Zimbabwe’s failure to attaining MDGs is the on-going governance crisis, a result of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s internal wars to succeed the party’s nonagenarian President, which have not made development any easier,” Madhuku told IPS.

According to the PYD leader, in order for Zimbabwe to experience magnificent development, “the ruling party has to try and get its politics right.”

But with Zimbabwean President Mugabe apparently clinging to the helm of the country’s ruling party with renewed tenacity, it remains to be seen whether or not real development will ever touch the country’s soils.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women on the Edge of Land and Life Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Rich Countries Pony Up (Some) for Climate Justice Wed, 26 Nov 2014 14:24:04 +0000 Oscar Reyes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the Climate Summit 2014 at UN headquarters in New York on Sep. 23. Credit: Green Climate Fund

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hosted the Climate Summit 2014 at UN headquarters in New York on Sep. 23. Credit: Green Climate Fund

By Oscar Reyes
WASHINGTON, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

It’s one of the oldest tricks in politics: Talk down expectations to the point that you can meet them.
And it played out again in Berlin as 21 countries—including the United States—pledged nearly 9.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund, a U.N. body tasked with helping developing countries cope with climate change and transition to clean energy systems.Despite its green mandate, the Green Climate Fund may also support an array of “dirty energy” projects—including power generation from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and destructive mega-dam projects.

The total—which will cover a four-year period before new pledges are made—included three billion dollars from the United States, 1.5 dollars billion from Japan, and around one billion dollars each from the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

That’s a big step in the right direction. But put into context, 9.5 billion dollars quickly sounds less impressive.

Floods, droughts, sea level rises, heat waves, and other forms of extreme weather are likely to cost developing countries hundreds of billions of dollars every year. And it will take hundreds of billions more to ensure that they industrialise more cleanly than their counterparts did in North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

Developed countries should foot a large part of that bill, since they bear the greatest responsibility for causing climate change.

The politics of responsibility

Determining who pays for what is an integral part of achieving an international climate deal. And so far, pledges from rich countries have tracked far behind previous requests and recommendations.

Back in 2009, developed countries signed the Copenhagen Accord, which committed them to move 100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to developing countries. A year later, the U.N. climate conference in Cancún called for the Green Climate Fund to be set up to channel a “significant share” of the money developing countries need to adapt to climate change.

Earlier this year, the G77—which is actually a grouping of 133 developing countries—called for 15 dollars billion to be put into the Green Climate Fund. U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres set the bar lower at 10 billion dollars. The failure to even reach that figure is likely to put strain on negotiations for a new multilateral climate agreement that is expected to be reached in December 2015.

But it’s not just the headline figure that’s important. Plenty of devils are likely to be lurking in the details.

Delivering on the U.S. pledge requires budgetary approval from a hostile Congress, although a payment schedule stretching over much of the next decade could make that more politically feasible than it initially sounds.

More concerning are the conditions attached to the U.S. pledge, which include a threat that some of the money could be redirected to other funds—likely those run by the World Bank—if “the pace of progress” at the Green Climate Fund is inadequate. Given that the United States is advocating rules on how the fund makes decisions that would tip the balance of power in favor of contributor countries, the threat is far from innocuous.

France will provide a significant proportion of its share as loans rather than grants, while the small print of the UK contribution is likely to reveal that part of its money comes as a “capital contribution,” which can only be paid out as loans.

Those restrictions could limit the scope of activities that the fund can finance, since much of the vital support and infrastructure needed to support community resilience in the face of climate change is too unprofitable to support loan repayments.

Future of the fund

Looming over these issues is the larger, unresolved question of what the fund will actually finance. Some donor countries—including the United States—are pushing for a fund that would support transnational corporations and their supply chains, helping them turn profits from investments in developing countries.

Despite its green mandate, the Green Climate Fund may also support an array of “dirty energy” projects—including power generation from fossil fuels, nuclear power, and destructive mega-dam projects. That’s the subject of an ongoing dispute on the fund’s 24-member board and a persistent complaint from a range of civil society organisations.

