Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:40:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Another Women’s Treaty? Implement Existing One, Say NGOshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/another-womens-treaty-implement-existing-one-say-ngos/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 16:40:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137513 Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011. Credit: Ansel Herz/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

Can violence against women be prevented or eliminated with a new international treaty signed and ratified by the 193 member states of the United Nations?

Rashida Manjoo of South Africa, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, told the General Assembly last week the absence of a legally binding agreement represents one of the obstacles to the promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality."I'm all for the practical measures...but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation." -- Mavic Cabrera-Balleza

“A different set of laws and practical measures are urgently needed to respond to and prevent the systemic, widespread and pervasive human rights violation experienced largely by women,” she told delegates.

But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) took a more cautious approach to a new treaty.

Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and senior fellow at the Centre for International Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT), told IPS, “In principle, the idea of stronger and more specific legislation is a good one.”

Clearly, laws, norms and policies are critical to shifting practices and changing attitudes.

“However, we know they are not enough. There are many countries — from the United States to members of the European Union and beyond, such as Pakistan — where laws exist, but violence against women continues in many spheres of life in diverse forms and at horrendous rates,” she said. “So legislation has to come with other pillars and elements to ensure effective implementation.”

Dr. Palitha Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section, told IPS there needs to be substantial international support, not only for a treaty text to be eventually adopted, but even for negotiations to commence – perhaps following a U.N. resolution.

“The promoters of a treaty will have to convince the international community there is a real need for such a legal instrument,” he said.

He pointed out this will involve ensuring the existing international legal instruments are inadequate to address the issues that the promoters of a new treaty seek to address.

“While gender-based violence, or any other form of violence, is to be unreservedly condemned, this would pose a challenge for the promoters of a treaty on gender-based violence,” said Ambassador Kohona, who is Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.

“It is also well known that while laws can be useful for modifying social and community attitudes, it would take more than an international instrument to bring this abhorrent behaviour to an end.”

He said humanity must stand up and condemn violence, in particular gender-based violence, “and we are experiencing too much of it in our world today.

“As one philosopher observed, we inhabit this planet only for a short period. Why hurt another during this brief existence?” he added.

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza, international coordinator at the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, told IPS the elimination of violence against women is already well-covered in the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its General Recommendations, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly back in 1979.

“Why do we need another law?” she asked. “I do not see any added value in having another treaty on the same issues. If anything, we run the risk of undermining CEDAW that women around the world fought for. It already has almost universal ratification.”

Cabrera-Balleza said there is no point lobbying governments again. “And with many conservative governments in power, there is very little chance to get another law ratified,” she added.

Furthermore, the current international instruments we have that promote and protect women’s rights, women’s empowerment and gender equality were mostly achieved through the global conferences of the 1990s.

“We don’t have that global momentum anymore. There will never be a World Conference on Women again in the same magnitude and impact as the 1995 Beijing Conference,” she said. “I’m all for the practical measures…but no more legal conundrum, please. Women around the world already have law and policy-fatigue. What they want to see is implementation.”

ICAN’s Naraghi-Anderlini told IPS: “We cannot deny the cultural or ‘religious’ backlash against the so-called progressive agenda on women’s rights.”

In societies where patriarchal norms are dominant – and that’s pretty much everywhere – and women are considered to be men’s property, the social conservatives can easily tap into traditions and cultural norms to generate a backlash against increasing women’s rights.

“We are seeing external forces (e.g. Saudi-based religious ideology, the Catholic Church, etc) being proponents of more conservative rulings and practices,” she pointed out.

At a minimum therefore, new laws have to come with tailored messaging – via respected outlets – be that media, law enforcement, recognised and respected national figures or community or religious leaders, to challenge those norms.

She said there has to be effective training and equipping of the local law enforcement/services to be able to implement the new legislation (e.g. provide care for victims, protection for those who come forward etc) – and police officers have to be held accountable for their actions or inactions or transgressions.

It would also be interesting and innovative to see a grounds-up accountability mechanism introduced, she said.

For example, she said, would the United Nations be willing to support a Women’s Security Campaign where local women’s organisations/groups are given the technical/financial and political support needed to reach out to police/law enforcement/local community leaders and together devise a charter that binds the authorities to ensuring they protect women from violence?

And will the national police force and its local chapters be willing to sign up to a charter in which they promise to protect women who are reporting cases of violence, promise not to violate/rape/harass etc. witnesses/victims, prevent further violence, etc.?

“If they agree to sign such a charter, than it is a social compact made with local actors who can hold them accountable. If they don’t or they try to water-down the conditions, it is indicative of a deep lack of political will or commitment to women’s security,” she declared.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Manjoo told the General Assembly last week that despite progress, there is continuing and new sets of challenges hampering efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women.

This she pointed out, is largely due to the lack of a all-inclusive approach that addresses individual, institutional and structural factors that are a cause and a consequence of violence against women.

Making a case for a new treaty, she said that with a specific legally binding instrument there would be a protective, preventive and educative framework reaffirming the international community’s assertion that women’s rights are human rights and that violence against women is a pervasive and widespread human rights violation, in and of itself.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Canada Accused of Failing to Prevent Overseas Mining Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/canada-accused-of-failing-to-prevent-overseas-mining-abuses/#comments Fri, 31 Oct 2014 00:09:17 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137497 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 31 2014 (IPS)

The Canadian government is failing either to investigate or to hold the country’s massive extractives sector accountable for rights abuses committed in Latin American countries, according to petitioners who testified here Tuesday before an international tribunal.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also heard concerns that the Canadian government is not making the country’s legal system available to victims of these abuses.“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad.” -- Alex Blair of Oxfam America

“Canada has been committed to a voluntary framework of corporate social responsibility, but this does not provide any remedy for people who have been harmed by Canadian mining operations,” Jen Moore, the coordinator of the Latin America programme at MiningWatch Canada, a watchdog group, told IPS.

“We’re looking for access to the courts but also for the Canadian state to take preventive measures to avoid these problems in the first place – for instance, an independent office that would have the power to investigate allegations of abuse in other countries.”

Moore and others who testified before the commission formally submitted a report detailing the concerns of almost 30 NGOs. Civil society groups have been pushing the Canadian government to ensure greater accountability for this activity for years, Moore says, and that work has been buttressed by similar recommendations from both a parliamentary commission, in 2005, and the United Nations.

“Nothing new has taken place over the past decade … The Canadian government has refused to implement the recommendations,” Moore says.

“The state’s response to date has been to firmly reinforce this voluntary framework that doesn’t work – and that’s what we heard from them again during this hearing. There was no substantial response to the fact that there are all sorts of cases falling through the cracks.”

Canada, which has one of the largest mining sectors in the world, is estimated to have some 1,500 projects in Latin America – more than 40 percent of the mining companies operating in the region. According to the new report, and these overseas operations receive “a high degree” of active support from the Canadian government.

“We’re aware of a great deal of conflict,” Shin Imai, a lawyer with the Justice and Corporate Accountability Project, a Canadian civil society initiative, said Tuesday. “Our preliminary count shows that at least 50 people have been killed and some 300 wounded in connection with mining conflicts involving Canadian companies in recent years, for which there has been little to no accountability.”

These allegations include deaths, injuries, rapes and other abuses attributed to security personnel working for Canadian mining companies. They also include policy-related problems related to long-term environmental damage, illegal community displacement and subverting democratic processes.

Home state accountability

The Washington-based IACHR, a part of the 35-member Organisation of American States (OAS), is one of the world’s oldest multilateral rights bodies, and has looked at concerns around Canadian mining in Latin America before.

Yet this week’s hearing marked the first time the commission has waded into the highly contentious issue of “home state” accountability – that is, whether companies can be prosecuted at home for their actions abroad.

“This hearing was cutting-edge. Although the IACHR has been one of the most important allies of human rights violations’ victims in Latin America, it’s a little bit prudent when it faces new topics or new legal challenges,” Katya Salazar, executive director of the Due Process of Law Foundation, a Washington-based legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“And talking about the responsibility for the home country of corporations working in Latin America is a very new challenge. So we’re very happy to see how the commission’s understanding and concern about these topics have evolved.”
Home state accountability has become progressively more vexed as industries and supply chains have quickly globalised. Today, companies based in rich countries, with relatively stronger legal systems, are increasingly operating in developing countries, often under weaker regulatory regimes.

The extractives sector has been a key example of this, and over the past two decades it has experienced one of the highest levels of conflict with local communities of any industry. For advocates, part of the problem is a current vagueness around the issue of the “extraterritorial” reach of domestic law.

“Far too often, extractive companies have double-standards in how they behave at home versus abroad,” Alex Blair, a press officer with the extractives programme at Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS. “They think they can take advantage of weaknesses in local laws, oversight and institutions to operate however they want in developing countries.”

Blair notes a growing trend of local and indigenous communities going abroad to hold foreign companies accountable. Yet these efforts remain extraordinarily complex and costly, even as legal avenues in many Western countries continue to be constricted.

Transcending the legalistic

At this week’s hearing, the Canadian government maintained that it was on firm legal ground, stating that it has “one of the world’s strongest legal and regulatory frameworks towards its extractives industries”.

In 2009, Canada formulated a voluntary corporate responsibility strategy for the country’s international extractives sector. The country also has two non-judicial mechanisms that can hear grievances arising from overseas extractives projects, though neither of these can investigate allegations, issue rulings or impose punitive measures.

These actions notwithstanding, the Canadian response to the petitioners concerns was to argue that local grievances should be heard in local court and that, in most cases, Canada is not legally obligated to pursue accountability for companies’ activities overseas.

“With respect to these corporations’ activities outside Canada, the fact of their incorporation within Canada is clearly not a sufficient connection to Canada to engage Canada’s obligations under the American Declaration,” Dana Cryderman, Canada’s alternate permanent representative to the OAS, told the commission, referring to the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the document that underpins the IACHR’s work.

Cryderman continued: “[H]ost countries in Latin America offer domestic legal and regulatory avenues through which the claims being referenced by the requesters can and should be addressed.”

Yet this rationale clearly frustrated some of the IACHR’s commissioners, including the body’s current president, Rose-Marie Antoine.

“Despite the assurances of Canada there’s good policy, we at the commission continue to see a number of very, very serious human rights violations occurring in the region as a result of certain countries, and Canada being one of the main ones … so we’re seeing the deficiencies of those policies,” Antoine said following the Canadian delegation’s presentation.

“On the one hand, Canada says, ‘Yes, we are responsible and wish to promote human rights.’ But on the other hand, it’s a hands-off approach … We have to move beyond the legalistic if we’re really concerned about human rights.”

Antoine noted the commission was currently working on a report on the impact of natural resources extraction on indigenous communities. She announced, for the first time, that the report would include a chapter on what she referred to as the “very ticklish issue of extraterritoriality”.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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There’s CO2 Under Those Hillshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-co2-under-those-hills http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:05:32 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137486 Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

“If  they go ahead and dig those wells, all my work will be destroyed, all my life, everything,” says Franca Tognarelli, looking at the hills and vineyards around her house in Certaldo, Val d’Elsa, in the heart of Tuscany.

