Inter Press ServiceInter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 19 Nov 2018 04:11:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Cuba’s Only Semiarid Region Reinvents Agriculture to Survivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/cubas-semiarid-region-reinvents-agriculture-survive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-semiarid-region-reinvents-agriculture-survive http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/cubas-semiarid-region-reinvents-agriculture-survive/#respond Mon, 19 Nov 2018 04:02:00 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158713 At a brisk pace, Marciano Calamato and Mireya Noa walk along the dry, yellow soil of their farm, where they even manage to grow onions in Cuba’s unique semi-arid eastern region. The region, which has a particularly sensitive ecosystem due to the large number of endemic species, covers 1,752 square kilometers in the southern part […]

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Mireya Noa and Marciano Calamato are a couple who have a farm in Cuba's only semiarid zone, in the eastern province of Guantánamo. Thanks to the trees they planted, they were able to shade areas of the land, cool things down and counteract the strong evaporation of water from the soil in this coastal and semi-desert eco-region. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Mireya Noa and Marciano Calamato are a couple who have a farm in Cuba's only semiarid zone, in the eastern province of Guantánamo. Thanks to the trees they planted, they were able to shade areas of the land, cool things down and counteract the strong evaporation of water from the soil in this coastal and semi-desert eco-region. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

By Ivet González
SAN ANTONIO DEL SUR, Cuba, Nov 19 2018 (IPS)

At a brisk pace, Marciano Calamato and Mireya Noa walk along the dry, yellow soil of their farm, where they even manage to grow onions in Cuba’s unique semi-arid eastern region.

The region, which has a particularly sensitive ecosystem due to the large number of endemic species, covers 1,752 square kilometers in the southern part of the province of Guantánamo. It is the only semi-arid ecoregion in this Caribbean island nation, and is a world rarity because it is a coastal desert on a relatively large island like Cuba, according to experts.

“It’s difficult, you have to make a great effort. We implement irrigation systems and maintain a well from which we pump to a water tank, and from there to the area of the crops,” explained Calamato, a farmer who in 2008 was granted the 12.4-hectare La Cúrbana farm in usufruct."This is an atypical municipality, with many risks of disasters from drought, coastal flooding from high tides, high-intensity hurricanes and even tsunamis." -- Tania Hernández

As in the rest of the province, one of the least developed in the country, the population of 25,796 inhabitants of the municipality of San Antonio del Sur depends almost exclusively on agriculture, which represents a challenge in the local semi-desert ecozone.

“I participate in everything from planting to putting organic matter around the plant. We have harvested very large onions, beans, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers. Everything we plant grows well, as long as it has water,” Noa said, discussing how they manage their nutrient-poor soils.

The leafy canopies of fruit trees and drought-resistant species provide shade in the centre of La Cúrbana, where the small rustic wooden house of Calamato and Noa is located, along with a greenhouse, water tanks for human consumption, a storehouse for household goods and corrals for 40 head of goats and more than 20 barnyard fowl.

La Cúrbana, where the family grows crops on a small scale, and which is self-sufficient in animal feed, also has small livestock – the type of farm recommended by experts in agriculture in a semi-arid ecosystem.

“The farms down here are very focused on animal production, small livestock, which is the most suitable for this land. And there are alternatives for achieving self-sufficiency, that is, for family self-consumption and animal feed,” said geographer Ricardo Delgado.

He forms part of the coordinating committee for the project “Ponte Alerta Caribe: Harmonising risk management strategies and tools with an inclusive approach in the Caribbean”, which is being implemented in Cuba and the Dominican Republic until early 2019, in order to strengthen national and regional institutional capacities.

The project is executed by the international organisations Oxfam, based in the UK, and Humanity and Inclusion, based in Canada, and has funding from the Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.

Agricultural worker Abigail Castro points to where the sea is, from the La Fortuna farm in the municipality of San Antonio del Sur, Guantánamo province in eastern Cuba, which has a unique semiarid coastal ecosystem. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Agricultural worker Abigail Castro points to where the sea is, from the La Fortuna farm in the municipality of San Antonio del Sur, Guantánamo province in eastern Cuba, which has a unique semiarid coastal ecosystem. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

Among its diverse actions in Cuba is strengthening drought resilience in San Antonio del Sur, IPS learned during several tours of farms seeking to adapt to climate change in this municipality, where this reporter spoke to farmers, specialists and authorities in the area.

Ponte Alerta strengthened the Guantánamo meteorological centre to process drought data and equipped it with portable weather stations for distribution on some farms and the data processing system. It also supported the adaptation of a drought resilience tool to the coastal conditions in the municipality.

“This is the most disadvantaged part of the municipality’s land. But La Cúrbana is a very good experience of a farm that has adapted to these conditions,” said geologist Yusmira Savón, who has participated in several projects involving efforts to adapt to drought in the area.

A cocktail of agroecological techniques, water management, soil management, productive reconversion, resilience to drought and the use of renewable energies make up the formula prescribed by experts to farmers in a municipality that reports a very low average annual rainfall, less than 200 millimeters.

“The soils of the semiarid ecosystem in San Antonio del Sur have exploitable qualities from a chemical point of view, because they are loose soils that are prepared and, with the help of organic matter and water, can be farmed with a certain margin of profitability,” said agronomist Loexys Rodríguez.

The expert warned about changes that affect the eco-region, such as the one degree Celsius increase in the current temperature with respect to the average recorded between 1980 and 2010, and changes in rain intensity and seasonal rainfall variability.

All of these factors increase drought-related problems and put pressure on the area’s productive sector, where environmental authorities are also implementing programmes to combat deforestation and desertification.

Just nine meters from the sea, Abigail Castro is working on the La Fortuna farm, which on six hectares produces more than 46 tons a year of various crops such as onions, tomatoes, beans, yucca, melons, plantains (cooking bananas) and beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).

 Marciano Calamato stands next to the well and water tank on his farm, which enable him to irrigate his crops at least once a day, in Cuba's only semi-desert zone, in San Antonio del Sur, a municipality in southeast Cuba. Credit: Ivet González/IPS


Marciano Calamato stands next to the well and water tank on his farm, which enable him to irrigate his crops at least once a day, in Cuba’s only semi-desert zone, in San Antonio del Sur, a municipality in southeast Cuba. Credit: Ivet González/IPS

“We have a natural windbreak to protect the crops from strong sea winds,” he said proudly.

Castro said: “We don’t have coastal flooding from high tides here, but the river does flood everything when there are cyclones, and we remain incommunicado. The people are evacuated to the town and we take the animals to the mountains,” he said, explaining how the local farmers face climatic events, the most serious in recent times being Hurricane Matthew, which hit the eastern part of the island in 2016.

In La Fortuna, the shiny green crops contrast with the dry soil and the scorching sun. “The problem along the coast is drought, which is very bad, but here the crops suffer fewer pests,” said José Luis Rustán, who in 2008 was granted use of this land, where weeds used to rule.

“In addition to ensuring irrigation, we apply a lot of organic matter. I produce it myself: I use manure from the corrals and I make compost and green fertiliser. I’ve also used bat guano,” said the farmer, who has developed his farm with his own means.

For his part, agronomist Yandy Leyva, who works on the La Piedra farm, where sheeps are raised for meat, and who takes part in Ponte Alerta Caribe, recommended greater use of efficient microorganisms (biofertilisers) by farms in the semiarid ecosystem, where he believes they could even be sold.

He also lamented the fact that the irrigation systems available to the farmers are very old, “and are flood irrigation systems, which wash away and degrade the land.”

“We have to take measures like dams and soil cover and increase the density of crops in order to mitigate this problem,” he said.

Other national and international cooperation projects in the semiarid region promote the use of renewable energies and the planting of species adapted to this ecosystem, which contribute to reforestation and create jobs.

These species include the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which originates in India and is mainly used to make fertilisers, and jatropha (Jatropha curcas), which is used to produce biodiesel.

“This is an atypical municipality, with many risks of disasters from drought, coastal flooding from high tides, high-intensity hurricanes and even tsunamis,” said Tania Hernández, vice president for local government risk management.

And like the rest of the Cuban municipalities, San Antonio del Sur aspires to strengthen food security. “We are 100 percent self-sufficient in tubers and vegetables, but other items have to be imported,” said the official.

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IOM Launches ‘Holding On’ Campaign: A Virtual Reality Experience of Internal Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/iom-launches-holding-campaign-virtual-reality-experience-internal-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iom-launches-holding-campaign-virtual-reality-experience-internal-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/iom-launches-holding-campaign-virtual-reality-experience-internal-displacement/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 14:41:47 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158709 Marking the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) launched the ‘Holding On’ digital campaign yesterday (15/11) to raise awareness of the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and celebrate their courage and resilience. Holding On showcases the stories of internally displaced persons by asking them to reflect […]

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Holding On VR exhibitions have been held in ten locations around the world since July. The Holding On digital campaign launched yesterday. Credit: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
GENEVA, Nov 16 2018 (IOM)

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) launched the ‘Holding On’ digital campaign yesterday (15/11) to raise awareness of the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and celebrate their courage and resilience.

Holding On showcases the stories of internally displaced persons by asking them to reflect on their most cherished possessions. Global audiences can now share these stories on social media via the #HoldingOn hashtag. They can also sign a petition that calls on states to respect and advance the Guiding Principles, which Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs, will use in her work.

The Guiding Principles serve as the global standard for States regarding the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons. Displaced within the borders of their own countries, IDPs are among the world’s most neglected – often denied access to education, employment, safe accommodation and other human rights.

Twenty years on, internal displacement continues unabated around the world with 40 million people displaced in their own countries by conflict and violence as of December 2017, which accounts for 62 per cent of all conflict-induced displacement. The number of IDPs has nearly doubled since 2000, increasing sharply over the last five years. In addition, a further estimated 26 million people are displaced annually due to natural disasters.

“Internally displaced people have left their homes on their own. They don’t have anything other than what they’re carrying. Our exhibition shows people who just walked out with a t-shirt or only holding their children in their arms…That’s all they have,” said Mohammed Abdiker, IOM Director of Operations and Emergencies in the United Nations podcast, A Way Home Together: Stories of the Human Journey.

The items IDPs carry with them when they flee often become physical representations of a world that has since disappeared. As simple as a camera, t-shirt or small bird, these items represent symbols of struggle and hope.

“This camera carries a lot of memories. I used it to take pictures of my children at home. We used to go north to picnic and these cameras were always with us. We took pictures and video footage that I still keep as memories,” said Moafaq, displaced in an emergency site in Iraq.

Tetiana and Volodymyr Ziangirov, internally displaced in Ukraine, reminisced, “The crib is 23+ years old now. My two elder daughters grew up in it. My best memories are associated with this crib.”

The exhibition’s virtual reality (VR) films reanimate the lives of IDPs in Colombia, Iraq, Nigeria, the Philippines and Ukraine. Since July 2018, IOM has held ten exhibitions around the world including in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Djibouti.

Conventional videos that do not require VR glasses, as well as feature and photo stories, are now available on the campaign’s website, allowing people an intimate view into the lives of others who remain displaced.

Upcoming exhibitions will be held during the IOM Council in Geneva between 27-30 November, the opening ceremony of the Global Migration Film Festival (GMFF) in Geneva on 28 November, and on International Migrants Day in Cairo on 18 December.

