Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 21 Nov 2014 22:26:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Azerbaijan’s Rights Activists on the Brinkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/azerbaijans-rights-activists-on-the-brink/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:52:13 +0000 Vugar Gojayev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137890 By Vugar Gojayev
BAKU, Nov 21 2014 (EurasiaNet)

When Azerbaijan served as chair of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, it scoffed at the spirit and purpose of the organisation and moved vigorously to squash all forms of free speech at home.

Now that Baku no longer holds the top spot, civil society activists are worrying about what Azerbaijani authorities will do next.At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

All civil society actors in Azerbaijan currently are grappling with a daunting dilemma: either stop engaging in rights-related activism or pay a high price, in particular face the prospect of criminal prosecution.

Dozens of activists and independent journalists remain behind bars for no reason other than engaging in rights work or tacitly promoting free speech. At the moment, the country’s jails hold at least 90 political prisoners, almost double the number in Belarus and Russia combined. These prisoners of conscience face a variety of cooked-up charges, including hooliganism, drug possession, tax evasion and treason.

Azerbaijan relinquished its Committee of Ministers chairmanship on Nov. 13. Far from softening its repressive behaviour and cleaning up its awful rights record during its six-month tenure, the government stepped up its suppression of internal dissent.

At least 13 activists were arrested and at least 10 others were convicted on politically motivated charges following flawed trials. Authorities rounded up the country’s most senior human rights defenders and other leading activists, including Leyla Yunus, veteran human rights defender and director of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, and her husband, the political commentator Arif Yunus.

They also detained Rasul Jafarov, chairman of Azerbaijan’s Human Rights Club, Intigam Aliyev, prominent lawyer and chairman of the Legal Education Society, and the famous opposition journalist Seymur Haziyev.

Some of those detained in recent months have serious health conditions. Yet, authorities keep them locked up, even as they fail to provide any information to suggest that pre-trial detention is warranted. They also have not released any credible evidence that would support the charges against these recent detainees.

In addition to politically motivated arrests, dozens of draconian laws regulating the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been adopted. The offices of several local and international NGOs were recently raided, their bank accounts frozen and staff interrogated. As a result of increasing pressure, many groups have felt compelled to cease operations.

While the Azerbaijani government has been ruthless in its clampdown, it remains sensitive about its public image, a fact underscored by Baku’s efforts to lavish money on PR in Washington and the EU. Baku’s PR acumen needs to be kept in mind by those who mine for signs of its intentions. Some Western partners have lauded President Ilham Aliyev’s government for releasing four political prisoners in mid-October.

The truth is the release does not change anything, and it is certainly not indicative of a softening of the Aliyev administration’s stance on dissent. It is important to note that before the four were pardoned, they were coerced into acknowledging in writing their “crime,” begging for forgiveness, praising Aliyev, objecting to being called “political prisoners” and denouncing the “anti-Azerbaijan or pro-Armenian activities” of international organizations.

Aliyev’s administration has a habit of using a “revolving door” tactic, releasing few and arresting new political prisoners. Since the October amnesty, at least three more activists have been jailed on bogus charges.

Police accused two of them on hooliganism for “swearing in public place,” and the other faces “narcotics” charges. They all have rejected the accusations, insisting their arrests are retaliation for their rights-related work.

During the Azerbaijani chairmanship, the Council of Europe chose mostly to avert its eyes to Baku’s violations or make toothless statements and merely symbolic criticisms. This head-in-the-sand approach has prompted activists in Baku to question the point of the Council of Europe.

Sadly, Azerbaijan’s refusal to release people imprisoned on politically motivated charges and end its abuses has not affected its relationships with the United States and European Union. Western diplomats tend to prefer backroom diplomacy to public pressure, but, in Azerbaijan’s case, there is absolutely no indication that private talks have had any positive effect.

The international community’s inaction means that the end of the Azerbaijan’s independent human rights community is nearing soon. Unless Aliyev’s government understands that there are serious consequences for its abuses, Baku’s free pass on human rights abuses will continue.

Editor’s note:  Vugar Gojayev is an Azerbaijani researcher and freelance journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: From Shared Concern to Shared Action – Thoughts on the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-from-shared-concern-to-shared-action-thoughts-on-the-vienna-conference-on-the-humanitarian-impact-of-nuclear-weapons/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:01:51 +0000 Daisaku Ikeda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137886

Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement (www.sgi.org).

By Daisaku Ikeda
TOKYO, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As we approach the 70th anniversary next year of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are growing calls to place the humanitarian consequences of their use at the heart of deliberations about nuclear weapons.

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

Dr. Daisaku Ikeda. Credit: Seikyo Shimbun

The Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons presented to the U.N. General Assembly in October was supported by 155 governments, more than 80 percent of all member states.

The view powerfully expressed in the Joint Statement, that it is “in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances,” expresses the deepening consensus of humankind.

The Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons will be held in Vienna on Dec. 8-9. This conference and its deliberations should provide further impetus to efforts to end the era of nuclear weapons, an era in which these apocalyptic weapons have been seen as the linchpin of national security for a number of states.

This can only happen when the goal of a nuclear-free world is taken up as the shared global enterprise of humanity with the full engagement of civil society.

Within the agenda of the Vienna Conference, there are two items in particular that require us to adopt the perspective of a shared global enterprise.Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target.

The first is the examination of risk drivers for the inadvertent or unpredicted use of nuclear weapons due to human error, technical fault or cyber security.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, people were transfixed in horror as the world teetered on the edge of full-scale nuclear war. It took the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union 13 days of desperate effort to defuse the crisis.

Today, if a missile carrying a nuclear warhead were to be accidentally launched, there could be as little as 13 minutes before it reached its target. Escape or evacuation would be impossible, and the targeted city and its inhabitants would be devastated.

Further, if such an inadvertent use of a nuclear weapon were met with retaliation of even the most limited form, the impact on the global climate and ecology would result in a “nuclear famine” that could affect as many as two billion people.

The use of a single nuclear weapon can obliterate and render meaningless generations of patient effort by human beings to create lives of happiness, to create societies rich with culture. It is in this unspeakable outrage, rather than in the numerical calculation of the destructive potential of nuclear weapons, that their inhuman nature is most starkly demonstrated.

The second agenda item that will bring into sharp focus the uniquely horrific nature of nuclear weapons—the aspect that makes them fundamentally different from other weapons—is the impact of nuclear weapons testing.

The citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not the only people to have directly experienced the horrendous effects of nuclear weapons. As the shared use of the term “hibakusha” indicates, large numbers of people continue to suffer from the consequences of the more than 2,000 nuclear weapons tests that have been carried out to date.

Further, communities near nuclear weapons development facilities in the nuclear-weapon states have experienced severe radiation contamination, and there are ongoing concerns about the health impacts on those who have worked in or lived near these facilities.

As these examples demonstrate, the decision to maintain nuclear weapons—even if they are not actually used—presents severe threats to people’s lives and dignity.

Annual global expenditures on nuclear weapons are said to total more than 100 billion dollars. If this enormous sum were to be directed not only at improving the lives of the citizens of the nuclear states, but at supporting countries where people continue to struggle against poverty and inadequate healthcare services, the benefit to humankind would be immeasurable.

To continue allocating vast sums of money for the maintenance of a state’s nuclear posture runs clearly counter to the spirit of the UN Charter, which calls for the maintenance of international peace and security with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources—a call echoed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Further, we must face squarely the inhumanity of perpetuating a distorted global order in which people whose lives could easily be improved are forced to continue living in dangerous and degrading conditions.

By taking up these two crucial themes, the Vienna Conference will place in sharp relief the underlying essence of the threat humankind imposes on itself by maintaining current nuclear postures—through the continuation of this “nuclear age.” At the same time, it will be an important opportunity to interrogate security arrangements that rely on nuclear weapons—and to do so from the perspective of the world’s citizens, each of whom is compelled to live in the shadow of this threat.

In 1957, in the midst of an accelerating nuclear arms race, second Soka Gakkai president and my personal mentor Josei Toda (1900–58) denounced nuclear weapons as a threat to people’s fundamental right to existence. He declared their use inadmissible—under any circumstance, without any exception.

The SGI’s efforts, in collaboration with various NGO partners, find their deepest roots in this declaration. By empowering people to understand and face the realities of nuclear weapons, we have sought to build a solidarity of global citizens dedicated to eliminating needless suffering from the face of the Earth.

The impassioned wish of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and of all the world’s hibakusha—is that no one else will have to suffer what they have endured. This determination finds resonant voice throughout civil society in support for the Joint Statement adopted by 155 of the world’s governments.

Even with governments whose understanding of their security needs prevents open support for the Joint Statement, there are real concerns about the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.

I trust the Vienna Conference will serve to create an enlarged sphere of shared concern. This should then lead to the kind of shared action that will break the current stalemate surrounding nuclear weapons in the months leading up to the 70th anniversary of the world’s only uses of nuclear weapons in war.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Refugees Between a Legal Rock and a Hard Place in Lebanonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/refugees-between-a-legal-rock-and-a-hard-place-in-lebanon/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:13:33 +0000 Oriol Andrés Gallart http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137868 Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

Banner in the village of Fidae (near Byblos) which reads: "The municipality of Al Fidae announces that there is a curfew for all foreigners inside the village every day from 8 pm to 5.30 am". Credit: Oriol Andrés Gallart/IPS

By Oriol Andrés Gallart
BEIRUT, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Staring at the floor, Hassan, a 21-year-old Syrian refugee from Idlib in northwestern Syria, holds a set of identification papers in his hands. He picks out a small pink piece of paper with a few words on it stating that he must obtain a work contract, otherwise his residency visa will not be renewed.

Hassan (not his real name) has been given two months to find an employer willing to cough up for a work permit, something extremely unlikely to happen. After that, his presence in Lebanon will be deemed illegal.

Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service, tells IPS that all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.Hassan, who fled Syria almost three years ago to avoid military service … [says that] all that awaits him if he returns are jail, the army or death, so he has decided that living in Lebanon illegally after his visa expires is his best bet.

Sitting next to Hassan is 24-year-old Ahmed (not his real name) from Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, who lost his residency one month ago. Since then he has been forced to watch his movements. “I live with permanent fear of being caught by the police and deported,” he says.

Since the start of Syria’s civil war in March 2011, over 1.2 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, where they now account for almost one-third of the Lebanese population.

Particularly since May, the Lebanese government has increasingly introduced measures to limit the influx of Syrian refugees into the country. Speaking after a cabinet meeting on Oct. 23, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij announced that the government had reached a decision “to stop welcoming displaced persons, barring exceptional cases, and to ask the U.N. refugee agency [UNHCR] to stop registering the displaced.”

Dalia Aranki, Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance Advisor at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), told IPS that Lebanon “is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention” and, as a result, “is not obliged to meet all obligations resulting from the Convention.”

“Being registered with UNHCR in Lebanon can provide some legal protection and is important for access to services,” she wrote together with Olivia Kalis in a recent article published by Forced Migration Review. “But it does not grant refugees the right to seek asylum, have legal stay or refugee status. This leaves refugees in a challenging situation.”

Current legal restrictions affect the admission of newcomers, renewal of residency visas and the regularisation of visa applications for those who have entered the country through unofficial border crossings.

One aid worker who is providing assistance to Syrian refugees in Mount Lebanon told IPS that the majority of the Syrian beneficiaries they are working with no longer have a legal residency visa.

Aranki notes that fear of being arrested often forces those without legal residency papers to limit their movements and also their ability to access various services, to obtain a lease contract or find employment is severely limited. It could also impede birth registration for refugees -with the consequent risk of statelessness, or force family separations on the border.

Before May this year, Syrians could usually enter Lebanon as “tourists” and obtain a residency visa for six months (renewable every six months for up to three years), although this process cost 200 dollars a year, which already was financially prohibitive for many refugee families.

However, NRC has noted that under new regulations Syrians are only permitted to enter Lebanon in exceptional or humanitarian cases such as for medical reasons, or if the applicant has an onward flight booked out of the country, an appointment at an embassy, a valid work permit, or is deemed a “wealthy” tourist. Since summer 2013, restrictions for Palestinian refugees from Syria have become even more severe.

Under its new policy, the Lebanese government also intends to participate in the registration of new refugees together with the UNHCR. Khalil Gebara, an advisor to Minister of Interior Nohad Machnouk, says that the government has taken these measures for two reasons.

“First, because the government decided that it needs to have a joint sovereign decision over the issue of how to treat the Syrian crisis. (…) Previously, it was UNHCR to decide who was deemed a refugee and who was not, the Lebanese government was not involved in this process.”

Secondly “because government believes that there are a lot of Syrians registered who are abusing the system. A lot of them are economic migrants living in Lebanon and they are registered with the United Nations. The government wants to specify who really deserves to be a refugee and who does not”.

Ron Redmond, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the U.N. agency has “for a long time” encouraged the Lebanese government to assume a role in the registration of new refugees and affirms that registration is going on.

“There is concern about the protection of refugees but there is also understanding on UNHCR’s part,” said Redmond. “Lebanon has legitimate security, demographic and social concerns.”

Meanwhile, accompanying the increasing fear of deportation from Lebanon, Syrian refugees have also been forced to deal with routine forms of discrimination.

Over 45 municipalities across Lebanon have imposed curfews restricting the movement of Syrians during night-time hours, measures which, according to Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director Nadim Houry, contravene “international human rights law and appear to be illegal under Lebanese law.”

Attacks targeting unarmed Syrians – particularly since clashes between the Lebanese army and gunmen affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Arsal in August – have  also occurred.