That battle is not yet lost.

Despite its shortcomings, the Green Climate Fund has great potential to support a global transition to renewable energy, sustainable public transport systems, and energy efficiency. And with its goal of spending 50 percent of its funds on “adaptation” activities, it could also serve as a vital lifeline for communities already facing the impacts of climate change.

An important milestone was passed with the billions pledged to the Green Climate Fund. But achieving a cleaner, more resilient world will take billions more—along with a commitment to invest the money in projects that mitigate climate change rather than cause it.

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Decline of Social Europe is Part of a World Trend Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:15:40 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that social criteria are taking a back seat to financial and economic criteria in the policies of European countries.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

After the Italian sea search-and-rescue operation Mare Nostrum at a cost of nine million euros a month, through which the Italian Navy has rescued nearly 100,000 migrants – although perhaps up to 3,000 have died – from the Mediterranean since October 2013, Europe is now presenting its new face in the Mediterranean.

The European Union is launching Joint Operation Triton with a monthly budget of 2.9 million euros and funds secured until the end of the year. Its function is to enforce border controls – not to save “boat people” – and it will patrol just thirty nautical miles from the coast, which pales in comparison with Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation which saw patrols being sent close to the Libyan coast.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Even with this very limited operation, British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that the United Kingdom will not contribute because operations that save migrants make them more willing to try to cross the Mediterranean. Of course, there is a perverted logic in this: the more migrants that die, the greater will be the discouragement for others to try.

Following this logic through, the ideal situation therefore would be to reach a death rate that would stop illegal immigration once and for all!

In this context, it is worth noting that the U.K. government is considering withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (something that even Russian President Vladimir Putin has never considered). The argument is that nobody can be above U.K. courts.

London is also refusing to pay its share of increased of contributions to the European Union and is considering how to put an annual cap on the number of Europeans who are entitled to work legally in the United Kingdom.“Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation”

And finally, the U.K. government received with great uproar the sentence of the European Court of Justice, which placed a European cap on banker bonuses, rejecting Britain’s claims that it was illegal. The British argument was that pay levels (also of discredited bankers) were part of social policy and thus under the authority of member states not of the European Union.

Meanwhile, the same Court has issued another sentence under which E.U. member states are not obliged to support European citizens who do not have economic activities in the E.U. countries to which they have migrated. And the German Parliament is now preparing a law to expel European immigrants who do not find a job within six months.

Of course, this will open the doors to all other countries to reduce the free movement of Europeans in Europe, a cornerstone of the original vision of a solidary Europe. Now Europeans will be obliged to take any job, and therefore the law of market will become the primary criterion for their movements in Europe.

Since 1986, the year of signing of the Single European Act, Europeans have never been able to agree on a minimum social basis, which would have given them rights as workers to act collectively as Europeans in the face of a market which is economically unified, but with no common social legislation.

In fact, the point has now been reached where social criteria are the last to be used to judge whether a country is recovering or not, well after economic and financial criteria.

A devastated Greece is now again being considered in financial markets because its economic indicators are on the up. And, at the last G20 meeting in Brisbane, Spain was touted as the example that austerity policies – those indicated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the example for laggards like Italy and France – are the correct way out of the crisis.

At the same time, a very different source, Caritas, has reported that only 34.3 percent of Spaniards live a normal life, while 40.6 percent are stuck in precariousness, 24.2 percent are already suffering moderate exclusion and 10.9 percent are living in severe exclusion.

To understand the trend, six years ago, 50.2 percent of Spaniards had a normal life. Now, one citizen in four is suffering exclusion, and of those 11 million excluded citizens, 77.1 percent have no job, 61.7 percent no house and 46 percent no health care support.

According to UNICEF’s recent report on children under recession, 76.5 million children in the rich countries live in poverty, and in Spain, 36.3 percent of the country’s children (2.7 million) are living in a state of precariousness.

