Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 27 Jun 2016 16:22:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.12 Women’s Cooperatives Ease Burden of HIV in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/womens-cooperatives-ease-burden-of-hiv-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 27 Jun 2016 10:52:16 +0000 Charles Karis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145829 Dorcus Auma weaving sisal fronds into a basket. Her Kenyan women's group has helped provide income to care for her grandchildren, orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

Dorcus Auma weaving sisal fronds into a basket. Her Kenyan women's group has helped provide income to care for her grandchildren, orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Credit: Charles Karis/IPS

By Charles Karis
NAIROBI, Jun 27 2016 (IPS)

Seventy-three-year-old Dorcus Auma effortlessly weaves sisal fronds into a beautiful basket as she walks the tiny path that snakes up a hill. She wound up her farm work early because today, Thursday, she is required to attend her women’s group gathering at the secretary’s homestead.

Except for their eye-catching light blue dresses and silky head scarfs, they would pass for ordinary village women. They are part of the Kagwa Women’s Group in the remotest part of Homa Bay County in Kenya’s lake region.

A recent county profile of HIV/AIDS prevalence by the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) revealed that Homa Bay County leads Kenya in HIV prevalence, standing at 25.7 percent.

Auma joined the group in 2008 when the care of her three grandchildren was thrust upon her shoulders.

“HIV/AIDS robbed me of my three children, leaving me with the burden of having to take care of three children left in a vulnerable condition,” says Auma.

With no steady income to provide for their basic needs, she joined other women who shared the same predicament.

UNAIDS says that microfinance can play a big role in helping households affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and the women’s group at Homa Bay has proved this to be true.

Composed of 28 members, it started as a merry-go-round, which is a self-help group that helps women to save money. The group is supported by World Vision through an initiative to enhance target households through cooperatives.

“Within economic strengthening we are trying to help the families to get economically empowered through the locally available resources. This is a group of old women, they are all grandmas, and they had already started doing their own merry go-rounds. We came in with training on village savings and loaning, which is a simplified model of the savings at the rural level – it’s like a rural bank,” says Jedidah Mwendwa, a technical specialist with APHIA II Plus (pdf), one of the implementing organizations.

Most of the members are grandmothers whose children died from HIV/AIDS, and hence were left to fend for their grandchildren.

“Since the grannies cannot engage in vigorous economic activities, they were introduced into saving and loaning at their own level. They agreed to raise monies for saving and loaning among themselves through locally available resources like making ropes, baskets and mats,” says Mwendwa.

“When they meet on Thursdays, they collect all their material contributions. One of their members is sent to the nearby market, which is Oyugis, a distance of 61km, to go sell their products and the following week, the money that came from the market is what is saved for each specific member,” says Mwendwa.

The savings are rotated to individual members on an annual basis, and since they do not have a secure place to keep the money, they usually loan out the entire collected amount to members who return it with one percent interest.

“Since I joined this group, my life has changed. I have been able to engage in sustainable farming. My grandchildren have a reason to smile as they have nutritious food on the table,” says Auma, as she gives instructions to her eldest grandchild, a 16-year-old girl, on how to separate the sisal strands.

Initially, local people were a bit reluctant to attend the HIV caretaker training sessions because of the real stigma associated with the illness, but most have come around, and their efforts are paying off.

“We offer to the group and school clubs sensitization on adherence and nutrition,” says Rose Anyango, a social worker in the county. “The women and the children are responding well and the stigma no longer exists. Through village savings and loaning they are able to feed their children as well as educate them.”

The group has seen immediate successes in behavior, attitudes and practices regarding cultural dictates and inclusion of people living with HIV/AIDS in development activities. Women are now actively taking the lead in economic empowerment, enabling them to support their families.

The group now plans to increase to increase its impact by involving more members from the surrounding community, which will go a long way in not only empowering of locals but also reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

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Can Better Technology Lure Asia’s Youth Back to Farming?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/can-better-technology-lure-asias-youth-back-to-farming/#comments Sat, 25 Jun 2016 13:38:29 +0000 Diana G Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145811 ADB president Takehiko Nakao speak at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

ADB president Takehiko Nakao speaks at the Food Security Forum in Manila. Credit: Diana G. Mendoza/IPS

By Diana G Mendoza
MANILA, Jun 25 2016 (IPS)

Farming and agriculture may not seem cool to young people, but if they can learn the thrill of nurturing plants to produce food, and are provided with their favorite apps and communications software on agriculture, food insecurity will not be an issue, food and agriculture experts said during the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Food Security Forum from June 22 to 24 at the ADB headquarters here.

The prospect of attracting youth and tapping technology were raised by Hoonae Kim, director for Asia and the Pacific Region of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Nichola Dyer, program manager of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP), two of many forum panelists who shared ideas on how to feed 3.74 billion people in the region while taking care of the environment.

“There are 700 million young people in Asia Pacific. If we empower them, give them voice and provide them access to credit, they can be interested in all areas related to agriculture,” Kim said. “Many young people today are educated and if they continue to be so, they will appreciate the future of food as that of safe, affordable and nutritious produce that, during growth and production, reduces if not eliminate harm to the environment.”

Dyer, citing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted every year worldwide, said, “We have to look at scaling up the involvement of the private sector and civil societies to ensure that the policy gaps are given the best technologies that can be applied.”

Dyer also said using technology includes the attendant issues of gathering and using data related to agriculture policies of individual countries, especially those that have recognized the need to lessen harm to the environment while looking for ways to ensure that there is enough food for everyone.

“There is a strong need to support countries that promote climate-smart agriculture, both financially and technically as a way to introduce new technologies,” she said.

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. - Credit: ADB

The Leaders Roundtable on the Future of Food was moderated by the DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman. The President of ADB, Takehiko Nakao was a panellist along with Ministers of Food and Agriculture of Indonesia and Lao PDR, FAO regional ADG and CEO of Olam International. – Credit: ADB

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific estimated in 2014 that the region has 750 million young people aged 15 to 24, comprising 60 percent of the world’s youth. Large proportions live in socially and economically developed areas, with 78 percent of them achieving secondary education and 40 percent reaching tertiary education.

A regional paper prepared by the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) in 2015, titled “A Viable Future: Attracting the Youth Back to Agriculture,” noted that many young people in Asia choose to migrate to seek better lives and are reluctant to go into farming, as they prefer the cities where life is more convenient.

“In the Philippines, most rural families want their children to pursue more gainful jobs in the cities or overseas, as farming is largely associated with poverty,” the paper stated.

Along with the recognition of the role of young people in agriculture, the forum also resonated with calls to look at the plight of farmers, who are mostly older in age, dwindling in numbers and with little hope of finding their replacement from among the younger generations, even from among their children. Farmers, especially those who do not own land but work only for landowners or are small-scale tillers, also remain one of the most marginalised sectors in every society.

Estrella Penunia, secretary-general of the AFA, said that while it is essential to rethink how to better produce, distribute and consume food, she said it is also crucial to “consider small-scale farmers as real partners for sustainable technologies. They must be granted incentives and be given improved rental conditions.” Globally, she said “farmers have been neglected, and in the Asia Pacific region, they are the poorest.”

The AFA paper noted that lack of youth policies in most countries as detrimental to the engagement of young people. They also have limited role in decision-making processes due to a lack of structured and institutionalized opportunities.

But the paper noted a silver lining through social media. Through “access to information and other new networking tools, young people across the region can have better opportunities to become more politically active and find space for the realization of their aspirations.”

Calls for nonstop innovation in communications software development in the field of agriculture, continuing instruction on agriculture and agriculture research to educate young people, improving research and technology development, adopting measures such as ecological agriculture and innovative irrigation and fertilisation techniques were echoed by panelists from agriculture-related organizations and academicians.

Professor David Morrison of Murdoch University in Perth, Australia said now is the time to focus on what data and technology can bring to agriculture. “Technology is used to develop data and data is a great way of changing behaviors. Data needs to be analyzed,” he said, adding that political leaders also have to understand data to help them implement evidence-based policies that will benefit farmers and consumers.

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao - Credit: ADB

President of ADB Takehiko Nakao – Credit: ADB

ADB president Takehiko Nakao said the ADB is heartened to see that “the world is again paying attention to food.” While the institution sees continuing efforts in improving food-related technologies in other fields such as forestry and fisheries, he said it is agriculture that needs urgent improvements, citing such technologies as remote sensing, diversifying fertilisers and using insecticides that are of organic or natural-made substances.

Nakao said the ADB has provided loans and assistance since two years after its establishment in 1966 to the agriculture sector, where 30 percent of loans and grants were given out. The ADB will mark its 50th year of development partnership in the region in December 2016. Headquartered in Manila, it is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2015, ADB assistance totaled 27.2 billion dollars, including cofinancing of 10.7 billion dollars.

In its newest partnership is with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), which is based in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines, Nakao and IRRI director general Matthew Morell signed an agreement during the food security forum to promote food security in Asia Pacific by increasing collaboration on disseminating research and other knowledge on the role of advanced agricultural technologies in providing affordable food for all.

The partnership agreement will entail the two institutions to undertake annual consultations to review and ensure alignment of ongoing collaborative activities, and to develop a joint work program that will expand the use of climate-smart agriculture and water-saving technologies to increase productivity and boost the resilience of rice cultivation systems, and to minimize the carbon footprint of rice production.

Nakao said the ADB collaboration with IRRI is another step toward ensuring good food and nutrition for all citizens of the region. “We look forward to further strengthening our cooperation in this area to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, as well as to combat climate change.” Morell of the IRRI said the institution “looks forward to deepening our already strong partnership as we jointly develop and disseminate useful agricultural technologies throughout Asia.”

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman - Credit: ADB

DG IPS Farhana Haque Rahman – Credit: ADB


The ADB’s earlier agreements on agriculture was with Cambodia in 2013 with a 70-million-dollar climate-smart agriculture initiative called the Climate-Resilient Rice Commercialization Sector Development Program that will include generating seeds that are better adapted to Cambodia’s climate.

ADB has committed two billion dollars annually to meet the rising demand for nutritious, safe, and affordable food in Asia and the Pacific, with future support to agriculture and natural resources to emphasize investing in innovative and high-level technologies.

By 2025, the institution said Asia Pacific will have a population of 4.4 billion, and with the rest of Asia experiencing unabated rising populations and migration from countryside to urban areas, the trends will also be shifting towards better food and nutritional options while confronting a changing environment of rising temperatures and increasing disasters that are harmful to agricultural yields.

ADB president Nakao said Asia will face climate change and calamity risks in trying to reach the new Sustainable Development Goals. The institution has reported that post-harvest losses have accounted for 30 percent of total harvests in Asia Pacific; 42 percent of fruits and vegetables and up to 30 percent of grains produced across the region are lost between the farm and the market caused by inadequate infrastructure such as roads, water, power, market facilities and transport systems.

Gathering about 250 participants from governments and intergovernmental bodies in the region that include multilateral and bilateral development institutions, private firms engaged in the agriculture and food business, research and development centers, think tanks, centers of excellence and civil society and advocacy organizations, the ADB held the food security summit with inclusiveness in mind and future directions from food production to consumption.

