Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 06 May 2016 08:39:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Mexico Needs to Improve Control of Toxic Chemicalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mexico-needs-to-improve-control-of-toxic-chemicals/#comments Fri, 06 May 2016 07:15:24 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144997 Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

Two Greenpeace technicians take water samples from a river that runs by the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complez in the Mexican city of Coatzacoalcos, where an Apr. 20 explosion in the Planta Clorados III plant left 32 people dead and 136 injured. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 6 2016 (IPS)

A recent explosion at a petrochemical plant in southeast Mexico highlighted the need to strengthen monitoring of hazardous substances, step up inspections of factories and update regulations in this country.

The Apr. 20 blast at the Clorados III plant in the Pajaritos Petrochemical Complex in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, left 32 dead and 136 injured.

“One basic problem is the handling of toxic chemicals,” Robin Perkins, the Detox Programme leader at Greenpeace Mexico, told IPS. “This is a country with few regulations and the list of regulated and controlled substances is short. There is a lack of regulations, inspections and reviews.”

The plant, which belongs to Petroquímica Mexicana de Vinilo (PMC), a public-private petrochemical company, produces 170,000 tons a year of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which generates dioxins and furans, and has two incinerators.“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment.” -- Robin Perkins

Dioxins and furans are environmental pollutants that belong to the so-called “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), POPs are present throughout the food chain and bio-accumulate in organisms.

Vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, is found in gas and liquid form, and through inhalation or contact with skin it can cause dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches, while long-time exposure can lead to severe skin problems or liver damage.

Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, miscarriage, learning disabilities, immune system suppression, lung problems, skin disorders and other health problems.

“It is important to monitor these kinds of chemicals, not only through environmental samples but also in the biota, and in exposed human populations, such as workers or local residents,” said Fernando Díaz-Barriga, a researcher at the Coordination for the Innovation and Application of Science and Technology at the public Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí.

To do that, he told IPS, “they must be detected in sediments and soils.”

For the past three decades, Díaz-Barriga has studied the impact of these substances on human health and the environment, including in the area of Pajaritos, and the result has always been the same: high levels of toxic compounds and elements.

In the wake of the explosion at the petrochemical plant, one of the worst environmental disasters in the history of Mexico due to the possible emission of dioxins, Greenpeace experts took samples of water, soil and dust in nearby communities, to detect pollutants.

The material is now being analysed at the University of Exeter in Britain and independent laboratories, and the results will be published in a few weeks.

Two weeks earlier, Díaz-Barriga had gathered samples of biota, soil and sediment around the Pajaritos complex, to identify POPs in the area, which is near the Gulf of Mexico and the mouth of a river.

The PVM company emerged in 2013 from an alliance between the private firm Mexichem, which holds a 54 percent share and runs the plant, and the state-run oil company Pemex, which owns 46 percent.

The accident was not an isolated incident.

 “We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico


“We want the truth!” about what happened in an explosion of a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plant in a petrochemical complex in the city of Coatzacoalcos in southeast Mexico, reads a Greenpeace sign, while a technician takes a soil sample after the disaster. Credit: Greenpeace Mexico

In Pajaritos there have been at least three accidents since 1991, and there are an average of 600 emergencies a y ear involving hazardous materials in Mexico, and at least one major disaster every 12 months, according to the environmental justice programme in the Federal Agency of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA).

International commitment

The explosion in the plant underscored the importance of Mexico living up to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, signed in 2001 and in effect since 2004.

The Convention is aimed at eliminating or reducing levels of nine chemicals used as pesticides, dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls – elements involved in the blast in Coatzacoalcos.

Every two years, parties to the convention meet to decide which additional chemicals should be added to the original “dirty dozen”. The next meeting is in 2017.

In Mexico, the Updating of the National Implementation Plan for the Stockholm Convention, which is reviewing the first plan from 2007, makes it clear how far the country still is from being up-to-date with respect to hazardous materials.

The evaluation for modernising the plan stresses the lack of a national network of laboratories for studying POPs, a formal programme for monitoring them, and a basic studies programme to identify trends involving these compounds.

Another problem is that the new industrial POPs that emerge are not studied, which means the country is not fully complying with the Stockholm Convention.

Greenpeace is calling for a longer list of regulated substances, a mandatory greenhouse gas emissions registry, and stricter penalties for polluters.

“We want the government to monitor and tell us what chemicals were there and what was released into the environment; there has to be short, medium and long-term monitoring; we need to know the impact on the workers, firefighters and surrounding communities; we’re talking about an impact on the entire ecosystem. It’s virtually impossible for there not to be an impact on the environment,” said Perkins.

On Apr. 28, PROFEPA closed down the Clorados III plant indefinitely, instructed the company to remove and safely confine substances like hydrochloric acid, ethane, and ethylene, and ordered it to carry out an impact study and a damage remediation programme.

In 2013, the government’s Registry of Emissions and Transference of Pollutants covered 3,523 establishments that reported 73 substances released into the air, water and soil or transferred in waste or discharge.

A food processor, an auto-maker, the Pajaritos complex, two oil refineries, two steel mills, three paper plants, seven chemical factories, 10 hazardous waste treatment plants and at least 35 cement plants reported dioxins and furans.

Of 135 substances identified as hazardous by various international bodies, 43 have been included in 13 laws in Mexico.

“The difficult thing is establishing new substances as the convention is updated,” said Díaz-Barriga. “The disaster in Pajaritos showed that we were right, that the monitoring programme is important. This is a problem of national priority.

“But the environmental issue has been pushed to the backburner, because it’s not a priority for the country; it only arises when these accidents happen.”

As part of the National Plan for the Stockholm Convention, Mexico plans to update and modify its regulations on the characteristics, handling, identification and classification of hazardous waste.

It also plans to expand the list of hazardous substances and establish stricter regulations with regard to emission limits on particulate matter from fixed installations.

The process will take at least two years.

The plan also establishes the modification of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection, in effect since 1988, with a special annex on POPs and chemical substances.

In addition, it proposes monitoring the presence of pesticides and other POPs in food, soil, water and air, and assessing the effective application of the measures, as well as a programme to hold companies accountable for proper handling of these pollutants.

By 2024, Mexico plans to have a programme to monitor POPs in the atmosphere and in breast milk, and to gauge the economic costs of these pollutants for the environment and health.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Deteriorating Protection of Journalists’ Sources a Global Problemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deteriorating-protection-of-journalists-sources-a-global-problem/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 21:31:32 +0000 Linus Atarah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144995 A journalist conducts an interview in Kenya. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

A journalist conducts an interview in Kenya. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

By Linus Atarah
HELSINKI, May 5 2016 (IPS)

The freedom of the press is a universally cherished democratic right, but what may have been overlooked as the World Day Freedom of Information was celebrated on Wednesday is that the ability of journalists to protect their source is increasingly coming under attack by authorities.

To Julie Posetti, there should be global standard adopted by all countries to protect the source of journalists, a fundamental principle to the capacity to do journalism that supports democracy.

“Journalists can draw on the universal right to freedom of expression and also right to privacy,” says Julie Posetti, editor at the Australia-based Fairfax Media, “what is lacking however, is that there is no international law that specifically enshrines the right to protect journalistic sources as part of this other international human rights framework,” Posetti told IPS.

Speaking at a UNESCO conference to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Helsinki, on Wednesday, Posetti said in some jurisdictions, for instance in Europe, there are regional laws and court judgments that uphold traditional rights to protect sources, but these protections are rather done in an “analogue way” – by which she means the laws need to be updated to take into account the digital reality of today’s world.

“The traditional rights of journalistic source might protect your right in court not to identify your source, or your notebook from proceedings, or to hand them over to the police, but not the digital information on one’s laptop or hard drive, all of which can reveal not just one source but many, many sources” -- Julie Posetti.

This year’s celebration marks the 250th anniversary of world’s first freedom of information act, due to campaign of Anders Chydenius, a member of parliament and priest, passed in modern day Sweden and Finland. Finland was part of Sweden until 1809, when it was handed over to Czarist Russia as a gift of war.

“The traditional rights of journalistic source might protect your right in court not to identify your source, or your notebook from proceedings, or to hand them over to the police, but not the digital information on one’s laptop or hard drive, all of which can reveal not just one source but many, many sources”, she said.

“It would be wonderful to have an international standard that declared that the protection of journalists sources was fundamental to the right of freedom expression”, she says, “instead what exists are piecemeal references to those right around the world, some very good laws, most are not up to date”.

The protection of a journalist’s source is an ethical principle in journalism recognised globally. People who often approach journalists with sensitive information usually do that at considerable risk, including the risk of losing their lives. Such people would wish to have their identity protected but if journalists cannot guarantee that, then it will have a chilling effect on the public right to information in general.

Some countries have legislation that provides protection to journalistic sources but such legislation is now being undermined by the use of data retention and national security and anti-terrorism policies globally.

According to findings for a book authored by Posetti and published by UNESCO last year, out of 121 countries surveyed for evidence of source protection legislation, 69 percent or 84 countries had inadequate legislation to protect journalistic sources – these laws were undermined by mass and targeted surveillance, anti-terrorism and national security policies and data retention policies.

Patrick Penninckx, Head of Information Society Department in the Council of Europe also expressed similar concerns over the violation of media freedoms in the 47-member Council of Europe, whose main objectives is upholding democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

Members of the Council of Europe include Russia and Azerbaijan but excludes Belorus. Some members are also members of the European Union.