What is now new is that some major financial institutions have started to draw attention to social issues.

Janet L. Yellen, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, has declared that she is concerned about the growing inequality of wealth and income in the United States, and that chances for people to advance economically appear to be diminishing. And Mario Draghi, governor of the European Central Bank, is now constantly mentioning the issues of “unbearable unemployment “and “growing exclusion”.

In the background there is the proven fact that countries which took emergency measures to reduce public borrowing have mostly had weaker growth, like most European countries (with the exception of Germany, helped by a boom in machinery exports to Russia and China), while those which introduced a policy of stimulus, like the United States, Japan and Britain, have done much better, also in reducing unemployment.

But Merkel continues to ignore calls from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other monetary institutions – she is only interested in pleasing her constituency, which is increasingly looking to its immediate interests and losing sight of European perspectives.

In all this, the banks continue to be uninterested in any social perspective. A few days ago, European and U.S. regulators imposed new fines worth 4.5 billion dollars on a number of major banks (we are now approaching the 200 billion dollar mark since the crisis started in 2008) for illegal activities.

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of the largest of them, JP Morgan, declared in an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of CNBC that it is important that United States creates a “safe harbour” where JPMorgan’s illegal practice of hiring the relatives of political leaders “is not punished”.

In Dimon’s country, between 2009 and 2010, 93 percent of economic growth ended up in the pockets of one percent of the population, according to Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz, and the 16,000 families with wealth of at least 111 million dollars have seen their share of national wealth double since 2012 to 11.2 percent.

The last U.S. presidential elections cost 3.4 billion dollars, and most of that came from this small minority. Democracy, where all votes are equal, is increasingly becoming a plutocracy where money elects.

Meeting leaders of social movements on Oct. 26, Pope Francis told them: “They call me a communist [for speaking of] land, work and housing … but love for the poor is at the centre of the Gospel.” Certainly, governments are doing otherwise …

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Rice Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movement Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Anthony George In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

By Anthony George

Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised byDEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens” – Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform

Key partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Survivors of Sexual Violence Face Increased Risks Tue, 25 Nov 2014 19:10:55 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

Students at Columbia University carry mattresses on the Carry That Weight National Day of Action to show their support for survivors of sexual assault. Credit: Warren Heller

By Lyndal Rowlands

“A recurring nightmare for me is I’m trying to tell someone something and they are not listening. I’m yelling at the top of my lungs and it feels like there is a glass wall between us.”

Jasmin Enriquez is a two-time survivor of rape. Like two-thirds of rape survivors, Enriquez knew her rapists. The first was her boyfriend when she was a high school senior, the second a fellow student she had been seeing at college."What I hear from women is that they are told to shut up: they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut." -- Dr. Dana Sinopoli

“[The nightmare] shows how I’ve always felt that even as someone coming forward as a survivor, as soon as I start giving details to some people, they instantly start to shut it down. As in, you’re being crazy or hyperemotional, instead of taking it as one whole piece and looking at it holistically,” Enriquez told IPS.

Women who have experienced gender-based violence are at a significantly increased risk of developing a mental disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression, within one to three years after the assault.

Enriquez explains, “People don’t seem to understand that after being sexually assaulted, it’s something that you have to live with the rest of your life.

“Most of the time there is an incredible amount of anxiety or depression or other mental health issues that people just don’t understand,” she says. “It’s been five years since I was sexually assaulted and I still live through the trauma.”

A special Lancet series published Friday says that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Researcher Dr. Susan Rees from the University of New South Wales told IPS that there is strong evidence that if you are exposed to gender-based violence, you are at a much higher risk for the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression as well as attempted suicide.

Rees’ research into the connection between gender-based violence and mental disorders has shown that women who have been assaulted are significantly more likely to experience a mental disorder in their lifetime.