Given such realities, life in Lebanon for Hassan, Ahmed and many other Syrian refugees, is becoming a new exile, stuck between a rock and a hard place.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Will Myanmar’s ‘Triple Transition’ Help Eradicate Crushing Poverty?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/will-myanmars-triple-transition-help-eradicate-crushing-poverty/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 14:21:38 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137872 Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Novice monks beg for alms near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. The barbed wire barricades behind them were once a permanent feature on this busy road, but have been pushed aside to make way for peace. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
YANGON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Myanmar is never out of the news for long. This has been the case since a popular uprising challenged military rule in 1988. For over two decades, the country was featured in mainstream media primarily as one unable to cope with its own internal contradictions, a nation crippled by violence.

Since 2011, with the release of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, as well as democratic reforms, the country experienced a makeover in the eyes of the world, no longer a lost cause but one of the bright new hopes in Asia.

U.S. President Barack Obama has visited the country twice since 2011, most recently this month for the 9th annual East Asia Summit (EAS).

But beneath the veneer of a nation in transition, on the road to a prosperous future, lies a people deep in poverty, struggling to make a living, some even struggling to make it through a single day.

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman loads bags full of vegetables on to a train carriage in Yangon. Many use the slow-moving passenger trains to transport goods that they will sell in outlying villages, since few can afford road transportation. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Arranging vegetables into small bundles, this vendor tells IPS she wakes up at three a.m. three days a week to collect her produce. She makes roughly three dollars each day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The commercial capital, Yangon, is in the midst of a construction boom, yet there are clear signs of lopsided and uneven development. By evening, those with cash to burn gather at popular restaurants like the Vista Bar, with its magnificent view of the Shwedagon Pagoda, and order expensive foreign drinks, while a few blocks away men and women count out their meagre earnings from a day of hawking home-cooked meals on the streets.

The former likely earn hundreds of dollars a day, or more; the latter are lucky to scrape together 10 dollars in a week.

 

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar's 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A woman waits for passersby to buy bird feed from her in Yangon. The World Bank estimates that over 30 percent of Myanmar’s 53 million people lives below the national poverty line. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes a cartful of garbage near a busy intersection in Yangon. The 56-billion-dollar economy is growing at a steady clip of 8.5 percent per annum, but the riches are obviously not being shared equally. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The World Bank estimates that the country’s 56.8-billion-dollar economy is growing at a rate of 8.5 percent per year. Natural gas, timber and mining products bring in the bulk of export earnings.

Still, per capita income in this nation of 53 million people stands at 1,105 dollars, the lowest among East Asian economies.

The richest people, who comprise 10 percent of the population, control close to 35 percent of the national economy. The government says poverty hovers at around 26 percent of the population, but that could be a conservative estimate.

According to the World Bank’s country overview for Myanmar, “A detailed analysis – taking into account nonfood items in the consumption basket and spatial price differentials – brings poverty estimates as high as 37.5 percent.”

 

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man collects his harvest from a vegetable plot that is also a putrid water hole just outside of Yangon. The World Bank estimates that at least 32 percent of all children below five years of age in Myanmar suffer from malnutrition. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women walk with heavy loads after disembarking from a train. Thousands still rely on the dilapidated public transport system, with its century-old trains and belching buses, because they cannot afford anything else. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The country’s poor spend about 70 percent of their income on food, putting serious pressure on food security levels.

But these are not the only worrying signs. An estimated 32 percent of children below five years of age suffer from malnutrition; more than a third of the nation lacks access to electricity; and the national unemployment rate, especially in rural areas, could be as high as 37 percent according to 2013 findings by a parliamentary committee.

Over half the workforce is engaged in agriculture or related activities, while just seven percent is employed in industries.

 

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi admits that Mynmar suffers from a long list of woes, but insists that the first step to healing is the return of the rule of law. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

 

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Large-scale construction is not unusual in downtown Yangon, where foreign investments and tourist arrivals are pushing up land prices. Officials say they expect around 900,000 visitors this year. Arrivals have shot up by 49 percent since 2011. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Development banks call Myanmar a nation in ‘triple transition’, a nation – in the words of the World Bank – which is moving “from an authoritarian military system to democratic governance, from a centrally directed economy to a market-oriented economy, and from 60 years of conflict to peace in its border areas.”

 

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man pushes his bicycles laden with scrap in the streets of Yangon. Despite rapid economic growth, disparities seem to be widening, with 10 percent of the population enjoying 35 percent of Myanmar’s wealth. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

The biggest challenge it faces in this transition process is the task of easing the woes of its long-suffering majority, who have eked out a living during the country’s darkest days and are now hoping to share in the spoils of its future.

 Edited by Kanya DAlmeida

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To Fight Inequality, Latin America Needs Transparency…and Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:39:38 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137869 Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As public policy, political transparency and open data need an active ingredient to bring about social change that would reduce inequality in Latin America: citizen participation, said regional experts consulted by IPS.

That is the link that ties together open data and the transformation of society and that democratises access to rights and opportunities, said activists and government representatives working to democratise access to information and public records in the region.

During the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, held Nov. 18-19 in San José, Costa Rica, experts in transparency referred over and over to a central idea: only empowered citizens can leverage information to create a better democracy.

“Simply opening up information never changed anyone’s reality, nor did it reduce the inequality gap,” Fabrizio Scrollini, lead researcher of the Open Data Initiative in Latin America, told IPS. “Just opening up access to information in and of itself doesn’t do that. Miracles don’t exist.”

What does happen, he said, “is that with a specific policy there is a set of parallel actions that can be major facilitators of these processes of empowerment of societies in the region.”

Scrollini said citizen participation makes it possible to turn a simple technological advance, such as a government platform or web site, into a tool for social change. Change is built from the grassroots level up, working with people, he said.

As an example, he cited the Uruguayan project Por mi Barrio (For My Neighbourhood), which enables the residents of the capital, Montevideo, to report problems in their community, from a pothole in the road or piles of garbage to a faulty street light, which are immediately received by the city government.

To that end, the municipal government allowed the developers of the project, a civil society group, access to its computer system for the first time.

“It brings the government closer to all segments of the population,” Fernando Uval told IPS. “We are holding workshops in different neighbourhoods, to inform people about how it works.”

“The emphasis is especially on those who have the least access to technology, so they can report problems in their neighbourhood and improve their living conditions,” said Uval, a Uruguayan who represents Open Data, Transparency and Access to Information (DATA), the organisation behind Por mi Barrio.

The key, experts say, lies in making open data and public policies on transparency a means to achieving social change, and not an end in themselves.

Moreover, if all information were open in real time, public policies and people’s response to social problems could be more effective.

“If government information were in a totally open format that would enable a political scientist to know where the inequality lies – through the GINI index, which measures it, for example – and to combine it with data related to economic or population growth, we could make better decisions,” Iris Palma told IPS.

Palma is the executive director of the non-governmental organisation DatosElSalvador, dedicated to securing the release of public information in that Central American country.

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike – in easily managed formats.

For example, if an economist were to request information from a census, a digital version would be easier, to analyse the data using models and statistical programmes, instead of receiving them only in print.

The concept of open government stipulates that public administration should be transparent, provide easy access to information, be held accountable to the citizens, and integrate them in decision-making.

In the world’s most unequal region, governed by authoritarian regimes for decades, the concept of a participative government is relatively recent.

“We went from states and governments that operated on the basis of secrecy to a radical change, based on openness,” Scrollini said.

“That poses new challenges, because information should be used, and to be used, policies are needed to help people do so, and people need to be empowered,” he added.

Nevertheless, civil society in Latin America is forging ahead. For example, people in Mexico can find out how their tax money is used through the Open Budget programme.

In the region, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency brings together efforts to monitor the activities of the legislatures of nine countries in the region.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, a group of enterprising young people took public data from the Economy Ministry to create a smart phone app called “Ahorre Más”, which helps people make decisions when they’re shopping in the supermarket.

“With respect to the issue of open government, Latin America and the Caribbean are a step ahead, and are in the vanguard around the world,” said Alejandra Naser, an Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) researcher who led a workshop on open government during this week’s regional meeting.

“It is precisely for that reason that we want to reinforce the movement with tools for decision-makers,” she added.

The challenge is how to get citizens involved in these processes.

Scrollini says technology cannot be the only route to achieve open data, and calls for a rethinking of traditional social input tools, such as community workshops or neighbourhood meetings, to figure out how people’s ideas can be incorporated into the design of these policies.

Other methods target key segments of the population, which could later foment greater use by other social sectors – from marathon sessions where the groups are invited to work with data to broader programmes with the users of the future.

“We actively work on ‘hackathons’ (an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects), to get journalists involved, because these reporters then foment the involvement of society at large,” said Cristina Zubillaga, assistant executive director of the National Agency for e-Government and Information Society, a Uruguayan government agency.

At the same time, she said, “we work with academia to train students in data management.”

International development aid, meanwhile, the big source of financing for these programmes in the region, underlines that it is essential to support civil society groups that already have some experience and can serve as spearheads.

“We support organisations that can translate information into easily understood terms, showing people that they can get involved and that the availability of information affects and involves them,” Ana Sofía Ruiz, an official with the Dutch development organisation HIVOS’ Central America programme, told IPS.

“We are trying to draw people in, to get them involved in this,” said the representative of HIVOS, which has financed projects like Ojo al Voto, a Costa Rican initiative that provided independent information during this year’s presidential and legislative elections.

Ojo al Voto wants to help provide oversight of the work of the Costa Rican parliament.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The Future of the Planet and the Irresponsibility of Governmentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/the-future-of-the-planet-and-the-irresponsibility-of-governments/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 08:23:09 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137866

In this column, Roberto Savio – founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News – argues that governments are unwilling to take steps to do something concrete to halt climate change because of their incestuous relations with energy corporations and because they are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

Less than a week after everybody celebrated the historical agreement on Nov. 17 between the United States and China on reduction of CO2 emissions, a very cold shower has come from India.

Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal has declared: “India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate change many years in the future. The West will have to recognise we have the needs of the poor”.

This is also a blow to the Asia policy of U.S. President Barack Obama, who came back home from signing the CO2 emissions agreement in Beijing, touting his success on establishing U.S. policy in the region.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

But, more importantly, will give plenty of ammunition to the Republican Congress, which has been fighting climate control on the grounds that the United States cannot engage on climate control unless other major polluters make similar commitments. This was always directed to China, which had refuse to make any such commitment until President Xi, to the surprise of everybody, did so by signing an agreement with Obama.

India is a major polluter, not at the level of China, which has now reached 9,900 metric tons of CO2, against the 6,826 of the United States. But India is coming up fast. “The incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public's eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence”

Goyal has promised that India’s use of domestic coal will rise from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is selling licences for coal mining at a great speed. The country has increased its coal-fired plants by 73 percent in just the last five years. In addition, Indian coal is of poor quality, polluting twice as much as coal in the West.

Nevertheless, newly-elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that he will embark on a major programme of renewable sources of energy, and there is an apparent paradox in the fact that many of the climate scientists who form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) are from India. Its Director-General is an Indian, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, who is also chief executive of the Energy Resources Institute in New Delhi.

The IPCC’s last report was much more dramatic than previous ones, stating conclusively that climate change is due to the action of man, and providing an extensive review of the damage that the agricultural sector is bound to face, especially in poor countries like India. At least 37 million people would be displaced by rising seas.

Indian towns are by far the most polluted in the world, surpassing several times each year the worst polluted day in China.

But what is more worrying is that governments are reacting too slowly. It would take a very major effort, which is not now on the cards, to keep temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees Centigrade, and therefore to start to reduce emissions by 2020. Emissions in 2014 are expected to be the highest ever, at 40 billion tonnes, compared with 32 billion in 2010.

The consensus is that to limit warming of the planet to no more 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrial levels, governments would have to restrict emissions from additional fossil fuel burning to about 1 trillion tons of carbon dioxide.

But, according to the IPCC report, energy companies have booked coal and petroleum reserves equal to several times that amount, and they are spending some 600 billion dollars a year to find more. In other words, governments are directly subsidising the consumption of fossil fuel.

By contrast, less than 400 billion dollars a year are spent to reduce emissions, a figure that is smaller than the revenue of one just one U.S. oil company, ExxonMobil.

The last meeting of the G20 in Brisbane earlier this month gave unexpected attention to climate, but the G20 alone is spending 88 billion dollars a year in subsidies for fossil fuel exploration, which is double that which the top 20 private companies are spending to look for new oil, gas and coal.

The G20 spends 101 billion dollars to support clean energy in a clear attempt to make everybody happy but, according to the International Energy Agency, if G20 governments directed half of their subsidies, or 49 billion dollars a year, to investment for redistributing energy from new sources, we could achieve universal energy access as soon as 2030.

Another good example of the total lack of coherence from Western governments is that they have pledged an amount of 10 billion dollars for a Green Climate Fund, whose task is to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. That amount is two-thirds of what those countries have been asking for and, since its creation in 1999, the fund has still to become operational.

And it was only after the last G20 meeting that the United States pledged three billion dollars and Japan 1.5 billion, bringing the total so far to 7 billion dollars – one-third is still missing.

And now we have the upcoming Climate Conference in Lima, in December, where opinion is that governments will once again fail to reach a comprehensive agreement on climate change – and the amount of time left for the planet will reduce even further.

Besides the fight to be expected from the Republican Congress in the United States, there will be also be opposition from countries that depend on fossil fuels, such as Russia, Australia, India, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

So, governments show a total lack of consensus and responsibility. If a referendum could be held asking citizens if they would prefer to pay 800 billion dollars less in taxes to avoid subsidising pollution, there are few doubts what the result would be. And there would be same result if they were asked if they would prefer to invest those 800 billion dollars in clean energy or continue to pollute.