“We are on the wrong path when it comes to freedom of the media”, Penninckx, told IPS. According to him, national legislations in 27 of the 47 members in the Council of Europe are going towards the wrong direction. These individual member countries seem to be saying, ‘why should we have any kind of European body dictate to us or oversee what we are doing if we can decide on that on by ourselves’, Pennickx, said

Therefore these countries are resorting to “legislative nationalism”, rather than accepting international best practice recommended by international institutions, even including the Council of Europe.

And this does not just apply to the “usual suspects”, he said, namely, Turkey, Russia and Azerbaijan, that are more often talked about in terms of suppressing press freedoms. Rather, it is a general tendency among member countries to use terrorism legislation, state of emergency and mass surveillance to diminish rights of individuals and through that put pressure on journalists and other media actors.

Europe is in the midst of multiple crisis – financial, refugee, migration – even some of these countries are in a conflict situation such as Ukraine, but in spite of that Pennickx insists that countries must still uphold human rights and press freedom in times of crisis.

In situations of targeted and mass surveillance there should be a higher threshold, for instance, the need to have a warrant in order to demand a journalist’s metadata. There must also be transparency and accountability in judicial measures, says Posetti.  In certain jurisdiction where judicial hearings take place in a closed court without the awareness of journalists, it is difficult for them to protect their sources.

While in favour of adopting an international standard to protect the sources of journalists, Guy Berger, Director of the Division of Freedom Expression and Media Development in UNESCO points out the difficulties faced by his organisation to bring that about.

UNESCO, being an intergovernmental organisation, he says, can only operate through diplomatic pressure. According to him, it would be considerably difficult to reach a consensus among 195 members of UNESCO to adopt a common legislation to provide journalistic sources. “In this era of concern over terrorism, governments have no appetite for a binding legislation.

“We try to influence with the power of reason and the NGOs and the media have the power of embarrassment; so you bring those together”, Berger told IPS.

“Freedom of information is not a Christmas tree, a gift to be used from time to time. It is an everyday gym exercise,” says Mabel Rehnfeldt, investigative journalist and Editor of ABC-Digital in Paraguay. To her, legislation per se, may not be enough to achieve the goal, rather it should followed advocacy and awareness raising for everyone, including journalists to fully grasp the significance of protecting journalistic sources.

“We need to be activists for the protection of our sources, because that principle is fundamental to our capacity to do journalism that supports democracy, without it we certainly are going to be unable to continue doing the kind of investigative journalism that has the capacity to effect change”, says Posetti.

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Religious Leaders Can End Harmful Cultural Practices & Advance Women’s Empowermenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/religious-leaders-can-end-harmful-cultural-practices-advance-womens-empowerment/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 15:51:44 +0000 Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144992 Dr Seth Berkley, @Gaviseth is an epidemiologist and the CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Siddharth Chatterjee, @sidchat1 is the UNFPA Representative to Kenya.]]> Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO GAVI. Photo Credit: Gavi/2012/Olivier Asselin

By Dr Seth Berkley and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, May 5 2016 (IPS)

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

When Pope Francis recently endorsed the use of individual conscience in deciding whether to use contraceptives in view of the spread of the Zika virus, it was not just a landmark moment but it underscored the need for faith leaders to get involved more closely in contemporary health challenges.

In Northern Nigeria, a former global epicenter of polio transmission, Islamic clerics, who were once opposed to immunization, turned into advocates for vaccination. As a result Nigeria, one of the three remaining countries where polio is still considered endemic, has for the first time been polio-free for 18 months, a development that brings us significantly closer to eradicating this terrible disease.

A profound realization has lately emerged among health professionals about how well-equipped health systems alone cannot solve today’s public health challenges. Stemming from various highly complex causes, these problems can never be solved by a single approach, but by an array of stakeholders working at a number of long-term solutions.

Today’s health problems trigger a host of family, economic and social problems that ruin lives and weaken communities. More than ever before, there is a need for a knitting together of multiple partners, to choreograph what are often distrusting stakeholders to deliver cohesive responses to the challenges.

Religious leaders, so often driven by a profound and fundamental sense of mission, can and should be far more directly part of global and local responses to critical problems.

Nowhere is their passion for seeking the common good more needed than in the drive for empowerment of girls and women, the group that is invariably most affected by lack of access to health services, and whose wholesome health is so central to survival of entire families.

In Kenya, as in many African societies, access to health by women is largely determined by cultures and tradition, which in turn are closely tied to religious beliefs. Unfortunately, these traditions often tend to be driven by entrenched patriarchy, assigning the women an ancillary place and little say in their destiny.

Passion and compassion for those who suffer are key pillars of most faiths, and this is why leaders of religion are well-placed to accelerate the quest for gender equality and empowerment. Giving girls and women the wherewithal to play their full part in a country’s development is not just a moral imperative, but the only sustainable approach.

The first step is educating them and giving them the freedom to determine when to marry and how many children to have. A juxtaposition of culture and misplaced religious biases has for eons given men absolute control over women’s bodies. Female genital mutilation and early marriage are just two examples; evil manifestations of a society determined to control women.

The consequences do not just affect women, but entire nations. For instance, in much of sub-Saharan Africa, birth rates are too high for families to save or invest for the future.

In Kenya according to the latest Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS), the average woman in Kenya bears 3.9 children, and in some regions, women such as North Eastern Kenya, total fertility rate is 7.5. National averages of such indicators often substantially mask the disparities between socio-demographic groups and regions within the country.

The high birth rates are invariably in areas where religious teachings take a key role in every day decisions. There is therefore the opportunity to underline faith values such as matching family size with economic resources.

It is in such hard-to-reach areas in Kenya that the Ministry of Health and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with its partners are working with religious leaders to bring positivity and hope into the lives of communities, to put them in good stead to play a full role in development.

The faith leaders are being engaged in dispelling misconceptions about the religious basis for harmful practices, and re-emphasizing messages about the dignity of women.

Another important area is cervical cancer, which currently claims the lives of 266,000 women every year, nearly as many as childbirth, with the vast majority in developing countries. Pre-adolescent girls can be protected for a lifetime from the main causes of this terrible disease through the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which Gavi is now helping to make available in some of the world’s poorest countries, often through vaccination activities in schools.

However, given that school attendance can sometimes be low for girls in many poor communities we need to find ways to reach these girls. Religious leaders can help, by raising awareness about the benefits of the HPV vaccine as well as the importance of educating girls.

All these messages will result in girls staying longer in school, in abandonment of FGM and early marriage, in fewer women being struck down by cancer and in uptake of healthy choices such as child spacing.

These are the messages that will enable all of Africa to harness the demographic dividend as decreases in fertility combine with socio economic policies that enable investments for the youth and ensure less dependent populations.

Religious organizations have not only been moral pillars in the community, but they have also led in providing access to education and health for the marginalized. Now is the time for them to lead the drive towards demolishing harmful, man-made traditions and cultures.

This article was published first by Reuters

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Farmers Hold Keys to Ending Poverty, Hunger, FAO Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 14:50:02 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144989 Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, WFO President, seated with Secretary General Marco Marzano de Marinis. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, WFO President, seated with Secretary General Marco Marzano de Marinis. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, May 5 2016 (IPS)

With recent data showing that 793 million people still go to bed hungry, ending hunger and poverty in 15 years is the next development challenge that world leaders have set for themselves.

As part of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), these two have been made a special priority because of their impact on the world’s ability to achieve the rest.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) understands the enormity of the challenge ahead, and the importance of the producers of food – the farmers – to meet the set target.

“As you know, the international community has committed to end worldwide hunger and poverty in 15 years, with the endorsement of the 2030 Agenda. FAO is fully engaged to help address this challenge. But we know that this is only possible with solid partnerships, especially with non-state actors,” said FAO Director General José Graziano Da Silva during the World Farmers’ Organisation General Assembly, which opened here Wednesday, May 4.“Sustainable development for all is possible." -- Ambassador Amira Gornass of Sudan

In his video conference message to delegates, Da Silva highlighted the strategic role of farmers not only in producing food but also in the preservation of the environment, considering the impact of climate change on agriculture – singled out by scientists as the most vulnerable sector.

“Farmers are responsible for providing the food we all need but also helping preserve and sustain our natural resources,” he said.

The FAO chief called for solid support for farmers and said that they “should be placed at the core of any strategy for increased responsible investments in agriculture,” stressing the importance of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems.

Developed by the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) composed of FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD and the World Bank, the guidelines draw attention to rights and livelihoods of rural populations and the need for socially and environmentally sustainable agricultural investments.

They cover all types of investment in agriculture, including between principal investors and contract farmers. The Principles are based on detailed research on the nature, extent and impacts of private sector investment and best practices in law and policy. They are intended to distil the lessons learned and provide a framework for national regulations, international investment agreements, global corporate social responsibility initiatives, and individual investor contracts.

Delegates at the WFO have been called upon to use the guidelines as important tools that can be applied as they push for farmer-centred ‘Partnerships for Growth’, the overarching theme for the 2016 General Assembly.

“I am proud to say that FAO and WFO have a concrete and strategic partnership to achieve food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture worldwide. With other partners, we have improved statistics to understand the economic and social role of farmers’ organisations in sustainable development,” said the FAO chief.

