Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:04:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 ‘Breaking Silence’ on the Slave Tradehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/breaking-silence-on-the-slave-trade/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 10:04:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136620 Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Jazz musician Marcus Miller (left), spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is using music to help educate people about slavery. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 14 2014 (IPS)

The Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave opened many people’s eyes to the barbarity of slavery and fuelled some discussion about that period in world history. But the film is just one of the many initiatives to “break the silence” around the 400 years of the transatlantic slave trade and to “shed light” on its lasting historical consequences.

One of these – the Slave Route Project – which observed its 20th anniversary this month in Paris is pushing for greater education about slavery and the slave trade in schools around the world.“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery. Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this” – Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project

According to Ali Moussa Iye, chief of the History and Memory for Dialogue Section of UNESCO, the United Nations cultural agency, who directs the organisation’s Slave Route Project, “the least the international community can do is to put this history into the textbooks. You can’t deny this history to those who suffered and continue to experience the consequences of slavery.”

The Project is one of the forces behind a permanent memorial to slavery that is being constructed at UN headquarters in New York, scheduled to be completed in March 2015 and meant to honour the millions of victims of the traffic in humans.

UNESCO is also involved in the UN’s International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which is aimed at recognising people of African descent as a distinct group and at “addressing the historical and continuing violations of their rights”. The Decade will officially be launched in January next year.

“The approach is not to build guilt but to achieve reconciliation,” Moussa Iye said in an interview. “We need to know history in a different, more pluralistic way so that we can draw lessons and better understand our societies.”

He is aware that some people will question the point of the various initiatives, preferring to believe that slavery’s legacy has ended, but he said that international organisations can take the lead in urging countries to examine their past acts and the results.

“People of all kinds suffered from slavery and people of all kinds profited from slavery just like so many people are now profiting from modern-day slavery,” he said. “Racism is a direct result of this monstrous heritage and we need to increase the dialogue about this.”

According to UNESCO, the Slave Route Project has put these issues on the international agenda by contributing to the recognition of slavery and the slave trade as crimes against humanity, a declaration made at the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO's Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Ali Moussa Iye, head of UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

It has also been collecting and preserving archives and oral traditions, supporting the publication of books, and identifying “places of remembrances so that itineraries for memory” can be developed.

For many people of African descent, however, much more needs to be done to raise awareness. Ricki Stevenson, a Paris-based African-American businesswoman who heads a company called Black Paris Tours, focusing on the African Diaspora’s contributions in the French capital, told IPS that there ought to be “national and international conversation about the continued effects of enslavement.”

“We need to break the silence on how racism continues to hurt, not just Black people, but all people in any country that would kill, imprison, deny education and rights to individuals,” she said. “The United States, France, and all of Europe made unimaginable money from the cruel, inhumane kidnapping and enslavement of millions of Africans.

“These nations grew rich, built their cities and economies on the enslavement of Africans, on the forced labour of Black people who were stripped of every basic human right, treated less than animals,” she added. “Today we are learning that the wealth of Wall Street and so many major corporations, insurance companies, shipping companies, banks, private families, even churches, is still tied to slavery.”

Stevenson said she knows that some find it hard to comprehend the legacy of slavery. “I doubt if anyone who has never lived in the United States can understand the overwhelming challenge of ‘breathing while Black’,” she told IPS. “It is a horrible, daily fact of life every Black man, woman, child has faced or will face at some point in their lives.”

In France, meanwhile, the rise of nationalism is leading to a culture of exclusion as well as racism, according to political observers. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, for example, author of a 2001 law bearing her name that also recognises slavery as a crime against humanity, has been the target of racist depictions on social media and in certain publications.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of the Slave Route Project, Taubira described her battle against “hatred” and said that the world’s challenge today is to understand the global forces that divide people for exploitation.

“We cannot accept this kind of inhumanity,” she said, adding that the “anonymous victims” were not just victims but “survivors, creators, artists, cultural, guides … and resistors”, despite the immense violence they suffered.

Some individuals and municipalities in France have worked to highlight the country’s active role in the transatlantic slave trade, through cultural and memorial projects. The northwestern city of Nantes, which achieved vast wealth through slavery in the 18th century, built a memorial to victims in 2012.

Historians say that more than 40 percent of France’s slave trade was conducted through the city’s port, which acted as a transhipment point for some 450,000 Africans forcibly taken to the Americas. But this part of Nantes’ history was kept hidden for years until the move to “break the silence” cumulated in the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery.

In England, the city of Liverpool has an International Museum of Slavery, and Qatar and Cuba have also set up museums devoted to this history, carrying out partnership projects with UNESCO.

Acclaimed American jazz musician Marcus Miller, spokesman for the Slave Route Project, is also using music to educate people about slavery. Prior to an uplifting performance in Paris with African musicians, Miller said he wanted to focus on the resistance and resilience of the people forced into slavery and those who fought alongside to end the centuries-long atrocity.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Salvadoran Farmers Stake Their Bets on Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/salvadoran-farmers-stake-their-bets-on-sustainable-development/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:54:24 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136603 Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Peasant farmer Brenda Arely Sánchez uses her machete to clear a blocked canal in the Cuche de Monte swamp in Jiquilisco bay on El Salvador’s Pacific coast. Sediment blocks the canals, endangering the mangrove ecosystem. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
JIQUILISCO, El Salvador , Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

Peasant farmers from one of El Salvador’s most fragile coastal areas are implementing a model of sustainable economic growth that respects the environment and offers people education and security as keys to give the wetland region a boost.

The Mangrove Association has been carrying out the plan in the southern part of the eastern department of Usulután, in a region known as Bajo Lempa, for 14 years. A total of 86 farming and fishing communities on Jiquilisco bay are involved in the project.

The Bajo Lempa region is home to just under 148,000 people, according to the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

“We have worked with different actors, local groups, youth and environment committees, and park rangers to get this platform of local economic development off the ground,” Carmen Argueta, the president of the Mangrove Association, told Tierramérica.“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies.” -- Héctor Antonio Mijango

Economic growth with a social focus, education and security are the three main focal points for the government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in office since June.

And these are precisely the three elements that the communities of Bajo Lempa are focusing on in their sustainable development plan.

“Our project is in line with the government’s five-year plan, and we want it to know that this has worked for us – people can see the results,” Argueta said.

She added that they hoped to obtain government financing for some projects.

Respect and care for natural resources is essential for implementing this model of development, added the peasant farmer, who has been a rural community organiser for decades.

The 635-sq-km area around the bay is one of El Salvador’s main ecosystems, home to the majority of marine and coastal bird species in the country and the nesting grounds of four of the seven species of sea turtle, including the critically endangered hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata).

The area, peppered with mangroves, was added to the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance in 2005. The Salvadoran state has also classified it as a protected natural area and biosphere reserve.

It is one of the parts of the country most prone to flooding during the rainy season – May through October – which means local crops and infrastructure are periodically destroyed, and human lives are even lost.

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

Three members of the La Maroma cooperative in El Salvador’s Bajo Lempa region care for sprouts from improved maize seeds. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

To bolster economic development, some local communities have opted for diversification of agricultural production, leaving behind monoculture.

Some families have been producing pineapples and mangos, not only for their own consumption but also to bring in a cash income, however modest.

At the same time, aware of the need to protect the environment, local communities have carried out organic fertiliser projects, with the aim of gradually eliminating dependence on chemical fertilisers.

The Romero Production Centre in the village of Zamorán in the municipality of Jiquilisco produces Bokashi organic fertiliser using eggshells, ashes and other materials to provide a cheap, healthy alternative to chemical fertilisers.

In addition, the Xinachtli seed bank preserves seeds of basic grains, vegetables, forest and medicinal species since 2007. There is also a school of agriculture which promotes environmentally-friendly farming techniques.  Xinachtli is a Nauhatl word that means seed.

One of the most profitable undertakings for the small farmers grouped in six farming cooperatives is the production of certified maize seeds, which the government has acquired every year since 2011 to distribute to 400,000 farmers, as part of the Family Agriculture Plan.

Poor rural communities have thus become involved in the seed business, which was a private sector monopoly for years. An estimated 15,000 small farmers are now working in that area.

“For the first time, we peasant farmers, who are poor people, are producing improved seeds; the business used to only be for rich companies,” Héctor Antonio Mijango, a member of a cooperative in Jiquilisco, told Tierramérica, while pulling up maize sprouts from the soil, to allow the strongest to flourish.

The poverty rate in El Salvador, a country of 6.2 million people, is 34.5 percent overall, and 43.3 percent in rural areas, according to the 2013 Multiple Purpose Household Survey carried out by the general statistics and census office.

“The seed business is an important source of jobs and income for local families,” Manuel Antonio Durán, the president of the Nancuchiname Cooperative, told Tierramérica.

The cooperative, which has 8.3 sq km of land, produced 460,000 kg of improved seeds in the 2013-2014 harvest.

Aquaculture, especially shrimp farming, is another important business in the Bajo Lempa region.

“The aim is to go from artisanal shrimp farming to semi-intensive production, while respecting the environment,” the mayor of Jiquilisco, David Barahona, commented to Tierramérica. He is one of the local leaders most involved in the sustainable development plan in the area.

For weeks now El Salvador has been suffering from severe drought, and according to official estimates, some 400,000 tons of maize have been lost so far.

But the production of certified seeds in the Bajo Lempa region has not suffered the impact, thanks to irrigation systems.

The community organisers have also reached agreements with educational institutions such as the National University of El Salvador, and obtained scholarships for young people from the area. Some youngsters have completed their higher education studies and returned to the Bajo Lempa region to work.

“These are young people who weren’t involved in the wave of violence that is sweeping the country, because we have worked a great deal in prevention, with sports programmes, for example,” said Argueta.

The idea is to extend the efforts made in Bajo Lempa, which initially covered six municipalities in the area, to the entire region and put in practice the Lempa River Hydrographic Basin, involving 14 municipalities.

In August, Environment Minister Lina Pohl visited several Bajo Lempa communities to see firsthand what the communities and organisations are doing here.

“We cannot put forward ideas if we don’t first know what has been done in our country, what local people are doing, how they are organising to set forth their proposals and agendas,” the minister told Tierramérica.

The level of organisation in the area “is impressive” and is a model that could be replicated in other parts of the country,” she added.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Majority of Consumer Products May Be Tainted by Illegal Deforestationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/majority-of-consumer-products-may-be-tainted-by-illegal-deforestation/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 23:43:39 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136591 Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Stacks of confiscated timber logged illegally in the National Tapajos forest, Brazil. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At least half of global deforestation is taking place illegally and in support of commercial agriculture, new analysis released Thursday finds – particularly to supply overseas markets.

Over the past decade, a majority of the illegal clearing of forests has been in response to foreign demand for common commodities such as paper, beef, soy and palm oil. Yet governments in major markets such as the United States and European Union are taking almost no steps to urge corporations or consumers to reject such products.“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture." -- Sam Lawson of Earthsight

Indeed, doing so would be incredibly difficult given the incredibly widespread availability of potentially “dirty” products, the new analysis, published by Forest Trends, a Washington-based watchdog group, suggests. In many countries, consumers are likely using such products on a regular basis.

“In the average supermarket today, the majority of products are at risk of containing commodities that come from illegally deforested lands,” Sam Lawson, the report’s author and director of Earthsight, a British group that investigates environmental crime, told IPS.