But the incestuous relations between energy corporations and governments are out of the public’s eye. It is yet further proof that, even when nothing less than survival is at stake for islands and coastlines, agriculture and the poor, governments are unable – or unwilling – to see beyond their immediate existence. We are direly in need of global governance for this kind of globalisation. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Proposal for International Anti-Corruption Court Seeing “Significant” Momentumhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/proposal-for-international-anti-corruption-court-seeing-significant-momentum/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 01:28:00 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137864 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

The key U.S. advocate of a proposal to create a multilateral body mandated to investigate allegations of political corruption says the idea is receiving significant interest from civil society, politicians and major business leaders.

Mark L. Wolf, a U.S. federal judge, first proposed the idea of an International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) in two articles this summer (available here and here). Since that time, Wolf told a recent briefing at the U.S. Congress, the proposal has seen “remarkable progress”.“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates.” -- Akaash Maharaj of GOPAC

“There are, of course, challenges to refining the concept of an IACC,” Wolf told a House of Representatives committee last week. “However, since July 2014 significant support has developed for meeting these challenges.”

Wolf reported ongoing meetings with U.S. officials and the World Bank, and reported that the new United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, has made the IACC proposal a “personal priority”. Hussein was a key force in the creation of the International Criminal Court, a potential model for the IACC.

This week, Wolf is addressing representatives of major global companies.

“American companies generally want to behave ethically and, in addition, are significantly deterred by the threat of prosecution,” Wolf stated. “They know they would benefit from the more level playing field an IACC would provide.”

Indeed, many say the speed with which the congressional committee moved to hold last week’s briefing is remarkable. It underscores a uniquely broad consensus, both domestically and internationally, around the need to crack down on what is referred to as “grand corruption” – the abuse of political office for personal gain.

Increasingly, this issue is being seen as less one of theft than of basic human rights.

“Today’s briefing seeks to foster an understanding that human rights and anti-corruption efforts are inseparable,” James McGovern, the member of Congress who chaired the committee’s discussions, stated in opening remarks.

“Currently, there is a lack of reference to human rights in international anti-corruption commitments and, conversely, the lack of reference to corruption in international human rights instruments.”

140,000 children a year

Grand corruption is today thought to eat up more than five percent of global gross domestic product. According to estimates cited by Judge Wolf, illicit financial flows out of developing countries are 10 times larger than the foreign assistance those countries receive – losses that have direct human consequences.

“In the developed world we can make the mistake of seeing corruption as merely stealing money, but in fact political corruption kills more people than war and famine put together – 140,000 children a year, by our estimates,” Akaash Maharaj, the executive director of the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), told IPS.

“If a political actor were to kill that many people, there would be very few people who wouldn’t say that we have to deal with this problem. But those who bring about human suffering through political corruption are no less guilty.”

GOPAC, which includes legislators from almost every country, has been mobilising around the need for concerted international action against corruption for the past three years. Maharaj says that his organization’s membership has lost faith in the ability of many countries to deal with political corruption at the national level.

While there are international mechanisms that threaten penalties for egregious human rights abuse, for the most part corruption continues to fall into a nebulous zone of national responsibility. Existing multilateral agreements, including the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, which came into effect in 2003, lack substantive enforcement mechanisms.

Yet while anti-corruption legislation exists in almost every country, advocates note that many of the most corrupt officials are often able to use their wealth and power to subvert these laws. These figures are typically the least likely to face domestic justice, and thus can come to expect impunity.

“There are certain crimes so beyond the pale and beyond state capacity to prosecute that it becomes appropriate for the international community and for international law to become engaged. Certainly the harm grand corruption causes in many developing countries is enormous,” Zorka Milin, a legal adviser with Global Witness, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“An international court would be a good mechanism for trying to translate that momentum into meaningful accountability, which we haven’t really seen so far. It’s important to frame the discussion in terms of ending impunity, and this court would be one piece of that, together with other legal anticorruption tools at the domestic level.”

Under Wolf’s proposal, an IACC would be mandated to investigate and prosecute officials from countries that are unable or unwilling to undertake such actions on their own. He suggests making acceptance of the proposed court’s jurisdiction a pre-condition for membership under the Convention Against Corruption or at the World Trade Organisation, or for obtaining loans from multilateral banks.

Inevitable, unclear action

The global discussion today is increasingly conducive to some sort of concerted global action against political corruption. In part, this trend is driven by strengthened concern around the effects that tax evasion is having on public coffers in both developed and developing countries.

“Unquestionably, there is today more momentum and awareness on the issue of grand corruption, and that’s the major reason these issues are rising on the international agenda,” Milin says.

GOPAC’s Maharaj agrees. “I’m struck by the extraordinary level of consensus across the world,” he says. “This is absolutely inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Exactly what should be done about the issue, however, remains highly contentious. There are multiple potential options, after all, with an international court being just one.

Others include expanding the purview of the International Criminal Court or other regional human rights courts. Likewise, the jurisdiction of national judicial systems could be enlarged to be able to deal with allegations of corruption in other countries.

Another possibility could be to coordinate national legislation – and priority – in developed countries, aimed at seizing the assets of or denying visas to corrupt officials. While this would not result in jail time, it would make it harder to spend ill-gotten wealth while simultaneously emphasising international disapproval.

Importantly, some countries have become increasingly aggressive in this regard in recent years, particularly the United States and Switzerland. Watchdog groups say these nascent initiatives are important and already having impact.

“Over the last eight years there’s been growing official action against kleptocracy in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Arvind Ganesan, the head of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“Strengthening those efforts now – meaning fully resourcing and expanding them, and pushing other countries to put in place similar policies – will build momentum towards an International Anti-Corruption Court.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Undead Rise Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-undead-rise-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/mexicos-undead-rise-up/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 21:37:59 +0000 Charlotte Maria Saenz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137856 Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

Credit: Proyecto Diez Periodismo con Memoria, via Ilustradores con Ayotzinapa

By Charlotte María Sáenz
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

“Alive they were taken, and alive we want them back!”

That’s become the rallying cry for the 43 student teachers abducted by municipal police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang last September in Iguala, Mexico. None have been seen since.In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy.

It remained the rallying cry even after federal officials announced that the missing students had most likely been executed and burnt to ashes.

Since then, Argentine forensic experts have concluded that burned remains found in Iguala do not belong to the missing young men—and so the 43 remain undead. The findings speak to a growing scepticism about the Mexican government’s competence—not only to deliver justice, but also to carry on an investigation with any kind of legitimacy or credibility.

It has become ever clearer that the state is in fact deeply implicated in the violence it claims to oppose. The student teachers were originally attacked by municipal police—allegedly at the orders of Iguala’s mayor and his wife, who were at a function with a local general when the attack took place.

Although the exact details of who ordered the attack are not yet clear, the handing over of the student teachers to a violent drug gang betrays a thorough merger of the police force, local officials, and organised crime.

This growing realisation has ignited rage all over Mexico, with social media campaigns flaring up alongside massive street protests. Peaceful marches happen almost daily in Mexico City, while elsewhere there are starker signs of unrest. Some demonstrators even set fire to government buildings in the Guerrero state capital.

Meanwhile, the government has carried on an increasingly clumsy investigation, first purporting to have found the students in nearby mass graves—as The Nation reports, plenty of mass graves have turned up, but none has yet been proven to contain the missing teachers—and then claiming to have extracted confessions from the alleged killers.

In a November press conference, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam showcased detailed video testimonies from three alleged hit men who claimed to have burned the 43 at a nearby garbage dump. Parents of the missing went to inspect the alleged site and found evidence lacking. Many doubted that a fire of such magnitude—the supposed killers claimed that they had spent 14 hours burning the bodies—could have happened due to the rain of that night.

When Argentine forensic specialists disproved Karam’s narrative, the federal government pledged to “redouble efforts” to find the students. Now President Enrique Peña Nieto is hinting at a conspiracy against his government. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mexican officials want this issue put to rest as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the mounting number of mass graves investigators are turning up serves as a reminder that this kind of violence has been going on for years. Police round up, detain, beat, arrest, and shoot at student activists routinely, as when state police shot and killed two Ayotzinapa students during a protest action on the highway in 2011. As with over 90 percent of such crimes in Mexico, no one has been punished.

These kinds of killings and disappearances have a long and sordid history as a practice of state violence in Mexico—and particularly in Guerrero—since the so-called Dirty War of the 1970s.

The many discrepancies in Karam’s press conference are feeding into a growing popular refusal to trust the government’s ability to investigate the disappearances independently.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether the parents of the missing believed him, Karam quipped that the parents are people who “make decisions together.” The question was not so much about whether the parents, as individuals, believed or disbelieved Karam’s evidence—although they have since visited the alleged crime scene and reaffirmed their scepticism.

Instead, ordinary Mexicans are increasingly employing their collective intelligence in making sense of the events and refusing to accept the state’s evidence on the grounds that the state itself is compromised. And just as importantly, they’re condemning the government’s silence about its own complicity in the probable execution of their sons.

In their increasing rejection of the Mexican narco-state’s legitimacy, the parents of the missing 43 are signaling their membership in what anthropologist Guillermo Bonfíl Batalla famously termed México Profundo—that is, the grassroots culture of indigenous Mesoamerican communities and the urban poor, which stands in stark contrast to the “Imaginary Mexico” of the elites.

Recalling the Zapatista movement, the rumblings from below in the wake of the mass abduction in Guerrero are merging with older modes of indigenous resistance to give new life to Mexico’s deep tradition of popular struggle.

Bolstered by social media, this new life is expressing itself in a number of colourful ways. Defying the government’s theatre of death, artists from all over the world are creating a “Mosaic of Life” by illustrating the faces and names of the disappeared. Mexican Twitter users have embraced the hashtag #YaMeCansé—“I am tired”—to appropriate Karam’s complaint of exhaustion after an hour of responding to questions as an expression of their own rage and resilience.

Gradually, a movement calling itself “43 x 43”—representing the exponential impact of the 43 disappeared—is rising up to greet the undead, along with the more than 100,000 others killed or disappeared since the start of this drug war in 2006 under former President Felipe Calderón. This refusal of the dead to remain dead made for a particularly poignant Dia de Muertos celebration earlier this month.

This form of resistance recalls what happened last May in the autonomous Zapatista municipality of el Caracol de la Realidad in the state of Chiapas, where a teacher known as Galeano was murdered by paramilitary forces. At the pre-dawn ceremony held there in Galeano’s honor on May 25, putative Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos announced that he, Marcos, would cease to exist.

After Marcos disappeared into the night, the assembled then heard a disembodied voice address them: “Good dawn, compañeras and compañeros. My name is Galeano, Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano. Does anybody else respond to this name?”

In response, hundreds of voices affirmed, “Yes, we are all Galeano!” And so Galeano came back to life collectively, in all of those assembled.

And now 43 disappeared student teachers have multiplied into thousands demanding justice from the state and greater autonomy for local communities, which are already building alternative healthcare, education, justice, and governmental systems. A general strike is scheduled for the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution on November 20th.

In Mexico’s unraveling, there is an opportunity for the rest of the world to witness—and support—the emergence of more direct and collective forms of democracy. As the now “deceased” Marcos said: “They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Inequality in Mexico Is All About Wageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/inequality-in-mexico-is-all-about-wages/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 16:09:50 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137848 Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Street vendors on Moneda street in the historic centre of Mexico City. The huge informal economy is one expression of the enormous pay inequality in the country. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Sandra G. works Monday through Saturday in a beauty salon on the south side of Mexico City, where she earns slightly more than the minimum wage, which in this country is just five dollars a day.

The 30-year-old, who studied cosmetology and asked that her last name not be published, does beauty treatments and sells products like skin cream and lotions, which boost her income thanks to small commissions on her monthly sales.

But the pressure to reach the minimum sales target of 3,000 dollars a month makes the work “quite stressful,” she said.

“The owner told me that since she was just starting up her business she could only pay minimum wage, but that if I was good with sales, I could increase my income,” she told IPS.

Sandra said she and her husband, an engineer, get by but without anything left over for luxuries.“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages.” -- Alicia Puyana

“My husband was unemployed for a couple of months and things were really tight,” she said. “He found work and that gave us some breathing room, but we’re worried that the possibility of prospering is far off because wages are too low compared to the cost of living.”

Stories like Sandra’s are typical and illustrative of the inequality that reigns in this country of 118 million people. But the current debate over a rise in the minimum wage seems to ignore the reality of millions.

“The issue of wages is a question of inequality,” said Miguel López, a member of the Observatory of Wages at the private Iberoamerican University of Puebla, a city in central Mexico. “Wages can be a mechanism to mitigate inequality. But there are more workers and they get a smaller piece of the pie. It’s a problem of redistribution.”

In its 2014 report, published in April, the Observatory underlined that “the absolute impoverishment of the working class is reflected in the reduction of the cost of labour, the more intense exploitation of the working day, and the growing precariousness of working conditions, housing and living conditions in general.”

The current minimum wage of around five dollars a day is the lowest in Latin America, followed by Nicaragua, Haiti and Bolivia, according to the Observatory.

But the most worrisome aspect is the enormous wage gap, as reflected by a 2013 study by the global management consultancy, Hay Group, on the difference between the pay earned by senior employees and new workers.

According to the report, the base salary of an executive in Mexico City is 10,000 dollars a month, just 417 dollars less than what an executive in a similar company in New York earns. But in the United States, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 dollars an hour, compared to 5.05 dollars a day in the Mexican capital.

The Presidents’ Compensation Study by the international human resources consultancy Mercer found that in Mexico the CEO of a large company earned 121 times the minimum wage – the biggest gap in Latin America.
Article 123 of the Mexican constitution states that “the minimum wage in general should be sufficient to meet the normal needs of the head of the family, in material, social and cultural terms, and to provide obligatory education for the children.”

According to official figures, Mexico’s economically active population totals 52 million, of whom more than 29 million work in the informal sector. The official unemployment rate stands at 4.8 percent and underemployment at seven percent.

“Factory of the poor”

A study by the Multidisciplinary Research Centre (CAM) of the National Autonomous University of Mexico found that 4.4 million workers in Mexico earn from one to three times the minimum wage.