Closely related to responsible investment in agriculture is the role of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT), endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, to serve as a reference to improve the governance of land tenure with the overarching goal of achieving food security for all and supporting the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food.

This was on the realisation that land tenure still represents one of the major challenges that farmers face, especially in developing countries. In particular, many small-scale farmers, especially women, work on land that they don’t own, exacerbating their poverty and lack of political power.

Given Lubinda, Zambia’s minister of agriculture, says that since “Africa is the home of small-scale farmers who create wealth and feed the world,” access to land, ownership and control, and modern technology, markets and financial resources are essential elements to enable them improve agricultural efficiency and productivity.

Adding impetus to the land and food security nexus as a key element in the achievement of the SDGs, the chair of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Ambassador Amira Gornass of Sudan, agreed that, “Farmers are the backbone of any efforts for food and nutrition security.”

“Sustainable development for all is possible,” she stressed, through partnerships with all actors of the food value chain to make sure that by 2030 “We end hunger and no one is left behind.”

And in keeping with the major theme of the meeting, WFO President Evelyn Nguleka says the role played by agriculture and farmers in tackling many of the goals set by the new agenda is fundamental, as it encompasses several of the proposed targets.

“The global economy is based on the assets of efficiency and profitability. Farmers, likewise all other categories of entrepreneurs, deserve to see their work duly compensated by an appropriate income and their products effectively absorbed by the market. Farmers are ready to invest their days in the field, while looking for new solutions to increase the profitability of their farms,” she said.

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Seeking a New Farming Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeking-a-new-farming-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 13:20:49 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144975 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
May 5 2016 (IPS)

As the World Farmers’ Organization meets for its annual conference in Zambia to promote policies that strengthen this critical sector, IPS looks at how farmers across the globe are tackling the interconnected challenges of climate change, market fluctuations, water and land management, and energy access.

 

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts - and plates - of local farmers. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts – and plates – of local farmers.
Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

 

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

 

For 12 years now, the women around Tsangano in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have put together their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tons at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

For 12 years now, the women of the Tsangano cooperative in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have pooled their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tonnes at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

 

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

 

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

 

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

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A Region’s Eyes Turn to Healthy Nutritionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-regions-eyes-turn-to-healthy-nutrition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-regions-eyes-turn-to-healthy-nutrition http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-regions-eyes-turn-to-healthy-nutrition/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 12:00:36 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144976 José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).]]>

José Graziano da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, May 5 2016 (IPS)

After its remarkable success in reducing hunger, Europe must now rise to the challenge of making sure food assures more than survival and furnishes healthy lives. As head of a global hunger-fighting organization, nothing gives me more satisfaction than to see a vast region of the world achieving food security for its people.

José Graziano da Silva

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

With 53 member countries and one member organization, Europe and Central Asia is FAO’s largest region, stretching across 13 time zones from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Our data show that in almost every country, this region has succeeded in driving down food insecurity to below 5 percent of the population. The absolute number of hungry in the region has fallen by at least 40 percent since 1990.

Unfortunately, the story does not end here.

Malnutrition – as distinct from undernourishment (caloric insufficiency) – is a concern that cuts across the entire region. It takes many forms: micronutrient deficiencies, stunting, wasting, overweight and obesity. In fact, most countries in the region have alarming rates of obesity – more than 20 percent in adults. Malnutrition has health, social and economic costs that no society can afford to bear.

Why is this happening? Because just as countries emerge from the age-old problem of hunger, people’s diets and lifestyles are being influenced in negative ways by globalization, nutrition transition, and other changes.

Economic and social transformations – including higher incomes in many poor and middle-income nations, and the easy availability of over-processed foods at relatively cheap prices – are leading to changes in eating patterns that are driving up obesity rates. Other lifestyle changes, such as reduced physical activity, have made the situation even worse.

Ensuring access to adequate, nutritious and safe food for a growing population is one of the major challenges of our times. The problem is compounded as competition for scarce natural resources intensifies, and the adverse long-term effects of climate change are felt.

For Europe and Central Asia, the challenge now is to pass through this unhealthy interim stage as quickly as possible, into diets and eating habits that are diverse, nutritious, safe, and sustainable.

We took a firm step in the right direction with the Second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014, when countries adopted the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and a framework for action on ending all forms of malnutrition. Countries committed to enhancing sustainable food systems by developing coherent policies from production to consumption and across all relevant sectors to provide year-round access to food that meets nutrition needs, and to promote safe and diversified healthy diets.

To succeed, countries will need to put the right policies in place to reform the food system, reduce food losses and waste, make it easier for consumers to make healthy food choices, empower people with nutrition education, provide accurate food labelling, promote cultivation of crops like pulses, develop small-scale, local agriculture, and connect those farmers with markets.

Next week, the countries of Europe and Central Asia will tackle the issue of unhealthy diets and other food- and agriculture-related issues when they convene in Antalya, Turkey for the 30th FAO Regional Conference for Europe. Ministers and other delegates and representatives of civil society and the private sector will discuss both problems and solutions and set priorities for FAO’s work across the region in the coming two-year period.

The societies of Europe and Central Asia today have the opportunity to choose a healthy future, and FAO is ready to support them in that choice.

(End)

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Is the System Broke or Broken?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-the-system-broke-or-broken/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-the-system-broke-or-broken http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/is-the-system-broke-or-broken/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 17:35:19 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144971 Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Families displaced from their homes in Pakistan’s troubled northern regions returning home. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, May 4 2016 (IPS)

Though the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit may seem timely, a debate ensues on an important question: is the world humanitarian system broke or broken?

The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, which takes place in Istanbul on May 23-24, was convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to address the pressing needs of today’s humanitarian problems.

“We believe this is a once in a generation opportunity to address the problems, the suffering of millions of people around the world,” said European Union Ambassador to the United Nations João Vale de Almeida during a press briefing.

More than 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance globally. If this were a country, it would be the 11th largest in the world. Over 60 million are forcibly displaced, making it the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. Crises now last longer, increasing the average length of displacement to 17 years from 9 years.

However, need has surpassed capacity and resources. As of the beginning of May, almost $15 billion in appeals is unmet for crises around the world including in Nigeria, Central African Republic, and Syria. Approximately 90 percent of UN humanitarian appeals continue for more than three years.

The meeting therefore represents not only a call for action, but also an alarm to reform the increasingly strained humanitarian system.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity.

Among the summit’s core responsibilities is strengthening partnerships and a multi-stakeholder process that puts affected civilians at the heart of humanitarian action.

“The current system remains largely closed, with poor connections to…a widening array of actors,” a summit synthesis report stated following consultations with over 23,000 representatives. “It is seen as outdated.”

Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Humanitarian Policy Group Christina Bennett agrees, noting that humanitarian and aid structures have changed very little since it was first conceived.

“It’s still a very top-down, paternalistic way of going about things,” she told IPS.

In an ODI report, Bennett found that the system has created an exclusive, centralised group of humanitarian donors and actors, excluding local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from participating.

In 2014, 83 percent of humanitarian funding came from donor governments in Europe and North America.

Between 2010 and 2014, UN agencies and the largest international NGOs (INGOs) received 86% of all international humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, less than two percent was directly provided to national and local NGOs.

This has prevented swift and much needed assistance on the ground.

Field Nurse for Doctor of the World’s Greece chapter Sarah Collis told IPS of her time working in the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece, noting the lack of medical resources and basic items such as food and blankets.

“Distribution of blankets only happened at night because the aid agencies were worried about mass crowds,” she told IPS. “This meant that single mothers and young families often had no chance,” she added.

Collis also recalled that there were only two ambulances for the whole region and at times, her team often had to pile six people in an ambulance at once.

The most fast acting groups, Collis said, were the small NGOs and volunteers with direct funding sources and less red tape.

From the recent earthquake in Ecuador to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, local communities and NGOs are often the first responders due to their proximity. They also have better access to hard-to-reach areas, have familiarity with the people and cultures, and can address and reduce risk before disaster strikes.

On the other hand, larger organisations or institutions such as the UN often have difficulty conducting efficient and effective humanitarian operations.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) identified the UN as being at the “heart of the dysfunction” in the humanitarian system. They found that UNHCR’s three-pronged role, as being a coordinator, implementer and donor, led to their poor performance in South Sudan, Jordan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In South Sudan’s Maban county, UNHCR was reportedly slow in response and struggled to mobilise qualified staff.

Their “triple” role also made it difficult for subcontracting NGOs to share implementation challenges and for the agency itself to “admit to bigger problems or to ask for technical assistance from other UN agencies, for fear of losing out on funding or credibility.” This, in turn, impacted the quality of information to make sound decision-making.

Though some funds from UN agencies and INGOs are provided to local NGOs, the relationship is more “transactional” rather than a “genuine, strategic engagement,” Bennett says.

For instance, when aid is provided, it is often determined by the availability of goods and services rather than what people actually need or want on the ground.

“We don’t have more of an alliance…with these organisations as equal players,” Bennett told IPS.

These issues also came to a head during consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit in Geneva.

“Southern NGOs are demanding accompaniment rather than direction,” Executive Director of African Development Solutions (Adeso) Degan Ali told government officials, UN representatives, and civil society. “Be prepared to be uncomfortable.”

Though many acknowledge that there is an important role for INGOs and donor governments in the humanitarian system, there is an emerging understanding that such actors must shift their positions from one that is dominating to one that is enabling.

