Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:58:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 India’s Women Lose the Election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-women-lose-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:54:54 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133789 “Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India. Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist […]

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A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Apr 21 2014 (IPS)

“Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India.

Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPI-M), is contesting from Barrackpore, a constituency in the eastern Indian state West Bengal.“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined." -- Jyotsna Chatterji, the Joint Women’s Programme

She is among a few women contesting. Political parties, even those vociferously supporting reservation for women in Parliament, have failed to put up on average even one woman for every 10 males contesting India’s 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

Women candidates are only seven percent among 3,355 candidates in the first five phases of the nine-stage election, says the Delhi-based public interest organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), that is campaigning for greater transparency and more inclusive representation in Indian elections.

Women activists looking at state-wise trends expect no improvement by way of inclusion of women in the final phases of the election.

Women constitute 388 million, or 47.6 percent of the 814.5 million voters eligible to vote in the election running from Apr. 7 to May 12.

“When our presence is not considered important in the Parliament, when decisions about our future are taken without consulting us, why should we cast our votes to elect another group of politicians who do not believe in the cause of women empowerment in this country,” says Ranjana Kumari from the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined,” Jyotsna Chatterji from the non-profit Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) tells IPS.

In the 15th general election in 2009, 556 women out of 8,070 contestants from 363 political parties  were given tickets to contest, according to data from the Election Commission. That was just 6.9 percent of the candidates, making representation in this election hardly better. Fifty-nine women – 10.9 percent – won. This was the highest number of women contestants and winners since 1957.

A 1996 Women Reservation Bill (WRB) proposing reservation of a third of the seats to women in the lower house of Parliament and in state legislatures has been stymied by various political parties for more than 18 years now. Women groups pushing for greater representation, for whom the failure to pass the WRB has remained a political raw nerve since, blame this on the entrenched patriarchal mindset of male politicians.

If enacted, 180 berths in the Lok Sabha would be reserved for women. Political parties opposing the WRB say a quota within the quota should be given to women from backward communities. Dalits and tribal communities already have 120 seats reserved in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 17 women got elected under this quota.

“Many political parties had agreed to the WRB’s stipulation about voluntarily giving 33 percent tickets to women members, legal quota aside,” says Chatterji, who spearheaded the reservation movement in the late1990s with a group of other activists. Political parties have fallen far short of this.

Given women’s visibly increased participation in professional spheres, public debates, and also increased voting in elections, women groups say they had hoped political parties would walk the gender talk and give at least 15 to 20 percent tickets to women, recognising the major socio-political changes under way.

“Nothing is going to change in women’s representation unless the [Women’s Reservation] Bill is passed,” says Ali.

The three main political parties – the ruling Congress party, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely expected to form the new government, and the few months old Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) have all promised in their manifestos to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill if voted to power.

“Unless certain attitudes are overcome it is useless to expect individual parties to put up more women candidates, and moreover where no party is obliged to do it,” Malini Bhattacharya, 70, twice member of Parliament and former member of the National Commission for Women, tells IPS.

Ruth Manorama, 62, Dalit women’s rights activist, who heads the National Alliance of Women, and is contesting from the Bangalore South constituency on a Janata Dal (Secular) party ticket, is more optimistic. “To give a bigger role to women in political decision making, we need to go step by step,” Manorama tells IPS.

Others argue for bolder change. “Political party structures and the election process itself need drastic change if women are to participate in large numbers,” says Tapashi Praharaj of AIDWA. “Women’s winning ability is consistently under question, without however attempting to build them up.”

“The huge funds required to fight an election today is another obstacle for women to contest elections,” says Chatterji. The government raised spending limits for a candidate in this election to 700,000 rupees (116,000 dollars).

Chatterji says while male leaders argue they cannot find suitable women candidates, there are many eligible women who have not caught the eye of political parties.

More than two million women have served in decision-making bodies in India’s local governments, or panchayat raj, under the 33 percent seat reservation since 1993. In some states that quota has been raised to 50 percent. Urban local bodies too have reserved seats for women. These quotas have created a significant mass of grassroots women leaders.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has a mere 11.4 percent women in both houses of Parliament, compared to the world average of 21.8 percent. Afghanistan has 27.6 percent women in Parliament and Pakistan 18.5 percent, according to 2014 data from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

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Poland Uses Ukraine to Push Coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:05:16 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133785 A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels. On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts […]

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Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Apr 20 2014 (IPS)

A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels.

On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts to ease the crisis in Ukraine. Notoriously, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski helped negotiate a February deal between then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders of Euromaidan, the name given to the pro-EU protests in Kiev.Asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

The Polish government’s assertiveness came with quick electoral gains. According to a poll conducted in early April by polling agency TNS Polska, Tusk’s Civic Platform for the first time in years took a lead in voters’ preferences over the conservative Peace and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

“Not only is Civic Platform back in the lead, but also more Poles are ready to vote and vote for the government,” Lukasz Lipinski, an analyst at think tank Polityka Insight in Warsaw, told IPS. “All opposition parties now want to move the debate [ahead of the May 25 European elections] to domestic issues because on those it is much easier to criticise the Civic Platform after six years of government.”

Yet Tusk’s executive insists on Ukraine because of the benefits the topic can still bring. In the last weekend of March, the prime minister announced a Polish proposal for a European energy union that would make Europe resilient to crises like the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

“The experience of the last few weeks [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] shows that Europe must strive towards solidarity when it comes to energy,” said Tusk speaking in Tychy, a city in the southern coal-producing Silesia region.

He went on to outline the six dimensions of the ‘energy union’: the creation of an effective gas solidarity mechanism in case of supply crises; financing from the European Union’s funds for infrastructure ensuring energy solidarity in particular in the east of the EU; collective energy purchasing; rehabilitation of coal as a source of energy; shale gas extraction; and radical diversification of gas supply to the EU.

“It is very disappointing to note the total absence of energy efficiency measures from this vision, even though it featured centrally in the March European Council on Crimea conclusions,” Julia Michalak, EU climate policy officer at the NGO coalition Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, told IPS. “If the Crimea crisis did not make the government realise that energy efficiency is the easiest and cheapest way to achieve real energy security for Europe, I’m not sure what would.”

While some of the measures proposed by Tusk would indeed lead (assuming they could be implemented) to increased European solidarity in the energy sector, asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

At the moment, the EU has no common binding EU policies on shale gas – various EU countries such as France and Bulgaria even have moratoriums on exploration. And the EU’s long-term climate objectives, primarily the 2050 decarbonisation goal, make a true coal resurrection unlikely.

According to Michalak, the coal and shale gas elements of the Polish six-point plan must be understood, on the one hand, as aimed at domestic audiences who want to see their government play hard ball and, on the other, as a negotiating tool meant to draw some specific gains out of Brussels.

The Tusk government has made herculean efforts to persuade foreign companies interested in shale gas to stick to the country, including firing environment minister Marcin Korolec during the climate change talks COP19 last year for reportedly not being shale gas friendly enough. Nevertheless, in April this year, France’s TOTAL became the fourth company to announce dropping exploratory works in Poland, as shale gas here is proving more scarce than initially thought.

The Polish national consensus on coal too is starting to show minor cracks.

Nearly 90 percent of electricity used in Poland comes from coal, and the government’s long-term energy strategy envisages a core role for coal up to 2060. Tusk’s executive has been unsuccessfully trying to torpedo the EU’s adoption of decarbonisation targets, so at the moment it is unclear how authorities will reconcile EU commitments with a coal-dependent economy.

Last year, the chief executive of state energy company PGE resigned, arguing that an expansion by 1,800 MW of Opole coal plant in south-western Poland is unprofitable. The government chose to go ahead with expansion plans anyway.

Despite the generalised perception in Poland that coal is a cheap form of energy, this month saw leading newspapers (including the conservative Rzeczpospolita) discussing externalities of coal following a study by think tank Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies showing that, between 1990-2012, Polish subsidies for coal amounted to 170 bn PLN (40 billion euros).

In 2013, a series of international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, announced significant restrictions to their financing of coal – lending to Polish coal, for instance, would be impossible for these institutions under the new guidelines.

Poland also has to implement the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive which calls for stricter pollution standards at energy producing units as of 2016 or closure of plants which do not comply. And it is potentially in this space that some of the benefits of Poland’s tough game on coal in Brussels could be seen.

In February, the European Commission allowed Poland to exempt 73 of its energy producing units from the requirements of the Directive, including two outdated units at Belchatow coal plant in central Poland, Europe’s largest thermal coal plant (5,298 MW) and biggest CO2 emitter.

Additionally, it has emerged this month that Poland intends to use regional funds meant for tackling urban air pollution from the next EU budget (2014-2020) to finance modernisation measures at the country’s biggest coal and gas producers, both private and state-owned.

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In U.S., Black Preschool Students “Punished More Severely” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 13:41:12 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133777 In the United States, African American children continue to face more barriers to success than any other race, new research suggests. A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation lists 12 categories that can contribute to a child’s success, including enrolment in preschool, living with two parents and distance from the poverty line. Under these metrics, […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, African American children continue to face more barriers to success than any other race, new research suggests.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation lists 12 categories that can contribute to a child’s success, including enrolment in preschool, living with two parents and distance from the poverty line. Under these metrics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders scored highest (with a total score of 776 out of 1000), followed by whites (704).“It’s not just poverty, not just that black kids are worse behaved. It is important to see that there is something going on that is pervasive, chronic and systematic.” -- David Osher

African American children not only scored the lowest under this ranking, but with a score of just 345 they were found to have less than half of the indicators for potential success as other races in the United States.

“We know that the current status of poor kids is bad, the current status of black kids is bad, and the combination of poverty and racial discrimination is particularly toxic,” David Osher, vice-president of the American Institute for Research, told IPS. “But we also know enough to make a difference, like the emerging understanding that kicking kids out of schools is not a good solution.”

Osher refers to new civil rights-related data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month. These findings suggest that African American students are being suspended from school at inordinate levels, even at the very earliest grades.

While a fifth of public preschool students in the United States are African American, nearly half of all preschool students who received more than one out-of-school preschool suspension are African American. White students, on the other hand, represent 43 percent of public preschool enrolment but make up just 23 percent of preschoolers given out-of-school suspension.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on releasing the new data. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”

The study marked the first time that a federal initiative known as the Civil Rights Data Collection included preschool, but the numbers reflect similar trends at all levels of lower and secondary school.

“Black children are not behaving worse,” Jim Eichner, the managing director of programmes at the Advancement Project, an advocacy group, told IPS. “But they are being punished and punished more severely.”

Zero tolerance

While the reasons children are suspended in preschool are not reported, anecdotally such actions appear to be being taken for relatively minor infractions, such as like “not paying attention, being late or talking back,” Eichner says.

Out-of-school suspension has multiple and varied negative impacts on the student and school community. Not only do students miss class time, but they tend to receive the message they are not welcome in school.

Such actions also tend to create new mistrust between the student and teachers that can challenge future learning.

In addition, out-of-school suspension can jeopardise a family’s income if a parent needs to leave work. Or, if a parent cannot leave work, the child may not be sent to a well-supervised home.

Finally, some advocates worry that excluding a child fails to teach him or her how to manage the behaviour that originally caused the problem.

Suspending children at such a young age comes from a “zero tolerance” discipline policy. Such an approach stems from anti-drugs policy adopted by the U.S. criminal justice system during the 1980s, and brought into schools as an attempt to combat increased violence and school shootings.