“That’s true for any product encased in paper or cardboard, any beef, and any chicken or pork given that these [latter] animals are often raised on soy. And, of course, palm oil is now in almost everything, from lipstick to ice cream.”

In the absence of legislation to prevent such products from being imported and sold, Lawson says, “There’s always this risk.”

Overall, some 40 percent of all globally traded palm oil and 14 percent of all beef likely comes from illegally cleared lands, the paper estimates. The same can be said of a fifth of all soy and a third of all tropical timber, widely used to make paper products.

Meanwhile, some three-quarters of Brazilian soy and Indonesian palm oil are exported. Such trends are growing in countries such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While many case studies on these issues have previously been published on particular countries, sectors or companies, the new report is the first to try to extrapolate that data to the global level.

“Consumer demand in overseas markets resulted in the illegal clearance of more than 200,000 square kilometers of tropical forest during the first 12 years of the new millennium,” the report estimates, noting this adds up to “an average of five football fields every minute”.

While much this illegal clearing is being facilitated by corruption and lack of capacity in developing countries, Lawson places the culpability elsewhere.

“It’s companies that are carrying out these acts and they bear ultimate responsibility,” he says. “Big consumer countries also need to stop undermining the efforts of developing countries by allowing these products unfettered access to their markets.

Logging lessons

The ramifications of degraded forestlands, of course, are both local – impacting on livelihoods, ecosystems and human health – and global. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon but also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Between 2000 and 2012, the emissions associated with illegal deforestation for commercial agriculture each year was roughly the same as a quarter of the annual fossil fuel emissions in the European Union.

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. Later this month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended global agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts.

This rising global consensus around the importance of maintaining forest cover in the face of global climate change has led to significant international efforts to tackle illegal logging. And these have met with some important success.

Yet Earthsight’s Lawson says that some of the companies that were previously involved in illegally cutting tropical hardwoods are now engaging in the illegal clearing of forests to make way for large-scale agriculture.

“The biggest threat to forests is gradually changing, and that threat is today from commercial agriculture,” he says. “What we need now is to repeat some of the efforts that have been made in relation to illegal logging and apply those to agricultural commodities.”

The European Union, for instance, is currently in the process of implementing a bilateral system of licensing, in order to allow for legally harvested timber to be traced back to its source. Similar bilateral arrangements, Lawson suggests, could be introduced around key commodities.

Proven legality

Such a process would charge governments and multinational companies with ensuring that globally traded commodities do not originate from illegally cleared forestlands. In essence, this would create a situation in which the base requirement for entry into major markets would be proven legality.

Today, of course, the choice of whether or not to purchase a product made with ingredients potentially sourced from illegally deforested lands is up to the consumer – if that information is available at all. Yet such a new arrangement would turn that responsibility around entirely.

“All of this onus on the consumer bothers me – it really shouldn’t have to be so difficult to make these choices,” Danielle Nierenberg, the president of Food Tank, a Washington think tank focused on sustainability issues, told IPS.

“The fact is, consumers are still blind to these issues – despite the growth of the local food movement in Western countries, there remains significant demand for a range of inexpensive products. That’s why the real action has to come from the corporate side, and governments need to take a bigger interest.”

The United States has landmark legislation in place that bans the use of illegally sourced wood products in the country. By many accounts, that legal regime has been notably effective in cutting off the country’s massive market to those products.

Yet for now, Nierenberg says that there is no political appetite in Washington to do something similar regarding agricultural commodities.

“Instead, the real opportunity for government initiative comes from the developing world,” she says. “They need to invest more in small- and medium-scale farmers, protect their lands from land grabs, and invest in simple agricultural technologies that actually work. That’s where the real change could happen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Free Economic Zone Plan Slammed as ‘Suicide’ Pact for Taiwan Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/free-economic-zone-plan-slammed-as-suicide-pact-for-taiwan-farmers/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:14:50 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136580 A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

A worker, farmer and doctor are hanged in the “Suicide Zone” outside of Taiwan’s national legislature, in a street theater protest by student groups against government efforts to establish “Free Economy Pilot Zones” across Taiwan. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

The Taiwan government’s plan to liberalise tariff-free imports of agricultural produce from China and other countries for processing in free economic pilot zones, which will then be exported as ‘Made in Taiwan’ items, may mean suicide for Taiwanese farmers if approved by the national legislature.

The Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) government of President Ma Ying-jeou conceived the Free Economic Pilot Zone (FEPZ) plan in 2012 as a way to urge Taiwanese investors in China to relocate value added operations back to Taiwan, through tax and other incentives.

In early 2013, the KMT government re-packaged the plan to feature components for the promotion of value-added agriculture and international medical services, among others, and submitted required changes in the legal code to implement the plan in a draft Free Economic Pilot Zone Special Act to the KMT-controlled Legislature in December 2013.

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration." -- Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement
The special act offers investors in FEPZs business tax exemptions, tariff-free importation of industrial or agricultural raw materials, eased entry and income tax breaks for foreign professional workers, including from China, and streamlined procedures for customs and quarantine checks, labour safety inspections and environmental impact assessments.

Social movement groups have warned that the China-friendly KMT government aims to use the FEPZ programme as a back door to realise full deregulation of trade between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China, and avoid the need for legislative ratification of trade pacts after the Sunflower citizen and student occupation movement in March derailed a controversial service trade pact between the two governments.

Lai Chung-chiang, convenor of the Democratic Front Against Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement, observed that the Sunflower movement spurred the formation of a consensus in Taiwan that the Legislature should enact a law strictly governing the negotiation of cross-strait agreements before reviewing the ‘trade in services’ agreement or other pacts with China.

Fearing indefinite delays in future China trade deals, the Ma government tried to ram a first reading of the draft FEPZ special act through the national legislature’s economic affairs committee in two extraordinary sessions in July and August, but opposition lawmakers blocked this push.

Lai told IPS that the core of the FEPZ concept is to arbitrarily grant tariff-free entry for raw materials and products from all countries into Taiwan’s six main seaports and its major international airport in order to display Taiwan’s interest to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other regional free trade pacts.

Instead, this act will sell out Taiwan’s economic future, warned Lai, adding, “Our major trade partners will have no reason to engage in negotiations with us to further open their markets as our government will have surrendered all of our bargaining chips even before talks begin.”

“The intention of the Ma government to lift the ban on Chinese agricultural commodities through the FEPZ special act violates his own promise in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, but dovetails with Beijing’s objective of cross-strait economic integration,” Lai added.

Despite a high-powered advertising campaign, the Taiwan public is not visibly enthusiastic about the FEPZ plan. Nearly 63 percent of respondents in a poll carried out by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)’s Public Survey Center in June said they were worried about the scheme’s impact on Taiwan’s economy.

Labour organisations are leery of further liberalisation of foreign workers, including white-collar professionals from China, while medical and educational organisations object to plans to offer health and educational tourism programmes that would spur the commodification of public services.

Raw deal for local farmers

Made in Taiwan?

“As a Taiwanese farmer, I oppose the use of the ‘Made in Taiwan’ label, for which Taiwan farmers worked so hard, to endorse products made with Chinese raw materials,” Wu Chia-ling, a farmer working with the Yilan Organic Rice Workshop, told IPS.

Tsai Pei-hui, convenor of the Taiwan Rural Front, also said that the FEPZ “value-added agriculture” programme would damage Taiwan’s reputation by “contributing to the exploitation of farmers around the region and the world.”

“Growers of tea in China and Vietnam, coffee in Latin America and cocoa in Africa should not just be workers producing agricultural raw materials for purchase at low prices for processing abroad,” Tsai said, adding that Taiwan has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and should not follow in the footsteps of countries that have engaged in exploitative agricultural practices.
However, the most controversial segment is a so-called value-added agriculture plan promoted by Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Pao-chi.

Chen Chi-chung, a professor at the National Chung Hsing University Agricultural Policy Center, stated, “Taiwan may become the first producer of agricultural goods that will permit agricultural produce from all over the world, including China, to be used for processing in its own factories free of tariffs or business taxes.”

Article 42 of the draft special act would fully lift the current ban on import from China of 2,186 types of raw materials, including 830 types of agricultural commodities, while Article 38 would exempt FEPZ enterprises from tariffs, cargo levies and business income taxes. Article 41 would exempt most such commodities from customs or health inspections.

Moreover, makers of processed agricultural goods or foods exported from FEPZs will be able to attach ‘Made in Taiwan’ labels to their products.

Rural Life Experimental Farm Director Liao Chih-heng told IPS that instead of helping farmers cope with the unfair competition from producers in China due to state subsidies and lower labour and environmental costs, the Ma government is inviting such unfair competition into our home market.

Tai Chen-yao, a farmer of squash and lemons in Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan, told IPS, “If Taiwan sells processed Chinese agricultural goods as Made in Taiwan, food processors as well as farmers will be hurt since there will be no way to guarantee the safety or quality of raw material and thus the food safety for consumers of such products.”

Su Chih-fen, Yunlin County Mayor for the opposition DPP, echoed these sentiments, telling IPS that a rising share of Taiwan farmers, including youth who are returning to the countryside, are absorbing new knowledge and creating innovative agricultural products that can out-compete imports, which may be cheaper but have higher food safety risks.

The value-added agriculture plan would deprive this emerging cohort of new style farmers of access to export markets and divert resources away from assisting the majority of farmers to upgrade, said Su, who is mayor of Taiwan’s agricultural capital.

Agriculture accounted for 1.7 percent of Taiwan’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2013. Primary sector workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing and livestock accounted for nearly five percent of Taiwan’s 10.97-million-strong workforce or 544,000 persons as of May 2014.

Su further warned that the government’s plan would effectively punish farmers who kept their roots in Taiwan and have worked to upgrade and grow high quality produce.

In the wake of such widespread criticism, the official National Development Commission (NDC) has announced modifications including dropping the provision that 10 percent of agriculture value-added goods made with raw materials from China could be sold on the domestic market.

However, Chen Chi-chung declared that the changes, along with the NDC’s claim that processed foods made in the FEPZ using imported materials from China or other low-cost suppliers would not enter or affect Taiwan’s domestic market, were deceptive semantics.

Using imported raw agriculture materials, such as tea or peanuts, to make processed food products in Taiwan will surely reduce the demand for domestic agricultural products and thus the income of Taiwan farmers, said Chen.

According to the Council of Agriculture’s statistics, average annual income for a farm household in 2012 was about 33,200 dollars; however, the net income from farming activities was only 7,200 dollars.

KMT Legislative Caucus Convenor Fei Hung-tai told IPS that the majority KMT caucus aims to actively promote passage of the FEPZ statute during the upcoming session.

Noting that civil society organisations and opposition parties have called for the elimination of Articles 38, 41, 42 and other provisions harmful to the interests of Taiwan farmers, workers and public services, Lai told IPS, “If the KMT pushes passage of this act, it will have to either have to accept major concessions in the final content of the bill or face an intense backlash in civil society and public opinion.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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Global Citizenship: “From Me to We to Peace”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-citizenship-from-me-to-we-to-peace/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:56:05 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136569 The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The U.N. has held High-Level Forums on the Culture of Peace for the past three years. Ambassador Chowdhury moderates a panel at last year’s event. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

If a Silicon Valley existed for the culture of peace, it would most likely look to global citizenship as the next big industry shake-up.