For more information please contact Angela Wells at IOM Headquarters in Geneva, Tel: +41 22 717 9 435, Email: awells@iom.int

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E-Commerce Giants Under Fire for Retailing Hazardous Mercury-Based Cosmeticshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/e-commerce-giants-fire-retailing-hazardous-mercury-based-cosmetics/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 11:18:28 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158706 A coalition of over 50 civil society organizations (CSOs), from more than 20 countries, have urged two of the world’s largest multi-billion dollar E-commerce retailers – Amazon and eBay – to stop marketing “dangerous and illegal mercury-based skin lightening creams.” The protest is part of a coordinated global campaign against a growing health hazard in […]

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By Thalif Deen
NEW YORK, Nov 16 2018 (IPS)

A coalition of over 50 civil society organizations (CSOs), from more than 20 countries, have urged two of the world’s largest multi-billion dollar E-commerce retailers – Amazon and eBay – to stop marketing “dangerous and illegal mercury-based skin lightening creams.”

The protest is part of a coordinated global campaign against a growing health hazard in the field of cosmetics.

So far, the groups have reached out to the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO) and INTERPOL, the Lyon-based international law enforcement agency whose mandate includes investigating the sale of illegal health products online.

Michael Bender, International Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, told IPS internet moguls must stop breaking the law with their toxic trade in illegal cosmetics.

“Amazon and eBay have the responsibility and resources to prevent exposing their customers to this dangerous neurotoxin,” he added.

At the same time, said Bender, the FDA must enforce the law— no matter how big the retailer, since no one is above the law.

The CSOs have identified 19 skin products sold by these two companies that contain illegal mercury levels—even as the use of these products are skyrocketing globally, and in the US, and used worldwide mostly by women in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.

In a letter to Jeff Bezos, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Amazon, the groups say: “We strongly urge Amazon to self-police its website to ensure that cosmetics found to have mercury levels over 1 part per million (ppm) are no longer offered for sale to your customers worldwide.”

Since 1973, the FDA has warned against using cosmetics with over 1ppm mercury and detailed the risks. And mercury is known to state, federal and international agencies as toxic and harmful to human health.

In a letter to Devin Newig , president and CEO of eBay, the groups say the products advertised for sale on the e-Bay website are “unpermitted and illegal”.

The protest has taken added relevance against the backdrop of the upcoming second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury (COP2) which will take place November 19-23 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Minamata Convention is an international treaty which has been signed by 128 UN member states and ratified by the legislatures of 101 countries.

Syed Marghub Murshed, Chairperson, Environment and Social Development Organization-ESDO, said “skin-lightening creams are pushing the youth towards a serious health risk and environmental havoc”.

He urged the government to take a regulatory and legislative step to protect future generations — and the environment.

Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, European Environmental Bureau Project Manager “Zero Mercury Campaign” and International Co-ordinator, Zero Mercury Working Group, told IPS that toxic trade in illegal high mercury skin lighteners is a global crisis which is expected to only worsen with skyrocketing global demand.

“To combat this, it’s important for governments to quickly enact and/or enforce regulations and effectively warn consumers”, he added.

Sonya Lunder of the Sierra Club’s Gender, Equity and Environment Program, said internet sellers should be held to the highest standards for selling safe and legal cosmetics.

“Not only should they remove all illegal products from their websites immediately, but they must develop a system to ensure that toxic products remain out of their supply-chains,” declared Lunder.

The WHO says mercury is a common ingredient found in skin lightening soaps and creams. It is also found in other cosmetics, such as eye makeup cleansing products and mascara.

“Skin lightening soaps and creams are commonly used in certain African and Asian nations. They are also used among dark-skinned populations in Europe and North America.”

In Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Togo, 25%, 77%, 27%, 35% and 59% of women, respectively, are reported to use skin lightening products on a regular basis, says WHO.

In 2017 and 2018, 338 skin-lightening creams from 22 countries were collected by 17 NGO partners and tested for mercury, according to the group.

And 35 creams (10.4% of the samples) had mercury concentrations ranging from 260 – 16,353 parts per million (ppm).

These levels significantly exceeded not only regulations in many countries, but also new provisions in the Minamata Convention disallowing, after 2020, the “manufacture, import or export” of cosmetics with a mercury above 1 ppm.

The health consequences include damage to the skin, eyes, lungs, kidneys, digestive, immune and nervous systems.

The Mercury Policy Project, the Sierra Club and the European Environmental Bureau say they have purchased skin lighteners from eBay and Amazon websites.

The brands purchased included many previously identified as high mercury by New York City, the state of Minnesota, countries of the European Union, Singapore, United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Philippines, among others.

Of these, 19 products had illegal mercury levels, typically more than 10,000 times higher than the legal threshold of 1ppm.

In their letters, the groups are calling on Amazon and eBay to:

(1) Ensure the products they sell comply with government regulations; monitor lists of toxic skin lighteners identified US regulators; and keep them out of their inventory; and

(2) Add skin lightening cream products to a list of categories requiring prior approval before sale; and require that sellers provide documentation verifying that the products do not contain mercury and that the products are otherwise compliant with all applicable regulations.

Out of the 22 countries where the global cosmetics sampling took place, 14 have legislation or other requirements consistent with the Minamata convention provisions, the letter says.

Out of the 7 countries where high mercury samples were found, only 4 have legal requirements prohibiting creams with more than 1 ppm mercury content.

The Zero Mercury testing showed also that in:

–in Bangladesh, 50% of the creams sampled and tested had mercury content exceeding 1 ppm.

–In the Dominican Republic, one out of 3 samples had mercury above 1 ppm (33%), whereas in Indonesia it reached 31%.

— in Mauritius, one out of 15 creams was found to contain more than 1 ppm (7%).

— in the Philippines, 19% of the samples exceeded 1 ppm mercury content, while the Thai samples reached 63; and.

–in Trinidad and Tobago, 20% of the samples tested also exceeded the Minamata limits.

The Group’s research demonstrates that hazardous substance restrictions and accompanying risk communication strategies in many countries are incomplete and/or inadequately enforced.

”This thereby raises the risk of health effects, primarily to women.”

However, as the Minamata Convention on Mercury provision pertaining to cosmetics take effect after 2020, new opportunities for countries to reduce exposure to mercury from skin lighteners are emerging, including resources that may become available to Parties for the following, perhaps in collaboration with all levels of government and civil society:

1. Development and adoption of national government cosmetic regulations;

2. Continuously updated global government detention website listing of product violations, including product photo, manufacture, country of origin, seller identification, links, etc.

3. Enhanced harmonization and increased enforcement of by custom officials at borders;

4. Effective risk communication to consumers at risk and in particular pregnant and nursing mothers and woman of child bearing age;

5. Effective oversight of the marketplace;

6. Adoption of effective labeling guidelines to assure consumers are provided with the necessary information on hazardous substances, but also on alternatives, since they may contain other hazardous substances;

7. Effective cyber crime oversight of the internet, in global collaboration with Interpol, (since most lighteners are imported); and

8. Through national ad councils, assuring that non-discriminatory advertising guidelines do not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin color.

Globally, mercury-based products are a big business. Demand is skyrocketing, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with sales of $17.9 billion in 2017, and projected to reach $31.2 billion by 2024, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Skin lightening products — also known as “bleaching creams,” “whiteners,” “skin brighteners,” or “fading creams” — work when inorganic Mercury salts (e.g. 1-10% ammoniated mercury) inhibit the formation of melanin, resulting in a lighter skin tone.

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GGGI Coastal Landscape Restoration and Bio-economy Scoping Mission to the Ayeyarwady Deltahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gggi-coastal-landscape-restoration-bio-economy-scoping-mission-ayeyarwady-delta/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gggi-coastal-landscape-restoration-bio-economy-scoping-mission-ayeyarwady-delta http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gggi-coastal-landscape-restoration-bio-economy-scoping-mission-ayeyarwady-delta/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 09:58:02 +0000 GGGI http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158701 The Republic of the Union of Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GGGI on February 9, 2017 to collaborate in implementation of green growth strategies and projects; and to strengthen the government’s institutional framework for Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of national greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation and mitigation actions and support. This November, […]

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GGGI Myanmar will embark on a scoping mission to explore potential green investments in forestry, agriculture and fishery value chains for economic development, and for promotion of rural energy security to reduce the pressures on mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

By GGGI
Nov 16 2018 (GGGI)

The Republic of the Union of Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Understanding with GGGI on February 9, 2017 to collaborate in implementation of green growth strategies and projects; and to strengthen the government’s institutional framework for Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of national greenhouse gas emissions, climate change adaptation and mitigation actions and support.

This November, GGGI Myanmar will embark on a scoping mission to explore potential green investments in forestry, agriculture and fishery value chains for economic development, and for promotion of rural energy security to reduce the pressures on mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

The scoping team will comprise of GGGI’s experts in Green Investments, Climate Finance, Forestry, Fisheries, Policy and Socially Inclusive Development.

Although GGGI’s mandate is Myanmar-wide, the Ayeyarwady Delta is of particular focus due to its population density, levels of poverty and landlessness, vulnerability of agricultural and fishery-dependent communities to climate change, including continued impacts from 2008 Cyclone Nargis.

In addition to the benefits of disaster risk reduction and providing opportunities for fishing livelihoods, mangroves are a critical forest type for climate change mitigation as they store up to 4 times the amount of carbon as do other forest types.

Among Myanmar’s mangrove forests, those of the Delta are particularly threatened by demand for fuel wood/charcoal, and for expansion of rice, shrimp and salt production activities.

 

GGGI Myanmar will embark on a scoping mission to explore potential green investments in forestry, agriculture and fishery value chains for economic development, and for promotion of rural energy security to reduce the pressures on mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

 

With these issues in mind, GGGI will undertake a series of workshops and consultations with national, and regional and local stakeholders throughout the Delta region to scope potential bio-economy commodities and investments that will enable socially inclusive green growth, and support national goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation in coastal areas.

This consultation will aim to understand who the actors in the existing value chains are and how different types of business models could be inclusive of smallholder farmers, casual workers, women, youth and the landless through sustainable jobs and livelihoods and access to services.

The results of these consultations will be presented to national and regional governments to begin project and investment identification.

GGGI’s green growth investments in the Ayeyarwady Delta will be designed to maximize opportunities for social co-benefits that contribute towards poverty reduction, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and inclusion of marginalized groups.

 

GGGI Myanmar will embark on a scoping mission to explore potential green investments in forestry, agriculture and fishery value chains for economic development, and for promotion of rural energy security to reduce the pressures on mangroves in the Ayeyarwady Delta.

 

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Gender equality key to green growth in Lao PDR says new policy brief, potentially adding USD 3.7 billion to annual GDP by 2025http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gender-equality-key-green-growth-lao-pdr-says-new-policy-brief-potentially-adding-usd-3-7-billion-annual-gdp-2025/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gender-equality-key-green-growth-lao-pdr-says-new-policy-brief-potentially-adding-usd-3-7-billion-annual-gdp-2025 http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/gender-equality-key-green-growth-lao-pdr-says-new-policy-brief-potentially-adding-usd-3-7-billion-annual-gdp-2025/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 09:38:39 +0000 GGGI http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158699 Improving gender equality can have a profound effect on economic growth and is integral to maximising green growth, according to a new policy brief by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). The policy brief focuses on the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), identifying some of the barriers to inclusive green growth, gender equality and […]

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Improving gender equality can have a profound effect on economic growth and is integral to maximising green growth, according to a new policy brief by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI). The policy brief focuses on the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), identifying some of the barriers to inclusive green growth, gender equality and poverty reduction as the country prepares its National Green Growth Strategy (NGGS).

By GGGI
Vientiane, Nov 16 2018 (GGGI)

Improving gender equality can have a profound effect on economic growth and is integral to maximising green growth, according to a new policy brief by the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI).