The report, “Factory of the Poor”, published in May, adds that just over two million workers earn from three to five times the minimum wage.

According to the report, the number of Mexicans who earn up to two times the minimum wage grew nearly three percent from 2007 to 2013, while the number of those who earned three to five times the minimum wage shrank 23 percent – a reflection of the impoverishment of the middle class.

Ernesto C. earns nearly 5,000 dollars a month, plus a productivity bonus, at one of the largest private banks in Mexico.

“The pay is good, it’s at the same level as other banks in the country and is similar to what is earned by colleagues from the United States who I deal with,” said the 34-year-old executive, who lives with his girlfriend in an upscale neighbourhood on the west side of the city.

Ernesto, who also asked that his last name not be used, and who drives the latest model SUV and spends nearly 300 dollars on an evening out, said he obtained financing to study abroad.

“When I came back, it wasn’t like I had expected – it was actually hard for me to find a good job. But I finally found one and I managed to climb up the ladder quickly,” he said.

The Federal District sets an example

On Sept. 25, Miguel Mancera, Mexico City’s left-wing mayor, presented a proposal to raise the minimum wage for city employees to six dollars a day as of June 2015, with the aim of extending the measure to the private sector.

The study “Policy for restoring the minimum wage in Mexico and the Federal District; Proposal for an accord”, drawn up by a group of experts, which forms the basis of Mancera’s offer, reported that the real value of wages has gone down 71 percent at a national level.

That reduction, the document says, pulls down other remunerations, just as “the minimum wage affects the entire income structure.”

Alicia Puyana, a researcher at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico, says the fight against poverty has been given higher priority than efforts to reduce inequality.

“There has been no in-depth effort to tackle the causes of the poverty that comes from the poor distribution of income, and the concentration of wealth and of capital in general. The approach is to attack the final effects, one of which is wages,” she said.

In Mexico, 53 million people are poor, according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policies.

By contrast, the number of billionaires, and their fortunes, grew between 2013 and this year, says the report “Billionaire Census 2014”, produced by the Swiss bank UBS and the Singapore Wealth-X consultancy.

The number of billionaires in Mexico grew from 22 to 27 and their combined income increased from 137 billion to 169 billion dollars.

“We need a social pact and a real policy on wages. What better social policy could there be than one that directly tackles the distribution of income?” López said.

The Multidisciplinary Research Centre says the minimum wage needed to cover a basic diet would be 14 dollars a day, while the Mexico City Federal District government sets it at 13 dollars a day.

“Raising the minimum wage 15 or 20 percent is just a crumb. It doesn’t compensate the general decline, which could be remedied with a progressive fiscal policy, to capture part of the major income flows,” Puyana said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Israel’s Arabs – Marginalised, Angry and Defianthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-israels-arabs-marginalised-angry-and-defiant/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 14:37:54 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137844 Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Israeli soldiers and police block Palestinians from one of the entrances to the old city in Jerusalem. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

The recent killing of an Arab youth by the police in the Israeli Arab village of Kufr Kanna, outside Nazareth, the ongoing bloody violence in Jerusalem, and the growing tensions between the Israeli security services and the Arab community in Israel could be a dangerous omen for Israeli domestic stability and for the region.

Should a third intifada or uprising erupt, it could easily spread to Arab towns and cities inside Israel.Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Foreign media is asking whether Palestinians are on the verge of starting a new intifada in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, and perhaps in Israel. Ensuing instability would rattle the Israeli body politic, creating new calls from the right for the transfer of the Arab community from Israel.

As Israeli politics moves to the right and the state becomes more Jewish and less pluralistic and inclusive, the Palestinian community, which constitutes over one-fifth of the population, feels more marginalised and alienated.

In response to endemic budgetary, economic, political, and social discrimination, the Arab community is becoming assertive, more Palestinian, and more confrontational. Calls for equality, justice, and an end to systemic discrimination by “Israeli Arab” civil society activists are now more vocal and confrontational.

The Israeli military, police, and security services would find it difficult to contain a civil rights intifada across Israel because Arabs live all over the state, from Galilee in the north to the Negev in the south.

The majority of Arabs in Israel are Sunni Muslims, with a small Druze minority whose youth are conscripted into the Israeli army. The even smaller Christian minority is rapidly dwindling because of emigration.

The vast Muslim majority identifies closely with what is happening at the important religious site of al-Haram al-Sharif or Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Islamic State’s territorial expansion in Iraq and Syria and the rise of Salafi groups in Sinai and Gaza will surely impact the Arabs in Israel.

In addition to Arabic, Palestinians in Israel speak Hebrew, travel throughout the country, and know Israel intimately. A potential bloody confrontation with Israeli security forces could wreak havoc on the country.

Israeli Arab Spring?

Based on conversations with “Israeli Arab” activists over the years, a possible “intifada” would be grounded in peaceful protests and non-violent civil rights struggle. The Israeli government, like Arab regimes during the Arab Spring, would attempt to delegitimise an “Israeli Arab Spring” by accusing the organisers of supporting terrorism and Islamic radicalism.

One Palestinian activist told me, however, “The protests are not about religion or radicalism; they are about equality, justice, dignity, and civil rights.”

Analysis of the economic, educational, political, and social status of the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel shows not much improvement has occurred since the bloody events of October 2000 in which 13 Arabs were killed during demonstrations in support of the al-Aqsa intifada. In fact, in welfare, health, employment, infrastructure, public services, and housing the situation of Israeli Arabs has retarded in the past decade.

For years, the Arab minority has been called “Israeli Arabs” because they carry the Israeli citizenship or the “’48 Arabs,” which refers to those who stayed in Israel after it came into being in 1948.

Although they have lived with multiple identities—Palestinian, Arab, Islamic, and Israeli—in the past half dozen years, they now reject the “Israeli Arab” moniker and have begun to identify themselves as an indigenous Palestinian community living in Israel.

Arab lawyers have gone to Israeli courts to challenge land confiscation, denial of building permits, refusal to expand the corporate limits of Arab towns and villages, meager budgets given to city and village councils, and limited employment opportunities, especially in state institutions.

In the Negev, or the southern part of Israel, thousands of Arabs live in “unrecognized” towns and villages. These towns often do not appear on Israeli maps! Growing calls by right-wing Zionist and settler politicians and their increasingly virulent “Death to Arabs” messages against the Arab minority have become more shrill and threaten to spark more communal violence between Jews and Arabs across Israel.

Deepening fissures in Israeli society between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority will have long-term implications for a viable future for Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

The Arab community expects tangible engagement initiatives from the government to include allowing Arab towns and villages to expand their corporate limits in order to ease crowding; grant the community more building permits for new houses; let Arabs buy and rent homes in Jewish towns and ethnically mixed cities, especially in Galilee; increase per capita student budgetary allocations to improve services and educational programmes in Arab schools; improve the physical infrastructure of Arab towns and villages; and recognise the “unrecognised” Arab towns in the Negev.

Depending on government policy and regional developments, Israeli Arabs could be either a bridge between Israel and its Arab neighbours or a potential domestic threat to Israel as a Jewish, democratic, or multicultural state. So far, the signs are not encouraging.

The Islamic Movement, which constitutes the vast majority of the Arab community, is also becoming more cognizant of its identity and more active in forging links with other Islamic groups in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

The growing sense of nationalism and Islamisation of the Arab community is directly related to Israel’s occupation policies in the West Bank, continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, and refusal to recognise the Palestinians’ right of self-determination. Long-term government-minority relations in Israel, whether accommodationist or confrontational, will also affect American standing and national interest in the region.

Although secular activists within the Arab community are wary of the Islamist agenda, they seem to collaborate closely with leaders of the Islamic Movement on the need to assert the political rights of Israeli Arabs as full citizens.

In 2006-07, Arab civil society institutions issued three important documents, known collectively as the “Future Vision,” expressing their vision for the future of the Palestinian community in Israel and its relations with the state.

The documents called for “self-reliance” and described the Arab minority as an “indigenous, Palestinian community with inalienable rights to the land on which it has lived for centuries.” The documents also assert the Arabs in Israel are the “original indigenous people of Palestine” and are “indivisible from the larger Palestinian, Arab, Islamic cultural heritage.”

Arab activists believe that recent Israeli policies toward the Palestinian minority and their representatives in the Knesset are undermining the integrationist effort, empowering the Islamist separatist argument, and deepening the feeling of alienation among the Arab minority.

Way forward

Recent events clearly demonstrate that the Arabs in Israel are no longer a quiescent, cultural minority but an “indigenous national” minority deserving full citizenship rights regarding resources, collective rights, and representation on formal state bodies.

Many of the conditions that gave rise to the bloody confrontation with the police on Temple Mount over a decade ago, including the demolition of housing, restrictions on Arab politicians and Knesset members, restrictive citizenship laws, and budgetary discriminatory laws remain in place.

A decade ago the International Crisis Group (ICG) anticipated the widespread negative consequences of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority and its findings still stand. Perhaps most importantly, the organisation judged the probability of violence to remain high as long as “greater political polarization, frustration among Arab Israelis, deepening Arab alienation from the political system, and the deteriorating economic situation” are not addressed.

In order to avoid large-scale violence, the ICG recommended that the Israeli government invest in poor Arab areas, end all facets of economic, political, and social discrimination against the Arab community, increase Arab representation at all levels in the public sector, and implement racism awareness training in schools and in all branches of government, beginning with the police.

A poor, marginalised one-fifth of the Israeli population perceived as a demographic bomb and a threat to the Jewish identity of the state can only be defused by a serious engagement strategy—economically, educationally, culturally, and politically.

If violence and continued discrimination are part of Israel’s long-term strategy against its Arab minority to force Arab emigration, it is unlikely that the government would implement tangible initiatives to improve the condition of the Arab minority.

Accordingly, communal violence in Israel would increase, creating negative ramifications for regional peace and stability and for U.S. interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistani Sikhs Back in the ‘Dark Ages’ of Religious Persecutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pakistani-sikhs-back-in-the-dark-ages-of-religious-persecution/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:03:47 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137841 Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Sikhs in northern Pakistan are fleeing the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where threats, intimidation and attacks are making life impossible for the religious minority. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan , Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Balwan Singh, an 84-year-old shopkeeper living in Pakistan’s northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is well past retirement age, but any illusions he may have had about living out his golden years in peace and security have long since been dashed.

The elderly man is a member of Pakistan’s 40,000-member Sikh community, which has a long history in this South Asian nation of 182 million people.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims." -- Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer
Though constituting only a tiny minority, Sikhs feel a strong pull towards the country, believed to be the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Sikhs have lived on the Afghan-Pakistan border among Pashto-speaking tribes since the 17th century, but in the last decade the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – once a cradle of safety for Sikhs fleeing religious persecution – have become a hostile, violent, and sometimes deadly place for the religious community.

For many, the situation now is a veritable return to the dark ages of religious persecution.

Today, Balwan is just one of many Sikhs who have abandoned their homes and businesses in FATA and taken refuge in the neighbouring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

“We are extremely concerned over the safety of our belongings, including properties back home,” Balwan, who now runs a grocery store in KP’s capital, Peshawar, tells IPS.

Balwan is registered here as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP), along with 200,000 others who have left FATA in waves since militant groups began exerting their control over the region in 2001.

Calling Sikhs ‘infidels’, the Taliban and other armed groups set off a wave of hostility towards the community. Shops have been destroyed and several people have been kidnapped. Others have been threatened and forced to pay a tax levied on “non-Muslims” by Islamic groups in the area.

According to police records, eight Sikhs have been killed in the past year and a half alone. When Balwan arrived here in Peshawar, he was one of just 5,000 people seeking safety.

“We want to go back,” he explains, “but the threats from militants hamper our plans.”

Karan Singh, another Sikh originally hailing from Khyber Agency, one of seven agencies that comprise FATA, says that requests to the government to assist with their safe return have fallen on deaf ears.

“Maybe the government doesn’t grant us permission to go back because it doesn’t want to enrage the Taliban,” speculates Karan, also an IDP now living in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The 51-year-old, who now runs a medical store in Peshawar, is worried about the slow pace of business. “We earned a good amount from the sale of medicines in Khyber Agency, but we have exhausted all our cash since being displaced.”

Indeed, many Sikhs were business owners, contributing greatly to the economy of northern Pakistan.

Now, hundreds of shops lie abandoned, slowly accumulating a layer of dust and grime from neglect, and scores of Sikhs are reliant on government aid. The average family needs about 500 dollars a month to survive, a far greater sum than the 200-dollar assistance package that currently comes their way.

The situation took a turn for the worse in June of this year, when a government-sponsored offensive in North Waziristan Agency, aimed at rooting out militants once and for all from their stronghold, forced scores of people to flee their homes amidst bombs and shelling.

Some 500 Sikh families were among those escaping to Peshawar. Now, they are living in makeshift camps, unable to earn a living, access medical supplies and facilities or send their children to school.

Male children in particular are vulnerable, easily identifiable by their traditional headdress.

While some families are being moved out and resettled, Sikhs say they are consistently overlooked.

“We have been visiting registration points established by the government to facilitate our repatriation, to no avail,” Karan laments.

Dr. Nazir S Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress, says, “About 65 Christian families, 15 Hindu families and 20 Sikh families are yet to be registered at the checkpoint after leaving North Waziristan Agency, which has deprived them of [the chance to access] relief assistance.”

Such discrimination, experts say, is not conducive to a pluralistic society.

According to Muhammad Rafiq, a professor with the history department at the University of Peshawar, Sikhs are the largest religious minority in Pakistan after Hindus and Christians.

Thus the current situation bodes badly for “religious harmony and peaceful coexistence in the country”, he tells IPS.