“Global citizenship, or oneness of humanity [is] the essential element of the culture of peace,” Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., told IPS on the sidelines of the General Assembly’s High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace Tuesday.“We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation." -- Kathleen Kuehnast

The day-long forum included panel discussions on global citizenship and the contributions of women and youth to a nonviolent world community.

Ambassador Chowdhury took the lead in putting the culture of peace on the U.N. agenda in the late 1990s. The culture of peace concept was evolving in the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), but Chowdhury felt that it deserved to be discussed at an even higher level.

The U.N. needed “to shift gear” away from peacekeeping operations “to focus on individual and community transformation,” Chowdhury told IPS.

In 1999, at the urging of Chowdhury, the General Assembly (GA) passed the milestone Resolution 53/243 on the “Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.”  The resolution asserts that a culture of peace is a way of life based on non-violence, territorial integrity, human rights, the right to development, freedom of expression and the promotion of equal rights for women and men.

Article 4 of the resolution makes clear that “Education at all levels is one of the principal means to build a culture of peace.” Governments, civil society, the media, parents and teachers are all called upon to promote a peaceful culture.

The 1999 resolution also led to the observance from 2001 to 2010 of the U.N. International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

While its official decade may be over, the culture of peace continues to be relevant 15 years after Resolution 53/243 was adopted. Each year, the GA adopts a resolution reaffirming the commitment of member states to building a culture of peace.

This year’s all-day event built on the success of two past high-level forums in 2012 and 2013, giving member states, U.N. entities and civil society a chance to exchange ideas on how to best promote nonviolence, cooperation and respect for all.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon kicked off the day with an endorsement of the culture of peace.

“We need new forms of cultural literacy and diplomacy, between societies and within them,” he said. “We need educational curricula to deepen global solidarity and citizenship.

“Every day, I see the need to build a new culture of mediation, conflict resolution, peace-building and peace-keeping.”

Interactive panels focused on the keys to attaining a culture of peace.

Lakhsmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, highlighted the role of women in building and sustaining the culture of peace.

Women “must be seen as agents of conflict prevention,” she said.

“With women, mothers, grandmothers, other family members often being the first teachers of children, they have and can play a vital role in educating young people to the value of peace.”

Women should bring their leadership and solutions to the peacemaking table, according to the panellists.

The youth population is also crucial to making a culture of peace a reality.

“Young people can be agents of peace,” said Ahmad Alhendawi, the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth. “We must continue working together to ensure that the largest generation of humans is an opportunity, not a liability for our time.”

Kathleen Kuehnast, director of the Centre for Gender and Peacebuilding at the U.S. Institute of Peace, received a round of applause when she proposed a new perspective on the culture of peace, invoking the analogy of creative, high-energy entrepreneurship.

“We need to incentivise peacebuilding,” she said. “We need to think about the culture of peace as a start-up operation. What we need is a Silicon Valley for nonviolent approaches to global problem solving.”

Dot Mayer, president of the New York-based National Peace Academy, identified emerging trends and concepts that herald the rise of global citizenship, such as the sharing economy, the global commons and bioregional dialogues.

As a human community, “We are making this shift from I or me to we,” Mayer said. Global citizenship is a pathway “from me to we to peace.”

While the U.N. is a strong supporter of global citizenship and the culture of peace, it could do a much better job of spreading the message, according to Ambassador Chowdry.

The “U.N. has been focusing and putting most of its money on hardware for peacekeeping,” Chowdhury told IPS. It should be concentrating more on the “transformation of individuals into agents of peace and nonviolence.”

Throwing money at educational infrastructure will not be enough, Chowdhury said, because there is no guarantee that it would go toward the right type of education. The U.N. must work more with communities and societies to build education systems that teach young people to be citizens of the world.

“It has to be a comprehensive approach,” Chowdhury said. “It should be a transformational investment.”

In her remarks, Dot Mayer made the observation that “energy follows thought, and we know that whatever we choose to focus on, we will get more of in life.”

Supporters of the culture of peace hope that the energy and ideas from Tuesday’s high-level forum will spread the message of global citizenship to the human community, leading to a true transformation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Global Commission Urges Decriminalisation of Drug Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 01:02:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136563 Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

A top-level international panel called Tuesday for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation.

In a 43-page report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy denounced what has been known for more than four decades as the “war against drugs” as a failure and argued that new approaches prioritising human rights and health were urgently needed.“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle.” -- Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance

“In this report, we set out a broad roadmap for getting drugs under control,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the Commission. “We recognize that past approaches premised on a punitive law enforcement paradigm have failed, emphatically so.

“They have resulted in more violence, larger prison populations, and the erosion of governance around the world. …The Global Commission on Drug Policy instead advocates for an approach to drug policy that puts public health, community safety, human rights, and development at the center,” according to Cardoso.

Such an approach would, among other changes, encourage governments to regulate markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with marijuana, coca leaf, and certain psycho-active drugs; seek alternatives to prison for low-level, non-violent participants in the drug trade; and ensure equitable access to essential medicines, especially opiate-based pain medications, according to the report, “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.” It called for a pragmatic approach that would include experimentation and trial and error.

The report’s recommendations, which come as governments prepare for the 2016 U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, drew a mixed response from the U.S. government which has largely driven international drug policy since former President Richard Nixon first declared a “war on drugs” in 1971.

“We agree that we should use science-based approaches, rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders, and ensure access to pain medications,” said Cameron Hardesty of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“…However, we disagree that legalisation of drugs will make people healthier and communities safer. Our experience with the tobacco and alcohol industries show that commercialization efforts rely upon increasing, not decreasing use, which in turn increases the harm associated with the use of tobacco and alcohol. In fact, if we take Big Tobacco as prologue, we can predict that that approach is likely to cause an entirely new set of problems,” she said.

Nonetheless, independent analysts said the Commission’s recommendations are likely to substantially advance the growing debate over drug policy if, for no other reason, than its membership is not easily dismissed.

In addition to Cardoso, its 21 members include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker.

The report was released at a press conference that featured several of the Commission’s members in New York City Tuesday morning.

“This is a very important report that will provoke more serious discussion and debate,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, an influential Washington-based inter-hemispheric think tank, told IPS. “There have already been significant changes at the state level [in the U.S.] and in some countries in Latin America, and this will push things along.”

In 2011, the Commission published its first report in which it also condemned the drug war as a failure and made a series of recommendations designed to “break the taboo” against considering legalisation and regulation of some drugs as alternatives.

Having broken the taboo, the Commission offered political cover for some Latin American leaders, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (whose country last December became the world’s first to regulate the legal production, distribution, and sale of marijuana), to endorse far-reaching reform.

In mid-2013, the Organisation of American States (OAS) also released a report commissioned by the region’s reads of states that included legalisation as a policy alternative and that strongly favoured the view that drugs should be seen increasingly as a public health, rather than a security issue.

Among other measures, it proposed legalising and regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales – a recommendation that has since been adopted by voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington. Nearly half of all U.S. states have legalised cannabis for medical purposes, and 17 states have decriminalised personal possession.

Virtually all observers agree that the drug war has been a signal failure. As prices drop for drugs that are have become purer with each passing year, governments have been spending an estimated 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. has estimated the value of global illicit drug trade at over 350 billion dollars.

The Commission offered a number of general recommendations in its report, beginning with a call for a “fundamental re-orientation of policy priorities” that would replace traditional goals and measures — such as amounts of drugs seized, the number of people arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for drug law violations – with “far more important” benchmarks, such as reducing drug-related harms, such as fatal overdoses, HIV infections, crime, violence, human rights abuses, and the power of criminal organisations that profit from the drug trade.

In addition to calling for equitable access to essential medicines, regulating markets for some drugs, and relying on alternatives to incarcerating non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets, such as farmers and carriers, the report called for governments to be “far more strategic” in efforts to reduce the power of criminal organisations.

It noted that militarised “crackdowns” may actually increase criminal violence and public insecurity without actually deterring drug production, trafficking or consumption.

“…(I)n the longer term, drug markets should be responsibly regulated by government authorities. Without legal regulation, control and enforcement, the drug trade will remain in the hands of organised criminals. Ultimately this is a choice between control in the hands of governments or gangsters; there is no third option in which drug markets can be made to disappear,” according to the report.

“The idea behind this report and its timing is to ensure that there can be no repeat of the empty slogans, such as “a drug-free world, we can do it,” which was the theme of the UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, said John Walsh, a drug-policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“To avoid a repeat, the idea is to ensure that a genuine debate will be unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that the world’s countries will rally around this new paradigm of legal regulation instead of prohibition, but the hope is that these issues cannot be ignored.”

“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the veteran director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favour of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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LGBT Visibility in Africa Also Brings Backlashhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/lgbt-visibility-in-africa-also-brings-backlash/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 10:48:52 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136540 Kenyan LGBT rights supporters protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Credit: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

Kenyan LGBT rights supporters protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Credit: Dai Kurokawa/EPA

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2014 (IPS)

Eighteen-year-old Gift Makau enjoyed playing and refereeing football games in her neighbourhood in the North West Province of South Africa. She had come out to her parents as a lesbian and had never been heckled by her community, according to her cousin.

On Aug. 15 she was found by her mother in a back alley, where she had been raped, tortured and killed.“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political.” -- HRW's Graeme Reid

Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGHLRC), said that Gift’s murder was part of a disturbing trend in which gender-nonconforming individuals are targeted for so-called corrective rape.

“Corrective rape is really the attempt of the society to try to punish the person for acting outside the norm,” Mohamed said.

In the past 10 years in South Africa, 31 lesbians have been reported killed as the result of corrective rape, she said.  A charity called Luleki Sizwe estimates that 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped a week in Cape Town alone.

Transgender, gay or effeminate men are also the subject of corrective rape, but they are less likely to be murdered and are less likely to report it.

If this is happening in South Africa, the only mainland African country to allow legal same-sex marriage, what is it like to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elsewhere on the continent?

“The type of brutality that you see happening to lesbians and to homosexuals in parts of Africa is just beyond comprehension,” Mohamed told IPS. “It’s like your worst horror movie, and even worse than that.”

More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalising consensual same-sex acts, according to IGLHRC.

“Overall what we’ve seen is a fairly bleak picture that’s emerging,” said Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Program at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Africa is seeing “an intensification of the political use of homophobia,” he said.

Nigeria and Uganda made headlines in early 2014 when they signed anti-homosexuality bills that handed out long prison sentences for being homosexual or for refusing to turn in a known homosexual.

On Aug. 1, Uganda’s law was declared unconstitutional on procedural grounds by its supreme court, but Shehnilla Mohamed expects that it will be back on the table again once international attention shifts away.

Long-time African leaders who wish to extend their stay in office often try to whip up anti-homosexuality sentiment.

“Homophobia becomes both a ruse and a distraction from other real substantive issues, whether those are economic or political,” Graeme Reid said.

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian activist and IGHLRC fellow, told IPS that in his country, politicians equate cases of pedophilia and incest with homosexuality, fabricating sensational stories to inflame the public. This strategy diverts attention away from problems with unemployment, poverty, health and education.

Some leaders also claim that homosexuality is an un-African, Western imposition. Mohamed believes it is the exact opposite.

Homosexuality “existed in a lot of the African cultures and a lot of the African traditions,” she told IPS. “It was quite an accepted pattern.”

Same-sex relationships did not begin to develop a negative connotation until after colonisation brought Western religion, she said.