Organisations such as Oxfam and Adesso have called for the UN and large INGOs to enable local NGOs by directly providing funds. This will not only help them to prepare and improve their responses to crises, but it would also put decision making and power “where it should be,” Oxfam stated.

They have also urged for a target of 20 percent of all humanitarian funding to go directly to local organisations. Already, a charter has been created to commit INGOs to these actions. Among the signatories are Oxfam, Care International and Islamic Relief Worldwide.

Despite these calls to action, Bennett told IPS that she does not believe that the World Humanitarian Summit will lead to change.

“I think it isn’t something on the agenda of the World Humanitarian Summit…partially because they are hard to address and they’re very political—these aren’t easy wins,” she said.

In order to achieve fundamental changes, donor governments and institutions with decision making power must address the underlying assumptions and power dynamics that hold the system back, Bennett remarked.

“Until they move, the system is stuck.”

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The Waves of the Pacific Are on Chile’s Energy Horizonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 16:21:32 +0000 Orlando Milesi and Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144960 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-waves-of-the-pacific-are-on-chiles-energy-horizon/feed/ 1 Models of Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/models-of-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=models-of-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/models-of-press-freedom/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 16:11:21 +0000 Shakhawat Liton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144969 By Shakhawat Liton
May 4 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

1760s ushered in a new dawn of freedom of the press.

Anders Chydenius, an enlightened thinker and politician of the Kingdom of Sweden, had struggled against secret and unaccountable government power, as he urged for the freedom of press and information and right of access to public records law.

Last Words - The Return of Anders Chydenius / Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

Last Words – The Return of Anders Chydenius / Lauri Tuomi-Nikula

As a member of the Swedish Parliament from 1765, his idea about freedom of press was unambiguous: “A divided freedom is no freedom and a divided constraint is an absolute constraint.” In his memoirs, he even claimed that “for nothing else did I work in the Diet [parliament] as diligently as the freedom of writing and printing”.

After his struggle for a decade, he succeeded in winning this battle, as the King of Sweden agreed to have a law guaranteeing freedom of the press. The Swedish Parliament enacted the Freedom of Press Act on December 2, 1766, which is also known as the world’s first freedom of information law. The law abolished censorship of books and newspapers, and required authorities to provide public access to all official records.

Professor Juha Mannien of the University of Helenski in Finland says that the key achievements of the 1766 legislation were the abolishment of political censorship and the gaining of public access to government documents.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day coincides with the 250th anniversary of the first freedom of press and information law covering both modern-day Sweden and Finland (at the time of the enactment of the law, Finland was still part of the Kingdom of Sweden).

Much before the Swedish legislation, the UK Parliament abolished political censorship in 1695. But it had not been replaced by a new law formulated with positive concepts, wherefore control could seek new forms. Therefore, the law enacted by the Swedish Parliament became the first to abolish political censorship and safeguard freedom of the press.

The legislation was aimed at thwarting government’s attempts to conceal, fake, distort, or falsify information that its citizens receive by suppressing or crowding out political news that the public might receive through news outlets.

The Swedish example started changing the world. The 20th century witnessed a wave of enactments of freedom of information laws, as more than 90 countries have adopted such provisions since 1766.

The United States brought the historic First Amendment to its Constitution in 1789, making provisions that the Congress will never make laws curtailing freedom of press, speech and expression. The Freedom of Information Act was introduced in 1966 in the US, and today almost all European countries have such a law. In the EU, major steps towards open governments were taken in the 1990s. A big step forward was the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union in 2000. The Charter includes both freedom of expression and the right of access to documents. In 2001, the first regulation on access to documents was adopted. Bangladesh also enacted the Right to Information law in 2008.

Undoubtedly, freedom of information is extremely important for the proper functioning of any economy. Access to government information is now seen as a human right. The principle of freedom of information means that the general public and mass media have access to official records.

However, a major challenge to open access to information is “overreach in governmental society. States should be able to keep some information confidential in line with legitimate purposes and processes set out in international human rights law,” as per a concept note of UNESCO observing World Press Freedom Day. It also states that information from administrative and executive authorities – concerning, for example, laws and public expenditure – should generally be accessible to everyone. “Hence, freedom of information both helps provide oversight over governmental bodies, as well as the possibility to hold them accountable, and this right strengthens the relevance of press freedom and independent journalism.”

Finland, the birth place of Anders Chydenius, the father of freedom of information, is now a free and open society. Its government is legally obliged to disclose information on par with the openness strategy existing in the country. In fact, like previous years, Finland has ranked first in the latest World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

The country’s openness in press freedom was responsible in establishing an excellent image of Finland, as it scored the second highest in the list of least corrupt countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Finland’s government has made transparency and availability of information – essentially, the factors that lead to good journalism – an institutional prerogative.

Finns are also major consumers of journalism – according to the European Center for Journalism, 483 out of 1,000 citizens of the country regularly buy newspapers. And 76 percent of the population over 10-years-old read the paper. The government is, in other words, both taking care to safeguard the role of journalism and expand it with new technologies.

A Grand Celebration
The Swedish and Finnish governments, among others, are making plans to celebrate the passage of 250 years of the world’s first freedom of information law. The main event will be the World Press Freedom Day Conference in Finland. Finland is also hosting the World Press Freedom Day for journalists and media professionals, co-organised with UNESCO, in Helsinki from May 3-4, 2016. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland says that over 800 participants from about a hundred countries are expected to attend this event. “The main event at Finlandia Hall will be opened by Prime Minister Juha Sipilä,” says the foreign ministry in a post on its website. A ‘press freedom prize’ will be awarded at the main event, while the Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini will host the reception for invited guests. As expected, Anders Chydenius will be remembered for his role in achieving the first Freedom of Press Act in the world.

The ministry says Finnish commitment to freedom of expression and press freedom are long standing, adding, “The materialisation of democracy development and human rights depend on access to information and the materialisation of freedom of expression.” In Finland, the whole year of 2016 has been dedicated to the 250th anniversary of the world’s first Freedom of Information Act, the theme of the year being “Right to Know, Right to Say”. It’s only fitting that the father of freedom of information is remembered for his tireless endeavours in ensuring that the press attains this right, thereby making it accessible to the ordinary people.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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World Celebrates 250 Years Since First Freedom of Information Acthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/world-celebrates-250-years-since-first-freedom-of-information-act/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 15:54:40 +0000 Milla Sundstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144949 By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, May 4 2016 (IPS)

Press freedom is not just a beautiful idea but a very concrete thing, included in the UN’s Sustainable Development agenda which is meant to lead the humankind to sustainable development, UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, said at the opening of the World Press Freedom Day here Tuesday.

The meeting marked the 25th celebration of World Press Freedom Day and attracted a record audience of more than 1200 journalists from around the world.

The origins of World Press Freedom Day are in Namibia where a group of African journalists gathered at an UNESCO seminar in 1991. The call to create an international day of press freedom was endorsed by the United Nations in 1993.

Bokova and the prime minister of Finland, Juha Sipilä, both recalled another important anniversary. This year’s press freedom day is organised 250 years after Finland – then a part of Sweden – became the first country in the world to get a freedom of information act. Since then, more than hundred states have followed suit.

According to Bokova the world has changed a lot and two dramatic changes came just last year when both the UN’s Sustainable Development Agenda and the Paris climate agreement were accepted.

There is, however, turbulence and change across the world and this ”requires a strong environment of press freedom and a well-functioning system to ensure the people’s right to know,” Bokova said.

Violence haunts journalists, too. 825 professionals have been killed during the past decade and less than six per cent of the cases have been resolved. UNESCO is working to improve the safety of journalists and to end the impunity of crimes against them, she continued.

The two-day UNESCO conference includes various plenaries, panel discussions and other events. One of the panels on Tuesday ended up discussing whether neutrality is possible or even desirable in news coverage on migration. The theme of the panel was the Impact of the Refugee Crisis on Public Service Media Values.

The title of the panel referred to the recent events in Europe where the influx of about 1,3 million asylum seekers mainly from Middle East and Africa has caused a phenomenon called ”refugee crises”.

The term has also been used in the UNESCO meeting’s host country Finland which received in 2015 about 32 000 people compared to previous years with only a couple of thousand refugees arrivals.

Ali Jahangiri, a Finnish radio presenter, originally from Iran, was recently part of a team that made a television documentary called Unknown Refugee. They followed Syrian refugees from the Greek island of Lesbos through Europe.

Jahangiri is strongly against ”forced balance” where the coverage is based on the idea of ”creating debate” by picking up ”extreme ends” of opinions on controversial themes like refugees.

Charlotte Harder from Danish Broadcasting Corporation recalled that the same method of ”balancing” used to be used in climate change reporting but has since been dropped. She reclaimed ”being fair instead of being neutral” while covering these themes.

Carolina Matos, Brazilian lecturer of sociology from London City University, argued that instead of trying to balance two aspects the news coverage should include many sides, especially the positive sides which tend to be left uncovered.

Professor emerita of journalism from Helsinki University, Ullamaija Kivikuru, sat in the audience of the panel and drew a conclusion that it does not seem to be very clear to anybody how these important questions should be covered.

She has a simple message: More research is needed. ”No abstract theories but describing what has been reported and media critical analyses on that.”