Yet the broader approach has been seen as something of a failure by the U.S. criminal justice system, a view increasingly being adopted by those working in the school system, as well.

Both Osher and Eichner, for instance, are involved in studying and promoting alternatives to zero-tolerance policies. Eichner particularly points to restorative justice techniques that have students work together to mend any problems, adding that punitive atmospheres have been found to harm all students.

Implicit bias

Although the Civil Rights Data Collection does not investigate why these disparities occur, Osher and Eichner both explain that this is one effect of overarching social, economic and political structures.

“There are disparities in all aspects of youth life: education, juvenile justice and corrections, health. When you control for any of the explanations people come up with, they don’t work,” Osher says.

“It’s not just poverty, not just that black kids are worse behaved. It is important to see that there is something going on that is pervasive, chronic and systematic.”

He notes that here are several characteristics related to classrooms from which more kids are suspended. These include class size, the ratio between teachers and students, teacher stress levels, and the availability of mental health consultation.

Both Osher and Eichner also note the role of implicit bias in teachers.

“People can be very well-intended, but in moments of stress they can make a subtle set of calculations that are probably intuitive on whether to get more help or whether to tell the kid to get out,” said Osher.

This implicit bias appears to be particularly notable when dealing with young black preschool students. Researchers have found, for instance, that people tend to overestimate the age of black students, adding as much as three years, thus perceiving the student as less childlike and less innocent.

The first step in ending implicit bias is to name it and talk about it, scholars say.

Some are working on “peer coaching” models, for instance, in which teachers film themselves teaching. Peers can then point out ways a teacher might be acting with bias – and recommend ways to overcome it.

New approaches like this make Osher optimistic that ongoing today’s racial disparity can be decreased.

“These indicators don’t have to be predictors of the future,” he says. “Rather, they’re indicators for what public policy should do.”

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When Not To Go To School http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=go-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:24:01 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133774 In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle. According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of […]

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A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle.

According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of age to miss around five days of school every month, or around 50 school days every year.“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets."

The country’s Supreme Court had ruled in 2011 that every public school has to have toilets. But a pan-India study, ‘The Learning Blocks’, conducted by the NGO CRY in 2013, shows that 11 percent of schools do not have toilets and only 18 percent have separate ones for girls. In 34 percent of schools, toilets are in bad condition or simply unusable.

Atindra Nath Das, regional director of CRY East, told IPS, “Children do not have safe drinking water, schools still do not have their own building and toilets are missing. No wonder 8.1 million children in India are still out of school.

“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets,” he said.

A 2010 report by the U.N. University Institute for Water, Environment and Health noted, “Once girls reach puberty, lack of access to sanitation becomes a central cultural and human health issue, contributing to female illiteracy and low levels of education, in turn contributing to a cycle of poor health for pregnant women and their children.”

According to India’s 2011 census data, national sanitation coverage is 49 percent but the rural figure is worse, at 31 percent.  It is even lower for Dalits or socially marginalised communities (23 percent) and tribal people (16 percent).

Lack of sanitation facilities is still a stumbling block for the effective spread of health and education programmes in many parts of rural India.

Mahila Jagriti Samiti (MJS), an NGO working in Jharkhand, an economically backward state in eastern India with a large tribal population, has been conducting awareness programmes on the use of sanitation, but is not very happy with the results.

Mahi Ram Mahto, director of MJS, told IPS: “We have done 300 sanitation programmes, even helping to build toilets in homes with funding from government agencies, but only 15 to 20 percent of the beneficiaries use them.”

Without a cistern for flushing, the toilets pose a problem, he says. “People have to carry water in buckets from a common water source like a hand pump or a pond; most households do not have taps. They say they might as well go to the open field.”

In 1999, India launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan or Total Sanitation Campaign, a community-based programme, under which it gives an equivalent of about 80 dollars to a household to set up a toilet. But many poor people say that is not enough and still defecate in the fields or by railway lines.

The campaign has “provisions for toilet facility and hygiene education in all types of government rural schools (up to higher secondary or class 12) with emphasis on toilets for girls.”

But provisions alone do not help, activists say.

Access to water for toilets is a major problem in many rural schools in the eastern state of West Bengal, says Vijay K. Jha, honorary controller at the state branch of Sulabh International. The NGO leads one of the world’s biggest and most successful sanitation programmes.

“We have worked in 50 schools in Murshidabad district of India’s eastern state West Bengal, providing infrastructure and running awareness programmes on hygiene. Plans are afoot to extend the work to 100 more in the near future,” Jha told IPS.

Despite separate toilets for girls, the results are not satisfactory. As in the case of Jharkhand, non-availability of water hinders toilet use. Most schools do not have water pipes running up to the compounds.

Diara Hazi Nasrat Mallick High School in Murshidabad district, where Sulabh has constructed a separate toilet, is a typical example.

Alaul Haque, the school headmaster, told IPS, “We are happy that this facility has been built. But girls still have to bring water from the tubewell because there’s no water pipe connection in the school yet.” Half of about 300 students at the school are girls.

Another institution in the same district, Gayeshpur High School, has the same complaint. “With around 300 girl students in our co-ed school, we need at least two toilets. We were happy that the toilet has been built, but it still lacks flowing water,” headmaster Prasanta Chatterjee told IPS.

The government scheme under which NGOs take up the work of building toilets does not include providing water pipes – a task that depends on local agencies.

Girl students during the menstrual cycle are advised not to carry heavy objects like buckets filled with water; so they avoid school altogether during those days if there is no easy access to water in the toilets.

Under India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, which recognises the right of children to free and compulsory education till the completion of elementary school, provision of proper toilets as part of school infrastructure is mandatory, says S.N. Dave, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) specialist at Unicef Kolkata.

Dave told IPS: “West Bengal being in a riverine area, water is not much of a problem. But there is scope for improvement in terms of better coordination between agencies.”

Some states like Kerala in the south and Sikkim in the northeast fare better.

According to a Planning Commission study in 2013, Sikkim had the best performing gram panchayats (village councils) and maintenance of sanitation facilities, having achieved 100 percent sanitation.

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U.N. Denies Dragging Its Feet on U.S.-Iran Visa Dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:46:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133771 After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute. But U.N. […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute.

But U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric challenged the timeline, pointing out that the United Nations would see events quite differently."The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

“The suggestion of allowing this matter to linger for two weeks is hardly accurate,” he told IPS Friday.

After a meeting Tuesday with Iran’s charge d’affaires Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani, U.N. Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares was holding back his ruling on the ground he was “still studying the issue and would very carefully consider precedents and past practice.”

“Still studying after two long weeks? That response was like a mountain labouring to produce a mouse,” said an Asian diplomat, conversant with the intricacies of U.N. politics and the nuances of English idiom and Aesop’s Fables.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now has the opportunity to stop dawdling and make a principled statement on the issue.”

But so far he has not.

Dujarric told IPS the U.N. legal counsel met with representatives of Iran on Tuesday immediately after they asked to see him.

He then followed up straightaway with a meeting with U.S. representatives on Wednesday.

As soon as the legal counsel was officially notified of developments, said Dujarric, he met with the representatives involved.

As events unfold, the United Nations stands accused of refusing to make a ruling – either supportive of the United States or Iran – by repeatedly dismissing the dispute as essentially a bilateral problem.

Dr. Jennings said it is a violation of the spirit of the U.N. Charter to use the pretense of national security or any other contrived smokescreen to prevent a country’s rightful representation in the world body.

As a sovereign nation, Iran has the right to name its own ambassadors, and does not need to ask permission of the U.S. or the U.N. to do so, said Dr. Jennings, who early this year, led a delegation of U.S. professors to Tehran for meetings with Iran’s foreign ministry and with the leader of Iran’s team of nuclear negotiators.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in- waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which was aimed at facilitating, not hindering, the work of the world body.

A former representative of a U.N.-based non-governmental organisation told IPS the United Nations in its dithering inaction is behaving like most governments behave when dealt a blow by the hegemon – “shut up and keep your head down”.

“We have to remember that when [former Secretary-General] Kofi Annan sent a private letter to former President George W Bush warning politely against a massive U.S. military attack on Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Washington countered with a fierce attack on Annan himself, forcing out most of his senior staff.

“Ban Ki-moon doubtless has this terrible precedent in mind as he reflects on his reaction to the latest U.S. breach of the Headquarters Agreement.”

Dujarric said a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country has also been quickly arranged and will take place next Tuesday.

Representatives of the Office of the Legal Counsel will be present as the issue is discussed. If the Committee requests a legal opinion, the Legal Counsel will prepare one.

“All this should convey that we take the Headquarters Agreement and its implementation very seriously,” Dujarric said.

“In the past days I have repeatedly said that this is a serious issue and that we hoped it would be settled bilaterally,” he added.

He also argued that comparisons to unrelated events in the past are neither helpful nor relevant.

Dr. Jennings told IPS the hubris of the U.S. Congress over approving a visa, combined with the timidity of President Barack Obama, has greatly escalated the danger of a flare-up over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“That short-sighted, knee-jerk posture has the potential to ignite a conflict that could dwarf the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he warned.

The U.N. is, diplomatically speaking, “a corpus separatum [with special legal and political status] designed to be independent of the United States,” noted Dr Jennings.

“Of course, the U.S. has the right to refuse visas to anyone deemed a security threat, but Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi is not such a person. He has a sterling record and a long career as a diplomat.

“The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree in order resolve problems,” he added.

“If there ever was a need for peace through far-sighted diplomacy, this is such a time,” Dr Jennings declared.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Teheran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

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Q&A: The Case for Cutting African Poverty in Half http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:58:08 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133768 Bryant Harris interviews MTHULI NCUBE, Chief Economist for the African Development Bank

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Informal traders at Malanga market on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique. Most of the products on offer are purchased in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Informal traders at Malanga market on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique. Most of the products on offer are purchased in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

As the World Bank wrapped up its semi-annual joint meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here last weekend, it reaffirmed its commitment to bringing extreme poverty below three percent of the global population by 2030 while increasing the income of the poorest 40 percent of the population of each country.

However, some suggest that in sub-Saharan Africa, this may be impossible.It’s not easy to fix a country, rebuild institutions and get growth going while making sure it’s consistent, shared and inclusive. Poverty pockets exist in the large, vital countries.

“Even under our ‘best case’ scenario of accelerated consumption growth and income redistribution from the 10 percent richest to the 40 percent poorest segment of population, the 2030 poverty rate would be around 10 percent,” says a new report from the African Development Bank (AfDB). “A more realistic goal for the region seems to be reducing poverty by a range from half to two thirds.”

Although extreme poverty will likely remain high in Africa by 2030, AfDB’s chief economist, Mthuli Ncube, the new report’s chief author, painted a cautiously optimistic picture as to the prospects for poverty reduction in Africa during an interview with IPS.

Q: Even though the World Bank goal is to reduce extreme poverty by less than three percent globally by 2030, Africa won’t be able to meet that goal. Can you give us more background as to why that is?

A: Our view is that it’s a good goal to have … but it differs from region to region. The region that is likely to achieve this ambitious goal is Asia, not Africa. Although Africa has made tremendous progress, there’s still a lot of work to do. Under our baseline scenario, Africa will achieve something like 25 to 27 percent poverty levels in the year 2030. Currently it’s about 48 percent. So in this case we’re talking about something like a 50 percent reduction, maybe.