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Bringing Back Our Girls Is Not The End of The Storyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/#comments Thu, 23 Jun 2016 21:08:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145779 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bringing-back-our-girls-is-not-the-end-of-the-story/feed/ 0 The Environment: Latin America’s Battleground for Human Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/the-environment-latin-americas-battleground-for-human-rights/#comments Wed, 22 Jun 2016 00:12:40 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145737 Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

Indigenous Asheninka activist Diana Rios (centre) from the Amazon village of Saweto, Peru is the daughter of slain activist Jorge Rios who was murdered by illegal loggers in September 2014. Credit: Lyndal Rowlands / IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Jun 22 2016 (IPS)

2015 was the deadliest year on record for the killings of environmental activists around the world, according to a new Global Witness report.

The report, On Dangerous Ground, found that in 2015, 185 people were killed defending the environment across 16 countries, a 59 percent increase from 2014.

“The environment is becoming a new battleground for human rights,” Global Witness’ Campaign Leader for Environmental and Land Defenders Billy Kyte told IPS.

“Many of these activists are being treated as enemies of the state when they should be treated as heroes,” he continued.

The rise in attacks is partially due to the increased demand for natural resources which have sparked conflicts between residents in remote, resource-rich areas and industries such as mining, logging and agribusinesses.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world." -- Billy Kyte.

Among the most dangerous regions for environmental activists is Latin America, where over 60 percent of killings in 2015 occurred. In Brazil, 50 environmental defenders were killed, the world’s highest death toll.

A majority of the murders in Brazil took place in the biodiverse Amazon states where the encroachment of ranches, agricultural plantations and illegal loggers has led to a surge in violence.

The report stated that criminal gangs often “terrorise” local communities at the behest of “timber companies and the officials they have corrupted.”

The most recent murder was of Antônio Isídio Pereira da Silva, the leader of a small farming community in the Amazonian Maranhão state. Isídio suffered years of assassination attempts and death threats for defending his land from illegal loggers and other land grabbers. Despite appeals, he never received protection and police have never investigated his murder.

Indigenous communities, who depend on the forests for their livelihood, particularly bear the brunt of the violence. Almost 40 percent of environmental activists killed were from indigenous groups.

Eusebio Ka’apor, member of the Ka’apor indigenous tribe living in Maranhão state, was shot and killed by two hooded men on a motorbike. He led patrols to monitor and shutdown illegal logging on the Ka’apor ancestral lands.

One Ka’apor leader told Survival International, an indigenous human rights organisation, that loggers have said to them that it is better to surrender the wood than let “more people die.”

“We don’t know what to do, because we have no protection. The state does nothing,” the leader said.

Thousands of illegal logging camps have been set up across the Amazon to cut down valuable timber such as mahogany, ebony and teak. It is estimated that 80 percent of timber from Brazil is illegal and accounts for 25 percent of illegal wood on global markets, most of which is sold to buyers in the United States, United Kingdom and China.

“The murders that are going unpunished in remote mining villages or deep within rainforests are fuelled by the choices consumers are making on the other side of the world,” Kyte stated.

Kyte also pointed to a “growing collusion” between corporate and state interests and high levels of corruption as reasons for the attacks on environmental defenders.

This is reflected through the ongoing corruption case involving the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam which continued despite concerns over the project’s environmental and community impact and was used to generate over $40 million for political parties.

Even in the face of a public scandal, Kyte noted that environmental legislation has continued to weaken in the country.

The new interim Brazilian government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has proposed an amendment that would diminish its environmental licensing process for infrastructure and development mega-projects in order to revive Brazil’s faltering economy.

Currently, Brazil has a three-phase procedure where at each step, a project can be halted due to environmental concerns.

Known as PEC 65, the amendment proposes that industries only submit a preliminary environmental impact statement. Once that requirement is met, projects cannot be delayed or cancelled for environmental reasons.

The weakening of key human rights institutions also poses a threat to the environment and its defenders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), whose goal is to address and investigate human rights issues in Latin America, is currently facing a severe funding deficit that could lead to the loss of 40 percent of its personnel by the end of July, impacting the ability to continue its work. It has already suspended its country visits and may be forced to halt its investigations.

Many countries in Latin America have halted financial support to the commission due to disputes over investigations and findings.

In 2011, IACHR requested that Brazil “immediately suspend the licensing” for the Belo Monte project in order to consult with and protect indigenous groups. In response, the Brazilian government broke off ties with IACHR by withdrawing its funding and recalling its ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), which implements IACHR.

“It’s a huge crisis,” Kyte told IPS.

While speaking to the Human Rights Council in May, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also expressed concern over budget cuts to IACHR, stating: “When the Inter-American Commission announces it has to cut its personnel by forty percent – and when States have already withdrawn from it and the Inter-American Court…then do we really still have an international community? When the threads forming it are being tugged away and the tapestry, our world, is unravelling? Or are there only fragmented communities of competing interests – strategic and commercial – operating behind a screen of feigned allegiance to laws and institutions?”

He called on member states to defend and financially support the commission, which he noted was an “important strategic partner and inspiration for the UN system.”

In its report, Global Witness urged Brazil and other Latin American governments to protect environmental activists, investigate crimes against activists, expose corporate and political interests that lie behind the persecution of land defenders, and formally recognize land and indigenous rights.

Kyte particularly highlighted the need for international investigations to expose the killings of environmental activists and those responsible for them.

He pointed to the murder of Berta Cáceres, an environmental and indigenous leader in Honduras, which gained international attention and outrage.

“It’s a positive step that because of international outrage, the Honduran government was compelled to arrest these killers,” he said.

“If we can push for an international investigation into her death, which I think is the only way that the real criminal masterminds behind her death will be held to account, then that could act as an example for future cases,” Kyte concluded.

In March, Cáceres, who campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, was shot in her home by two armed men from the Honduras’ military.

A whistleblower alleges that Cáceres was on a hit list given to U.S.-trained units of the Honduran military.

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Civil Society in Latin America Campaigns Against Trans-Pacific Partnershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/civil-society-in-latin-america-campaigns-against-trans-pacific-partnership/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 14:22:12 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145699 Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists from Chile, Mexico and Peru opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a meeting in January in the Mexican capital, which was also attended by representatives of civil society from Canada and the United States. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Civil society organisations from Chile, Mexico and Peru are pressing their legislatures and those of other countries not to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The free trade agreement, which was signed in New Zealand on Feb. 4, is now pending parliamentary approval in the 12 countries of the bloc, in a process led by Malaysia. Chile, Mexico and Peru are the three Latin American partners.

The treaty will enter into effect two months after it has been ratified by all the signatories, or if six or more countries, which together represent at least 85 percent of the total GDP of the 12 partners, have ratified it within two years.

“We are seeking a dialogue with like-minded parliamentary groups that defend national interests, and we provide them with information. We want to use the parliaments as hubs, and we also want dialogues with organisations from the United States, Canada and the Asian countries,” Carlos Bedoya, a Peruvian activist with the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights (LATINDADD), told IPS.

Civil society groups in Peru created the “Our Rights Are Not Negotiable” coalition, to reject the most controversial parts of the agreement.

With similar initiatives, “A Better Chile without TPP” and “A Better Mexico without TPP”, non-governmental organisations and civil society figures are protesting the negative effects that the treaty would have on their societies.

The activists complain that the intellectual property chapter of the agreement stipulates a minimum of five years of data protection for clinical trials for Mexico and Peru. And in the case of biologics, the period is three years for Mexico and 10 years for Peru.

In Chile, in both cases it will be five years of protection, in line with its other free trade agreements.

These barriers delay cheaper, generic versions of drugs from entering the market for a longer period of time.

Another aspect criticised by activists is that the member countries must submit disputes over investments to extraterritorial bodies, like the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The alliances against the TPP also criticise the provisions for Internet service providers to oversee content on the web in order to control the distribution of material that violates copyright laws.

Latin American activists complain as well about the U.S. demand that the partners reform domestic laws and regulations to bring them into line with the TPP, in a process separate from or parallel to ratification by the legislature.

In addition, they protest that Washington was given the role of certifying that each partner has faithfully implemented the agreement.

The TPP emerged from the expansion of an alliance signed in 2006 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore, within the framework of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. These countries were later joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam.

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of "A Better Chile without TPP"

A girl holds a sign saying the TPP means Transferring Fully our Powers, during a protest against the trade agreement in Santiago, Chile. Credit: Courtesy of “A Better Chile without TPP”

The agreement encompasses areas like customs, textiles, investment, telecommunications, e-commerce, dispute settlement, and labour and environmental issues.

The economies in the bloc represent 40 percent of global GDP and 20 of world trade.

The TPP “has negative effects on health and economic development. It won’t benefit our countries. But there will be a lengthy debate, because it contains issues that generate conflict,” Carlos Figueroa, a Chilean activist with his country’s coalition against the treaty, which encompasses 99 organisations, prominent individuals and five parliamentarians, told IPS.

Among its actions, the “A Better Chile without TPP” organises mass email campaigns to petition the government against the accord, promotes campaigns over the social networks, holds public demonstrations and is lobbying in parliament to block approval of the treaty.

In Mexico, conservative President Enrique Peña Nieto has enough votes in the Senate, which is responsible for ratifying international accords, to approve the treaty, with the votes from the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, its ally the Green Party, and the opposition right-wing National Action Party.

In Chile, socialist President Michelle Bachelet’s centre-left alliance will be able to count on enough votes from the right to ratify the agreement.

And in Peru, the party of President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a former World Bank economist and Wall Street banker in favour of free trade, has only a small number of seats in Congress. But a rival right-wing party, Fuerza Popular, which has a broad majority in the legislature, will approve the TPP, after the new government takes office in July and the new lawmakers are sworn in.

But furthermore, in Peru, the content of any free trade agreement does not require legislative approval unless it goes beyond what was agreed in 2009 with the United States.

Despite attempts by governments of the countries in the bloc to promote the positive impacts of the TPP, recent reports call the supposed benefits into question.

“Global Economic Prospects; Potential Macroeconomic Implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership”, a report published in January by the World Bank, projected that the treaty could boost the GDP of its members by 1.1 percent and their trade by 11 percent a year on average by 2030.

In the case of Canada, Mexico and the United States, which have their own free trade agreement, NAFTA, since 1994, the benefit is just 0.6 percent of GDP.

And for Mexico, the positive impact would be even more reduced, because the cuts in import duties give other members of the TPP greater access to the U.S. market, the document says.

Economists from Tufts University in the U.S. state of Massachusetts had a more negative view of the trade deal, predicting “increasing inequality and job losses in all participating economies.”

“Trading Down: Unemployment, Inequality and Other Risks of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement”, a study by the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, estimates that the TPP would lead to employment loss in all member countries, with a total loss of 771,000 jobs, including 448,000 in the United States alone.

In Mexico, 78,000 jobs would be lost, and in Chile and Peru, 14,000.

The authors estimate that by 2025, Mexican exports will grow 6.2 percent and GDP one percent; Peru’s exports will grow 7.1 percent and GDP 1.4 percent; and Chile’s exports will grow 2.5 percent and GDP 0.9 percent.

For its part, the U.S. International Trade Commission stated May 18, in its report “Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: Likely Impact on the U.S. Economy and on Specific Industry Sectors”, that by 2032 the TPP would boost the U.S. economy by an average of 0.01 percent a year and employment by 0.07 percent.

Enrique Dussel, coordinator of the China/Mexico Studies Center at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, questions Mexico’s involvement in the TPP without evaluating the consequences of further freeing up trade.

“There has been a 20-year learning process to know what works and what doesn’t,” he told IPS. “TPP partners without free trade agreements represent one percent of trade with Mexico and one percent of investment. The question is what do I do with the remaining 99 percent, what focus do I give trade and investment.”

NGOs in Latin America are hoping the U.S. election campaign will limit the debate on the TPP to Congress until the winner of the November elections takes office.