Now retired, Franca invested all her savings in restructuring her house in Certaldo, only to find that it sits on top of a deposit of CO2 that a private company – Lifenergy S.r.l. – is eager to extract and sell for industrial purposes, most likely in the production of sparkling beverages.

The irony is that the gas under Franca’s house is the same greenhouse gas held largely responsible for global warming.

While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2, including considering highly disputed technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground.While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2 … the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground

According to a scientific source who wished to remain anonymous, the CO2 obtained from the area in question would offset most of the production of renewable energy in Tuscany, ultimately cancelling its Italian leadership in the production of geothermal energy.

In a preliminary phase, the CO2 project would involve drilling two test wells to a depth of between 400 and 700 metres inside a 45 hectare area that Lifenergy has already purchased. If the testing gives positive results, the company would then proceed to expand a network of wells necessary for extracting the CO2.

“They will simply have to compensate me for the part of ground they’ll be drilling,” explains Franca, “but they will be allowed to enter my property and dig all the holes they want.”

Under Italian law, a land owner’s permission is not required to enter the land for experimental excavation purposes once such experiments have been authorised by the public authorities.

Lifenergy is not the first company to have attempted to put its hands on the CO2 reserves of Val d’Elsa, but it is the first which has managed to obtain the permits to do so, after a last attempt made in the 60s ended up with the explosion of a well.

In May, a group of concerned citizens took the issue to the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court, but the court rejected their objections to the Lifenergy plan. “The law is on our side and we are open to dialogue, but we are determined to carry forward our activities,” Massimo Piazzini, managing director of Lifenergy, told local news website GoNews.

“But we need serious and responsible institutions that are willing to discuss and find solutions to give new opportunities to the territory, while respecting mankind and the environment,” he added.

Members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa blame the previous town council for not having taken concrete action against the Lifenergy plan, but the newly elected mayor of Certaldo, Giacomo Cucini, said that “after receiving the company request to start testing, the former mayor simply followed the normal procedure without expressing a political opinion on the matter.”

Nevertheless, he added, “the current town council openly opposes the extraction project on our territory, because this is a territory that lives on agriculture and tourism and we want it to remain that way.”

Apart from the ‘visual impact’ that an extraction plant would have on the characteristic landscape of Certaldo, the risks of water and air pollution are a major concern among members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa.

“There are plenty of farmers here who have been working all their lives, sweating blood to keep their business going, especially with the crisis,” says Caterina Concialdi, one of the committee members. “Now they have to face a private company that might leave them empty-handed, because the risks are real and nobody is telling us who’s going to pay for the damages if something happens.”

Ubaldo Malavolta is one of those farmers. His land is part of the area for which Lifenergy has requested a drilling permit after the testing phase.

“If they get the concession, they will be able to dig holes in my garden, and it’s not like a water well,” he said, adding that the company itself has declared that there will be emissions of hydrogen sulphide.”

“It’s called H2S and it’s not just about the smell, it’s poisoning and it leads to air pollution” insists Tiziano Traini, another committee member. “They are obviously supposed to keep the level of these emissions under the threshold established by law. But this will nevertheless mean a serious worsening of environmental conditions for the people who live here.”

Despite the widespread opposition shared by local citizens and the town council, the decision on the concession lies in different hands: “We have been asked to express a technical opinion,” Cucini explains, “but in no way can the municipality allow or deny the research phase of the project.”

The Tuscany Region, the authority that is responsible for the concession, is currently in the process of evaluating the environmental impact and is expected to take a decision by the beginning of December.

“The research permit is still on, but the Regional Council has stated that there will be no more concessions for underground extractions in the area, and this is quite reassuring for us,” the mayor told IPS.

Enrico Rossi, president of the Tuscany Region, explained in a public statement that the Regional Council’s stance is an act of responsibility towards the environment.

But the citizens seem to have lost their faith in the institutions and look with concern at their future: “I’m too old to go anywhere,” says Franca, “and this house will be of no value inside a mining area.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report.

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They Say the Land is ‘Uninhabited’ but Indigenous Communities Disagreehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/they-say-the-land-is-uninhabited-but-indigenous-communities-disagree/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 05:10:11 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137464 Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous communities that live in traditional forests likes these on the Indonesian island of Lombok are not consulted when such lands are handed over to commercial entities. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO/BALI, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

Disregarding the rights of indigenous people to their traditional lands is costing companies millions of dollars each year, and costing communities themselves their lives.

A new paper by the Washington-based Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) released on Oct. 30 found that a significant portion of forests and reserves in emerging markets is being allocated to commercial operations through concessions, ignoring indigenous communities who have lived on them for generations.

“The granting of concessions without the knowledge or approval of people directly affected by them is obviously a human rights issue of grave concern. But it may also have a real financial impact, and this impact concerns more than just those companies with ground-level operations,” the paper said.

“Most of the time [indigenous communities] are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support." -- Aleta Baun, 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize
It noted that indigenous communities inhabit over 99 percent of lands used by commercial entities through concessions. In some instances, large portions of national land are being divested through concessions.

The figure was 40 percent of all land extent in Peru and 30 percent in Indonesia. With Indonesia’s total land extent covering some 1.8 million square km, the portion of land under concession works out to around 500,000 sq km.

“In most cases governments feel that it is easier and simpler to work when they don’t get the indigenous communities involved,” Bryson Ogden, private sector analyst at RRI, told IPS.

But while companies and governments enter into agreements on lands as if they were not inhabited, when work begins on commercial projects it invariably collides head-on with communities who call the same land their traditional home.

The financial damage resulting from such confrontations can run into millions. A recent paper by the U.S. National Academy of Science noted that one company reported a loss of 100 million dollars during a single year, due to stoppages forced by company-community conflict. The company was not named in the report.

“An economy wide valuation of ‘environmental, social and governance risks’ across the Australian Stock Market in 2012 by Credit Suisse identified 21.4 billion Australian dollars in negative share-price valuation impact,” the paper, entitled ‘Conflict Translates Environmental and Social Risk into Business Costs’, claimed.

RRI’s Ogden said that despite such losses, the global trend still was to sideline indigenous communities when entering into concession agreements. “They remain invisible in most of these contracts.”

Such invisibility on paper can be deadly on the ground. In South Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo, serious violence erupted between police and activists during a protest that took place a fortnight ago, Mina Setra, deputy secretary general of Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), told IPS.

Such violent altercations are not rare. Earlier this year research by Global Witness, an organisation working on environmental rights, found that between 2002 and 2013 at least 903 citizens engaged in environmental protection work were killed.

During the period under review, according to the report, 41 people were killed in the Philippines because of opposition to mining interests. And in 2012 alone, 68 percent of all land-related murders in Brazil were connected to disputes over deforestation in the Amazon.

The report said that activists facing prosecution lacked local as well as international networks that were tailor-made to assist them.

“The problem we are facing is that there is still no recognition for indigenous peoples’ rights,” AMAN’s Setra said.

For almost four years AMAN and other environmental organisations lobbied the Indonesian parliament to adapt a law that would recognise the rights of indigenous communities. It was to be passed this month, when the government changed, bringing fresh officials into power.

“Now we are back to zero,” Setra said.

RRI’s Ogden said there were signs that some global companies were taking note of the rights of indigenous communities to their land, but AMAN’s Setra said that till there was legal recognition of such rights, commercial agreements were unlikely to include them.

“The companies keep asking us under what terms such communities can be recognized and we have no effective answer until there is a law,” Setra said.

For activists, working in that gray area could turn deadly.

Take the case of Aleta Baun, the Indonesian activist from West Timor, the Indonesia portion of the island of Timor, who in 2000 launched a campaign to stop mining operations that were affecting the lives of her Molo tribe members. She has been waylaid, stabbed and threatened with death and rape.

“Most of the time you are working without any kind of protection and taking on groups with lots of money and state support,” said the 2013 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize.

In the Paracatu municipality of Brazil, the country’s largest gold mining operation run by a company called Kinross with a total investment of over 570 million dollars has been repeatedly interrupted since 2008 due to conflicts with traditional communities.

The parties signed a new agreement in 2010 that allowed operations to resume in 2011.

In Peru, two dam projects on the Ene-Tambo River have been abandoned after prolonged protests and legal action by the indigenous Ashaninka community, who claim that the projects could displace between 8,000 and 10,000 people.

In 2008 the Tata group pulled out a 350-million-dollar investment from the Indian state of West Bengal, where it intended to produce its signature Nano car, after protests by local communities.

The RRI report said that community rights to forests and other natural reserves were increasingly becoming a factor for commercial operations.

“As we have examined this problem, we have come to think of local populations as a kind of ‘unrecognized counterparty’ to concession agreements. We found that communities often used legal mechanisms to resolve their grievances with concessionaires. This suggests that local communities’ rights over an area have appreciable legal weight, even if government bodies and concessionaires haven’t attributed them much import in the terms of their agreements.”

Ogden said that more data was needed to clearly establish community rights over natural reserves.

Until then, indigenous peoples are left facing gigantic commercial entities in a David-and-Goliath scenario that shows no sign of improving in their favour.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Democracy is “Radical” in Northern Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:27:38 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137417 Garbage collection is among the many duties of the Democratic Self-Management in force in the three mainly Kurdish enclaves of northern Syria. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Garbage collection is among the many duties of the Democratic Self-Management in force in the three mainly Kurdish enclaves of northern Syria. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
AMUDA, Syria, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

There was never anything particularly remarkable about this northern town of 25,000. However, today it has become the lab for one the most pioneering political experiments ever conducted in the entire Middle East region.

Located 700 kilometres northeast of Damascus, Amuda hosts the headquarters of the so-called “Democratic Self-Management of Jazeera Canton”. Along with Afrin and the besieged Kobani, Jazeera is one of the three enclaves under Kurdish rule, although such a statement is not entirely accurate.

At the entrance of the government building, vice-president Elizabeth Gawrie greets IPS with a shlomo, “peace” in her native Syriac language.

“We decided to move here in January this year for security reasons because [Bashar Hafez al] Assad is still present in Qamishli – the provincial capital, 25 km east of Amuda,” notes the former mathematics teacher before tea is served.The so-called "third way" attracted sectors among the other local communities such as Arabs and Syriacs, a collaboration that would eventually materialise into a Social Contract, a kind of ‘constitution’ that applies to the three enclaves in question – Jazeera, Afrin and Kobani

After the outbreak of civil war in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds in the north of the country opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces.

This so-called “third way” attracted sectors among the other local communities such as Arabs and Syriacs, a collaboration that would eventually materialise into a Social Contract, a kind of ‘constitution’ that applies to the three enclaves in question – Jazeera, Afrin and Kobani

“Each canton has its own government with its own president, two vice-presidents and several ministries: Economy, Women, Trade, Human Rights … up to a total of 22,” explains Gawrie. Among the ministers in Jazeera, she adds, there are four Arabs, three Christians and a Chechen; Syria has hosted a significant Caucasian community since the late 19th century.

“We have lived together for centuries and there is no reason why this should be changed,” claims the canton´s vice-president, ensuring that the Democratic Self-Management is “a model of peaceful coexistence that would also work for the whole of Syria.”