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New Generation Aims to Plug Africa’s Research Deficithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-generation-aims-to-plug-africas-research-deficit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-generation-aims-to-plug-africas-research-deficit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-generation-aims-to-plug-africas-research-deficit/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 12:50:48 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144964 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/new-generation-aims-to-plug-africas-research-deficit/feed/ 0 High-Level Defamation Cases Curb Critical Journalismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/high-level-defamation-cases-curb-critical-journalism/#comments Wed, 04 May 2016 00:57:47 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144956 Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, pictured with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is being sued for defamation by the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. Credit: Hikari Rodrigues.

Timorese journalist Raimundos Oki, pictured with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is being sued for defamation by the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste. Credit: Hikari Rodrigues.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 4 2016 (IPS)

High-level defamation, libel and sedition cases in Asian countries are sending signals to journalists that writing critical journalism can cost millions of dollars or years in prison.

“Increasingly we’re seeing countries, especially countries that call themselves democracies, (using) this more subtle approach within the means of the law to silence criticism,” Sumit Galhotra a Senior Researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) told IPS.

In two current cases in Bangladesh and Timor-Leste journalists are being sued for articles they wrote about their respective Prime Ministers.

Mahfuz Anam, editor of Bangladesh’s Daily Star, is currently facing billions of dollars in lawsuits.

“Over 70 defamation and sedition cases (have) been filed against this amazing editor at one of the largest English language papers in the country,” Galhotra told IPS. “The staggering number of them is really alarming.”

“There’s a signal being sent that this is what can happen to you,” he said. “You can also be in a court room facing financial devastation so think twice before you lift your pen to criticise.” -- Sumit Galhotra.

“Anam’s admission that he published unsubstantiated information accusing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of corruption has led to a barrage of defamation and sedition cases against him,” Galhotra wrote in a blog post published by the CPJ.

On the other side of the Indian ocean, Raimundos Oki a journalist with the Timor Post is facing possible jail time for an article he wrote about Timor-Leste’s Prime Minister Rui Araujo.

Oki is facing a defamation case over a factual error in Oki’s reporting on a government tendering process.

Yet, according to a letter from four international journalism organisations, including CPJ, sent to Araujo, Oki and Timor Post published a correction and right of reply “in accordance with Timor Leste’s own Press Law.”

The Australian newspaper reported that Araujo’s response to the letter said that “press freedom and freedom of ­expression” should not be traded for “press irresponsibility” and “irresponsible ­expression of freedom.”

IPS spoke with Oki about what it is like to be a journalist in Timor-Leste. Timor-Leste is one of the least developed countries in Asia, according to the UN Human Development Index, and journalists there are paid less than $200 per month.

Oki said that the journalists have an important role in Timor-Leste’s development.

“To develop this country we need a journalist sometimes who pushes the government or pushes another institution in order to accelerate the development process,” he said.

Due to Timor-Leste’s oil and gas revenues, the national economy is dominated by the Timorese government, which uses this money to provide services to the Timorese people.

Oki said that it is important for journalists to follow where government spending is going, because it isn’t always known where these funds end up.

“The role of the journalist (is) to follow the money, where is the money going,” he said.

Yet, according to Galhotra, defamation cases such as the one Oki is facing send a signal to journalists who write about governments and large corporations.

“There’s a signal being sent that this is what can happen to you,” he said. “You can also be in a court room facing financial devastation so think twice before you lift your pen to criticise.”

He said that it is very hard to know exactly how many articles don’t get written because of the resulting self-censorship.

Commenting on Oki’s case, Galhotra told IPS that Oki has also received threatening phone calls telling him that he should “be careful.”

“Governments are very quick to take to courts to proceed on defamation proceedings but when it comes to affording journalists protections when we’re under threat we don’t see any action on that front,” said Galhotra.

Update:

In a letter published by several Timorese newspapers on April 29, Araujo claimed that Timor Post had not made a correction, only an apology mentioning a “technical error.”

Correction:

An earlier version of this article stated that Rui Araujo is suing Oki for defamation. However in the above mentioned letter Araujo wrote that he has only presented “the facts to the Prosecutor’s Office of a publicly disseminated false accusation against me. It is up to the Prosecutor’s Office to file or not to file a lawsuit.”

 

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On World Press Freedom Day, A View From Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/on-world-press-freedom-day-a-view-from-asia/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 17:28:52 +0000 Josette Sheeran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144950 A commuter on the Circular Train in Yangon, Myanmar, reads a copy of the newspaper Democracy Today. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

A commuter on the Circular Train in Yangon, Myanmar, reads a copy of the newspaper Democracy Today. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS.

By Josette Sheeran
NEW YORK, May 3 2016 (IPS)

Travel in many parts of Asia, as I do, and you are likely to find everyone looking at their smartphones – even in remote areas – hungry for information wherever they can find it.

Certainly it is true that access to information has increased dramatically in the last few decades across Asia, as many nations have risen out of abject poverty and a greater openness has taken a foothold in previously isolated and controlled areas. Social media, in places as disparate and different as China, Iraq and Indonesia, Afghanistan and Myanmar, to name but a few has revolutionized access to information.

Yet the latest press freedom report from Reporters Without Borders is a sobering read, and a reminder of the long way many countries, including those in Asia, still have to go regarding fundamental press protections and freedoms.

Crackdowns notwithstanding, the explosion of social media in China has meant that access to information in China has grown dramatically, with literally billions of exchanges daily over ubiquitous smartphones.

Information is only as good as our access to real underlying facts, and at the root of vital information is still, often, a courageous and lone reporter trying to get to the bottom of corruption or wrong-doing.

The 2016 World Press Freedom Index ranks 180 countries according to metrics involving pluralism, media independence, the quality of legal frameworks for journalists, and the dangers faced by reporters. It’s a “snapshot of media freedom,” as its authors put it, and according to the survey, the pace-setters in Asia are New Zealand (#5) and then the tiny Pacific Island nations Samoa and Tonga (#29 and #37).

To some degree, the overall low ratings for Asian nations are unsurprising. Europe has dominated the list since it was first published in 2002; this year Finland, the Netherlands and Norway are 1, 2 and 3, and 14 of the top 20 countries are European. What Reporters Without Borders terms the “infernal trio” at the very bottom includes two Asian nations – Turkmenistan (#178) and North Korea (#179) – that have long been enforcers of a blanket censorship. (Eritrea in East Africa rounds out this infamous “trio”).

More surprising is a documented backsliding in countries where economic growth and broader freedoms have been the norm for decades. Japan fell eleven notches in the survey, to #72. “In the year since the law on the protection of specially designated secrets took effect in Japan,” said the report, “many media outlets, including state-owned ones, succumbed to self-censorship…and surrendered their independence.” South Korea dropped ten places, to #70, as “relations between the media and government became much more frayed”. Many survey responders worried about a “cloud over Hong Kong”, and China overall again came in near the bottom at #176, a notch below Vietnam.

The Asian nation that saw greatest improvement? That was Sri Lanka – jumping 24 places, to #141, thanks to a lessening climate of fear that had gripped many journalists covering the government.

Perhaps the most interesting case study in Asia is Afghanistan, which has seen both a positive sea change in press freedom, and a cautionary tale about how such change can be dangerous for reporters and editors.

No doubt the change in Afghanistan has been remarkable. In 2001, the last throes of Taliban rule, Afghans had access to fewer than 30,000 fixed telephone lines, and only one radio station; today they are served by six telecom companies, and more than 70 TV stations and 175 radio stations. Saad Mohseni, CEO of Moby Group, which runs several media properties in the country, notes that when it came time for the people of Afghanistan to vote in their third national democratic elections, in 2014, these new media platforms offered citizens the chance to engage directly with candidates in town hall-style meetings.

“Little did we anticipate the profound impact the media would have in re-shaping Afghan society,” says Mohseni, who founded the country’s first post-Taliban independent radio station – Arman FM – in Kabul in 2003. “Beyond enhancing access to information, the media has contributed significantly to making Afghan society more tolerant, open and united.” The new freedoms have helped relax social attitudes, by showcasing female presenters on television and radio. Today Afghans also frequently turn to TV or radio journalists to voice complaints about government services, and the media regularly investigates cases of corruption, holding officials accountable for their actions.

But opposition to these freedoms is a constant, and recently it has proved dangerous. On January 20th, a Taliban suicide bomber struck a bus carrying employees from the television station TOLO in Kabul, killing seven and injuring another 15. Says Mohseni: “With this attack, we were reminded of the risks of running a private media group in a country with ongoing conflict, where journalists are frequently targeted. I am not surprised when people ask me whether these risks – and the sacrifices – are worth it.”

These dangers explain why Afghanistan still sits at #120 on the Reporters Without Borders list – up only two notches (though well ahead of where it stood in 2009, second from the bottom, at #179). Even with an effort at the best surveys and metrics, such rankings can prove complicated. For an Afghan journalist, the climate is surely tough; for an Afghan consumer of information, things have markedly improved. Something similar may be said about China – which languishes near the bottom of the 2016 list. Crackdowns notwithstanding, the explosion of social media in China has meant that access to information in China has grown dramatically, with literally billions of exchanges daily over ubiquitous smartphones.

What is needed to improve Asia’s rankings, in the years to come? Obviously greater security, in Iraq and Afghanistan and other conflict zones. In other parts of the continent, political leadership will make the difference. A real analysis of the documented connection between the free flow of information and prosperity may help underscore the case. And ultimately there is the question of where valuable government resources are spent: improving the lives of citizens or expending so much energy monitoring comments on WeChat, or Facebook, or Twitter?