In an environment of antipathy, LGBT individuals have few places to turn to for help. The police station is often not a sanctuary for those who have been raped.

Mohamed recently spoke to a transgender man in South Africa who was accosted in the lobby of his block of apartments by a group of men who thought he was a woman. When they found out he was a man they raped and “beat him so badly that he was totally unrecognisable,” she said.

The man ended up contracting HIV/AIDS.

In South Africa, after being raped, a person is supposed to report it to the police and receive a free post-exposure prophylaxis within 72 hours to minimise the risk of transmission. However, this man was too afraid to go into the station, knowing that the police would most likely feel that he had deserved it.

The problem is even worse in countries like Nigeria that have criminalised homosexuality. According to Michael Ighodaro, a fellow at IGLHRC from Nigeria, after its anti-homosexuality bill was passed in January, 90 percent of gay men who were on medications stopped going to clinics to receive them, out of fear that they would be arrested.

Even at home, LGBT individuals in Africa face an uphill struggle. Anti-homosexuality laws do have a current of support throughout society. LGBT people often fear ostracisation by their families, so hide their sexual or gender identity.

The increased prominence of LGBT issues in national debates in Africa in the past decade has inspired a bit of a backlash.

Njeri Gateru, a legal officer at the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission of Kenya, says that Kenya lies in a tricky balance. Society does not actively persecute LGBT individuals if they outwardly conform to sexual and gender norms, but “problems would arise if people marched in the streets or there was an article in the press.”

“We cannot continue to live in a balance where we are muzzled and we are comfortable being muzzled,” Gateru said at a HRW event in New York.

Religion plays a significant role in the lack of acceptance of gender non-conforming groups in Africa.

IGLHRC’s Mohamed said that even “people with master’s degrees, who are highly educated, who work in white collar jobs will say ‘God does not like this.’”

“I think pointing out that LGBTI people are human beings, are God’s creation just like everybody else is really something that we’ll keep on pushing,” she said.

According to Gateru, even when churches open their doors to LGBT groups, they sometimes do it for the wrong reasons.

A year or so ago, a group of Kenyan evangelical leaders announced that they were going to stop turning LGBT individuals away from churches because, in their words, ‘Jesus came for the sinners, not the righteous.’

The churches are “welcoming you to change you or to pray for you so you can change, which is really not what we want,” said Gateru. “But I think it’s a very tiny step.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has repeatedly and consistently criticised discrimination against LGBT groups and condemned new anti-homosexuality laws.

Activist groups welcome the support of prominent religious leaders such as Tutu, and are planning a conference in February to bring together pastors, imams and rabbis to discuss LGBT issues and religion in Africa.

In general, LGBT activist organisations have their work cut out for them.

LGBT advocacy groups “most of the time are working undercover, are working underground, or if they are registered and are working as an NGO, are constantly being harassed by the authorities or by society,” Mohamed said.

IGLHRC was founded in 1990, and helps local LGBT advocacy groups around the world fight for their rights through grant making and work on the ground.

“What we really need is to mainstream homosexual rights, LGBTI rights into the basic human rights discourse,” said Mohamed.

During August’s U.S.-Africa summit in Washington, IGLHRC urged the U.S. to hold African leaders to account.

Depending on the country, the U.S. does have an ability to advance human rights through external pressure. Mohamed speculated that the striking down of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill just days before the summit was a public relations stunt by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, since he wanted a warm reception by the White House.

Nigeria, the other country to introduce a new law in 2014, is more difficult to influence than Uganda, according to Michael Ighodaro. Because of its oil wealth, the Nigerian government would not care if the United States were to pull funding.

The U.S.-African summit, since it was focused on business, offered an opportunity for LGBT advocacy groups to point out the economic costs of sidelining an entire sector of the population.

Mohamed said that LGBT individuals are often “too scared to apply for certain jobs because of how they would be treated. If they did apply they probably would never get the jobs because of the stigmas attached.”

Despite the difficult journey to come, supporters of LGBT rights in Africa can look back to see that some progress has been made.

HRW’s Reid said that the LGBT movement was practically invisible in Africa just 20 years ago.

“In a sense this very vocal reaction against LGBT visibility can also be seen as a measure of the strength and growth of a movement over the last two decades,” he said.

Things may get a little tougher before they get better, Njeri Gateru told IPS, but “history is on our side.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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U.S. Military Joins Ebola Response in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:45:46 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136550 As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. military over the weekend formally began to support the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Advocates of the move, including prominent voices in global health, are lauding the Pentagon’s particularly robust logistical capacities, which nearly all observers say are desperately needed as the epidemic expands at an increasing rate.On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet already multiple concerns have arisen over the scope of the mission – including whether it is strong enough at the outset as well as whether it could become too broad in future.

President Barack Obama made the first public announcement on the issue on Sunday, contextualising the outbreak as a danger to U.S. national security.

“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” the president said during a televised interview. “If we don’t make that effort now … it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

While the United States has spent more than 20 million dollars in West Africa this year to combat the disease, Washington has come under increased criticism in recent months for not doing enough. Obama is now expected to request additional funding from Congress later this month.

The military’s response, however, has already begun – albeit apparently on a very small scale for now, and in just a single Ebola-hit country.

A Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that, over the weekend, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel approved the deployment of a “25-bed deployable hospital facility, equipment, and the support necessary to establish the facility” in Liberia. For now, this is the extent of the approved response.

The spokesperson was quick to note that additional planning is underway, but emphasised that the Pentagon is responding only to requests made by other federal agencies and taking no lead role. Further, its commitment to the hospital in Liberia, the country most affected by the outbreak, is limited.

The Department of Defence “will not have a permanent presence at the facility and will not provide direct patient care, but will ensure that supplies are maintained at the hospital and provide periodic support required to keep the hospital facility functioning for up to 180 days,” the spokesperson said.

“This approach provides for the establishment of the hospital facility in the shortest possible period of time … Once the deployable hospital facility is established, it will be transferred to the Government of Liberia.”

On Monday, Liberia’s defence minister, Brownie Samukai, said his government was “extremely pleased” by the announcement.

“We had discussions at the Department of Defence on the issues of utilising and requesting the full skill of United States capabilities, both on the soft side and on the side of providing logistics and technical expertise,” Samukai, who is currently here in Washington, told the media. “We look forward to that cooperation as expeditiously as we can.”

No security needed

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed some 2,100 people and infected more than 3,500 in five countries. On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet thus far the epidemic has resulted in an international response that is almost universally seen as dangerously inadequate. Obama’s statement Sunday nonetheless raised questions even among those supportive of the announcement.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the French humanitarian group, remains the single most important international organisation in physically responding to the outbreak. While MSF has long opposed the use of military personnel in response to disease outbreaks, last week it broke with that tradition.

Warning that the global community is “failing” to address the epidemic, the group told a special U.N. briefing that countries with “civilian and military medical capability … must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa”.

Yet while MSF has welcomed Obama’s announcement, the group is also expressing strong concerns over the president’s reference to the U.S. military providing “security for public health workers”.

MSF “reiterates the need for this support to be of medical nature only,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with the group, told IPS. “Aid workers do not need additional security support in the affected region.”

Last week, MSF urged that any military personnel deployed to West Africa not be used for “quarantine, containment or crowd control measures”.

The Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that the U.S. military had not yet received a request to provide security for health workers.

Few guidelines

The United States is not the only country now turning to its military to bolster the flagging humanitarian response in West Africa.

The British government in recent days announced even more significant plans, aiming to set up 68 beds for Ebola patients at a centre, in Sierra Leone, that will be jointly operated by humanitarians and military personnel. The Canadian government had reportedly been contemplating a military plan as well, although this now appears to have been shelved.

Yet the concerns expressed by MSF over how the military deployment should go forward underscore the fact that there exists little formal guidance on the involvement of foreign military personnel in international health-related response.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance, has no broad stance on the issue, a spokesperson told IPS. As the WHO is an intergovernmental agency, it is up to affected countries to make related decisions and request.

“Each country handles its own security situation,” Daniel Epstein, a WHO spokesperson, told IPS. “So if governments agree to military involvement from other countries, that’s their business.”

Another spokesperson with the agency, Margaret Harris, told IPS that the WHO appreciates “the skills that well-trained, disciplined and highly organised groups like the US military can bring to the campaign to end Ebola.”

Yet there is already concern that the U.S. military response could be shaping up to be far less robust than necessary.

MSF’s Shenk noted that any plan from the U.S. military would need to include both the construction and operation of Ebola centres. Thus far, the Pentagon says it will not be doing any operating.

While around 570 Ebola beds are currently available in West Africa, MSF estimates that at least 1,000 hospital spaces, capable of providing full isolation, are needed in the region.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Laurie Garrett, a prominent global health scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, expressed alarm that the Defence Department’s Ebola response was shaping up to be “tiny” in comparison to what is needed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Cocopah People Refuse to Disappearhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mexicos-cocopah-people-refuse-to-disappear/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 18:36:10 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136544 The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Zanjón, the nucleus of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve in northwest Mexico, where the Cocopah have fished for a living for centuries. The restrictions on fishing condemn them to extinction. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

By Daniela Pastrana
EL MAYOR, Mexico , Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

In their language, Cocopah means “river people”. For over 500 years the members of this Amerindian group have lived along the lower Colorado River and delta in the Mexican states of Baja California and Sonora and the U.S. state of Arizona.

They fish and make crafts for a living, have strong family ties, and are united by their Kurikuri or rituals and funeral ceremonies – and, now, by the struggle to keep from disappearing, in a battle led by their women. Today, the Cocopah number just over 1,300 people, most of whom live in Arizona.

“I’m Hilda Hurtado Valenzuela. I’m a fisherwoman. And I am Cocopah,” says the president of the Cocopah Indigenous People Cooperative Society.

She and other women of this community introduce themselves this way at an assembly attended by IPS, held to discuss the federal government’s promise to finally consult them about a fishing ban which took away their livelihood and practically condemns them to extinction.“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community.” -- Lawyer Yacotzin Bravo

“No government has the right to take our habitat from us,” Hurtado told IPS during a visit to the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community, where the Red de Periodistas de a Pie (Journalists on Foot Network) and the Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights are carrying out a project for the protection of human rights defenders, financed by the European Union.

In May, the 61-year-old Hurtado, a mother of four and grandmother of 10, sat down on the road connecting the port of San Felipe on the Gulf of California with Mexicali, the capital of the state of Baja California, which abuts the U.S., and refused to budge until the federal government formalised its promise to hold a consultation with the local communities.

“The government agreed to do something that it should have done 25 years ago,” said the lawyer Ricardo Rivera de la Torre of the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest, an organisation that has been documenting violations of civil rights in Baja California since 2004.

Rivera de la Torre and Raúl Ramírez Baena took the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2008.

“The government violated the Cocopah’s people’s right to consultation as outlined in the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169,” which Mexico ratified in 1990, said Ramírez Baena.

ILO Convention 169 Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples requires prior consultation of local indigenous communities before any project is authorised on their land.

But in 1993, without any prior consultation, the government decreed the creation of the Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Río Colorado Biosphere Reserve. The nucleus of the reserve is the Zanjón, where the Cocopah have fished for the Gulf weakfish (Cynoscion othonopterus) for centuries.

The Gulf weakfish lay their eggs between February and May in shallow waters in the Gulf of California where the states of Sonora and Baja California meet, and the fish are widely sold during Lent, when Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays.