While there was no religious persecution under the Assads – both father and son – those who defended a national identity other than the Arab identity, as in the case of the Syriacs and the Kurds, were harshly repressed. Gawrie says that many members of her coalition – the Syriac Union Party – have either disappeared or are still in prison.

Neither did Arab dissidents feel much more comfortable under the Assads. Hussein Taza Al Azam, an Arab from Qamishli, is the canton´s co-vice-president alongside Gawrie. From the meeting room where the 25 government officials conduct their meetings, he summarises the hardship political dissidents like him have faced in Syria over the last five decades.

“Since the arrival of the Baath Party to power in 1963, Syria has been a one-party state. There was no freedom of speech, human rights were systematically violated … It was a country fully under the control of the secret services,” explains Azam, who completed his doctorate in economics in Romania after spending several years in prison for his political dissent.

Wounds from the recent past have yet to heal but, for the time being, Article 3 of the Social Contract describes Jazeera as “ethnically and religiously diverse” while three official languages are recognised in the canton: ​​Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac. “All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language,” according to Article 9.

But it is not just language rights that Azam is proud of. “The three regions under democratic self-management are an integral part of Syria,” he says, “but also a model for a decentralised system of government.”

The members of government in Jazeera are either independent or belong to eleven political parties. Since local communities took over the three enclaves in July 2012, local opposition sectors backed by Masoud Barzani, president of the neighbouring Kurdistan Region of Iraq, have accused the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – the leading party among Syrian Kurds – of playing a dominant role.

PYD co-president Salih Muslim bluntly denies such claims. “From the PYD we advocate for direct self-determination, also called ‘radical democracy’,” he says.

“Basically we aim to decentralise power so that the people are able to take and execute their own decisions. It is a more sophisticated version of the concept of democracy, and that is in full harmony with many several social movements across Europe,” the political leader told IPS.

Spanish journalist and Middle East expert Manuel Martorell describes the concept of democratic self-management as an “innovative experiment in the region” which reconciles a high degree of self-government with the existence of the states.

“It may not be the concept of independence as we understand it, but the crux of the matter here is that they´re actually governing themselves,” Martorell told IPS.

Akram Hesso, president of Jazeera canton, is one the independent members in the local government. So far, the on-going war has posed a major hurdle for the holding of elections so Hesso feels compelled to explain how he gained his seat eight months ago.

“We had several meetings until a committee of 98 members representing the different communities was set up. They were responsible for electing the 25 of us that make up the government today,” this lawyer in his late thirties told IPS.

On Oct. 15, the parliament in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region approved a motion calling on the Federal Kurdistan Government to recognise and improve links with the administrations in Afrin, Kobani and Jazeera.

And while Hesso labels the move as a “major step forward”, he does not forget what is allowing the Democratic Self-Management to take root.

“Not far away there is an open front where our people are dying to protect us,” notes the senior official, referring to Kobani, but also to the other open fronts in Jazeera and Afrin.

However, he adds, “it´s not just about defending territory; it´s also about sticking to an idea of living together.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Guatemalan Officers Face Sexual Slavery Charges in Historic Trialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/guatemalan-officers-face-sexual-slavery-charges-in-historic-trial/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 18:05:24 +0000 Luz Mendez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137429

Luz Méndez Gutiérrez is the co-author of the book Mujeres q’eqchís: violencia sexual y lucha por la justicia (ECAP-IDRC) (forthcoming). She is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Union of Guatemalan Women (Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas – UNAMG).

By Luz Mendez
GUATEMALA CITY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

On Oct. 14, Guatemala’s Court for High-Risk Crimes ruled that charges would be brought against two members of the Army for sexual slavery and domestic slavery against q’eqchís women in the military outpost of Sepur Zarco, and other serious crimes perpetrated in the framework of the government counterinsurgency policies during the armed conflict.

At the public hearing, Judge Miguel Angel Galvez ruled that there is sufficient evidence to open a trial against Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former chief of the Sepur Zarco military outpost, and Heriberto Valdéz Asij, former military commissioner in the region.

Credit: Luz Mendez

Credit: Luz Mendez

Reyes will be tried for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and the assassination of Dominga Coc and her two young daughters on the base. Valdez will face charges for the crimes against humanity of sexual violence and forced disappearance.

Acts of violence

For six years, women of rural communities of the Alta Verapaz and Izabal departments were the objects of sexual slavery and domestic slavery at the military outpost of the community of Sepur Zarco, located on the border between the townships of Panzós and El Estor.

These crimes formed part of attacks on the civilian population between 1982 and 1988. At the outpost, the women were organised in three-day shifts, and forced to do domestic work, including cooking and washing soldiers’ clothes with no pay whatsoever.

The forced work was accompanied by sexual violence – every time they did their shifts, they were systematically raped by soldiers at the outpost. The sexual and domestic slavery perpetrated against the women of Sepur Zarco formed part of a military plan executed in stages that started with the kidnapping, torture and forced disappearance of their husbands, who were peasant leaders.

After that, soldiers and officers brutally gang-raped the women in their homes, in front of their children. Their homes and belongings were burned and their crops destroyed. Then the women were named by the soldiers as “the widows” and had to move to Sepur Zarco, where they were forced into sexual and domestic slavery at the military outpost.

Even after the military outpost was closed in 1988, the women still faced the physical and psychological consequences of the sexual violence. One of the cruelest results has been that they are stigmatised in their communities.It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

According to the patriarchal logic, sexual violence is a crime for which the victims must pay. In spite of the fact that the rapes were committed in a context of terror and militarisation, today the women are blamed for the sexual violence they suffered.

The long road to justice

Today the women of Sepur Zarco are demanding justice for these horrendous crimes against them. The road to justice they’ve come down started 10 years ago.

One of the most important strategies they employed was to build groups of women and alliances on the local and national level. They broke the silence and told their hard truth in a process of constructing the historic memory of the sexual violence against indigenous women during the armed conflict, published in a book in 2009.

In 2010, the protagonists in this history, along with women of the other three regions of the country, participated in the Tribunal of Conscience against sexual violence against the women during the armed conflict in Guatemala.

And in 2011, 15 women of the Sepur Zarco group presented a criminal suit in a national court, demanding justice for the crimes committed against them and their family members in the framework of transitional justice.

In this process they have relied on the support of feminist and human rights organisations. For these organizations, the fight for justice of the women of Sepur Zarco is part of their political commitment in favor of eliminating gender violence and the emancipation of women.

A historic trial

The criminal trial brought by the Sepur Zarco women has national and international significance. In Guatemala, to date there is still total impunity for the crimes of sexual violence during the armed conflict.

Although the Commission on Historical Clarification documented the sexual violence against the women was widely and systematically carried out by agents of the state, this is the first time that the charge has been presented in a court of law specifically for rape and sexual slavery.

This case also has worldwide relevance, since it is the first legal proceeding for sexual slavery during armed conflict that has been presented in the national jurisdiction where the acts took place.

It will be a precedent-setting case for all efforts to end sexual violence during armed conflict, one of the most widespread and unrecognised violations of human rights, as well as eradicating impunity for these crimes.

This article originally appeared at cipamericas.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Invisible Reality of Spain’s Homelesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-invisible-reality-of-spains-homeless/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 17:33:47 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137423 Socially marginalised people waiting for lunch at a stand run by the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche association, whose volunteers serve three meals a day in the centre of Málaga, Spain. Cedit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Socially marginalised people waiting for lunch at a stand run by the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche association, whose volunteers serve three meals a day in the centre of Málaga, Spain. Cedit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

“It’s easy to end up on the street. It’s not because you led a bad life; you lose your job and you can’t afford to pay rent,” says David Cerezo while he waits for lunch to be served by a humanitarian organisation in this city in southern Spain.

Cerezo, 39, lives in a filthy wreck of a house in downtown Málaga with two other people. He used to work as a baker and confectioner but his drug abuse ruined his life, and separated him from his wife and his 36 and 39-year-old brothers.

Now he is determined to undergo rehabilitation, he tells IPS in front of the lunch counter of the Ángeles Malagueños de la Noche (Málaga Angels of the Night) association.

“Most of those who ask for food here have ended up on the street because of drugs or alcohol, but there are also parents coming for food for their kids, and very young people,” he says, pointing towards the dozens of people lined up under the midday sun for a plate of rice, which is steaming in a huge pot.

Spain’s long, severe recession and high unemployment rate, which currently stands at 24.4 percent according to the national statistics institute, INE, have impoverished the population while government budgets for social services for the poor have been cut. “On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this.” -- Miguel Arregui

According to statistics from earlier this year, between 20.4 and 27.3 percent of the population of 47.2 million – depending on whether the measurement uses Spanish or European Union parameters – lives below the poverty line.

Nor does having a job guarantee a life free of poverty. The crisis drove up the proportion of working poor from 10.8 percent of the population in 2007 to 12.3 percent in 2010, according to the Dossier de Pobreza EAPN España 2014, a report on poverty in Spain by the European Anti Poverty Network.

Even worse is the fact that 27 percent of the country’s children – more than 2.3 million girls and boys – live in or on the verge of poverty, according to the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF.

A study published Sept. 19 by the Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services reported that public spending on the neediest this year was 18.98 billion dollars – 2.78 billion less than in 2012.

“You find yourself in the street because you don’t have anyone to turn to,” said Miguel Arregui, 40. “And once you’re there it’s really hard to take flight again.”

The tall, black-haired Arregui, who is separated and has an 11-year-old son, told IPS that he spent 15 “endless” days sleeping rough, and that two bags holding his clothes and cell phone were stolen. For the past few weeks, he has been living in a shelter, where he is overcoming his addiction to drugs.

Cerrezo and Arregui are two of the thousands of homeless people in Spain – who total 23,000 according to the last INE census, from 2012, although the social organisations that help them put the number at 40,000.

But the 2014 study on exclusion and social development in Spain by the Foessa Foundation reports that there are five million people in this country affected by “severe exclusion” – 82.6 percent more than in 2007, the year before the lingering economic crisis broke out.

The report states that although homeless people are part of the landscape, most people have no idea what their lives are like. They sleep rough or in shelters, after ending up on the street as a result of numerous social, structural and personal factors.

In Málaga dozens of poor families, many of whom were evicted for failing to pay the rent or mortgage, are living together in squats known as “corralas”, in empty buildings owned by banks or construction companies that went bankrupt.

In the first half of 2014 there were 37,241 evictions in Spain, according to judicial sector statistics.

Since 2007 there have been 569,144 foreclosures, the Platform for Mortgage Victims (PAH) reports. At the same time, there are 3.5 million empty dwellings – 14 percent of the total, according to the INE.

A number of people wake up on the stone benches near the stand where breakfast is served at 9:00 AM. “The day I went to the shelter, they told me it was full and they gave me a blanket,” says José, 47, who spent 15 years in prison and admits that he has to steal to pay for a night in a pension.

“The system could use a turn of the screw, to provide permanent and unconditional housing, in first place,” the director of the RAIS Foundation, José Manuel Caballol, told IPS.