The policy brief focuses on the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), identifying some of the barriers to inclusive green growth, gender equality and poverty reduction as the country prepares its National Green Growth Strategy (NGGS).

Through the NGGS, Lao PDR has committed to pursuing sustainable green growth development that makes the best use of its natural and human resources in line with its Vision 2030,10-year Socio-Economic Development Strategy to 2025, 8th five-year National Socio-Economic Development Plan, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

 

Towards a gender inclusive economic growth model

“There is a tendency to focus on the green or environmental aspects of green growth, and when people do think about gender it is frequently peripheral to the central economic challenges,” said Annaka Peterson, GGGI’s Senior Officer in Lao PDR, “But we want people to see that gender equality is a core economic issue.”

According to the 2018 McKinsey Global Institute Report ‘The power of parity: Advancing women’s equality in Asia Pacific’, countries in the Asia Pacific region have the potential to add USD 4.5 trillion or 12% to their annual GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality in the work place and society. Annaka Peterson said, “One economic forecast estimates that Lao PDRs GDP will reach USD 31 billion in 2025. 12 % additional growth would amount to an estimated USD 3.7 billion additional GDP in 2025. That’s almost like adding another Vientiane Capital to the economy.”

Despite Lao PDR’s high and steady economic growth, averaging 7.8% GDP over the last decade, poverty and gender inequality remain persistent challenges. Significant progress has been made in reducing poverty from 33.5% to 23.2%. The gender gap in education has narrowed and Lao PDR has among the higher proportions of women legislators globally at 27.5% according to the Inter Parliamentary Union.  However,

Lao PDR ranks 106 out of 159 countries in gender equality according to the UNDP.

 

Tackling barriers to women’s economic engagement

“Creating opportunities for women’s engagement in green growth is a key challenge for the NGGS and the entire development agenda, but it is needed to boost the economy” said Ms. Sisavanh Didaravong, Deputy Director General of the Centre for Development Policy Research of the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

According to the brief, in Lao PDR the gender gap in economic opportunities and employment is stark. 65% of unpaid family workers are women, and the time women dedicate to housework each day is four times greater than the time spent by men.

Improving women’s economic empowerment through financial inclusion and the removal of barriers to women’s equal participation in the labour market and entrepreneurship will help unlock their economic potential and contribute to green growth.  Ms. Didaravong highlighted the potential of women in Lao PDR, “women spend more time taking care of the family and kids, if we can give them an opportunity to show their strength and capabilities our society and economy will be better off.”

The brief includes several recommendations to empower women in Lao PDR’s green growth priority sectors and tackle some of the social barriers to gender parity in work to help drive additional economic growth.

 

Monitoring progress

Further recommendations are provided for effective gender mainstreaming in the NGGS, including developing a gender action plan and monitoring progress towards its implementation, partnerships with institutions such as the Lao Women’s Union for technical support, as well as monitoring female labour force participation in quality green jobs.

The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) provides support to the Government of Lao to mainstream green growth into planning and policy making and develop bankable projects to help achieve its national green growth objectives.

The Policy Brief, Gender Inclusive Green Growth in Lao PDR: Recommendations to maximize economic growth through gender equality can be downloaded at: http://gggi.org/site/assets/uploads/2018/10/Gender-and-Green-Growth-Policy-Brief-Lao-PDR.pdf

 

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Rohingya Protest Against Return to Myanmar and Halt Repatriationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/rohingya-protest-return-myanmar-halt-repatriation/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 08:37:00 +0000 Naimul Haq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158693 Thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, the southern-most coastal district in Bangladesh, protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against an attempt to send them back to Myanmar. The voluntary repatriation was scheduled to begin Thursday as per a bilateral agreement reached at the end of October between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. […]

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Rohingya refugees protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against their voluntary repatriation to Myanmar. Credit: Mohammad Mojibur Rahman/IPS

By Naimul Haq
COX'S BAZAR/DHAKA, Nov 16 2018 (IPS)

Thousands of Rohingya refugees in camps in Cox’s Bazar, the southern-most coastal district in Bangladesh, protested on Thursday, Nov. 15, against an attempt to send them back to Myanmar.
The voluntary repatriation was scheduled to begin Thursday as per a bilateral agreement reached at the end of October between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh. They had agreed to the repatriation of 2,260 people from 485 families at the rate of 150 people per day over 15 days. However plans for repatriations were postponed in the face of massive demonstrations which started Thursday in several of the 27 camps that now host over a million refugees.

Men, women and even children began protesting soon after midday at one of the smaller camps in Unchiprang near the Myanmar border and protests soon spread across other camps, including the biggest camp Kutupalong.

They chanted slogans and waved placards that read—‘We won’t go back,’ ‘We demand safety,’ ‘We want citizenship,’ ‘We demand justice,’—as rows of buses arrived outside Unchiprang camp. The buses were to transport refugees some 15km from Cox’s Bazar to the Bangladesh border of Gundum, from where they would have been taken to Tumbru in Myanmar.

Bangladesh officials in charge of repatriation waited outside the camp asking the families to board the buses but none were willing.

Since last August, more than 700,000 Rohingya—some 60 percent of whom where children, according to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF)—fled atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh.

Many still carry fresh memories of their experiences, which include rape, sexual violence and the torching of homes with people still inside.

“Why should we return?” shouted Nahar, a 26-year-old mother of three who arrived last July. She said that returning to Myanmar means going to a death camp.
Yousuf Ali, a resident of neighbouring Shamlapur camp said, “You want us to commit suicide?” A fellow refugee from Jamtoli camp said, “There is no guarantee that we would survive once we return.”

The government of Bangladesh along with local and international aid organisations and U.N. agencies have been working together to provide shelter, medical services, schooling and food to almost one million people.

Mohammad Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s Refugee, Relief and Rehabilitation Commissioner, and also a magistrate attached with Cox’s Bazar district office, told IPS, “We were prepared for the repatriation. Earlier we had sought a voluntary decision and made informed choices on the return of the refugees. No one responded with the decision to return home in Myanmar and so we had to postpone the programme.”

On Tuesday, 50 of the identified families selected for return, were interviewed by the U.N. to find out whether families agreed to return. None agreed, according to Kalam.

“They refused to go now but we remain prepared to facilitate their return home. Our counterpart from Myanmar was also present on the other side of the border … So far we know Myanmar had also taken all preparations for the much-expected repartition [that was] to start today,” Kalam said.

The government of Bangladesh along with local and international aid organisations and U.N. agencies, have been working together to provide shelter, medical services, schooling and food to almost one million people. Credit: Mohammad Mojibur Rahman/IPS

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet this week urged Bangladesh to halt the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, saying the move would violate international laws. “With an almost complete lack of accountability — indeed with ongoing violations — returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades,” Bachelet said.

In October chair of the U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar, Marzuki Darusman, said that the Myanmar government’s “hardened positions are by far the greatest obstacle” to repatriation. He had also said, “Myanmar is destined to repeat the cycles of violence unless there is an end to impunity.” The U.N. has called the full investigation into genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine State.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali briefed the media on Thursday evening in the capital Dhaka, saying that Bangladesh would not forcibly return Rohingyas to Myanmar.
“There have been campaigns [saying] that the Bangladesh government is sending them back forcibly. From the beginning we have been saying that it will be a voluntary return. There is no question of forcible repatriation. We gave them shelter, so why should we send them back forcibly?” he said.

Mia Seppo, U.N. resident coordinator in Dhaka, told reporters at the joint press conference that, “The U.N. actually welcomes the commitment of the government of Bangladesh to stick to the principle of voluntary repatriation, which has been demonstrated today.”

Abu Morshed Chowdhury, President of Cox’s Bazar Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of Cox’s Bazar Civil Society NGO Forum, told IPS, “There were some flaws in the plans for the Rohingya repatriation. How can the refugees return, even if it’s voluntary, without ensuring their citizenship? The U.N. agencies have the responsibility to ensure this.”
He added that U.N. should have “been more active in their roles to allow smooth repatriation.”

Rezaul Karim Chouwhury, Executive Director of COAST Bangladesh, one of the leading NGOs working to address the Rohingya crisis also echoed the same concerns.

“There were flaws in the plans too, because we know that sooner or later the Rohingyas have to return to settle back. The bilateral agreement paved the way for the initiation of the repatriation and rehabilitation but the key players (international) in my opinion have not been so active,” he told IPS.

Caroline Gluck, Senior Public Information Officer, U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Cox’s Bazar, told IPS that every refugee has the right to freely decide their own future and the right to return.  Their decisions should be based on relevant and reliable knowledge of the conditions within the country of origin.

“Access restrictions in Rakhine State currently limit UNHCR’s ability to provide such information. Only refugees themselves can make the decision to exercise their right to return and when they feel the time is right for them. It is critical that returns are not rushed or premature,” she said. She added that the UNHCR supported the voluntary and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees in safety and dignity to their places of origin or choice.

“We will work with all parties towards this goal. However, we do not believe that current conditions are conducive to returns in line with international standards. The responsibility for creating these conditions lies with Myanmar.”

*Additional Reporting by Mohammed Mojibur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar

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2018 World Tolerance Day: Executive Director of the Geneva Centre appeals to decision-makers to sign and endorse 2018 World Conference outcome declarationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/2018-world-tolerance-day-executive-director-geneva-centre-appeals-decision-makers-sign-endorse-2018-world-conference-outcome-declaration/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2018-world-tolerance-day-executive-director-geneva-centre-appeals-decision-makers-sign-endorse-2018-world-conference-outcome-declaration http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/2018-world-tolerance-day-executive-director-geneva-centre-appeals-decision-makers-sign-endorse-2018-world-conference-outcome-declaration/#respond Fri, 16 Nov 2018 07:14:00 +0000 Geneva Centre http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158694 On the occasion of the 2018 World Tolerance Day, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy has called upon decision-makers worldwide to sign and endorse the declaration “Moving towards greater spiritual convergence worldwide in support of equal citizenship rights.” The latter was adopted as an outcome to the 25 June World Conference entitled “Religions, […]

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By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, Nov 16 2018 (Geneva Centre)

On the occasion of the 2018 World Tolerance Day, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy has called upon decision-makers worldwide to sign and endorse the declaration “Moving towards greater spiritual convergence worldwide in support of equal citizenship rights.”

Idriss Jazairy

The latter was adopted as an outcome to the 25 June World Conference entitled “Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” held under the Patronage of HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at the United Nations Office at Geneva. More than 50 Eminent Dignitaries and renowned world leaders from all over the world have signed the World Conference outcome Declaration.

In this connection, the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director stated that in several regions of the world “we have witnessed a steep rise in xenophobia, racism, bigotry and intolerance. Distortion and abuse of religions and faiths – for the purpose of carrying out odious crimes and implementing policies justifying marginalization, exclusion and racism – are being carried out. Altogether, national unity is being undermined in many societies in the MENA region and in Europe.”

Therefore, extremist violence in the MENA region and the populist surge in the developed world has “side-lined global cooperation in favour of protectionist and populist ideas that have gained stronger ground and acceptance among decision-makers.”

To roll-back these ominous trends, religious leaders and international decision-makers must harness their collective energy “to addressing religious intolerance in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights and in the promotion of global citizenship.” “They must capitalize on the convergence between religions, creeds and value systems” – he said – “to mitigate the marginalization of religious and ethnic minorities worldwide. They must remain committed to promoting not only tolerance but full empathy for ‘the Other’ which is another name for peace. The language of peace must prevail over the language of hatred and fear of the Other.”