“That gives us a little time to fight against ratification. It will be a long battle,” said Bedoya.

Dussel anticipated three possible scenarios. “In two years it goes into effect; there will be no TPP; or in the United States the new president will call for substantial changes.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Children of a Lesser God: Trafficking Soars in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/children-of-a-lesser-god-trafficking-soars-in-india/#comments Mon, 20 Jun 2016 11:57:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145678 Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jun 20 2016 (IPS)

Sunita Pal, a frail 17-year-old, lies in a tiny bed in the women’s ward of New Delhi’s Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Her face and head swathed in bandages, with only a bruised eye and swollen lips visible, the girl recounts her ordeal to a TV channel propped up by a pillow. She talks of her employers beating her with a stick every day, depriving her of food and threatening to kill her if she dared report her misery to anybody.

“I worked from 6am until midnight. I had to cook, clean, take care of the children and massage the legs of my employers,” Sunita recounts to the journalist, pain writ large on her face. “In exchange, I got only two meals and wasn’t even paid for the six months I worked at the house. When I expressed a desire to leave, I was beaten up.”

Sunita is one of the fortunate few who got rescued from her hell by an anti-slavery activist and is now being rehabilitated at a woman’s home in Delhi. But there are millions of Sunitas across India who continue to toil in Dickensian misery for years without any succour. Trafficked from remote villages to large cities, they are and sold as domestic workers to placement agencies or worse, at brothels. Their crime? Extreme poverty and illiteracy.

The Global Slavery Index released recently by the human rights organisation Walk Free Foundation states that globally, India has the largest population of modern slaves. Over 18 million people are trapped as bonded labourers, forced beggars, sex workers and child soldiers across the country. They constitute 1.4 percent of India’s total population, the fourth highest among 167 countries with the largest proportion of slaves. The survey estimates that 45.8 million people are living in modern slavery globally, of which 58 percent are concentrated in India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan.Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states.

Grace Forrest, co-founder of the Australia-based foundation, told an Indian newspaper that all forms of modern slavery continue to exist in India, including inter-generational bonded labour, forced child labour, commercial sexual exploitation, forced begging, forced recruitment into non-state armed groups and forced marriage.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), trafficking of minor girls — the second-most prevalent trafficking crime in India – has surged 14 times over the last decade. It increased 65 percent in 2014 alone. Girls and women are the primary targets of immoral trafficking in India, comprising 76 percent of all human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveals NCRB.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014. Selling or buying girls for prostitution, importing them from a foreign country are the most common forms of trafficking in India, say experts. Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

Last year, the Central Bureau of Investigation unearthed a pan-India human trafficking racket that had transported around 8,000 Indian women to Dubai. Another report about a man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids from the poor tribal state of Jharkhand also caught the public eye.

Equally disconcerting are thousands of children which go missing from some of India’s hinterlands. Between 2011 and 2013, over 10,500 children were registered as missing from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest tribal states. They were trafficked into domestic work or other forms of child labour in cities. Overall , an estimated 135,000 children are believed to be trafficked in India every year.

Experts point to the exponentially growing demand for domestic servants in burgeoning Indian cities as the main catalyst for trafficking. A 2013 report by Geneva-based International Labour Organization found that India hosts anywhere from 2.5 million to 90 million domestic workers. Yet, despite being the largest workforce in the country, these workers remain unrecognized and unprotected by law.

This is a lacuna that a national policy in the pipeline hopes to address. Experts say the idea is to give domestic workers the benefits of regulated hours of work with weekly rest, paid annual and sick leave, and maternity benefits as well entitlement of minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act of 1948.

“Once these workers come under the ambit of law,” explains New Delhi-based human rights lawyer Kirit Patel, “it will be a big deterrent for criminals. But till then, domestic workers remain easy targets for exploitation.”

Despite growing awareness and media sensitization, however, registered human trafficking cases have spiralled up by 38.3 percent over five years from 2,848 in 2009 to 3,940 in 2013 as per NCRB. Worse, the conviction rate for such cases has plummeted 45 percent, from 1,279 in 2009 to 702 in 2013.

Not that human trafficking is a uniquely Indian phenomenon. The menace is the third-largest source of profit for organised crime, after arms and drugs trafficking involving billions of dollars annually worldwide, say surveys. Every year, thousands of children go missing in South Asia, the second-largest and fastest-growing region in the world for human trafficking after East Asia, according to the UN Office for Drugs & Crime.

To address the issue of this modern-day slavery, South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation recently held a conference on child protection in New Delhi. Ministers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and the Maldives agreed to jointly combat child exploitation, share best practices and common, uniform standards to address all forms of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking.

One of the pioneering strategies adopted at the conference was to set up a toll-free helpline and online platform to report and track missing children. “We need to spread the message to support rescue efforts and rehabilitate victims. With the rapid advance of technology and a fast-changing, globalized economy, new threats to children’s safety are emerging every day,” said India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh at the conference.

Rishi Kant, one of India’s leading anti-trafficking activists, says it all boils down to prioritizing the issue. “For poor Indian states, providing food, shelter and housing assume far greater importance than chasing traffickers. Besides, many people don’t even see trafficking as a crime. They feel it’s an opportunity for impoverished children to migrate to cities, live in rich homes and better their lives!”

Initiatives like anti-trafficking nodal cells — like the one under the Ministry of Home Affairs — can be effective deterrents, say experts. The ministry has also launched a web portal on anti-human trafficking, while the Ministry of Women and Child Development is implementing a programme that focuses on rescue, rehabilitation and repatriation of victims.

But the best antidote to the menace of human trafficking, say experts, is a stringent law. India’s first anti-trafficking law — whose draft was unveiled by the Centre recently — recommends tough action against domestic servant placement agencies who hustle poor children into bonded labour and prostitution. It also suggests the formation of an anti-trafficking fund.

The bill also makes giving hormone shots such as oxytocin to trafficked girls (to accelerate their sexual maturity) and pushing them into prostitution a crime punishable with 10 years in jail and a fine of about 1,500 dollars. Addressing new forms of bondage — such as organised begging rings, forced prostitution and child labour — are also part of the bill’s suggestions.

Once the law is passed, hopefully, girls like Sunita will be able to breathe a little easier.

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Combating Rape Requires Cultural Change in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/combating-rape-requires-cultural-change-in-brazil/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 17:22:16 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145671 “No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

“No more rapes, everyone against the 33” reads a sign in a Jun. 8 mass protest by women in the city of São Paulo. Demonstrations against Brazil’s sexist culture have mushroomed around the country, after the global outrage caused by the gang rape of a teenager by 33 men. Credit: Paulo Pinto/AGPT

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 17 2016 (IPS)

The outrage in Brazil over the gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl by more than 30 men prompted mass protests by thousands of women on the streets of cities around the country, while activists complain that the response to the case by politicians has been misfocused.

The first reaction by the government, in the face of the national outcry, was to create a new women’s protection unit to support the public security forces. Critics say the policy is completely police-oriented and merely focused on stepping up law enforcement.

Rio de Janeiro state Governor Francisco Dornelles said he was in favour of executing rapists, even though capital punishment is actually prohibited by the Brazilian constitution.

The Senate rushed through a proposal to stiffen prison sentences for sexual assault, increasing them by one- or two-thirds when the rape is committed by two or more people. It is now pending approval in the lower house of Congress.

But Sonia Correa, one of the heads of the global organisation Sexuality Policy Watch, said stiffer sentences are not the solution, as shown in India which adopted the death penalty in 2013 for gang rapes or rapes that lead to death.The low rape reporting rates “are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing.” -- Marisa Sanematsu

It is a cultural issue, she said. “Society itself has always fomented violence against women,” and a large part of the population blames the victims themselves, Correa added.

There is a perception that violence against women has increased, as a result of the publicity surrounding the rape of the teenage girl, who believes she was drugged at her boyfriend’s house in a Rio de Janeiro favela or slum on Saturday May 21 and woke up in a different house on Sunday May 22, surrounded by the men who apparently raped her.

She said she counted 33 attackers, some of whom were armed, when she regained consciousness. She only went to the police days later, after several of the men posted a video and photos of the rape on the social networks.

The police officer put in charge of the case was replaced for not taking her account seriously.

As a result of the public uproar and the evidence, a new lead investigator was named and the case was put in the hands of a police unit that specialises in crimes against children and adolescents, which accepted the video as proof of the rape. Using the video, several suspects were identified, and two have been arrested so far.

“The culture of rape has deep roots, nearly geological, and not only in Brazil, where its deepest layers lie in colonisation and slavery, with their male-oriented traditions of controlling the bodies of other people, not only women, but also slaves,” said Correa, an architect with a graduate degree in anthropology.

Brazil’s penal code, which dates to 1940 with subsequent amendments, included sexual assault among crimes against public morals; in other words, rape was an attack against society and the family, not against the woman and her body, she pointed out to IPS.

Not until 2009 was a reform adopted to correct that distortion and include male victims. Before that, only females were considered victims of rape.

The penalties, which range from six to 30 years in prison and are driven up by aggravating factors like physical injuries, death or the young age of the victim, have failed to curb the apparent rise in sexual assaults in this country of 205 million people.

Officially, 50,600 rapes were committed in 2011: 138 a day or one every 10 minutes, according to statistics from the governmental Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

But this is estimated to represent just 10 percent of the real number of rapes, which could exceed half a million cases a year. Most victims do not go to the police out of shame, fear of sexist police officers, or ignorance about how to report rape or about the crime itself.

A large part of the cases involve underage victims abused in their own homes by relatives or friends of the family – another major barrier standing in the way of reporting the incidents.

“It’s a tragedy that affects largely black people, who account for 51 percent of rape victims,” although this proportion is probably underestimated, according to Jurema Werneck, a medical doctor who is the coordinator of Criola, a non-governmental organisation that defends the rights of Afro-Brazilian women.

The large number of rapes “has its origin in sexism, but also in patriarchal racism,” because it is “an act of power against those who they see as inferior and powerless, like black women,” she told IPS.

The culture of rape is “a contradiction in the population, which mobilises to protest against an appalling crime, and even wants to lynch the suspects when children are raped, but shows a certain level of tolerance towards sexual violence against women,” said Marisa Sanematsu, contents director at the Patricia Galvão Institute, a local feminist organisation.

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The Rio Peace organisation covered the sand on Copacabana beach, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with blood-red or bloody women’s underwear and giant photos of women’s faces, also bloodied, representing the women who have been murdered in Brazil. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil

The apparent general condemnation is not reflected in the low rape reporting rates “which are due to the fear of what friends, the family, the police or even the judge will think. Social opinion holds that men can’t control their sexual desires, and react to an attractive woman who is all made up and wearing provocative clothing,” she said.

“A large part of the population thinks there are ‘rapable’ women, who know the risks they’re running and should know how to protect themselves, and shouldn’t expose themselves,” said Sanematsu, who added that society accepts the unequal social roles assigned to males and females.

Gender education, she said, is the best way to prevent and reduce all kinds of violence. But the current trend is to ban it in schools, as the state government did in São Paulo, Brazil’s richest, most populated state.

“Nothing will be achieved unless we attack the roots of the culture of trivialized violence,” which isn’t associated with poverty, but affects all social classes, she said.

To change the culture of rape “the central issue is a new construction of masculinity,” which is now based on “sexual predation,” said Correa.

The growth of conservative forces in Brazilian society, and especially in Congress, worries women’s rights activists.