His organisation is promoting the Housing First model in Spain. This approach focuses on moving homeless people immediately from the streets or shelters into their own apartments, based on the concept that their first and primary need is stable housing.

The approach targets people who have spent at least three years living on the streets, or those suffering from mental illness, drug use, alcoholism or disabilities.

Caballol said people with severe problems have a hard time gaining access to homeless shelters, supportive housing or pensions, and that even if they do they fail to move forward with their rehabilitation or end up being expelled from the system once again.

“The results are spectacular,” he said. “The people are so happy, they take care of their house and of themselves because they don’t want to lose what they have.”

The activist is convinced that this approach, which emerged in the United States in the 1990s, “offers a definitive solution to the problem of homelessness and spells out significant savings in costs for the state, in hospital care for example.”

Since July, a total of 28 homeless people have been living in eight housing units in Málaga, 10 in Barcelona and 10 in Madrid, some given to RAIS and others rented by the NGO by means of agreements with city governments and foundations, and with economic support from the government.

“Changes are seen very quickly in the people involved,” said Caballol, who stressed the role played by social workers, psychologists and experts in social integration, who listen, support and assist the beneficiaries, depending on what they themselves decide, rather than the other way around.

“On the street I feel vulnerable, so inferior. You lose your dignity and it’s hard to get it back. I want out of this,” says Miguel Arregui just before going into a shelter in downtown Málaga for the night.

Another local NGO, Ayuda en Acción (Help in Action), warns that one out of every five people are at risk of social exclusion in Spain.

Cerezo says the social network for the homeless falls short of meeting the current needs, and calls for other models like “casas de acogida” – halfway homes or residential-based homes for the most vulnerable, “with orientation by professionals.”

The number of people assisted in Spain by the Catholic charity Caritas rose 30 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to a report it released Sept. 29.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Bougainville Voices Say ‘No’ to Mininghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bougainville-voices-say-no-to-mining/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 04:41:41 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137411 Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Indigenous communities continue to live around the edge of the Panguna copper mine in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, which was forced to shut down in 1989. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

The viability of reopening the controversial Panguna copper mine in the remote mountains of Central Bougainville, an autonomous region in the east of Papua New Guinea, has been the focus of discussions led by local political leaders and foreign mining interests over the past four years.

But a report by an Australian non-government organisation warns that the wounds left on local communities by the corporate mining project, “the environmental destruction associated with it” and the civil war that stretched from 1988 to 1997 are far from healed.

Its findings include widespread opposition in directly impacted villages to the mine’s revival in the near future.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there." -- Lynette Ona, a member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association
“I believe the report was honest and sincere in that it gave people from the mine-affected areas an opportunity they are not always accorded, to come out and really make known to the world their problems, hopes and fears,” Jimmy Miringtoro, member of parliament for Central Bougainville, where the mine is located, told IPS.

The mine was formerly operated by the Australian company Bougainville Copper Ltd (BCL), which is 53 percent owned by Rio Tinto, from 1969, but forced to shut down 20 years later following an uprising by indigenous landowners angered by economic exploitation, loss and degradation of land, and political marginalisation.

The ‘Voices of Bougainville’ study was conducted at the end of last year with 65 individuals and a focus group of 17 living in 10 villages in and around the mine site by Jubilee Australia, which investigates Australian state and corporate responsibility for environmental and human rights issues, in association with a university research consortium called the International State Crime Initiative, and Papua New Guinean civil society organisation Bismarck Ramu Group.

“The study was not an opinion poll … our primary aim was to better understand local views on mining and development … it was felt that there was an absence of publicly available qualitative data offering a window into the past and its interspersion with the present in the mine affected region,” Kristian Lasslett of the International State Crime Initiative told IPS.

The former mine lease area covers 13,047 hectares of forested land and the main villages in the vicinity of the mine are home to an estimated 4,000-5,000 people, according to data obtained by IPS in 2011 through interviews with locals.

“BCL destroyed our lives, took our land, took our money and never properly compensated our parents who were the rightful titleholders of the land which they took … now they want to come and reopen Panguna mine, this is a no, I personally say no to the reopening of the Panguna mine,” said a villager from Dapera, near to the mine pit, quoted in the report.

His claims find echo among grassroots communities. Panguna landowner and member of the Bougainville Indigenous Women Landowner Association, Lynette Ona, agreed that most people in the area didn’t want mining. Ona recently led a women’s delegation to the PNG Prime Minister’s office to raise their opposition to mining before the region achieved complete self-government.

Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) President John Morris has publicly rejected the report and its findings, claiming that there is majority support for the industry if negative impacts are avoided.

He is supported by landowner associations, which are members, along with Bougainville Copper Ltd and the PNG Government, of the multi-stakeholder Joint Panguna Negotiations Co-ordinating Committee.

A troubled history

The Panguna copper mine opened when Papua New Guinea was under Australian administration and delivered around two billion dollars in revenues, of which 94 percent went to shareholders and the PNG Government and 1.4 percent to local landowners.

Hostility and opposition to the mine by local communities, apparent from the exploration phase, intensified when environmental devastation, air pollution and tailings from the mine, which contaminated agricultural land and the nearby Jaba River, decimated their health, food and water security.

“We planted taro, but it wouldn’t grow like before [the mine] and the breadfruit trees didn’t have any fruits […]. In Panguna, the chemicals are still there in the river. No-one drinks the water, there is no fish there,” Ona described.

When BCL refused to pay landowners compensation of 10 billion kina (about 3.9 billion dollars) in 1989, a 10-year civil war broke out between Bougainville revolutionary forces and the PNG military leading to widespread destruction on the island and an estimated death toll of up to 20,000.

Peace-building initiatives supported by the United Nations and international aid donors have been ongoing since the 2001 peace agreement, but post-conflict trauma remains mostly untreated and disarmament and reconciliation is unfinished.

A majority of the study’s respondents were concerned about problems related to the mine and conflict, which had not been addressed, and lack of justice in the peace process.

“No-one has been brought to court; the issue has been ignored despite its seriousness,” said a woman from Darenai village.

“Imperative” to generating state revenue

Reviving the mothballed mine is imperative to generating sufficient state revenue to “make greater progress towards autonomy and our choice about independence,” ABG President Morris said during a speech to the Bougainville House of Representatives in August.

A referendum on the region’s independence from Papua New Guinea (PNG) is planned within the next six years.

BCL estimates Panguna contains more than three million tonnes of copper reserves and could produce 400,000 ounces of gold per year. Restarting the mine would require an investment of five billion dollars with potential revenues estimated at more than 50 billion dollars.

Bougainville has an estimated population of 300,000 and potential direct employment of only 2,500 has been suggested with the ratio of local workers not identified.

Since 2010 the Bougainville government has established a framework for landowner consultations and conducted stakeholder forums across the island to assess public opinion, claiming these indicate a green light for mining.

Thirteen of 65 participants in the Jubilee study said they would support the extractive industry under certain conditions: after Bougainville has achieved independence in order to minimize foreign interference; after compensation and reparation are delivered; and after other forms of economic development, such as agriculture, have been explored.

“There has been anecdotal evidence that mining consultation forums have so far been geared too heavily towards advocacy. A significant number of participants felt the landowner associations were not relaying a popular consensus from their respective communities,” State Crime Initiative’s Lasslett claimed.

Miringtoro, the parliamentarian from Central Bougainville, told IPS that he was “satisfied that the 65 people interviewed were a fair and representative sample of the people who are totally against mining. [They] are from village communities situated all throughout mine and tailings area … which has been changed into a moonscape with arable land buried under tonnes of silt and rock.”

The state and corporate sectors promote mining revenues as necessary for growth and poverty reduction on Bougainville where many people live without basic services, such as a clean water supply, electricity and medical services. The province has 10 doctors serving more than a quarter of a million people; less than one percent of people are connected to electricity; and life expectancy is 59 years.

However, the record so far in Papua New Guinea is that economic dependence on the extraction of minerals, such as copper, gold and nickel, over the last 30-40 years, with GDP growth reaching 11 percent in 2011, has not resulted in development for the majority of citizens.

Forty percent of the population of seven million live below the poverty line, only 12 percent have access to electricity, adult literacy is 50 percent and malnutrition is high with stunting prevalent in half of all children, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“In PNG, despite a booming economy, driven by extractive industry, income and human poverty persist and a majority of the population live in rural, isolated areas with little or no access to basic services, such as healthcare, education, sanitation and safe drinking water,” the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reported this year.

The organisation added, “Foreign investors and contractors absorbed a large proportion of the benefits of the strong growth the country enjoyed over the last decade.”

The people of Bougainville desire development and better lives. But for many of those who have lived with the mine at their doorstep, the accelerating pace of discussions about its reopening are in stark contrast to lack of progress on resolving the problems, injustices and legacy of suffering that it has already caused.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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“Yeil” – The New Energy Buzzword in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/yeil-the-new-energy-buzzword-in-argentina/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:53:00 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137400 Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Technicians discuss their work near two drill rigs at the Vaca Muerta oil field in Loma Campana, in southern Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
NEUQUÉN, Argentina, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

In Argentina they call it “yeil”, the hispanicised version of “shale”. But while these unconventional gas and oil reserves are seen by many as offering a means to development and a route towards energy self-sufficiency, others believe the term should fall into disuse because the global trend is towards clean, renewable sources of energy.

Wearing an oil-soaked uniform, the drilling supervisor in the state oil company YPF, Claudio Rueda, feels like he is playing a part in an important story that is unfolding in southern Argentina.

“Availability of energy is key in our country,” he told IPS. “It’s an essential element in Argentina’s development and future, and we are part of that process.”

The first chapter of the story is being written in the Vaca Muerta shale oil and gas field in Loma Campana in the province of Neuquén, which forms part of Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, where rich unconventional reserves of gas and oil are hidden in rocky structures 2,500 to 3,000 metres below the surface.

According to YPF, reserves of 802 trillion cubic feet of reserves put Argentina second in the world in shale gas deposits, after China, with 1,115 trillion cubic feet.

And in shale oil reserves, Argentina is now in fourth place, with 27 billion barrels, after Russia, the United States and China.“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources.” -- Maristella Svampa

According to projections, Argentina’s conventional oil and gas reserves will run out in eight or 10 years and production is declining, so the government considers the development of Vaca Muerta, a 30,000-sq-km geological formation, strategic.

“Nearly 30 percent of the country’s energy is imported, in different ways – a huge drain on the country’s hard currency reserves,” Rubén Etcheverry, coauthor of the book “Yeil, las nuevas reservas” (Yeil, the new reserves) and former Neuquén provincial energy secretary, said in an interview with IPS.

“We have been in intensive therapy for the last five years, with respect to the trade balance and the energy balance,” he said in Neuquén, the provincial capital.

“We went from exporting nearly five billion dollars a year in fuel, 10 years ago, to spending 15 billion dollars on imports; in other words, the balance has shifted by 20 billion dollars a year – an enormous change for any economy of this size,” Etcheverry said.

Imports include electricity and liquefied gas, natural gas and other fuels.

Diego Pérez Santiesteban, president of Argentina’s Chamber of Importers, said that at the start of the year, energy purchases represented 15 percent of all imports, compared to just five percent a year earlier.