He says that minorities have to contend not only with the Taliban but also Islamic fundamentalists who regard any non-Muslim as a threat to their religion. By this same logic, Hindus and Christians have faced similar problems: threats, evictions and, sometimes, violent intimidation.

Kidnapping for ransom has also emerged as a major issue, with some 10 Sikhs being kidnapped in the past year alone, prompting many to pack up their belongings and head for cities like Peshawar, says Lahore-based Sardar Bishon Singh, former president of the Pakistan Sikh Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (PSGPC).

Bishon’s shop in Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, was looted in September 2013, but he says the police didn’t even register his report.

“Thieves broke into my shop and took away 80,000 dollars [about eight million rupees] but the Lahore police were reluctant to register a case,” Bishon recalls.

He says the police are afraid, “because the Taliban are involved and the police cannot take action against them [Taliban].”

Some experts say the problem runs deeper than religious persecution in Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas, extending into the very roots of Pakistan’s political system.

“The constitution limits the political rights of Pakistan’s non-Muslims,” says Javid Shah, a Lahore-based lawyer.

“Only Muslims are allowed to become the president or the prime minister. Only Muslims are allowed to serve as judges in the Federal Shariat Court, which has the power to strike down any law deemed un-Islamic.”

He believes these clauses in the constitution have “emboldened” the people of Pakistan to treat minorities as second-class citizens.

This mindset was visible on Aug. 6 when a Sikh trader, Jagmohan Singh, was killed and two others injured in an attack on a marketplace in Peshawar.

“We have no enmity with anyone,” says Pram Singh, who sustained injuries in the attack. “This is all just part of the Taliban’s campaign to eliminate us.”

He alleges that the gunmen, who arrived on a motorbike, did not face any resistance when they rode in to the marketplace. “Police arrived after the gunmen had left the scene,” he adds.

On Mar. 14 this year, two Sikhs were killed in the Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but their killers are yet to be identified, Pram says.

While eyewitness accounts point to negligence on the part of the authorities, some believe that the government is doing its best to address the situation.

Sardar Sooran Singh, a lawmaker in KP, insists that the government is providing security to members of the Sikh community, who he says enjoy equal rights as Muslims citizens.

Peshawar Police Chief Najibullah Khan tells IPS that they have been patrolling markets in the city where Sikh-owned shops might be vulnerable to attack.

“We have also suggested that they avoid venturing out at night, and inform the police about any threat [to their safety],” he says.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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True Gender Equality for Both Women and Menhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/op-ed-true-gender-equality-for-both-women-and-men/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 05:52:38 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137836

Joseph Chamie is a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 20 2014 (IPS)

Numerous international and national efforts have focused on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The United Nations, for example, has convened four world conferences on women – Beijing in 1995, Nairobi in 1985, Copenhagen in 1980 and Mexico City in 1975 – and Member States have adopted various international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Achieving true gender equality, however, requires resolving the many inequities, discriminations and barriers that are encountered by both women and men. Concentrating attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities, biases and obstacles confronting women, while largely ignoring those of men is an unproductive and limited strategy for attaining true gender equality.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women.
It is important to acknowledge at the very outset that women’s rights and men’s rights are human rights. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and are entitled to life, liberty and security of person.

Moreover, empowering women and men is also an indispensable tool for advancing both human and national development, reducing poverty and improving prospects for future generations.

Men suffer a widely acknowledged disadvantage compared to women with respect to perhaps the most important dimension: longevity. Men have shorter life spans and higher mortality than women at virtually all ages. Males, on average live four years less than females worldwide, five years less in the United States, seven years less in Japan and 10 years less in Russia.

The gender gap is considerable at older ages due to men’s shorter lives. Men are a growing minority across each 10-year age group of the aged population worldwide (Figure 1). For example, men represent 40 percent of those in the age group 80-89 years.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

In some countries, for example, Austria, China, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, statutory retirement ages for men are higher than for women, even though men have fewer potential years for retirement than women. Furthermore, when they meet the same participatory requirements, men receive similar social security benefits as women, without regard to men’s fewer years of retirement.

With respect to education, girls generally outperform boys in most developed countries by receiving better grades and teacher assessments, while having lower school dropout rates than boys. In the crucial area of higher education, women now outnumber men worldwide in both university attendance and graduation.

Regarding childbearing and childrearing, fathers in most industrialised countries generally have little to say about the outcome of a pregnancy even though they will likely incur responsibilities and costs for the child.

Women have the right to choose whether to have an abortion or carry the pregnancy to term, even if the father objects to her decision. Moreover, while women may opt for artificial insemination to have a child, men are generally barred from using surrogacy to have a child.

Men who stay home to raise children are often looked down upon for not financially supporting their families. However, it is still acceptable for women to stay at home and focus on childcare.  Also in contrast to women, men are still expected to enter the labour force early in their lives and are under enormous pressure to be successful providers for the material needs of their families.

Also in cases of divorce in the Western world where child custody is involved, courts most often rule in favour of the mother rather than the father. Moreover, in those instances where the father does receive child custody, he is less likely to receive child support than custodial mothers.

With regard to the occupational structure of most countries, men have to cope with the widely unacknowledged “glass floor”.The glass floor is the invisible barrier limiting the entry of men into the traditional occupations of women, such as pre-school and primary teachers, secretaries/administrative assistants, nurses and medical/dental aides. If gender equality is desired at higher occupational levels, then it is also necessary at lower levels as well.

In hazardous jobs, such as mining, logging, fishing, iron and steel work, men are the overwhelming majority of workers. Consequently, men are far more likely to suffer a fatal injury or work-related disability than women. Moreover, the construction, manufacturing and production sectors are shrinking in many developed countries, resulting in fewer traditional jobs for men.

Concerning sports, boys and men are more often encouraged to participate in more violent activities, such as football, hockey and boxing, than girls and women. As a result, men are at greater risk of suffering serious sports-related injuries and incurring long-term or permanent brain damage.

In armed conflicts both domestic and international, men and boys are more likely to participate in combat than women. Consequently, men suffer more trauma, disability and death than women in such conflicts.

Men have a higher probability of being victims of homicide. Among ethnic minorities, homosexuals and marginalised groups, men are also more likely to experience discrimination, hostility and violence than women. In addition, men are more often incarcerated in jails, prisons and hospitals and serve longer jail terms than women for the same criminal offenses, with women being released earlier on parole than men.

Men are more likely than women to be homeless, often the result of job loss, insufficient income, mental health issues or drug addiction. The consumption of tobacco and alcohol is greater for men than women globally, with men smoking nearly five times as much as women and six percent of male deaths related to alcohol compared to one percent of female deaths.

Also, in most countries more men than women commit suicide. Nevertheless, men are less likely than women to seek help and treatment for alcoholism, substance abuse, mental illness and chronic health problems.

It should be evident that simply focusing attention, policies and programmes on the inequalities and biases that women encounter while largely ignoring those facing men will obstruct and delay efforts to attain gender equality. Achieving true gender equality requires recognising and resolving the inequities, discrimination and barriers that are encountered by both women and men alike.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Can China’s Silk Road Vision Coexist with a Eurasian Union?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/can-chinas-silk-road-vision-coexist-with-a-eurasian-union/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 00:03:26 +0000 Chris Rickleton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137833 Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit:  Russian Presidential Press Service

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a signing ceremony of bilateral documents during the APEC summit in Beijing on Nov. 9. The two big powers are looking separately toward Central Asia to expand trade, economic, and political relations. Credit: Russian Presidential Press Service

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Nov 20 2014 (EurasiaNet)

There is a good chance that economic jockeying between China and Russia in Central Asia will intensify in the coming months. For Russia, Chinese economic expansion could put a crimp in President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan for the Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin has turned to China in recent months, counting on Beijing to pick up a good portion of the trade slack created by the rapid deterioration of economic and political relations between Russia and the West. Beijing for the most part has obliged Putin, especially when it comes to energy imports. But the simmering economic rivalry in Central Asia could create a quandary for bilateral relations.At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship."

Chinese President Xi Jinping elaborated on Beijing’s expansion plans, dubbed the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, prior to this year’s Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which concluded Nov. 12.

The plan calls for China to flood Central Asia with tens of billions of dollars in investment with the aim of opening up regional trade. Specifically, Xi announced the creation of a 40-billion-dollar fund to develop infrastructure in neighbouring countries, including the Central Asian states beyond China’s westernmost Xinjiang Province.

An interactive map published on Chinese state media outlet Xinhua shows Central Asia at the core of the proposed Silk Road belt, which beats a path from the Khorgos economic zone on the Chinese-Kazakhstani border, through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, before snaking into Uzbekistan and Iran. Turkmenistan, already linked to China by a web of pipelines, would not have a hub on the main route.

The fund’s aim is to “break the bottleneck in Asian connectivity by building a financing platform,” Xi told journalists in Beijing on Nov. 8. Such development is badly needed in Central Asia, where decaying Soviet-era infrastructure has hampered trade among Central Asian states, and beyond.

No matter the need, Russia, which is busy promoting a more protectionist economic solution for the region in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), may not share Beijing’s enthusiasm for the Silk Road initiative.

At the APEC gathering, Xi and Putin were all smiles as they greeted each other, dressed in summit attire that was likened by journalists and observers to Star Trek-style uniforms. Yet, the public bonhomie concealed a “complicated relationship,” according to Bobo Lo, an associate fellow at the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is a case in point, explained Lo. The “mega project”, much like the original Silk Road, could eventually encompass several routes and benefit Russia’s own infrastructurally challenged east, he noted. But it might well dilute Russian influence in its traditional backyard of Central Asia.

“If you are sitting in Moscow, you are hoping that Russia will be the main trunk line [of the belt], but it seems likely it will be more of an offshoot,” said Lo. “[The belt’s] main thrust will be through Central and South Asia.”

Chinese leaders are intent on linking their Silk Road initiative to a broader project, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which they touted during the APEC gathering.

FTAAP and the Silk Road Economic Belt, along with a similar strategic plan called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, are pro-trade in the broadest sense, seeking to break “all sorts of shackles in the wider Asia-Pacific region to usher in a new round of higher level, deeper level of opening up,” according to Li Lifan, an associate research professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Under the Chinese vision, its “grand idea” would seek to “absorb the Eurasian economic integration [project] led by Russia,” Li told EurasiaNet.org via email.

In contrast to the expansive Chinese vision for Eurasia, early evidence suggests a Russia-led union, with its tight border controls and levied tariffs, could end up stifling cross-border trade among members and non-members. Under such conditions, Central Asian states could experience a decline in their current level of trade with China. The existing Kremlin-dominated Customs Union is set to evolve into the Eurasian Economic Union on Jan. 1.

At least since the build-up to the 2013 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Central Asia-focused security organisation of which China and Russia are both members, Beijing has been very public about wielding its economic might in the region. Back then, Xi jetted across the region speaking of the belt for the first time as he signed deals worth tens of billions of dollars, most notably energy contracts with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Ever since, discussions of how to turn the belt into a reality have been uncomfortable. Moscow is reportedly steadfastly opposed to the idea of turning the SCO – which also comprises all four Central Asian countries positioned along the proposed belt’s route – into an economic organisation.

Uzbekistan has refused to join the Customs Union, which also excludes China. But the Kremlin expects Kyrgyzstan to join at the beginning of next year and Tajikistan to follow. Currently, the bloc’s only members other than Russia are Kazakhstan and Belarus.

For countries that have already been on the receiving end of Chinese largesse, the prospect of deeper economic integration with Russia may begin to seem like a limitation.

During a Nov. 7 meeting in Beijing ahead of the APEC summit, Xi and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon signed agreements securing Chinese credit for a railway to connect Tajikistan’s north and south, a new power plant and local agricultural projects. They also agreed on investments for the state-owned aluminium smelter Talco, an entity that once enjoyed close ties with the Russian conglomerate RusAl. Bilateral trade for the first eight months of this year increased by 40 percent compared with the same period last year, reaching 1.5 billion dollars.

“If we compare something like the Customs Union to the Silk Road Economic Belt, then of course the belt is preferable for Tajikistan,” Muzaffar Olimov, director of the Sharq analytical centre in Dushanbe, told EurasiaNet.org in a telephone interview. Tajikistan “has not decided” if it wants to join the economic bloc [the EEU], he added.

Editor’s note:  Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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IPS Honours Crusader for Nuclear Abolitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/ips-honours-crusader-for-nuclear-abolition/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 20:02:58 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137830 From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS

From left, SGI Executive Director for Peace Affairs Hirotsugu Terasaki, IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, and honoree Jayantha Dhanapala. Credit: Roger Hamilton Martin/IPS

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

Jayantha Dhanapala was awarded the IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament Monday at the United Nations in New York.

Dhanapala, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs until 2003, has remained committed to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world since leaving his post, presiding since 2007 over the Nobel Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. 

“A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime,” Dhanapala told attendees at an official ceremony sponsored by the Buddhist organisation Soka Gakkai International.

“Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale. We the people have a ‘responsibility to protect’ the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed ‘R2P’ applications.”

The event was attended by U.N. ambassadors including the president of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa, who said that “the work of organisations such as Pugwash Conferences on Science and World  Affairs – which Mr. Dhanapala presides over – Inter Press Service, our host this evening, or Soka Gakkai International, the sponsor of this award, contributes to raising awareness of the dangers of nuclear weapons and to advocating for their total elimination.”

Message from IPS co-founder Roberto Savio:

"The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the UN at global level, and actors who would embody that action. It was not in the UN system in any way to recognize individuals, so we set up the IPS UN Award, as a way to help to bridge ideals and practice. IPS set up a very high level selection committee, who received candidates fromm all the IPS network, then spanning all over the world. The awardee was invited to New York, with his or her companion, and was greeted by the Secretary General, with whom he was able to explain his activities, and how those were part of the agenda of the UN. Then there was the ceremony, opened by the Undersecretary General for DPI, with the consign of the award, a crystal globe of the world.