Congress is studying several bills that would further restrict abortion, which is already illegal, and would restrict the rights gained by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community and unconventional families.

The wave of conservativism was accentuated with the new government of Vice President Michel Temer, who is now acting president due to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

The old Ministry of Policies for Women, now demoted to a secretariat under the Ministry of Justice, is headed by an evangelical member of the lower house of Congress who has already publicly stated that she is opposed to abortion in case of pregnancy caused by rape, one of the few circumstances in which “therapeutic abortion” is currently allowed.

Temer’s cabinet is the first in years to not include a single woman or black person.

“Dogmatic religious forces are expanding and aim to control the country,” said Correa. They hold a large number of seats in Congress and own media outlets, especially TV stations, where they further their conservative agenda.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville Women Turn Around Lives of ‘Lost Generation’http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/bougainville-women-turn-around-lives-of-lost-generation/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 12:08:20 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145600 Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Anna Sapur of the Hako Women's Collective leads a human rights training program for youths in Hako Constituency, North Bougainville. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
HAKO, Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea , Jun 13 2016 (IPS)

Finding a sense of identity and purpose, as well as employment are some of the challenges facing youths in post-conflict Bougainville, an autonomous region in eastern Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

They have been labelled the ‘lost generation’ due to their risk of being marginalised after missing out on education during the Bougainville civil war (1989-1998), known locally as the ‘Crisis’.

But in Hako constituency, where an estimated 30,000 people live in villages along the north coast of Buka Island, North Bougainville, a local women’s community services organisation refuses to see the younger generation as anything other than a source of optimism and hope.

“They are our future leaders and our future generation, so we really value the youths,” Dorcas Gano, president of the Hako Women’s Collective (HWC) told IPS.“There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened." -- Gregory Tagu, who was in fifth grade when the war broke out.

Youth comprise about 60 percent of Bougainville’s estimated population of 300,000, which has doubled since the 1990s. The women’s collective firmly believes that peace and prosperity in years to come depends on empowering young men and women in these rainforest-covered islands to cope with the challenges of today with a sense of direction.

One challenge, according to Gregory Tagu, a youth from Kohea village, is the psychological transition to a world without war.

“Nowadays, youths struggle to improve their lives and find a job because they are traumatised. During the Crisis, young people grew up with arms and knives and even today they go to school, church and walk around the village with knives,” Tagu explained.

Tens of thousands of children were affected by the decade-long conflict, which erupted after demands for compensation for environmental damage and inequity by landowners living in the vicinity of the Panguna copper mine in the mountains of central Bougainville were unmet. The mine, majority-owned by Rio Tinto, a British-Australian multinational, opened in 1969 and was operated by its Australian subsidiary, Bougainville Copper Ltd, until it was shut down in 1989 by revolutionary forces.

The conflict raged on for another eight years after the Papua New Guinea Government blockaded Bougainville in 1990 and the national armed forces and rebel groups battled for control of the region.

Many children were denied an education when schools were burnt down and teachers fled. They suffered when health services were decimated, some became child soldiers and many witnessed severe human rights abuses.

Tagu was in fifth grade when the war broke out. “There were no schools, no teachers and no services here and we had no food to eat. I saw people killed with my own eyes and we didn’t sleep at night, we were frightened,” he recalled.

Trauma is believed to contribute to what women identify as a youth sub-culture today involving alcohol, substance abuse and petty crime, which is inhibiting some to participate in positive development.

They believe that one of the building blocks to integrating youths back into a peaceful society is making them aware of their human rights.

In a village meeting house about 20-30 young men and women, aged from early teens to late thirties, gather in a circle as local singer Tasha Kabano performs a song about violence against women. Then Anna Sapur, an experienced village court magistrate, takes the floor to speak about what constitutes human rights abuses and the entitlement of men, women and children to lives free of injustice and physical violations. Domestic violence, child abuse and neglect were key topics in the vigorous debate which followed.

But social integration for this age group also depends on economic participation. Despite 15 years of peace and better access to schools, completing education is still a challenge for many. An estimated 90 percent of students leave before the end of Grade 10 with reasons including exam failure and inability to meet costs.

“There are plenty of young people who cannot read and write, so we really need to train them in adult literacy,” Elizabeth Ngosi, an HWC member from Tuhus village declared, adding that currently they don’t have access to this training.

Similar to other small Pacific Island economies, only a few people secure formal sector jobs in Bougainville while the vast majority survive in the informal economy.

At the regional level, Justin Borgia, Secretary for the Department of Community Development, said that the Autonomous Bougainville Government is keen to see a long-term approach to integrating youths through formal education and informal life skills training. District Youth Councils with government assistance have identified development priorities including economic opportunities, improving local governance and rule of law.

In Hako, women are particularly concerned for the 70 percent of early school leavers who are unemployed and in 2007 the collective conducted their first skills training program. More than 400 youths were instructed in 30 different trade and technical skills, creative visual and music art, accountancy, leadership, health, sport, law and justice and public speaking.

Two-thirds of those who participated were successful in finding employment, Gano claims.

“Some of them have work and some have started their own small businesses….Some are carpenters now and have their own small contracts building houses back in the villages,” she said.

Tuition in public speaking was of particular value to Gregory Tagu.

“I have no CV or reference, but with my public speaking skills I was able to tell people about my experience and this helped me to get work,” Tagu said. Now he works as a truck driver for a commercial business and a technical officer for the Hako Media Unit, a village-based media resource set up after an Australian non-government organisation, Pacific Black Box, provided digital media training to local youths.

Equipping young people with skills and confidence is helping to shape a new future here and further afield. HWC’s president is particularly proud that some from the village have gone on to take up youth leadership positions in other parts of Bougainville, including the current President of the Bougainville Youth Federation.

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Youth Leaders Push for More Progressive Action to End HIV AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/youth-leaders-push-for-more-progressive-action-to-end-hiv-aids/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2016 23:26:13 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145592 Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Loyce Maturu, a Zimbabwean living with AIDS since the age of 12 and an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS, addresses the General Assembly High-level Meeting on HIV/AIDS. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 10 2016 (IPS)

Young people are disproportionately affected by HIV, yet their concerns about sexual education, and discrimination of key populations were ignored at the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS.

Although the overall number of AIDS-related deaths is down 35 percent since 2005, estimates suggest that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents are actually rising.

In fact, AIDS is a leading cause of deaths among adolescents in Africa, and it is the second greatest cause of death among adolescents globally.

Young people’s vulnerability to HIV is exacerbated by a lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information and services and by exclusion from decision making processes.

At the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on ending AIDS this week, Member States adopted a new political declatarion focusing on the Fast-Track approach to fighting HIV and ending AIDS by 2030. Fast-Track is driven by the 90–90–90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV know their HIV status, 90% of people who know their status are receiving treatment and 90% of people on HIV treatment have a suppressed viral load so their immune system remains strong and the likelihood of their infection being passed on is greatly reduced.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation."

But youth delegates say that issues of stigma, discrimination, and sexual education were not given the importance they should have in the declaration since youth were not included in the negotiations.

“The concept of 90-90-90 is amazing, but in practice without access to sexual education or participation of key populations and young people, the goals are unrealistic,” said Peter Mladenov, one youth representative from Youth Peer Educational Network.

At the High Level Meeting on Ending Aids, there were 20 young people representing different organisations.

“Unfortunately, all youth representatives were excluded from the negotiations on the high level meeting on Aids political declaration,” said Mladenov.

“Our wishes were not heard and the rights were not promoted since in the final document we did not see any sexuality education, or mentioning of key populations.”

Mladenov is an expert on youth policies and has been a youth advocate for Sexual and Reproductive Rights  and Comprehensive Sexual Education for the past 10 years. At the age of 14, he was invited to join a class on sexual education in school which he says changed his life and began his journey with sexual health and reproductive rights advocacy.

“Sexual education is the direct link between HIV / AIDS and sexual health and reproductive rights. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will achieve an HIV free generation.”

“Sex ed is not only about the sex, it is about the informed choice of each young person, understanding the changes in your body, a young girl having the right to say no to marriage at age 15, an instrument to prevent child abuse or female genital mutilation.”

Mladenov says sexual education can help end stigma and discrimination.

“It is nice that we are progressing, same-sex marriage is approved in different countries and shows that the world is changing for the better. But there is still a long way to go, people with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination on a daily basis. When someone discriminates against a person it is usually because they are afraid of something, which is why sexual education is so important.”

Another youth leader attending the meeting was Annah Sango from the HIV Young Leaders Fund Board:

“Sexual rights really are human rights, because when it comes to talking about my body and my health and well being, it is not an issue of a statistic, but what I live each and every day,” said Sango.

“It is every young person’s need and right to be in your own country, and be able to know you have access to health and to know that the justice system is working for you, not against you.”

Sango grew up seeing how disadvantaged young people are, and how sometimes culture, society and tradition play a very crucial role in the lives of young people as much as the economic aspects. When asked what she would have wanted in the declaration, she said it was important to ensure that countries aren’t allowed to hide behind culture and religion, and rather have an open mind to the issues in their countries. She also said that member states should have given clear-cut strategies to address some of the pertinent issues facing young people.

Sango is also Advocacy Officer for the African Network of Young People living with HIV (AY+) which heavily advocates for Comprehensive Sexual Education and supports young people to dispel disinformation which drive stigma and discrimination.

“We cannot talk about AIDS whilst excluding young people and key populations. At country level, the agreement needs to reflect the face of HIV: young people that face violence, the millions of young people that have died because of their sexuality, the reality of teenage pregnancies, and of adolescents who are dying because they cannot be identified.”

Sango also said the negotiations for the declaration were very exclusive of youth voices, however she is optimistic that in the future youth will be included at the national level.

“I am confident that whatever goals, whatever agendas we are working towards, we will be able to achieve them if we include the right people to lead and champion the agenda,” said Sango.

Mladenov was also optimistic that about young people’s participation.

“Many people say that young people are the future, but that is not correct – we are the present, and we should be the ones who drive the sustainable development agenda to its accomplishment.” Mladenov told IPS.

“Although we don’t have what we want in the political declaration, we have the will, the power, and motivation to do it. The youth working on the local and national level should not be afraid to take up the floor, to go to their ministries, to demand that they involve youth as equal partners in implementing the declaration.”

“We should not forget that these people were elected by us, they are accountable to us, not vice-versa. If we have more governments really involving young people, we can achieve sustainable development.”

“Young people should be the agents of change, they should be the ones who push their governments to do something for them because they already agreed to with this declaration.”

“I dream for a day when I will not hear about a person coming from an LGBT community who is harassed, or a young woman or girl who is somehow violated, or a young person is excluded.”

IPS also spoke to Sharonann Lynch, HIV/Tuberculosis (TB) policy advisor at Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign.

“In many countries where MSF works, young people, especially adolescent girls and young women, are most at risk of contracting HIV,” said Lynch. “For example, in Lesotho, the prevalence of HIV will multiply by 5 in the next 7 years among adolescent girls from the age of 15 to 22. So the question for the region is what can we put in place as soon as possible to provide life-saving treatment as well as prevention.” Lynch told IPS.

“Youth are critical to combat stigma by creating more visibility. Young people can combat stigma by being out about their HIV status, demanding not only a voice but also acceptance in their communities. But governments need to make sure they take steps to reduce stigma and discrimination as well.”