Since 2009, accumulated imported energy has surpassed the Central Bank’s foreign reserves of 28.4 billion dollars.

Etcheverry sees Vaca Muerta as key to turning that tendency around, because the reserves found deep under the surface would be “enough to make us self-sufficient, and would even allow us to export.”

According to the expert, Argentina could follow in the footsteps of the United States, which thanks to its shale deposits “could become the world’s leading producer of gas and oil in less than 10 years.”

Shale gas and oil are extracted by means of a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into the well, and opening and extending fractures deep under the surface in the shale rock to release the fossil fuels.

But there is a growing outcry around the world against the pollution caused by fracking in the water table and other environmental impacts in wide areas around the deposits.

And in Argentina many voices have also been raised against the energy mix that has been chosen.

“This is an environmental point of view that goes beyond Vaca Muerta. The option that they are trying to impose in Argentina, as a solution to the energy crisis…has no future prospects,” said ecologist Silvia Leanza of the Ecosur Foundation.

“We’re basing all of our economic expansion on one asset here – but how many years will it last?” she asked.

Fossil fuels make up nearly 90 percent of Argentina’s energy mix. The rest is based on nuclear and hydroelectric sources, and just one percent renewable.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the burning of fossil fuels to generate energy is the main cause of climate change.

“This situation, along with the greater availability of renewable sources, indicates the end of the era of dirty energy sources,” Mauro Fernández, head of Greenpeace Argentina’s energy campaign, said in a report.

This country’s dependence on fossil fuels has made carbon dioxide emissions per capita among the highest in the region: 4.4 tons in 2009, according to the World Bank.

Fernández said unconventional fossil fuels are not only risky because of fracking, but are also “a bad alternative from a climate and energy point of view.”

“Unconventional deposits look like a new frontier for doing more of the same, fueling the motor of climate change,” he complained.

Argentina has set a target for at least eight percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2016.

“Staking our bets on fracking means reinforcing the current energy mix based on fossil fuels, and as a result, it spells out a major setback in terms of alternative scenarios or the transition to clean, renewable energy sources,” said sociologist Maristella Svampa, an independent researcher with the National Scientific and Technical Research Council.

“In the last decade, fracking has certainly transformed the energy outlook in the United States, making it less dependent on imports. But it has also made it the place where the real impacts can be seen: pollution of groundwater, damage to the health of people and animals, earthquakes, greater emissions of methane gas, among others,” she said.

Carolina García with the Multisectoral Group against Hydraulic Fracturing said that because of its rich natural resources, Argentina has other alternatives that should be tapped before exploiting fossil fuels “to the last drop.”

“We finish extracting everything in the Neuquén basin and what do we have left?” she commented to IPS.

Etcheverry mentioned the possibility of using solar energy in the north, wind energy in Patagonia and along the Atlantic shoreline, geothermic energy in the Andes, and tidal and wave energy along the coast.

But the author said that for now the costs were “much higher” than those of fossil fuels, because of technological reasons, transportation aspects and energy intensity.

He also said oil and gas are still necessary as energy sources and raw materials for everyday products.

For that reason, Etcheverry said, the transition from the fossil fuels era “is not simple.” First it is necessary to improve energy savings and efficiency, in order to later shift to less polluting fossil fuels, he added.

“In the first stage it would be a question of moving from the most polluting fossil fuels like coal and oil towards others that are less polluting, like natural gas. And from there, creating incentives for everything that has to do with clean or renewable energies,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Where Governments Fail, It’s Up to the People to Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-where-governments-fail-its-up-to-the-people-to-rise/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 08:46:29 +0000 Diana Maciaga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137389 Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

Stop Elektrownia Północ campaigners trying to stop investment in Europe’s biggest new coal power plant. Credit: C. Kowalski/350.org

By Diana Maciaga
WARSAW, Oct 27 2014 (IPS)

Pomerania in northern Poland is famous for its unpolluted environment, fertile soils and historic heritage. So far, these valuable farmlands have been free from heavy industry but that situation might change as a shadow looms over the lives of Pomeranians.

Its name is Elektrownia Północ, also known as the North Power Plant and, ever since we learned about it, we have been determined to stop Elektrownia Pólnoc.

If built, this coal-fired power plant would contribute to the climate crisis with 3.7 million tons of coal burnt annually, and lock Poland into coal dependency for decades.

It threatens to pollute the Vistula River, Poland’s largest river, with a rich ecosystem that is home to many rare and endangered species.“The [Polish] government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy”

The threat of soil degradation and inevitable drainage keeps local farmers awake at night, not to mention the air pollution from the plant that will be a major health hazard, making the situation in Poland – already the most polluted country in Europe with more people dying from air pollution than from car accidents – even worse.

But this is not just about stopping one of a dozen fossil fuel projects currently under development. This is part of a much broader struggle.

While unemployment soars, the Polish government fails to stimulate green jobs and dismisses renewable energy as too expensive. At the same time, it is pumping billions into the coal industry. Unprofitable and un-modern, it thrives thanks to hidden subsidies that in the past 22 years added up to a mammoth sum equal to the country’s annual GDP.

The government’s energy scenario, ironically labelled as sustainable, is based on coal and nuclear power. It promotes business as usual and hinders any development of renewable energy.

The current government continues to block European Union climate policy, without which we can forget about a meaningful climate treaty being achieved in Paris next year.

All this takes place while we face the greatest environmental crisis in history and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for everything it brings about.

But Poland’s infamous coal dependence is all but given and the policy that granted our country the infamous nickname “Coal-land” is strikingly incompatible with the will of the Polish people. All around the country people are fighting coal plants, new mines and opposing fracking. We want Poland to be a modern country that embraces climate justice.

I went to New York to be part of the People’s Climate March, observe the U.N. Climate Summit and bring this very message from hundreds of thousands of Polish citizens whose voices had been ignored on domestic grounds to the international stage. Yet what I had not expected was how powerful an experience it would be.

With 400,000 people in the streets and thousands more all over the world, New York witnessed not only the largest climate march in history on Sep. 21 but a true change of tide: a beautiful, unstoppable wave of half a million representing hundreds of millions more – the stories unfolding, forming an epic tale not of loss or despair but of resilience, strength, responsibility and readiness to do what it takes to save this world.

For decades world leaders have been failing us, justifying their inaction with the supposed lack of people’s support, their talks poisoned by a ‘you move first’ approach.

The voices of those who marched echoing in the street and in the media, impossible to be ignored, left their mark on the Summit and resounded in many speeches given by world leaders. The march showed it more clearly than ever how strong the mandate for taking action is and, even more importantly, where the leadership truly lies.

Opening the Summit, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to politicians to take action to ensure a low-carbon, climate resilient and better future. “There is only one thing in the way,” he said, “Us”.

The march proved that there is a counter-movement challenging this stagnation. From individuals to communities, from cities to neighbourhoods and families, millions are working to make a better world a reality. Against all adversities, people around the world embrace the urgency of action and lead where the supposed leaders have failed.

For me this is the single most important message and a source of hope to take back home. A new chapter of climate protection has opened written by the diverse, powerful stream which flooded the streets in New York and beyond – not to witness but to make history.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Diana Maciaga works with the Polish NGO Workshop for All Beings (Pracownia na rzecz Wszystkich Istot), which specialises in protection of the wildest treasures of Poland. She has participated in Global Power Shift and Power Shift Central & Eastern Europe and is sharing her experience through campaigns and coordinating a training for local Polish leaders – “Guardians of Climate”. She is currently one of the organisers of the Stop Elektrowni Północ (Stop the ‘North Power Plant’) campaign against a new coal-fired facility in Poland.

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

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OPINION: The Front Line of Climate Change is Here and Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 Kaio Tiira Taula http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137377 Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

By Kaio Tiira Taulu
TUVALU, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The fate of my country rests in your hands: that was the message which Ian Fry, representing Tuvalu gave at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen five years ago. This is also the message that the Pacific Climate Warriors have come to Australia to bring.

We have come here, representatives of 12 different Pacific island nations, which are home to 10 million people, to ask the people of Australia to reject plans to double Australia’s exports of coal and to become the biggest exporter of gas in the world.

We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home.“We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home”

My home, Tuvalu, is a series of three islands and six atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world and home to 11,000 people and most of us have been there for generations

Tuvalu, like many of our island neighbours, is living on borrowed time with climate change expected to displace over 300 million people worldwide before 2050. The displacement has already started to happen with thousands of my countrymen forced to leave by the rising King Tides and the long drought affecting our food supplies.

One family drew international attention when they became the first refugees to seek asylum in New Zealand based on grounds of climate change.

Aside from the humanitarian cost, there is also the loss to culture and diversity with several thousands of years of civilisation and history wiped from the face of the planet. And there is nothing that we can do about this except hope that you and your country will see the value of keeping our island above water and make the decision to turn away from fossil fuels.

This is the reason I have joined with the Pacific Climate Warriors to come to Australia and represent my country and our region.

For years our leaders have tried to convey our message in the halls of power to politicians, diplomats and whoever else would listen, but the arguments of economic growth have always taken precedence over the arguments for our survival.

I now come as an envoy to ask the people of Australia to please consider the plight of the 11,000 people in Tuvalu and the further millions in other Pacific islands and other low lying nations which may expect to be wiped out by climate change.

In my time in Australia I have heard plenty about the importance of the Australian coal industry and the jobs and economic growth that it generates, yet it is us in the islands who are paying the price with our land, our culture and our livelihoods. This hardly seems a fair price to pay when we gain nothing from this industry.

This is why it incenses me so much to hear that coal is good for humanity or coal will be the solution to poverty. Coal will benefit only the wealthy whereas it will be the poor, like us, who suffer.

This is why it is the ultimate insult to hear that wealthy corporations are acting in the interests of the world’s poor when they dig and burn coal.

The Australian people have the power to decide the fate of my country and others in the Pacific. You need to let your government know that you have considered the matter carefully that you choose human life over the digging and export of coal.

If you do not, you must be ready to open your borders for the flood of climate refugees who will end up on your doorstep.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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India’s Crusader Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-crusader-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:01:25 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137372 Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

As senior Indian journalist Manoj Mitta was testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress last month about mass violence and impunity in India, President Barack Obama escorted India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

“They were just three miles away,” Mitta told IPS, commenting on the irony of this coincidence, remembering that the United States had banned Modi’s entry on the mass violence on his watch in 2002 leading to the killing of about 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat state.“We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. " -- Manoj Mitta

“Why should the U.S. Congress hold a hearing on human rights violations in India?” asked one Boston-based Indian expatriate on hearing about this. “By that token, we can have hearings in India about racial killings in the USA.”

“Why not indeed?” responds Mitta, a senior editor with The Times of India in New Delh, speaking to IPS in Boston when he was here for a talk at MIT, one of several book talks at universities around the country.

Focusing on legal and public policy issues, transparency and judicial accountability, both his books dissect judicial inquiries into the deadliest instances of communal violence in India: “When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 carnage and its Aftermath”, co-authored with the eminent lawyer H. S. Phoolka (2007), and “The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra” (2014).