The ceremony was followed by a large reception, which become part of the UN life, and a yearly recurrent event. The award went from a protagonist of Perestroika to a leader in environment, to a woman engaged in breaking the glass ceiling, to an activist in human rights, to a leader of the black movement in the United States, to leaders of global civil society. It was a way to bring to the UN living embodiment of the plans of action which were drafted in the offices of the UN, and bring ideas and goals, in touch with reality.

It is important to recall that until the Rio de Janeiro Conference on Environment and Development of 1992, relations with the civil society were minimal. Only the few organizations recognized by ECOSOC were allowed into the building. With the award, we organized a place for sharing between the civil servants and the activists engaged on the field. This relation did gradually expand, and today the best ally of the UN agenda are the hundred of thousand of NGOs and other organizations that engage in the world over global issues. IPS was their favorite source of information, because it was the only press agency that covered organically and analytically global themes, and therefore was their window to the UN.

At a time in which we sorely miss a mechanism of governance of globalization, the function of IPS as a bridge between global civil society and the UN is even more important. The IPS award can be the symbol of that function, in recognizing the contribution to peace of Sokka Gakai, and its significantly large network all over the world."

Kutesa spoke of the importance of upcoming opportunities to make further inroads into global non-proliferation and disarmament. “The 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference will present an opportunity to further strengthen the global nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.”

CTBTO support

Kutesa’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers including Dr Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Zerbo noted that Dhanapala was born in the same month (December 1938) that German scientists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered nuclear fission.

“In 1995, Jayantha chaired the landmark review and extension conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He masterminded the central bargain, a package of decisions that balanced the seemingly irreconcilable interests of the nuclear weapon states and the non-nuclear weapon states.”

The result of this work was that the CTBT, which was being contested in Geneva, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1996. Dhanapala continues to support the CTBTO, as part of a group of experts who work to advance the CTBT’s entry into force.

Zerbo recalled Dhanapala’s criticism of India’s position in opposing the CTBT. India’s criticism of the CTBT has been that it will not move disarmament sufficiently forward. In response to this, Dhanapala has said, “Opposing the CTBT because it fails to deliver complete disarmament is tantamount to opposing speed limits on roads because they fail to prevent accidents completely,” Dhanapala has pointed out.

Collectively known as the “Annex 2” states, India forms part of a group of eight countries that are required to ratify before the treaty before it can enter into force. India, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to sign the treaty, while 5 other states have signed but failed to ratify.

Zerbo also noted the relevance of Dhanapala’s nationality in his advocacy for disarmament and non-proliferation, saying, “Jayantha and I both come from countries in the developing world.

“One of the most persuasive arguments he has consistently made is the opportunity cost a developing country incurs when embarking on a weapons of mass destruction programme. In particular, a nuclear weapons programme requires vast resources that could have been allocated to support development and infrastructure.”

IPS Director General Ramesh Jaura, who read a statement from IPS founder Roberto Savio, spoke of the origins and importance of the award.

“The award was created in 1985 with the idea to provide a link between the action of the U.N. at global level, and actors who would embody that action,” he said.

“The U.N. way is not to recognise individuals, so the award is a recognition of the bridge between ideals and practice. The award has been resurrected after a six-year hiatus, and will be in place next year, focused on the Sustainable Development Goals.”

There are several opportunities in the coming months for inroads to be made in nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Notably, early next month’s Vienna Conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons.

In the meantime, Dhanapala called on groups to support the ICAN and PAX “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” divestment campaign, saying, “I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The Clock Is Ticking for Nuclear Disarmamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-the-clock-is-ticking-for-nuclear-disarmament/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:29:24 +0000 Jayantha Dhanapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137827

Jayantha Dhanapala is the recipient of the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament, and is a former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs.

By Jayantha Dhanapala
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

A nuclear weapon-free world can and must happen in my lifetime. This may seem a bold and wildly Pollyannaish statement for me to make after a lifetime of work in peace and disarmament.

But consider some of the key global threats facing us today, 25 years after the Berlin Wall fell, symbolising the end of the Cold War and on the cusp of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations – this centre for harmonising the actions of 193 nations mandated by the Charter to maintain international peace and security.

Credit: cc by 2.0

Credit: cc by 2.0

There is the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), conveying the unambiguous message that climate change is caused by human action and that unchecked it will lead to catastrophe;

There is inequality of income as a feature throughout the world, where the poorest 1.2 billion consume just one percent while the richest billion consume 72 percent, causing increasing frustration and tension, especially among the youth who are 26 percent of the global population;

There is religious extremism, racism and the bestial violence of ISIS, Boko Haram and other anarchic groups which challenge our shared values and civilised societal norms;

There is the state terrorism of Israel waging unequal war against the Palestinians while occupying their territory and depriving them of their statehood in violation of international law;

There are more than 50 million who are currently displaced by war and violence – some 33.3 million in their own countries and approximately 16.7 million as refugees – the highest number since World War II;

And there are the problems of hunger, disease, poverty and violations of human rights that continue to disfigure the human condition.The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

Is the nuclear weapon ever going to be a deterrent to combat these threats, let alone be used to solve these problems? Or is it not more likely that in a skewed world of nuclear “haves” and “have-nots” we are going to have increasing proliferation, including by terrorist non-state actors?

Scientific evidence is proof that even a limited nuclear war – if those confines are possible – will cause irreversible climate change and destruction of human life and its supporting ecology on an unprecedented scale.

We the people have a “responsibility to protect” the world from nuclear weapons by outlawing them through a verifiable Nuclear Weapon Convention overriding all other self-proclaimed “R 2 P” applications.

Despite this overwhelming evidence, the world has 16,300 nuclear warheads among nine nuclear weapon-armed countries, with the United States and the Russian Federation accounting for 93 percent of the weapons. Of this, about 4,000 warheads are on a deployed operational footing.

The spectre of the use of a nuclear weapon through political intent, cyber attack or by accident, by a nation state or by a non-state actor is more real than we, in our cocoons of complacency, choose to acknowledge.

At a time of declining resources for development, a huge amount – 1.7 trillion dollars – continues to be spent on arms in general and nuclear weapons modernisation. In the U.S. alone, in a glaring contradiction of President Obama’s promises, nuclear weapon modernisation will cost 355 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

A far-sighted military general twice-elected president of the U.S., Dwight Eisenhower, warned over 50 years ago about the insidious influence of the “military industrial complex” in his country. That influence, driven by an insatiable desire for profit, has spread globally, stoking the flames of war even as the United Nations and other peacemakers try to find peaceful solutions in terms of the Charter.

I am proud that the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which I am privileged to lead today, has campaigned assiduously for over five decades seeking the total elimination of nuclear weapons based on the 1955 London Manifesto co-signed by Albert Einstein and Lord Bertrand Russell.

Sir Joseph Rotblat, one of Pugwash’s founding fathers who walked out of the Manhattan Project as a conscientious objector, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Pugwash in 1995.

Pugwash is but one of the many citizen movements who have since 1945 urged the abolition of nuclear weapons. It was pressure from civil society that finally led to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other significant milestones on the road to outlawing nuclear weapons.

The world has already accomplished a ban on two other categories of weapons of mass destruction – biological and chemical weapons.

I salute the Marshall Islands for taking the nine nuclear weapon states to the International Court of Justice, accusing them of violating their legal obligations, and look forward to the outcome at next year’s hearings.

Two NGOs -ICAN and PAX – have painstakingly researched the money behind nuclear weapons and have revealed in their “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report that since January 2011, 411 different banks, insurance companies and pension funds have invested 402 billion dollars in 28 companies in the nuclear weapon industry.

The nuclear-armed nations spend a combined total of more than 100 billion dollars on their nuclear forces every year. Let me quote from the report:

“The top 10 investors alone provided more than 175 billion dollars to the 28 identified nuclear weapon producers. With the exception of French BNP Paribas, all financial institutions in the top 10 are based in the U.S. The top three – State Street, Capital Group and Blackrock – have a combined 80 billion dollars invested. In Europe, the most heavily invested are BNP Paribas (France), Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays (both United Kingdom).

“In Asia, the biggest investors are Mitsubishi UFJ Financial and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial (both Japan) and the Life Insurance Corporation of India.”

I appeal to all of you present to make your own practical contribution to nuclear disarmament by joining the divestment campaign. The faded rhetoric of President Obama’s celebrated Prague speech in April 2009 about a nuclear weapon-free world has little to show as results unless civil society acts.

The world has scaled many heights in my lifetime.

Colonialism which enslaved my country for 450 years was dismantled in my lifetime, liberating numerous countries, including mine;

The civil rights movement in the U.S. ended segregation, racial discrimination and other indignities imposed on black Americans;

I have seen the end of the odious apartheid regime and the peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy in South Africa;

And, finally, we have witnessed the end of the Cold War with its global tension and rivalry.

These are inspirational achievements of which humankind can be proud. Through all these achievements we remember gratefully the exemplary leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It was their unswerving dedication to non-violence that ensured victory over evil and injustice.

Nuclear disarmament is likewise an achievable goal and not the mirage that the nuclear weapon states would have us believe. The successful conclusion of a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and the forthcoming NPT Review Conference in 2015 are opportunities for us all to halt the proliferation of nuclear weapons by eliminating the weapons themselves.

I fear that the longer we wait for nuclear weapon states to act, the greater the risk that the anger of impotence may lead to extremist groups seizing control of nuclear weapons.

We are fortunate to have in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon a global leader dedicated to the cause of nuclear disarmament and his Five-point Plan remains a lodestar for the global community.

The Inter Press Service (IPS), our hosts this evening, must be congratulated on their 50th anniversary. Serving the cause of the developing world, IPS has held aloft important principles of equity and justice in international relations calling for an end to unequal exchange in all its forms.

I am deeply grateful for the award conferred on me today. I have long believed in the dictum of Jean Monnet – the European Union’s architect and visionary – that “Nothing is possible without men, but nothing lasts without institutions.”

Thus this award honours the organisations with which I have been associated in a long struggle to rid the world of the most inhumane and destructive weapon ever invented. I take this opportunity to rededicate myself to this noble cause and its early fulfillment.

*Excerpts from an address by Jayantha Dhanapala when he received the 2014 IPS International Achievement Award for Nuclear Disarmament at the United Nations Nov. 17.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Missing in Child Rights Conventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/u-s-missing-in-child-rights-convention/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:08:24 +0000 Kul Chandra Gautam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137823 Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators. Credit: Astrid Westvang/cc by 2.0

By Kul Chandra Gautam
KATHMANDU, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

On Nov. 20, the whole world will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the world’s most universally ratified human rights treaty, the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Sadly, the United States of America won’t be at the party or will simply be watching from the sidelines.

The U.S. remains the odd man – the odd country – out, accompanied only by Somalia and South Sudan in having failed to ratify this landmark instrument of international law.

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

The absence of Somalia and South Sudan is understandable as these are among the world’s most fragile, failed or failing states. But one would expect the U.S. which claims to be a great champion of human rights in the world to be at the front and centre of this celebration, not missing in action.

One hundred ninety-four nations – including all of America’s closest allies — have ratified the CRC. It baffles non-Americans, and even many Americans, as to why the U.S. is reluctant to ratify this Convention.

This example of negative “American exceptionalism” is illogical and perverse. The Convention upholds the very same principles that underpin American democracy. It says that all children, everywhere, have the same human rights to survive and thrive, to learn and contribute.

It obligates states that embrace it to do all that is humanly possible to ensure children’s wellbeing, dignity and protection. It is supportive of parents and respectful of cultures.

Many American scholars and experts were actively involved in drafting the CRC, and the U.S. government played a leadership role in negotiating and shaping it. But most U.S. citizens remain unaware of this great human rights treaty which their country helped create.

The CRC recognises every child’s right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential, to be protected from abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence; to express his or her views and to participate in decisions affecting his or her future.The experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries - rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

It reaffirms the primary role of parents and the family in raising children. It seeks to emulate key provisions on child rights and well-being under the U.S. Constitution and laws.

Some opponents of the CRC in America have argued that it would impose on this country all kinds of terrible obligations that may be harmful to America and its children and families.

These range from how possible U.N. interference might compromise the sovereignty of the U.S. and undermine its Constitution; to how the CRC might weaken American families and role of parents in bringing up their children; how it might bring about a culture of permissiveness, including abortion on demand, and unrestricted access to pornography; and how it might empower children to sue their parents and disobey their guidance.

Such concerns are not unique to America. Many groups in other countries have expressed similar fears from time to time. But in 25 years of experience in over a hundred countries, rich and poor, with liberal as well as conservative governments, such concerns have proven to be unfounded, exaggerated and hypothetical.

Some Americans argue that as the U.S. has a great Constitution and laws that are already strong and often superior to what is contained in the CRC, it is unnecessary and undesirable to ratify the Convention as it might actually lower the standards of child protection rather than strengthening them.

But the experience of other highly developed countries that have ratified the Convention indicates that CRC can be relevant and beneficial for all countries – rich and advanced as well as poor and underdeveloped.

In its website, the U.S. Coalition for Ratification of CRC has listed some of the common myths and real truths regarding worries about the possible negative impact of CRC on American children and families.

America is, of course, a nation of extraordinary wealth. Most children in this country are beneficiaries of this affluence. They live in comfortable homes and safe neighbourhoods; have a decent standard of living, health, education and social welfare. But there is room for some humility.

Studies by the Children’s Defense Fund, UNICEF, and others show that compared to the wealth of the U.S., a shocking number of children continue to lack the basics of life. Children in America lag behind most industrialised nations on key child indicators.

The U.S. is towards the bottom of the league in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, low birth weight, infant mortality, child victims of gun violence, and the number of minors in jail.