Afghanistan’s Saad Mohseni likes to take the long view when it comes to press freedom in his country: Look at where Afghanistan was a decade ago, Mohseni would say. In a similar vein, look at Myanmar; look at Iraq. In these countries, ordinary citizens may be furious about their daily lives (witness this weekend’s storming of the Iraqi parliament), about the slow pace of change, about any number of issues that their parents and grandparents may have been angry about as well. The difference today – and it is a profound one – is that citizens in these nations can read about these issues, watch televised news about them, or debate one another on social media. Some may write a letter to the editor, or call in to a radio or television show, or share their views via WhatsApp,  Facebook and Twitter. In so many of these places, their forebears never had that opportunity.

Josette Sheeran is the President and CEO of Asia Society since 2013. She leads the organization’s work throughout the U.S. and Asia, and across its disciplines of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. Sheeran is a former Vice Chair of the World Economic Forum and a former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. She is a member of the US Council on Foreign Relations and has received several honors and awards.

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Could the UN be Doing More to Protect Journalists?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/could-the-un-be-doing-more-to-protect-journalists/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 16:17:44 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144946 A UN Security Council Debate on Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict in 2013. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

A UN Security Council Debate on Protection of Journalists in Armed Conflict in 2013. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 3 2016 (IPS)

As the world commemorates World Press Freedom Day, a coalition of some 35 press freedom groups is calling on the 193-member General Assembly to appoint a Special Representative of the Secretary General to monitor and oversee the safety of journalists worldwide.

Asked about the proposal, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “Obviously (this is) something we are aware of.”

“But we will see where the discussions go in the General Assembly,” he added.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Asian diplomat told IPS he will be “pleasantly surprised” if the proposal is approved by the General Assembly.

He pointed out that even the appointment of Special Rapporteurs by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council is considered “politically intrusive” by some member states who refuse formal visits by these envoys to probe human rights violations.

The Special Rapporteur on Iran has not been given permission to visit the country since the post was created five years ago.

And the Special Rapporteur on Torture has been refused a visit to the US while the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women was barred from visiting prisons in the US state of Michigan

Since 2012, the United Nations has adopted several resolutions condemning the killing and imprisonment of journalists. But concrete actions have been lagging far behind public pronouncements.

A Special Representative, if approved by the General Assembly, “would bring added attention to the risks faced by journalists and, by working closely with the secretary-general, would have the political weight and legitimacy to take concrete action to protect journalists and to hold U.N. agencies accountable for integrating the action plan into their work,” says the coalition in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and to member states.

The 35-member coalition includes the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, Index on Censorship, International Federation of Journalists, Media Watch and World Federation of Newspapers and News Publishers.

According to the New York-based CPJ, 1,189 journalists have been killed since 1992, the five deadliest countries being Iraq (174 killed), Syria (94), the Philippines (77), Algeria (60) and Somalia (59).

Still, says CPJ, the killers of journalists go free nine times out of 10 – “a statistic that has scarcely budged since 2012.”

The killings have been attributed not only to rebel forces and terrorist groups but also to governments in power.

The irony of it is that killings continue to take place in countries that are parties to some of the resolutions adopted at the United Nations.

The resolution, on the protection of journalists, was first adopted in November 2013 and reaffirmed last year, for the third consecutive year.

Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, told IPS the UN has made many of the right statements about protecting journalists, but there has been little overt action.

“We’ve seen little motion after the introduction of the U.N. Plan of Action for the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity within the U.N. or in its member states,” he said.

The Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was identified as the agency within the UN to promote freedom of expression and of the press, but there have been few results of its attempts to address the problem.

“And the motion the plan generated didn’t really seem to grab the attention of a wider range of U.N. agencies,” he added.

While there has been some movement within some countries to try to address the problem of the killings and attacks on the media, and the impunity with which those attacks take place, it is hard to see sustained international movement toward addressing the problem, he declared.

Dujarric told reporters the Secretary‑General’s position on press freedom is clear, and those who harass, kill and torture journalists need to face justice.

Dujarric said there are already a number of mechanisms in place in different parts of the system, whether it’s the human rights mechanisms or UNESCO that are there to help protect journalists.

Ian Williams, UN correspondent for Tribune and author of “Untold: a fUN guide to the UN”,  told IPS that the UN’s position on press freedom can seem contradictory.

So while UNESCO has given its 2016 Press Freedom Award to Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani journalist who was detained in in September 2015, and sentenced to seven and a half years’ imprisonment on spurious charges, UNESCO has not rescinded, and indeed actively celebrates, its UNESCO Goodwill ambassadorship to  Mehriban Aliyeva, the wife of Azeri President Ilam Aliyev, even though it awarded its prize to yet another persecuted Azeri journalist Eynulla Fatullayev in 2012.

On a more general level, it is probably true, that where the media are persecuted, so are the people.

“It should remind journalists who stay silent over breaches of other people’s rights that they are putting themselves in the frame”.

In particular, nine years after Wikileaks released the 2007 video footage of a US helicopter gunship team shooting down a Reuters crew and then the civilians who tried to succour them, the silence of Western media over the event is deafening, with complete impunity for the perpetrators and their commanders, said Williams.

Ban admits journalists face growing efforts to silence their voices — through harassment, censorship and attacks.

“Journalists are not criminals.  But they are often mistreated or even killed because they have the courage to expose criminal acts,” he said.

Last year alone, 105 journalists lost their lives.  The murders of Western journalists by Da’esh and other violent extremists claimed global attention.  But 95 per cent of the journalists killed in armed conflict are locally based, said Ban.

Last month, Mexican journalist Moisés Dagdug Lutzow was killed in his home in the city of Villahermosa.  Elvis Ordaniza, a crime reporter in the Philippines, was shot.  So was Karun Misra, a district bureau chief at the Jan Sandesh Times in India.

“Each time a journalist is killed, each time the press is silenced, the rule of law and democracy get weaker,” he said, appealing to member states “to participate in the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists.”

“During the past nine years as Secretary-General, I have been working hard to defend the press, both publicly and behind the scenes through discreet diplomatic efforts to free journalists who have been unjustly detained.”

“We must all do our part to preserve the freedom of the press, civil society and human rights defenders to do their work,” the secretary-general declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalideen@aol.com

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Analysis: The Role of the Free Press in Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/analysis-the-role-of-the-free-press-in-sustainable-development/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 15:54:05 +0000 Maddie Felts http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144944 Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

Newspapers on sale in Istanbul. But the freedom of Turkish journalists is seriously threatened. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

By Maddie Felts
May 3 2016 (IPS)

This year’s World Press Freedom Day marks the 250th anniversary of the first-ever freedom of information law, enacted in what are now Sweden and Finland. 3 May, 2016 is more than just an important anniversary, however; this is the first celebration of World Press Freedom Day since the adoption of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Securing a free press is essential for progress towards achieving these ambitious goals for people and planet by the year 2030.

To reach development targets, a free press must identify areas in which nations and the world are lacking, from access to education and healthcare to sustainable industrialization and consumption. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek to address the real and most pressing issues facing the people of this planet, and development efforts will only be effective if they have reliable benchmarks upon which to improve.

A key difference between the Sustainable Development Goals and their predecessor the Millennium Development Goals is a new emphasis on environmental protections that have a clear impact on human development. Environmental crimes and simple mismanagement of natural resources remain pressing issues worldwide.

Developing countries are faced with a trade-off between lower-cost industrialization using fossil fuels or sustainable economic production, and often, they choose the former. Developed nations, who achieved industrialization by consuming fossil fuels and producing pollution, criticize industrializing nations while still contributing to growing global carbon emissions themselves.

Through the efforts of a free press, all nations in any stage of development are held accountable for promoting global sustainability. Known for wielding a tight grip on its news media, China has recently expanded censorship over information regarding pollution. In a nation with sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities, the Chinese government releases incomplete or misleading information on its air quality. The World Health Organization uses two air quality guidelines, one for the developed world and a less rigid standard for developing nations. China’s pollution standards are lower than both. Meanwhile, industrial pollution has resulted in cancer becoming China’s leading cause of death, and the globally shared ozone layer is continually depleted by man-made emissions.

The media must expose the human suffering resulting from environmental abuses across the world so that individuals with the power and the means to demand change can do so. This imperative extends far beyond one nation’s environmental practices; society is at its best when journalists are unafraid and free to discover and expose the truth.

April brought the release of the Panama Papers, an unprecedented leak of information linking global political and business leaders to offshore tax havens. This development is a victory for free press worldwide and supports the tenth Sustainable Development Goal to reduce inequality within and among countries. Citizens have become aware of a great dichotomy between the richest and the average individuals within nations and worldwide. The fight to close the gap between the immensely rich and the general populace has new relevance due to fearless journalism.

In the political sphere, press freedom is necessary to expose misuse of power. Contexts in which a free news media is needed most, however, are usually times when repressive rule works its hardest to silence journalists.

2015 was a challenging year for news media, with press freedom at its weakest in 12 years. While typically high-risk regions for journalists like the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and Latin America continued to limit the press, the democracy advocacy group Freedom House found that media freedom decreased in Europe in the past year, largely due to surveillance and security measures in response to terrorism.