The Lantos Commission event titled “Thirty Years of Impunity“, in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition, commemorated the 1984 carnage of Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Over 2,500 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone in just three days.

There is also a class-based element to such mass-violence, notes Boston-based writer and poet Sarbpreet Singh, whose long poem “Kultar’s Mime” about the 1984 carnage is currently being performed in the U.S., Canada and India. “Most people who suffered and died were very poor.”

After Boston, New York, Ottawa and Toronto, the compelling show will be performed in India — Delhi (Oct. 30-Nov. 1), Chandigarh (Nov. 2), and Amritsar (Nov. 4), before heading to the U.S. west coast: Los Angeles (Nov. 20-23) and San Francisco Bay Area (Dec. 6-7).

A scene from Kultar's Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute - sikhri.org

A scene from Kultar’s Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute – sikhri.org

“The ongoing struggles for justice in India gain strength from expressions of solidarity from abroad,” said Mitta. “We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. As Martin Luther King famously put it, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.”

Mitta quotes an old Sanskrit saying, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) – which Modi also invoked in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

But Modi was speaking “in terms of commerce and business,” says Mitta. “With the world being increasingly globalised on the economic front, more than globalisation of the economy, we need a universalisation of human rights standards and practices.”

Mitta, who also addressed the British Parliament commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 carnage five years ago, says he would like countries to talk about each other’s human rights violations.

“Those violations affect not just the country they take place in. There are also spin-off effects that impact other countries,” he says. “Like, an unstable Pakistan is bad for India, and violations in India are bad for America.”

“Human rights should remain on the agenda,” adds Mitta, who has written extensively on the undermining of the rule of law in India – patterns that are visible in other South Asian nations too.

“Could such a mass crime, in which rampaging mobs fatally attacked hundreds of people, have ever occurred in Washington DC?” he asks. “And could the perpetrators of mass murder have got away with it? Could the security forces in the USA have colluded with the mobs as blatantly as they did in Delhi.”

“Could your president have dared to justify the mass crimes, as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did, by declaring that when a big tree had fallen, the earth was bound to shake?” he asked in his presentation to the Lantos Commission.

Such questions would seem equally inconceivable about other leading capital cities too. Whatever the provocation, could there ever have been such massacres, at any rate post-World War II, in London, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo?”

Looking beyond liberal democracies, the scale of the bloodshed in Delhi 1984 is “perhaps comparable to what happened in Beijing five years later, during the Tiananmen Square massacre” – committed by security forces operating in a single-party political system.

In fact, the death toll of Delhi 1984 was similar to that of 9/11 – the big difference being that “9/11 was the result of sudden and unforeseen terror attacks, not mob violence that deliberately remained unchecked for three days. By any standards of the civilised world, Delhi 1984 is one of a kind, a monstrosity without a parallel.”

And yet, it took 23 years for the first book on this subject to be published – Mitta and Phoolka’s, in 2007. It was made possible by a new inquiry commission established in 2000 seeking to undo the damage caused by the earlier one that had held all its findings in secrecy and not given due hearing to survivors.

The new commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati, conducted its proceedings in public and released many old records related to the 1984 carnage.

“India’s appalling lack of documentation culture, especially on human rights issues is clearly a deficiency that is another reason for the impunity,” believes Mitta.

In the case of 1984, there have been about 30 convictions for murder in 30 years. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 has seen some 200 convictions, due to the Supreme Court’s intervention. The SC transferred some high-profile cases out of Gujarat and appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into some of the worst cases from 2002.

However, the SIT “balked at asking questions” or challenging Modi on any of his evasive or contradictory replies while examining him. Because of this “fact-fudging rather than fact-finding,” says Mitta, Modi ended up not facing trial, as recommended by the Supreme Court appointed amicus curiae.

It was only after the SIT exonerated him that Modi became the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “The Supreme Court has yet to pronounce on Modi’s innocence or guilt.”

The Indian prime minister has called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence, urging Indians to stay focused on the challenges of economic development.

But Modi has taken no action or even condemn those who have since violated this moratorium by stepping up their hate speech. His “strategic silence” and “denial mode, pretending that there’s no escalation of religious tensions under his rule, effectively adds another layer of impunity,” says Mitta.

The bottom line, he adds: If it is allowed to continue, impunity for hate speech and violence in India will eventually impact U.S. corporations seeking to do business with India. Impunity affects all, whether it is for corporate corruption or human rights abuses.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Water Shutoffs and Unintended Consequences – Lessons from Detroithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:31:22 +0000 Patricia Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137366 Jasmine Omeke and Mariel Borgman of the University of Michigan survey an abandoned lot on the east side of Detroit. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties. Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment/cc by 2.0

Jasmine Omeke and Mariel Borgman of the University of Michigan survey an abandoned lot on the east side of Detroit. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties. Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment/cc by 2.0

By Patricia Jones
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque and Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha were in Detroit, Michigan Oct. 17-20.

What they saw and heard in a city struggling to emerge from historic bankruptcy were mass water shutoffs and conditions they described as “a perfect storm.” The U.N. experts issued a call for a national affordability standard that would protect the poorest and most vulnerable.The city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and nations worldwide are on the cusp of making decisions that will lock generations to come into trillions of dollars of water and sanitation infrastructure investments, requiring staggering increases in water rates to households, small businesses and communities.

After speaking to hundreds of consumers, local authorities, and City of Detroit water and sewerage utility staff, the U.N. experts reported the scale and impacts of the shutoffs as unprecedented in their experience.

Freedom of information act responses from the City of Detroit showed that in 2014, 27,500 water shutoffs took place. The utility was not able to say how many persons were affected, how many residences were vacant, nor the impacts of the mass water shut off programme.

How could this be? This was the United States. This was Detroit — in previous years, one of the nation’s thriving manufacturing cities. As the third largest water and sanitation public service provider in the United States, Detroit’s utility serves 40 percent of the state of Michigan’s population, similar to large urban utilities around the world.

The City of Detroit, the state of Michigan and nations worldwide are on the cusp of making decisions that will lock generations to come into trillions of dollars of water and sanitation infrastructure investments requiring staggering increases in water rates to households, small businesses and communities.

Detroit is the tipping point, and the lesson we must learn. Water is the great equaliser. Everyone must have access to survive.

Water availability, quality and affordability are increasingly global issues, in developing and developed countries and particularly within major urban areas like Detroit. More than half the world’s population now lives in a city.

The United States is similar to other countries in terms of urban water and sanitation service challenges, but unique for a few important reasons. First, the U.S. can bring economic resources to bear to solve these issues that are beyond the capacities of most developing countries.

Of equal importance, U.S. technical expertise and policy framework are well developed.

That said, the United States is also unique in problematic aspects. There are unintended consequences of a water shutoff in the U.S. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties, and homes are being foreclosed upon as a result of unpaid water and sewerage bills.

In Detroit and other cities, tenants who have no control over upkeep of properties they are renting are burdened with escalating water bills due to unrepaired leaks. Residences can be condemned for unsanitary conditions.

Most disturbing, water shutoff is a de facto sign of neglect: by law, children may be removed from the custodial care of their parents and placed in state care.

In the U.S., due to the legacy of racial discrimination of the past and the legacy of poverty resulting from racial discrimination, the demographics of consumers negatively impacted by increasing water rates and shutoff programs are single female head of households, children, the disabled, the elderly and people of color.

In terms of urban water issues specifically, the United States shares with other countries significant gaps in understanding the contours of the problem– and in our policy framework to address it.

In the U.S., we do not know the extent of the problem or who is impacted. Neither health officials, utilities, local, state or federal governments are required to collect data. Nor do we have in place sufficient programmes to address the problem of lack of access by the poorest and most vulnerable.

There are few, if any, existing official data sources on the impact of water shutoffs. No utility in the U.S. — including Detroit — is required to assess a household before shutting off water service, to report on shutoffs with demographic data, or to assess the public health implications of shutoffs for children, elderly, disabled or chronically ill — precisely those for whom a water shutoff poses an extraordinary burden.

Fortunately, some states have adopted protections for certain populations against water shutoffs. In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island prohibit water shutoffs to households with infants less than 12 months of age up to children under two years of age.

Some states and utilities have provisions for persons with chronic illness to delay a water shutoff with a medical certification.

These practices, along with their rate implications, should be researched as best practices and expanded.

Many Western democracies ban water shutoffs completely, including France, Great Britain, Russia, Ireland, Scotland and, most recently, Ecuador. Courts in Belgium and the Netherlands have found that water shutoffs violate human rights.

The U.S. and other countries can study how service providers in these countries use other collection procedures and affordability protections to ensure their own financial sustainability while still ensuring water access for lowest income consumers.

Where oversight is weak or non-existent at state or city levels, or where political conditions no longer afford the checks and balances of a two-party system, national governments must have a role, give guidance, and monitor water availability, quality and affordability, to ensure basic constitutional protections.

Constitutional protections must include due process, representation and continuing service for both disputed bills and low income consumers, while making arrangements for an affordable payment plan.

21st century challenges will add the overlay of increasingly more difficult environmental issues. What will define us is how we as a nation and as a world community respond to drought, flooding, water shortages, water contamination — and ensuring access to water as a human right.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Asia: So Close and Yet So Far From Polio Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 06:41:05 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137358 A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By IPS Correspondents
KATHMANDU/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The goal is an ambitious one – to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that “every last child” is immunised against the crippling disease.

Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.

United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of polio cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide." -- Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan
According to GPEI, immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.

But further north, dark clouds in the shapes of Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

Celebrating success from Nepal to the Philippines

For countries like Nepal, home to 27 million people, the prevalence of polio in other nations in the Asian region threatens its hard-won gains in stamping out the disease.

“There’s always fear that polio may see a resurgence as the disease hasn’t been eradicated everywhere,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division (CDH).

Anxious to hold on to the coveted polio-free status, Nepal recently introduced the inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunisation programme, the first country in South Asia to do so.

“While the oral polio vaccine has been the primary tool in polio eradication efforts, new evidence shows that adding one dose of IPV – given to children of 14 weeks by intramuscular injection – to the OPV [schedule], will maximise immunity to poliovirus,” Upreti explained.

He credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population.

Between 1984 and 2011, Nepal’s immunisation coverage more than doubled from 44 to 90 percent. Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

“We understood that [we] needed a multi-sector approach, so service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easier,” KC told IPS. “Immunisation went beyond health, it became a part of [our] development plans.”

Such a mindset is also apparent in the Philippines, where the government recently decided to include the IPV into its national health plan, making it the largest developing country to do so.

According to a press release by Sanofi Pasteur, the multinational pharmaceutical company working closely with the Philippine government on its eradication initiatives, many Filipinos feel deeply about polio, having had a prime minister who was a survivor of the disease and lived with lifelong disabilities as a result.

“What’s striking about the Philippines is how strong a partnership there is around vaccinations,” said Mike Watson, vice president of vaccinations and advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, referring to the unprecedented support shown by government officials and civil society at an event in Manila earlier this month that ended with several children receiving the IPV, the first of some two million children who will now be vaccinated every year.

“Getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that,” Watson told IPS.