Women who have experienced one form of gender-based violence have a 57 percent chance of developing a mental disorder compared with only 28 percent of women who have not experienced gender-based violence. Significantly, 89 percent of women who have experienced gender-based violence three to four times will develop a mental disorder.

It is important for survivors of assault to get early support to help prevent the onset of an associated mental disorder, Rees said.

However, experiencing sexual assault can be confusing, especially for young women and girls, and this may prevent them from getting early intervention.

Enriquez explains that she didn’t initially realise the connection between her response to the trauma of sexual violence and the symptoms she was experiencing.

“I’ve recently been very jumpy, kind of always tense and I get startled easy, I didn’t understand why that was happening and it was very frustrating.”

Enriquez’ fiancé, who is not the person who assaulted her, used to jump out at her or play games to surprise her, and she found this really upsetting,

“I didn’t understand that it was related to me being sexually assaulted until probably my senior year of college. I feel like if I had been educated about what normal symptoms are of PTSD, I would have known that there was more to it and that it was a normal piece of it.”

Community attitudes affect prevalence

Community attitudes towards women, including strong patriarchal attitudes, power imbalance and gender inequality contribute to the prevalence of violence against women, said Rees.

“It makes sense that if you change attitudes then you can change prevalence, you can reduce the risk for women,” she said.

This is what Enriquez aims to do with her organisation Only With Consent. Together with her fiancé, Enriquez speaks with students to raise awareness and change young people’s attitudes towards sexual assault.

“I definitely think that there’s a gender piece that goes with both the mental health and the sexual assault and that it ties back to any time a woman expresses an emotion of being angry or upset we immediately call her out for being irrational or emotional.” Enriquez told IPS.

“If the majority of survivors who are speaking out are women, and they are expressing these feelings of being upset or being angry, or being really hurt, or any of those feelings, we discredit what they are saying, because we see them as irrational creatures,” Enriquez said.

Psychologist Dr. Dana Sinopoli told IPS that it is also important to consider how gender-based violence affects men, especially men who experience childhood sexual assault. She said that this should involve addressing gender stereotypes such as that men are aggressive or impulsive.

As Carry That Weight explains on its website:

“People of all gender identities can experience and be affected by sexual and domestic violence—women are not the only survivors just as men are not the only perpetrators. We strive to challenge narrow and inaccurate representations of what assault looks like and also acknowledge that these forms of violence disproportionately affect women, transgender, gender nonconforming, and disabled people.”

Sinopoli added however that changing community attitudes towards women was an important part of addressing gender-based violence.

“Consistently what I hear from women is that they are told to shut up, they are told to shut up during it, they are told to shut up after it, and they are told by some institutions to continue keeping their mouths shut.

“That is what we can link to the depression and the anxiety and a lot of the re-experiencing and retriggering that is so central to PTSD,” Sinopoli said.

Sinopoli added that “the way that society reacts, to someone who discloses or is struggling, is so important.

“The more that people speak up the more that we will actually see a decline in such significant psychological symptoms.”

Early intervention can help

When helping someone who has experienced violence, Rees said that it is important that friends and family reassure the victim that it “it is never acceptable to be hit, or to be treated violently or to be raped.”

Unfortunately, population studies show that women who have experienced gender-based violence are also at increased risk of experiencing it again in their lifetime.

“This might be the case because often men target women who are vulnerable, so if she has a mental disorder or trauma as a result of an early childhood adversity, she may be more likely to be targeted by men who in a sense benefit from powerlessness, inequality and fear.”

She said that warning bells that a relationship is unhealthy include controlling, jealous behaviour such as telling you who you should socialise with, or getting jealous because you are doing better than he is at university.

“Often women think that’s because he cares about me, he’s worried about me and that why he wants to know where I am all the time,”

But this type of behaviour should actually be seen as a warning of future emotional and perhaps physical abuse, Rees said.