It’s a monumental task. Why? We’ve some challenges in Africa. One is fragility. If you look at some of the large countries with a lot of poverty – like the [Democratic Republic of Congo], it is a fragile country. It’s not easy to fix a country, rebuild institutions and get growth going while making sure it’s consistent, shared and inclusive. Poverty pockets exist in the large, vital countries.

Even if you have growth, growth is just simply not shared. If you use a more inclusive definition of growth and poverty reduction … service delivery around health care and education is very difficult. These are large countries where governments are decentralised.

Q: Nigeria is one of the more populous countries, and it’s now surpassed South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. Yet it still seems like there’s a large degree of extreme poverty there. How does income inequality play into extreme poverty?

A: In Nigeria, the new figure says that the size of the economy is 5.1 billion dollars, larger than South Africa. Income per capita has gone up to about 2,400 dollars, so it looks much better than before. But after this announcement, it doesn’t change people’s lives. They’re still poor. So it becomes an overall aggregate figure and that speaks to inequality.

Inequality is high and it also has a way of slowing a country down in its poverty-reduction drive. The more poverty you have, the less productive you become, which impacts your ability to grow.

Our analysts show that the long-term [obstacle] in dealing with extreme poverty is to get the children of the poor into school, to have them stay in school and finish school. That is the only way. Education is the biggest driver of getting people out of extreme poverty … and into the middle class. And then, because they all have decent incomes and jobs, they will keep their children out of poverty.

Let’s not forget, in the interim, the role of short-term social protection programmes. Brazil had an incredible track record under [President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva], with a programme called Bolsa Familia that got 30 to 40 million people out of poverty through social protection programmes.

There are countries in Africa trying to do that – Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the one country that I think is going to rotate out of extreme poverty by 2030, so it’s going to be the most successful in dealing with poverty out of the large-population countries.

Ultimately there need to be some short-term measures, but the long-term measure is education.

Q: Which sub-Saharan African countries are doing particularly well at reducing extreme poverty?

A: Ethiopia is the one that we can really highlight because it’s a large population, nearly 85 million, and they’re dealing with the reduction of extreme poverty as a problem. First, the big story about poverty reduction is sustaining growth, and Ethiopia’s had a wonderful growth rate for the past 10 years.

Second is making sure that it’s inclusive, shared and creates opportunity. It should create jobs and finance services for access to education, health, housing and so forth. All those are strategies for sharing wealth.

It’s also about social protection programmes that keep the people out of poverty and then allow them to make progress. Let me tell you this story about the Grinka Programme in Rwanda. You leave one pregnant cow to a poor household, and that cow will have a calf and another one and so forth. And if it’s a female calf, you pass that calf on to the next poor family and then the next poor family.

In the next few years, that programme is going to take about 300,000 families in Rwanda out of poverty. Why? These families can harvest the milk and consume it. Secondly, they can sell the milk and the manure, but also use [the manure] to grow vegetables, which they can then sell and make money. So you create a whole economic ecosystem around the cow.

I even suggested this for Somalia. Maybe there’s an asset-replacement programme that could cause similar results elsewhere. This is a case of what I would call productive social protection, because you’re giving someone an asset that produces something and it actually works.

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U.S. Foreign Aid Approach Is Outdated, Experts Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:29:28 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133766 U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting. Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts. “Aid is a strong expression of […]

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By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting.

Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts.“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects." -- Casey Dunning

“Aid is a strong expression of U.S. moral, economic, and national security imperatives, and in many contexts the U.S. is still the most significant donor,” the paper states. But according to many metrics, U.S. aid is both non-transparent and inefficient.

“The United States needs to frame and deliver aid in a structured way that would support the effectiveness of aid in partnership countries and generate sustainable results,” Sylvain Browa, director of aid effectiveness at Save the Children, an independent charity, told IPS.

“In such dynamic environments, where all aid remains critical to savings lives, curing diseases and putting children in school, new players come to stage, and these include local leaders and citizens who know first-hand what their priorities are.”

In terms of aid quality, the United States ranked just 17th out of 22 major donors according to the Commitment to Development Index in 2013. Each year, the index ranks wealthy countries on how efficiently they help poor ones in areas of aid, trade, finance, migration, environment, security, and technology.

According to that ranking, just one U.S. agency was rated “very good” in terms of transparency. The agency responsible for the bulk of U.S. foreign assistance, USAID, was rated just “fair”, while the State Department and PEPFAR, the landmark anti-AIDS programme, were rated “poor” and “very poor” respectively.

MFAN suggests that a newly streamlined policy agenda, structured around two “mutually reinforcing pillars of reform” – accountability and country ownership – could significantly improve the effectiveness of U.S foreign aid.

“The donor-recipient paradigm of foreign aid is outdated,” the report states, and without priority on these two pillars, “we revert to old, tired, and stagnant paradigms of aid – paradigms that unnecessarily perpetuate aid dependency.”

The new program is designed to empower communities, which in turn should carry out country ownership, says George Ingram, MFAN’s co-chair and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, a think tank here.

“The two pillars are prerequisites to build the kind of capacity that will help enable leaders and citizens in the aid-recipient countries to take responsibility for their own development,” Ingram told IPS, “such as spending priorities, as well as making evidence-based conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.”

The report emphasises that such changes are also somewhat time-sensitive. Given looming domestic and international deadlines, MFAN’s analysts say the next two years constitute “an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform”.

“The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress,” they write. “In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes on Capitol Hill.”

Local destiny

The recommendations have received quick support from other development groups.

“The paper is of universal importance to all aid agencies, implementers and thinkers,” Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst for the Centre for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

But she warned that there were inherent difficulties in the recommendations, as well.

“There is a lot of rhetoric on what country ownership means or what accountability encompasses,” she says. “Ambiguities in definitions and measurements of accountability and country ownership make it difficult to make aid more effective. However, the MFAN report helps to find metrics for capacity-building and to see what it actually means.”

Save the Children’s Browa, too, notes that the concepts outlined in the report are not necessarily new.

“But when put together, these pillars are vital to building local capacity and creating local ownership of resources and tools for development,” he says, “so that country leaders and citizens can take leadership in their destiny.”

To achieve better transparency, the report’s authors are calling on the U.S. government to fully implement new global standards called the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by the end of 2015. In addition, the ratings of the Aid Transparency Index should be extended to all U.S. government agencies, which currently doesn’t happen.

Further, all U.S. agencies should begin contributing comprehensive financial information to a landmark new online government information clearinghouse, known as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Finally, aid and development decisions need to be guided by rigorous evaluation, MFAN says. Together, transparency and evaluation will help these agencies to achieve stronger results for both U.S. taxpayers and communities receiving U.S. assistance.

In all of this, Ingram notes, learning is one of the most important aspects in the policy proposal. “Data and evaluations are useless unless we learn from them and use them to make better decisions and achieve better results,” he says.

Defining partners

The aid paradigm has already shifted, MFAN’s report suggests. “Today, countries that give support through bilateral assistance and countries that receive such support are partners,” it states.

Yet how exactly to define those partnerships remains a work in progress.

“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects,” CGD’s Dunning says, “and how the resources are utilised.”

Would such an approach run the risk of strengthening corruption at lower levels? Dunning says this isn’t necessarily the right question.

“We can’t shy away from the corruption issue, since it’s such an integral issue for debate,” she says. “And transparency is the key. It is vital to every programme, every sector. Together with other tools, such as evaluation and learning, transparency contributes to sustainable country ownership, which militates against corruption.”

MFAN’s Ingram, meanwhile, sees the empowerment of local communities as an anti-corruption tool in itself.

“Engaging smart and trusting people who know the culture and know how to manoeuvre through the dynamics of that country is very important,” he says.

“Informed and empowered citizens who demand good governance and sound priorities act as a check against corruption.”

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Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:30:20 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133763 This is the second installment of a two-part series examining the use of ‘lawfare’ on Muslim citizens accused of terror-related activity.

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Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

Such stigma now surrounds the word ‘terrorist’ that most recoil from it, or anyone associated with it, as though from a thing contagious; as though, by simple association, one could land in that black hole where civil liberties are suspended in the name of national security.

For many Muslim citizens of the United States, such ostracism has become a matter of routine, forcing family members of terror suspects to double up as legal advocates and political supporters for their brothers, husbands and sons.“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us." -- Tamer Mehanna

A budding nationwide movement to shed light on rights abuses in domestic terror cases is straining to turn that tide. One of its primary sites of congregation is the patch of concrete outside the New York Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC), where suspects deemed violent are held incommunicado.

But the families that gather at the monthly vigils held there, sponsored by a growing coalition known as the No Separate Justice Campaign, speak of a different side to the story: one that involves the government abusing post-9/11 laws to round up non-violent, law-abiding Muslims for exercising their rights to free speech and religion.

At a Mar. 10 vigil outside the MCC, IPS spoke with Tamer Mehanna, brother of Tarek Mehanna, a Pittsburgh-born pharmacist who is serving out a 17-year sentence in Terra Haute, Indiana.

Prior to his conviction on several counts including material support for terrorism, Tarek spent two years in 23-hour isolation, the MCC in New York being just one of the locations where he was all but prevented from communicating with the outside world.

Advocates say Mehanna’s case represents the ‘separate justice system’ for Muslims, in microcosm.

Tamer recounted how, between 2004 and 2008, the FBI courted his brother, using everything from polite requests to psychological intimidation to convince him to become an informant. When all failed, Tarek was arrested at an airport in New York City on his way to Saudi Arabia.

"Thought Crimes": The Case of Tarek Mehanna

Experts say the case against Tarek Mehanna represents one of the most salient examples of prosecution for thought crimes in U.S. legal history.

Initially arrested for having allegedly given false testimony to an FBI official, Tarek was released on bail, then arrested a second time on charges of conspiring to shoot up a shopping mall, though no evidence for this allegation was ever offered in court.

Over the course of 35 days, the prosecution proceeded to build a case against Tarek based on records of online chats, his translation of an ancient Arabic text entitled ’39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad’ and his plans to take up a pharmaceutical position at a prestigious hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Tarek’s brother Tamer Mehnna told IPS that the prosecution never once referred to a specific action that could be construed as providing material support to terrorism. It appeared he was on the stand for nothing more than reading and knowledge sharing among the Muslim community of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Andrew March, a Yale professor who was summoned as an expert witness for the defense, summed up the trial succinctly when he said: “As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens...At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.”

In addition to shelling out 1.3 million dollars in bail, Tarek’s family was shunned by their community in Massachusetts, spent endless hours in court and even gave up their jobs in order to advocate on his behalf.

“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us,” Tamer told IPS. “When my brother was arrested, my mother had to watch her son, a respectable guy, being thrown on the ground and handcuffed like an animal in front of crowds of spectators – it was deeply traumatic.

“The second time he was arrested she was stronger, but it was my father’s turn to break down. Before this happened, I never even saw my father shed a tear,” he added. “But this just crushed him. He fell into a depression, into hopelessness, even lashed out at us for advocating on Tarek’s behalf.”

In their firm belief in Tarek’s innocence, the Mehanna family is not alone. An upcoming study co-authored by members of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims) documents hundreds of cases of Muslims imprisoned on terror-related charges despite a lack of evidence linking them with any tangible crime.

Former NCPCF Executive Director Stephen Downs told IPS that family members of what he calls ‘political prisoners’ – Muslim citizens tried and sentenced for nothing more than political views or religious beliefs – are deeply traumatised and often isolated.

“They share commonalities,” he said, “of being made to feel unwelcome at their mosques, losing their jobs, having people slip into depression. These outcomes are entirely predictable, but to have them deliberately inflicted on you by your own government is kind of shocking.”