For many people outside the U.S., it is incomprehensible how the richest nation on earth lets every sixth child live in (relative) poverty; how its laws allow a child to be killed by guns every three hours; or how so many children and families can live without basic health insurance.

It is equally difficult to understand why a nation that can afford two billion dollars a day in military spending, and a trillion dollar bail-out package to huge Wall Street banks and corporate giants that brought its economy to its knees, cannot rescue its children from sickness, illiteracy, violent crimes and poverty.

Now, ratifying the CRC will not by itself dramatically change the situation of America’s children. But it would help establish a critical national framework to formulate clear goals and targets which the federal and state governments, private organisations, and individuals can use to shape policies and programmes to better meet the needs of children and their families.

Internationally, ratification of the CRC would help enhance U.S. standing as a global leader in human rights. As a party to the Convention, the U.S. would be eligible to participate in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the international body that monitors the CRC’s implementation), and work toward strengthening further progress for children in all countries.

To many people in the world, the United States of America is not just a country, but it represents an ideal – the ideal of democracy, of the rule of law, respect for human rights, and a certain global moral leadership.

That ideal image is often shattered and the reputation of the U.S. tarnished around the world whenever the U.S. government chooses to follow an arrogant, unilateralist approach; disparaging its allies and the United Nations; withdrawing its support for the International Criminal Court, abandoning its commitments under the Geneva Conventions, even condoning torture – all in the name of national security and fighting terrorism.

Still, many friends of America see these as aberrations and continue to be inspired by the ideals of democracy and human rights on which this country was founded.

On behalf of President Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright signed the CRC in 1995, signaling the U.S. government’s intention to move toward ratification. But the George W Bush administration took no further action.

Even President Obama, whose outlook and vision most closely match the spirit of the Convention, has done nothing tangible towards getting the treaty ratified by the U.S. Senate.

The global celebration of CRC@25 is a fitting opportunity for President Obama to make good on the promise he made as a presidential candidate in 2008 while speaking at Waldon University in Minnesota: “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. It is important that the U.S. return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of human rights. I will review this and other treaties to ensure that the U.S. resumes its global leadership in human rights.”

One doesn’t have to be much of a political analyst to understand that following the recent elections to the U.S. Congress, ratification of the CRC doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in the current political climate in Washington.

But President Obama has often shown a willingness to surmount political deadlocks by taking what actions he is authorised by law to take on his own, when he deems the national interest to be at stake.

One such measure that is in the president’s power to enact would be to immediately order the State Department to undertake a thorough review of the CRC, so that it is ready for submission to the Senate for ratification as soon as the situation becomes more favourable.

Some 109 CEOs and leaders of prominent American child welfare organisations and faith-based groups have recently made an impassioned joint appeal to Obama to order such a review.

In this world where kids too often come last, the Convention serves as a reminder that they must come first. It is a moral compass, a framework of accountability against which all societies can assess their treatment of the new generations.

In many parts of the world, the 20th of November is celebrated as universal children’s day. Many faith-based organisations also celebrate it as a “World Day of Prayer and Action for Children”.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the CRC this year, many of us will be praying and hoping that the world’s most powerful and influential state, the United States of America, will soon join the international community in embracing the CRC as a bulwark for the defence of children’s rights and a beacon of hope for the world’s children.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Depression Casts Cloak of Infertility Over Kashmir Valleyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/depression-casts-cloak-of-infertility-over-kashmir-valley/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 12:02:32 +0000 Shazia Yousuf http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137817 Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Of the 100 patients seen at Kashmir’s psychiatric facilities each day, roughly 75 are women. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

By Shazia Yousuf
SRINAGAR, India, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

It was almost midnight when Mushtaq Margoob woke up to the incessant ringing of his phone. It was his patient, a young woman whom Margoob, a renowned Kashmiri psychiatrist and head of the department of psychiatry at the only psychiatric hospital in Kashmir, had been treating for depression for many years.

“See me now. I don’t have time till tomorrow,” the patient screamed down the phone. “I might have killed myself by then.”

The woman was educated, had a PhD in Bioscience and came from a rich family. After her marriage last year, the symptoms of her depression had begun to fade away, and she had started crawling back to a normal life.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter.” -- Shahzada Akhtar, a Kashmiri woman living with PTSD
But the day she made the hasty phone call to the doctor, she had learned something that shattered her life into fragments all over again.

“I have been diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure [POF],” she said to Margoob at his home. “If I cannot have any children, what should I live my life for?”

Although Margoob was able to pacify her with timely counseling and medication, the diagnosis and the constant reminder of being infertile have taken his patient back into deep depression.

“The mental stress due to ongoing conflict has taken a toll on the physical health of young women, especially their maternal health,” explains Margoob.

Downward spiral of mental and maternal health

The conflict here, which dates back to the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, has claimed some 60,000 lives as Indian armed forces, Pakistani troops and ordinary Kashmir citizens struggle to assert control over the bitterly contested region.

The “pro-freedom” uprising of 1989, launched by Kashmiris who resented the presence of Indian and Pakistani troops, morphed into a long-standing resistance movement that has left deep scars on Kashmiri society.

As a result, the area known as the Kashmir Valley, tucked in between towering mountain ranges in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, is witnessing an alarming increase in childlessness and infertility among local women.

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Infertility is becoming increasingly common among young Kashmiri women, who are suffering from stress and trauma due to the long-standing conflict in the region. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Physical and mental health experts cite conflict-related stress as the main cause of the health crisis among women, which has robbed thousands of their fertility.

The most recent Indian National Family Health Survey (NFHS) indicates that 61 percent of currently married Kashmiri women report one or more reproductive health problems.

This is significantly higher in comparison to the national average of 39 percent. The percentage of POF among infertile women below 40 years of age is also abnormally high – 20 to 50 percent – when compared to the nationwide rate of one to five percent.

“Stress causes structural changes in the brain and disturbs the secretion of various neurotransmitters. These changes lead to various physical ailments including thyroid malfunction, which in turn can cause infertility among women of childbearing age,” Margoob explains to IPS.

According to statistics available with the Government Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, 800,000 Kashmiris are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and most of them are women. PTSD, like many other mental health disorders, directly affects women’s childbearing capacity.

Stress and stigma

In Kashmir, psychiatry OPDs are run at two hospitals – the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (S.M.H.S) facility in Srinagar, and the Government Psychiatric Diseases hospital – six days a week. Of almost 100 patients seen at each OPD every day, 75 are females.

One of the many women who frequents these facilities is 20-year-old Mir Afreen, who grew up watching her mother battling mental illness. In 1996, when Afreen was only two, her mother, Shahzada Akhtar, received a message about the death of her cousin brother in cross-fire.

“I had met him only a day before. I couldn’t believe he had died. I tried to cry out his name but had lost my voice,” recalls Akhtar.

Akhtar never recovered from the sudden, devastating news, and soon developed PTSD.

In consequence, her daughter’s childhood quickly slipped into darkness. Afreen often saw her mother sedated, sleeping for days at a time, going without food, and crying for no apparent reason.

She was always taken along to psychiatric clinics, hospitals and faith healers where her mother searched for a cure for her condition. Happiness was far, far away from their home.

“I have gifted lifelong sadness to my daughter,” Akhtar tells IPS tearfully.

Her statement is not too far from the truth. For the last several years, Afreen has been complaining about chest pains and breathlessness. Akhtar first thought it was due to stress, or her daughter’s recent obesity.

But when Afreen developed facial hair and her monthly cycles became irregular, Akhtar took her to a gynecologist.

“The doctor uttered a long name which I couldn’t understand, so I asked her to explain the [condition] to me,” Akhtar says. “She told me if this is not treated, Afreen will never have children.”

Afreen was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Unknown and almost non-existent before the conflict, the syndrome now affects 10 percent of Kashmiri females including teenagers.

A major endocrine disorder in women of reproductive age and one of the leading causes of infertility across the world, PCOS has emerged as another major cause of infertility among Kashmiri women in recent years.

Medical experts have identified stress as one of the main reasons for the emergence of PCOS in Kashmir. A study conducted by Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), the major tertiary healthcare facility in Kashmir, on 112 women with PCOS, found that 65 to 70 percent of them had psychiatric illnesses including PTSD, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Akhtar feels helpless. Unlike other ailments, Afreen’s particular health issue is not up for discussion, not even with her own siblings. If the word spreads, she thinks, it will ruin her daughter’s marriage prospects and thus destroy her life.

“Even when I take her to the doctor, I make sure that no one sees us,” reveals Akhtar. “I first check the place and then let my daughter in.”

Afreen does the same. She has not revealed anything about her condition to her friends. When the girls talk about their grooms and life after marriage, she keeps mum. When it is the time for her medication, she secretly swallows the pills without water.

Current trends predict a bleak future

Nazir Ahmad Pala, an endocrinologist at SKIMS, says that more and more young females visit the endocrinology department for various disorders. A good number of disorders, he says, are born from depression.

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

Anxiety over the possibly loss of male breadwinners is prompting many women to choose education and employment over marriage. Credit: Shazia Yousuf/IPS

“In the past, the department received mostly older patients but now around 20 percent of our patients are school and college going girls with endocrine abnormalities. This trend is disturbing,” Pala tells IPS.

The young girls mostly complain of obesity and ovulatory disturbances that bring a temporary halt in their menstrual cycles.

The condition is called Central Hypogonadism and is common in depressed women, explains the doctor. Another equally frequent ailment is galactorrhea, a spontaneous secretion of milk from the mammary glands due to an abnormal increase of prolactin levels in the body caused by antidepressant intake.

“Unfortunately most of the [conditions], in one way or the other, lead to infertility. And the root cause of all these [conditions] is the stressful life that women have been living in the post-conflict era,” Pala asserts.

Experts here are sounding warnings about the catastrophic shape that women’s health in the Valley is taking. A study conducted at SKIMS on maternal health indicates that 15.7 percent of Kashmiri women of childbearing age will never have an offspring without clinical intervention.

Another conflict-related cause of infertility among Kashmiri women is late marriages. Over the war years, the marital age has risen from an average of 18-21 to 27-35 years. Because of economic insecurity and anxiety over the prospect of losing male breadwinners, women are choosing education and employment over marriage.

“Economic instability and insecurity is eating our society like termites,” says Margoob.

The doctor reveals that cut-throat competition in schools and colleges to earn a secure future has hugely disturbed the mental health of young girls as well.

Dissociative Disorders (DD), marked by disruptions or breakdowns in identity, memory or perception, are rapidly increasing in young school- and college-going girls, along with conditions like Panic Disorder, all of which interrupt the “smooth journey to motherhood”, Margoob says.

*Patients’ names have been changed on request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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A Game-Changing Week on Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/a-game-changing-week-on-climate-change/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 00:55:41 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137813 UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

UN Climate Wall at COP 15, Copenhagen. Credit: Troels Dejgaard Hansen/cc by 2.0

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2014 (IPS)

- In recent days, two major developments have injected new life into international action on climate change.

At the G20 summit in Australia, the United States pledged 3 billion dollars and Japan pledged 1.5 billion dollars to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), bringing total donations up to 7.5 billion so far. The GCF, established through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will distribute money to support developing countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change."While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies.” -- Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA

The new commitments to the GCF came on the heels of a landmark joint announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, creating ambitious new targets for domestic carbon emissions reduction.

The United States will aim to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China will aim to reach peak carbon emissions around the year 2030 and decrease its emissions thereafter.

The two surprising announcements “really send a strong signal that both developed and developing countries are serious about getting to an ambitious climate agreement in 2015,” said Alex Doukas, a climate finance expert at the World Resources Institute, a Washington, DC think tank.

The GCF aims to be the central hub for international climate finance in the coming years. At an October meeting in Barbados, the basic practices of the GCF were firmly established and it was opened to funding contributions.

The 7.5 billion dollars that have been committed by 13 countries to the GCF bring it three quarters of the way to its initial 10-billion-dollar goal, to be distributed over the next few years. The gap may be closed on Nov. 20 at a pledging conference in Berlin. Several more countries are expected to announce their contributions, including the United Kingdom and Canada.

While the fund is primarily designed to aid developing countries, it has “both developed and developing country contributors,” Doukas told IPS. “Mexico and South Korea have already pledged resources, and other countries, including Colombia and Peru, that are not necessarily traditional contributors have indicated that they are going to step up as well.”

The decision-making board of the GCF is split evenly between developed and developing country constituencies.

“For a major, multilateral climate fund, I would say that the governance is much more balanced than previously,” Doukas said. “That’s one of the reasons for the creation of the Green Climate Fund, especially from the perspective of developing countries.”

As IPS has previously noted, the redistributive nature of the GCF acknowledges that the developing countries least responsible for climate change will often face the most severe consequences.

Advocates hope that the United States’ and Japan’s recent contributions will pave the way for more pledges on November 20th and a more robust climate finance system in general.

According to Jan Kowalzig, a climate finance expert at Oxfam Germany, the unofficial 10-billion-dollar goal for the GCF was set by developed countries, but developing countries have asked for at least 15 billion dollars.

The 10-billion-dollar goal is “an absolute minimum floor for what is needed in this initial phase,” he told IPS.

Brandon Wu, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA and one of two civil society representatives on the GCF Board, asserts that the climate finance efforts will soon need to be scaled up drastically.

“While the figures might sound big, they pale in comparison to the actual needs on the ground and to what developed countries spend in other areas – for instance, the US spends tens of billions of dollars every year on fossil fuel subsidies,” he told IPS.

The GCF may run into problems if countries attach caveats to their contributions, specifying exactly what types of activities they can be used for.

“Such strings are highly problematic as they run against the consensual spirit of the GCF board operations,” Kowalzig said.

He also warned that some of the contributions may come in the form of loans which need to be paid back instead of from grants.

After the pledging phase, much work remains to be done to establish a global climate finance roadmap towards 2020.