 

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Fear of a Triumph by Keiko Fujimori, the Key to Peru’s Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fear-of-a-triumph-by-keiko-fujimori-the-key-to-perus-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fear-of-a-triumph-by-keiko-fujimori-the-key-to-perus-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/fear-of-a-triumph-by-keiko-fujimori-the-key-to-perus-elections/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 23:43:36 +0000 Angel Paez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145436 “No Narco-state, No Keiko!” was the chant repeated endlessly by protesters during the massive May 31 demonstrations in Lima and many other cities in Peru against the possible triumph of presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori. Credit: Courtesy of La República

“No Narco-state, No Keiko!” was the chant repeated endlessly by protesters during the massive May 31 demonstrations in Lima and many other cities in Peru against the possible triumph of presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori. Credit: Courtesy of La República

By Ángel Páez
LIMA, Jun 3 2016 (IPS)

Thousands of Peruvians took to the streets of Lima and other cities to protest the likely triumph in the Sunday Jun. 5 runoff election of Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and crimes against humanity.

If Keiko Fujimori wins, as indicated by the polls, it will be the fourth time a Fujimori is elected president.

Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) spent two full terms in office and his third term was cut short (he served less than one year) due to a corruption scandal revolving around his security chief Vladimiro Montesinos. His administration was marked by human rights violations and a self-coup in which he dissolved Congress, suspended civil liberties and established government by decree. “A triumph by Keiko Fujimori represents for Peruvian democracy, on a symbolic level, the exercise of shameful masochism on the part of those who already suffered the crimes and horror of her father’s government…Her election would amount to support for a way of governing that violated all the principles of democracy.” – Julio Arbizu

On May 31 and two previous occasions, enormous crowds of demonstrators took to the streets in Lima and other major cities to protest the candidacy of Keiko Fujimori, in protests similar to those she faced as first lady – a position she held informally after her parents divorced – during the campaign in which her father was reelected to a third term, in 2000.

Keiko Fujimori, 41, is facing off with banker Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, 77, who served as prime minister and economy minister in the government of Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006). They are both running for president for a second time: in 2011 she came in second and he came in third in the elections won by Ollanta Humala.

In the last two opinion polls, Fujimori was slightly ahead of Kuczynski, which could change due to the growing denunciations of corruption and other irregularities against the candidate for the right-wing Fuerza Popular, which groups the supporters of 77-year-old Alberto Fujimori, who has been in a cell in a national police station on the east side of Lima since 2007.

Since last year, Keiko Fujimori has been seeking to project an image of herself as having nothing to do with the authoritarian practices of her father, in a strategy that has included populist promises aimed at neutralising the anti-Fujimorista vote that led to her defeat in 2011.

But during the campaign that got underway in January, the candidate has faced a growing number of accusations of shady financing, manipulation of the media, false claims about her political opponents, and other practices that put people in mind of the way her father did things.

“Those of us who fought the authoritarianism and corruption of the government of Alberto Fujimori believe that a victory by his daughter Keiko Fujimori would represent a setback to democracy,” said Salomón Lerner, President Humala’s former prime minister.

“Keiko Fujimori, who at the start of her election campaign criticised the excesses of her father, was repeating his practices by the last stage of the campaign. And one demonstration of what I’m saying is the appearance of shady figures, with dubious reputations, who worked with Alberto Fujimori,” Lerner told IPS.

According to Peru’s national elections office, Fujimori has reported more than three million dollars in income, compared to the centre-right Kuczynski’s 2.2 million.

The May 31 protest in Lima against presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter and heir to Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption. Credit: Courtesy of La República

The May 31 protest in Lima against presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori, the daughter and heir to Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25-year sentence for crimes against humanity and corruption. Credit: Courtesy of La República

Keiko Fujimori’s main campaign funders include former officials from her father’s regime or people otherwise close to him, some of whom are implicated in the current investigation of money laundering in her 2011 campaign.

Drug trafficking, more than just a shadow

In 2013, the U.S. government accused businessman Luis Calle, who helped finance Keiko Fujimori’s campaign in 2011, of being an international drug kingpin and laundering money.

And in 2014, Peru’s special prosecutor for money laundering cases, Julia Príncipe, sought to lift the parliamentary immunity of Fujimorista lawmaker Joaquín Ramírez, alleging a major discrepancy between his reported income and his 7.1 million dollars in assets.

But the following year, Keiko Fujimori made him secretary general of Fuerza Popular and later threw all her support behind him even after the public prosecutor’s office launched an investigation of him for alleged money laundering.

And she ratified Ramírez in his post after the U.S. Spanish-language television network Univisión and the investigative journalism programme Cuarto Poder, in Lima, revealed in a joint televised news report that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was investigating him.

An undercover informant for the DEA, Jesús Vásquez, said he had recorded Ramírez saying Keiko Fujimori gave him 15 million dollars in alleged drug money to launder for the 2011 election campaign.

Although Fujimori dismissed the reports as false, Ramírez was forced to temporarily step down as the leader of Fuerza Popular, after Peruvian authorities announced a trip to the United States to interview Vásquez.

When it looked like the scandal was winding down, the TV programme “Las cosas como son” aired a recording in which Vásquez apparently said he had lied about what Ramírez said. Shortly afterwards the producer of the programme, Mayra Albán, said the recording had been doctored, and that it had come from the head of Fujimori’s campaign, José Chlimper.

It was an operation by the Fujimori camp to discredit the DEA informant, whose accusations reminded analysts and opposition politicians of Keiko Fujimori and her father: during the latter’s government, drug trafficking was one of the biggest sources of corruption, as the justice system proved.

Former anti-corruption prosecutor Julio Arbizu said “a triumph by Keiko Fujimori represents for Peruvian democracy, on a symbolic level, the exercise of shameful masochism on the part of those who already suffered the crimes and horror of her father’s government.”

“Her election would amount to support for a way of governing that violated all the principles of democracy,” added Arbizu, who headed the fight against corruption in the country from 2011 to 2014.

“But as a more in-depth consequence, a victory by Fujimorismo would mean the country would be governed by a criminal organisation (I believe Fujimorismo has always been one), which this time around has a strong coating of formality, but which has given us enough reasons to believe that it has serious ties to the drug trade and money laundering,” he added.

Keiko Fujimori, with Joaquín Ramírez, who has temporarily been suspended as secretary general of her party, Fuerza Popular, because of accusations of drug trade-related activities, although the candidate has confirmed her confidence in him. Credit: Courtesy of La República

Keiko Fujimori, with Joaquín Ramírez, who has temporarily been suspended as secretary general of her party, Fuerza Popular, because of accusations of drug trade-related activities, although the candidate has confirmed her confidence in him. Credit: Courtesy of La República

Arbizu played a decisive role in the extradition of former president Fujimori, when he took refuge in Chile, in 2007, after he tried to step down as president, while in Asia, in late 2000 and was impeached by Congress for “moral incapacity.”

Congresswoman Rosa Mavila presided over an investigative commission on the links between drug trafficking and politics, which issued a report that mentioned ties with Fujimorismo.

“At the end of Fujimori’s government, when Keiko Fujimori was first lady, she asked her father to pardon the Martínez sisters, who were in prison at the time on charges of drug trafficking,” Mavila, who belongs to a centre-left alliance, told IPS.

Fujimori freed them, and when his daughter was running for Congress in 2006, “the Martínez sisters contributed to her campaign. And this isn’t the only case,” said Mavila.

“During the Fujimori administration, the drug trade had a powerful influence,” she stated.

As an example, she cited the case of drug trafficker Fernando Zevallos, who was acquitted four times during that period, but was sentenced to 20 years in prison once Toledo became president.

“Rather than trying to ward off any doubt, Keiko Fujimori has defended people accused of money laundering, as in the case of Congressman Joaquín Ramírez,” said Mavila, who pointed out that the Fujimorista leader had taken refuge in his parliamentary immunity to escape investigation.

“Immunity is not impunity. The Fujimoristas should understand that,” the legislator said.

In the May 31 march against Keiko Fujimori, the most frequently intoned chant was against the creation of a “narco state”, if the daughter of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori is elected Sunday.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Transgender in Pakistan: A “Forgotten People”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/transgender-in-pakistan-a-forgotten-people/#comments Fri, 03 Jun 2016 13:04:08 +0000 Alec Forss and Humaira Israr http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145423 Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

By Alec Forss and Humaira Israr
ISLAMABAD, Jun 3 2016 (IPS)

At an open market in the district of Mehmoodabad in Karachi, Miss Bindiya Rana, 35, starts another day at work selling clothes. Living in one of the poorer parts of the city, like many others here she faces a daily struggle to make ends meet. Yet, of strong build with dyed hair and wearing heavy make-up, she and others like her face a bigger challenge than most.

Part of the transgender or hijra community, social stigma and discrimination make them outcasts in Pakistan’s highly conservative society. While there are no official precise figures on the number of transgender or third-gender people living in the country, estimates range from 80,000 to 350,000-500,000, with perhaps 60-70,000 in Karachi alone.

From a lower middle-class family, Rana first became aware of her identity as a child. In public she dressed like a boy, but alone in her room she would wear girl’s clothes, lipstick and practise dancing. After running away from home for two months, her parents gradually came to accept her identity. Most are not so lucky. Shunned by their families, many have no option but to join close-knit hijra communities led by older gurus who take on the role of ersatz guardians, offering them protection.  

With few completing formal education, employment opportunities are limited. Many have to endure ridicule by dancing openly in the streets or at weddings to scrape by a living, or resort simply to begging. Others are involved in sex work with little education about safe sex and the dangers of HIV.

Vulnerable to physical and verbal abuse, they also have to bear the humiliating attitude of police officers, doctors at hospitals, and public officials, complains Rana. Reports of beatings and other forms of violence directed against them are commonplace.

On May 25, a transgender individual by the name of Alisha died in a hospital in Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after succumbing to gunshot wounds, with some blaming delayed medical care for her death after other patients allegedly complained and doctors debated whether she belonged in the male or female ward. Located in the northwest of Pakistan, it is the fifth reported case of violence in the province against transgenders this year.

In a scathing editorial, the Daily Times wrote that, “In the light of apathetic attitude and its justification by hospital authorities, it would not be farfetched to conclude that an abhorrent form of apartheid mentality prevails in Pakistan in which transgenders elicit such contempt that their lives are not given even an iota of value.”

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Hijra protest against the social welfare department in Sindh. Credit: Courtesy of Gender Interactive Alliance

Pakistan’s hijras have faced a long battle to be accepted as full citizens with equal rights according to the country’s constitution. In 2012, a landmark decision by the Supreme Court decreed that they be issued with computerized national identity cards, thus for the first time officially listing their existence as a legal third gender.

“We were in seventh heaven,” said Rana of the decision conferring many of the same rights, such as voting, property, and inheritance, as other citizens.

However, the National Database and Registration Authority, charged with issuing the cards under the Ministry of Interior, initially dragged its feet, requesting that they undergo humiliating medical examinations first.

“We came out onto the streets protesting and managed to overturn the decision,” said Rana.

Nevertheless, more than four years on, many still do not have cards. One of the main obstacles is that cards can only be issued to those with biological parents or those officially adopted with proper documentation. For those who have been ostracized by or run away from their families (or simply did not know them as they joined hijra communities when very young), this proves an impossibility. Furthermore, the gurus are not considered to be parents by the registration authorities.

But to tackle the issue, no interim arrangement has been devised by the establishment. The continued non-provision of cards means that many continue to be deprived of full civil rights as well as enrolment in the Benazir Income Support Program (social security program) and free National Health Program.