While fear and legitimate safety concerns often understandably overshadow calls for press freedom, those of us who can demand the truth must do so for others who cannot. In the Middle East and North Africa in particular journalists can risk death for speaking out against the ideology of oppressive regimes and violent extremism.

We must pursue the sixteenth Sustainable Development Goal and “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms” for all, appreciating the and utilizing the freedom we do have to fight for universal press freedom.

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Mideast: 1 in 3 Bribes to Access Basic Public Serviceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/mideast-1-in-3-bribe-to-access-basic-public-services/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 13:16:07 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144942 Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 | Credit: Transparency International

Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 | Credit: Transparency International

By Baher Kamal
ROME, May 3 2016 (IPS)

Just an ordinary citizen living in a Middle East and North of Africa country and requring a birth certificate for your new-born daughter? No problem—just take something with you, either some cash, a pack of cigarettes or buy a glass of tea with milk and a lot of sugar.

Or a rich Middle-Eastern and want to strike a good business deal? No problem again –all you need is to carry with you an envelope full of banknotes or ask for the bank account of the concerned high government official, preferably abroad.

You may say that paying bribes is a worldwide practise that may have different names—commission, compensation, gratification, or maybe just a little present. You would be right. In fact, Transparency International (TI) estimates that more than 6 billion people live in countries with “a serious corruption problem.”

Poor Countries Lose One Trillion Dollars a Year to Corruption

In the case of poor countries, 1 trillion dollars a year is lost to corruption, TI estimates.

The Middle East and North Africa is no exception. In fact, paying bribes to access even the basic public service in this region of 22 states, home to nearly 400 million people, has become a deeply rooted “normal”, at least over the last seven decades or so, i.e. since many of them accessed formal independence.

This is basically due to two major facts: long decades of colonialism pushing the majority of citizens more and more towards the very bottom of growing impoverishment. And a widespread phenomenon of corrupted government officials.

Credit: Transparency International

Credit: Transparency International

Anyway, big and small corruption is so extended over the whole region, that a new Transparency International report issued on May 3 estimated that nearly one in three citizens who tried to access basic public services in the MENA region paid a bribe, showing that governments across the region have failed to hear their citizens’ voices against corruption.

According to a public opinion survey by the international anti-corruption group of nearly 11,000 adults in 9 countries and territories, the majority of people (61 per cent) across the region think that the level of corruption has gone up over the last 12 months.

The 30 per cent who paid a bribe for a basic service represent the equivalent of nearly 50 million people, TI reported.

“It’s as if the Arab Spring never happened. Leaders who fail to stop secrecy, fail to promote free speech and fail to stop bribery also fail to bring dignity to the daily lives of people living in the Middle East and North Africa. Peoples’ human rights are seriously affected,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

Public dissatisfaction with corrupt leaders and regimes was a key catalyst for change in the region, notably with Arab Spring protests, says Transparency International.

Five years on, it adds, the survey finds governments have done little to enforce laws against corruption and bribery, nor have they done enough for transparency and accountability through the promotion of freedoms of the press, civil society and for individuals.

“In Lebanon, numbers are alarming as nine in ten people (92 per cent) say that they think corruption has increased,” says TI. “Government officials, tax officials and members of parliament are perceived to be the most corrupt groups in the region.”

Based on the findings of the survey, here are Transparency International’s four top recommendations:

— Governments in the region must speak out immediately and publicly about their commitment to end corruption. They must also finally deliver on their anti-corruption commitments made globally and regionally, such as under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the Arabic Convention for Combating Corruption.

— Governments must eradicate impunity and bring the corrupt to justice so they can take responsibility for the consequences of their actions

— Governments must create a safe and enabling environment for civil society and the media to fight and report corruption.

— Governments must involve their citizens in the fight against corruption and create the space to hold institutions to account and to help law enforcement institutions. This is especially important when the majority of citizens (58 per cent) believe they have the power to make a difference.

The Global Corruption Barometer 2016 question module was implemented by the Afrobarometer network and by several national partners in the Arab Barometer network.

All fieldwork was completed using a face-to-face survey methodology. The survey samples were selected and weighted to be nationally representative of all adults aged 18 and above living in each country/territory.

From villages in rural India to the corridors of power in Brussels, Transparency International works to give voice to the victims and witnesses of corruption. “We work together with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals,” it says.

“As a global movement with one vision, we want a world free of corruption. Through chapters in more than 100 countries and an international secretariat in Berlin, we are leading the fight against corruption to turn this vision into reality.“

All this is fine. The point is: who dares to put the cat in the bag?

Click here for the full report. Download the report | View online

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Indian Women Worst Hit by Water Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 10:30:48 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144938 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indian-women-worst-hit-by-water-crisis/feed/ 0 The Family Garden Going Out of Style in Cuban Countrysidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 06:47:34 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144934 José Leiva, 61, walks past rows of bean plants on his small farm, where he grows crops for family consumption and for sale, near the town of Horno de Guisa in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credi: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

José Leiva, 61, walks past rows of bean plants on his small farm, where he grows crops for family consumption and for sale, near the town of Horno de Guisa in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credi: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 3 2016 (IPS)

In the past, all rural homes in Cuba had gardens for putting fresh vegetables on the dinner table. The local term for these gardens is “conuco”, a word with indigenous roots that is still used in several Caribbean nations.

The gardens provided the foundation for healthy meals based on vegetables and fruit grown without chemicals. The families also grew spices, as well as products that they did not sell at market, in order to have a more varied and tasty diet.

But this tradition is fading in the Cuban countryside.

However, farmers aware of the importance of the family garden, non-governmental organisations and researchers recommend that the tradition be revived, to boost food security among the rural population, which represents 26 percent of the country’s 11.2 million people.

“Gardens aren’t that common anymore, at least in this area; that tradition has been lost,” said Abel Acosta, the biggest flower grower in the province of Mayabeque, next to Havana. “What is most common on the farms are the old orchards, thanks to our grandparents, who planted fruit trees, thinking of us,” he told IPS.

Acosta is a 42-year-old agronomy technician who turned to farming for a living in 2008, when the government of Raúl Castro began to distribute idle land to people willing to farm it, as part of a broader policy aimed, so far with little success, at boosting agricultural production.

Since 2009, 279,021 people have received land to farm. Like Acosta, many of them had to learn how to manage a farm, and commute every day from their homes in nearby towns to their land.

“The new generations have a different concept; they plant with the idea of harvesting and seeing their profits grow quickly. They feed their families with whatever they are growing at that time to sell, and they buy everything else outside,” said Acosta, the head of the 2.5-hectare San Andrés Farm, which produced 100,000 dozens of flowers in 2015.

“None of the 25 farmers who I deal with the most have a home garden,” said the farmer, who lives in the rural settlement of Consejo Popular Pablo Noriega in the municipality of Quivicán, 45 km south of the capital.

“Producing food for consumption at home is a good idea because you don’t have to buy things elsewhere and you save time and money. Sometimes no one is even selling a single pepper in town,” said Acosta, referring to the unstable local food markets, where supplies are often low.

That is why in San Andrés, which employs three farmhands, small-scale crops are grown for the five families involved in the farm.

The farm inclues a half-hectare mixed orchard with coffee bushes and mango, avocado, lemon, tangerine, orange and “mamey sapote” trees. Besides, Acosta’s father retired from a job as a public employee and is planting plantains – cooking bananas – and growing foods like cassava, tomatoes and lettuce.

Aliuska Labrada, 39, walks down the rows of her garden, with which she improves and diversifies her family’s diet in Ciénaga de Zapata in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Aliuska Labrada, 39, walks through her garden, with which she improves and diversifies her family’s diet in Ciénaga de Zapata in the western Cuban province of Matanzas. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“In Cuba a large part of this (conuco) culture has unfortunately been lost as a result of the structure of agricultural production in rural areas,” lamented Theodor Friedrich, the representative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Cuba.

FAO promotes “family gardens, which formed part of the culture of rural families, not only in Cuba,” Friedrich told IPS.

The gardens “are important elements for improving nutrition and food security,” as are better-known national projects like “urban farming and school gardens.”

Friedrich added that “in many rural communities, gardens are still widespread, and that is where curious small farmers eventually start experimenting with conservation agriculture (ecological no-till farming) until they can one day expand it to the fields.”

For decades, local scientific researchers have been studying conucos, among other traditional practices. Unlike in other countries, in Cuba conucos do not have indigenous roots, but were originally small plots that slaveowners let slaves use to plant or raise small livestock for their own consumption.

A 2012 report, “Twelve attributes of traditional small-scale Cuban rural farming”, described home gardens in the countryside as “a dynamic, sustainable agricultural ecosystem that contributes to family subsistence.” It also considered the gardens key to preserving local species and varieties.

The study by the governmental Alexander Humboldt National Institute of Basic Research in Tropical Agriculture was partly based on field research in family gardens in 18 localities in west, central and east Cuba.

A pomegranate on one of the fruit trees in Aliuska Labrada’s family garden in Zapata Swamp in western Cuba. Credit: jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A pomegranate on one of the fruit trees in Aliuska Labrada’s family garden in Zapata Swamp in western Cuba. Credit: jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Home gardens, which vary in size, are used to produce food for the family, fodder for livestock, spices and herbs, biofuel and ornamental plants. They even generate income, because the families sell between five and 30 percent of what they produce in the gardens, the study said.

The gardens studied maintained the traditional practices of intercropping and crop rotation, and generally used organic fertiliser.