The Geneva Centre’s Executive Director added that it is high time that all parties join hands to initiate a global effort to ensure that our equally shared humanity is reflected in equal citizenship rights. He therefore called upon decision-makers worldwide to endorse the Declaration on “Moving towards greater spiritual convergence worldwide in support of equal citizenship rights.”

I strongly appeal to international decision-makers to implement the three follow-up actions of the World Conference outcome declaration. The declaration calls for the periodical holding of an annual World Summit on Equal Citizenship Rights, the setting-up of an International Task-Force to review measures implemented by UN member States to promote equal citizenship as well as the inclusion of a special item in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) state report to monitor the implementation of these measures. The World Conference outcome declaration underlines therefore that equal citizenship rights is the gateway to world peace,” Ambassador Jazairy said.

In this context, he praised the decision of the European Centre for Peace and Development – UN University of peace to unanimously adopt a resolution at the XIV International Conference on “A New Human Concept of Security” held on 26 October in Belgrade endorsing the World Conference outcome Declaration.

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Africa Set for a Massive Free Trade Areahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/africa-set-massive-free-trade-area/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-set-massive-free-trade-area http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/africa-set-massive-free-trade-area/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 16:20:34 +0000 Kingsley Ighobor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158690 Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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(From left) African Union chairperson and president of Rwanda Paul Kagame, president of Niger Mahamadou Issoufou and African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the launch of AfCFTA in Kigali in March 2018. Credit: Office of President Paul Kagame

By Kingsley Ighobor
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 2018 (IPS)

Following the unveiling of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2018, Africa is about to become the world’s largest free trade area: 55 countries merging into a single market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion.

The shelves of Choithrams Supermarket in Freetown, Sierra Leone, boast a plethora of imported products, including toothpicks from China, toilet paper and milk from Holland, sugar from France, chocolates from Switzerland and matchboxes from Sweden.

Yet many of these products are produced much closer—in Ghana, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, and other African countries with an industrial base.

So why do retailers source them halfway around the world? The answer: a patchwork of trade regulations and tariffs that make intra-African commerce costly, time wasting and cumbersome.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), signed by 44 African countries in Kigali, Rwanda, in March 2018, is meant to create a tariff-free continent that can grow local businesses, boost intra-African trade, rev up industrialization and create jobs.

The agreement creates a single continental market for goods and services as well as a customs union with free movement of capital and business travellers. Countries joining AfCFTA must commit to removing tariffs on at least 90% of the goods they produce.

If all 55 African countries join a free trade area, it will be the world’s largest by number of countries, covering more than 1.2 billion people and a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

The ECA adds that intra-African trade is likely to increase by 52.3% by 2020 under the AfCFTA.

Five more countries signed the AfCFTA at the African Union (AU) summit in Mauritania in June, bringing the total number of countries committing to the agreement to 49 by July’s end. But a free trade area has to wait until at least 22 countries submit instruments of ratification.

By July 2018, only six countries—Chad, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Ghana, Kenya, Niger and Rwanda—had submitted ratification instruments, although many more countries are expected to do so before the end of the year.

Economists believe that tariff-free access to a huge and unified market will encourage manufacturers and service providers to leverage economies of scale; an increase in demand will instigate an increase in production, which in turn will lower unit costs.
Consumers will pay less for products and services as businesses expand operations and hire additional employees.

“We look to gain more industrial and value-added jobs in Africa because of intra-African trade,” said Mukhisa Kituyi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, a body that deals with trade, investment and development, in an interview with Africa Renewal.

“The types of exports that would gain most are those that are labour intensive, like manufacturing and agro-processing, rather than the capital-intensive fuels and minerals, which Africa tends to export,” concurred Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the ECA, in an interview with Africa Renewal, emphasizing that the youth will mostly benefit from such job creation.

In addition, African women, who account for 70% of informal cross-border trading, will benefit from simplified trading regimes and reduced import duties, which will provide much-needed help to small-scale traders.

If the agreement is successfully implemented, a free trade area could inch Africa toward its age-long economic integration ambition, possibly leading to the establishment of pan-African institutions such as the African Economic Community, African Monetary Union, African Customs Union and so on.

A piece of good news

Many traders and service providers are cautiously optimistic about AfCFTA’s potential benefits. “I am dreaming of the day I can travel across borders, from Accra to Lomé [in Togo] or Abidjan [in Côte d’Ivoire] and buy locally manufactured goods and bring them into Accra without all the hassles at the borders,” Iso Paelay, who manages The Place Entertainment Complex in Community 18 in Accra, Ghana, told Africa Renewal.

“Right now, I find it easier to import the materials we use in our business—toiletries, cooking utensils, food items—from China or somewhere in Europe than from South Africa, Nigeria or Morocco,” Paelay added.

African leaders and other development experts received a piece of good news at the AU summit in Mauritania in June when South Africa, Africa’s most industrialised economy, along with four other countries, became the latest to sign the AfCFTA.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and another huge economy, has been one of the holdouts, with the government saying it needs to have further consultations with indigenous manufacturers and trade unions. Nigerian unions have warned that free trade may open a floodgate for cheap imported goods that could atrophy Nigeria’s nascent industrial base.

The Nigeria Labour Congress, an umbrella workers’ union, described AfCFTA as a “radioactive neoliberal policy initiative” that could lead to “unbridled foreign interference never before witnessed in the history of the country.”

However, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo expressed the view that the agreement is “where our [economic] salvation lies.”

At a July symposium in Lagos organised in honour of the late Adebayo Adedeji, a onetime executive secretary of the ECA, Yakubu Gowon, another former Nigerian leader, also weighed in, saying, “I hope Nigeria joins.”

Speaking at the same event, Songwe urged Nigeria to get on board after consultations, and offered her organisation’s support.

Last April, Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari signalled a protectionist stance on trade matters while defending his country’s refusal to sign the Economic Community of West African States-EU Economic Partnership Agreement. He said then, “Our industries cannot compete with the more efficient and highly technologically driven industries in Europe.”

In some countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, the government would like to have control over industrial policy, reports the Economist, a UK-based publication, adding, “They also worry about losing tariff revenues, because they find other taxes hard to collect.”

While experts believe that Africa’s big and industrialising economies will reap the most from a free trade area, the ECA counters that smaller countries also have a lot to gain because factories in the big countries will source inputs from smaller countries to add value to products.

The AfCFTA has also been designed to address many countries’ multiple and overlapping memberships in Regional Economic Communities (RECs), which complicate integration efforts. Kenya, for example, belongs to five RECs. The RECs will now help achieve the continental goal of a free trade area.

Many traders complain about RECs’ inability to execute infrastructure projects that would support trading across borders. Ibrahim Mayaki, head of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the project-implementing wing of the AU, says that many RECs do not have the capacity to implement big projects.

For Mr. Mayaki, infrastructure development is crucial to intra-African trade. NEPAD’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) is an ambitious list of regional projects. Its 20 priority projects have been completed or are under construction, including the Algiers-Lagos trans-Saharan highway, the Lagos-Abidjan transport corridor, the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya power transmission line and the Brazzaville-Kinshasa bridge.

The AfCFTA could change Africa’s economic fortunes, but concerns remain that implementation could be the agreement’s weakest link.

Meanwhile African leaders and development experts see a free trade area as an inevitable reality. “We need to summon the required political will for the African Continental Free Trade Area to finally become a reality,” said AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, at the launch in Kigali.

*This article first appeared in Africa Renewal which is published by the United Nations.

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Excerpt:

Kingsley Ighobor, Africa Renewal*

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Kenya Looks to Lead the Way in Developing the Blue Economy’s Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/kenya-looks-lead-way-developing-blue-economys-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-looks-lead-way-developing-blue-economys-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/kenya-looks-lead-way-developing-blue-economys-potential/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 11:15:22 +0000 Ambassador Macharia Kamau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158679 Ambassador Macharia Kamau is Principal Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Kenya, also the coordinating Ministry of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, 2018.

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While Africa is bordered by two oceans and two seas, African-owned ships account for a tiny fraction – just over 1 percent - of the world’s shipping. Much of Sierra Leone’s indigenous fishing continues to be carried out by traditional methods and, aside from boats’ engines, remains unmechanised and labour intensive. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Ambassador Macharia Kamau
NAIROBI, Nov 15 2018 (IPS)

For many years now, the economic potential of the African continent has been discussed, promoted and hailed by everyone from economists to policymakers to world leaders – and with very good reason. After all, Africa is a vast, populous, developing continent with enormous natural and human resource riches and a raft of rapidly developing economies which are helping create prosperity and raise living standards and social opportunities through economic growth.

But those discussions and promotions have often focused heavily, if not exclusively, on the land-based economies of the continent, and little has been said about the equally vast potential of Africa’s blue economy.

The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi from 26 to 28 Nov., is helping to bring this potential into focus – and not just for Africa, but for the entire global community – by highlighting the economic opportunities the world’s oceans, seas and rivers offer.

The global blue economy, by some estimates, generates up to USD 6 trillion for the global economy and, if it were a country, would be the seventh-largest economy is the world. It helps drive economic growth and provides jobs for hundreds of millions around the world, often to those in the poorest communities, in industries as diverse as fishing, transport, tourism, off-shore mining and others.

Ambassador Macharia Kamau, Principal Secretary, at Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the coordinating Ministry of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, says more could be done by African nations to develop the continent’s blue economies.

But its potential is, so far, being underexploited in the countries which it could help most. This is no better exemplified than in Africa where almost three quarters of countries have a coastline or are islands, where the continent’s total coastline is over 47,000 km and with 13 million km2 of collective exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

Yet despite this, maritime trade among African countries makes up only just over 10 percent of total trade by volume. And while Africa is bordered by two oceans and two seas, African-owned ships account for a tiny fraction – just over 1 percent – of the world’s shipping. The International Energy Agency says ocean renewable energy can potentially supply more than four times current global energy demand. Africa could provide a significant share of that, but many renewable energy projects on the continent have so far focused on wind and solar or other renewable energy sources.

By any standards, Africa is at least underusing, possibly even drastically wasting, its blue economy potential. This must be rectified. By some estimates, the African maritime industry is already worth USD 1 trillion annually. But, with the right economic policies implemented, it could triple in just two years.

The good news is that Kenya, and other countries in Africa, are on the way to taking advantage of the blue economy’s potential and diversifying their economies to include a greater ‘blue’ share.

For instance, the Seychelles has established a Ministry of Finance, Trade and the Blue Economy while the African Union has put the blue economy at the heart of its 2063 development agenda. In South Africa, a national development plan includes a key focus on the blue economy which is projected to add USD 13 billion to the nation’s economy and create a million new jobs by 2030.

This is all very encouraging, but more could, and should, be done by African nations to develop the continent’s blue economies.

Kenya, as co-host of this conference, is looking to lead the way in developing the blue economy’s potential, not just for itself, but for the rest of Africa and the entire global community.

But we can only do this with other countries. Thankfully, the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference provides an excellent opportunity for other countries, such as co-hosts Canada and Japan. Canada are further along with their integration of the blue economy into their wider economies – from the breadth and size of their shipping and fishing industry to innovative recycling projects that help clean the ocean as well as providing work in coastal communities – to exchange ideas and experiences, as well as technical advances, with states who are just beginning the expansion of their blue economy activities.

The conference will also provide a timely and much-needed opportunity for countries to look together at how both the private and public sector can help finance initiatives and projects in various blue economy sectors to achieve the best effect.

Indeed, the private sector’s contribution to the development of the blue economy, especially in poorer nations with more limited means to diversify their economies, is crucial. In some states, the public sector would be unable to shoulder such a financial burden on its own and innovative methods of finance will be necessary.