“The Green Climate Fund can and should play a major role,” Kowalzig said, “but the pledges, as important and welcome as they are, are only one component of what developed countries have promised to deliver.”

The other major development of the past week, Obama and Xi’s carbon emissions reduction announcement, also deserves both praise and scrutiny.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made clear the historic nature of the agreement.

“Two countries regarded for 20 years as the leaders of opposing camps in climate negotiations have come together to find common ground, determined to make lasting progress on an unprecedented global challenge,” he wrote.

While Barack Obama may be committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, Congress has expressed reservations. Mitch McConnell, soon to be the Senate majority leader, has called the plan “unrealistic” and complained that it would increase electricity prices and eliminate jobs.

On the Chinese side, Xi’s willingness to act on climate change and peak carbon emissions by 2030 was a substantial transformation from only a few years ago.

Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, said in a press release that China’s announcement was “a major development,” but noted that a few years difference in when peak emissions occur could have a huge impact on climate change.

“Analysis shows that China’s emissions should peak before 2030 to limit the worst consequences of climate change,” he said.

Researchers have said that China’s emissions would have peaked in the 2030s anyway, and that a more ambitious goal of 2025 could have been possible.

Still, the agreement indicates a new willingness of the world’s number one and number two biggest carbon emitters to work together constructively, and raises hopes for successful negotiations in December’s COP20 climate change conference in Lima, Peru.

Héla Cheikhrouhou, executive director of the GCF, was unapologetically enthusiastic about the new momentum built in recent days.

“This week’s announcements will be a legacy of U.S. President Obama,” she announced. “It will be seen by generations to come as the game-changing moment that started a scaling-up of global action on climate change, and that enabled the global agreement.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shale Oil Fuels Indigenous Conflict in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-fuels-indigenous-conflict-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shale-oil-fuels-indigenous-conflict-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/shale-oil-fuels-indigenous-conflict-in-argentina/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 16:57:06 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137811 Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Jorge Nahuel, a spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, complains that local indigenous communities were not consulted about the production of unconventional oil in their ancestral territories. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CAMPO MARIPE, Argentina, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

The boom in unconventional fossil fuels has revived indigenous conflicts in southwest Argentina. Twenty-two Mapuche communities who live on top of Vaca Muerta, the geological formation where the reserves are located, complain that they were not consulted about the use of their ancestral lands, both “above and below ground.”

Albino Campo, ”logko” or chief of the Campo Maripe Mapuche community, is critical of the term “superficiary” – one to whom a right of surface occupation is granted – which was used in the oil contracts to describe the people living on the land, with whom the oil companies are negotiating.

“We are the owners of the surface, and of what is above and below as well. That is the ‘mapu’ (earth). It’s not hollow below ground; there is another people below,” he told IPS.

Nor is it hollow for the oil companies, although the two conceptions are very different.

Three thousand metres below Campo Maripe lies one of the world’s biggest reserves of shale gas and oil.

The land that the community used for grazing is now part of the Loma Campana oilfield, operated by the state-run YPF oil company in partnership with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

“More or less 160 wells have been drilled here,” Campo said. “When they reach 500 wells, we won’t have any land for our animals. They stole what is ours.”“The company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.” – Mapuche leader Jorge Nahuel

Because of the urgent need to boost production, YPF started a year ago to make roads and drill wells in the Campo Campana oilfield in the southern Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The Mapuche chief and his sister Mabel Campo showed IPS what their lands had turned into, with the intense noise and dust from the trucks continuously going back and forth to and from the oilfield.

They carry machinery, drill pipes and the products used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a highly criticised technique in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure to fracture the shale and release natural gas and oil trapped in the underground rocks.

“They say fracking and everything aboveground doesn’t pollute…maybe it’ll be a while but we’ll start seeing cancer, skin cancer, because of all the pollution, and we’ll also die of thirst because there won’t be any water to drink,” said Mabel Campo.

YPF argues that it negotiated with the provincial government to open up the oilfield, because it is the government that holds title to the land.

However, “we try to have the best possible relations with any superficiary or pseudo superficiary or occupant, in the areas where we work, Mapuches or not,” YPF-Neuquén’s manager of institutional relations, Federico Calífano, told IPS.

The families of Campo Maripe have not obtained title to their land yet, but they did score one major victory.

After protests that included chaining themselves to oil derricks, they got the provincial government to recognise them legally as a community in October.

“Registration as a legal entity leaves behind the official stance of denying the Mapuche indigenous identity, and now the consultation process will have to be carried out for any activity that affects the territory,” Micaela Gomiz, with the Observatory of Human Rights of the Indigenous Peoples of Patagonia (ODHPI), stated in a communiqué released by that organisation.

According to ODHIP, as of 2013 there were 347 Mapuche people charged with “usurpation” and trespassing on land, including 80 lawsuits filed in Neuquén and 60 cases in the neighbouring province of Río Negro.

In the case of Vaca Muerta, Jorge Nahuel, spokesman for the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén, told IPS that the local indigenous communities were not consulted, as required by International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which Argentina ratified 25 years ago.

Convention 169 requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

“What the state should do before granting concessions to land is to reach an agreement with the community over whether or not it is willing to accept such an enormous change of lifestyle,” he said.

Furthermore, said Nahuel, “the company should respect our constitutionally recognised right to participate in the management of natural resources. Those rights have been completely violated by the oil company’s arrival.”

The Mapuche leader said similar violations are committed in the soy and mining industries. “Indigenous people are seen as just another element of nature and as such they are trampled on,” he complained.

In this South American country of 42 million, nearly one million people identified themselves as indigenous in the last census, carried out in 2010. Most of them belong to the Mapuche and Colla communities, and live in Neuquén and two other provinces.

Nahuel noted that of nearly 70 Neuquén indigenous communities, only 10 percent hold legal title to their land.

“The logic followed by the state is that the weaker the documentation of land tenure, the greater the legal security enjoyed by the company,” he said. “It’s a perverse logic because what they basically believe is that by keeping us without land titles for decades, it will be easier for the companies to invade our territory.”

Some have cast doubt on the real interests of the Mapuche.

Luis Sapag, a lawmaker of the Neuquén Popular Movement, triggered the controversy last year when he remarked that “some of them have been doing good business…YPF didn’t go to the Mapuches’ land to set up shop….some Mapuches went to put their houses where YPF was operating, to get this movement started.”

“Until Loma Campana was developed, there were never any demands or complaints from a Mapuche community,” said YPF Neuquén’s manager of unconventional resources, Pablo Bizzotto, during a visit by IPS and correspondents from other international news outlets to the oilfield in the southwestern province of Neuquén.

Nahuel compared that reasoning to “the arguments used by the state when it invaded Mapuche territory, saying this was a desert, we got here, and then indigenous people showed up making demands and claims.

“They’re using the same logic here – first they raze a territory, and then they say: ‘But what is it that you’re demanding? We hadn’t even seen you people before’,” he said.

Nahuel said the production of shale gas and oil, an industry in which Argentina is becoming a global leader, poses “a much greater threat” than the production of conventional fossil fuels, which he said “already left pollution way down in the soil, and among all of the Mapuche families in the area.”

“It is an industry that has a major environmental and social – and even worse for us, cultural – impact, because it breaks down community life and destroys the collective relationship that we have with this territory, and has turned us into ‘superficiaries’ for the industry,” Nahuel said.

He added that as the drilling moves ahead, the conflicts will increase.

He said the country’s new law on fossil fuels, in effect since Oct. 31, will aggravate the problems because “it serves the corporations by ensuring them the right to produce for 50 years.”

The logko, Campo, said: “When YPF pulls out there will be no future left for the Mapuche people. What they are leaving us here is only pollution and death.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Iranians Keep Hope Alive for Final Nuclear Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/iranians-keep-hope-alive-for-final-nuclear-deal/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 11:06:19 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137807 With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

With both countries' flags placed side by side, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits across from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, Austria, on Jul. 13, 2014, before beginning a bilateral meeting focused on Iran's nuclear programme. Credit: State Department

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Nov 18 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, the negotiations aimed at a final deal between world powers and Iran over its nuclear programme—in a crucial phase this week—are far from the minds of average people. But for many Iranians, the talks hold the promise of a better future.

“I really hope for a fair agreement,” Ahoora Rostamian, a 30-year-old financial engineer living in the Iranian city of Isfahan, told IPS in a telephone interview.“I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.” -- Adnan Tabatabai

“It is very important both economically and politically…(A)lmost all sectors of industry are affected by the sanctions, and only the people, not the government, are paying the price,” he said.

From the capital city of Tehran, Mohammad Shirkavand, who expects a final deal to be signed by the Nov. 24 deadline, said it would “alleviate tensions and allow Westerners to get to know the real Iran.”

“Iran has been developing even under a massive sanctions regime, but when there is a final nuclear deal, the situation will be much better,” said the medical engineer and tour guide.

“People are indeed very hopeful,” Adnan Tabatabai, a Berlin-based analyst who regularly travels to Iran, told IPS. “I have seen broad support and trust for [lead Iranian negotiator] Javad Zarif among the people…he may well be the most popular politician in Iran.”

Iran and the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany) began a marathon round of meetings Nov. 18 in Vienna aimed at achieving a final deal by next Monday.

That would mark the one-year anniversary of the signing in Geneva of the interim Joint Plan of Action, which halted Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief.

All of the officials involved in the negotiation have insisted that a comprehensive agreement remains possible by the self-imposed deadline.

But three days of talks last week in Oman—which hosted initially the secret U.S.-Iran meetings in March 2013 that paved the way for unprecedented levels of bilateral exchanges—concluded without a breakthrough.

“The Iranian team went back to Tehran with new ideas from Oman and will have a chance to respond to them in Vienna,” Kelsey Davenport, the director for nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, told IPS.

“There’s still a week left, and that’s a lot of time on the diplomatic clock,” said Davenport, who closely monitors Iran’s nuclear programme. “The negotiators are committed to reaching a deal by the deadline, and it’s still possible.”

The details of the negotiations remain secret, but leaked comments to the press suggest that while the negotiators are close to a deal, they remain stuck on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme as well as the terms of the sanctions relief that would result from a final deal.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach industrial-scale production for what they insist is a civil nuclear programme by 2021. But the U.S. and its allies want Iran to significantly scale back its current operations.

The failure to sign a deal so far has left some in Iran feeling hopeless—though not about their negotiating team’s ability to push for the best deal.

“I am not very optimistic about a final deal because if the P5+1 were seriously determined to reach a deal they could have achieved that by now,” said Sadeghi, a 29-year-old student also from Isfahan. “They have previously proven that what they’re seeking is halting Iran’s peaceful nuclear activity, not a genuine deal.”

Back in Tehran, Sobhan Hassanvand, a journalist who closely monitors the talks for Shargh, a reformist newspaper, told IPS he expects at least a partial deal by the end of the month.

“On both sides there are rational people who want the deal… Both sides have shown some flexibility, and tried to fight hardliners,” he said.

“They have gotten this far, and the final steps can be breathtaking…I am hopeful and optimistic,” added Hassanvand.

The negotiating teams from both the U.S. and Iran, led by Acting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, respectively, face tough domestic opposition, with powerful adversaries working hard to get their demands onto the negotiating table.

Before the end of this week, committees in the U.S. House and Senate—both of which will be controlled by Republicans as of January—will hold a series of hearings focused on the alleged dangers of a “bad deal”.

Activist groups—both for and against diplomacy with Iran—have also scheduled briefings for Congressional staffers and reporters in the run-up to Nov. 24.

“There are some members of Congress who oppose a diplomatic solution with Iran,” Davenport told IPS. “Many of them are pushing for more stringent sanctions, but that will only drive Iran away from table and lead both sides down the path of escalation.

“But the majority of Congress needs to consider the alternative to a diplomatic resolution…if we don’t achieve a deal we could easily go down the path of another war in the Middle East,” she said.

U.S. President Barack Obama has also received strong criticism for allegedly sending a secret letter last month to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, that “appeared aimed at buttressing the campaign against the Islamic State and nudging Iran’s religious leader closer to a nuclear deal,” according to a Nov. 6 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Though the content of the reported letter has not been officially revealed, some U.S. Republican and hawkish Democratic politicians, as well as Israeli officials, described it as evidence of Obama’s desperation for a deal, particularly in light of the need for Iran’s cooperation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile in Iran, the country’s ultimate decision-maker, Ayatollah Khamenei, once again expressed support last week for the country’s negotiating team through speeches and his Twitter account.

But he has also consistently expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s sincerity and its ability to negotiate for a fair deal, insisting that Washington is ruled by the Israeli government, which has made no secret of its opposition to Obama’s approach.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has also been the target of political grumblings by domestic powerbrokers for his handling of the nuclear issue. But last week saw many of his critics directing their distrust at the United States.

“In the nuclear debate, our key point is that we have complete trust with respect to the negotiating team, but this point must not be missed, that our opposing side is a fraud and a liar,” said Mohammad Hossein Nejatand, a commander of the revolutionary guards, on Nov. 14.

“Instead of writing letters, Obama should demonstrate his goodwill,” said Ayatollah Movahedi-Kermani during Friday prayers in Tehran.

Iranians meanwhile appear generally confident about their negotiating team’s strategy.

“They are doing a good job…The problem is (that) the other side is not looking for a “deal,” but for Iran to give up,” said Sadeghi.

Tabatabai said Iranians were more likely to blame the U.S. than their own government if no deal is concluded.

“In that case people may conclude that whether Iran’s foreign policy is provocative or reconciliatory, the isolation and demonisation of their country will prevail,” he said.

“This is exactly the main argument of opponents of a deal in Tehran,” he added. “In their view, hostility towards Iran is a given—and if it’s not channeled through the nuclear file, another issue will be used to maintain enmity with Iran.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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