After the biosphere reserve was created, a Reserve Management Plan was adopted in 1995, along with a string of laws and regulations – such as the Law on Ecological Balance and a fishing quota and ban – which restricted the fishing activities of the Cocopah to levels that have made it impossible for them to make a living.

“The case of the Cocopah is an example of how ultra-conservationist policies can endanger the existence of a native community,” said Yacotzin Bravo, another lawyer with the Citizens Commission of Human Rights of the Northwest.

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

A group of Cocopah women in the Indiviso ejido, in the El Mayor Cocopah Indigenous Community in the Mexican state of Baja California, during an assembly where they discussed how to carry out a consultation on reforming the regulations and laws that limit their fishing in the biosphere reserve. Credit: Courtesy of Prometeo Lucero

The Mexican constitution defines indigenous people as the descendants of the populations that inhabited the area before the state was formed and who preserve their ancestral cultural or economic institutions.

Article 2 of the constitution establishes that native people have “preferential access” to the nation’s natural assets.

“Indigenous rights are the rights of peoples,” expert in indigenous law Francisco López Bárcenas told IPS. “Not of persons, not of municipalities, not of rural communities. With respect to indigenous rights, we are talking about the appropriation of territory, which is necessary for a people to be able to exist as such.

“They depend for a living on fishing, on a close relationship with their natural surroundings. It’s not only about money. First, as a result of the laws on agriculture, their territories were shrunk to small spaces, and now their main livelihood activity is reduced. And if they can’t fish, they have to go to other parts to find work,” he said.

Every year, just after the waning moon, the weakfish begin their migration to the shallow waters of the Colorado River delta, and fishing season starts.

The Cocopah go to sea in their “pangas” or fishing boats and sit quietly until they hear the weakfish and throw their “chinchorros” or nets. The Cocopah capture between 200 and 500 tons of fish per season.

“What the government has done with us is segregation,” Juana Aguilar González, the president of the El Mayor Cocopah Rural Production Society, told Tierramérica. “They know that we Indians don’t threaten the environment.”

The Cocopah are not the only ones who catch weakfish. There are also two non-indigenous cooperatives in the area – San Felipe in Baja California and Santa Clara in Sonora – with a fishing capacity 10 times greater, according to statistics from the governmental National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO).

The weakfish “captured by the Cocopah are approximately 10 percent of the recommended quota, which shows that the fishing done by that indigenous community, even if they fish in the nucleus of the reserve, does not hurt the ecological balance or threaten the species with extinction,” says recommendation 8/2002 of the National Human Rights Commission addressed to the ministries of the environment and agriculture.

“The decree creating the reserve changed our lives,” Mónica González, the daughter of the late Cocopah governor Onésimo González, said sadly. “Now, instead of being busy organising our dances, we have to be worried about the legal action, the trials, confiscations and arrests.”

The Cocopah, descendants of the Yumano people, are one of the five surviving indigenous groups in Baja California.

In the 17th century, some 22,000 Cocopah were living in the Colorado River delta. Today there are only 1,000 in the Cocopah Indian Reservation in the southwest corner of Arizona, and just over 300 in Mexico, in Baja California and Sonora, according to the governmental National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) , Cocopah is an endangered language. There are only 10 Cocopah speakers still alive. Years ago one of them, 44-year- old Mónica González, began to make an effort to revive the language.

“Sometimes I think our leaders talk about the Cocopah as if we had already died, but we are alive and still putting up a struggle,” she told IPS.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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

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Latin America’s Anti-drug Policies Feed on the Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/latin-americas-anti-drug-policies-feed-on-the-poor/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 00:46:50 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136516 Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Rosa Julia Leyva, to the left, with other participants in the Drugs and Social Inclusion panel at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies, held in San José, Costa Rica. She spent 12 years in prison for smuggling a small stash of heroin in a bag that a friend gave her to carry. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Poor young men, slumdwellers and single mothers are hurt the most by anti-drug policies in Latin America, according to representatives of governments, social organisations and multilateral bodies meeting at the Fifth Latin American Conference on Drug Policies.

During the Sept. 3-4 conference held in San José, Costa Rica, activists, experts and decision-makers from throughout the region demanded reforms of these policies, to ease the pressure on vulnerable groups and shift the focus of law enforcement measures to those who benefit the most from the drug trade.

Today things are backwards – the focus is on “the small fish” rather than “the big fish”, Paul Simons, the executive secretary of the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD), told IPS.

The proposals set forth during the meeting recommended an overhaul of the legal systems in Latin America, to reduce incarceration and establish sentences proportionate to minor crimes. The participants argued that laws and the justice systems should focus on cracking down on the big interests involved in drug trafficking.

They also recommended that amounts for legal personal possession should be established, along with measures such as the decriminalisation of some drugs or the creation of markets controlled by the state, along the lines of what Uruguay is doing in the case of marijuana.

The current policies give rise to cases like that of Rosa Julia Leyva, an indigenous Mexican woman who now works in the Mexican interior ministry’s National Commission on Security.

Leyva was imprisoned in 1993 for carrying a woven bag with a small package of heroin, which was given to her by a friend who paid her plane ticket in exchange for help with her baggage. It was the first time she had ever left the Petatlán mountains in the southwest state of Guerrero. Until her arrest, she told IPS, she thought she was carrying money or clothes.

At the time, she was the prototype of the women who are constantly thrown into Latin American prisons for drug smuggling: an illiterate 29-year-old, the mother of a five-year-old daughter, sentenced to a quarter century in prison for possession of heroin.“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult. I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.” --Rosa Julia Leyva


The Organisation of American States (OAS) reports that 70 percent of the female prison population in the region was incarcerated for drug possession.

“I’m just a poor woman who went through something very difficult,” Leyva says. “I had nothing to do with drugs and I never could have imagined that they would give me 25 years for drug trafficking. They made out like I was a big drug smuggler and I didn’t even speak Spanish.”

“I think the law should be more specific in these things,” said Leyva, who also makes crafts. She managed to get her sentence reduced to 13 years, of which she served just over 12. Now she gives theatre classes in Mexican prisons.

In the world’s most unequal region, the prisons are packed full of poor people, while white collar criminals are much less likely to be brought to justice, said experts participating in the “Drugs and Social Inclusion” panel during the conference.

This imbalance and overcrowding of the prisons could change, they said, if the courts and prison systems made the effort.

“We want to see who is brought before the courts, and look into options for people who are not violent and who have committed minor crimes, as consumers, drug mules [who smuggle small quantities] or people who committed the crime to feed themselves and their families,” Simons told IPS.

“They are the small fish, like bus drivers or mules, who smuggle small quantities without any violence in a region full of contrasts,” said the head of CICAD, which forms part of the OAS. “We want to see if there is a way for these people not to be caught up in the prison cycle.”

In a region where 10 of the most unequal countries in the world are located, “drug policies must be reformulated,” said Yoriko Yasukawa, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Costa Rica.

The proportionality of sentences in cases like Leyva’s was a recurrent theme among the experts, who called for a “more just” legal system in line with the real damage caused by people convicted of drug-related crimes.

“Sometimes the punishment is comparable to the penalties for homicide or other serious crimes,” Argentine social worker Graciela Touzé told IPS.

“It is not similar to the damage caused, and the punishment can’t be similar either, although that does not mean that they shouldn’t be held accountable,” added the president of the Intercambios Asociación Civil, an organisation based in Buenos Aires.

Social cost

During the regional conference, speakers were adamant in their criticism of the social costs of repressive anti-drug policies.

Costa Rica’s minister of public security, Celso Gamboa, explained that the people arrested in his country in the first eight months of 2014 included fishermen, flight attendants and drivers who were drawn into drug smuggling by poverty.

“The blows to drug trafficking structures have focused on the most vulnerable parts, which leads us to conclude that much of the fight against drugs in Costa Rica and the rest of Latin America fuels the criminalisation of poverty,” he said.

“The question is: where are the investigations enabling us to reach the white collar structures and those who hold the real power?” said Gamboa, a former prosecutor from the Caribbean province of Limón, where he was involved in hundreds of drug trafficking cases.

Above and beyond the complicated situation in the prisons, civil society organisations insisted that anti-drug policies are marked by inequality. For that reason, activists said, drug consumers and young people are punished more harshly.

But the different proposals for redressing the imbalance sometimes clash.

Gamboa believes in tackling the drug problem with an economics-based approach that goes after the big fish who hold the real money, while Zara Snapp, of the Mexican Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, says the best way to reduce the number of civilian victims of the drug trade is by creating a market in Mexico regulated by the state.

“The inequality does not mean that there isn’t a lot that we can do, because we still have many resources, it’s just that we channel them into the militarisation of the struggle and into law enforcement, rather than towards creating opportunities for the vulnerable populations,” the Mexican activist, who also forms part of the non-governmental Mexican Commission for the Promotion of Human Right, told IPS.

“The only thing that approach does is to create fertile ground for recruitment by organised crime,” she said.

It is poor young men and women who pay the cost. According to the OAS, the prevalence of consumption of “pasta base” or cocaine paste is 1.8 percent overall, but 8.0 percent among young people in poverty.

The stigma surrounding the use of pasta base accentuates their marginalisation and further limits their opportunities, according to the Report on the Drug Problem in the Americas.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Child Trafficking Rampant in Underdeveloped Indian Villageshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/child-trafficking-rampant-in-underdeveloped-indian-villages/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 07:08:51 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136482 NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NGOs and government data suggests that a child goes missing every eight minutes in India. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In a country where well over half the population lives on less than two dollars a day, it takes a lot to shock people. The sight of desperate families traveling in search of money and food, whole communities defecating in the open, old women performing back-breaking labour, all this is simply part of life in India, home to 1.2 billion people.

But amidst this rampant destitution, some things still raise red flags, or summon collective cries of fury. Child trafficking is one such issue, and it is earning front-page headlines in states where thousands of children are believed to be victims of the illicit trade.

The arrest on Jun. 5 of Shakeel Ahamed, a 40-year-old migrant labourer, by police in the southern state of Kerala, created a national outcry, and reawakened fears of a complex and deep-rooted child trafficking network around the country.

Ahamed’s operation alone was thought to involve over 580 children being illegally moved into Muslim orphanages throughout the state.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children. Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. Gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children." -- Justice J B Koshy, chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission
Experts tell IPS that children are also routinely trafficked to and from states like Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), child trafficking is rampant in underdeveloped villages, where “victims are lured or abducted from their homes and subsequently forced to work against their wish through various means in various establishments, indulge in prostitution or subjected to various types of indignitiesand even killed or incapacitated for the purposes of begging, and trade in human organs.”

Available records show a total of 3,554 crimes related to human trafficking in 2012, compared to 3,517 the previous year. Some 2,848 and 3,400 cases were reported in 2009 and 2010 respectively, as well as 3,029 cases in 2008.

In 2012, former State Home Affairs Minister Jitendra Singh told the upper house of parliament that almost 60,000 children were reported as “missing” in 2011. “Of those,” he added, “more than 22,000 are yet to be located.”

It is not clear how many of these “missing” children are victims of traffickers; a dearth of national data means that experts and advocates are often left guessing at the root causes of the problem.

NGOs and government agencies often cite contradictory figures, but both are agreed that a child goes missing roughly every eight minutes in the country.