Bi-annual conferences hosted by NCPCF attract 30 or 40 family members, who Downs says cherish the opportunity to come together and be heard, as respectable citizens with genuine grievances.

“They get to talk to the few people in the world who understand what they’re going through,” he said, “because if you haven’t experienced it, you just don’t get it.”

Extreme isolation

Family members speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity said their isolation from the community is nothing compared to the extreme forms of solitary confinement imposed on their loved ones, most of whom are housed in what the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) calls Communication Management Units (CMUs).

According to Alexis Agathocleous, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), CMUs came quietly into existence during the George W. Bush administration, the first in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2006 and the second in Marion, Illinois in 2008.

“These units are quite unparalleled within the federal prison system,” Agathocleous told IPS. “They segregate prisoners from the rest of the population and impose very strict restrictions on prisoners’ ability to communicate with the outside world – this translates to drastically reduced access to social telephone calls and visits, and when visits do occur they are strictly non-contact.”

Of the roughly 80 prisoners held in CMUs, Agathocleous estimates that between 66 and 72 percent are Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims make up just six percent of the federal prison population.

He referred to this significant over-representation as “troubling”, adding, “There seems to be the use of religious profiling to select prisoners for CMU designation.”

Speaking at a rain-soaked vigil outside the MCC in early April, Andy Stepanian – an animal rights activist who spent six months in the CMU at Marion – said the Muslim men he met there were “exceptionally generous and caring.”

“There has not been a single night in the four and a half years since I’ve gotten out that I’ve not either had a nightmare or stayed up for hours wondering, ‘Why was I the lucky one who got out? Is it just because of the pigment of my skin?’” Stepanian said.

In 2010 CCR filed litigation representing several inmates housed in CMUs, challenging both the arbitrary and seemingly retaliatory nature of the designation, which is made worse by the fact that the BoP offers “no meaningful process through which [prisoners] can earn their way out – no hearing, no discernible limit on the amount of time someone can spend in a CMU and no meaningful criteria that a prisoner can work at in order to [gain] their release,” Agathocleous said.

Those fortunate enough to afford the monthly trips out to Indiana and Illinois have recorded their testimony of these tightly controlled visits, painful on both sides of the Plexiglas screens that separate loved ones.

At a recent NCPCF conference, Majida Salem, wife of Ghassan Elashi, recounted how her 12-year-old Down’s syndrome child refused to enter the visitation room at Marion.

“He cried and said, ‘It’s an ugly visit. Baba no touch… it’s bad,’” Salem said. “To me this is so merciless, keeping a man who did nothing but feed widows and orphans locked up in a CMU… for 65 years.”

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South Sudan Dictates Media Coverage of Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 07:14:28 +0000 Sadik Wani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133723 As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict. Though journalists here say that the government […]

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Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Sadik Wani
JUBA, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict.

Though journalists here say that the government clampdown first began after independence in 2011, the situation has worsened since December when fighting broke out between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and Machar at military barracks in Juba, the country’s capital. 

Other cases of South Sudan’s media clampdown

  • Dec. 7, 2013: South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) officials confiscated copies of the Arabic daily Al Masir and the English daily Juba Monitor because they both carried a stories were senior members of the ruling party, including Riek Machar, criticised President Salva Kiir’s leadership and accused him of having dictatorial tendencies.

  • Dec. 11, 2013: NSS forces raided the printing press of the privately-owned English newspaper, The Citizen, and confiscated all copies. The paper had published a story detailing how security operatives arrested and detained the paper’s Editor–in-Chief, Nhial Bol, a few days earlier.

  • Jan. 16, 2014: NSS confiscated the entire print run of the English language daily, the Juba Monitor, because two articles were considered unfit for the public to read. One was an opinion piece by veteran journalist and the paper’s editor-in-chief, Alfred Taban, in which he proposed an interim government be formed to lead the country until elections in 2015. The second was an opinion piece giving a historical retrospective about past tribal tensions within South Sudan’s army.

  • Mar. 13, 2014: Voice of America South Sudan stated that an employee was picked up from the Juba office for questioning by national security officers of the South Sudan government.

  • Mar. 31, 2014: NSS operatives arrested Moses Legge, a reporter with Eye Radio. They interrogated him for several hours, confiscated his audio recorder and camera and only returned the equipment the following day.

The conflict spread to other parts of South Sudan and resulted in the death of thousands and the displacement of some 863,000 people.

“We have recorded more than five cases of journalists being summoned for interrogation or being arrested and detained in Juba alone and more than 10 other cases in other parts of the country since the start of the conflict in December,” said Oliver Modi Philip, chairperson of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS).

“These people [in government] are telling our journalists to report in a certain way that favours the government. They don’t want voices of people in the opposition to be heard. But as a union we are telling journalists that they should stick to their ethics and ensure they have balanced stories,” Philip told IPS.

On Apr. 10, National Security Service (NSS) operatives confiscated copies of the Juba Monitor because the newspaper published an opinion piece profiling the life of former Minister of Environment Alfred Ladu Gore, who is allied to Machar.

And last month, on Mar. 18 NSS operatives confiscated copies of the same newspaper because the Juba Monitor published a story saying that rebels were planning to advance on the Jonglei state capital, Bor.

On that same day, the NSS confiscated the registration certificate of Eye Media, the proprietors of Eye Radio, a Juba-based radio station. The station is still on air but the clampdown began when one of their reporters, Nichola Mandil, interviewed Gore who criticised the president and called for him to step down.

The station’s chief executive Stephen Omiri was also summoned for questioning.

Beatrice Murail, Eye Radio’s editor who approved the interview for broadcast, was forced to resign and leave South Sudan. She has since returned to her home country of France.

“The media environment has become really difficult. It is difficult to report anything fairly and in a balanced manner in this kind of environment,” Omiri told IPS.

“We are being forced to report only what pleases the government. I don’t know how we are going to work,” he added.

South Sudanese officials have insisted that journalists refer to last year’s outbreak of violence in Juba as a coup attempt.

Up to now a majority of reporters working for private media houses have referred to the incident as an “alleged coup” attempt as Machar denied allegations that he was trying to overthrow Kiir. Machar went into hiding in December and in February announced that he had formed a resistance group against the government.

“You should clearly say that it was a coup attempt led by Riek Machar,” South Sudan’s Information Minister Micheal Makuei Lueth told reporters last month during a press conference in Juba where local and a few international journalists were present.

Lueth, who is also the government’s spokesperson, warned local journalists not to interview rebels fighting his government or they would risk imprisonment.

“If you interview rebels and play such interviews here in South Sudan you are agitating [the population]. You are making hostile propaganda and for that matter we will take you where we take people who are in conflict with the law,” he had said.

“Go and do whatever you want to do outside South Sudan but we will not allow any journalist who is hostile to the government to continue to disseminate this poison to the people,” Lueth said.

Last November Lueth directed all journalists to register with the government. However, most media outlets refused to do so and the deadline expired in December.

In Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al Ghazal state, security officials have demanded that reporters ask for permission to cover stories.

Michael Atit a journalist with Voice of Hope radio, which is funded by the Catholic Diocese of Wau, was harassed by security officials last month.

“They told me that every time I want to work on a story I should first get permission from the national security. They also said after gathering audio I should bring it to them so they can decide if I can use it on the radio or not,” Atit told IPS.

Atit refused to abide by the police demands.

The intimidation of journalists is in contrast to South Sudan’s February 2013 agreement to become the first country to adopt a new United Nations-backed initiative aimed at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.

Edmond Yakani of local civil society organisation, Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, criticised the government’s clampdown saying it would stifle the free growth of democracy in the country.

“People rely on the media for balanced information so they can make informed decisions. But this move by the government to stifle freedom of expression and speech, and freedom of the media is an attempt to feed us with rumours and one-sided information,” Yakani told IPS.

“At this critical time in our country it would be good for the government to allow the media to operate freely so that people can debate the issues affecting our country. It is only when you allow free speech that democracy can grow,” he added.

Meanwhile, Atit said that he and other journalists in Wau felt insecure because their movements were being monitored.

“I feel it’s not worth working as  journalist in Wau anymore,” Atit said, explaining that he was considering quitting.

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COLUMN: Gabriel García Márquez, the Story-Teller of the Country of the War Without End http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 01:42:49 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133757 The first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was when I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, which the Editorial Sudamericana was getting ready to reprint in Argentina. I was working in the offices of the Sudamericana publishing house, in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of San Telmo, where I […]

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García Márquez in 1984. Credit: F3rn4nd0, edited by Mangostar C BY-SA 3.0

García Márquez in 1984. Credit: F3rn4nd0, edited by Mangostar C BY-SA 3.0

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

The first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was when I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, which the Editorial Sudamericana was getting ready to reprint in Argentina.

I was working in the offices of the Sudamericana publishing house, in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of San Telmo, where I could find myself editing a gothic novel or a literary classic or a work by the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, due to the varied menu.

I was 17 years old and I was mesmerised by that short tale, a journalistic report by García Márquez published in a number of instalments in the El Espectador newspaper in Bogotá, in 1955, which came out as a book in 1970.

The complete title was “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time”.

Through the first-person account of the exploits of the survivor, García Márquez denounced that the shipwreck of the sailor and his seven companions, who drowned, was due to overweight contraband on the Colombian Navy’s destroyer Caldas.

Colombia at the time was under a military dictatorship, so the report led to the closure of the newspaper and the first of García Márquez’s various periods of exile. The last one began in 1997. He never returned to live in Colombia.

From there, of course, I jumped to “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the masterpiece that the same publishing house, the Editorial Sudamericana, published in 1967, which was going to revolutionise Spanish language literature and influence the rest of the world’s image and cultural impression of Latin America.

We Latin Americans fell in love, and were shocked, by the Colombia that García Márquez described in this novel and in his other great works of fiction.

The cruelty of Colombia’s wars, the solitude of its heroes, the pathetic flip-flops of its politicians and military leaders, the eternal rule of its dictators, the ominous foreign presence, the state of abandon of its rural villages – all of it contained the realistic feel of first-hand experience. And, while unique, it was also similar to what was happening in so many other corners of the region.

But in the voice of García Márquez it took on another dimension, dreamlike, exuberant and humorous, which transported us as readers and allowed us to reflect on our own woes even with a kind of joy.

Like other great writers, García Márquez built a universe of his own, made up of real and invented places, unlikely characters, and lineages and genealogies.

Their names, like Macondo or Aureliano Buendía, now form part of the collective memory of Latin America, just like what happened centuries earlier with El Quijote.

I devoured all of his short stories and novels, from “La Hojarasca” (Leaf Storm – 1955) to “Memoria de mis putas tristes” (Memories of My Melancholy Whores – 2004), through the formidable and very dissimilar “El otoño del patriarca” (The Autumn of the Patriarch – 1975) and “El amor en los tiempos del cólera” (Love in the Time of Cholera – 1985).

When I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, I didn’t yet know that I was going to become a journalist.

Many years later I travelled to Colombia as a reporter, and had the chance to see the land that I had caught a glimpse of through the books of García Márquez, who in 1982 was awarded the Nobel Literature prize.

I saw for myself how the war continued, undaunted, with shifting protagonists and nerve centres, but with the same trail of blood and the same grinding dispossession and neglect.

Since 2012, the Colombian authorities and the main leftist guerrilla group have been discussing in Havana how to put an end to the last half century of war.