This, of course, is not to play down the importance of the kind of bold initiatives like the ‘blue bonds’ issued by the Seychelles to support its efforts in the blue economy.

The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference will provide an excellent opportunity to hear about and discuss projects around the world which are both exploiting the economic potential of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, but at the same time helping protect and conserve them. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

But while the economic potential of the blue economy is clear, and the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference will help underline it, we must not forget the most important part of this economy – that it is sustainable. And it must remain so.

For all the economic opportunity it offers, the blue economy will deliver nothing if it is seen simply as an economic resource to be plundered for monetary gain.

Yes, like any economy, it can help to drive greater prosperity and raise living standards, creating jobs and wealth. But those jobs and the industries that support them, must be fostered and developed on the basis of long-term environmental sustainability.

This conference will provide an excellent opportunity to hear about and discuss projects around the world which are both exploiting the economic potential of oceans, seas, lakes and rivers, but at the same time helping protect and conserve them and discuss the best ways to put similar projects into practice, and to provide guidelines and draw up regulations to help ensure that economic growth, jobs and wealth are not being created at the expense of the environment.

This first Sustainable Blue Economy Conference  is a chance to set a course for an environmentally sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for Kenya, other African states and nations around the world. Kenya is proud that it will be at the helm as this journey starts in Nairobi.

The post Kenya Looks to Lead the Way in Developing the Blue Economy’s Potential appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Ambassador Macharia Kamau is Principal Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Kenya, also the coordinating Ministry of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference, 2018.

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Mexico-US migration: What can data tell us?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/mexico-us-migration-can-data-tell-us/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexico-us-migration-can-data-tell-us http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/mexico-us-migration-can-data-tell-us/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 10:37:29 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158683 Douglas Massey, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, shares his views on data and migration between the US and Mexico. This interview took place during first International Forum on Migration Statistics, organized by OECD, IOM and UN DESA between 15-16 January 2018.

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By International Organization for Migration
Nov 15 2018 (IOM)

Douglas Massey, Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, shares his views on data and migration between the US and Mexico. This interview took place during first International Forum on Migration Statistics, organized by OECD, IOM and UN DESA between 15-16 January 2018.

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Earth’s Biodiversity: A Pivotal Meeting at a Pivotal Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/earths-biodiversity-pivotal-meeting-pivotal-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=earths-biodiversity-pivotal-meeting-pivotal-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/earths-biodiversity-pivotal-meeting-pivotal-time/#respond Thu, 15 Nov 2018 08:27:52 +0000 Cristiana Pasca Palmer and Anne Larigauderie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158677 Cristiana Pașca Palmer is the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Montreal, & Anne Larigauderie is the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Bonn

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Zainab Samo, along with her son and daughter, planting a lemon seedling on her farm in Oan village in Pakistan’s southern desert district of Tharparkar, to fight desert’s advance and for windbreak. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Cristiana Pașca Palmer and Anne Larigauderie
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt , Nov 15 2018 (IPS)

The quality of the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink depend directly on the state of our biodiversity, which is now in severe jeopardy. We need a transformational change in our relationship with nature to ensure the sustainable future we want for ourselves and our children.

Largely overshadowed by other concerns in coverage of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a section on how much better it will be for biodiversity – the essential variety of all life on Earth – if global warming can be held to 1.5 degrees Celsius rather than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Based on one modelling study, involving 105,000 species, the IPCC report estimates that 1.5°C of global warming will dramatically alter the world for 8% of plants, 4% of vertebrates and 6% of insects – eliminating more than half of their geographic range.

In a world 2°C warmer, the figures double for plants (16%) and vertebrates (8%), and triple for insects (18%). The knock-on effects for people would be severe.

Similarly, forest fires, the spread of invasive species and other biodiversity-related risks to human well-being are substantially lower at 1.5°C relative to 2°C of global warming.

Ocean temperatures and acidity will rise higher, and ocean oxygen levels will drop further, in a 2°C warmer world, leading to irreversible losses of marine and coastal ecosystems, less productive fisheries and aquaculture, less Arctic sea ice and fewer warm water coral reef ecosystems (70 to 90% losses at 1.5°C; more than 99% at 2ºC), with the loss of all the natural benefits that these provide to people around the globe.

One model projects a more than 3 million tonne drop in the world’s annual catch of marine fish at 2°C of global warming, twice the loss anticipated at 1.5°C.

It is against this deeply worrying backdrop that member States of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meets in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt Nov. 17 – 28 for the UN Biodiversity Conference. A central focus of the meeting will be a move towards a new set of global biodiversity action goals and targets.

The current goals, established in 2010 in Aichi, Japan, expire in 2020, when they are expected to be formally replaced.

Thankfully, we can point to meaningful progress on the protection and conservation of biodiversity over the past 10 years. For example, the annual rate of net forest loss has been halved; global protected areas have increased to 13% of coastal and marine areas and 15% of terrestrial areas (although not all world ecoregions are adequately covered, and most protected areas are not well connected); and the number of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture secured in conservation facilities has risen.

These successes are not, however, nearly enough to halt the ongoing loss of plant and animal diversity on Earth — a fundamental worldwide extinction crisis, deepening every year, and severely aggravated by climate change.

So, what can world policymakers do next?

To make better decisions on biodiversity, we need the best-possible understanding of the problems and the best evidence on which to act. Authoritative expert assessments, such as the IPCC report, and those of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the IPCC’s counterpart in biodiversity, provide this evidence.

Founded just six years ago, IPBES has already published seven major assessment reports on, for example, pollination and food production; land degradation and restoration; and regional assessments of biodiversity in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and the Americas.

IPBES also has a landmark new assessment report in the pipeline, to be released in Paris next May – the first comprehensive global assessment of biodiversity since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 – it will describe the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services around the world.

For almost three years, about 150 experts – including natural and social scientists, and indigenous knowledge holders – from almost 50 countries have contributed to the report, which covers land-based ecosystems, inland waters and the open oceans.

They have evaluated the changes that have occurred over recent decades, a range of possible scenarios through 2050, and the end results to expect from the pursuit of various policy options, including ‘business as usual’.

Once published, the IPBES global assessment will inform not just the critical deliberations on the world’s post-2020 biodiversity goals and targets, but all policies and actions related to biodiversity for the next decade and beyond – decisions fundamental also to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The choices humanity makes now will profoundly affect the world’s biodiversity, which in turn will impact the future economies, livelihoods, food security and quality of life of people everywhere. We must get them right.

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Excerpt:

Cristiana Pașca Palmer is the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Montreal, & Anne Larigauderie is the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Bonn

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Women Make the Voice of Indigenous People Heard in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/women-make-voice-indigenous-people-heard-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-make-voice-indigenous-people-heard-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/women-make-voice-indigenous-people-heard-argentina/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 21:38:52 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158673 The seed was planted more than 20 years ago by a group of indigenous women who began to gather to try to recover memories from their people. Today, women are also the main protagonists of La Voz Indígena (The Indigenous Voice), a unique radio station in northern Argentina that broadcasts every day in seven languages. […]

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Q&A: All Sustainable Development Goals Relate in Some Way to the Oceanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/qa-sustainable-development-goals-relate-way-oceans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-sustainable-development-goals-relate-way-oceans http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/qa-sustainable-development-goals-relate-way-oceans/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 19:27:56 +0000 Carmen Arroyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158669 IPS correspondent Carmen Arroyo interviews PETER THOMSON, United Nation’s Special Envoy for the Ocean.

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Peter Thomson, the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean. Credit: UNDP / Freya Morales

By Carmen Arroyo
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2018 (IPS)

When Peter Thomson, the United Nation’s Secretary General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, heard in 2010 there was going to be a 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, he knew he had to include the ocean question.

Thomson had just been appointed Fiji’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. that year. He had a long career as a civil servant for the Republic of Fiji, and was a diplomatic personality. So the work at the U.N. suited him.

At that time, the health of the ocean was becoming a priority among representatives from islands worldwide. So when the opportunity to impress this issue to the world came his way, Thomson did not miss it.

Thomson, along other representatives from the Pacific Islands, started to push for the inclusion of an ocean goal within the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Soon enough, other countries joined them. In 2015, they succeeded.

Now SDG14 reads: “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

In September 2016, Thomson became President of the 71st session of the U.N. General Assembly. The ocean was still a top concern of his. While other SDGs had supporting mechanisms in place (like the World Health Organisation for health or the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. for food,) the ocean lacked a supporting mechanism.

So in June 2017, the U.N. Ocean Conference to implement SDG14 was held, with representatives from NGOs, firms, governments, and civil society.

Later that year, the Secretary General appointed Thomson as the Special Envoy for the Ocean, a task he was happy to take on.

Now, Thomson is working towards the implementation of some of the targets of SDG14 that mature in 2020. They include ending overfishing and protecting marine ecosystems. The Sustainable Blue Economy Conference that will take place in Nairobi by the end of the month will address these issues.

Thomson travels constantly for his job, and by the end of the week he is inevitably tired. However, his passion over ocean conservancy does not waiver. So when IPS asks him what his biggest concern is, he quickly replies: “At 3AM when I stare at the ceiling and worry about my grandchildren, I worry most about climate change. Because that is the course which we are now set upon.”

The Blue Economy presents a challenge of how to ensure economic development that is both inclusive and environmentally sound. Credit: Nalisha Adams/IPS

Excerpts of the interview below:

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is your goal for the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi?

Peter Thomson (PT): The Nairobi conference is hosted by the governments of Kenya and Canada, and some other governments have given their support, including Japan. It’s not a U.N. conference, but it’s a very important conference. It’s the first time an Ocean Conference is being held on the African continent.

This is about the balance between protection and production of the ocean. In the case of the Nairobi conference, it’s not just the ocean, it’s lakes and rivers as well. It’s about SDG14’s goal to conserve but also to sustainably use the ocean’s resources. It’s about that balance.

IPS: In recent years, the U.N. has held a number of conferences and talks on the ocean. Do you think public opinion has changed?

PT: Yes, hugely. I compliment the media on that. Now, there are programmes on television and radio. Five years ago this was not the case, three years ago this was not the case. Today, ocean’s problems and solutions are on everybody’s lips. So I definitely think that this is much larger in the public perception as it used to be. As it should be, because the climate and the ocean are the two fundamentals on which life on this planet exists. Every breath that we take comes from oxygen created by the ocean.

IPS: How exactly are people more aware?

PT: Everyone is aware that there has to be a component of ocean action in their work for it to be regarded as complete. I can give no better example than marine plastic pollution. Everybody is now engaged in this battle against single use plastic. That has raised global consciousness, no doubt. But it doesn’t stop there. We have all the SDG 14 targets to attend to.

That is my job, to make people aware that is not just one or two issues on the ocean, it’s a gamut of issues for which we have targets. The other important part of our message is that we are continuing to see a decline in ocean’s health. Now our primary attention is in the implementation of that plan.

IPS: SDG14 is closely intertwined with the other SDGs. How do you work with them?

PT: When we do our ocean work, we think about the other SDGs. For example, SDG12, changing consumption and production patterns, is the core of 2030 agenda. If humanity doesn’t move away from unsustainable consumption and production patterns, we are stealing from our grandchildren.

Everything we are doing in SDG14 is about harmony with SDG12. But all SDGs relate in some way to the ocean. We are doing our bit and helping them, and everything they are doing is helping us. I don’t feel any artificial barriers at all.

IPS: You work with governments, the private sector, NGOs… As of now, are there countries that are doing nothing?

PT: Even landlocked countries have skin in the game, because they eat fish and breath oxygen. This is something that every human being should find relevant. This is work for the future, not the present.

IPS: And the private sector? How do you work with them towards SDG14?