Human rights watchdogs say there are many contributing factors to child trafficking in India, including economic deprivation. Indeed, the 2013 Global Hunger Index ranked India 63rd out of 78 countries, adding that 21.3 percent of the population went hungry in 2013. According to the World Bank, 68.3 percent of Indians live on less than two dollars a day.

“Socio-economic backwardness is a key factor in child trafficking,” Justice J B Koshy, former chief justice of the Patna High Court and chairperson of the Kerala Human Rights Commission, told IPS, adding that a political-mafia nexus also fueled the practice in remote parts of the country.

“Many families are unable to afford the basic necessities of life, which forces parents to sell their children,” Koshy stated. “Some children are abandoned by families who can’t take care of them. Some run away to escape abuse or unhappy homes. The gangsters and middlemen approach these vulnerable children. In some cases, good-looking girls are taken away by force.”

An action research study conducted in 2005 by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) found that a majority of trafficking victims belonged to socially deprived sections of society.

It is estimated that half of the children trafficked within India are between the ages of 11 and 14.

Some 32.3 percent of trafficked girls suffer from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other gynaecological problems, according to a 2006 report by ECPAT International.

This is likely due to the fact that most girls are trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation.

A government-commissioned study conducted in 2003, the last time comprehensive data was gathered, estimated that the number of sex workers increased from two million in 1997 to three million in 2003-04, representing a 50-percent rise.

Many of these sex workers are thought to be girls between the ages of 12 and 15.

Sreelekha Nair, a researcher who was worked with the New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Studies, added that parents coming from poor socio-economic conditions in remote villages sometimes readily hand over their children to middlemen.

Some parents have been found to “sell their children for amounts that are shockingly worthless,” she told IPS, in some cases for as little as 2,000 rupees (about 33 dollars), adding, “law and order agencies cannot often intervene in the private matters of a family.”

Rajnath Singh, home minister of India, told a group of New Delhi-based activists headed by Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Women, that a central agency would conduct a probe into the mass trafficking of children from villages in the Gumla district of the eastern state of Jharkhand over the past several years.

The group had brought it to the attention of the minister that thousands of girls were going missing from interior villages in the district every year, while their parents claimed ignorance as to their whereabouts.

Raja told reporters in New Delhi this past Julythat developmental schemes launched by individual states and the central government often fail to reach remote villages, leaving the countryside open to agents attempting to “sneak teenage girls out of villages.”

Experts point out that implementation of the 1986 Immoral Traffic Prevention Act remains weak. Many believe that since the act only refers to trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, it does not provide comprehensive protection for children, nor does it provide a clear definition of the term ‘trafficking’.

Dr. P M Nair, project coordinator of the anti-human trafficking unit of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in New Delhi and former director general of police, said that investigations should focus on recruiters, traffickers and all those who are part of organised crime.

The ‘scene of crime’ in a trafficking case, he said, should not be confined to the place of exploitationbut should also cover places of transit and recruitment.

“Victims of trafficking should never be prosecuted or stigmatised,” he told IPS. “They should be extended all care and attention from the human rights perspective. There is a need for the mandatory involvement of government agencies in the post-rescue process so that appropriate rehabilitation measures are ensured” as quickly as possible, he added.

NGOs like Child Line India Foundation help provide access to legal, medical and counseling services to all trafficked victims in order to restore confidence and self-esteem, but the country lacks a coordinated national policy to deal with the issue at the root level.

Experts have recommended that the state provide education, or gender-sensitive market-driven vocational training to rescued victims, to help them reintegrate into society, but such schemes are yet to become a reality.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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In Azerbaijan, ‘Family Is the First Fear’ of LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:09:15 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136476 By EurasiaNet Correspondents
BAKU, Sep 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The 19-year-old Azerbaijani man claims he awoke one morning in mid-August to the sound and feel of gasoline splashing on his body and his mother angrily screaming. Through a sleepy haze, he saw her burning a piece of paper. Suddenly, he alleged, his mother’s intentions became clear; he was about to be burned to death for being homosexual.

The story, recounted to EurasiaNet.org by the man, who calls himself Malik to protect his identity, forms part of a disturbing pattern of abuse and mistreatment of LGBT individuals in this Caspian-Sea country. For now, the government doesn’t appear interested in trying to address the issue — even though the country currently chairs the Committee of Ministers of Europe’s foremost human-rights body, the Council of Europe.Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual.

Unlike in many Muslim societies, Azerbaijani law does not prohibit homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. However, the level of disapproval that exists in this tightly knit society is high, and that places a heavy burden on LGBT Azerbaijanis, some say.

In Malik’s case, he claims his sister prevented his mother from setting him aflame. He alleges, though, that his mother scratched him to the point of drawing blood. Still in shock and physical pain from the experience, Malik says he lives now at a friend’s place. He claims his mother knew of his homosexuality, though “never admitted that.”

“When she got news about me attending an LGBT seminar in Baku, which was a public event, she realised it is impossible to deny the fact that I am homosexual,” he said. “That was unbearable for her.”

In Azerbaijan’s family-centric culture, disapproval from relatives can often hit hardest. “Family is the first fear of LGBT people,” according to Javid Atilla Nebiyev, director of Nefes LGBT, one of a handful of non-governmental organisations in Baku focusing on LGBT issues. “That is the first, small community where LGBT people experience trouble.”

Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual. He blames such attitudes on the country’s 71-year Soviet history, when LGBT issues were never addressed.

“It was taboo,” said Badalov, who now lives in France. “People did not even know that there were non-traditional sexual orientations and genders.”

While now Azerbaijanis “have the freedom to know,” he continued, the Soviet past continues to influence present opinions. “Except for some tolerant circles in the capital, Baku, [a non-heterosexual identity] is seen as something extremely abnormal, extremely disgusting.”

Consequently, “for his own safety,” a gay man “constantly” has to think about “what to wear so that he does not look different,” or otherwise attract attention, he claimed. Many Azerbaijanis often presume that men who wear an earring or unusually colourful clothing are homosexual.

Defying such notions, Badalov said he opted for an earring.

One 22-year-old transsexual Azerbaijani can identify with those difficulties. Although born a woman, Leyla, who asked to be identified only by her first name, dresses in men’s clothes and considers herself male. She claims that her family sometimes hides her clothing, keeps her locked indoors and threatens her with death if she does not dress “like a woman.”

A recent university graduate with a degree in education, Leyla says that she nonetheless dresses as a man when she applies for teaching positions. She did not detail how she distinguishes between male and female clothing.

“At job interviews, they expect me to show up as a woman, but instead they see a woman dressed like a man,” she claimed. “I do not know what to answer when they ask why I dress like a man. I am turned down [for jobs] mostly because of that appearance.”

Azerbaijani legislation contains no protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, noted activist Nebiyev. He alleged that, as a result, some LGBT Azerbaijanis turn to jobs as “sex workers to earn their living.”

The topic generally is not one for any form of public discussion, including by imams. Allegations of homosexuality, however, have been used as part of smear campaigns against opposition leaders.

Media and human-rights activists have paid relatively little attention to these problems. The Azerbaijani Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office could not be reached for comment on LGBT abuse.

For many, the Jan. 22 suicide of 20-year-old Isa Shahmarli, the head of the LGBT group Azad, illustrated the dangers involved in looking the other way. In a Facebook message before his death, Shahmarli blamed society at large for his suicide.

“He ended his life because society wanted him to do so,” said his former flatmate, Kamila Javadzadeh. “He was all alone, struggling to prove that nothing is wrong about being LGBT. But he failed to convince his own family.”

Yet one 32-year-old lesbian, who declined to give her name, stopped short of calling life in Azerbaijan as a LGBT person “a tragedy.” At least no public calls for violence against LGBT Azerbaijanis have been made, she explained. “But it is not OK at all,” she emphasised. After years of confronting hostility, however, she simply no longer expects tolerance.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OPINION: Civil Society Calls For Impartial Inquiry on Air Crash and Catastrophe in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:30:09 +0000 Alice Slater http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136453 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

By Alice Slater
NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds [...].
With the U.S. and Russia in possession of over 15,000 of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons, humanity can ill-afford to stand by and permit these conflicting views of history and opposing assessments of the facts on the ground lead to a 21st Century military confrontation between the great powers and their allies.

While sadly acknowledging the trauma suffered by the countries of Eastern Europe from years of Soviet occupation, and understanding their desire for the protection of the NATO military alliance, we must remember that Russia lost 20 million people during WWII to the Nazi onslaught and are understandably wary of NATO expansion to their borders in a hostile environment.

This despite a promise to Gorbachev, when the wall came down peacefully and the Soviet Union ended its post-WWII occupation of Eastern Europe, that NATO would not be expanded eastward, beyond the incorporation of East Germany into that rusty Cold War alliance.

Russia has lost the protection of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned in 2001, and warily observes missile bases metastasizing ever closer to its borders, in new NATO member states, while the U.S. rejects repeated Russian efforts for negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space, or Russia’s prior application for membership in NATO.

Why do we still have NATO anyway? This Cold War relic is being used to fire up new hostilities and divisions between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Civil Society demands that an independent international inquiry be commissioned to review events in Ukraine leading up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and of the procedures being used to review the catastrophic aftermath, including this latest outbreak of hostile actions from NATO.

Indeed, Russia has already called for an investigation of the facts surrounding the Malaysian airplane crash. The international investigation should factually determine the cause of the accident and hold responsible parties accountable to the families of the victims and the citizens of the world who fervently desire peace and peaceful settlements of any existing conflicts.

More importantly, it should include a fair and balanced presentation of what led to the deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new hostile and polarized posture that the U.S. and Russia with their allies find themselves in today with NATO now threatening greater militarisation and provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe.

The United Nations Security Council, with U.S. and Russian agreement, has already passed Resolution 2166 addressing the Malaysian jet crash, demanding accountability, full access to the site and a halt to military activity, which has been painfully disregarded at various times since the incident.

One of the provisions of Resolution 2166 notes that the Council “[s]upports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.”

Further, the 1909 revised Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes adopted at the 1899 Hague International Peace Conference has been used successfully to resolve issues between states so that war was avoided in the past.

Regardless of the forum where the evidence is gathered and fairly evaluated, all the facts and circumstances should be made known to the world as to how we got to this unfortunate state of affairs on our planet today and what might be the solutions.

All the members of NATO together with Russia and Ukraine are urged to end the endless arms race, which only feeds the military-industrial complex that U.S. President Eisenhower warned against.

They must engage in diplomacy and negotiations, not war and hostile alienating actions.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds and thinking, and the abundance of resources mindlessly diverted to war to be made available for the challenges confronting us to create a livable future for life on earth.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Why Principle Matters at UN Human Rights Councilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/why-principle-matters-at-un-human-rights-council/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:08:29 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136441

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, argues that too often principle is being abandoned at the United Nations Human Rights Council and that every time this happens the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

The killings of hundreds of civilians, including scores of children, in Gaza – whose only fault was to have been born on the wrong side of the wall – was a major point of contention at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of July.

The high death toll caused by indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas by the Israeli military has resulted in what may very likely be war crimes. The United Nations has said that 70 percent of those killed in Gaza were civilians.

Mandeep Tiwana

Mandeep Tiwana

Yet Western democracies, normally proactive on human rights issues at the Council, chose to withhold their vote when a resolution urging immediate cessation of Israeli military assaults throughout the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, and an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, was brought forward.