García Márquez, who died of cancer on Thursday Apr. 17 in Mexico, did not live to see his country at peace. Hopefully his fellow Colombians won’t have to wait another 50 years.

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Civil Society Wants More Influence in New Development Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/civil-society-wants-influence-new-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-wants-influence-new-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/civil-society-wants-influence-new-development-agenda/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 22:48:27 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133755 Making international cooperation more effective requires a civil society with greater influence in the negotiations of the development agenda that the world’s governments are to adopt in 2015, civil society representatives said at an international meeting in Mexico. The first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) was held Apr. 15-16 […]

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One of the debates at the first high-level meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Mexico City. Credit: Mexican government

One of the debates at the first high-level meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation in Mexico City. Credit: Mexican government

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

Making international cooperation more effective requires a civil society with greater influence in the negotiations of the development agenda that the world’s governments are to adopt in 2015, civil society representatives said at an international meeting in Mexico.

The first High-Level Meeting of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation (GPEDC) was held Apr. 15-16 in the Mexican capital, where civil society organisations demanded that a human rights focus be incorporated in international development aid flows.

At the gathering, the GPEDC also called for international cooperation to include a more enabling environment for civil society organisations (CSOs), as well as greater transparency and better accountability.

“There are two key issues: preserving the Partnership, which is complex due to its plurality and diversity of opinions, and improving the monitoring of issues,” the executive director of Oxfam Mexico, Carlos Zarco, told IPS.

The GPEDC, which brings together over 100 governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), emerged in Busan, South Korea in November 2011 with the aim of finding novel approaches to development aid.

That aid is now flowing along new paths, such as growing South-South cooperation, with an expanding role of emerging nations as donors, and triangular cooperation, where one developing country cooperates with another, with financial support from a nation of the industrialised North.

Against that backdrop, the United Nations members are negotiating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be adopted in 2015 to extend and expand the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by the international community in 2000, which have only been partially met.

Three years after Busan, “There is a shrinking space for CSOs, with more restrictive policies. Governments choose which CSOs to consult with, there are limited public consultations with CSOs,” María Theresa Lauron, an activist with the Asia-Pacific Research Network, told IPS.

Lauron said there was a growing trend to restrict access to information. She also mentioned new forms of financing that limit the effectiveness of NGOs, and growing pressure on CSOs that voice criticism, to get them to align themselves with the governments of aid recipient nations.

The first high-level meeting of the GPEDC drew some 1,500 delegates of governments, academia, international agencies and civil society, who focused on issues like mobilising development aid resources at a national level, South-South and triangular cooperation, and participation by the business sector.

At the start of the meeting, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for continued strategies of oversight, transparency and accountability and efforts to fight corruption, and said a strong commitment to reducing poverty was needed – a reference to the first of the eight MDGs, which is to halve extreme poverty from 1990 levels.

CSOs complain that a portion of development aid goes to financing infrastructure works like large hydropower dams, gas pipelines and roads that violate the rights of local communities and generate conflicts in recipient nations.

The principles established in Busan call for ownership and leadership of development strategies by aid recipient countries, a focus on results that matter to the poor in developing countries, inclusive partnerships among development actors based on mutual trust, and transparency and accountability to one another.

They also emphasise the need for recipients of development aid to work together and form partnerships, to have a greater influence in designing development strategies, and to guarantee that the funds will be used effectively in projects.

The report “An enabling environment for civil society organisations: A synthesis of evidence of progress since Busan”, which was analysed at the meeting, found practices that reduce social participation in international cooperation.

It cited, for example, multiple, vaguely worded regulations; costly, complex procedures for registering organisations; vague arguments for not allowing an organisation to register; legal proceedings against activists critical of government policies; and blocked access to international financing.

“Governments decide where CSOs can work,” Vitalice Meja, executive director of Reality of Aid Africa, told IPS. “Areas such as environment, human rights and extractive industries face threats. We need to revise the punitive laws and establish a national dialogue with governments and CSOs.”

One example is Bolivia, one of the 12 countries studied in the report. The “Pilot study on Enabling Environment Bolivia” found that there were leaders of social organisations questioning the work of NGOs and their role as intermediaries in the management of resources, as well as government criticism of NGOs for supposed meddling in projects.

“The calculating position of some NGOs in response to the risk that the current government will accuse them of being traitors or of opposing the process of change, lead[s] them to silence their critical voice,” concludes the report by Susana Eróstegui of the National Union of Institutions for Social Action Work in Bolivia.

These conditions, the report says, hinder the work of NGOs in the post-2015 agenda.

For that reason, the GPEDC launched the Civil Society Continuing Campaign for Effective Development, which from now to the end of 2016 will work to assert the right of NGOs to participate in development policies.

The goal will be to establish development aid policies that are clearly influenced by civil society’s positions on human rights, democratic ownership and inclusive partnerships, and global, subregional and regional dialogue to push for international standards on an enabling environment.

During the high-level meeting, Mexico’s conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto presented an inclusive cooperation strategy, whose focus, IPS learned, would be a plan for Africa managed by the Mexican Agency for International Development Cooperation, seeking to emulate programmes that Brazil has carried out in Africa.

One new phenomenon is that emerging economies such as Brazil, China and South Africa are taking on different roles in the field of development aid, and are reluctant to accept the same standards as those followed by traditional donors from the industrialised North.

“There are many requirements for traditional aid, and none for emerging economies,” said Oxfam Mexico’s Zarco. “These have to accept standards” in terms of national ownership, transparency, accountability and inclusive development, he added.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) presented “Making Development Cooperation More Effective: 2014 Progress Report”, which found a slow pace of compliance with the Busan agreement and “mixed results”.

“Much more needs to be done to transform cooperation practices and ensure country ownership of all development efforts, as well as transparency and accountability among development partners,” says the report, which is based on data from 46 countries that receive development cooperation.

The report was drawn up under the auspices of the Global Partnership, which is jointly supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the OECD.

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U.S. Terror Suspects Face “Terrifying” Justice System http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-terror-suspects-face-terrifying-justice-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-terror-suspects-face-terrifying-justice-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-terror-suspects-face-terrifying-justice-system/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 18:39:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133750 This is the first of a two-part series examining the use of ‘lawfare’ on Muslim citizens in the United States accused of terror-related activity.

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Participants at an April 7 candlelight vigil for Shifa Sadequee, a Bangladeshi-American serving a 17-year sentence in Terra Haute, Indiana, stand in the rain outside the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).  Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Participants at an April 7 candlelight vigil for Shifa Sadequee, a Bangladeshi-American serving a 17-year sentence in Terra Haute, Indiana, stand in the rain outside the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The sun is just setting as the group huddles closer together, their faces barely visible in the gathering dusk. Simple, hand-made signs read: ‘Stand for Justice’.

Above them, the fortified concrete tower of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre (MCC) of New York City rises into the darkening sky, fluorescent lights inside illuminating sturdy steel bars that cling to every window."There are things happening in their cases that are not happening in others, like the use of anonymous juries and secret evidence files." -- Sally Eberhardt

The vigil has drawn a mixed bag of supporters – some have their heads covered, a few are modestly concealed by hijabs, others are simply attired in jeans and T-shirts. Whatever their dress, they have gathered here for one reason – to protest the use of ‘lawfare’ on Muslim citizens accused of terror-related activity.

Sally Eberhardt, a researcher with Educators for Civil Liberties, tells IPS these monthly vigils began in 2009 to highlight legal irregularities in the case against Fahad Hashmi, a Pakistan-born U.S. citizen who was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2005 and became the first citizen to be extradited to the U.S. under new laws passed after 9/11.

Hashmi spent three years in solitary confinement at the MCC before ever being charged with a crime. He accepted a government plea bargain of one-count of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorist groups and, in 2010, began a 15-year sentence at the federal “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado.

Weekly vigils held in the autumn of 2009 through Hashmi’s sentencing gradually attracted civil liberties groups, including Amnesty International, the Council on Arab-Islamic Relations and the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with family members of other incarcerated Muslims, who have now coalesced into a movement known as the No Separate Justice (NSJ) campaign.

Preemptive Prosecution

Volunteers with independent advocacy organisations working on behalf of Muslim prisoners define preemptive prosecution – which is also known as preventive, predatory, pretextual or manufactured prosecution – as a post 9-11 strategy to target individuals or groups whose ideologies and religious practices raise ‘red flags’ for the government.

According to an upcoming study based on the Department of Justice’s 2008 list of domestic terrorists, the charges used to hound “suspects” are generally manufactured by the government, and can take many forms:

• Using material support for terrorism laws to criminalise activities that are not otherwise considered criminal, such as free speech, free association, charity, peace-making and social hospitality;

• Using conspiracy laws to treat friendships and organisations as criminal conspiracies, and their members as guilty by association, even when most members of the group have not been involved in criminal activity and may not even be aware of it.

• Using agents provocateurs to actively entrap targets in criminal plots manufactured and controlled by the government.

• Using minor “technical” crimes, which otherwise would not have been prosecuted or even discovered, in order to incarcerate individuals for their ideology (for example, making a minor error on an immigration form, which is technically a crime; lying to government officials about minor matters; gun possession based on a prior felony many years earlier; minor tax and business finance matters).”

“NSJ was an attempt to bring four key issues under one umbrella: surveillance and entrapment; conditions of confinement; fair trial and due process concerns; and free speech and material support charges,” Eberhardt told IPS.

“We feel that when it comes to Muslim terror suspects, the federal government applies a separate level of justice: there are things happening in their cases that are not happening in others, like the use of anonymous juries and secret evidence files that they have no access to.”

Muslim prisoners and pre-trial detainees are also subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), a Bill Clinton-era process designed to isolate potentially violent persons by severely restricting their ability to communicate with the outside world.

In 1996 SAMs were applied for a maximum of four months. Now, they can be designated for up to a year, and extended indefinitely at the discretion of the attorney general, a provision families say violate international laws on solitary confinement.

“SAMs are some of the worst things a human could be forced to endure,” Eberhadt said. “In Hashmi’s case, for example, he was only allowed to write letters on three pieces of paper, he could only receive news 30 days after it was published and could barely communicate with his family or lawyers.”

NSJ has red-flagged close to 20 cases of Muslim terror suspects, whose arrests, trials, sentencing and detention are at odds with constitutionally-protected rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and religious freedom.

Among those spotlighted are Ghassan Elashi, a Palestinian activist whose brainchild, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, earned him a 65-year sentence for material support charges in 2009; Houston-born Ahmed Abu Ali, who was tortured for years in a Saudi prison before being handed a life sentence on nine terrorism counts; and the Duka Brothers, three New Jersey men sentenced to life following a costly FBI entrapment operation that is better known as the case of the Fort Dix Five.

Lawfare’: Use and abuse of ‘War on Terror’ tactics

Legal experts say the handful of individuals who have received media attention are just the tip of the iceberg of a vast operation to round up Muslims on fabricated or flimsy ‘terrorism’ charges in the name of national security.

Kathleen Manley, legal director of the advocacy group that calls itself the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), says the rise of ‘preemptive prosecutions’ as a weapon in the United States’ War on Terror arsenal is a dangerous development that enables law enforcers to hound anyone whose “beliefs, ideology, or religious affiliations raise security concerns for the government”, without any evidence of an actual crime.

In 2008 the Department of Justice (DOJ) made public a docket containing the names of nearly 400 ‘domestic terror suspects’ – most of them Muslims – compiled in the decade immediately following the bombing of the World Trade Center.