Other attempts to improve the status of hijras through affirmative employment policies and increasing opportunities have also proven insufficient, poorly paid, or even derogatory. The regional revenue office in Karachi resorted to employing hijras for debt collection by instructing them to dance outside debtors’ doors and so shame them into paying up. “It was very humiliating for us,” explains Rana.

Despite the progress made, Rana remains frustrated at the lack of support and hostile attitudes. One of five transgender candidates in Pakistan’s general elections in May 2013 (the first time in the country’s history that hijras could run), she ran and lost as an independent candidate to Sindh Provincial Assembly.

“Instead of supporting me, people mocked me in every way possible,” she says.

Determined to improve the plight of Karachi’s hirja, she established her own NGO in 2009 called Gender Interactive Alliance Pakistan, which seeks to provide shelter, employment, basic skills training, and even a telephone helpline. “We are the forgotten people,” she says, but “I will fight for our equal rights until the end.”

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LGBT Communities Silenced in HIV Reduction Effortshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:54:38 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145413 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/lgbt-communities-silenced-in-hiv-reduction-efforts/feed/ 0 Young African Women More Vulnerable to HIVhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/#comments Thu, 02 Jun 2016 04:14:20 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145400 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/06/young-african-women-more-vulnerable-to-hiv/feed/ 0 Traditional Mexican Recipes Fight the Good Fighthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/traditional-mexican-recipes-fight-the-good-fight/#comments Fri, 27 May 2016 11:54:49 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145330 AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

AraceliMárquez prepares dishes based on Mexico’s rich, nutritional traditional cuisine, at a fair in the southeast of Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 27 2016 (IPS)

In a clay pot, Araceli Márquez mixes tiny Mexican freshwater fish known as charales with herbs and a sauce made of chili peppers, green tomatoes and prickly pear cactus fruit, preparing a dish called mixmole.

“I learned how to cook by asking people and experimenting,” the 55-year-old divorced mother of two told IPS. “The ingredients are natural, from this area. It’s a way to eat natural food, and to fight obesity and disease.”

Mixmole, which is greenish in color and has a distinctive flavour and a strong aroma that fills the air, is one of the traditional dishes of the town of San Andrés Mixquic, in Tlahuac, one of the 16 boroughs into which Mexico City, whose metropolitan region is home to 21 million people, is divided.

Márquez belongs to a cooperative named “Life and death in Tlahuac- heritage and tourist route”dedicated to gastronomy and ecotourism. The ingredients of their products and dishes, which are based on recipes handed down over the generations, come from local farmers.

Another dish on her menu is tlapique – a tamale (seasoned meat wrapped in cornmeal dough) filled with fish, chili peppers, prickly pear cactus fruit, epazote (Dysphaniaambrosioides) – a common spice in Mexican cooking – and xoconostles (Opuntiajoconostle), another kind of cactus pear native to Mexico’s deserts.

“We are trying to show people thelocal culture and cuisine.The response has been good, people like what we offer,” said Márquez, who lives in the town of San Bartolo Ameyalco, in Tlahuac, which is on the southeast side of Mexico City.

Márquez’s meals reflect the wealth of Mexican cuisine and the growing efforts to defend and promote it, in this Latin American country of 122 million people, which is one of the world’s fattest countries, meaning diabetes, hypertension, cardiac and stomach ailments are major problems.

Traditional Mexican cuisine, on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2010, revolves around corn, beans and chili peppers, staples used by native peoples long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

The local diet was enriched by the contributions of the invaders, and is now rich in vegetables, herbs and fruit – a multicultural mix of aromas, flavours, nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Activists offer beans on downtown Reforma Avenue in Mexico City to promote consumption of this staple of the Mexican diet, produced with non-genetically-modified native seeds, and to boost food security. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Liza Covantes is also dedicated to reviving traditional cuisine based on local products. With that aim she helped found a bartering and products cooperative in Zacahuitzco, in the south of the capital, in 2015.

“We are a group of people working for the right to a healthy, affordable diet who got together to foment healthy eating. We’re exercising the right to food, health and a clean environment,” she told IPS.

The cooperative brings together 45 families who produce food like bread, cheese and vegetables. To sell their products, in November they opened a store, Mawi, which means “to feed” in the Totonaca indigenous language.

“We don’t accept anything with artificial ingredients,” said Covantes. The cooperative sells six-kg packages of food, which always include vegetables.

Mexico’s world-renowned cuisine is a significant part of this country’s attraction for tourists.

To cite a few examples of the rich culinary heritage, there are 200 varieties of native chili peppers in Mexico, 600 recipes that use corn, and 71 different kinds of mole sauce.

But this culinary wealth exists alongside the epidemic of obesity caused by the proliferation of sodas and other processed food high in added fats and sweeteners.

The 2012 National Survey on Health and Nutrition found that 26 million adults are overweight, 22 million are obese, and some five million children are overweight orobese. This generates growing costs for the state.

The survey also found that over 20 million households were in some category of food insecurity.

Referring to the country’s traditional cuisine, expert Delhi Trejo told IPS that “its importance lies in the diversity of the food.”

“We have a great variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; they’re important sources of fiber, vitamins, protein and minerals. Their costs are low and they have benefits to the environment,” said Trejo, the senior consultant on nutrition in the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) Mexico office.

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Solís, who grows different varieties and colours of native corn, removes the kernels from a cob in San Juan Ixtenco, Tlaxcala state, during a traditional fair dedicated to corn, the country’s main crop, which originated in Mexico and forms the base of the national diet. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

FAO declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses – one of the key elements in the Mexican diet.

But traditional cuisine not only has nutritional value; the preparation of foods employs more than five million people and the country’s 500,000 formal restaurants generate two percent of GDP in Latin America’s second-largest economy.

To improve nutrition and defend an important segment of the economy, in August 2015 the government launched a Policy to Foment National Gastronomy, aimed at fostering and strengthening the country’s gastronomic offerings, fomenting tourism and boosting local and regional development through restaurants and the value chain.

But its measures have not yet yielded clear dividends.

“The traditional diet would be a solution for diabetes or obesity,” independent researcher Cristina Barros told IPS. “It is indispensable to return to our roots…We are what we eat.”

The Dietary Guidelines launched by the United States in 2010 state that people with traditional plant-based diets are less prone to cancer, coronary disease and obesity than people with diets based on processed foods.

Márquez is calling for more support and promotion. “There is assistance, but it is not enough. I hope the federal programme brings results,” said the cook, whose goal this year is to make a Tláhuac recipe book.

For Trejo, the FAO consultant, part of the problem is that a segment of the population erroneously associates traditional food with what is sold by street vendors or food stalls.

“The country has to foster its gastronomy and do away with false ideas of combinations of fats, sugar and industrialised food that increasingly reach every corner of the country and put traditional cuisine at risk,” she said.

Initiatives in different parts of Mexico have pointed in that direction, like in the southern state of Chiapas, one of the country’s poorest, where several organizations launched in April 2015 the campaign “Pozol project: eating healthier as Mexicans”, aimed at fomenting the consumption of pozol, a nutritious fermented corn drink.

On Apr. 28, the Mexican Senate approved the draft of a Federal Law to Foment Gastronomy, which outlines measures to strengthen the sector. The bill is now pending approval by the lower house of Congress.

“Collectively we can defend these principles and create a social trend that boosts the nutritional values of our gastronomy, to also benefit local producers,” said Covantes.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Central America, Still Caught Up in the Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:29:10 +0000 Lina Barrantes Castegnaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145301

In this column, Lina Barrantes Castegnaro, executive director of the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress, denounces the arms race in Central America and calls for the implementation of the Costa Rica Consensus, which urges rich countries to increase development aid to countries that cut military spending.

By Lina Barrantes Castegnaro
SAN JOSE, May 25 2016 (IPS)

The recent announcement of the Nicaraguan government’s 80-million-dollar purchase of 50 Russian tanks caught the attention of the press in Latin America and caused alarm in the international community.

The purchase, not an isolated acquisition, is part of an arms race seen in Latin America in recent years.

The rise in military spending stands in contrast to the realities in a poor region like Central America, where the levels of defence spending are as shocking as the poverty rates.

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that in 2015, in Belize 1.1 percent of the annual budget (19.6 million dollars) went toward military expenditure, in El Salvador 0.9 percent (223 million), in Guatemala 0.4 percent (274 million), in Honduras 1.6 percent (324 million) and in Nicaragua 0.6 percent (71.6 million).

(Costa Rica and Panama, which don’t have armies, do not declare military expenditure.)

While these funds are being spent on weapons, the specter of hunger and underdevelopment hangs over the region. In the 2015 United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index , Guatemala ranked 128th, Honduras 131st, El Salvador 116th, Nicaragua 125th and Belize 101st, out of 188 countries.

Costa Rica was in 69th place and Panama 60th.

The worst performers in the region, in the HDI, are Honduras and Guatemala, the two countries with the lowest level of human development in Central America.

That is, the poorer the country, the more the government spends on war toys. But the question is: Who will these toys be used to wage war against?

One possible answer is that the upgrading of weaponry is aimed to give countries the capacity to respond in case of war or invasion. But it’s not clear which war or invasion that might be.

Another hypothesis that could be set forth is that they could be used against the countries’ own citizens deported from the United States, who return after graduating from intensive courses in violence and crime in Latino neighbourhoods.

The UNDP Human Development Report 1994 formally introduced a new concept that had been debated for years in the international arena: if the world spent money on development instead of military expenditure, poverty could be eradicated in just a few years.

From that standpoint, poverty doesn’t just have to do with war, but with military spending itself.

In the period 1987-1994 global military expenditure declined by an estimated 935 billion dollars. Unfortunately, this money did not go towards social spending or development; actually the way these funds were used is not clear.

Spending on armament is deplorable, but it is even more so in the case of poor countries like those of Central America.

For that reason the concept of peace dividends, presented to the world by then Costa Rican president Oscar Arias in 2006 as the “Costa Rica consensus”, is so important.

According to this idea, countries that spend more on development than on death would be given priority when it comes to international financial resources.

Just as the Arms Trade Treaty proposes linking human rights and ethics with military spending, the Costa Rica consensus is aimed at creating mechanisms to condone debt and support, with financial resources, developing countries that spend more on health, education and housing for their people, and less on arms and soldiers.

In other words, the international financial community would reward not only those countries that spend in an orderly fashion, as it does now, but those that spend ethically.

When the Nobel Peace Laureates for Food Security and Peace Alliance was created earlier this month, at U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) headquarters in Rome, Arias proposed taking up the Costa Rica consensus again as an alternative for fighting hunger in the world, to support countries that use their budget funds for the lives of their citizens rather than their deaths.

We hope the day this will happen is not too far off.

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Prickly Pears Drive Local Development in Northern Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/prickly-pears-drive-local-development-in-northern-argentina/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:51:45 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145260 Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Marta Maldonado, secretary of the “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” association, standing next to a prickly pear, a cactus that is abundant in this municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Making use of the fruit and the leaves of the plant has changed the lives of a group of local families. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CORZUELA, Argentina , May 23 2016 (IPS)

Family farmers in the northern Argentine province of Chaco are gaining a new appreciation of the common prickly pear cactus, which is now driving a new kind of local development.

Hundreds of jars of homemade jam are stacked in the civil society association “Siempre Unidos Minifundios de Corzuela” (smallholders of Corzuela united), ready to be sold.

Until recently, the small farmers taking part in this new local development initiative did not know that the prickly pear, also known as cactus pear, tuna or nopal, originated in Mexico, or that its scientific name was Opuntia ficus-indica.

