Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Wed, 25 May 2016 20:28:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 OPINION: Central America, Still Caught Up in the Arms Racehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/central-america-still-caught-up-in-the-arms-race/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 14:29:10 +0000 Lina Barrantes Castegnaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145301

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

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

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

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

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

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

Lina Barrantes Castegnaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figures from an invisible crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mexico between a rock and a hard place

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deadly Algal Bloom Triggers Social Uprising in Southern Chilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deadly-algal-bloom-triggers-social-uprising-in-southern-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-algal-bloom-triggers-social-uprising-in-southern-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/deadly-algal-bloom-triggers-social-uprising-in-southern-chile/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 23:08:05 +0000 Orlando Milesi and Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145082 Fisherpersons in Chiloé have cut off the 5 Sur highway on its way to the Chacao channel, which separates Isla Grande from mainland Chile. Protesting decades of neglect of this part of southern Chile, thousands of residents of the archipelago have joined the demonstrations by fishing communities affected by the ban on seafood harvesting due to the red tide. Credit: Pilar Pezoa/IPS

Fisherpersons in Chiloé have cut off the 5 Sur highway on its way to the Chacao channel, which separates Isla Grande from mainland Chile. Protesting decades of neglect of this part of southern Chile, thousands of residents of the archipelago have joined the demonstrations by fishing communities affected by the ban on seafood harvesting due to the red tide. Credit: Pilar Pezoa/IPS

By Orlando Milesi and Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, May 11 2016 (IPS)

A ban on harvesting shellfish in Chiloé due to a severe red tide outbreak sparked a social uprising that has partially isolated thousands of local residents of the southern Chilean archipelago and revived criticism of an export model that condemns small-scale fishing communities to poverty and marginalisation.

“I was born and raised on this island,” said Carlos Villarroel, the president of the Mar Adentro union of artisanal fishers in the municipality of Ancud, 1,100 km south of Santiago. “I am the son and grandson of artisanal fishermen. My father, who is now 70, taught me and my brother to work out at sea. None of us ever suffered before when there was a red tide,” he told IPS by phone.

But Villarroel and another 5,000 fishers in the southern Chilean region of Los Lagos are affected today by the red tide, a phenomenon caused when microscopic algae reproduce and cluster in one area of the ocean.

This “algal bloom”, which contains toxins lethal to marine life and also affects human health, can change the colour of the water – hence the name.

The latest red tide, the cause of which is not yet totally clear, and the solution for which is still being studied, began in February and reached its current intensity in April. This prompted health authorities to ban the harvest of shellfish within 1,000 kilometres of the country’s southern Pacific coast.

Small-scale fishers responded by launching protests on May 3, which have included roadblocks that have cut Chiloé off from food and fuel supplies and left local residents without transportation, classes or pension payments, while hospitals are facing serious difficulties and hundreds of tourists are stranded.

Thousands of the archipelago’s local residents have taken part in the demonstrations, complaining about decades of neglect by the government – the same complaint that sparked a similar social outbreak in 2012 in another southern region, Aysén.

On Monday, May 9, protests also broke out in Santiago and other cities around the country in solidarity with the demands voiced by the people of Chiloé.

The archipelago has a total territory of 9,181 sq km and is home to some 167,600 people in this country of 17.6 million, which has 6,435 km of shoreline.

Chiloé Island or Isla Grande, the main island, is the archipelago’s political, social and economic centre, where the two main cities are located: Ancud and the provincial capital Castro, world-famous for its palafitos, picturesque wooden houses on stilts. Chiloé is also known for its local myths, legends and beliefs.

Aquaculture and fishing are the economic mainstays of the islands, followed by the production of potatoes and grains, and crafts using fibers, wool and wood. An estimated 80 percent of the population depends on fishing.

“Chiloé is significant not in economic, political or social terms, but with regard to how the country sees itself,” social anthropologist Juan Carlos Skewes told IPS. “Chiloé is a powerful part of this country’s mystique, image and identity.”

He added that the conflict brought to light the neglect suffered by this part of Chile and the shortcomings of the current model of development, where large-scale seafood exporters largely monopolise profits in the industry.

“What the ‘Chilotes’ (Chiloé islanders) have seen in recent years is that salmon farming has flourished, but not much has changed in their lives.”

Skewes said that in this conflict, “local communities have more clearly seen the neglect and vulnerability they suffer, and how economically powerful groups operate without curbs.

“Apparently the convergence of these factors, added to the loss of a fundamental component, seafood harvesting, triggered this social outbreak,” he said.

The union headed by Villarroel represents 35 fishers who mainly catch the Chilean blue mussel (Mytilus chilensis), Chilean abalone (Concholepas concholepas), the hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) and the surf clam (Mesodesma donacium).