Rees said that the reasons women don’t leave violent relationships are complex,

“She may be suffering depression. She may not have the economic resources to leave. She may worry about the children, and rightly so, because often people end up homeless, and she also may know that she’s at high risk of retaliation from the perpetrator if she leaves.”

Rees also explained that it is important for health practitioners to receive training so they can be confident to ask about domestic violence and respond appropriately.

She added that primary health care responses need to be integrated with community-based services to ensure that survivors have access to help that is sensitive to the complex impact of sexual violence.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Central American Civil Society Calls for Protection of Local Agriculture at COP20 Tue, 25 Nov 2014 18:12:27 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

A farmer from Alauca, Honduras plants maize on his land. Agriculture, which accounts for up to 20 percent of GDP in some countries in the region, has been hit hard by climate change. Credit: Neil Palmer/Ciat

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Worried about the effects of global warming on agriculture, water and food security in their communities, social organisations in Central America are demanding that their governments put a priority on these issues in the COP20 climate summit.

In the months leading up to COP20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – civil society in Central America has met over and over again to reach a consensus position on adaptation and loss and damage.

These, along with mitigation, are the pillars of the negotiations to take place in Lima the first 12 days of December, which are to give rise to a new climate change treaty to be signed a year later at COP21 in Paris.

“Central American organisations working for climate justice, food security and sustainable development are trying to share information and hammer out a common position,” Tania Guillén, who represents Nicaragua’s Humboldt Centre environmental group at the talks, told IPS.

That consensus, in one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to global warming, will serve “to ask the governments to adopt positions similar to those taken by civil society,” said the representative of the Humboldt Centre, a regional leader in climate change research and activism.

Guillén said the effort to hold a Central American dialogue “is aimed at guaranteeing that adaptation will be a pillar of the new accord, and there is a good climate for that.”

The Nicaraguan activist stressed that the other question of great interest to the region is loss and damage, aimed at addressing and remedying the negative effects of climate change already suffered by the countries of Central America.

“Studies indicate that we have spent 10 percent of GDP to recover from Mitch, which was basically the starting point of risk management in the region,” said Guillén, referring to the hurricane that caused billions of dollars in damages and claimed thousands of lives in Central America in 1998.

These two main thematic areas dominate the agendas of Central American networks seeking solutions to climate change, like the Central American Alliance for Resilience, the Regional Coalition for Risk Management and the Vulnerable Central America Forum.

On Nov. 14 these organisations signed the declaration of the Second Central American Conference on Loss and Damage from Climate Change, where activists from the region studied water stress, food security and the risks facing the population.

One of their demands was that during COP20 the seven governments of the region “promote the declaration of Central America as a region highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.”

The same thing was demanded by the Fifth Regional Meeting on Vulnerable Central America, United for Life, held in September.

Another gathering in preparation for COP20 will take place Wednesday Nov. 26 in Honduras.

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rican farmer José Alberto Chacón grows beans on terraces to control the water flow that erodes the soil on his small farm in Pacayas, on the slopes of the Irazú volcano. Terraces are one example of adaptation to climate change. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

The demands set forth by civil society are backed by studies highlighting the climate fragility of this region, which is set between two oceans.

In the 2012 report “The economics of climate change in Central America”, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) predicted that precipitation in the region would decline by at least 11 percent by 2100.

This year, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that forecast.

The effects of climate change on agriculture in this region could also be devastating.

ECLAC estimated that if global warming continues at the current pace, the negative impacts on agricultural production would lead to a loss of nearly 19 percent of GDP in Central America.

For all of these reasons, civil society groups are demanding that governments in the region and the Central American Integration System (SICA) take a firmer stance on climate change adaptation.

In the meantime, they are developing projects to curb the negative effects of global warming in the region.

In Costa Rica, the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE) is working with local authorities to implement a river basin management plan.

The plan includes the Barranca river, which flows into the Pacific ocean after running through an important farming area.

“We are developing a master plan for the basin and we put special importance on future scenarios of climate change and variability,” the coordinator of the CATIE programme, Laura Benegas, told IPS.