But now this cactus that has always just been a normal part of their semi-arid landscape is bringing local subsistence farmers a new source of income.

“The women who took the course are now making a living from this,” Marta Maldonado, the secretary of the association, which was formally registered in 2011, told IPS. “They also have their vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs and goats.”

“The prickly pear is the most common plant around here. In the project we set up 20 prickly pear plantations,” she said.

Local farmers work one to four hectares in this settlement in the rural municipality of Corzuela in west-central Chaco, whose 10,000 inhabitants are spread around small settlements and villages.

The initiative, which has benefited 20 families, made up of 39 women, 35 men and four children, has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Small Grants Programme (SGP).

The SGP, which is active in 125 countries, is based on the sustainable development concept of “thinking globally, acting locally”, and seeks to demonstrate that small-scale community initiatives can have a positive impact on global environmental problems.

The aim of these small grants, which in the case of the local association here amounted to 20,000 dollars, is to bolster food sovereignty while at the same time strengthening biodiversity.

The SGP has carried out 13 projects so far in Chaco, the poorest province in this South American country of 43 million people.

In the region where Corzuela is located, “there are periods of severe drought and fruit orchards require a lot of water. The prickly pear is a cactus that does not need water,” said Gabriela Faggi with the National Agricultural Technology Institute (INTA).

The large-scale deforestation and clear-cutting of land began in 1990, when soy began to expand in this area, and many local crops were driven out.

“The prickly pear, which is actually originally from Mexico but was naturalised here throughout northern Argentina centuries ago, had started to disappear. So this project is also important in terms of rescuing this local fruit,” said Faggi.

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

“Sabores de Corzuela” (Flavours of Corzuela) reads the label on the jars of prickly pear fruit jam produced by an association of local families in this rural municipality in the northern Argentine province of Chaco. Credit: UNDP Argentina

This area depends on agriculture – cotton, soy, sunflowers, sorghum and maize – and timber, as well as livestock – cattle, hogs, and poultry.

However, it is now impossible for local smallholders to grow crops like cotton.

“In the past, a lot of cotton was grown, but not anymore,” the association’s treasurer, Mirtha Mores, told IPS. “It’s not planted now because of an outbreak of boll weevils (Anthonomus grandis), an insect that stunts growth of the plant, and we can’t afford to fight it, poor people like us who have just a little piece of land to farm.”

Before launching the project, the local branch of INTA trained the small farmers in agroecological techniques for growing cotton, and helped them put up fences to protect their crops from the animals.

They also taught them how to build and use a machine known as a “desjanadora” to remove the spines, or “janas”, from the prickly pear fruits, to make them easier to handle.

“It’s going well for us. Last year we even sold 1,500 jars of prickly pear fruit jam to the Education Ministry,” for use in school lunchrooms, Maldonado said proudly.

The association, whose work is mainly done by women, also sells its products at local and provincial markets. And although prickly pear fruit is their star product, when it is not in season, they also make jam and other preserves using papaya or pumpkin.

“It has improved our incomes and now we have the possibility to sell our merchandise and to be able to buy the things that are really needed to help our kids who are studying,” Mores said.

The project, which began in 2013, also trained them to use the leaves as a supplementary feed for livestock, especially in the winter when there is less fodder and many animals actually die of hunger.

“We make use of everything. We use the leaves to feed the animals – cows, horses, goats, pigs. The fruit is used to make jam, removing the seeds,” said Mores.

The nutrition and health of the families have improved because of the properties of the fruit and of the plant, said Maldonado and Mores. And now they need less fodder for their animals, fewer of which die in the winter due to a lack of forage.

At the same time, the families belonging to the association were also trained to make sustainable use of firewood from native trees, and learned to make special stoves that enable them to cook and heat their modest homes.

In addition, because women assumed an active, leading role in the activities of the association, the project got them out of their homes and away from their routine grind of household tasks and gave them new protagonism in the community.

“Living in the countryside, women used to be more isolated, they didn’t get out, but now they have a place to come here. They get together from Monday through Friday, chat and are more involved in decision-making. In the association they can express their opinions,” said Maldonado.

“When women get together, what don’t we talk about?” Mores joked.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Peoples Inclusion at United Nations Incompletehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/indigenous-peoples-inclusion-at-united-nations-incomplete/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 17:44:57 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145213 Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

Guests at an indigenous cultural event during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Credit: Aruna Dutt/IPS.

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, May 20 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations Indigenous Forum is one of the UN’s most culturally diverse bodies yet its inclusion within the overall UN system remains limited.

“Thousands of people who come to the forum throughout the years do not have the opportunity to express their concerns,” said Alvaro Esteban Pop Ac, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, here Thursday.

Over 1,000 Indigenous people from all over the world came here for the 15th session of the  Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) held from May 9-20.

“The demand by indigenous peoples is to have a new category as observer,” said Joan Carling, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Carling said that while indigenous people are not states or NGOs, according to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they “have the right to self-determination.”

“The main aim of the resolution is to really ensure that effective participation of indigenous peoples is afforded in the UN system.”

“We need to be able to participate in decision-making processes in the UN  to be able to express our specific conditions and our aspirations as peoples. That deserves the space at the highest level,” she said.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected," -- Joan Carling

The contributions that Indigenous peoples are making, to areas such as peace and environmental protection, are not reflected in their level of participation at the UN.

“We are contributing to the resolution of conflict, we are contributing to sustainable development, we are contributing to the cultural diversity of the world which benefits everyone, but these contributions are not being recognized and protected,” said Carling.

“The issue of conflicts and the issue of injustice will continue because decisions are being undertaken at global level where we don’t have any participation, that is the thing that we want to rectify,” she added.

Indigenous peoples still cannot make recommendations directly to Security Council, only through the Economic and Social Council.

Carling, an indigenous activist from Cordillera in the Philippines, said that the situation of Indigenous women in particular should be addressed by the 15-member UN Security Council, arguably the most powerful organ within the UN system.

Violence against Indigenous women was a major theme of the 2016 forum.

Throughout history, Pop Ac said, “Indigenous women have lead indigenous dialogue. Women play a key role in keeping the community together. We promote our issues through women,” said Pop Ac.

He pointed to Northeast India, where there is a heavy presence of more than 70 armed groups and 500, 000 military troops, which have been related to the rampant sexual abuse and trafficking of indigenous women.

Jacob Bryan Aki from Peace Child International-Hawaii and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement was one of the young Indigenous people who participated in the forum.

“We come here, we learn, and the work doesn’t stop,” said Aki.  “The two weeks we have here sets us up for the rest of the year, to go back home, to work with our family and our communities, to take the opportunities we have had here to those who do not. These messages need to be heard from youth.”

“We are the next generation of leaders and scholars,” said Aki. “It is very important for us to engage in this international level because in 10-20 years we are going to be thrust into these leadership roles and this is preparation to lead and learn how to make this world a better place for our people.”

With over 5000 different cultures and an estimated 7000 different languages, Indigenous peoples represent much of the world’s cultural diversity.

Yet despite their cultural differences Indigenous peoples – who make up five percent of the world’s overall population – have many shared experiences.

“The first criteria which defines an indigenous peoples, is a peoples that have survived colonization,” said Pop Ac.

“Humanity needs a different logic and ethic in defining wealth” Pop Ac added.

“It is human greed which is destroying the environment.”

Indigenous peoples are the “guardians of life” and are working to protect their environments, he said.

Next year will be the 10th anniversary of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which was established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

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Climate Change Compounds Humanitarian Crises in Global Southhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/climate-change-compounds-humanitarian-crises-in-global-south/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 06:20:41 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145197 Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tacloban, in the Philippines, one of the areas hit hardest by super typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The disaster coincided with the COP19 climate talks and served as the backdrop for negotiations on mechanisms of damage and losses. Credit: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, May 20 2016 (IPS)

As the Global South works to overcome a history of weak institutions, armed conflict and poverty-driven forced exodus, key causes of its humanitarian crises, developing countries now have to also fight to keep global warming from compounding their problems.

“Disaster Risk Reduction and climate change adaption in fragile and conflict-affected states in the Global South have long been overlooked, as it is often perceived as too challenging or a lower priority,” Janani Vivekananda, an expert in security and climate change, told IPS.

Vivekananda, the head of Environment, Climate Change and Security in International Alert, a London-based non-governmental organisation working to prevent and end violent conflict around the globe, cited her country, Sri Lanka, as an example of problems shared by developing countries.

“Given the fragile political situation since 25 years of violent conflict ended in May 2009, ensuring that climate impacts do not fuel latent conflict dynamics is critical,” she said from London.

A politically unstable developing island nation like Sri Lanka, and many other countries in the South, will see their problems multiply in a warmer planet with higher sea levels, she said.

“Climate change is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’: it will aggravate already fragile situations and may contribute to social upheaval and even violent conflict,” says “A New Climate for Peace”, an independent report commissioned in 2015 by members of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthiest nations.

This is the challenge faced by the governments and organisations that will attend the first World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul. The conference was convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action.”

At the summit, the delegates will search for ways to integrate the traditional conception of humanitarian emergencies with new crises, such as those caused by climate change, which this year caused record high temperatures.

“This is why the World Humanitarian Summit’s initiative to remake the humanitarian system is so timely and so important,” said Vivekananda.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that in the absence of policies that effectively curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperatures will rise by four degrees Celsius by 2100.

And even if the world were to reach the “safe limit” for global warming – a rise of 1.5 to 2.0 degrees C, the target agreed in the Paris Agreement in December – the effects would still be felt around the planet, warns the IPCC, which decided in April to prepare a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The landmark climate deal is one of the key elements that the national delegations will have when they reach Istanbul, along with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, agreed in September, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, agreed in March 2015.

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

More people were displaced worldwide in 2015 by weather-related hazards than by geophysical events. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

“Explicit recognition of the linkages between different types of risks and vulnerabilities is still missing,” said Vivekanada, with regard to the not yet formalised connection between these two agreements and the World Humanitarian Summit.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forming part of the 2030 Agenda are essential for understanding the relationship between climate change and humanitarian assistance.

The report commissioned by the G7 says the poorest countries with the most fragile political systems, like Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Haiti face the greatest risks and difficulties adapting to climate change.

Climate pressure could hurt food production or require extra aid for local governments overwhelmed by the situation. In extreme circumstances, these phenomena can lead to forced migration.

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), more people were displaced in 2015 by hydrometeorological disasters (14.7 million) than by conflicts or violence (8.5 million).

The report also stressed the impact of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENOS) meteorological phenomenon and said that for the people most exposed and vulnerable to extreme rainfall and temperatures, the effects have been devastating and have caused displacement.

For example, El Niño caused intense drought along Central America’s Pacific coast and in particular in the so-called Dry Corridor, a long, arid stretch of dry forest where subsistence farming is predominant and rainfall shrank by 40 to 60 percent in the 2014 rainy season.

“Hundreds of people were forced to leave Nicaragua because of the drought,” Juan Carlos Méndez, with Costa Rica’s National Commission for Risk Prevention and Emergency Management (CNE), told IPS.

As a CNE official, Méndez is also an adviser to the Nansen Initiative, an inter-governmental process to address the challenges of cross-border displacement in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

“This is where we see the biggest political and technical challenges. You can clearly associate displacement with a natural disaster like an earthquake or a hurricane, but now we have to link it to climate change issues,” the expert said.

Partly for that reason, Costa Rica and another 17 countries launched the Geneva Pledge for Human Rights in Climate Action in February 2015, a voluntary initiative to get human rights issues included in the climate talks.