“Farmers have always had conucos for family consumption, although they don’t cover 100 percent of needs,” Emilio García, a veteran farmer who owns an 18-hectare farm on the outskirts of Camagüey, a city 534 km east of Havana, told IPS.

Although less than five percent of the population was undernourished in Cuba between 2014 and 2016, according to FAO, the country depends on food imports that cost millions of dollars a year.

And although the government provides a basic basket of heavily subsidised foods and other items, it does not completely cover people’s needs, and other foods are very costly for Cuban families.

IPS spoke to other people who improve their family diets with vegetables grown in their conucos, such as 39–year-old homemaker Aliuska Labrada, who lives in Ciénaga de Zapata in the west of the country, and 61-year-old José Leiva, a farmer who owns 4.5 hectares of land in Horno de Guisa in eastern Cuba.

Leiva is receiving training and support from the non-governmental ecumenical Bartolomé G. Lavastida Christian Centre for Service and Training (CCSC) based in Santiago de Cuba, 847 km from Havana, which carries out development projects in the five eastern provinces and the central province of Camagüey.

“We train people in family agriculture concepts,” said Ana Virginia Corrales, who coordinates training in the CCSC. “In first place, we want people to be able to cover their own needs, and in second place, we want them to be able to sell their surplus production. That way they will be self-sustainable.”

The CCSC is involved in 45 ecological farming initiatives in 20 municipalities, which had benefited 1,995 families by late 2015, with the help of Bread for the World of Germany, Diakonia-Swedish Ecumenical Action and the White Rose Ministry of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, New York.

The Programme for Local Agrarian Innovation (PIAL), active in 45 of the country’s 168 municipalities, promotes home gardens to empower rural women, with support from the National Institute for Agricultural Sciences and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation since 2000.

As of late 2015, 6,240,263 hectares of land were being farmed in this island nation of 109,884 square kilometres, 30.5 percent of which was farmed by the state, 34.3 percent by cooperatives and the rest by small independent farmers.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Odd Situation in the “Paradise” of Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/odd-situation-in-the-paradise-of-press-freedom/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 16:54:45 +0000 Milla Sundstrom http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144930 By Milla Sundström
HELSINKI, Finland, May 2 2016 (IPS)

A strange situation has emerged in Finland where some people feel that the press freedom is currently jeopardised. The small Nordic country is a press freedom celebrity leading the index kept by Reporters Without Borders since 2009 and hosting the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The case is related to the so-called Panama Papers that were recently leaked by The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The papers originate from the Panama based law company Mossack Fonseca and include information about over 210,000 companies that operate in fiscal paradises.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) was involved in publishing the leak and fiscal authorities of Finland now insist that the company has to hand the material over to them. The dead line expired on Friday but YLE has refused.

The company is appealing the tax authorities’ decision and stating that it’s basic freedom is to protect the news sources. Besides YLE emphasised that it does not possess the material but a few journalists just have access to it.

What has most surprised both journalists and the public here is the fact that this happens in Finland while no other country whose media is involved in the Panama case has experienced same kind of threat from the authorities.

“We understand very well about why the tax office and politicians are interested in the documents leaked from Mossack Fonseca”, the responsible editors of YLE investigative group, Ville Vilén and Marit af Björkesten, said in their statement referring to the possible tax evasions and their social consequences.

They admit having partly shared purposes with the authorities but refuse to violate old principles that have been followed for decades in the European countries that respect press freedom.

“Despite their wideness the Panama papers are not a reason to endanger the protection of the news source and the possibilities of Finnish journalists to practice influential investigative journalism on a longer run,” they continue.

“Surprisingly we are not here to celebrate press freedom but instead to ponder an amazing situation”, the president on the Finnish Council of Mass Media, Elina Grundström, said Monday on YLE’s morning television.
The Council of Mass Media is an organ of the Finnish media’s self-regulation meant to supervise the ethics of the press from all stakeholders’ angle. Grundström gave her support to YLE’s decision not to give up the Panama papers to the tax authorities.
Susanna Reinboth, the law reporter of the biggest national daily, agreed while Pekka Mervola, editor-in-chief of the regional paper Keskisuomalainen, thinking that the material could be delivered with certain reservations that are meant to protect the sources.
The problem may be at least partly solved on May 9th when the ICIJ has promised to publish part of the Panama material.

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Democratic Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/democratic-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democratic-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/democratic-corruption/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 16:32:11 +0000 Sakib Sherani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144931 By Sakib Sherani
May 2 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

`Chaste to her husband, frank to all beside / A teeming mistress, but a barren bride` – Alexander Pope

From Brazil to Malaysia, democracy around the world is under threat. Not from the march of army columns, but from the greed and corruption of a rapaclous global political elite. While nation-destroying corruption of leaders such as Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko, Sani Abacha, Alberto Fujimori, or Robert Mugabe was the accepted `norm` till the 1990s for a select band of unfortunate Third World countries whose people had been made destitute by their leaders` insatiable greed, the latest wave of democracy was thought to have brought in a newer, and lesstainted, leadership.

From Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan to Cristina Fernandez de Kerchner in Argentina, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta in Kenya, citizens of newly democratic countries have looked up to young, educated and dynamic leaders to provide salvation from the curse of history. But this was not to be.

Wildly popular leaders elected via freer and fairer elections proved to be a false dawn in most countries much like the lament from Alexander Pope`s Rape of the Lock.

Far from strengthening democracy in their respective countries by building or consolidating institutions, most of these leaders chose to become elected autocrats by dismantling, brick by brick, constitutional checks and balances against misrule and established systems of good governance. Their popularity – born out of a politica dynasty, a successful acting career, leadership in the independence movement or just charismatic demagoguery – combined with the decimation of legitimate democratic opposition and institutional safeguards more often than not has bred a sense of entitlement and a culture of impunity. These are fertile grounds for corruption and misuse of unbridled power.

Hence, the scale, brazenness and pervasiveness of corruption in these countries. Hugo Chavez`s family in Venezuela, Tamil Nadu`s chief minister Jayalalitha, the Rajapakse family in Sri Lanka, are just a handful among a host of other recent popularly elected leadersaccused of amassing untold wealth while in office. Similar accusations dog the family of the prime minister of Bangladesh and the erstwhile prime minister of Thailand, Ms Yingluck Shinawatra.

In Brazil, the leftist President Dilma Rouseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are embroiled in a multi-billion dollar embezzlement scandal involving Petrobras, the country`s stateowned oil producer. Prime Minister Najib Razzak of Malaysia has had the good fortune of `someone` crediting his account with $700 million overnight (linked to Malaysia`s state fund 1MDB), while Turkey`s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is accused of wasting state funds on building a new palace for himself costing over $600m.

Nor is abuse of public office for personal enrichment limited any longer to dirt-poor developing countries. Even in countries with an established, albeit turbulent, tradition of parliamentary democracy, such as Spain and Italy, popularly elected leaders voted into office on a promise of change have quickly become tainted with allegations of corruption.

Closer to home, proceedings of hearings before the US Senate in 1999 provide a detailed account of millions of dollars of funds being moved through Citibank`s private banking centres on behalf of Mr Zardari between 1994 and 1997, including on account of commissions by the Swiss company Cotecna.

Details of beneficial ownership of a web of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands by the thenprime minister and her spouse is provided in the official record of the proceedings. Further material on beneficial ownership of offshore companies and transactions amounting to millions of dollars during this period is provided in the Global Corruption Report (2004) in the section titled `The hunt for looted state assets: the case of Benazir Bhutto`

Recent revelations about offshore companies and accounts belonging to the prime minister`s family dating to the 1990s a period of intense speculation about corruption involving South Korea`s Daewoo, and in the yellow cabs import scheme that apparently caused a $1 billion loss to Pakistan`s exchequer reinforce the perception that the transition to democ-racy in Pakistan has taken a familiar, and less desirable, path.

Not unlike other parts of the world, where elected kleptocrats have been caught out with their `snouts in the trough` (as the late Ardeshir Cowasjee would put it), Pakistani politicians start crying hoarse about the threat to `the system` whenever their corruption is exposed. Presumably, the system they are out to protect is not one that guarantees education, jobs or basic health services to Pakistan`s teeming poor, but one that allows the entitlement to loot.

However, there is nothing constitutional or democratic about the systematic pillage of state resources for personal enrichment. About the only democratic thing about such large-scale corruption is that, barring the handful who benefit from it, it affects all other Pakistanis indiscriminately, with the poor and the vulnerable bearing the brunt of its pernicious consequences.

These consequences have been on egregious display time and again: when public schools in Azad Kashmir collapsed due to poor construction in the October 2005 earthquake killing thousands of innocent children; when poor Thari children die each year due to lack of basic facilities; when faulty scanners are imported to protect our cities; when expired medicines and vaccines are purchased for public hospitals; when the government does not have the money to pay pensioners, doctors, nurses, teachers and Lady Health Workers their dues for months on end but can cough up $2bn for vanity bus and train projects; when an illfunded and ill-equipped police has to take on wellarmed criminal gangs baclced by powerful politicians; ad nauseam.

True democracy is an aspiration worth pursuing. But passing off large-scale looting and plunder as constitutional democracy does not serve the interest of Pakistan`s citizens or its future generations.

Banay hain ahlay hawwas muda`ee bhi, munsifbhi Kisay vakil karein, kis say munsafi chahein (Faiz)

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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