The research centre is also carrying out an ambitious seed protection and improvement programme, to guarantee food security in Costa Rica.

SICA, the government counterpart to the regional social organisations, is currently presided over by Belize, whose government ensured that addressing climate change would be among its top priorities.

However, the organisations are sceptical about the possibility of the government delegations taking their positions on board.

“Civil society does not have an influence on the official position to be taken to the talks because there are no mechanisms for that and because many segments of civil society are still having a hard time taking that step,” Alejandra Granados, president of the Costa Rican organisation, told IPS.

With respect to the climate summit in Lima, Central America has the advantage that Costa Rica currently presides over the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean, made up of middle-income countries pushing for an adaptation initiative within the UNFCCC.

The group also includes Guatemala, Panama, Colombia, Chile and the COP20 host country Peru.

During the Sep. 23 climate summit held at U.N. headquarters in New York, the countries of Central America committed themselves to making their economies even greener.

Costa Rica confirmed its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021, Nicaragua promised to continue to invest in renewable energies, and Guatemala pledged to reforest 3.9 million hectares between 2016 and 2020.

Nevertheless, this region shares very little responsibility for global warming.

While China and the United States together account for 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, Central America is responsible for just 0.8 percent.

By contrast, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by GermanWatch, three nations in this region were among the 10 countries in the world affected the most by climate change between 1993 and 2012.

Honduras is in first place on that list, Nicaragua in fourth place and Guatemala in 10th place. El Salvador is in 13th place, Belize 22nd, Costa Rica 66th and Panama 103rd.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agenda Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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U.S. Demand for Ebola “Moon Suits” Creates Shortages in Africa Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:44:22 +0000 Global Information Network By Global Information Network
NEW YORK, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

(GIN) – Aid agencies that use the iconic ‘moon suits’ – the odd-looking full-body outfits used in battling Ebola – are running dangerously low as the protective garb is being snapped up by institutions in the U.S.

World Vision, a Christian charity, was reportedly looking to send the hazmat suits to Sierra Leone when they found the items were out of stock. “There’s been some sleepless nights,” Jennifer Mounsey, director of Corporate Engagement, told the Wall St Journal. “We’re all sweating bullets.”

African needs are competing with U.S. hospitals and government agencies which are stockpiling some of the scant supply made by companies such as the Lakeland Industries in Ronkonkoma, NY, that manufacture the chemical suits, boot covers, face masks, hoods that comprise the Personal Protective Equipment or PPEs.

Even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ordered $2.7 million in PPEs for its Strategic National Stockpile. According to the CDC, American hospitals and firefighters also need PPEs on hand in case a potential Ebola suspect wanders into an emergency room or dials 911.

Aid groups on the front lines of West Africa’s Ebola virus outbreak say the shortage of protective suits is one more source of stress. These groups already face flight cancellations and travel bans that make it harder to get doctors to the field.

Meanwhile, of the countries that promised money to fight Ebola, little has been delivered: 7 percent of China’s $122 million pledge, 17 percent of the $265 million promised by the EU, and 43 percent of the United States’ $572 million, according to a new website that tracks contributions worldwide.

While the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN, and the World Bank have data on the dollar figures associated with each pledge, little was known how much of those resources have actually made it to the ground in West Africa.

That’s what inspired the nonprofit to create the Ebola Response Tracker, which can be found on its website.

The tracker focuses on three specific forms of support: financing, health-care personnel, and in-kind contributions. This “deeper dive” into individual country’s commitments, ONE hopes, will persuade leaders to put their money where their mouth is.

Even private institutions, which most likely have less bureaucratic hurdles to deal with, have been slow to pull the trigger. The Silicon Valley Community Fund has thus far sent 0 percent of the 25 million pledged. At the Google/Larry Page Family Foundation, it’s the identical equation.