All of these have been contaminated by the red tide.

In previous outbreaks, “the seaweed hadn’t been contaminated, but now it has been. We’ve never seen that before,” Villarroel said.

He believes the salmon companies “have destroyed the marine system and seabed.”

The protests, which have included the burning of tires and clashes with the police, worry the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, which offered 1,100 dollars indemnification each for 5,500 artisanal fishers, to be paid in four installments, subject to the evolution of the red tide.

The compensation, which also included a basket of basic foodstuffs worth 37 dollars, was rejected by union leaders, who argued that the amount was too small and that it wasn’t being paid to all of the affected fishers.

In a new 28-point list of demands, they demanded the payment of 2,650 dollars in six installments, cancellation of their debts, and the declaration of a large part of Chiloé as a “disaster zone”.

They also called for greater regional control of local natural resources, lower fuel prices, a special regional minimum wage, guaranteed public health coverage, and a regional university.

Most scientists blame the red tide on climate change, which drove up water temperatures and caused an increase in algae and toxins.

But fishers and a number of experts blame the salmon industry, because it dumped nearly 5,000 tons of dead fish in the Pacific after they were killed by an earlier algal bloom.

However, SalmónChile, the salmon farming industry association, said the dumping of the fish “has no relation to” the current red tide, because “what is happening today has occurred normally for a long time in this area,” although with less intensity.

A study commissioned by the government to determine what caused the red tide could help clarify other unusual phenomena that have happened in recent months, such as the beaching of 337 sei whales in the gulf of Penas in the south of Chile in late 2015, or the mass die-off of 10,000 giant squid along the coast of the southern region of Bío Bío in January.

In addition, in the first week of May, some 20 tons of sardines washed up along the shore in the southern coastal region of Araucania – a repeat of a similar phenomenon involving more than 1,000 tons of sardines in mid-April.

Enrique Calfucura, an expert in the economics of natural resources at Diego Portales University in Santiago, told IPS that the red tide “could be explained by the fact that this year’s El Niño (a cyclical climate phenomenon that affects weather patterns around the world) was more intense than in 2015, heating up the temperatures in the Pacific and inland waters.”

He said water temperatures in Chiloé Island’s Reloncavi Sound rose between two and four degrees this year, leading to blooms of harmful algae.

With respect to the impacts of the salmon industry, Calfucura said “it is suspected that the phosphorus, nitrogen and other elements that fish farms discharge into the sea reduce oxygen and foment the growth of harmful algae.”

He said, however, that “other human factors that could influence red tide outbreaks still need to be scientifically studied.”

The expert said attempts to combat the red tide phenomenon around the world have been ineffective and will eventually have negative impacts on ecosystems.

In the midst of efforts by the government and scientific researchers to control the problem, Chiloé island residents remain adamant in their demand for assistance in keeping with the magnitude of the catastrophe, while at the same time insisting on measures to address what they describe as the long-time neglect of their region.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why Peacebuilding is Part of the Sustainable Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-peacebuilding-is-part-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-peacebuilding-is-part-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/why-peacebuilding-is-part-of-the-sustainable-development-agenda/#comments Wed, 11 May 2016 21:26:45 +0000 Patrick Keuleers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=145076 Sustainable development and peace are linked, including through education. Credit: John Robinson/IPS

Sustainable development and peace are linked, including through education. Credit: John Robinson/IPS

By Patrick Keuleers
UNITED NATIONS, May 11 2016 (IPS)

We tend not to worry when things are going well.

If people can take care of their daily business and send their kids to school without fear of violence, resolve disputes through a functioning justice system when the need arises, express their views both in private discussions and in public processes, feel they can truly contribute to decisions that affect their lives, and know effective institutions are in place to deliver basic services to their families and communities without interruption or the need for bribes, chances are they will be broadly content with the way their society is managed.

But, if any one of these public goods is absent, or if their access to safety, health, education or livelihoods are threatened, concerns are likely to be expressed quickly – and often very loudly.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the importance of these public goods as being at the heart of sustainable development. There is a strong focus on peaceful, just and inclusive societies in the 2030 Agenda – and explicit recognition that there can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace. Where safety is routinely and casually under threat, it will be impossible to generate lasting improvements in most aspects of people’s lives.

But what does this mean in practice? How do people know that their government is committed to progress on these issues – to consolidating existing strengths, and to generating further gains over time?

That is a valid question. Unlike other elements of the 2030 Agenda – access to health, education, and sanitation, for example, which were part of the previous Millennium Development Goals – commitments to peace, justice and inclusion have not been measured systematically before as part of a global agenda agreed by UN member states.

"There can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace."