PT: The co-presidents of the U.N. Ocean Conference of 2017 were Fiji and Sweden. I was then the Fiji ambassador to the U.N., and the Swedish Minister who was active was Isabella Lövin. She and I went to Davos in January in the wake of the Ocean conference, and we asked the World Economic Forum to serve as secretariat to a group called Friends of Ocean Action. The group was formed by leaders from firms, intergovernmental organisations, and academic institutions. This has proved a very good way of maintaining the involvement of the private sector in the implementation of SDG14.

IPS: What about NGOs?

PT: They’ve played a huge role in raising awareness of the need to put in place measures to assure that humanity doesn’t destroy the place where we live. If left unchecked we probably would.

IPS: And then there’s individuals. How can we contribute to the solution in our daily lives?

PT: Every human being has skin in the game here. Every breath we take comes from the ocean. I am no angel. I have been part of the problem. But for example I haven’t owned an internal combustion engine car in this century.

I love a hamburger as much as the next guy. But two years ago, my wife and I looked at our grandchildren and at what the beef industry was doing in the world. We love our grandchildren more than we love beef. So we gave up beef. It is a personal choice.

The same goes for single-use plastic. I am old enough to know a time when there was none of that nonsense of plastic covering everything. Who asked for it? We didn’t ask for it as consumers. Who is putting this on us?

IPS: What can we do as consumers?

PT: Consumers have the responsibility of speaking up. When I walk into a supermarket, I demand they keep the plastic they put around the product I wanna buy. Sometimes it has a plastic film around it, so it lasts for three months. But I don’t want it for three months! I want it for today. I rip it off, I give it to the cashier and say ‘that’s yours not mine’. If all consumers acted like that, you’d have a quick reaction in board rooms.

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Excerpt:

IPS correspondent Carmen Arroyo interviews PETER THOMSON, United Nation’s Special Envoy for the Ocean.

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Reaffirming free trade crucial for summitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/reaffirming-free-trade-crucial-summits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reaffirming-free-trade-crucial-summits http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/reaffirming-free-trade-crucial-summits/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 11:33:59 +0000 EI SUN OH http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158667 THE annual summit season beckons again. For several days this month, the leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and their counterparts from near and far, including the United States and China, will gather in Singapore for a series of expanded multilateral and bilateral summits. A few days later, the leaders will […]

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By EI SUN OH
Nov 14 2018 (Manila Times)

THE annual summit season beckons again. For several days this month, the leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and their counterparts from near and far, including the United States and China, will gather in Singapore for a series of expanded multilateral and bilateral summits. A few days later, the leaders will join even more of their counterparts in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) high-level meetings.

EI SUN OH

High on the agenda would of course be the state of the economy not only for the region, but also for the world. The world economy still wallows in the dire aftermath of the global financial crisis a decade ago. Pockets of growth bubble up from time to time, with the US, China and Southeast Asia most conspicuous among them. But already signs of strains surface, with the stock and commodity markets remaining volatile. So there is still plenty to be done by various major economies to stimulate their own and the collective global economy. Southeast Asia and by extension the Asia Pacific region are especially crucial in these endeavors.

Alas, the US under the Trump administration decided to essentially turn its back on the whole idea and practice of free trade which it had first propounded, avidly practiced and assiduously encouraged other countries to adopt. One of Trump’s first official acts after assuming the presidency was the renunciation of American participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, for which the previous Obama administration had been rounding up members. It would have been the world’s largest free trade bloc, surpassing even the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA, which itself is under “attack” from the same Trump administration) or the European Single Market. TPP was supposed to be a “free trade plus” agreement, not only opening up the markets of its participating economies, but improving their quality as well by means of rigorous standards.

It is no secret that many TPP member states, especially those with developing country status, signed up to TPP mainly to gain free trade access to the gigantic American market. They did so with the reciprocal condition that they would similarly have to open up their own domestic markets for foreign competition, and for that many of their politicians would have to take domestic political heat as local merchants understandably would like to protect their respective home turfs. Yet many of these politicians pushed for the TPP despite domestic unpopularity, believing that it would be ultimately beneficial to their home countries.

Then came the American withdrawal from TPP, which was as if a rug had been pulled from under them. Some of them would have to face ridicule from their respective electorates. Remedial measures are being undertaken, most prominently by Japan, to try to salvage what is left of the TPP, which has now been renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive TPP. It would still be the world’s third largest free trade bloc, but the enthusiasm for it and its luster have waned. Even if the CP TPP is eventually ratified, it will not have the same forceful effect on the world’s free trade agenda.

Asean does have its own free trade area under the aegis of the Asean Economic Community (AEC), which was supposed to drastically reduce or remove tariffs and non-tariff barriers between Asean countries. But despite AEC having been in force for a few years now, intra-Asean trade has yet to pick up significantly when compared to Asean trade with other major economies in the world.

And then Trump launched another round of trade war, imposing tariffs on manufactured goods mainly from China but also from many other economies. More than a few Southeast Asian countries, though not directly targeted by the American tariffs, will also be indirectly affected. This is because in some cases, they make intermediary products which are shipped to China and other major economies targeted by the American tariffs. So if exports from these economies targeted by the US slow down, so would their demand from these Southeast Asian countries. Electronic products are one such example. How would these countries weather the resulting economic hardships individually and collectively remains to be sorted out.

There has also been much expectation for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which would comprise Asean countries and six other neighboring major economies, including China, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Australia and India. At first it was supposed to sort of collate the various existing bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements among these participating economies, and therefore not difficult to conclude. But the actual RCEP negotiations proved to be much more tedious than initially anticipated, so that in a sense the RCEP negotiations has become even more protracted than the TPP’s. There are increasingly more and more calls for those RCEP participants who are willing and ready to accept the RCEP terms to just go ahead and form it first, with the other potential participants joining later when they are ready. For the world’s free trade momentum must not be lost, and a reaffirmation for it during the upcoming summits would be helpful more or less.

This story was originally published by The Manila Times, Philippines

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Do the bells toll for Rohingyas?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/bells-toll-rohingyas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bells-toll-rohingyas http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/bells-toll-rohingyas/#respond Wed, 14 Nov 2018 11:03:58 +0000 C R Abrar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158662 Mid-November has arrived and insecurity and uncertainty have descended over Rohingya refugees in Ukhia and Teknaf. The impending deadline has also elicited expressions of deep concern from UN independent experts and rights organisations. After much foot-dragging on flimsy grounds, the Burmese authorities finally approved a list of about 2,000 Rohingyas for repatriation. On October 30, […]

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Smoke is seen billowing on the Myanmar border as Rohingya refugees walk on the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip. PHOTO: REUTERS

By C R Abrar
Nov 14 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Mid-November has arrived and insecurity and uncertainty have descended over Rohingya refugees in Ukhia and Teknaf. The impending deadline has also elicited expressions of deep concern from UN independent experts and rights organisations.

After much foot-dragging on flimsy grounds, the Burmese authorities finally approved a list of about 2,000 Rohingyas for repatriation. On October 30, Bangladeshi and Burmese authorities agreed to begin the long-awaited repatriation process in mid-November.

The failure of the Burmese authorities to create an enabling condition for the refugees to return is the foremost factor behind the call for a halt to any repatriation at this stage. No meaningful change has occurred in the Burmese state’s policy towards the Rohingya people. The demand for restoration of citizenship rights has gone unheeded; Rohingyas are still not recognised as a national ethnic group; the discriminatory legal and administrative apparatuses that were set up over the decades creating an apartheid-like situation remain intact; their land and properties remain confiscated by the state or have been given away to Buddhist Rakhines; those who committed heinous crimes against the Rohingyas continue to remain in command positions and enjoy absolute impunity; escorted by the law enforcement agencies, the ultra-nationalist Buddhist vigilantes still dominate the streets of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung; Rohingyas in internally displaced camps continue to perish slowly for lack of food, potable water, medicine and livelihood opportunities; and the Kofi Annan recommendations, the much-celebrated and cited panacea for Rohingya salvation, continue to gather dust.

It is no surprise that the news of impending repatriation has hit the Rohingya community in Bangladesh hard. The assurances of the Bangladesh government that no one will be forced to return against their wish and that the UN refugee agency will be engaged in ascertaining the voluntariness of returnees have done little to assuage the concerns of these traumatised people. A Reuters report (November 9, 2018) documents the reaction of 20 of the 2,000 Rohingyas whose names have appeared in the first list for repatriation. Abdur Rahim, 47, who owned two acres of land in Arakan, emphatically says: “I’ll just consume poison if I am forced to go back,” and goes on to demand, “What is the guarantee that we will not be persecuted again?” His apprehension resonates in the statement of Nur Kaida, 25. She says it “would be better to die in the camps rather than go back and get killed or raped.”

Last week dozens of Rohingyas were apprehended by the Bangladesh Coast Guards while attempting to go to Malaysia through the maritime route. For some the dangerous sea route would be worth the risk to avert repatriation to the killing fields of Arakan. Mohammad Wares, 75, one of those whose name appeared in the list, asserts it is better than going back. “Why are they sending us back?” he asks. Poignantly, he proposes, “They may as well throw us into the sea.”

Instead of creating a congenial condition for Rohingyas’ return, on November 8, the Director General of Asean Affairs of Burma’s foreign ministry claimed that 54 of 6,472 Rohingyas on a list provided by Bangladesh authorities had been identified as having been involved in “terrorism”. He did not specify the type, timing or location of the alleged terrorist activities. The DG further noted that his country sent a list of terrorists to Bangladesh with a request to take action against them. If they are sent back, they would “have to take action against them according to the law,” he said. Thus it is clear, on the one hand, that Burma is presenting to the world that it is serious about taking back the Rohingyas, while on the other, it has not only failed to create the minimum conditions for Rohingyas’ return but is engaged in subterfuges to undermine any meaningful repatriation.

Instead of promoting inter-communal harmony to facilitate refugees’ return, the Burmese government has been engaged in a relentless campaign to present Rohingyas as terrorists. On October 26, Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, a pro-military think tank in Yangon, hosted a seminar that was attended by Rick Heizman, a controversial American activist whose anti-Muslim views have made him popular with the Burmese nationalists. Earlier in September, Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent United Nations agencies and at least one foreign aid group web links to a recent film by Heizman that claims Rakhine State is the target of an Islamic plot to destroy Buddhism.

In shoring up the Burmese government’s implicit agenda to deny Rohingyas their rightful claims in Arakan, on November 4, in Akyab, the capital of Burma’s western state of Arakan, Buddhist protesters held a rally opposing repatriation of the Rohingyas and the latter’s claim to residence in the state. Earlier on October 14, the military-backed Buddhist monk Wirathu at a rally in Yangon attacked Rohingyas as “terrorists” and declared that he would take up arms to oppose any UN or international “interference”. Last week leaders of Arakan National Party (ANP), the dominant political party of ethnic Rakhines, informed visiting US diplomats that returning Rohingya refugees will not be placed in the northern Maungdaw district region, their ancestral land. “This proposal was approved by the Rakhine state parliament as well,” said the secretary of ANP.

The duplicity of the Burmese regime is also obvious in the case involving seven Rohingyas who were deported by India in early October. The Indian Supreme Court refused to intervene in the matter after it was convinced by the Indian central government that Burma had accepted the refugees as citizens and had agreed to take them back. However, the men were denied citizenship and the Burmese government compelled them to accept national verification cards. Thus, there is little reason to believe that Burma would treat the Rohingyas who return from Bangladesh any differently under present conditions.