According to Manley, a good “72 or 73 percent of those cases were pure preemptive prosecution, where the defendants hadn’t done anything that could be considered a crime”, but had instead been targeted for their beliefs, religious practices or fears of what they “might” do.

“Another 20 percent of the cases,” she said, “had what we call elements of pre-emptive prosecution, with the accused committing a very minor crime, such as credit card fraud.”

The DOJ’s list is now the subject of a major study, the first of its kind, on domestic terror suspects and the use of laws implemented after Sep. 11, 2001 to prevent terrorist attacks.

Undertaken by volunteers from the NCPCF and Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), the study, which will be published this summer, concludes that the “government has used preemptive prosecution to exaggerate the threat of Muslim extremism to the security of the country.”

As the sun finally slipped out of sight behind the wall of federal buildings, several people lit candles and held them up towards the windows of the MCC.

“We’ve come here to shine a light on injustice,” a family member speaking under condition of anonymity told IPS. “It’s only a flickering light now, but it will get stronger.”

Read Part Two here.

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Our Planet’s Future Is in the Hands of 58 People http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planets-future-hands-58-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=planets-future-hands-58-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/planets-future-hands-58-people/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:38:55 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133749 In case you missed it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third and final part of a report on Apr. 13 in which it says bluntly that we only have 15 years left to avoid exceeding the “safe” threshold of a 2°C increase in global temperatures, beyond which the consequences will be […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

In case you missed it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third and final part of a report on Apr. 13 in which it says bluntly that we only have 15 years left to avoid exceeding the “safe” threshold of a 2°C increase in global temperatures, beyond which the consequences will be dramatic.

And only the most myopic are unaware of what these are – from an increase in sea level, through more frequent hurricanes and storms (increasingly in previously unaffected areas), to an adverse impact on food production.

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Credit: IPS

Now, in a normal and participatory world, in which at least 83 percent of those living today will still be alive in 15 years, this report would have created a dramatic reaction. Instead, there has not been a single comment by any of the leaders of the 196 countries in which the planet’s 7.5 billion “consumers” reside. It’s just been business as usual.

Anthropologists, who study human beings’ similarity to and divergence from other animals, concluded a long time ago that humans are not superior in every aspect. For instance, human beings are less adaptable than many animals to survive in, for example, earthquakes, hurricanes and any other type of natural disaster. You can be sure that, by now, other animals would be showing signs of alertness and uneasiness.

The first part of the report, released in September 2013 in Stockholm, declared with a 95 percent or greater certainty that humans are the main cause of global warming, while the second part, released in Yokohama at the end of March, reported that “in recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans”.

The IPCC is made up of over 2,000 scientists, and this is the first time that it has come to firm and final conclusions since its creation in 1988 by the United Nations.

The main conclusion of the report is that to slow the race to a point of no return, global emissions must be cut by 40 to 70 percent by 2050, and that “only major institutional and technological changes will give a better than even chance” that global warming will not go beyond the safety threshold and that these must start at the latest in 15 years, and be completed in 35 years.

It is worth noting that roughly half of the world’s population is under the age of 30, and it is largely the young who will have to bear the enormous costs of fighting climate change.

The IPCC’s main recommendation is very simple: major economies should place a tax on carbon pollution, raising the cost of fossil fuels and thus pushing the market toward clean sources such as wind, solar or nuclear energy. It is here that “major institutional changes” are required.

Ten countries are responsible for 70 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas pollution, with the United States and China accounting for over 55 percent of that share. Both countries are taking serious steps to fight pollution.

U.S. President Barack Obama tried in vain to obtain Senate support, and has used his authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution from vehicles and industrial plants and encourage clean technologies. But he cannot do anything more without backing from the Senate.

The all-powerful new president of China, Xi Jinping, has made the environment a priority, also because official sources put the number of deaths in China each year from pollution at five million.

But China needs coal for its growth, and Xi’s position is: “Why should we slow down our development when it was you rich countries that created the problem by achieving your growth?” And that gives rise to a vicious circle. The countries of the South want the rich countries to finance their costs for reducing pollution, and the countries of the North want them to stop polluting.

As a result, the report’s executive summary, which is intended for political leaders, has been stripped of charts which could have been read as showing the need for the South to do more, while the rich countries put pressure on avoiding any language that could have been interpreted as the need for them to assume any financial obligations.

This should make it easier to reach an agreement at the next Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Lima, where a new global agreement should be reached (remember the disaster at the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009?).

The key to any agreement is in the hands of the United States. The U.S. Congress has blocked any initiative on climate control, providing an easy escape for China, India and other polluters: why should we make commitments and sacrifices if the U.S. does not participate?

The problem is that the Republicans have made climate change denial one of their points of identity.

They have mocked and denied climate change and attacked Democrats who support carbon taxing as waging a war on coal. The American energy industry financially supports the Republican Party and it is considered political suicide to talk about climate change.

The last time a carbon tax was proposed in 2009, after a positive vote by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, the Republican-dominated Senate shot it down.

And in the 2010 elections, a number of politicians who voted for the carbon tax lost their seats, contributing to the Republican takeover of the House. The hope now for those who want a change is to wait for the 2016 elections, and hope that the new president will be able to change the situation – which is a good example of why the ancient Greeks said that Hope is the last Goddess.

And this brings us to a very simple reality. The U.S. Senate is made up of 100 members, and this means that you need 51 votes to kill any bill for a fossil fuels tax. In China, the situation is different, but decisions are taken, in the best of hypotheses, not by the president alone, but by the seven-member Standing Committee of the Central Committee, which holds the real power in the Communist Party.

In other words, the future of our planet is decided by 58 persons. With the current global population standing at close to 7.7 billion people, so much for a democratic world!
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Sweet Dreams are Made of Rwandan Ice Cream http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sweet-dreams-made-rwandan-ice-cream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sweet-dreams-made-rwandan-ice-cream http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/sweet-dreams-made-rwandan-ice-cream/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:28:05 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133739 From all across Rwanda, and even from parts of neighbouring Burundi, people flock to the southern town of Butare to a little shop called Inzozi Nziza or Sweet Dreams. They come here for a taste of something of the unknown, something most have never tasted in their lives — the sweet, cold, velvety embrace of ice […]

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Louise Ingabire, 27, the manager of Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams), Rwanda’s first ice-cream store which is based in Butare. She says thanks to the store she now has dreams for her future. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Louise Ingabire, 27, the manager of Inzozi Nziza (Sweet Dreams), Rwanda’s first ice-cream store which is based in Butare. She says thanks to the store she now has dreams for her future. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
BUTARE, Rwanda, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

From all across Rwanda, and even from parts of neighbouring Burundi, people flock to the southern town of Butare to a little shop called Inzozi Nziza or Sweet Dreams. They come here for a taste of something of the unknown, something most have never tasted in their lives — the sweet, cold, velvety embrace of ice cream.

Here, at this central African nation’s first ever ice cream store that opened four years ago, customers can buy soft serve ice cream in flavours such as sweet cream, passion fruit, strawberry and pineapple. Toppings include fresh fruit, Rwandan honey, chic-chips and homemade granola. Rwandan black tea and coffee are also on sale. "Some Rwandans like ice-cream but it’s a new thing. We still have some work to do, to tell others that they’ll enjoy it.” -- Louise Ingabire, the manager of Inzozi Nziza or Sweet Dreams

The little store, which has the words “ice cream. coffee. dreams” written across its signage, is milking Rwandan’s curiosity about ice cream for all its worth and “changing lives” in the process, says Louise Ingabire, the manager of Inzozi Nziza.

As she sits at a table in the store, about to devour a honey-flavoured soft serve swirl, Ingabire, 27, tells IPS: “Ice cream is important. I like ice cream because it gives you energy but is also relaxing. Some Rwandans like ice cream but it’s a new thing. We still have some work to do, to tell others that they’ll enjoy it.”

True to the words written across the signage, this store certainly made some of Ingabire’s dreams come true.

“I didn’t have a job before, I just stayed at home. Now I have a vision for the future. I’m making money and I can give some of it to my family,” Ingabire says.

Butare, which has a population of about 89,600 and is located 135 km from the capital, Kigali, is the home of the National University of Rwanda. And Inzozi Nziza has become a social hub for tired students looking to treat themselves to something sweet, cool and different.

“It’s something uniting people here,” 24-year-old Kalisa Migendo, who is studying agriculture at the university, tells IPS.

“If you need to go out and talk to a friend, a girl or a boy, you come to Inzozi Nziza for an ice cream.” Most of the ingredients for the ice cream are sourced locally, and the milk comes from a depot in nearby Nyanza. The vanilla beans and cocoa are imported.

Inzozi Nziza was opened by theatre director Odile Gakire Katese, aka Kiki. Katese met Alexis Miesen and Jennie Dundas, the co-founders of Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, and they partnered together to open Inzozi Nziza in 2010.

“An ice cream shop, [Katese] proposed, might help to put the human pieces back together by rebuilding spirits, hopes and family traditions,” Miesen tells IPS.

At the start, Miesen and Dundas owned the shop in partnership with the women who work there and had shares in the business, which is a cooperative and nonprofit. They didn’t set financial targets, but waited for 18 months before they transferred their shares over to the women, who had proved their business credentials.

The success of Sweet Dreams is not an exception. Fatuma Ndangiza, deputy CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board, points out that many small businesses here are owned by women.

“Small businesses are mostly managed by women but when it comes to big business where you have to compete for big tenders, very few women are there. Women are newcomers to big business,” she points out.

“We have more women entrepreneurs. It’s an area where women are taking an interest, both in and outside Kigali.”

While she says that eating ice cream is somewhat new to Rwanda, she’s behind the idea of the store.

“I think it’s great. It requires a lot of skills and changing people’s mindsets because selling and eating ice cream is not [part of our] culture. I think being able to innovate and introduce this on the market, and the process of making it, is quite interesting.”

The Butare shop now employs nine women, all of whom spend their spare time practicing with Ingoma Nshya, the nation’s first and only female drumming troupe, which was started by Katese 10 years ago.

The group is made up of both Hutu and Tutsi women, some survivors of the 1994 genocide, during which close to a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Some members of Ingoma Nshya are widows, some orphans. Others have been affected by the mass murder in different ways.

Historically in Rwanda, women were forbidden to drum and many people considered the drums too heavy for women to carry, says Ingabire.

“It’s something which brings unity,” says Ingabire, who lost her father, two siblings and many cousins in the genocide.

“Some of us are survivors; some know someone who was killed. When I’m drumming with them it gives me power because we’re still alive and survivors.”

Rwanda’s official genocide mourning period, known as Icyunamo, began Apr. 7 and continues until Jul. 4. Within the period the women of the Butare ice cream shop are also marking another symbolic event in their lives – Inzozi Nziza’s fourth birthday in June.

Inzozi Nziza has also been featured in a documentary film made by award-winning sibling filmmakers Rob and Lisa Fruchtman. Sweet Dreams tells the story of the Rwandan women trying to forge a future post-genocide and also features the female drummers.

It has been screened in more than a dozen countries around the world, including the United States and United Kingdom, and in other countries of Europe and in Africa. It will premiere in Rwanda later this year.

“We feel the film is about resilience, hope, bravery, resourcefulness and the ability to change the course of your own life,” Lisa Fruchtman, who won an Oscar for film editing in 1984, tells IPS.