In an attempt to provide an answer to that question, a small group of member states started in the latter part of 2014 to test how best to define and measure these concepts in practice. Even before the final adoption of the 2030 Agenda – including Goal 16 on peace, justice and institutions – these countries had been identifying their priorities and experimenting with goals, targets and indicators to demonstrate progress.

The results of this “pilot” work – in Albania, Indonesia, Rwanda, Tunisia and the UK – are presented in a Final Report launched on 21 April. The Report contains interesting lessons about what it means to work with these fundamental but often elusive concepts, lessons which will be of interest to a much wider group of countries now that the 2030 Agenda is a reality, and implementation a priority for all Member States.

The pilot experiences emphasise the importance of many elements that will be central to all approaches: effective planning, sound institutional structures at the heart of government, and partnerships down to the most local level involving community based organisations and civil society, alongside government.

But one message that comes across very clearly from the pilot exercises is that there is no magic formula for demonstrating progress. Context matters and different countries will need to assess their particular needs and capacities for monitoring and implementation, using available tools and developing approaches to measurement that are considered appropriate for the majority of the stakeholders affected.

The 2030 Agenda contains the shared commitment from all UN Member States to keeping people safe, to ensuring the fair administration of justice in accordance with the rule of law, and to building genuinely inclusive institutions which provide people a voice in the decision-making processes that affect them.

Global indicators will provide a snapshot each year of how successful we are as a global community. But alongside this global framework, there is ample space for different approaches at the national and local level, allowing countries to demonstrate how they are making society more peaceful, just and inclusive for all people – especially those most at risk of violence, injustice and exclusion.

The pilot countries gave us a head start, showing that with the right level of dedication, building peaceful, just and inclusive societies is both feasible and measurable.

Patrick Keuleers is Director of Governance and Peacebuilding, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The accident was not an isolated incident.

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


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

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

International commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The process will take at least two years.

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Until they move, the system is stuck.”

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The Family Garden Going Out of Style in Cuban Countrysidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/the-family-garden-going-out-of-style-in-cuban-countryside/#comments Tue, 03 May 2016 06:47:34 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144934 José Leiva, 61, walks past rows of bean plants on his small farm, where he grows crops for family consumption and for sale, near the town of Horno de Guisa in the eastern Cuban province of Granma. Credi: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

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

By Ivet González
HAVANA, May 3 2016 (IPS)

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

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

But this tradition is fading in the Cuban countryside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Grilled for a Retweet: Press Freedom in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/#comments Mon, 02 May 2016 12:28:51 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144925 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/grilled-for-a-retweet-press-freedom-in-kenya/feed/ 0 Black Colombian Activists Continue Our Struggle For Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/black-colombian-activists-continue-our-struggle-for-rights/#comments Sun, 01 May 2016 23:28:03 +0000 Charo Mina Rojas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144920 Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia.  Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

Black Women are leading the resistance in Northern Cauca, Colombia. Credit: ACONC (Association of Community Councils of Northenr Cauca).

By Charo Rojas
Cauca, COLOMBIA, May 1 2016 (IPS)

While Colombia’s peace talks continue in Havana, Cuba, back home in the region of North Cauca, Black Colombians have found their cries for access to their ancestral lands met with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

We saw them approach, the ESMAD, the dreaded special police unit called out to squelch popular mobilizations against the government. We pressed even closer together to maintain our lines on one of the main highways that connects Colombia’s north and south. Over a thousand of us, black Colombians from one of the poorest regions of the country, gathered to demonstrate to the government that we would not be silenced while our territories are taken away. Suddenly, without warning, the ESMAD began their assault and soon elders, children, women and our young people were choking from the tear-gas and holding parts of their bodies stinging from rubber bullets indiscriminately fired at us.

The ESMAD’s assault took place on April 25 in the region of North Cauca, Colombia. The next day, the ESMAD sabotaged conversations between the community councils and the authorities, their renewed attacks this time also effecting some of the government officials. A three month-old baby and several children were hurt by a tear-gas grenade that exploded inside their house. We black Colombians are more or less held hostage by the ESMAD, while the national government had promised a meeting at the Mayor’s office in the nearest town.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government fails to find the responsible persons for the illegal mining or the death threats.

The Northern Cauca region, located in the department of Cauca, is a critical area in the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC that are currently taking place in Havana, Cuba. Yet Black communities and our interests have not been considered during these discussions, even though our ancestral territories will be compromised by at least one of the agreements: the 63 so-called campesino reserves. Most of the areas the FARC wants to settle or continue to control are in the middle of or close to black and Indigenous lands.

The main national Black organizations have been concentrated in the National Afro-Colombian Peace Council (CONPA by its acronym in Spanish), which with the Interethnic Commission of Peace, has demanded and lobbied the Colombian government to bring our voice and interests to the table in Havana. But since our demands have been ignored we have had to find new ways to make our voices heard.