Notably, the resolution sought to create an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations conducted since June 13, 2014.

When asked to vote on the above, Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom chose to abstain. The United States, whose foreign policy mission is to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere,” was ironically the only country in the 47 member U.N. Human Rights Council to have voted against the resolution.“Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.”

Essentially, each country standing for election to the Human Rights Council is required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” By any yardstick, looking at the wanton death and destruction that has rained down on the people of Gaza, destroying the homes and livelihoods of tens of thousands as well as vital public infrastructure, is a blatant abdication of responsibility.

In 2006, when the Human Rights Council was created, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan poignantly remarked that the true test of its ability would be the use that member states make of it. Eight years down the line, sadly the Council remains a house divided on the great human rights matters of the day.

Earlier this year in March, when the Human Rights Council passed a resolution aimed at addressing impunity for the widespread violations of international law committed during and after the Sri Lankan civil war, many of the countries strongly in favour of accountability for crimes committed in the Gaza conflict – such as Algeria, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Viet Nam – voted against the Sri Lanka resolution. Conversely, Western democracies that abstained on the Gaza vote robustly supported action to tackle impunity in Sri Lanka.

This double standard represents perhaps the greatest challenge to the world’s premier human rights body.

Notably, the Human Rights Council was established in response to well-founded criticism of rampant politicisation of human rights issues by its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  At the Human Rights Council too, geopolitical interests of the more powerful states are driving selective blocking and support for human rights causes by elected member states, weakening respect for international standards. 

Notably, the formation of blocs presents a grave threat to the Council’s work. Its members have unfortunately slotted themselves into various informal groups such as the Western European and Others Group (WEOG),  African Group, Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, and even a motley ‘Like-Minded Group’ that shares little in political culture and world view except that it largely opposes whatever the Western group comes up with.

These unfortunate political dynamics have weakened the ability of the Council to be a beacon for the advancement of human rights discourse. Tellingly, the issue of discrimination against and violations of the personal freedoms of sexual minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) individuals remains another hotly contested area.

A regressively worded June 2014 resolution on the ‘protection of the family’ – which excludes LGBT individuals from the ambit of the family – witnessed en-masse voting in favour by the African, OIC and ‘Like-Minded Group’.

Worryingly, far too many countries are caught up in the herd mentality of en-masse voting coupled with advancement of strategic interests at the Human Rights Council. Too often, principle is being abandoned at the altar of politics. Every time this happens, the legitimacy of the global governance institution suffers, further exacerbating conflict.

A report by the global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, points out that in an ever more complex governance environment, where large problems are acknowledged to cross national borders, international level decision-making is starting to matter more.

Institutions of global governance should be able to offer a source of protection and support for people who are being repressed, marginalised or excluded at the national level. Yet, too often, they are captured by state interests which override genuine human rights concerns.

Civil society and the media have their work cut out to expose the hypocrisy and inconsistency that mars action on gross human rights violations in international forums like the Human Rights Council. States need to be held accountable and practice what they preach – on principle, and not only when it suits them. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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SDGs Make Room for Education for Global Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:39:02 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136416 Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Civil society leaders and U.N. development experts gathered on Wednesday to discuss the role of education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda.

The workshop, sponsored by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), was part of the U.N.’s 65th Annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference.“We are part of a bigger humanity.” -- Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Education “is linked to all areas of sustainable development and is vital in achieving all Sustainable Development Goals and targets,” Hiro Sakurai, SGI’s U.N. liaison office director, told IPS.

“Education for global citizenship deserves particular attention and emphasis in this regard as it helps link issues and disciplines, brings together all stakeholders, and fosters shared vision and objectives,” he said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., gave the event’s keynote address. He expressed his excitement at the increased prominence of global citizenship in development circles.

According to Ambassador Chowdhury, global citizenship requires “self-transformation” and can be a “pathway to a culture of peace.”

Progress requires a “determination to treat each one of us as a global citizen,” he said. “We are part of a bigger humanity.”

Saphira Ramesfar of the Baha’i International Community also spoke to the transformative nature of global citizenship.

“It is not enough for education to provide individuals who can read, write and count,” she said. “Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life, cultivating an active care for the world itself and for those with whom we share it. Education needs to fully assume its role in building just, unified and inclusive societies.”

In the past, attempts to build global citizenship have focused on the young, but Ambassador Chowdhury argued for a more expansive understanding of the concept.

“I believe that education for global citizenship is for all of us, irrespective of our age, irrespective of whether we are going through a formal education process or not,” Chowdhury said.

Anjali Rangaswami of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs explained how NGOs have actively participated in the crafting of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past years have set “a very high standard for civil society engagement,” according to Rangaswami.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, included a target of universal primary education. The SDGs, if adopted in their current draft form, would aim for universal secondary education as well.

Under target four, the SDGs specifically mention education for global citizenship, an issue left unaddressed by the MDGs.

The U.N’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), which lists “fostering global citizenship” as one of its three main priorities, was influential in this new development.

According to Min Jeong Kim, head of GEFI’s secretariat team, the initiative was launched by the secretary-general in 2012 because “at that point education had sort of stagnated after rapid growth following adoption of [the] MDGs.”

After the panel speakers concluded, participants in the workshop broke into small groups to share their own perspectives on education for global citizenship.

The event was also co-sponsored by the Baha’i International Community, Global Movement for a Culture of Peace, Human Rights Education Associates, Sustainable Development Education Caucus and Values Caucus, bringing a wide variety of expertise to the table.

The SDGs are an opportunity for a whole new outlook on education.

Education should be focused on developing meaningful lives, rather than focused on making a living, Ambassador Chowdhury told IPS.

So far the paradigm has been “if you get a good job, then your education is worth it, and if you do not get a good job, then your education is worthless,” he said. “That has to change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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IPS at 50, Leads That Don’t Bleedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ips-at-50-leads-that-dont-bleed/#comments Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:32:03 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136394 This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).]]>

This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 28 2014 (IPS)

Tarzie Vittachi, a renowned Sri Lankan newspaper editor and one-time deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, once recounted the oft-quoted story of an African diplomat who sought his help to get coverage in the U.S. media for his prime minister’s address to the General Assembly.

The diplomat, a friend of Vittachi’s, said the visiting African leader was planning to tell the world body his success stories in battling poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS."Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women." -- Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri

“How can I get this story into the front pages of U.S. newspapers?” he asked rather naively.

Vittachi, then a columnist and contributing editor to Newsweek magazine, jokingly retorted: “Shoot him – and you will get the front page of every newspaper in the U.S.”

As the old tabloid journalistic axiom goes: “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But in its news coverage over the last 50 years, IPS has led mostly with “unsexy” and “un-bleeding” stories, long ignored by the mainstream media.

As IPS commemorates its 50th anniversary this year, its news coverage of the developing world and the United Nations has been singled out for praise because of its primary focus on social and politico-economic issues on the U.N. agenda, including poverty, hunger, population, children, gender empowerment, education, health, refugees, human rights, disarmament, the global environment and sustainable development.

Congratulating IPS on its 50th anniversary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quick to applaud IPS’ “relentless focus on issues of concern to the developing world – from high-level negotiations on economic development to on-the-ground projects that improve health and sanitation.

“I thank IPS for raising global public awareness about matters at the heart of the U.N.’s agenda, and I hope it will have an even greater impact in the future,” he added.

Thalif-Deen300

IPS U.N. Bureau Chief Thalif Deen

In its advocacy role, IPS was in the forefront of a longstanding campaign, led by world leaders, activists and women’s groups, for the creation of a separate U.N. entity to reinforce equal rights for women and for gender empowerment.

U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women, last week praised IPS for its intensive coverage of sustainable development and gender empowerment.

She said IPS has been “a leader” in realising a more democratic and equitable new information, knowledge and communication order in the service of sustainable development in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.

“Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women: a new gender equality and women’s empowerment and rights architecture within the U.N. system.

“We have partnered with IPS to advance this most important project for humanity in the 21st century,” said Puri. “IPS joined our political mobilisation drive for a stand-alone gender equality and women’s empowerment goal through sustained engagement and compelling content.”

She said IPS has demonstrated “its unwavering commitment to development issues through supporting our efforts to mainstream gender perspectives in the G77, particularly via the Declaration of Santa Cruz ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ of June 2014, and the historic pre-summit international meeting on Women’s Proposals for a New World Order.”

She also said IPS has joined the public mobilisation campaign – “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It”- as a Media Compact partner, and is throwing its full support behind Beijing+20.

“I wish IPS 50 more years of dynamic evolution, courageous reporting of truth, built on the foundations of reportage from the front-lines of ground experiences, and of providing game changing third-eye wisdom and policy perspectives on all endeavours of humanity and of imagining a better world for women and girls,” Puri declared.

Over the years, IPS has also given pride of place for coverage of disarmament and development – and specifically nuclear disarmament.

Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said last week there is special significance in the fact that this anniversary is being celebrated together with the Group of 77 and UNCTAD, highlighting the umbilical link with the developing world of the global South.

Giving voice to these important trends, IPS emerged to challenge the monopoly of the news exchange system and its dominance by the developed world, he added.

Drawing on the vast reservoir of hitherto globally unrecognised journalistic talent in the global South, Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini co-founded an organisation that has braved challenges of resource mobilisation and unfair competition, said Dhanapala.

“Having spent many years in the area of peace and disarmament with the United Nations, I am personally grateful to IPS for espousing the cause of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and for identifying the priority of a nuclear weapon-free world where weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated and conventional weapons reduced from current levels in achieving general and complete disarmament,” he said.

“Only then can we have peace and security with development and human rights flourishing in collective and co-operative global security,” said Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs (1995 Nobel Peace Laureate) and a former ambassador of Sri Lanka.

When the United Nations launched a new series in 2004 drawing attention to the “10 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year”, IPS was far ahead of the curve having covered at least seven of the 10 stories in a single year: AIDS orphans in Africa; Women as Peacemakers; the Hidden World of the Stateless; Policing for Peace; the Girl Soldier; Indigenous Peoples and a Treaty for the Disabled.

Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a former U.N. under-secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who originated the series, recounted the role of IPS in covering under-reported stories.

Reiterating his comments, Tharoor said last week: “I have followed IPS’ reporting for three decades, and worked with them at close quarters during my media-related assignments at the United Nations.

“I found IPS an excellent source of news and insight about the developing world, covering stories the world’s dominant media outlets too often ignore,” said Tharoor, currently a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram in India’s Lok Sabha.

He said IPS reporters marry the highest professional standards of journalism to an institutional commitment to covering stories of particular concern to the global South.

“They are indispensable to any reader who wishes to stay abreast of what’s happening in developing countries around the world,” said Tharoor, a prolific writer and author of ‘The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone’.

In recent years, IPS has been a three-time winner of the annual awards presented by the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), having won a bronze in 1997 (shared with the Washington Post) and two golds in 2012 and 2013 (one of which it shared with the Associated Press) for “excellence in U.N. reporting”.

Additionally, IPS’ Gareth Porter was also honoured in 2012 with the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, whose past winners included the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times and Wikileaks.

The Washington-based Population Institute, which gave its annual media awards for development reporting, singled out IPS as “the most conscientious news service” for coverage relating to population and development.

IPS won the award nine times in the 1990s, beating out the major wire services year in and year out, conceding occasionally to Reuters and the Associated Press (AP).