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Biofortified Tortillas to Provide Micronutrients in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/biofortified-tortillas-provide-micronutrients-latin-america/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:10:41 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133736 Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth. Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around. Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras […]

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Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

Biofortified beans. Credit: Courtesy of BioFORT

By Fabiola Ortiz
KIGALI, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

Latin America is one of the regions in the world suffering from “hidden hunger” – a chronic lack of the micronutrients needed to ward off problems like anaemia, blindness, impaired immune systems, and stunted growth.

Brazil is heading up a food biofortification effort in the region to turn this situation around.

Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras are targets of the biofortification programme, after six countries in Africa (Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia) and three in Asia (Bangladesh, India and Pakistan).

Behind the initiative is HarvestPlus, which forms part of the CGIAR Consortium research programme on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

CGIAR is an independent consortium leading the global effort to modify food in developing regions by adding essential minerals and vitamins.

In Latin America, the project is led by the Brazilian Biofortification Network (BioFORT), which since 2003 has brought together 150 researchers from EMBRAPA, the Brazilian government’s agricultural research agency, and from universities and specialised centres.

EMBRAPA food engineer Marília Nutti, who heads the BioFORT network in Brazil and the rest of the region, told IPS that the three countries in Latin America with the highest rates of micronutrient deficiency are Haiti, Nicaragua and Guatemala.

HarvestPlus developed a Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) to identify countries in the developing South with the highest levels of micronutrient deficiency.

Agronomist Miguel Lacayo at the Central American University in Managua told IPS that Nicaragua is second only to Haiti in terms of problems in the production and availability of food for a nutritious diet in this region.

An index to measure progress

The Biofortification Priority Index (BPI) ranks countries based on their potential for introducing nutrient-rich staple food crops to fight micronutrient deficiencies, focusing on three key micronutrients: vitamin A, iron and zinc.

For the BPI, country data on the prevalence of micronutrient deficiencies and production and consumption levels of target crops is analysed to help guide decisions about where, and in which biofortified crops, to invest for maximum impact.

BPIs are calculated for seven staple crops and for 127 countries in the developing South.

“The diet in Nicaragua is principally made up of maize and beans, which are eaten two to three times a day,” the expert said. “People eat a lot of maize tortillas, accompanied by beans, for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Lacayo spoke with IPS during the Mar. 31-Apr. 2 Second Global Conference on Biofortification, organised by HarvestPlus in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

“The idea is to increase the concentration of iron and zinc in these two staple foods, to reduce nutrition problems. We want to help bring down anaemia levels,” he said.

Severe nutritional deficits are especially a problem among children in rural areas in Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. “It’s a chronic problem among the rural poor, who make up 60 percent of the population,” Lacayo said.

Biofortification uses conventional plant-breeding methods to enhance the concentration of micronutrients in food crops through a combination of laboratory and agricultural techniques.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that two billion people in the world today suffer from one or more micronutrient deficiencies, and that every four seconds someone dies of hunger and related causes.

In December 2012, the World Bank released a toolkit providing nutrition emergency response guidance to policy-makers, seeking to ensure health, food and nutritional security for vulnerable mothers and their children in Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to the World Bank an estimated 7.2 million children under five are chronically malnourished in the region.

The Bank also warned about the economic costs of malnutrition, estimating individual productivity losses at more than 10 percent of lifetime earnings, and gross domestic product lost to malnutrition as high as two to three percent in many countries.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Hunger Map shows that the malnutrition rate in Nicaragua stands at between 10 and 19 percent, while in Haiti 35 percent of the population is malnourished.

Nicaragua began to biofortify foods in 2005 with support from Agrosalud, a consortium of institutions working in 14 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean that is mainly financed by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Agrosalud has also supported the inclusion of micronutrients in foods in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Peru.

Of these countries, Panama went on to launch a national biofortification programme, with no outside financing.

The first phase of Agrosalud ended in 2010, and Nicaragua was made a priority target in the second phase, with backing from BioFORT, initially focused on maize and beans.

“We want to support biofortified crops,” Lacayo commented. “We are going to create a network in Nicaragua with HarvestPlus, governments, non-governmental organisations, universities, and national and international bodies.”

The alliance will include 125 researchers from 25 university institutions, and the national plan is to get underway in June, with the aim of promoting food security and sovereignty in Nicaragua.

Lacayo stressed that one element of the plan will be support for small farmers in the production of seeds “for their own consumption, as well as a surplus to sell…We want to give this added value, and to strengthen small rural enterprises.”

The agronomist foresees a lasting alliance with Brazil through EMBRAPA, to help reduce hidden hunger in Nicaragua.

BioFORT’s Nutti said the network has an “innovative focus” of combining nutrition, agriculture and health.

“Biofortification is a new science. The big advantage of the project is that it has brought together agronomists, economists, nutritionists and experts in food sciences behind the common goal of having an impact on health,” she said.

Initially, HarvestPlus asked Brazil only to biofortify cassava. But BioFORT decided it was also necessary to incorporate other micronutrients in seven other foods that are essential to the Brazilian diet: cowpeas, beans, rice, sweet potatoes, maize, squash and wheat.

“This is a very big country. You have to show people that this biofortified diet is better,” Nutti said.

Brazil is one of the HarvestPlus country programmes, because it operates with its own technical resources and is seen as a model in the administration of the biofortification effort.

While in Africa, the main target of the initiative, 40 million dollars will be allocated to biofortification, the budget for Latin America over the next five years will range between 500,000 and one million dollars.

That is not much, considering the magnitude of the task, BioFORT technology researcher José Luis Viana de Carvalho told IPS.

In his view, Brazil has the experience needed to forge alliances that contribute to the development of biofortification in the region.

“Brazil is a granary due to the quantity of cereals it produces and its cutting-edge technology. We should think in terms of a 20-year timeframe for reducing the pockets of hidden hunger,” he added.

He said that in terms of public health, the cost of spending on biofortification is lower than the cost of not undertaking the effort.

“Prevention through quality food is important. Biofortification is not medicine, it is prevention. It is the daily diet,” de Carvalho said.

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Uruguay Not a ‘Pirate’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uruguayans-pirates http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/uruguayans-pirates/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:34:29 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133728 The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues. The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s […]

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Diego Cánepa. Credit: Office of the Presidency of Uruguay

Diego Cánepa. Credit: Office of the Presidency of Uruguay

By Pavol Stracansky
VIENNA, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Uruguayan government has made a controversial move to regulate the production and sale of cannabis. The government believes that this will help in the fight against drug-related crime and in dealing with public health issues.

The move has been condemned by the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), whose president Raymond Yans accused the country’s government of having a “pirate attitude” for going against the UN’s conventions on drugs."It is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done."

Diego Cánepa, secretary of the office of Uruguayan President José Mujica, tells IPS that he believes a regulated marijuana market was the right decision for his country.

Q. How do you feel about your country being labelled “pirates” by the INCB for legalising the marijuana market?

A. Well, the INCB is just one UN body and it is just one opinion. They have a special mandate and that mandate is not to decide what approach each individual country should follow. We have had a discussion over the correct interpretation of the UN drugs conventions. We believe, and we have the evidence to show this, that our interpretation is correct. We followed the original spirit of the convention and we hope that the step which we have taken is the right one to create better control of the marijuana market in our country.

Prohibition was a big mistake in the last 40 years, so we believe that a strictly regulated marijuana market is the best way to fulfil the spirit of the UN drugs conventions.

Q. Do you get frustrated when you hear people from other countries talking about how what you are doing is wrong, for example from countries which have a much more conservative, hard line approach to drugs?

A. We very much respect every opinion. It’s an open discussion. We do not think that we have the whole truth in our hands. We listen very carefully to the opinions of other countries but we defend our sovereign right to do what we think is right for our own country and our people. And we believe that in terms of our health policies this is the best option for Uruguay.

We don’t want to be a model for other countries over this, we just think that this is the best way for our country and we will defend our right to take this option. But we are open to discussion. We think that prohibition is not the answer and overwhelming evidence has shown that it is a mistake. We don’t want to have this kind of policy. We need to have the right to explore a different approach to drugs.

Q. If you find that after a couple of years things are not going well with the legalisation or that you are not seeing the kind of results you want with regards to public health, would you be prepared to go back to a ban on drugs?

A. I think the question is different. First of all, a few years is not enough. You need at least eight, nine or ten years before you can draw any conclusions. We need to have a lot of evidence over a long time period to really understand what effects this policy is having.

Looking at public health, violence, drug consumption – all the evidence shows us so far that by regulating the market and making visible what has until now been an invisible market means that you can control that market better, and control trafficking and then you have less violence. But I think that if that doesn’t happen in ten years then we will have another debate on this. But I do not think we would go back to banning [marijuana]. We would need to find another answer.

Q. Are you happy when you see other countries doing things which are similar to what you have done? For example states in the U.S. which have legalised commercial marijuana sales.

A. Actually, what they have done in Colorado is much more than what we have done. There you are free to buy and sell what you want. They have a different model to us. But there are 18 states in the U.S. where marijuana can be bought for medical purposes. But that is just an euphemism because we know that the majority of people use marijuana not with a medical purpose but with a medical excuse.

We see that an individual state in the U.S. is operating this way with no federal overrule on it so it is impossible to not accept that there is a big, open debate on this when you have different countries around the world taking different approaches to the problem.

Q. Could you see other countries following your lead and regulating their marijuana markets?

A. I really don’t know and it is not our aim that anyone follow us or do what we have done. We do not want to be a model for any other country. We respect everyone else’s policies but we think that this is the best model for our country.

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Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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U.S. Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-tribe-looks-international-court-justice/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:26:56 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133733 An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy. The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.

The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the U.S. government. Onondaga representatives are calling on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights arm of the pan-regional Organisation of American States (OAS), to intervene.“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS, but I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.” -- Onondaga leader Sid Hill

In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a case against New York State, stating the state government had repeatedly violated treaties signed with the Onondaga, resulting in lost land and severe environmental pollution. Yet advocates for the trips say antiquated legal precedents with racist roots have allowed the courts to consistently dismiss the Onondaga’s case.

They are now looking to the IACHR for justice.

“New York State broke the law and now the U.S. government has failed to protect our lands, which they promised to us in treaties,” Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Onondaga people, told IPS.

Hill and others from the Onondaga Nation gathered outside the White House, located near the IACHR’s Washington headquarters, on Tuesday. Hill brought an heirloom belt commissioned for the Onondaga Nation by George Washington, the first U.S. president, to ratify the Treaty of Canandaigua, affirming land rights for the Onondaga and other tribes.

In their petition to the IACHR, the Onondaga quote sections from the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. Signed by George Washington, this law assured the Onondaga that their lands would be safe, and if threatened, that the federal courts would protect their rights.

Yet since then, tribal advocates say, their 2.5 million acres of land has shrunk to just 6,900 acres. And rather than helping the Onondaga, the courts have ignored their case.

“We filed the original case in 2005,” Joe Heath, the attorney for the Onondaga Nation, told IPS.

“We did not sue, did not demand any return for original land. It was more aimed at protecting sacred sites and environmental issues … Our case was dismissed in 2010, so we appealed to the Second Circuit.”

The Second Circuit, and finally the Supreme Court, dismissed the case.

Landmark law

Since 2005, the U.S. courts have designed a new set of rules, called “equitable defence”. This now arms New York with a two-part defence in the Onondaga case. First, officials are able to argue that too much time has passed since the 1794 treaty was signed to when the case was filed, in 2005.

Second, equitable defence also states that the court is able to determine on its own whether the Onondaga people have been disturbed on their land.