As has often been the case in our long history of struggle and resistance in Colombia we have again had to turn to protest. In November 2014, eighty Afro-descendant women mobilized and walked across the country to Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, where we seized the building of the Ministry of Interior to demand a stop to the increase in illegal mining in our territories. These mining activities have brought death, violence and tragedy. In one mine collapse alone, over 40 of our people were killed.

These mobilizations have often been led by Black women, increasingly so in recent years. We have made the government sign agreements to remove illegal mining and admit that granting mining rights to multinationals violates its own laws. We have also made the government acknowledge that these agreement violate the right to prior and informed consultation and consent, as recognized by the International Labour Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. Yet those admissions and agreements have not translated into respect for our rights or any change in government’s actions or approach. In fact, despite the agreements, and the laws and the constitutional mandate to consult, to respect, promote and protect the rights of Black people, the Colombian government has granted mining concessions that cover seventy percent of the Cauca lands to multinationals such as Anglo Gold Ashanti.

The Afrodescendant Women’s Mobilization has received numerous death threats due to our actions to protect our community’s rights and territories. However, the government seems incapable of finding those responsible for the illegal mining or the death threats.

That is why we must continue to resist. The Community Councils will continue blocking the road until the national authorities commit to a renewed dialogue that will lead to substantive changes in how the interests of our communities are protected. It is clear for us that our Black lives matter only through our own efforts.

Charo Mina Rojas is an activist with the Black Communities’ Process in Colombia.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Media Freedom in Africa Remains Under Attackhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/media-freedom-in-africa-remains-under-attack/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 16:24:12 +0000 Zubair Sayed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144916 Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

Journalists in Zambia protest against attacks on the media. Credit: Kelvin Kachingwe/IPS

By Zubair Sayed
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

Imagine a world without the media, where we have no verified information about what’s going on around us. Where everything is hearsay and gossip, where there are no trusted sources of information. It would be hard to operate in a world like that: to make decisions about what to do about the things that affect our lives.

Think for a minute too about what it would mean for those in power; they would be able to act as if we, the people, did not exist. It would be impossible to hold them to account, to know that they’re keeping the election promises they made in their wordy manifestos, and it would be impossible for our voices to be heard. Similarly, it would be difficult to know how companies are behaving, how they are treating their workers and the environment, and whether they are colluding to extract ever more from our pockets.

The role of the media in providing credible information, of giving voice to the people and holding those in power to account is fundamental to the realisation of our freedom and human rights. Whilst there are differences of opinion about whether the media are part of civil society, what is undisputed is the key role that they play in social and economic development, democracy, human rights and the pursuit of justice. Organisations and activists that work on social issues and help articulate public opinion need the media to disseminate the voices they represent. Without a plurality of voices, ideas are diminished, debate is stifled and tolerance is weakened.

Yet, or perhaps because of their role in giving voice and speaking truth to power, the media are increasingly under attack from both governments and corporate interests.

In its recently released World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders say that there has been a “deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels” and that there is a “climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.”

This assault on journalistic freedom takes many forms, including regular harassment of journalists, censorship, confiscation of equipment, closure of media outlets, arrests and in some cases direct and dire attack. Research by the Committee to Protect Journalists is quite chilling: 72 journalists were murdered in 2015 and a further 199 imprisoned.

In Africa, the situation for media varies in different countries across the continent. Alongside Eritrea and Ethiopia as two of the most censored countries in the world – in first and fourth place respectively – there are countries like Namibia, Ghana, Cape Verde and South Africa that score highly when it comes to freedom of information (even though those countries too experience challenges to media freedom). However, in far too many African countries the media come under regular attack and freedom of information remains a distant right.
                              
There is perhaps no clearer indication of both the importance of the media and the assault it faces than when governments crackdown on journalists and media houses in the run up to and during elections. In January this year, Ugandan officials shutdown an independent radio station after it broadcast an interview with a leading opposition candidate. A few months earlier, police shot and injured radio journalist Ivan Vincent as he covered squabbles between supporters of the leading opposition candidate and the police. Between October 2015 and January 2016, the Human Rights Network for Journalists–Uganda documented about “40 election-related incidents in which journalists have been shot at, assaulted, their gadgets damaged, detained and released without charge and blocked from accessing news scenes.”

The situation for media in Burundi following the violence and repression that started ahead of last year’s election has not improved, and some say that the country has seen the near complete destruction of independent media with journalists and civil society being targeted. Facing shutdowns and direct attacks, many journalists have fled the country out of fear for their lives.

Similarly, during the last year in Djibouti and the Republic of Congo, the desire of leaders to hold onto power and to silence voices opposing them, contributed to election-related violence and media repression.