He added that strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

Over 5,700 km away from the Philippines, however, lives the lingering threat of polio, with thousands of children still at risk, and hundreds suffering from the debilitating results of the disease.

Pakistan’s polio troubles

This past June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a travel ban on all those leaving Pakistan without proof of immunisation, in a bid to prevent the spread of polio outside the country’s troubled borders.

But absent swift political action, travel bans alone will not staunch the epidemic.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban on the OPV has effectively prevented over 800,000 children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.

In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide,” Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan, told IPS.

The situation is most severe in the northern tribal areas, where the Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that OPV is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population.

“The militancy-racked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) accounts for 138 cases, while the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has 43 cases,” Pervez Kamal, director of health in FATA, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency has registered 69 cases, while the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan Agency are struggling with 49 and 17 cases respectively.

In a tragic development, an 18-month-old baby girl named Shakira Bibi has become the latest in a long line of polio victims. Her father, Shoiab Shah, told IPS that “Taliban militants” were responsible for depriving his daughter of the OPV.

In an unexpected twist, a military offensive aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold over northern Pakistan has given health officials rare access to hundreds of thousands of residents in the tribal areas.

With close to a million people from North Waziristan Agency fleeing airstrikes and taking refuge in the neighbouring KP province, community health workers have been delivering the vaccine to residents of displacement camps in cities like Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Still, this is only a tiny step towards overcoming the crisis.

Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to [defy] the Taliban’s ban.”

The government has now elicited support from religious leaders to convince parents to submit to the OPV programme.

“Islamic scholars from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt [and] Afghanistan have issued a fatwa [edict], reminding parents that it is their Islamic duty to protect their children against disease,” Maulana Israr ul Haq, one of the signatories, told IPS.

According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts.

 

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Global South Brings United Front to Green Climate Fundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/global-south-brings-united-front-to-green-climate-fund/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 00:29:03 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137357 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations’ key mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries is now ready to receive funds, following a series of agreements between rich and poor economies.

The agreements covered administrative but potentially far-reaching policies that will govern the mechanism, known as the Green Climate Fund (GCF). This forward momentum comes just weeks ahead of a major “pledging session” in Berlin that is meant to finally get the GCF off the ground.“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles.” -- Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth

“The fund now has the capacity to absorb and programme resources that will be made available to it to achieve a significant climate response on the ground,” Hela Cheikhrouhou, the GCF’s executive director, said Saturday following a series of board meetings in Barbados.

The GCF constitutes the international community’s central attempt to help developing countries prepare for and mitigate climate change. The undertaking thus includes an implicit acknowledgment by rich countries that the developing world, although the least responsible for climate change, will be the most significantly impacted.

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilise 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilisation, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.

The GCF opened a secretariat last year, in South Korea, but pledges have since come in slowly. Currently, the aim is to get together 15 billion dollars as starter capital, much of which will have to be achieved at the November pledging session.

The fund’s capitalisation did get a fillip last month, when France and Germany pledged a billion dollars each and lesser amounts were promised by Norway, South Korea and Mexico. On Wednesday, Sweden pledged another half-billion dollars, aimed at setting “an example to … other donors.”

Still, that brings the total funding for the GCF to less than three billion dollars, under a fifth of the goal for this year alone.

“The good news is that this meeting finished laying a strong foundation for the fund,” Alex Doukas, a sustainable finance associate with the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, told IPS. “It’s now nearly ready to go – but it can’t get far without ambitious pledges in November.”

Significant attention is now shifting to the United States and European Union, which have yet to announce pledges. Anti-poverty campaigners have estimated that fair pledges would be around 4.8 billion dollars for the United States and six billion dollars for the European Union.

Country ownership

The GCF now has the institutional capacity to receive the funding around which its operations will revolve, but important decisions remain regarding how the fund will disburse that money.

“There’s now more clarity on how the fund will invest, but little guidance on exactly what it will invest in,” Doukas, who attended last week’s board meeting in Barbados, says. “The board has serious homework between now and its next meeting in February to ensure that it has rules in place to prioritise high-impact climate solutions that also deliver development benefits.”

Still, some important initial headway was made in Barbados around how these projects will be defined. Indeed, development advocates express cautious optimism the new agreements will put greater control over these decisions in the hands of national governments.

For instance, projects green-lighted by the GCF will now be required to have a “no objection” confirmation from the government of the country in which the project will be based.

“If you do not have the no-objection [requirement], the funding intermediaries will be able to impose their own conditionalities, even their own programmes, on a country,” Bernarditas Muller, the GCF representative from the Philippines, said during negotiations, according to a civil society summary.

Observers say this agreement came about because developing countries banded together and pushed against demands from rich governments. (The GCF board includes 24 members, half from poor and half from rich countries.)

“One thing that was different in this meeting was the willingness of developing countries to take a stand for certain principles,” Karen Orenstein, an international policy advisor with Friends of the Earth who attended the Barbados discussions, told IPS.

“The no-objection procedure in particular is something we’ve been fighting for, for a long time. If an active no-objection is not provided within 30 days, a project is suspended – that is quite important.”

Still, Orenstein, too, worries that significant decisions have against been pushed off to future meetings of the GCF board.

“The fund still leans too heavily towards multilateral development banks and the private sector,” she says.

“It’s not that the GCF shouldn’t be appealing to the private sector, but we want to sure that the priorities are being driven by developing countries. Even though we have these new agreements, there’s still not nearly enough emphasis on having priorities be set at the country level and below.”

New development discourse

At the same time, under this weekend’s agreements developing countries will now be able to access funding directly from the GCF, rather than having to go through an intermediary. In addition, monies pledges to the fund will not be able to be “earmarked” for particular uses by the donor government.

“Traditionally, a lot of funds for climate change have been delivered through multilateral organisations. They haven’t necessarily done a bad job, but in many cases there’s a trade-off between a country’s priorities versus that of the organisation’s,” Annaka Carvalho, a senior programme officer with Oxfam America, a humanitarian and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Making sure that countries are in the driver’s seat in directing where these resources are going is really important. Ultimately, only national governments are accountable to their citizens for delivering on adaptation and investing in low-emissions development.”

Carvalho, who was also at the Barbados negotiations, says that the opportunity once the GCF gets off the ground isn’t only about reacting to climate change. She says the fund can also help to bring about a new development paradigm.

“We’ve been hoping the fund will act as a catalyst for shifting the development discourse away from the forces that have caused climate change and instead towards clean energy and resilient livelihoods,” she says.

“A core part of the fund is supposed to realise sustainable development, but there’s always this line between climate and development. In fact, disconnecting these two issues is impossible.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Climate Negotiators “Sleepwalking” in Bonnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/climate-negotiators-sleepwalking-in-bonn/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 21:44:14 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137327 Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Climate change effects, such as extreme weather events, will only increase without aggressive mitigation actions. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

The 410,000 people who took to the streets for climate action in New York City during the U.N. Climate Summit would have been outraged by the 90-minute delay and same-old political posturing at the first day of a crucial round of climate treaty negotiations in Bonn at the World Congress Center.

Countries blatantly ignored organisers’pleas to keep their opening statements short in order to get to work during the last week of talks before COP 20 in Lima, Peru Dec. 1-12. “Only a global social movement will force nations to act.” -- Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

COP 20 is where a draft climate treaty intended to prevent catastrophic overheating of the planet will take form. One year later, the leaders of nearly 200 countries are to sign a new climate treaty in Paris. If the treaty is not strong enough to ensure that countries rapidly abandon fossil fuels, then hundreds of millions will suffer and nations will collapse.

The current draft treaty is nowhere near strong enough, and country negotiators are “sleepwalking”in Bonn while “the climate science only gets more dire,”Hilary Chiew from Third World Network, a civil society organisation, told negotiators here.

Delegates are used to one or two official “interventions”by the public which are strictly time-limited and often no more than 90 seconds. Despite the passion and eloquence of many of these, few officials are moved and most can do little but follow instructions given them weeks ago by their governments.

“Sticking to positions is not negotiating,”meeting co-chair Kishan Kumarsingh of Trinidad and Tobago reminded negotiators.

There are very few members of the public and civil society in Bonn to witness how many countries’stuck to their short-term, self-interested positions than in facing humanity’s greatest ever challenge. After 20 years, these negotiations have become ‘business as usual’ themselves and seem set to continue another 20 years.

“Only a global social movement will force nations to act,”said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber,  director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Schellnhuber, a leading climate expert and former science advisor to the German government, is not in Bonn but participated in September’s U.N. Climate Summit in New York along with leaders from 120 nations. The Summit was all rhetoric and no commitments to action, yet again, he told IPS.

Without the People’s Climate March, the U.N. Summit was a failure, while the march – with 410,000 people on the streets of Manhattan – was “awesome”and “inspiring”, he said.

The two-degree C target is the only thing all nations have agreed on. Although a two-degree C rise in global temperatures is “unprecedented in human history”, it is far better than three C or worse, he said.

Achieving the two C target is still possible, according to a report by leading climate and energy experts. The Tackling the Challenge of Climate Change report outlines various steps, including increased energy efficiency in all sectors — building retrofits, for example, can achieve 70-90 percent reductions.

An effective price on carbon is also needed, one that reflects the enormous health and environmental costs of burning fossil fuels. Massive increases in wind and solar PV and closing down all ineffecient coal plants is also crucial.

Most important of all, governments need to make climate a priority. Germany and Denmark are well along this path to creating low-carbon economies and benefiting from less pollution and creation of a new economic sector, the report notes.

Making climate a top priority for all governments will take a global social movement involving tens of millions of people. Once the business sector realises the transition to a low-carbon world is underway, they will push governments to create policies needed for a low-carbon societies.

“Solutions to climate change are the biggest business opportunity in history,” Schellnhuber said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Islanders Take on Australian Coalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-islanders-take-on-australian-coal/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 07:27:09 +0000 Suganthi Singarayar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137289 Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Of 10 million Pacific Islanders, nearly 50 percent live within 1.5 km of the coastline. These communities are at grave risk of numerous climate-related catastrophes from floods and tropical storms to destruction of agricultural lands. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Suganthi Singarayar
SYDNEY, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

The recent blockade of ships entering the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, has brought much-needed attention to the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry on global climate patterns. But it will take more than a single action to bring the change required to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

This past Friday, 30 ‘climate warriors’ from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled traditional canoes into the sea, joined by scores of supporters in kayaks and on surfboards, to prevent the passage of eight of some 12 ships scheduled to move through the Newcastle port that day.

The blockade lasted nine hours, with photos and videos of the bold action going viral online.

The warriors hailed from a range of small island states including Fiji, Papua New Guinea (PNG), the Solomon Islands and Samoa – countries where the results of a hotter climate are painfully evident on a daily basis.

“We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.” -- Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau
Coastline erosion, sea level rise, floods, storms, relocation of coastal communities, contamination of freshwater sources and destruction of crops and agricultural lands are only the tip of the iceberg of the hardships facing some 10 million Pacific Islanders, over 50 percent of whom reside within 1.5 km of the coastline.

For these populations, the fossil fuel industry poses one of the gravest threats to their very existence.