Erin Hohlfelder, global health policy director at ONE, says the tracker shows the importance in transparency. “It’s one thing to make a great pledge and commit to doing that,” says Hohlfelder. “

“But in the meantime, every day that goes by without these resources is a missed opportunity.” While progress has been made in the months since those pledges, there is much work still to be done.

According to October estimates from the World Bank, the epidemic could cost the West African countries affected upward of $32 billion in the next 24 months.

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Nuclear Weapons as Bargaining Chips in Global Politics Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:23:12 +0000 Thalif Deen Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen

Has the world reached a stage where nuclear weapons may be used as bargaining chips in international politics?

So it seems, judging by the North Korean threat last week to conduct another nuclear test – if and when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution aimed at referring the hermit kingdom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights abuses.

“If North Korea begins a game of nuclear blackmailing,” one anti-nuclear activist predicted, “will Russia not be far behind in what appears to be a new Cold War era?”

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, author of the U.N.-published book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, told IPS the larger danger – exemplified also by some of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons bandied around the crisis in Ukraine – is that nuclear weapons are not useful deterrents but are increasingly seen as bargaining chips, with heightened risks that they may be used to “prove” some weak leader’s “point”, with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

She pointed out North Korea’s recent threat to conduct another nuclear test – its fourth – is unlikely to deter U.N. states from adopting a resolution to charge the regime of Kim Jong-un with crimes against humanity.

“North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling appears to draw from Cold War deterrence theories, but a nuclear test is not a nuclear weapon,” she added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told the Security Council last May North Korea is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

Since 2006, it has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February 2013 – all of them in defiance of the international community and the United Nations.

The resolution on North Korea, which is expected to come up before the U.N.’s highest policy making body in early December, has already been adopted by the U.N. committee dealing with humanitarian issues, known as the Third Committee.

The vote was 111 in favour to 19 against, with 55 abstentions in the 193-member committee. The vote in the General Assembly is only a formality.

Alyn Ware, a member of the World Future Council, told IPS: “Nuclear weapons should not be used as threats or as bargaining chips.”

Their use, after all, would involve massive violations of the right to life and other human rights.

However, he noted, this applies also to the other nuclear-armed states in the region (China, Russia and the United States) and states under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines (South Korea and Japan).

“The nuclear option should be taken off the table by establishing a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” he said.

And the states leading the human rights charges against North Korea should make it crystal clear that such charges are not an attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, he added.

The tensions between countries in the region, and the fact that the Korean War of the 1950s has never officially ended (only an armistice is in place), makes this a very sensitive issue, said Ware. If the General Assembly adopts the resolution, as expected, it is up to the 15-member Security Council to initiate ICC action on North Korea.

But both Russia and China are most likely to veto any attempts to drag North Korea to The Hague.

In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times said North Korea’s human rights abuses warrant action by the Security Council.

“Given what is in the public record, it is impossible to see how any country can defend Mr Kim and his lieutenants or block their referral to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said.

“As confidence in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) continues to erode, has the time come to ban all nuclear weapons?” asked Dr Johnson.

She said “a comprehensive nuclear ban treaty would dramatically reduce nuclear dangers and provide much stronger international tools than we have today for curbing the acquisition, deployment and spread of nuclear weapons.”

The status some nations attach to nuclear weapons would soon be a thing of the past, nuclear sabre-rattling would become pointless, and anyone threatening to use these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would automatically face charges under the International Criminal Court, said Dr. Johnson, who is executive director and co-founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“This might not stop nuclear blackmail overnight, but it would make it much harder for North Korea and any others to imagine they could gain benefits by issuing nuclear threats.”

As North Korea withdrew from the NPT over 10 years ago, and has already conducted three nuclear tests, it is unlikely that a threatened fourth test would be an effective deterrent, said Dr Johnson.

The U.N. resolution has been triggered by a report from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea which recommended that leaders of that country be prosecuted by the ICC for grave human rights violations.

The commission was headed by Michael Kirby, a High Court Judge from Australia.