Of course, the media don’t only face attack during elections. In Angola, the government has kept a decades-long close watch on the media, frequently arresting and harassing those it disagrees with. Currently, journalist Domingos da Cruz is one of 17 activists in prison for his participation in a private gathering to discuss non-violent strategies for civil disobedience.

An Ethiopian human rights advocate that spoke with CIVICUS recently reiterated that “Ethiopia has for a long time severely restricted press freedom and the work of civil society. It is one of the top countries when it comes to jailing journalists, many of whom it charges under the 2009 anti-terrorism law.”

This attack on the media is itself part of a broader attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly that CIVICUS has been documenting during the last few years (in 2015 there were serious violations of these freedoms in more than 100 countries). Attacks on the media often go hand in hand with those on activists and organisations that challenge or question the powers that be. In many countries, this crackdown happens with impunity and attacks often go unpunished.

While governments are the main culprits when it comes curtailing media freedom, the private sector also often seeks to control or manipulate media outputs in ways that favour them and their narrow interests: putting profit before people. This takes place in multiple ways, from the concentration of media ownership and the power that allows corporates to yield, to bribing journalists and influencing editorial content in exchange for paid advertising.

Often caught between state repression and corporate influence, media in many African countries face huge challenges. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these challenges a key part of the solution must be to support independent media, including citizen-journalism; for regional governance institutions to hold African countries accountable and for African countries to hold each other accountable; and for education and awareness about rights related to freedom of information and expression.

With regard to the latter, recent research shows that there is widespread support for media freedom and freedom of expression in Africa but that support for these rights is not universal.  In some contexts, journalistic ethics need to be strengthened; media outlets need to invest more in their journalists and support for independent media amongst civil society and the general public needs to be amplified. We need to look towards innovation too, to think of ways to use inexpensive technology to produce people-powered information and data.

Media that is accurate, credible, ethical and impartial is crucial to development, freedom, human rights and justice in Africa – as it is elsewhere. A study on freedom of expression across 34 African countries in 2013 showed the link between this most basic right and a range of factors, stating that “freedom of expression is also consistently linked to better ratings of government performance, especially with respect to government effectiveness in fighting corruption, but also in other sectors such as maintaining roads and managing the economy.”

Given the challenges we face on the continent, the current media crackdown is untenable and dangerous, and does nothing to facilitate the progress so many are working hard to achieve. As citizens of Africa, we need to increase our efforts to protect those that give us voice and help us realise the full scope of our rights.

Zubair Sayed is the Head of Communication and Campaigns at CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organisations.

Follow him on Twitter @zubairsay

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West Papuans Turn to Africa for Support in Freedom Bidhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/west-papuans-turn-to-africa-for-support-in-freedom-bid-2/#comments Sat, 30 Apr 2016 06:30:44 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144913 Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

Former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, voiced his support for West Papuan political aspirations during a meeting with West Papuan indigenous leader, Benny Wenda, at Ghana's 59th Independence celebrations in March this year. Credit: Benny Wenda

By Catherine Wilson
CANBERRA, Australia, Apr 30 2016 (IPS)

For more than half a century, the indigenous people of West Papua, located on the western side of the island of New Guinea, who are related to the Melanesians of the southwest Pacific Islands, have waged a resistance to governance by Indonesia and a relentless campaign for self-determination.

But despite regular bloodshed and reports of systematic human rights abuses by national security forces, which have taken an estimated half a million West Papuan lives, the international community has remained mostly unwilling to take concerted action in support of their plight.

Now Benny Wenda, a West Papuan independence leader who has lived in exile in the United Kingdom since 2003, is driving a mission to build the support of African states. Following a visit to Senegal in 2010 and two visits to South Africa last year, Wenda was welcomed at the 59th Independence anniversary celebrations in Ghana in March this year.

“There has been widespread attention and further pan-African solidarity for West Papua renewed following my diplomatic visits to these African countries, both at parliamentary and grassroots levels,” Wenda told IPS.

In Ghana, Wenda met with political and church leaders, including former Presidents, Jerry John Rawlings and John Kufuor.

‘We are honoured to fight for your people. We share a similar history. It is no surprise to me that you had support from Ghana at the UN in 1969 and that we accepted West Papuan refugees in the 1980s,’ Jerry John Rawlings said to the Ghanaian media.

The alliance which Wenda is forging is based on a sense of shared historical experience.

“Africa is the motherland to all people and we Melanesians feel this strongly….our affinity primarily lies in our shared ancestral heritage, but also in our recent history because Africa has also suffered the brutalities of colonialism,” Wenda said.

Following decolonisation of the Dutch East Indies, Indonesia gained independence in 1949, but there was disagreement between the Netherlands and Indonesia about the fate of Dutch New Guinea, which the former was preparing for self-determination. A United Nations supervised referendum on its political future, named the ‘Act of Free Choice,’ was held in 1969, but less than 1 per cent of the region’s population was selected to vote by Indonesia, guaranteeing an outcome for integration, rather than independence.