In the final version of the Paris Agreement, the concept was incorporated as one of the principles that will guide its implementation.

The simultaneous inclusion of climate change and its humanitarian impacts in international summits is not new, but is growing.

The backdrop to the climate talks at the 19th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November 2013 in Warsaw was the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Southeast Asia, and in the Philippines in particular.

The human impact of the typhoon, which claimed 6,300 lives, intensified the talks in the Polish capital and prompted the creation of a mechanism to address climate change-related damage and losses.

A scientific study published in January this year found that the Philippines would experience the highest sea level rise in the world, up to 14.7 mm a year – nearly five times the global average.

“Which is why it is very urgent for the Philippines to beef up efforts on disaster preparedness, particularly in the communities with high risk for disasters and high poverty incidence,” Ivy Marian Panganiban, an activist with the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), told IPS.

Along with six other Filipino institutions, CODE-NGO is calling for locally-based humanitarian emergency response, with an emphasis on local leadership, and hopes Istanbul will provide guidelines in that sense.

NGOS “should really be capacitated and involved in the governance process since they are the ones that are in the forefront – people who are actually affected by disasters,” she said from Manila.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Latin American Humanitarian Emergency Invisible to the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/a-latin-american-humanitarian-emergency-invisible-to-the-world/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 23:42:43 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145171 In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

In Mexico there is a trail of ghost towns, where local residents have fled en masse due to the violence of the drug cartels. On empty streets in Santa Ana del Águila, in the municipality of Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Guerrero state, bullet marks can be seen on the walls. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, May 18 2016 (IPS)

“This is a humanitarian crisis,” said Bertha Zúñiga Cáceres, referring to the generalised violence in Mexico and in Honduras and other countries of Central America, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and is a product of transnational crime, but is invisible to the international community.

Zúñiga Cáceres, the daughter of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was murdered on Mar. 2, is in Mexico after visiting several European cities to ask for help clarifying her mother’s murder and to call for a cancellation of the financing for the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, to which the Lenca indigenous people are opposed.

In an interview with IPS she admitted that despite the death threats and the murders of other activists, she didn’t believe they would dare kill her mother, who was so well-known at an international level.“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency).” -- Rubén Figueroa

She herself and her siblings had fled to Mexico due to the threats against members of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), which was founded by Cáceres 23 years ago. She had been studying in Mexico for a month when her mother was killed.

Now she wants to tell the world about communities that are displaced and forced off their land because of a “neoliberal, racist and patriarchal” system.

The victims, she said, are not only the Lenca Indians. Also affected are the Garifunas, mixed-race descendants of native people and African slaves, who have been displaced by the construction of tourist resorts in their coastal territory.

To that is added abuse by the police and other agents of the state, since the 2009 coup d’etat that overthrew President Manuel Zelaya, mixed with criminal violence that has forced thousands of people to seek refuge outside of Honduras.

Rubén Figueroa, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which has organised 11 caravans of Central American mothers searching for their children who have gone missing in Mexico, concurs with Zúñiga Cáceres.

“The situation in the entire Northern Triangle region of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) is a humanitarian crisis,” the migrants’ rights activist told IPS.

“You don’t hear bombs here (like in the Middle East, for example), but blood is shed, there are killings, many killings. It’s a situation that has to be urgently addressed by the United Nations agencies, especially the UNHCR (the refugee agency),” he said.

Figures from an invisible crisis

According to the 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement, published this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), the number of internally displaced people forced from their homes by armed conflict and violence rose to a record 40.8 million in 2015.

Of that total, at least 7.3 million were in Latin America, most of them in Colombia, because of its decades-long armed conflict.

But the report dedicates a special analysis to the growing new phenomenon of displacement caused by criminal violence, in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico now stand out on the global map of internal displacement because of the victims of criminal violence, a phenomenon that is invisible and ignored by international humanitarian assistance agencies. Credit: IDMC 2016 report

These four countries accounted for a total of one million internally displaced persons – nearly double the number reported in the 2014 edition of the report. They are mainly victims of criminal violence, principally associated with drug trafficking and gangs.

The IDMC stresses that these are incomplete figures, to which must be added the number of people who are forced to leave the country by criminal violence.

It describes those displaced by criminal violence as “unseen and in displacement limbo”.

Human rights activists in Mexico blame this generalised violence on the war between organised crime groups, as well as on violence by the states against opponents to mining and energy projects.

“What we are experiencing is not a war on drug trafficking, but a war by the state against the general population,” María Herrera, an activist with the group of relatives searching for family members forcibly disappeared in Mexico, who number in the thousands, told IPS.

Also part of this new kind of humanitarian emergency, arising from transnational crime, are civilian victims of the growing militarisation in countries of Central America and Mexico, according to those interviewed by IPS, who complain that the issue is not on the agenda for the World Humanitarian Summit to be held May 23-24 in Istanbul.

Figueroa said a series of regional policies, such as Mexico’s Southern Border Plan and the Alliance for Progress in Central America, were partly to blame for the crisis.

“Approximately five years ago we began to notice that displacement is caused by more direct violence. We have seen young people who come to the shelters with bullets in their bodies. People who have returned to their countries and have been killed,” the activist said.

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

The Beast, the train that undocumented migrants from Central America ride on its way across Mexico, heading for the United States, stopped in Hidalgo in the centre of the country, in a photo from the IDMC 2016 report. Migrants hitching a ride on the train face the risk of being robbed, assaulted, raped and even killed by gangs and organised crime. Credit: Keith Dannemiller/OM

“Migration has always existed, but now people are being displaced by drug trafficking and gang warfare, and there is also the question of persecution and harassment of activists and human rights defenders in Honduras. It’s become structural violence,” he said.

Mexico between a rock and a hard place

The Central American diaspora triggered by violence, along with the deportation of thousands of migrants by the United States, has turned Mexico into a sort of sandwich. And this is causing a growing phenomenon, which has not been addressed either: Central Americans who are choosing to stay in Mexico rather than head north to the United States.

More than two million people were deported during U.S. President Barack Obama’s first term – 2009-2012 – alone.

The governmental Mexican Commission for Aid to Refugees (COMAR) reports that 2,000 Central Americans requested refugee status in 2014, and only one-fifth were granted it.

Mexico, meanwhile, has its own humanitarian emergency. The Mexican Commission of Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (CMDPDH) documented 281,400 cases of forced displacement caused by generalised violence between 2011 and February 2015.

One-third of these displaced persons fled their communities in 141 mass displacements in 14 states.

Mass displacement is defined as an event simultaneously affecting more than 50 people or 10 families. Between January 2014 and February 2015, the CMDPDH registered 23 mass displacements.

One-fifth of these happened in Guerrero, a state that doubled its record and became the leader in forced displacement due to violence in Mexico in the last year.

“People who have been internally displaced do not have mechanisms or institutions for their protection or assistance,” says the report Forced Displacement in Mexico, released by the CMDPDH, a government agency, in 2015.

But there are other cases, like that of Myrna Lazcano, a Mexican woman who, after marrying and having two daughters in the United States, decided to return to Mexico in 2008.

However, the violence against women in her home state of Puebla and in Veracruz, where she found work, forced her to send her daughters back, first, and then return herself to the United States, where she has requested asylum.

Like her, another 9,200 Mexicans applied for asylum in the United States in 2012 – three times the number of requests filed there by Mexicans in 2008.

“This is an emergency that no one wants to address,” said Figueroa. “It is influenced by the position, especially on the part of the United States, with regard to the situation in Central America, because they would be forced to offer refuge if they recognised it.”

But in his view, “another element is the stance taken by Mexico and the countries of origin (of the migrants), because they would be forced to admit that they are failing, as is the international community.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Justice for Berta Caceres Incomplete Without Land Rights: UN Rapporteurhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/justice-for-berta-caceres-incomplete-without-land-rights-un-rapporteur/#comments Fri, 13 May 2016 21:44:24 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145113 UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Cordillera region in the Philippines. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, May 13 2016 (IPS)

The murder of Honduran Indigenous woman Berta Caceres is only too familiar to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

All around the world, Indigenous peoples are murdered, raped and kidnapped when their lands fall in the path of deforestation, mining and construction. According to the group Global Witness, one Indigenous person was killed almost every week in 2015 because of their environmental activism, 40 percent of the total 116 people killed for environmental activism.

“We shouldn’t forget that the death of Berta is because of the protest that she had against the destruction of the territory of her people,” Tauli-Corpuz told IPS in a recent interview.

Caceres, who was murdered at the beginning of March, had long known her life was in danger. She experienced violence and intimidation as a leader of the Lenca people of Rio Blanco who protested the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on their traditional lands.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries." -- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Caceres activism received international recognition, including through the 2015 Goldman Prize, however this was not enough to protect her.

She knew she was going to die, she had even written her own obituary, said Tauli-Corpuz who met with Caceres during a visit to Honduras in 2015.

Four men were arrested in relation to Caceres death earlier this week.

While Tauli-Corpuz welcomed the arrests she said that justice would not be clear until after the trial, and that real justice was about more than the criminal proceedings for Caceres murder.

“We cannot rest on our laurels to say the whole thing is finished because that’s not the point,” she said. “The point is this whole issue about the dam still being there.”

Tauli-Corpuz has witnessed accounts of violence against many other Indigenous activists around the world, in her role as Special Rapporteur.

Their experiences have startling similarity, Indigenous peoples are subjected to rape, murder and kidnap, whenever they stand in the way of access to lands or natural resources.

“You cannot delink the fight of indigenous people for their lands, territories and resources from the violence that’s committed against indigenous women (and men), especially if this is a violence that is perpetrated by state authorities or by corporate security,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz also said that a look at the bigger picture reveals the increasingly international nature of the problems experienced by Indigenous peoples worldwide.

“A very crucial part of the problems that Indigenous peoples face is that many of the things happening in their communities are happening because of the investments that are coming in from these richer countries,” she said.

“You see a situation where the state is meant to be the main duty bearer for protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, but at the same time you see investors having strong rights being protected and that is really where a lot of conflicts come up,” she said.

In Guatemala, Tauli-Corpuz says that 50 Indigenous women are still waiting for justice after their husbands were murdered and their lands taken in 1982.

“(Their) husbands were killed by the military because they were demanding the rights to their lands then (the military) took the women (to) the military camps and raped them and made them sexual slaves,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz said that the women were brave enough to take their case to the courts but had to cover their faces because they were still being harassed by the military.

She said that when she recently asked the women what they would like if they won their case, they said that they would like their land back. After 33 years, their lands have never been returned.

Tauli-Corpuz also noted that for Indigenous peoples justice is incomplete if their lands are protected but they are denied access to them.

“(The land) is the source of their identities, their cultures and their livelihoods,” she said. If the forest is preserved but people are kicked off their lands, “than that’s a another problem that has to be prevented at all costs.”

In other cases, Indigenous peoples are forced off their lands when their food sources are destroyed.

For example said Tauli-Corpuz a major dam being built in the Amazon is not only destroying the forest but also means that there are no longer any fish in the rivers for the Indigenous people who rely on them.

Tauli-Corpuz said that it is important to remember that Indigenous peoples are contributing to climate change and environmental solutions by continuing their traditional ways of forest and ecosystem management.

Tauli-Corpuz has first-hand experience as an Indigenous activist and environmental defender. As a leader of the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Cordillera Region in the Philippines she helped successfully protest the construction of the Chico River Hydroelectric dam in the 1970s.

She notes that dams shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a climate change solution because they destroy forests and produce methane which is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon.

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