Independent experts have also counselled against any repatriation at this stage. On October 24 at the Security Council, Marzuki Darusman, chair of the UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Burma, described the persecution and the killing of Rohingyas as “slow burning genocide” as well as “ongoing genocide”. Another independent UN human rights expert, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee, on November 6 urged a halt to the “rushed plans” to repatriate Rohingya refugees on grounds of a lack of guarantee that the refugees wouldn’t face persecution if they returned home.

It is under such dismal conditions that on November 9, 42 humanitarian and civil society agencies working in Arakan and in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh expressed their anxiety about the prospect of any repatriation efforts at this stage. They assert that facilitating repatriation would be premature in conditions where refugees continue to flee Burma and note that refugees’ return to conditions of confinement with no freedom of movement or access to services and livelihood is likely to be permanent. The last thing the refugees want is to live in a situation of 128,000 of fellow Rohingyas and other Muslims who have been incarcerated in central Arakan state over the last six years.

Reports inform that both Bangladesh and Burma were exhorted to begin the repatriation process by some powerful states of the region who have significant interests in shielding the Burmese regime from mounting international criticism of committing mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and genocide. A token repatriation of a few thousand Rohingyas would be a convenient excuse for them to claim that the bilateral solution is gaining traction and thus there is little role for the international community in the Rohingya affair. Surely, the scenario merits prudent consideration.

While the commitment of the international community in addressing the root cause of Rohingyas’ plight has been severely wanting, Bangladesh stands tall by extending its continued support to the refugees. The prime ministerial pledge to this effort has been consistent and unequivocal. As a follow-up to her 2017 statement to the UN General Assembly session, in which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called for the creation of a “safe zone”, in 2018 she publicly affirmed her country’s commitment not to return Rohingya refugees to Burma until the conditions are conducive including “guaranteeing protection, rights, and a pathway to citizenship for all Rohingyas” (statement at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2018). There is compelling evidence to argue such conditions do not exist now.

CR Abrar teaches international relations at the University of Dhaka.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Trump’s Anti-Media Rhetoric Resonates Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/trumps-anti-media-rhetoric-resonates-worldwide/#comments Wed, 14 Nov 2018 07:44:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158659 A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word. But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he […]

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Donald J. Trump. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 14 2018 (IPS)

A former French president once remarked: Never pick a fight with a little kid or the press. The kid will throw the last stone at you and the press will have the last word.

But that obviously does not apply to a teflon-coated Donald Trump because nothing apparently sticks on him – even as he survives a barrage of criticisms from the mainstream media while he continues to utter falsehoods and mouth blatant lies.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan never said: Trump may be entitled to his own opinions but not to his own facts.

The leader of the free world, according to some critics, is fast emulating the authoritarian lifestyle of a tin pot third world dictator.

At a highly confrontational press conference last week, Trump lashed out at Jim Acosta, the chief White House correspondent for Cable News Network (CNN) for his sharp questioning of the US president– specifically on Trump’s deliberate mischaracterizations of the Central American migrant caravan.

As a result, the White House, in an unprecedented move, suspended Acosta’s press credentials while also threatening to blacklist other reporters —including Peter Alexander of National Broadcasting Company (NBC), April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks and Yamiche Alcindor of Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)– “if they did not treat the White House with respect”.

Trump’s decision is a violation of the basic right of journalists to cover the government. He characterized one reporter as “very nasty” and dismissed another reporter for asking “a stupid question”.

But Trump’s authoritarian tactics and his hostility towards the mainstream media—dismissing negative stories as “fake news” – are increasingly influencing other right wing and dictatorial leaders, including in the Philippines, Hungary, Egypt, Myanmar, Turkey, China, Poland and Syria, who are following in his footsteps.

Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times UN Bureau Chief, told IPS “it isn’t only authoritarian regimes that may be taking heart from Trump — in fact it may be the other way around.”

She said Trump admires their strong-man behavior. And more democracies are also putting journalists and intellectuals in many fields into harm’s way, she added.

Maria Ressa is right now under extreme pressure and legal threats in the Philippines, and in India, which prides itself on its democratic credentials, journalists and academics have been threatened, assaulted and in some cases killed by extreme Hindu nationalist mobs spawned in a way very similar to Trump’s unleashing of white supremacists.

Among the victims killed in India was Gauri Lankesh, an internationally known journalist who had been critical of the Hindu nationalists, said Crossette, who was a former New York Times chief correspondent for South and Southeast Asia.

CNN, which has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for the suspension of Acosta’s press credentials, said “if left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers elected officials.”

In a statement released November 13, CNN demanded the return of Acosta’s credentials arguing that “the wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process.”

Zeke Johnson, senior director of programs at Amnesty International USA, told IPS Trump’s contempt for the press and his decision to bar certain reporters from the White House not only is an affront to the right to free speech, and anathema to good governance, but also sends a dangerous signal to other leaders.

“We have seen governments around the world try to silence journalists just for reporting on uncomfortable truths or expressing a difference of opinion from the ruling power,” he pointed out.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been imprisoned in Myanmar for nearly a year for exposing crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.

Johnson said President Erdogan of Turkey has a history of shutting down outlets and imprisoning journalists. Trump’s actions are especially galling coming so recently after the horrifying disappearance and murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“While Khashoggi’s case may be an extreme example of the dangers reporters face, Trump’s insistence that reporters show him deference or face consequences only emboldens those who see a free press as a threat to authoritarian rule.”

Courtney Radsch, Advocacy Director at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said journalists should be able to do their job without fear that a tough series of questions will provoke retaliation.

“The White House should immediately reinstate Jim Acosta’s press pass, and refrain from punishing reporters by revoking their access–that’s not how a free press works.”

“In the current climate, we hope President Trump will stop insulting and denigrating reporters and media outlets, it’s making journalists feel unsafe,” added Radsch.

Meanwhile, in a New York Times piece last week, Megan Specia pointed out how Trump’s words have justified aggressive and undemocratic actions by several political leaders worldwide.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly invoked “fake news” to denounce his critics. So has Poland’s right wing government.

Responding to an Amnesty International report on thousands of deaths in Syrian prisons, President Bashar al-Assad was quoted as saying: “You can forge anything these days. We are living in a fake news era.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org

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Using Data to Restore Landhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/using-data-restore-land/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=using-data-restore-land http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/using-data-restore-land/#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 18:55:44 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158650 A new landmark initiative aims to make quality data and tools available to the international community in order to combat an “existential crisis”: land degradation. The Land Degradation Neutrality Initiative (LDN), launched by United Nations-backed partnership the Group of Earth Observations (GEO), aims to put data directly into the hands of local and national decision […]

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Large tracts of land, like these in the Sinhapura area of Sri Lanka’s North Central Polonnaruwa Province, have been degraded by years of overuse. Credit: Sanjana Hattotuwa/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 13 2018 (IPS)

A new landmark initiative aims to make quality data and tools available to the international community in order to combat an “existential crisis”: land degradation.

The Land Degradation Neutrality Initiative (LDN), launched by United Nations-backed partnership the Group of Earth Observations (GEO), aims to put data directly into the hands of local and national decision makers to help stop and reverse environmental degradation.

“Land degradation is an existential crisis. Until now, monitoring it in real time felt like an insurmountable challenge. No longer,” said Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) upon welcoming the new initiative.

“With Earth observation datasets and the practical tools to use them readily available, decision-makers and land users will have immediate and actionable information to scale up sustainable land management and planning. It is a first step to boosting our resilience,” she added.

According to the UNCCD, land quality is getting worse as over 75 percent of the world’s land surface is significantly and negatively impacted by human activity across 169 countries.

The consequences of the growing problem includes more and severe droughts, high loss of wildlife, internal displacement, and forced migration.

In fact, without urgent climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their own countries by 2050, further increasing competition for shrinking space.

The lack of action on one of the world’s biggest environmental problems is largely due to the lack of accurate data and tools to monitor it.

“At national and local levels, monitoring has been essential to government responses to land degradation,” UNCCD’s Policy Officer Sasha Alexander and lead scientist Barron Joseph Orr told IPS.

They also noted the lack of uniform indicators in order to monitor and measure land degradation.

In 2009, a global survey revealed that nearly 1,500 unique indicators were being used by countries to monitor the challenge.

“In order to have a harmonised understanding of this major environmental challenge, it has become clear that a minimum set of essential variables, combined with the flexibility for countries to add additional indicators deemed nationally or locally relevant, would be necessary,” Orr said.

The GEO LDN initiative, unveiled in Kyoto last week, hopes to bring together Earth Observation (EO) data providers and governments in order to develop quality standards, analytical tools, and capacity-building to strengthen land degradation monitoring and reporting.

The importance of such data is also recognised in the globally-adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which includes a target to combat desertification and land degradation and an indicator to assess the proportion of land that is degraded over total land area.

Of course, data alone will not be enough to combat degradation.

But with the right data, governments will be able to prioritise interventions as well as plan and manage land better.

“Using an agile development approach…governments with limited capacity are now able to do far more with monitoring data than in the past, not only reporting at the global level, but using what is being learned from these data sets to make the course corrections necessary to help ensure the right mix of interventions to avoid, reduce and reverse land degradation,” Alexander told IPS.

She pointed to the case of Brazil which successfully implemented a project to reverse degradation in the drylands region of northeastern Brazil.

After using data to identify priority areas, the Recovery Units of Degraded Areas and Reduction of Climate Vulnerabilities (URAD) initiative was established to finance actions including the provision of techniques and trainings to municipal governments.

The initiative recognised that environmental actions alone will not be sufficient as economic and social aspects must be taken into account in order to have lasting change.

While local communities have long been suspicious of government projects, the effective participation of populations and the project’s promotion of sustainable value chains and income generation help inspire “noticeable attitude and behaviour changes.”

Alexander noted that Brazil provides an example of how LDN can be achieved, and why it is crucial to link global and national monitoring with more site-specific monitoring at the project level.

The GEO LDN initiative has already been garnering interest worldwide from developing and developed countries alike.

Following the launch, Germany committed 100,000 Euros towards the cause, and more can be expected to come.

The GEO LDN initiative is a result of UNCCD’s call made at the Conference of the Parties (COP13) to bring data providers and users together and support global efforts to halt, reduce, and reverse land degradation.

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Bangladesh’s Largest Job Site, UN Migration Agency Partner to Combat Unethical Recruitment Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/bangladeshs-largest-job-site-un-migration-agency-partner-combat-unethical-recruitment-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bangladeshs-largest-job-site-un-migration-agency-partner-combat-unethical-recruitment-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/bangladeshs-largest-job-site-un-migration-agency-partner-combat-unethical-recruitment-practices/#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 12:57:58 +0000 International Organization for Migration http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158654 The UN Migration Agency (IOM) is partnering with Bangladesh’s largest online job portal Bdjobs.com Ltd. to provide the latest information to job seekers on overseas employment opportunities and connect them directly with employers. The two agencies on Sunday (11/11) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a new online portal that expects to go live […]

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IOM and Bdjobs.com officials sign a Memorandum of Understanding to better inform overseas job seekers. Photo: IOM

By International Organization for Migration
DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov 13 2018 (IOM)

The UN Migration Agency (IOM) is partnering with Bangladesh’s largest online job portal Bdjobs.com Ltd. to provide the latest information to job seekers on overseas employment opportunities and connect them directly with employers. The two agencies on Sunday (11/11) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a new online portal that expects to go live within six months.

In Bangladesh, every year nearly two million people join the working age population, while only 200,000 jobs are created locally. This phenomenon, coupled with pull factors – including peer influence, expectations of higher income and the perceived social status attached to living abroad – often lead working age people to migrate for jobs overseas.