Barbara Crossette, a former U.N. bureau chief for the New York Times (1994-2001) and currently U.N. correspondent for The Nation and contributing writer and editor for PassBlue, said, “I am among those many journalists who follow the IPS reports daily, not only for insight into events and people at the United Nations, but also — and maybe more so — for coverage of global news from the perspective of the developing world.”

She said she also looks forward to some of “the controversial commentary from IPS writers with different perspectives than those we hear most in the Western media, where reporting from the U.N. itself has generally sunk to a new low in American and numerous European publications and broadcasts.

“As for news from inside the U.N., IPS’s close attention to the issues of women in the organisation and in its work internationally has been consistently stellar,” said Crossette, who cited the Vittachi anecdote in the 2007 ‘Oxford Handbook on the United Nations’ published by the Oxford University Press.

“No other news service has covered so reliably the establishment, the people and the ongoing challenges of U.N. Women and what that all means to the level of commitment member states really have to making the new U.N. agency strong and effective at a time when it is clear how central a role women must play in development,” said Crossette, who was also the Times’ chief correspondent in Bangkok (for Southeast Asia from 1984 to 1988) and in Delhi (for South Asia, 1988-1991.

Described by some as a “socially responsible” media outlet, IPS has consistently advocated the cause of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said IPS has made a tremendous contribution to the movement for global justice over the past 50 years.

It is hard today to imagine the world as it was then, in 1964, a moment when colonialism was ending, when the democratic spirit was running strong, when there was a worldwide movement to seize the institutions and transform them, he added.

“IPS arose to confront the information monopolies and to bring a fresh approach to news that would reflect and nourish the spirit of those times,” Paul said.

He said IPS immediately won a place of honour and inspired those working for democracy, justice and peace: people who needed an alternative to the arid journalism of the powers-that-be.

“In the five decades that have followed, it has held true to that vision serious investigation of global developments, honest thinking, engagement for justice, the very best journalism day in and day out”.

He added: “I am always impressed by the commitment of IPS to reporting the underlying issues, to drawing on historical memory, to bringing to events a sense of humor, hope and possibility, even in the darkest of times. We can count on IPS to use proudly the optic of human rights, economic justice and peace.”

Though news is not so monopolised today, its purveyors in both South and North are still too often the mouthpieces and propagandists of power, he noted.

“Clearly, then, IPS is more important than ever. A luta continua! I salute the founder, Roberto Savio, and the hundreds of talented journalists who have worked with him over the years,” Paul said.

“In particular I salute the remarkable IPS U.N. correspondent, who has embodied the IPS spirit and kept us all so well informed about what is happening. We need a collection of his dispatches. Happy Birthday, IPS!”

Cora Weiss, International Peace Bureau, Hague Appeal for Peace, said: “Every day IPS’ (electronic newsletter) TerraViva, brings news I cannot find any place else. It’s news that matters.”

And it’s news that gives voice to people who are under recognised, news that covers issues critical to our well being and survival, she added.

“I appreciate your coverage of women, of threats to peace, of nuclear weapons and policies to abolish them, of climate change affecting islands and islanders, and so much more. Keep it coming!” Weiss said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

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Climate Policy Goes Hand-in-Hand with Water Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/climate-policy-goes-hand-in-hand-with-water-policy/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:16:20 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136373 Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Guyana beverage manufacturer Banks DIH Limited treats all waste water, making it safe for disposal into the environment. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Concerned that climate change could lead to an intensification of the global hydrological cycle, Caribbean stakeholders are working to ensure it is included in the region’s plans for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

The basis of IWRM is that the many different uses of finite water resources are interdependent. High irrigation demands and polluted drainage flows from agriculture mean less freshwater for drinking or industrial use.

Contaminated municipal and industrial wastewater pollutes rivers and threatens ecosystems. If water has to be left in a river to protect fisheries and ecosystems, less can be diverted to grow crops."This is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons [and] more intense hurricanes." -- Natalie Boodram of WACDEP

Meanwhile, around the world, variability in climate conditions, coupled with new socioeconomic and environmental developments, have already started having major impacts.

The Global Water Partnership-Caribbean (GWP-C), which recently brought international and regional stakeholders together for a conference in Trinidad, is aimed at better understanding the climate system and the hydrological cycle and how they are changing; boosting awareness of the impacts of climate change on society, as well as the risk and uncertainty in the context of water and climate change and especially variability; and examining adaptation options in relation to water and climate change.

“Basically we’re looking to integrate aspects of climate change and climate variability and adaptation into the Caribbean water sector,” Natalie Boodram, programme manager of the Water, Climate and Development Programme (WACDEP), told IPS.

“And this is a very big deal for us because under predicted climate change scenarios we’re looking at things like drier dry seasons, more intense hurricanes, when we do get rain we are going to get more intense rain events, flooding.

“All of that presents a substantial challenge for managing our water resources. So under the GWP-C WACDEP, we’re doing a number of things to help the region adapt to this,” she added.

Current variability and long-term climate change impacts are most severe in a large part of the developing world, and particularly affect the poorest.

Through its workshops, GWP-C provides an opportunity for partners and stakeholders to assess the stage of the IWRM process that various countries have reached and work together to operationalise IWRM in their respective countries.

Integrated Water Resources Management is a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in order to maximise economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems.

IWRM helps to protect the world’s environment, foster economic growth and sustainable agricultural development, promote democratic participation in governance, and improve human health.

GWP-C regional co-ordinator, Wayne Joseph, said the regional body is committed to institutionalising and operationalising IWRM in the region.

“Our major programme is the WACDEP Programme, Water and Climate Development Programme, and presently we are doing work in four Caribbean Countries – Jamaica, Antigua, Guyana and St. Lucia,” he told IPS.

“We’re gender-sensitive. We ensure that the youth are incorporated in what we do and so we provide a platform, a neutral platform, so that issues can be discussed that pertain to water and good water resources management.”

The Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) is a non-profit, civil society body that focuses its resources on empowering Caribbean young people and their communities to develop programmes and actions to address socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Rianna Gonzales, the national coordinator of the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter, has welcomed the initiative of the GWP-C as being very timely and helpful, adding that the region’s youth have a very important role to play in the process.

“I think it’s definitely beneficial for young people to be part of such a strategic group of people in terms of getting access to resources and experts…so that we will be better able to communicate on water related issues,” she told IPS.

The CYEN programme aims at addressing issues such as poverty alleviation and youth employment, health and HIV/AIDS, climatic change and global warming, impact of natural disasters/hazards, improvement in potable water, conservation and waste management and other natural resource management issues.

The GWP-C said the Caribbean region has been exposed to IWRM and it is its goal to work together with its partners and stakeholders at all levels to implement IWRM in the Caribbean.

“A very significant activity for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States has been to prepare a Water Sector Model Policy and Model Water Act which proposes to remedy the key water resources management issues through new institutional arrangements and mechanisms that include water and waste water master planning, private sector and community partnership and investment mechanisms,” GWP-C chair Judy Daniel told IPS.

IWRM has not been fully integrated in the policy, legal and planning frameworks in the Caribbean although several territories have developed/drafted IWRM Policies, Roadmaps and Action plans. Some of these countries include: Antigua and Barbuda; Barbados; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana, Jamaica; The Bahamas; Trinidad and Tobago; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Amid Crisis, Puerto Rico’s Retirees Face Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/amid-crisis-puerto-ricos-retirees-face-uncertain-future/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:02:49 +0000 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136354 Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements. Credit: Arturo de la Barrera/cc by 2.0

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
SAN JUAN, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

A feeling of insecurity has overtaken broad sectors of Puerto Rican society as the economy worsens, public sector debt spirals out of control, and the island’s creditworthiness is put in doubt.

To tackle this economic crisis, the administration of governor Alejandro Garcia-Padilla has adopted a number of measures that have been extremely unpopular with civil society and labour unions."Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it's worse because it is a colony of the United States." -- Retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz

Retirees have been particularly affected. In 2013, the government passed Law 160, which drastically changed the retirement system of public employees. It puts an end to the previous retirement system, established by Law 447 of 1951, under which every public sector worker was entitled to a full pension after 30 years of service, regardless of age.

But Law 160 changes that. The size of monthly pension payments is no longer guaranteed, and employees must work more years in order to get full benefits.

“The retirement system has been compromised,” said labour attorney Cesar Rosado-Ramos in a position paper for the Working People’s Party (PPT).

“It is unheard of, abusive and unjust that people with 30 years of service now have to keep working for four, five, 10 or even 15 additional years in order to receive a full pension. This means the working class will have to spend a lifetime working and if you survive you get a miserable retirement plan.”

The PPT was formed in 2009 by current and former members of the Movement Toward Socialism and the Socialist Front. Its first electoral participation was in the 2012 general elections but it did not get enough votes to elect any candidate.

Public school teachers were spared from Law 160. They sued and last April the PR Supreme Court ruled key parts of the law unconstitutional because they violated teachers’ contracts. Thus the teachers’ retirement was saved, but the court ruling upheld other parts of the law that reduce their Christmas bonuses, summer pay and medical benefits.

“The retirement age of public employees has been raised and their [retirement] benefits have been reduced to poverty level,” economist Martha Quiñones told IPS.

Ramón Marrero, an emergency doctor who works in the city of Cayey, was forced to continue working just when he was due for retirement. He was going to retire after 18 years of work, but with the new law he has to stay on for three more years to get a full pension.

“One has life projects for when retirement comes. When all of a sudden the date for retirement is postponed, all of these projects and plans are turned upside down,” said Marrero, who commutes to work from the nearby town of Cidra.

Quiñones, who teaches at the University of Puerto Rico, pointed out that private sector workers and pensioners are also in for a raw deal. “Many of those private pensions are tied to Puerto Rico government bonds, which have recently been downgraded by Moody’s and Standard and Poor. When the value of these bonds is affected, pensions are reduced.”

Many public sector retirees are politically active, not only defending their benefits and pension plans from the ever present threat of privatisation, but also protesting the government’s neoliberal austerity policies, which affect all of society.

“The local ruling class seeks to reverse the gains and livelihoods of workers to what they used to be in a bygone era,” said labour activist Jose Rivera-Rivera, president of the retirees chapter of the UTIER labour union.

“In order for the neoliberal system to establish its superiority it must erase the last two centuries of labor struggle and solidarity. It’s the new stage of capitalism, they want us to start from zero.”

“Capital is on the offensive all over the world. But in Puerto Rico it’s worse because it is a colony of the United States,” retired telephone company worker Guillermo De La Paz told IPS. “Here the exploiters can experiment in ways they cannot do in a sovereign country.”

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S. Its relationship with the United States has been denounced as colonial by both the independence and pro-statehood movements.

The Puerto Rico Telephone Company was public until it was privatised by then governor Pedro Rosselló in 1998. Privatisation opponents paralysed the island in a two-day general strike in July of that year, but to no avail.

“For the rich there is no crisis,” said De La Paz. “I mean, we’ve got [billionaire] Henry Paulson urging rich people to come here to avoid taxes.”

Rivera-Rivera believes that in order to get Puerto Rico out of its economic crisis and protect retirement benefits, the government could start by taxing the rich.

“Our government is supposedly in crisis because it cannot pay its debt, but the previous administration [Governor Luis Fortuño, 2009-2012] practically eliminated the fiscal responsibility of major corporations and rich people in its 2009 tax reform. It wasn’t justified, they were already enjoying major tax breaks.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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