At the time, Ghana and more than a dozen other African states were the only United Nations members to reject the flawed ballot.

During Wenda’s visit to South Africa last February, other leaders, such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Chief Nkosi Zwelivelile ‘Mandla’ Mandela MP, added their solidarity.

‘I’m shocked to learn that West Papua is still not free. I call on the United Nations and all the relevant bodies, please, do what is right, as they know, for West Papua,’ Tutu said in a public statement.

The momentum continued when the Nigeria-based non-government organisation, Pan African Consciousness Renaissance, held a pro-West Papua demonstration outside the Indonesian Embassy in Lagos in April 2015.

Indonesia’s refusal to recognise secessionist aspirations in its far-flung troubled region is often attributed not only to concerns about national unity, but the immense mineral wealth of copper, gold, oil and natural gas which flows to the state from ‘West Papua’, the umbrella term widely used for the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Since coming to power in 2014 populist Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, has vowed to increase inclusive development in the region and called on security forces to refrain from abusive measures, but the suffering of West Papuans continues. In May last year, there were reports of 264 activists arrested by police ahead of planned peaceful protests. Twelve Papuans were shot by security forces in Karubaga in the central highlands in July, while in August three people were abducted and tortured by police in the Papuan capital, Jayapura, and two shot dead outside the Catholic Church in Timika.

West Papua’s political fate stands in contrast to that of East Timor at the end of last century. East Timor, a Portuguese colony militarily annexed by Indonesia in 1975, gained Independence in 2002. The positive result of an independence referendum in 1999 was widely accepted and further supported by a multi-national peacekeeping force when ensuing violence instigated by anti-independence forces threatened to derail the process.

But in the political climate of the 1960s, Wenda says “West Papua was effectively handed over to Indonesia to try and appease a Soviet friendly Indonesian government….our fate was left ignored for the sake of cold war politics.” Now Indonesia staunchly defends its right of sovereignty over the provinces.

In the immediate region, West Papua has obtained some support from Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu which have voiced concerns about human rights violations at the United Nations.

And last year the Melanesian Spearhead Group, a sub-regional intergovernmental organisation, granted observer status to the United Liberation Movement for West Papua coalition. However, Indonesia, a significant trade partner in the Pacific Islands region, was awarded associate membership, giving it an influential platform within the organisation.

“Luhut Pandjaitan’s [Indonesia’s Presidential Chief of Staff] recent visit to Fiji suggests that Indonesia is continuing its efforts to dissuade Pacific states from supporting West Papua and is willing to allocate significant diplomatic and economic resources to the objective,” Dr Richard Chauvel at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute commented to IPS.

In contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific Island neighbours, Dr Chauvel continued, “African states mostly do not have significant trade, investment, diplomatic and strategic interests with Indonesia and do not have to weigh these interests against support for the West Papuan cause at the UN or elsewhere.”

How influential south-south solidarity by African leaders will be on West Papua’s bid for freedom hinges on whether championing words translate into action. In the meantime, Benny Wenda’s campaign continues.

(End)

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“Together, Civil Society Has Power”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=together-civil-society-has-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/together-civil-society-has-power/#comments Fri, 29 Apr 2016 22:53:55 +0000 Constanza Vieira http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144908 Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

Participants in the biannual International Civil Society Week 2016, held in Bogotá, waiting for the start of one of the activities in the event that drew some 900 activists from more than 100 countries. Credit: CIVICUS

By Constanza Vieira
BOGOTA, Apr 29 2016 (IPS)

When Tamara Adrián, a Venezuelan transgender opposition legislator, spoke at a panel on inclusion during the last session of the International Civil Society Week held in Bogotá, 12 Latin American women stood up and stormed out of the room.

Adrián was talking about corruption in Venezuela, governed by “Chavista” (for the late Hugo Chávez) President Nicolás Maduro, and the blockade against reforms sought by the opposition, which now holds a majority of seats in the legislature.

The speaker who preceded her, from the global watchdog Transparency International, referred to corruption among left-wing governments in South America.

Outside the auditorium in the Plaza de Artesanos, a square surrounded by parks on the west side of Bogotá, the women, who represented social movements, argued that, by stressing corruption on the left, the right forgot about cases like that of Fernando Collor (1990-1992), a right-wing Brazilian president impeached for corruption.“Together, civil society has power…If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.” -- Raaida Manaa

“Why don’t they mention those who have staged coups in Latin America and who have been corrupt?” asked veteran Salvadoran activist Marta Benavides.

Benavides told IPS she was not against everyone expressing their opinions, “but they should at least show respect. We don’t all agree with what they’re saying: that Latin America is corrupt. It’s a global phenomenon, and here we have to tell the truth.”