But prospective migrants frequently find themselves misled by middlemen when it comes to signing to contracts and confronting working and living conditions different from what they were promised in some destination countries. Some job seekers even become victims of human trafficking and end up facing extreme exploitation and abuse.

IOM has been working closely with the Government of Bangladesh, recruiting agencies as well as with public and private stakeholders to reduce the vulnerability of job-seeking migrants during their journeys. For a decade, IOM has promoted a rights-based approach and integration of migration into Bangladesh’s national development agenda.

“Overseas opportunities, job requirements and the terms and conditions of their employment are the bare minimum that migrants should know to make conscious choices,” said IOM Bangladesh Chief of Mission Giorgi Gigauri. “It is their basic right and it is very important that stakeholders go beyond business as usual and play a responsible role in protecting migrant workers.”

“Credible information platforms need to become more accessible, not only to potential migrants, but also migrants living abroad and those willing to re-migrate,” he added.

“The changing market dynamics are driving us to focus more on technical jobs, which are filled by a large number of migrant workers,” said Bdjobs.com CEO AKM Fahim Mashroor. “We believe this initiative will definitely help migrant workers to get more accurate and timely job information for safe and regular migration.”

The new online job portal, which will be developed with support from the IOM Development Fund, will have some unique features particularly designed for Bangladeshi migrant workers.

The android app will offer Bangla/English language preferences and will allow jobseekers to create profiles with information required by the Bangladesh Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET) – the agency responsible for authorizing work permits for Bangladeshi migrants.

Profiles will also be integrated with a search engine through which government, foreign missions, employers and recruiting agencies will be able to identify suitable candidates.

For more information please contact Chowdhury Asif Mahmud Bin Harun at IOM Bangladesh, Email: mbinharun@iom.int, Tel. +880 1755509476.

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Climate of Repression a Dark Cloud over Upcoming Elections in Fijihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/climate-repression-dark-cloud-upcoming-elections-fiji/#respond Tue, 13 Nov 2018 12:45:58 +0000 Josef Benedict http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158651 Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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A semi-submerged graveyard on Togoru, Fiji. The island states in the South Pacific are most vulnerable for sealevel rise and extreme weather. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Josef Benedict
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 13 2018 (IPS)

Powdery white beaches. Crystal clear turquoise water. Palm trees swaying in the breeze.

This is the postcard picture of paradise that comes to mind when tourists think of Fiji. But for many citizens of the South Pacific’s largest island nation, and its media, the reality is anything but blissful.

And the repressive climate in which elections are about to take place serves to highlight the decline in democracy there in recent years.

In fact, since incumbent Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power a coup in 2006, Fijians have seen their civic freedoms increasingly restricted through repressive laws and policies.

The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe, says these restrictions have also created a chilling effect within Fijian media and civil society.

Voters in this country of 900,000 people go to the polls on November 14 in the second national elections since the return to parliamentary democracy in 2014. But given the state of afffairs, serious questions have been raised about the poll’s legitimacy.

Bainimarama’s FijiFirst government took the reins democratically following the 2014 vote – after eight years of ruling by decree. To hold on to power, Bainimarama has tried to muzzle the media and any criticism.

For several years after the coup, a regime of heavy censorship was imposed, where officially-appointed censors roamed newsrooms, deciding what could and could not be published.

In 2010, the government introduced a media decree that imposed excessive restrictions on the right to freedom of expression with hefty penalties. It also barred foreign investors from owning more than 10 percent of a Fijian media outlet.

That law has since become a noose around the neck of the media sector, giving the authorities the license to imprison journalists or bankrupt editors, publishers and news organisations.

Three years ago, the noose tightened when the decree was amended to prohibit the airing of local content including news by subscription-based television services. Early this year, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein raised concerns about this law saying it “has the effect of inhibiting investigative journalism and coverage of issues that are deemed sensitive, as well as discouraging a plurality of views.”

Some outlets have tried to challenge the official suppression and paid for it. In 2012, The Fiji Times, one of the very few independent news outlets that has refused to toe the government line, and its editor-in-chief, Fred Wesley, were found guilty of contempt of court for reprinting an article first published in New Zealand, that criticised Fiji’s judiciary.

Four years later, four Fiji Times officials, including Wesley, were charged with sedition for a letter published in the weekly vernacular Nai Lalakai newspaper, that authorities found to contain inflammatory views about Muslims.

This, even though the letter was not written by any Fiji Times staff. Human rights groups believe the charges were politically motivated. Despite the judicial harassment, they were acquitted by the Fiji High Court in May 2018.

The sedition law has also been used by the Fijian authorities to target opposition politicians. In March, the Fiji United Freedom Party’s former leader, Jagath Karunaratne and former opposition parliamentarian, Mosese Bulitavu were convicted of spray painting anti-government slogans in 2011 – charges they have denied. Both were sentenced to almost two and a half years in prison.

The government has also in recent years tried to systemically weaken the power of trade unions, which has a strong voting bloc. Felix Anthony, the Fiji Trade Union Congress (FTUC) National Secretary, has blasted Bainimarama for preaching respect for human rights and painting a picture of Fiji for the international community that is in stark contrast to the reality on the ground.

Anthony has accused the government of ignoring workers’ collective bargaining rights and imposing individual contracts on civil servants, teachers, nurses and other workers in direct violation of labour laws and international conventions that Fiji has ratified. Over the last year, the trade union has been denied permission to hold peaceful marches on at least three occasions, without a valid reason.

Fiji’s draconian laws have compelled civil society organisations (CSOs) to tread carefully, fueling frustration at a narrow civic space and the suppression of dissenting voices. Nevertheless, rights groups have continued bravely to organize and demand reforms and accountability for rights violations.

While CSOs often play a crucial role in election preparations and promoting participatory democratic culture in many countries, this is not the case in Fiji. A 2014 Electoral Decree, which does not allow any CSO that receives foreign funding “to engage in, participate in or conduct any campaign, including organising debates, public forum, meetings, interviews, panel discussions, or publishing any material that is related to the election”, has effectively barred civil society participation in elections.

Clearly unjustified, this ban is a violation of freedom of expression and undermines civil society, a key pillar of any democratic society.

Despite these worrying restrictions, Fiji was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in October 2018 for a three-year term. Among its commitments was that Fiji ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty that clearly outlines legal obligations to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. Demonstrated respect for these rights must begin with the upcoming elections and upheld by the winning party after it.

The next administration must take steps not only to ratify all human rights treaties but to ensure that all laws and decrees – such as the sedition and media laws – are revised or repealed to keep national legislation in step with international human rights law and standards.

Law enforcement officials, such as the police, who are seen to be controlled the executive, must be re-trained to ensure that they operate independently, respect the right to free speech and assembly and allow peaceful protests.

The incoming administration must take steps to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society and swiftly remove measures that limit their right to participate in elections.

During the pledging event by candidate states to the UNHRC in Geneva in September, Fiji’s representative at council, Nazhat Shameem, committed to giving the South Pacific region a voice in world’s main human rights body.

A lofty promise for a government not in the habit of giving voice to interests beyond its own. Fiji should start by allowing its own citizens to speak out and express themselves at home, without fear of reprisals.

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Josef Benedict is a civic space research officer for global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Aung San Suu Kyi stripped of Amnesty’s highest honorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/aung-san-suu-kyi-stripped-amnestys-highest-honor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aung-san-suu-kyi-stripped-amnestys-highest-honor http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/11/aung-san-suu-kyi-stripped-amnestys-highest-honor/#respond Mon, 12 Nov 2018 19:31:47 +0000 Amnesty International http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158648 Amnesty International announced today that it has withdrawn its highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, from Aung San Suu Kyi, in light of the Myanmar leader’s shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for. On 11 November, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi to inform her the […]

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By Amnesty International
Nov 12 2018 (Amnesty International)

Amnesty International announced today that it has withdrawn its highest honor, the Ambassador of Conscience Award, from Aung San Suu Kyi, in light of the Myanmar leader’s shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for.

On 11 November, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo wrote to Aung San Suu Kyi to inform her the organization is revoking the 2009 award. Half way through her term in office, and eight years after her release from house arrest, Naidoo expressed the organization’s disappointment that she had not used her political and moral authority to safeguard human rights, justice or equality in Myanmar, citing her apparent indifference to atrocities committed by the Myanmar military and increasing intolerance of freedom of expression.

“As an Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience, our expectation was that you would continue to use your moral authority to speak out against injustice wherever you saw it, not least within Myanmar itself,” wrote Kumi Naidoo.

“Today, we are profoundly dismayed that you no longer represent a symbol of hope, courage, and the undying defense of human rights. Amnesty International cannot justify your continued status as a recipient of the Ambassador of Conscience award and so with great sadness we are hereby withdrawing it from you.”

Perpetuating human rights violations

Since Aung San Suu Kyi became the de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian-led government in April 2016, her administration has been actively involved in the commission or perpetuation of multiple human rights violations.

Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the failure of Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to speak out about military atrocities against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, who have lived for years under a system of segregation and discrimination amounting to apartheid. During the campaign of violence unleashed against the Rohingya last year the Myanmar security forces killed thousands, raped women and girls, detained and tortured men and boys, and burned hundreds of homes and villages to the ground. More than 720,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh. A UN report has called for senior military officials to be investigated and prosecuted for the crime of genocide.

Although the civilian government does not have control over the military, Aung San Suu Kyi and her office have shielded the security forces from accountability by dismissing, downplaying or denying allegations of human rights violations and by obstructing international investigations into abuses. Her administration has actively stirred up hostility against the Rohingya, labelling them as “terrorists”, accusing them of burning their own homes and decrying “faking rape”. Meanwhile state media has published inflammatory and dehumanizing articles alluding to the Rohingya as “detestable human fleas” and “thorns” which must be pulled out.

“Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to speak out for the Rohingya is one reason why we can no longer justify her status as an Ambassador of Conscience,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“Her denial of the gravity and scale of the atrocities means there is little prospect of the situation improving for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya living in limbo in Bangladesh or for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State. Without acknowledgement of the horrific crimes against the community, it is hard to see how the government can take steps to protect them from future atrocities.”

Amnesty International also highlighted the situation in Kachin and northern Shan States, where Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to use her influence and moral authority to condemn military abuses, to push for accountability for war crimes or to speak out for ethnic minority civilians who bear the brunt of the conflicts. To make matters worse, her civilian-led administration has imposed harsh restrictions on humanitarian access, exacerbating the suffering of more than 100,000 people displaced by the fighting.

Attacks on freedom of speech

Despite the power wielded by the military, there are areas where the civilian-led government has considerable authority to enact reforms to better protect human rights, especially those relating to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. But in the two years since Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration assumed power, human rights defenders, peaceful activists and journalists have been arrested and imprisoned while others face threats, harassment and intimidation for their work.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s administration has failed to repeal repressive laws – including some of the same laws which were used to detain her and others campaigning for democracy and human rights. Instead, she has actively defended the use of such laws, in particular the decision to prosecute and imprison two Reuters journalists for their work documenting a Myanmar military massacre.

Aung San Suu Kyi was named as Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience in 2009, in recognition of her peaceful and non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights. At the time she was held under house arrest, which she was eventually released from exactly eight years ago today. When she was finally able to accept the award in 2013, Aung San Suu Kyi asked Amnesty International to “not take either your eyes or your mind off us and help us to be the country where hope and history merges.”

“Amnesty International took Aung San Suu Kyi’s request that day very seriously, which is why we will never look away from human rights violations in Myanmar,” said Kumi Naidoo.

“We will continue to fight for justice and human rights in Myanmar – with or without her support.”

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