Coal production alone is responsible for 44 percent of global CO2 emissions worldwide, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions. However, none of the small island nations are responsible for this dirty industry. That responsibility lies with Australia, the fifth-largest coal producing country in the world after China, the United States, India and Indonesia.

The World Coal Association estimates that Australia produced 459 million tonnes of coal in 2013, of which it exported some 383 million tonnes that same year.

So when the warriors chose Australia as the site of the protest, it was to urge the Australian people to support Pacific Islanders in their stance against the fossil fuel industry.

Arianne Kassman, a climate warrior from PNG, told IPS, “The expansion of the fossil fuel industry means the destruction of the whole of the Pacific.”

“The impact of climate change is something that we see every day back home. While people read about it and hear about it and watch videos we see how much the sea level has risen,” Kassman added.

Logoitala Monise from Tuvalu, a low-lying Polynesian island state halfway between Australia and Hawaii, told IPS that her home is plagued by such climate-related impacts as King tides, coastal erosion and drought, the latter being an alien concept to most Tuvaluans.

In 2011, a state of emergency was called because the islands had not received rain for six months. Monise said rainwater was their only source of relief: it was used to drink, wash and raise animals.

The increasing frequency of drought has caused the loss of livestock and plants, and major disease outbreaks in Tuvalu.

All these things, she pointed out, were the direct result of climate change.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, changing weather patterns are wreaking havoc on an ancient way of life, splitting families apart as many are forced to migrate overseas. In fact, the world’s first “climate change refugee” claimant was a national of Kiribati, who claimed his home was “sinking”, but was denied asylum in New Zealand.

Monise said her main reason for coming to Australia was to speak out against climate change so that “we Pacific Islanders can live peacefully in our homelands rather than be called climate change refugees.”

But Pacific Islanders are up against a massive industry that will not be easily dismantled.

Coal ‘essential’ for Australian economy

The warriors witnessed this first-hand when they travelled to Maules Creek, near Boggabri in the Gunnedah basin in New South Wales (NSW), where Whitehaven Coal has a 767-million-dollar open cut coal project. There have been ongoing protests against the mine due to concerns ranging from biodiversity issues to concerns that the mine will cause a decrease in water table levels.

The Maules Creek community states that the Leard Forest in which the Maules Creek mine is located is an 8,000-hectare ‘biodiversity hotspot’ and has been identified as Tier 1, meaning that it cannot sustain any further loss and is also critical for the continuation of biodiversity in that area.

But these concerns may fall on deaf ears.

Coal is Australia’s second largest export earner after iron ore and according to Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, it is essential for Australia’s prosperity.

Speaking on Monday at the opening of the Caval Ridge mine in central Queensland, a joint venture between BHP and Mitsubishi, Abbott said the mine, which will produce five-and-a-half million tonnes of coking coal a year, will add 30 million dollars to the Moranbah local economy and tens of millions of dollars to the wider regional, state and national economy.

He said the mine’s opening was a sign of hope and confidence in the coal industry.

He said, “It’s a great industry and we’ve had a great partnership with Japan in the coal industry. Coal is essential for the prosperity of Australia. Coal is essential for the prosperity of the world. Energy is what sustains prosperity and coal is the world’s principle energy source and it will be for decades to come.”

Another project that was approved in July is the Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin. According to Greenpeace Australia it will have six open cut mines and five underground mines and would involve the clearing of 20,000 hectares of native bushland.

In an opinion piece on ABC Online, Ben Pearson, Greenpeace campaigns director, wrote that the burning of coal from the mine will emit 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year for the 90-year life of the mine, which will directly cancel the 131 million tonnes of carbon dioxide that is predicted to be reduced through the government’s Direct Action plan.

According to Julie Macken from Greenpeace Australia, “What will ultimately have an effect is when there’s a chorus of voices from the low-lying Pacific nations, when there is a chorus of voices from the global financial community stating that coal is in structural decline and when the international community [and] the parties at the Paris Conference on Climate Change commit to take strong action against climate change.

“When these three things come together against the prospect of catastrophic climate change, then politicians will see that they need to do something,” Macken told IPS.

This, she said needs to happen in the next decade, otherwise the future for young people like her 20-year-old daughter is “cooked”.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that current levels of carbon in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in three million years, and are projected to keep growing unless drastic changes are made to production and consumption patterns worldwide.

Education will be a crucial part of efforts to bring about massive international action on climate change, and the Pacific climate warriors are doing their part in their home countries.

Kassman said that 90 percent of the people who live in PNG’s rural areas do not have access to education and while they are aware that the sea level is rising, that there’s erosion along the shoreline and that food crops are changing, they don’t yet understand why.

She said 350 PNG, associated with 350.org, the U.S.-based organisation that supported the recent blockade, believes that the best way to raise awareness in a country with over 800 language groups is to train young people and send them out to the communities.

While PNG has one of the world’s lowest carbon footprints, the opening of the Exxon Mobile PNG LNG gas plant has raised the level of that footprint.

But local efforts will not be adequate without major pressure on the big polluters.

“We are taught by our parents to do the right thing,” Mikaele Maiava, a climate warrior from the South Pacific island nation of Tokelau, said at a press conference on Oct. 11. “We are divided by the oceans, by the air, but we are standing on the same land and the same mother earth.”

He said that his fellow warriors did not just represent today’s generation but the generation of the “blood that’s to come” and urged the global community to “stand together with us now and forever” in the fight against catastrophic climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Protecting Biodiversity in Costa Rica’s Thermal Convection Dome in the Pacifichttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/protecting-biodiversity-in-costa-ricas-thermal-convection-dome-in-the-pacific/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 18:14:11 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137280 The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

The concentration of clorophyll in the tropical Eastern Pacific, off Costa Rica’s northwest coast, reflects a high level of productivity and a healthy food chain. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

The vast habitat known as the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome in the eastern Pacific Ocean will finally become a protected zone, over 50 years after it was first identified as one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

At the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12), held Oct. 6–17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Dome was declared an Ecologically and Biologically Significant Area (EBSA), at Costa Rica’s request.

The measure will boost conservation of and research on the area, which is a key migration and feeding zone for species like the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), the leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).

“Making the ocean healthy guarantees an improvement in the living standards of the people who depend in one way or another on the country’s marine resources,” the deputy minister of water, oceans, coasts and wetlands, Fernando Mora, told Tierramérica shortly after the Dome was declared an EBSA at COP12.

“It is one of the richest areas on the planet with a food chain that starts with krill (Euphausiacea), which attracts other species, including blue whales and dolphins,” Jorge Jiménez, the director general of the MarViva Foundation, told Tierramérica.

“In that area is one of the greatest concentrations of dolphins in the American Pacific, that come from the west coast of California, to feed and breed,” he said.

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is a key migratory route for blue and humpback whales. The whale watching industry is flourishing in Costa Rica’s Pacific waters. Credit: MarViva Foundation

The Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome is an area 300 to 500 km wide where ocean and wind currents bring the mineral- and nutrient-rich cold deeper water to the surface, creating the perfect ecosystem for a vast variety of marine life.

The nutrients give rise to a highly developed food chain, ranging from phytoplankton and zooplankton – the productive base of the marine food web – to mammals like dolphins and blue whales, which migrate from the waters off the coast of California.

Because the dome is a mobile phenomenon caused by wind and sea currents, for half of the year it is just off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast (in the area of Papagayo, in the northwest of the country) and during the other half of the year it is blown further out to sea. The centre of the dome is 300 km from the coast of this Central American nation.

“It is one of the six biodiversity-rich domes of this kind in the world,” Omar Lizano, a physicist and oceanographer, told Tierramérica. “The Costa Rican dome is the only one that is produced by the force of the wind that comes from the Caribbean and picks up speed over the Pacific, and makes the deeper water rise to the surface, which brings up a lot of rich nutrients.”

In an initiative backed by MarViva and other organisations, the Costa Rican government decided that the “upwelling system of Papagayo and adjacent areas” will be an EBSA in the tropical eastern Pacific.

Some civil society organisations have proposed regional initiatives involving the area, which they sometimes refer to as the Central American dome. But deputy minister Mora said the dome is a Costa Rican phenomenon.

He pointed out that the scientific term for the area is the Costa Rican Thermal Convection Dome, the name it was given by U.S. physical oceanographer Klaus Wyrtki. In 1948 he began to study marine mammal sightings made from boats navigating from California to Panama.

For the local authorities, conservation of the dome and the Papagayo upwelling system is among the priorities in the waters of the Pacific, because protecting the ecosystem brings economic benefits. Approval of the declaration of the dome as an EBSA by the 194 CBD signatory countries now makes protection of the area obligatory, said the deputy minister.

In the case of exploitable species like tuna, the ministry of the environment and energy (MINAE) has drawn up a zoning decree that would make it possible to regulate tuna fishing in the dome. The tourism industry, a pillar of the Costa Rican economy, would also benefit from protection of the dome, because it is a migration route for blue and humpback whales, which draws whale watchers.

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

Leatherback sea turtles in their sanctuary in Playa Grande, Costa Rica. In the last few years the population has declined, with fewer than 100 coming ashore in nesting season. Credit: Kip Evans/MarViva Foundation

In September, the sixth annual Festival of Whales and Dolphins, dedicated to whale watching in southeast Costa Rica, brought in 40,000 dollars the first day alone, according to deputy minister Mora, whose office forms part of the MINAE.

Government officials, scientists and members of civil society hope this will make it possible to generate more information on one of the planet’s most biodiversity-rich marine areas.

“From our scientific point of view, the first thing that should be done is to carry out research, and it is the last thing that is being done,” said Lizano, an oceanographer with the Marine Science and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) of the University of Costa Rica.

The area has been explored on several occasions. The last time was in January 2014, with the participation of MarViva and Mission Blue, an international organisation focused on the protection of the seas, which is one of the activist groups that pushed for special protection of the dome.

They studied the role played by the protection of the leatherback sea turtle out at sea.

Although the dome is in Costa Rican territorial waters, the fact that it is mobile means it has an influence on the exclusive economic zones of other Central American countries, like Nicaragua and El Salvador, as well as on international waters.

MarViva estimates that 70 percent of the dome is outside of the jurisdiction of any country, and the organisation’s director general, Jiménez, argues that what is needed is a joint effort and shared responsibility. Mission Blue and other organisations concur.

“It is a regional matter, and all Central American countries should work together, because part of the dome is on the high seas, outside of their jurisdictions. This is like the Wild West. It’s disturbing because there are no controls or protection out there,” Kip Evans, Mission Blue’s director of expeditions and photography, told Tierramérica.

But the government stressed that the nucleus of the dome is under its jurisdiction. “Historically it has been called the Costa Rican Dome and the nucleus is in Costa Rican waters. What we know as the Thermal Convection Dome is off the coast of the north of the country, not Central America,” Mora told Tierramérica.

But the deputy minister and his team do agree with MarViva and other non-governmental organisations on the need for regional cooperation. Costa Rica forms part of the Organisation of Fisheries and Aquaculture for the Isthmus of Central America (OSPESCA), where it works together with bodies like the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:32 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137258 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.

AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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