“The legal ground on which [the Onondaga] claims rest has undergone profound change since the Nation initiated its action,” the District Court concluded. “The law today forecloses this Court from permitting these claims to proceed.”

The Onondaga Nation and other Native American nations are now fighting to change Native American land laws.

Current legal precedents go back to the 1400s, when Pope Alexander VI issued a papal decree that gave European monarchs sovereignty over “lands occupied by non-Christian ‘barbarous nations’”. In a case in 1823, the U.S. Supreme Court applied this principle to uphold the possession of indigenous lands in favour of colonial or post-colonial governments.

The Supreme Court again revived this doctrine as recent as 2005, when another New York tribe, the Oneida Nation, refused to pay taxes to the United States, citing its status as a sovereign nation.

“Under the Doctrine of Discovery … fee title to the land occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign – first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the 2005 decision.

This doctrine still underpins Indian land law and the dismissal of the Onondaga Nation’s case.

“This is the Plessy v. Ferguson of Indian law,” Heath told IPS, referring to a notorious landmark judicial decision that, for a time, upheld racial segregation in the United States.

Most polluted lake

Heath and others say the goal in “correcting” the U.S. legal system would be to provide the Onondaga Nation and other tribes more say in environmental decisions. Front and centre in this argument is the travesty they say has been visited on Onondaga Lake.

“Onondaga Lake, a sacred lake, has been turned into the most polluted lake in the country,” Heath says. “Allied Corp. dumped mercury in the lake every day from 1946 to 1970.”

In 1999, Allied Corp., a major chemicals company, purchased Honeywell, a company popularly associated with thermostats, and adopted its name, to try and shed its association with pollution. However, this merger has made it more difficult for the Onondaga Nation to get the company to clean up the lake.

“Before the Europeans got here, we had a very healthy lifestyle,” Heath said.

“All the water was clean and drinkable … With the loss of land, pollution of water, and loss of access to water, health has been impacted negatively.”

Another problem is salt mining.

“Only one body of water flows through the territory, Onondaga Creek, and this creek is now severely polluted as a result of salt mining upstream,” Heath says. “The salt mining was done over a century, and so recklessly that it severely damaged the hydrogeology in the valley.”

Heath says elder members of the Onondaga community can remember clear waters that supported trout fishing.

“Now you can’t see two inches into the water, it looks like yesterday’s coffee,” he says.

The Onondaga Nation is now waiting to see whether IACHR will hear the case.

This normally takes several years, however. And even if the court hears the case, it has no formal enforcement mechanisms, but can only make recommendations to the United States.

“We understand that the U.S. does not adhere to the OAS,” Onondaga leader Hill said. “But I don’t know where we go. We’ve exhausted our avenues.”

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Ending Modern Slavery Starts in the Boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ending-modern-slavery-starts-boardroom/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 23:11:07 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133731 Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite. “Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible […]

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Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

Child labourers rescued in Delhi waiting to be sent back to their villages. Credit: Bachpan Bachao Andolan/IPS

By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Modern-day slavery can be eradicated from multinational supply chains, but only if global businesses contribute to greater transparency and collaboration, according to new recommendations by Sedex Global and Verite.

“Human trafficking and slavery in the supply chain are global issues,” Mark Robertson, head of marketing and communications at Sedex Global, which provides a collaborative platform for responsible supply-chain data, told IPS.“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies. It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.” -- Mark Robertson

“But these issue are not unsolvable and there are good examples of companies – and initiatives – tackling the issue.”

There are thought to be some 11.7 million victims of forced labour in Asia, followed by 3.7 million in Africa and 1.8 million in Latin America. Slave labour is part of the production of at least 122 consumer goods from 58 countries, according to the 2012 International Labour Organisation statistics listed in the briefing.

The U.S. federal government compiles its own such list of products produced by slave or child labour. According to the latest update, last year, some 134 goods from 73 countries use child or forced labour in the production processes.

Certain sectors are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking and forced labour. According to the new briefing and backed up by these other lists, particularly problematic sectors include agriculture, mining and forestry, as well as manufacturers of apparel, footwear and electronics.

“Asia is the source of many of the world’s manufactured goods, and also home to half the world’s human trafficking – the majority of which is forced labour,” Anti-Slavery International’s Lisa Rende Taylor notes in the report.

Almost 21 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide, according to the briefing, 55 percent of whom are women and girls.

Migrant workers and indigenous populations are considered particularly vulnerable to forced labour. The briefing highlights issues that analysts say have not yet been sufficiently addressed, such as “broker-induced hiring traps”, exacerbated by steadily increasing volumes of migrant workers all around the world.

“For workers, labour brokerage increases migration and job acquisition costs and the risk of serious exploitation, including slavery,” the report states. Further, the presence of both well-organised and informal brokerage companies “in all cases” increases migrant vulnerability.

“The debt that is often necessary for migrant workers to undertake in order to pay recruitment fees, when combined with the deception that is visited upon them by some brokers about job types and salaries, can lead to a situation of debt-bondage,” the report states.

Globalised supply chains

Sedex and Verite highlight the importance of sourcing from responsible businesses and offer recommendations for both brands and suppliers on how to engage in ethical practices in supply chains.

“We are hoping to help companies understand the risks that they and their partners face with regard to the modern slavery,” Dan Viederman, the CEO of Verite, a watchdog group, told IPS. “It takes more commitment from companies to really understand what is happening amongst the hidden process among their business partners.”

Viederman says the new campaign by Verite and Sedex Global will work to motivate companies and their suppliers.

Globalisation and “complex and multi-tiered” supply chains have made it massively more difficult to detect forced labour and human trafficking, the new report states. Thus, “companies need tools, protocols and policies to effectively audit trafficking and to establish mechanisms to protect workers.”

The briefing recommends companies step up actions to “raise awareness internationally and externally of the risks of human trafficking” and to establish corporate policies to address related issues. Particularly important is to “map supply chains, which would help identify vulnerable workers and places of greatest risk.”

Sedex Global, with over 36,000 partners, allows member companies to upload all social audit types, which are primary tools for brands to assess their own facilities and those of their suppliers to detect workers abuse.

The Sedex platform highlights social audits, conducted between 2011 and 2013, that show that a “lack of adequate policies, management and reporting on forced labour” as well as a “lack of legally recognised employment agreements, wages and benefits” can indicate a risk of forced labour being present.

“Modern day slavery carries risks for companies,” Robertson says. “It can seriously affect a brand’s reputation.”

Nor is slavery an issue that affects only developing countries.

“Since 2007, more than 3,000 cases of labour trafficking inside the United States have been reported – nearly a third from 2013 alone,” Bradley Myles, the CEO of the Polaris Project, a U.S. anti-trafficking group, says in the new report.

“And there are so many more people who are trapped that we haven’t heard from yet. Business can and should take steps to eradicate this form of modern slavery from their operations and supply chains.”

California model

Consumers also have enormous power – if they use it. But “the issue has not pervaded the conscience of society quite yet,” Karen Stauss, director of programmes for Free the Slaves, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“The word hasn’t gotten out. Consumer power, the company’s buying as well legislative powers, should all be part of the resolution.”

Stauss says a good model comes from a state law here in the United States, called the California Transparency in Supply Chain Act, or SB-657. This would require publicly traded companies to disclose what efforts they are making to eradicate human trafficking and slavery from their supply chains.

Many companies, however, do not yet appear to have formal anti-slavery policies. According to the Corporate and Social Responsibility press release, out of 129 companies urged to conform with the California law by Know the Chain, an anti-slavery group, only 11 have done so.

The director of communications of Humanity United, Tim Isgitt said, “After months of outreach to these corporations, approximately 21 percent on the list are still not in compliance with the law.”

“It is necessary to push all businesses, not only progressive ones, to be more transparent to their customers and their investors in their supply chains,” Free the Slaves’ Stauss says.

“Although multinationals might not be directly involved in the exploitation of forced labour, they can help confront it by using their buying power to influence their direct and marginal partners who are involved in the production of the raw materials, where human trafficking and forced slavery are most prevalent.”

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OP-ED: Beyond the Street Protests: Youth, Women and Democracy in Latin America http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-beyond-street-protests-youth-women-democracy-latin-america/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 14:08:16 +0000 Jessica Faieta http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133719 Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation. The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to […]

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The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

The huge student protests in Chile have spread the idea that adolescents have the right to vote. Credit: Pamela Sepúlveda/IPS

By Jessica Faieta
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

Women’s empowerment and political participation are not only crucial for women: they are essential for effective democratic governance, one which promotes human rights and equity.  The same can be said about the importance of boosting youth political participation.

The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) invited three young women parliamentarians from Latin America and the Caribbean to join a recent discussion in Salamanca, Spain, on young women’s political participation in the region.In the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

That’s what Paola Pabón from Ecuador, Silvia Alejandrina Castro from El Salvador and Gabriela Montaño from Bolivia have in common. They are among the very few women in parliaments and they are young: They broke a double glass ceiling.

Of the 600 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 26 percent are young, aged 15-29. This is a unique opportunity for the region’s development and for its present and future governance. Even though the average regional rate of women taking up positions in parliament is 25 percent, higher than the global average, a closer look shows that women still lag behind.

Our recent survey of 25 parliaments in Latin America and the Caribbean shows a very low representation of youth in the region’s parliaments – especially those of African or indigenous descent. Only 2.7 percent of male parliamentarians in the region and 1.3 percent of women MPs were under 30 years old—even though more than one fourth of the region’s population is young.

When we look at the age of MPs below under 40, 15 percent are men and not even 6.5 percent are women.

UNDP’s regional Human Development Reports have shown that young people have enormous potential as agents of change. But despite Latin America’s remarkable progress in reducing poverty and inequality – and its strides toward strong democracies with free and transparent elections – gender, income, ethnic origin, or dwelling conditions are all decisive barriers to young citizens’ rights and civic engagement.

One in every four young people aged 15-29 in the region are poor or extremely poor. And only 35 percent of them have access to education. More worrying still: Some 20 million young Latin Americans aged 15-18 neither work nor study. That’s nearly one in every five, 54 percent of them female and 46 percent male.

And the region’s youth have been taking to the streets, playing a central role in recent protests in countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru and Mexico. Such demonstrations urge us to understand the demands of young people, and to address lingering structural problems in our societies, especially inequality.

The increasing frequency of such mobilisations tells us that young people want to actively participate in their society’s development. The first Ibero-American Youth Survey - which we launched last year with the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ) and other partners — shows that young people in Latin America, Portugal and Spain expect their participation to increase over the next five years.

Institutions should provide formal spaces for this, or protests will become the only effective way for young people to make their voices heard. And the region will waste an opportunity to enhance the quality of its democratic governance.

We are working towards this goal. UNDP and partners brought together 22 young MPs from 13 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013 to put together the region’s first young legislators’ network to boost young people’s political participation and inclusion.  We have been partnering with OIJ and other U.N. sister agencies and governmental youth secretaries to push this agenda.

Moreover, our youth online platform JuventudconVoz (youth voices), with the OIJ and the Spanish Cooperation agency, is also helping boost young Latin Americans political participation and leadership skills.

Protests sparked by young Latin Americans will likely continue in several countries. Beyond the street level, in the digital age of flourishing social media activism, these protests also provide opportunities to rethink democratic governance in the 21st century.

Jessica Faieta is UNDP’s Director a.i. and Deputy Director for Latin America and the Caribbean @JessicaFaieta / www.latinamerica.undp.org @UNDPLAC

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