In a statement before the Third Committee last week, the North Korean delegate said the report of the Commission “was based on fabricated testimonies by a handful of defectors who had fled the country after committing crimes.

“The report was a compilation of groundless political allegations and had no credibility as an official U.N. document,” he added.

Ware told IPS, “I have a lot of respect for my colleague Michael Kirby from Australia, who led a year-long U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses which concluded that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself, should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“I find the response of the North Korean authorities to try to discredit his report due to his sexual orientation to be reprehensible,” he added. “Nor do I find credible the North Korean counter-claims that their human rights violations are non-existent, while the real human rights violator is the U.S. government.”

Ware said there are indeed human rights violations in the United States, but they pale in comparison to those in North Korea.

There is a body of U.S. civil rights law and legal institutions that provide protections for U.S. citizens even if it is not fully perfect nor implemented entirely fairly, he pointed out.

But there is a lack of such protection of civil rights in North Korea, with the result that the North Korean administration inflicts incredibly egregious violations of human rights with total impunity, according to Kirby’s report.

“I do not believe that the threat of a nuclear test by North Korea should deter the United Nations from addressing these human rights violations, including the possibility of referral to the International Criminal Court,” Ware declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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U.N. Marks International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women Tue, 25 Nov 2014 10:55:22 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Sudanese community members outside the U.N. on International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands

Sudanese community members outside the U.N. on International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands

By Lyndal Rowlands

The United Nations marked the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women with the colour orange.

New York City buildings, including the United Nations headquarters and the Empire State Building were last night illuminated in orange. The campaign aims to bring attention to what U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka described as a “massive and pervasive human rights violation.”

Sudanese community members also marked the day with a demonstration outside U.N. headquarters to raise awareness about ongoing violence against women and girls in their home country.

In light of an alleged mass rape of 200 women in Tabit last month, Sudanese community members called on the United Nations and the international community to investigate and to hold the Sudanese government and those responsible accountable.

Hawa Abdallah Mohammed Salih, a Sudanese activist, and the 2012 recipient of the International Woman of Courage Award, told IPS: “We came here today to tell the international community, the U.N. Security Council and the U.S. government about the violence against women in Darfur and in Sudan.”

“Our girls need immediate action,” she said. “It has been 12 years and the genocide in Darfur is still going on. Women are killed every day. And women are raped every day.”

Salih called on The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) to protect women and bring peace to Sudan and Darfur and for those responsible to be taken to the International Criminal Court.

Mohamed Ebead the President of the Darfur People’s Association told IPS: “We are here because of the mass rape on October 31st in a city called Tabit in North Darfur. We want to push the U.N. to do something to have an investigation about the mass rape .”

The UNAMID investigation into the alleged rapes has been hindered by the ongoing heavy presence of military and police in the town of Tabit. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has asked the Government of Sudan to grant “unfettered access” so that the alleged rapes can be investigated.

U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaking on the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands

U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaking on the International Day for Eliminating Violence against Women. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands

“Far too often, sexual and gender-based crimes go unpunished and the perpetrators walk free. Society turns a blind eye and a deaf ear,” U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in her speech at the official U.N. commemoration of the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women today.

“No country, no culture, no age group is untouched by this massive and pervasive human rights violation,” she said. Mlambo-Ngcuka said it was important for men and boys to stand up against violence,

“We all have a role in changing norms that accept or ignore violence and confer sexual entitlement,”

“This includes having more men and boys standing up against violence, denouncing it, and stopping it,” she said.

Ban said, “Violence against women and girls is a global pandemic that destroys lives, fractures communities and holds back development.”

“It is not confined to any region, political system, culture or social class. It is present at every level of every society in the world. It happens in peacetime and becomes worse during conflict.”

“But violence against women and girls does not emerge from nowhere.”

“It is simply the most extreme example of the political, financial, social and economic oppression of women and girls worldwide,” he added.

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