That truth, according to her, is that “Latin America is going through a very difficult situation, with different kinds of coups d’etat.”

She clarified that her statement wasn’t meant to defend President Dilma Rousseff, who is facing impeachment for allegedly manipulating the budget, or the governing left-wing Workers’ Party.

“I want people to talk about the real corruption,” she said. “In Brazil those who staged the 1964 coup (which ushered in a dictatorship until 1985) want to return to power to continue destroying everything; but this will affect everyone, and not just Brazil, its people and its resources.”

In Benavides’ view, all of the panelists “were telling lies” and no divergent views were expressed.

But when the women indignantly left the room, they missed the talk given on the same panel by Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), who complained that all of the governments in the Americas – right-wing, left-wing, north and south – financially strangled the IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

Emilio Álvarez-Icaza, executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the last one on the right, speaking at an International Civil Society Week panel on the situation of activism in Latin America. Credit: Constanza Vieira/IPS

He warned that “An economic crisis is about to break out in the Inter-American human rights system,” which consists of the IACHR and the Court, two autonomous Organisation of American States (OAS) bodies.

“In the regular financing of the OAS, the IACHR is a six percent priority, and the Inter-American Court, three percent,” said Álvarez-Icaza.

“They say budgets are a clear reflection of priorities. We are a nine percent priority,” he said, referring to these two legal bodies that hold states to account and protect human rights activists and community organisers by means of precautionary measures.

He described as “unacceptable and shameful” that the system “has been maintained with donations from Europe or other actors.”

There were multiple voices in this disparate assembly gathered in the Colombian capital since Sunday Apr. 24. The meeting organised by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, which carried the hashtag ICSW2016 on the social networks, drew some 900 delegates from more than 100 countries.

The ICSW2016 ended Friday Apr. 29 with the election of a new CIVICUS board of directors.

Tutu Alicante, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, is considered an “enemy of the state” and lives in exile in the United States. He told IPS that “we are very isolated from the rest of Africa. We need Latin America’s help to present our cases at a global level.”

Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang has been in power for 37 years. On Sunday Apr. 24 he was reelected for another seven years with over 93 percent of the vote, in elections boycotted by the opposition. His son is vice president and has been groomed to replace him.

“Because of the U.S. and British interests in our oil and gas, we believe that will happen,” Alicante stated.

He said the most interesting aspect of the ICSW2016 was the people he met, representatives of “global civil society working to build a world that is more equitable and fair.”

He added, however, that “indigenous and afro communities were missing.”

“We’re in Colombia, where there is an important afro community that is not here at the assembly,” Alicante said. “But there is a sense that we are growing and a spirit of including more people.”

He was saying this just when one of the most important women in Colombia’s indigenous movement, Leonor Zalabata, came up. A leader of the Arhuaco people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, she has led protests demanding culturally appropriate education and healthcare, and indigenous autonomy, while organising women in her community.

She was a keynote speaker at the closing ceremony Thursday evening.

A woman with an Arab name and appearance, Raaida Manaa, approached by IPS, turned out to be a Colombian journalist of Lebanese descent who lives in Barranquilla, the main city in this country’s Caribbean region.

She works with the Washington-based International Association for Volunteer Effort.

“The most important” aspect of the ICSW2016 is that it is being held just at this moment in Colombia, whose government is involved in peace talks with the FARC guerrillas. This, she said, underlines the need to set out on the path to peace “in a responsible manner, with a strategy and plan to do things right.”

The title she would use for an article on the ICSW2016 is: “Together, civil society has power.” And the lead would be: “If we work together and connect with what others are doing in other countries, what we do will also make more sense.”

In Colombia there is a large Arab community. Around 1994, the biggest Palestinian population outside the Middle East was living in Colombia, although many fled when the civil war here intensified.

“The peaceful struggle should be the only one,” 2015 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Ali Zeddini of the Tunisian Human Rights League, who took part in the ICSW2016, said Friday morning.

But, he added, “you can’t have a lasting peace if the Palestinian problem is not solved.” Since global pressure managed to put an end to South Africa’s apartheid, the next big task is Palestine, he said.

Zeddini expressed strong support for the Nobel peace prize nomination of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian leader serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. He was arrested in 2002, during the second Intifada.

 Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Why we need to stand united against governments cracking down on dissenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/why-we-need-to-stand-united-against-governments-cracking-down-on-dissent/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:33:35 +0000 Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144877 Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

Police use tear gas and water canons in Istanbul to disperse demonstrators protesting the new Internet bill in February 2014. Credit: Emrah Gurel/IPS.

By Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

Last month, after receiving threats for opposing a hydroelectric project, Berta Caceres, a Honduran indigenous and environmental rights campaigner, was murdered. A former winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize for her opposition to one of Central America’s biggest hydropower projects, Berta was shot dead in her own home.

In the same month, South African anti-mining activist, Sikhosiphi Bazooka Radebe, leader of a fiercely fought campaign to protect a pristine stretch of the Pondoland Wild Coast, was also shot dead.

Across the world, civic activists are being detained, tortured and killed. The space for citizens to organise and mobilise is being shut down; dissenting voices are being shut up. In 2015, at least 156 human rights activists were murdered. 156 that we know of.

The scale of the threat cannot be underestimated. The most recent analysis by my CIVICUS colleagues shows that, in 2015, significant violations of civic space were recorded in over 100 countries, up from 96 in 2014. People living in these countries account for roughly 86% of the world’s population. This means that 6 out of 7 people live in states where their basic rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression are being curtailed or denied. No single region stands out; truly, this is a worldwide trend, a global clampdown.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists.

Hostility towards civil society is becoming normalised as threats emanate from an increasing range of state and non-state actors: corrupt politicians and officials, unaccountable security forces, unscrupulous businesses and religious fundamentalists. But perhaps more worrying is the demonisation of civil society in mainstream political discourse. A recent bill in Israel, touted by its supporters as the ‘Transparency Bill’, places rigorous new disclosure demands on any Israeli non-profit organisation that receives more than 50% of its funding from “Foreign Political Entities’, in other words from foreign governments, the EU or UN. Following an escalating global trend, the bill seeks to cast Israeli CSOs as disloyal ‘foreign agents’, demanding that their public communications state the source of their funding and calling for their employees to wear distinctive tags.

In the UK recent government efforts to restrict the lobbying activities of civil society organisations prompted over 140 charities to express their concern. A proposed new grant agreement clause seeks to prevent UK charities from using their funds to enter into any dialogue with parliament, government or a political party. In India, Prime Minister Modi has cautioned his judiciary against being influenced by what he called, ‘five star activists’. Insinuating that the civil society sector is elitist and out of touch with realities on the ground, the comments lent renewed impetus to the country’s ongoing crackdown on critical civil rights activists and NGOs.

The recent proliferation of counter-terrorism measures has also served to further stigmatise and stifle the sector. By suggesting that non-profit organisations are particularly vulnerable to abuse or exploitation by terrorist groups, governments have justified new laws and regulatory restrictions on their legitimate activities and the political space they inhabit. Freedom of speech is being silenced, funding sources cut off; the effect has been debilitating.

State surveillance of online activities is also on the rise as authorities note the power of the internet and social media as a tool for citizen mobilization. Governments have woken up to the power of civil society. The deepest fear of repressive regimes is no longer necessarily the rise of new political opposition parties; it is 100,000 of their citizens taking to the streets in the pursuit of change. And so a concerted push-back has begun, an effort to tame civil society, to smother its ability to catalyse social transformation.

We need to push back on these incursions on civic space, urgently and across the world. We need to be challenging our governments over rights violations, about the murder of activists, about their progress in fighting poverty, climate change and inequality.

There is much cause for hope. Last year, a coalition of Tunisian civil society organisations won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work in bringing a country back from the brink of civil war and laying the foundations of a pluralistic democracy. The latest innovations in protest and movement building, in technologies that can liberate and mobilise citizens, in citizen-generated data that can empower campaigners and increase transparency around the monitoring of our global goals: all of these signal a new era of dynamic civic activism. Over the last few days more than 500 leading activists and thinkers gathered at International Civil Society Week 2016 in Bogota, Colombia to plot civil society’s global fight-back. It is fitting that this meeting took place against a backdrop of the peace negotiations that Colombian civil society has played such a key role in making possible.

Our gathering has the potential to be a defining moment for the future of democratic struggles. There will be more setbacks, low points and sacrifices to come but the demands for change won’t go away. Nor will civil society’s ability to affect it. A new, radically different vision for the future of civic action is being formulated. And those of us who believe in a healthy, independent civil society have more responsibility than ever before to keep on making our case. Knowing the threats she faced, Berta Caceres said, ‘We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no spare or replacement planet. We have only this one and we have to take action’. She was right.

Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah is the Secretary General of CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of IPS.

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Playing Ping Pong with Disabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=playing-ping-pong-with-disability http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 07:53:51 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144866 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/playing-ping-pong-with-disability/feed/ 0 Musicians Champion LGBT Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 12:24:20 +0000 Lydia Matata http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/musicians-champion-lgbt-rights-2/feed/ 0 Abortion Saga: Morality vs Choicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/#comments Wed, 27 Apr 2016 05:41:25 +0000 Charity Chimungu Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144838 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/abortion-saga-morality-vs-choice/feed/ 0